10 Tips For Striking Fantasy Football Gold

When middle-aged ex-athletes are looking for contentment, few things do the trick. Activities like an afternoon drive with the family (assuming, of course, that the baby is resting comfortably in her car seat and the boy is adequately entertained by his Pokeman cards or Game Boy), a pickup basketball game at the local YMCA, or a Tom Cruise movie marathon (not some "Mission: Impossible," "Eyes Wide Shut" garbage ... I'm talking "Color of Money," "Days of Thunder," and "Top Gun" here) certainly do temporarily fill any void.

However, nothing contents that desk-jockey-by-day/armchair-quarterback-by-night quite like realizing that the fantasy football draft is only weeks away.

Fantasy football has become a multi-million dollar industry in the U.S. Countless websites, magazines, television shows, and blogs have been born over recent history, each providing cutting-edge insight, foolproof predictions, and fail-safe advice for league domination. One may ask oneself what qualifies such individuals to make such bold statements on such theoretical results? Is there some mystical formula or crystal ball that can be used to determine which running back is going to get in the end zone 20 times?

Obviously, there is no magic to these so-called experts. Some base their theories on past performances, others on sheer hypothetical conjecture, still others on personal preference. Unfortunately, there is no way for a reader to determine which source has ample qualifications to be trusted as your source. Heck, for all you know, that magazine you bring with you to your draft could have been made by a bunch of twenty-somethings throwing darts at a board in some college dorm room in upstate Vermont.

As I type this article in my home office, basking in the shadow of my 2006 fantasy football league championship trophy, I wonder to myself how I can make my article any more relevant than those I have just dismissed. Realistically, there is no effective way for a freelance sports writer such as myself to portray any more legitimate a take on fantasy football predictions than a sports institution like ESPN or The Sporting News.

There is a strong likelihood that those among you that are in the market for fantasy football advice may well feel more comfortable trusting one of those sports mega-outlets. I can't say that I blame you, if this is the case; after all, those info-for-hire services certainly do have your best interests in mind — how else would they get you to subscribe to their service again next year?

Likewise, I'm sure there are many readers who do just fine with their own strategies and value charts. And to those, I commend your efforts and only hope one day our paths may cross in some fantasy football venue so we can put our systems to the test against one another.

Having thrown down the gauntlet, so to speak, I do fully intend to put my hypothetical money where my mouth is. No, I'm not going to invite all of you into some super-sized fantasy football league to prove to you that I am more than just a bunch of fancy words and braggadocio. Rather, I'm going to expose my draft day strategy for the world to see and give you all the opportunity to adopt it as your own.

So, with no further ado, read on for 10 draft day suggestions sure to pave the way to a successful fantasy football campaign.

1. Learn the Rules

Seems silly to say, really, but if you don't know how the scoring system works in your league, then you will have a very difficult time drafting a team best suited for those rules. For those veteran fantasy participants out there, this advice goes without saying, as you are well aware of all the different scoring and lineup scenarios available to a league commissioner. For those rookies, trust me when I say you should spend 30 minutes before your draft pouring over your league's particulars, however mundane and obvious they may seem. Ignorance may be bliss, but it certainly won't lead to any fantasy sports glory.

2. Know Your Opponents

Come draft day, participants will show up for the draft in their favorite teams' hats, jerseys, and in extreme cases, mascot outfits. They'll also be in an excitement-induced sports frenzy, easily cajoled into surrendering all sorts of helpful info should you choose to push the right buttons. Use this to your advantage. Schmooze the owners to your left and to your right ... take notes of what players they seem to light up over when mentioned ... learn their favorite team. All of this info could prove very useful in discussing trade opportunities or determining which players may be overvalued and undervalued by these owners. Like "tells" in Texas Hold 'em, this is info that you can use to your advantage when determining your own strategy as the draft unfolds.

3. Leave Your Team Colors at Home

As much as you want to identify your opponents strategy leading into the draft, your opponents would love nothing more than to do the same to you. Don't let them. Even if this is the one day a year you feel you can justify leaving the house in your ratty old Cleveland Browns sweatshirt, save it for Sundays. I will throw in the one caveat that if you are playing in a league with friends, this item is a moot point, as they certainly already are well aware of your allegiances.

4. Rate Your Own

While I don't recommend spending tens of hours developing and fine-tuning your very own rating system, I also don't recommend just grabbing any old fantasy football preview magazine on the way to the draft and using that publication's rankings to pick your team. It is important to understand that those rankings are quite likely not going to be based on your league's scoring system.

Here are two tips that will help you rate your own players: first, compile a positional depth chart to use as a guide. Do you want two or three QBs? How many total RB/WRs do you want? Having such a list will give you an outline on which you can base your draft and will help keep clarity in your selection process.

Second, find a magazine or an online ranking that includes projected statistics for 2007. Then take those stats and factor in your league's scoring system to project your own list relative to your league. For example, if Publication X has Peyton Manning projected to throw for 4,000 yards, 30 TDs ,and 15 INTs and your league gives you 1 point for every 50 yards passing, 6 points for each TD and –3 points for each INT, than you can figure Manning is good for 215 fantasy points in '07 ((4000/50) + (30 x 6) – (15 x 3) = 215). Taking the extra hour or so that building such a list would involve will pay off big time come draft day.

5. Trade Early

Many experts will tell you to stand pat on draft day and worry about trading after the rosters are initially set. It has been my experience that such a strategy is not as effective as one would think. First of all, savvy owners will draft players simply because they know that you either covet those players or that they are "handcuffs," or backups, to a player you've already drafted. Then, when it comes time to make a trade, they have an advantage as they'll dealing with assets you likely overvalue.

Second, if you wind up drafting early in the first round, you will have access to only a single top-tier player, which puts you at a disadvantage before the players are even selected. For me, it makes more sense to offer picks in rounds two and three for a second first round choice and a fifth rounder. Though this may seem like your giving up a lot, keep things in perspective. What you are gaining is access to two of the top 10 players in the draft (assuming 10 teams in your league), while still having all five of your picks in the all-important rounds 1-5.

Taking this strategy a step further, once you've made such a trade, use your two first round picks on top-tier running backs, then hang tight and grab a QB in round four; you're still going to have your choice of a quality passer and won't have to worry about reaching on a marginal running back to fill a key position, which is what you'd have done with your second and third round picks, anyway.

NOTE: If you are drafting in one of the last two spots of a serpentine draft, this strategy may be wasted motion. A good rule of thumb is to try to get two of the top 12 picks.

6. Don't Pile on at One Position

Many draft day strategists will tell you that you should try to monopolize one of the primary positions on draft day, be it receiver, quarterback, or running back. The thought behind this strategy is you'll be in great position to tailor your team through post-draft trading. In my opinion, this is a flawed strategy, as it leaves holes elsewhere on your team that may well haunt you for the entire campaign. While there is some merit to such a strategy (if done properly), I would recommend that you instead spend your valuable picks grabbing applicable handcuffs and backups to your core players and concentrate on drafting a full roster, which leads me to my next point...

7. Never Settle

There is a perception among many fantasy football owners that some positions just aren't as valuable as others. This is the unequivocal truth — a kicker won't get you as many points as a running back — however, I believe this vein of thought is also quite flawed. Every team owner must play a kicker in every game. If your kicker consistently scores more than your opponent's, then you have a scoring advantage right off the bat. Likewise for defenses or individual defenders (depending on league setup) and tight end. In most cases, these are the positions that will be undervalued, which will allow you to grab the player(s) at these positions you want without having to reach for them.

So, while it is totally true that some positions score you more points than other positions, it is not true that this makes the lesser scoring position that much less important as everyone must play those lesser positions. Rather than taking the "wait and see" approach to who you get to draft at these positions, be the aggressor on draft day.

8. Trust Your Rankings

This point dovetails nicely with the previous item. DO NOT skip players on your draft sheet just because they play a position you feel isn't as important as the others. Trusting your rankings becomes much easier the more work you put into ranking your players. However, even if you take the simplest approach, you must not deviate from your pre-draft plan. This will minimize the snake-oil-selling competitors' abilities to manipulate the draft in their favor (and trust me, they will try, even if you don't know that is what they're doing).

If you have a kicker rated higher than the highest available receiver in say, round 12, then you should not hesitate to take that kicker. Second-guessing these rankings is not a good practice; the projections are what they are for a reason and, as they stay, stats rarely lie.

9. Don't Panic

Probably the best piece of advice I can give is not to worry about how the draft is shaping up in the event that it is not going as planned. Competitive teams are made in the first five rounds of the draft, but championships are won in the middle and late rounds. The worst thing you can do as a drafting owner is reach for lesser talent at a "hot" position simply because the list of players at that position got shorter quicker than you'd expected. Rather than panicking and making a marginal decision, take a deep breath and draft the highest rated player left on your list, regardless of position, especially early on.

Ultimately, if you wind up with the more productive players at positions like kicker, tight end, and wide receiver, it won't matter that your opponent each week gets more points from their No. 2 RB. I like to call this T.J. Duckett Syndrome because Duckett is perceived as a short yardage, goal-line back playing on a team with a smallish No. 1 option, you would assume he's the red zone runner. As such, he looks like a good pick once many of the starting and primary backup runners have already been selected, so he is invariably picked three rounds higher than he should be. I haven't played in a league yet where Duckett hasn't become trade fodder midway through the season. Don't fall prey to this terrible affliction; let your competitor's scramble for the Greg Joneses and Kevan Barlows of the world while you stick to your draft day plan.

10. Have Fun

Finally, remember why you started playing fantasy football in the first place: to have a good time! Even if you have the best team in fantasy football history, none of it is worthwhile if you don't enjoy the participation aspect of the game. Even if you aren't doing so well, if you are enjoying the experience and remaining involved your luck is bound to change. If nothing else, at least that brutal mid-winter Buffalo at New York Jets matchup now has some draw ... come on, Lee Evans!

Following these simple 10 guidelines will get you on your way to that championship season you've been hoping for. Keep an eye out on this website for my player rankings for even more tips on how to have a successful fantasy campaign in 2007!

Comments and Conversation

August 8, 2007


I’m sorry, but that sucked….

August 13, 2007


You Sir, hit the proverbial nail on the head, kudos and all the other accolades.

August 18, 2007


I think Mark the emits guy was a bit harsh! I would most definitely not say this sucked!!
I guess if you really wanted you could call it lame, or unconvincing, unpersuasive, unpleasing, unsatisfactory, unsuitable, or whatever other “un” word you choose, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it sucked.
Just because Dave Letterman has tricked the country into believing that all top ten lists should conclude with a give up item is really no excuse to think that ending with “Have Fun” is acceptable. That part did suck. But 1 through 9, they didn’t really suck that bad.

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