There are a ton of draft strategies floating around every year as the Fantasy Football draft talk starts to pick up pace. Each year we see people claim their “fool-proof” strategies will guarantee you’ll win your league. There are people that claim RB-RB is the way to go while others tell you to jump on an elite QB early. Everyone’s a little different and every draft is different. You have to be able to adjust on the fly and be able to make smart decisions. In this post I’ll be outlining my draft strategy for the 2011 fantasy season and help you make more informed decisions on draft day.
I’ll cover some of the basic things you should know heading into your draft. They may seem simple but many people constantly overlook these steps and end up paying for it with a poor season.
The most important thing, and I can’t stress this enough, is that you have to understand your position and have to be able to adjust to the way the draft plays out. If you are going into the draft with a set player or a position in mind for every pick, you’re going to fail. You must be a chameleon on draft day and be prepared for anything to happen. For example, don’t go into the draft dead set on taking a RB in the first round simply because you want a RB. If you have a late pick and the RB’s on the board are past that elite tier, you may be better off drafting a WR like the Texan’s Andre Johnson.
Another thing you shouldn’t do; don’t draft your favorite players just because you like them. Sure it will be fun to root for them but don’t expect to win. Most people reach for players they like, and they wind up getting terrible value. It’s also a bad idea to draft every player from your favorite team. Not every team will be great so if your favorite team has a poor year it will be echoed by your fantasy team. Try to be diverse with your picks, and keep an open mind to other players.
Lastly, draft based on value. Don’t force yourself to draft an average RB when you can get your hands on a great WR. Hold off on drafting a defense and a kicker until the later rounds. I usually wait till at least the 10th round to draft my defense. Don’t panic if people start drafting them in the 7th round. Let them take defenses and watch as some good players start falling to you. If you can’t get your hands on one of the elite defenses I wouldn’t even bother. I’d take a gamble on a young upstart defense in the 12th or 13th round and then hunt the waiver wire to get defenses with good match-ups. I’ve done this before in the past and it has worked beautifully. As for kickers, there is no reason why you should draft one earlier than the last or 2nd to last round.
The “Sexy” Picks
Every year there are what I call the “sexy” picks. The guys that EVERY fantasy site is proclaiming to have a break out year. Think of guys like Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Donald Brown, Beanie Wells etc. It’s true that some of those players go on to have great seasons, but there are no sure things. What ends up happening is that people fall in love with that great new young player. They have their eyes set on him, as does the whole league, and they end up reaching badly for them. After all, it’s satisfying to be able to say “Hey, I drafted Arian Foster last year so I saw his big season coming”. The problem is, if that player disappoints (which happens more than you think) then you’re screwed because chances are you wasted a very high pick on them. Look at last season. Did you know that Ryan Matthews and Shonn Greene went in the 2nd round of most drafts? What happened to them breaking out and being sure fire picks? If you took one of those guys, you basically just threw away a 2nd round pick.
I’m all for sleepers and they can easily make the difference between a mediocre team and a championship team. The problem is when these “sleepers” start creeping up draft boards to the point where they’re no longer sleepers and are getting drafted amongst proven NFL players. You have to draw the line somewhere and understand that you’re getting poor value. Let someone else take the sexy pick early. It’s a big risk and I’d much rather have the safe pick to add to my core group of players rather than a bunch of question marks.
Now let’s take a look at some of the sexy picks this year. One guy that jumps out to me right off the bat is Jimmy Graham. Very athletic TE who put up solid numbers for the Saints last year in limited opportunities. Everyone loves his athleticism and combined with the Saints pass attack it sounds like an awesome situation. For the most part it is, and I have him projected as my 6th ranked TE. The problem is he’s getting drafted in the 6th/7th round right now. That is very poor value for a largely unproven TE. He’s getting drafted above guys like Vernon Davis. I’m not a big fan of taking a TE early, especially this year because there’s a lot of depth, so the thought of taking an unproven TE in the 6th round is shocking to me. My 7th ranked TE is Brandon Pettigrew and his ADP is 145 right now meaning he’s getting drafted around the 13th round in 12-team leagues. That’s much better value.
Now it’s still very early so much of these sexy picks haven’t been climbing up boards yet but one guy to keep an eye out for is Sam Bradford. He had a solid rookie year and with Josh McDaniels in town people are expecting great things from him. He’s going around the 10th round right now so he’s not exactly getting over-drafted yet, but I expect his hype to pick up steam because it seems every major fantasy site has him as a sleeper right now. Once the lockout is lifted and articles start getting published, his stock could soar. I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts getting drafted around the same time as Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman and Eli Manning, at which point he would be a terrible value pick.
2011 Draft Strategy
Ok, so I went over how you should avoid the sexy pick, because most of the time you are getting poor value. This year, my plan is to focus on consistent, reliable, proven players. Especially with the lockout, the younger more inexperienced players aren’t getting a chance to practice with their respective teams. If you build your core of proven players and combine that with some late round sleepers you’re in for a good year.
I went back and looked at my drafts from years past. Every time I did well I drafted “safe” players early and then got a couple of sleepers in the middle to late rounds that put my team over the top. Every time I had poor seasons it was because I gambled on those sexy picks and new breakout stars early, not to mention some one year wonders (Steve Slaton). When they didn’t pay off, I didn’t have that nucleus of players to rely on that will produce no matter what. It’s one of the reasons I recommend drafting Adrian Peterson first rather than Arian Foster who has potential to bust. Get the proven player first and take some risks later.
So who are these players? They should be easy to pick out. Guys like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers, Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, Rashard Mendenhall, Matt Forte, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, Greg Jennings etc. Those are just a few of the guys I’m talking about. These are guys you want to target early.
Here’s what your team could potentially look like after 5 rounds. Let’s assume you pick near the middle of each round.
1 – Ray Rice
2 – Greg Jennings
3 – Tom Brady
4 – Jonathan Stewart
5 – Santonio Holmes
All guys who consistently produce. Sure, Stewart had a down year last year but who didn’t for the Panthers? The OL was banged up, they had no QB, it was tough to find any running room. Point being, Stewart is the biggest gamble of the group and I’m more than comfortable with that.
I’ve always liked the idea of getting 2 RB’s, 2 WR’s and a QB in the first 5 rounds but then again you have to see how the draft unfolds. If you get those 5 core players though, you’ll be fine.
One thing to note is that if you want proven RB’s, you better target them early. After the first 3 rounds or so, the RB’s on the board are mostly unknowns. Keep an eye out on how the draft unfolds to make sure you get your hands on at least 2 solid RB’s.
You have the rest of your draft to get some depth and that’s where you can start looking for sleepers. A few guys that I like this year are Mario Manningham, Austin Collie, Pierre Thomas (if Bush leaves), Mikel LeShoure, Mike Goodson, Tim Tebow, Brandon Pettigew, Jared Cook. The highest ranked player in that group is Collie who I’ve seen go in the 7th/8th round range. Most of the other guys can be drafted past the 10th round and all have a lot of upside. If a few of those guys produce, you’re easily looking at a contender.
One thing to note is that there should be a ton of players on the waiver wire this year that could make an impact. Which again goes to show that you can’t sell your soul for those sexy picks early in the draft. Draft your core and then hold off. I like a bunch of RB’s this year that can all easily go undrafted and have the potential to make a big impact in the season. I’ll cover those at a later date, but think of guys like DeMarco Murray, Montario Hardesty etc.
The main thing I want you to get out of reading this is to avoid the media hype and falling in love with that flashy young player. Stick with the proven productive players. Let someone else take those risks early. The NFL is all about consistency and with the lockout affecting many off-season routines, that philosophy has never been more prescient, or relevant.