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Cheat Sheets - Hmm...
David M. Dorey

What? Me use a cheat sheet? Does the thought make you feel stupid? Like the first time you ever drafted and selected all those players from your favorite team only to later discover - "Hey, these guys don't really score that much".

To these questions I'll respond with a resounding "You betcha!"

However - maybe not in the same way you may have in years gone by.

Cheat Sheets are wonderful for the newbie or casual FF players, which is usually the majority. They provide a ranking of the players within a position. Although they are created apart from your own scoring scenario, I have to tell you, they can work. Unfortunately so. I say this because in one of my leagues in 1996, an owner was unable to be present at the draft (something about a car accident involving his pregnant wife - "Oh, all right then"). In good faith we collectively drafted for him by selecting the next highest ranked player on the Fantasy Football Index cheat sheet and reasonably arrayed the choices to fill out his roster. The end result? He placed second with an 11-6, and this after having lost Robert Brooks and Jeff George.

Now he made some good trades and supplemental picks, and I'm quick to note, he had the lowest "points-against" in the league, but regardless the cheat sheet gave him enough to get competitive and allow the trades/supplementals/damn-lucky-schedule to take over. With that said, I too usually acquire a cheat sheet, though it is to add to my arsenal of information and not to instruct me who I need to pick.

You should determine which cheat sheets will be used by your league members. This grants you a road map to get the players you want. Most Cheat Sheets are fairly similar, particularly for the first ten or fifteen players within a position. After you decide who you want on your team, those sleepers and sure-fires that will make your season, you need to know how you can obtain as many of them as possible. In order to do this, you should try to at least have an inkling as to where certain players you desire would be drafted if you do not take them first. To do this, and trust me I do this, use the cheat sheet rankings for players.

If you have been in the league for more than a season, you can determine the drafting tendencies of your fellow FF'ers. Do they always take two RB's to start, do they insist on a first round QB, do they like Dilfer? Coupling this with the cheat sheet they will be referring to and you'll surprise yourself how close you can predict the initial four rounds. These first rounds will clear out the low-risk, productive players and you must ensure you walk away with your share. Another rule of thumb is that a player will go a few spots higher than ranked by a cheat sheet if they are from the owner's favorite team or if they had the player the previous year and they did well. There is a strange tendency to go with what you know.

During the draft, you need to always be aware of the other owners picks, in particular the positions they have already filled. It is unlikely that someone will take their second QB before the sixth round and only RB's usually have more than 2 chosen prior to the fourth round. The other owners are largely just trying to fill out their active roster first, and only then move on to taking back-ups. The safest bet is that most teams will go RB-QB-WR-RB, RB-RB-QB-WR or possibly WR-QB-RB-RB. While there are multiple configurations possible, it is a safe assumption that most teams will take 2 RB's and 1 QB before their second WR. While taking the best player available is VERY sound (and I've done the math), the fact is that almost all people who will rely on a cheat sheet will also go into the draft with the intent to initially fill out a starting roster first.

By tracking what other teams already have, you are in a better position to predict what they will do. Sort of like a FF version of card-counting in blackjack. If you see that only three teams still need a second RB, and the guy you want is listed 6 slots down on the Cheat Sheets, you can take an educated gamble and pass on him until the next round and select another player you would otherwise not find available.

While this is FAR more work than the average FF'er will put forth, the more obsessed fan (raise your hand) will try to structure a drafting strategy that includes what the others will do. If you are new to the league or it is an Internet league with limited interaction of team owners, then Cheat Sheets are even more important as a source of information on how the others will likely value players. Again, The old cliché "draft the best available player" is very, very sound and difficult to adhere to since you have a roster to fill out. In order to draft well, you need to determine a few players in each round you are targeting as to position and have a realistic idea they will be there for you.

An even more extreme measure is to hold your own mock-draft (raise your hand). For two years I have done this considering the cheat sheet and the drafting tendencies of teams for the initial four rounds. While being correct as to which player goes to which team is impossible by the fourth round, I am correct on probably 80%-90% of which players go in which round. Armed with that, I can decide who I am targeting and draft much more effectively than someone who simply looks for the first player not crossed out on their cheat sheet.

Another extension of this is to watch the Internet for those teams kind enough to publish the results of their drafts. This is available on many of the FF homepages but the best site is probably to check the fantasy football Newsgroup at alt.rec.sports.fantasyfootball. By understanding where players are most likely to go, I am able to make a list of intended draft choices in each round. In a good year, I can pick-up at least 75% of the players I target as gotta-haves.

All in all, Cheat Sheets are your ally because they are like a spy on the enemy's battle plan. By arming yourself with the cheat sheet for popular player rankings, factoring in home team preferences and FF team tendencies and viewing at least one or two other draft results, you will put your war room in the best position to succeed. Most magazine Cheat Sheets are actually made in May or early June, so they usually do not reflect any player shifts from training camps. This can grant the informed FF'er an edge. Know your own strategy, watch your draft mates and take advantage of information.

Good luck!