You've just completed your starting roster in your draft and before the league starts working on the remaining roster spots, it's time to stretch. You have managed to grab most of your targeted players, those big names with the big stats. The top twenty players from each skill positions are now all gone, regardless of whatever rankings you go by. Life is good and you deserve a chance to return your beverages back to mother earth, grab another cold one and stretch out again. Now then, feeling refreshed? Ready to fill in the blanks left on your roster? Breath in...breath out...breath in...
NOW RUN BACK, HUP-HUP-HUP, THE REAL DRAFT IS STARTING!
Usually after the first six to eight rounds, there is a collective "wheew" from most teams who have now filled out their starting roster (week one anyway) and have nothing more to do than fill in all those empty depth spots with "someone". And yet now the real draft begins.
Thanks to a suggestion in The Huddle message board, we've been trying to assemble useful strategies for those important later rounds. Problem is that there are so many variations in scoring values, roster spots, league type and experience, draft rules and so on from league to league, that any specific strategy would only perfectly fit maybe about six leagues in the country and be downright misleading to a hundred others. So in the words of any decent garage rock band, "we sat down, thought about it and wrote a little something that sounds like this..."
Late Round Tips And General Rules-O-Thumb
General Team considerations:
- Look for "upside" - Once you've cleared out the players everyone agrees should do well, look for the players most likely to rise. Chances are far better you'll score better with a second or third year player than a twelve year veteran with declining numbers. Catch the players going up, not down. Most players get about a four or five year window of good production and you'll benefit more often taking someone with realistic promise than another player who you hope can hang on to what he once was. When you get to this point, ask yourself "will I get more from an injury prone Hampton or a fresh Barber?".You're taking back-ups now and you need guys who can step up for you. Those with breakout years generally do so within their first few years in the league. Of course Testaverde and Tony Martin broke this rule, but typically players do not suddenly become stars in their 6th or 8th year.
- Stay alert for new situations - There is a lot of movement in the NFL these days and a slew of players who change teams. Fact is that most of those who do switch do not meet expectations. It's a new offense, timing takes time, and a host of other variable that prevent a player from realizing perceived potential. On the other hand, players who are in a new situation on the same team have a better chance of doing well. Once a starter bolts to free agency or gets a significant injury, other guys are there waiting for their shot. New situations can uncover unrealized talent. Once you get deeper in the draft, you want someone with potential and opportunity. It may be your back-up spot now, but in a week or so it may be the best you have for a position.
- Pull the trigger - If you have a favorite sleeper or just a player that you really want, resist the temptation to wait him out before taking him. Last year I watched two of my favorites during the middle rounds get taken earlier than I thought would happen. Eddie George went 8 picks away and Freeman was taken by the pick before mine. If you have a strong instinct about a guy, don't wait too long to grab him. Besides, no one believes you later that you really liked him.
- Do not wait to get a back-up - Quarterbacks are marked men to every defensive player who has ever crossed the line of scrimmage at a full run. Favre is almost hurt by the fact he hasn't missed appreciable time in years. Chances are very good that sooner or later, you will need to use another QB and the fact is that you probably only get to start one and he better be good.
- Do not covet an untested #2 QB - Each year it seems there are less instances of "Young waiting for Montana to move on". It is usually prudent to pick a #2 QB from a NFL team when that team has a great offense. Bono in GB steps into a machine. Look for teams that not only have a good offense, but also a good #2 QB. There are several teams out there with experienced QB's in the wings - Hostetler, Moon, Everett, etc.. It is unlikely they will post huge numbers and more so, you cannot predict they will be there for you when you need them unless you have Frerotte, Friesz, Humphries, etc.. Even then, you would have a better time getting a starting QB from a lesser team than waiting around hoping a #2 will step up for you. You'll get more points with Dilfer on the field than Bono on the bench (unless of course you have Brett).
- Forget the 3rd down guys - While you do see their name in the box scores every so often, invariably they will not perform for you on the one week you need them. Even deep in the draft, you want to find consistency in a player you suddenly need to start. You cannot get this with a true third down back. Go grab a rookie or a #2 true RB and you could get lucky. Meggett? Harmon? No thanks.
- Starters, starters, starters - Have a list of the starting RB's for each NFL team before drafting (as accurate as is possible). Before you go grabbing a #2 or #3 RB for an NFL team, you should make sure your list is all crossed off. Get the guys who get the opportunity first. Did you want Stephen Davis last year? Were there any starters still out there when he was drafted?
- Do your homework - No other position is as consistent as RB. No other position incurs the injuries that RB's do. You need to know who is starting and who is backing up and who has a legitimate shot at making an impact when they play. While all positions are important, RB's command the most respect since they will have a critical influence on the consistency of your team. After all the starters are gone, know who the #2 guys with the best mixture of ability, team offense and role to fill. If you do any extra studying, do it on RB's.
- Watch for the blossoms - Everybody loves a rookie. WR is not a good place to find a rookie star. Sure, there are some who do well, but for the most part star WR's take two to four years to develop, with three as an average. Consider the breakout years for our current studs - Rice (2nd), Moore (4th), Pickens (3rd), Bruce (2nd). And notice too that all remained at the same team, learning the system and getting routes down. As a general rule, most good receivers come into their own in their third year. Look for those promising second to fourth year WR's. Westbrook doesn't count. Nor Stokes.
- Possession is the law - Seek out those WR's who will be filling in a possession role. There are always those long ball wonders, but what about the three out of four games they get squat? Better to get something consistently than a bunch only every so often.
- Half the puzzle - In no other position is the fortunes of one player so dependent on another player - the QB. You'll have a better chance of realizing rewards by taking WR's who are #3 on a team that scores a lot with a good QB than to grab a #2 on a low scoring team (sometimes even the #1 WR). The touchdown passes have to be made in order for anyone to share in them. When you are deep in the draft, ask yourself - who is on a team that passes a lot of TD's? Hey, I'll sit back and cross my legs while you go through the depth charts of New Orleans, Tampa Bay and New York Giants. Bring up WR's for the Packers, Ravens, Bengals or Jaguars and you got my attention.
These guidelines can all be disputed with cases of players who broke a rule. There is no replacing having a good understanding of the NFL teams and their players. There is nothing more powerful than having accurate, timely information. But at some point you will get into a situation where you're trying to decide between two or three guys who seem evenly matched and it is then that a good rule-o-thumb can help.
Those later rounds are the fun ones because that's where you make your sleeper moves and hold your breath half the time waiting to see of your guy gets taken. If you really want to know how your team ranks, wait until the following year and see how possible it would be to build that team again. The guys you get deep are the ones that will make the difference in your season, the ones that next year won't be hanging out there in the tenth round twiddling their thumbs. They are out there, you just have to find them.
Hup-hup-hup! Good luck and better drafting!