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Draft Plan Nuts and Bolts... and Hammers
Kevin Ratterree
August 3, 2010
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In my last article, The Evolution of a Fantasy Football Fanatic, I discussed how Average Draft Position can be invaluable in forming your draft plans. I'd like to go a little bit further into that in this feature. At this point "mock drafting" has become a regular ritual of the fantasy football crowd. A "practice run" for the real draft. This to some degree has made drafting more predictable than it has been in the past. And that can help you tremendously in forming a draft plan.

Every season there is a different ebb and flow in fantasy drafts. There are certain positions that go on runs in certain rounds.  Once these patterns are established in the mock drafting realm, they can become fairly predictable.  While it is impossible to predict the actual outcome of any draft (there is always at least one crazy guy no matter what-and sometimes it is me) it is entirely possible to form a specific plan based on the expected results.

As I discussed in the last article, I always try to have an "angle" in any draft.  Sometimes I use what may be considered unconventional methods to arrive at those angles.  For instance, let's say there is a "sleeper" player I am just absolutely on fire for.  I just know this guy is going to deliver the goods.  The Hammer.  I want that player. What do I have to do to get him? 

Let's say through mock drafting and studying the ADP I know that his average draft position is at 6:12.  Okay, this is not good.  I have the 6:01 pick and the 7:12 pick.  What should I do?  Do I dismiss him?   

Not only will I likely have to "overpay" for this player if I want him, but if I don't get him it looks as though he could very possibly fall to one of the guys that got Chris Johnson, or Ray Rice, or MJD.  And there is no way he is going to fall to me at 7:12.  Other people have designs on this guy too.  This is the first crossroad of a draft plan.  And the answer for me is usually easy.  Yes, I am paying the premium because I must have this player.  There are no players that will be drafted in this round that I like better.  I consider this player essential to my success.  It is a no-brainer.  So I chalk that up.  6.1 WR.

Once I have made this mental commitment I start to look at the pool of players that are typically available in the rounds leading up to that pick.  Most times, we all have an idea, based on our draft position, what players we want to target in the first two rounds.  And it is what we do in these first two rounds that shape the rest of our draft.  But before I decide who I want in those first two rounds, now that I am committed to taking a WR in the 6th round, I try to get an idea of the players available between rounds 3-6.  If I just go off half-cocked and take two RBs in the first two rounds, I can get myself into a situation that is not conducive to building the best possible team. 
               
I try to play this "favored" player strategy.  If you look at a mock draft, there are usually one or two guys in every round that you would really like to have.  I hone in on these favored players when planning a draft.  Sometimes there are only receivers I like available in certain rounds.  Sometimes there are only running backs.  Sometimes there are neither.  But by examining the players likely to be available in each round, I can begin to put my draft puzzle together.

Let's see, I am picking late in the first round (as always it seems) so I am going to have to take a "lesser" running back,or go stud receiver.  But then if I do that, what kind of RB do I end up with in the second round?  Maybe there are no RBs drafted in that range that appeal to me, so I opt to start out wide receiver in the first two rounds.  Okay, then if I do that, where does that put me?  I already have plans to draft 3 WRs in the first 6 rounds.  Yeah, that sounds about right for me.  Okay, so what happens in rounds 3-4-5?  I obviously have to get running backs at some point, there are only so many good ones to go around, and none are sure-things once you get to the third round or so.

So I ask, is there a running back savior in the 3-5th rounds?  One that I consider acceptable as an RB1.  Hmm.  I'm not so sure.  But there is a wide receiver I think is undervalued late in the third round.  Maybe I need to look back at that round two pick and see if I might go a different direction after all.

I'm sure a lot of you have gone through these gyrations.  You can play the "what if" game with your draft plans infinitely.  And then those plans can be blown up as the players you expected get nabbed, or ones you never expected fall.  And that is one reason that I don't get too hung up on "value."

The "value" of a draft pick has a lot different definition at the end of the season than it does before a season.  For instance, I drafted Miles Austin in one of my leagues last year in the 10th round.  It was a very early draft, and Austin's value actually cooled quite a bit between that draft and the open of the season.  At that point, Austin did not seem a value pick at all.  In fact, to most in the league, it was probably a wasted pick.  He ended up undrafted in some leagues.  But who had the last laugh? 

I drafted Chris Johnson a full round before his ADP during his breakout rookie season.  Nobody in my league suspected at that moment that my pick was a "value" pick. And the guys in my keeper league had no idea the power shift that had just occurred.  But compared to pre-season mocks, I had paid a bit of a premium for Johnson.  The value based drafter never had a chance.

I didn't care.  I was overjoyed that I had not played cheap-skate and let some other snake eat my prey.  The pre-season rankings never turn out to be right.  The ADP never turns out to be right.  They are close sometimes.  But the key to winning is to not get caught up in popular opinion if you think you are onto something.  It isn't always necessary to pay too much for players.  One can sometimes glean from the ebb and flow of the draft where bargains might be found in later rounds.  But I rarely get caught in the greed noose when it comes to the players I really am convinced about.  Bargain hunting is great, except when someone comes along and steals your "hammer" right out from under your nose, then proceeds to spend the next 13 weeks beating you and the rest of the league over the head with it.   

But back to this imaginary draft plan, let's say I am totally unconvinced that any running backs I could draft in the 2nd or 3rd round will help me.  Alright then, let's see what other players I like in the 3rd round.  I could get my pick of tight ends if I wanted.  I could still get a great QB most likely, 

Of course what you can't count on is a player unexpectedly dropping to you that you never imagined.  If you are drafting with a bunch of wide receiver freaks, maybe a running back you thought you would never have the chance at falls to you in the third.  This is really the area where the road forks in your draft.  If there is one spot that I prefer to leave open-ended it is that third pick.  Or any pick in any round where there are likely to be several players I am interested in. 

And another thing you cannot count on is getting that "hammer" you want at 6:01.  When you are drafting with the sharks, you can have the rug pulled out from under you when you least expect it.  Or worse, you can be drafting with complete novice that has no concept whatsoever of ADP and drafts your sleeper star three rounds before you were going to.  I mean, I am all about drafting the players you really want, but most of us are so conscious of "value" it is unthinkable to "overpay" by that much.  It seems most of the time when that happens it is a quarterback that is reached for.  Usually in a state of panic after the initial run on the position.  This of course can be particularly annoying if you were patiently waiting on Kolb until the 7th round and some bozo drafts him in the 4th. 

I talked in the last article about "painting yourself in a corner" position-wise.  This is not such a huge problem in leagues that start 2RB/3WR/1TE/ Flex.  That long lineup gives you a lot of freedom, where traditional short lineups 2RB/2WR/1TE are much more confining from a drafting standpoint.

Given that freedom, I have drafted 3 WRS in the first three rounds before.  Didn't really plan it that way, but the RB I was hoping to get went before my turn, and there was no other RBs in that part of the draft that I was interested in.  Meanwhile I really liked the WR I got in the third round, and that pick insured that my WR crew would be downright nasty.  Yes, it did change my draft plan, but I had already contemplated this possibility and had a contingency.

One thing you never want to be in your draft is panicked.  It is okay to mock-panic fooling around with mock drafts.  But you never want to be caught off-guard during a real draft.  Great decisions are not usually made while the clock is ticking on you.  All of your decisions need to be thought out before-hand.  Don't conduct your fantasy draft plan the way Big Oil conducts their drilling plans.  Be prepared for the worst.

Of course as the draft goes along, and you get past those first rounds, if you have gone in with a good plan and executed it well, the later rounds are much less intense.  You know the sleepers and depth players you want, and you can usually pick up a lot of those as you go without such a strict "plan of action."  That is not to say that you should go unprepared into later rounds.  I do mock-ups of every round, with different players targeted depending on my teams needs at that point of the draft.  I love the middle rounds.  That is where you go sleeper shopping in earnest.  And despite all your careful plans during the early rounds, the middle rounds are often where potential championships are won and lost. 

It is however, usually much harder to predict where players will be taken in those middle rounds, as people begin to break completely away from the consensus, madly dashing for the guy that can fix all the mistakes they made in the first six rounds.  Well, the people that want to win are doing that.  Others are worrying about getting a "top flight" defense, and the ever important "back-up defense.  That's fine if your league gives inordinate points to defenses, I guess.  But meanwhile I am scooping up my favorite sleepers like nobody's business. 

But the method just described is just one way to skin 11 cats.  There isn't a player I am as hot on as I was Chris Johnson every year.  And it is indeed easier to base your draft plan on your first two picks rather than "building it backwards" so to speak.  The popular method right now is to take an RB and a WR in the first two rounds.  This is gaining in popularity not only because of the proliferation of the passing game, but because it just leaves the drafter so many open ended options as the draft moves forward.  Indeed, if you go into a draft planning to go WR/RB or RB/WR, planning the remainder of your draft is much easier, because you have more options, and you will be less predictable. 

I try, at least a couple of times a year to do a mock draft where I take a quarterback in the first two rounds.  The lure in getting pretty hard to resist in the modern day passing age.  The truly elite fantasy quarterbacks are few, but the points they offer their owners are often fantasy football's song of the siren. 

I'm not saying it can't be done.  Of course it can.  It has.  But the road to glory becomes so much harder, and so much more dependent on luck.  I say that because once you have committed to quarterback early, you are in an entirely different boat than the guys that went RB/WR.  You effectively "paint yourself in a corner" when you choose this path.  Your impending moves then are much more predictable to your fellow drafters, and the smart ones will use this to their advantage, especially if you are drafting near the turn.  

Of course, the same might be said for those who go WR/WR, or RB/RB.  But for me, it has been my experience that even in mock drafts, drafting becomes much more stressful, much less easy to maintain control, and to be frank, more downright uncomfortable when you go QB early.  I'm not saying I wouldn't try it, if everything laid out just right.  And I do usually try to work up a draft plan using the Stud QB theory.  It just usually never turns out to suit me.  I did try it last year in one league, because I was feeling particularly cocky, and thought I might have an angle. It did not turn out well.  I was a middle of the pack team.  Predictable.

Regardless of how you plan your draft, you never get every player you want.  Well, I take that back, I did once.  It was awesome.  I won a championship.  Here's hoping you win one this year.  It's almost "hammer-time."

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