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Draft Success -- Gaining Value in Every Round
by Joe Levit
August 27, 2003
 

Fantasy football is entirely about selecting and retaining players with high fantasy value. Before the season, owners scour reports coming out of the training camps to find players who are being overlooked. At the draft, owners pick the players who they feel give them the best value. During the season owners make trade offers to increase the value of their team. The draft demands the most from an owner because it requires lots of decisions about the value of relative players in a short amount of time.

Many owners defer to cheat sheets to help them in the crunch, and that is a mistake. While using a cheat sheet as a base of orientation during a draft can be a helpful tool, relying on the order presented on the sheet will not net you a valuable squad. There are other strategies to use when it is your turn to pick in order to consistently grab talent that will produce better than the draft slot. Apply the strategies below at your draft and see the difference they make for your team.

Flexibility

Too many owners get caught up in preparing for their draft with a specific strategy in mind, and fail to find value as often as they should because they refuse to alter their plan once the drafting begins. Despite the best projections and planning, drafts are dictated by all of the owners selecting as a whole. You don’t get to draft in a vacuum, so once the selecting starts, be prepared to let go of your preparations when a great player is suddenly available.

Round Skipping

One way to gain value in a draft is to keep close track of which slots your fellow owners are likely to fill between your picks to determine whether you can let a player you want fall to your second pick. Suppose you are selecting with the tenth pick in the third round and there are two players you really want to select. The thing to do is figure out if one of those players is at a position that no one between you and your next pick will be likely to want to fill. Perhaps you desire both Curtis Martin and Hines Ward. You look at the owners after you who each have two picks before you draft again in round four. They both selected running backs in each of the first two rounds. This sets you up for an opportunity to complete a successful round skip. You decide to take a chance on Curtis Martin dropping to your second pick, because the owners are more likely to be looking at quarterbacks or wide receivers. You take Hines Ward and still grab Curtis Martin in the next round, on your way to a strong draft.

This gamble does not always work. One of the other two owners could have chosen to finish his tailback slots by grabbing Martin in the third round, using his first three picks on running backs. But this type of gamble is what is often necessary to play the draft properly. If you can successfully maneuver a round skip, then you have grabbed a player lower in your draft than the value you placed on him.

Positions runs

A position run is when a number of owners begin to select players from a particular fantasy position all at once. Picture everybody suddenly going after wide receivers, or even kickers. Nearly every draft article you read warns you never to take part in these positions runs because you will be getting lesser players at the targeted position and could find better value at other positions.

This advice is a real disservice for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, you cannot realistically always avoid a position run. The whole first two rounds of any draft are essentially a position run on running backs. Sometimes it is foolish not to participate in position runs, because there is a reason that owners are drafting those players at that time. A great drafter knows when to engage in a position run, much like a great running back knows when to follow his lead blockers, and when to cut back on his own.

If you can start a position run, that is a better option, of course. Try to anticipate when it is best for you to select a tight end, for example, or when to grab your backup quarterback or defense, and you can be ahead of your fellow owners by taking the top players from those groups.

Cream-of-the-crop players

Try to fill your starting fantasy slots with the very best at the respective positions. It is usually better to have a few superstars on your team along with some solid players rather than a whole team of above-average talent. The superstars are sometimes able to carry you to victory by themselves, and the more of them you start each week the better your odds of that happening.

For example, if you are drafting near the beginning of the first round, you have a shot this year at getting the top fantasy running back because there are a number of players who could become that back. A few rounds later you could take the first tight end of the draft, and follow that up after more rounds by tabbing the first defense of your choice, say perhaps the Buccaneers this year.

If you draft later in the first round, you may instead choose to pick the top receiver in your rankings, and follow that up right away with your top quarterback. Then, you still could draft a top tight end, or decide when to take your favorite kicker.

Whatever way you are able to go about it, actively pursuing the best player at a specific position is a good idea. Finding starters for your fantasy roster is something to focus on during a draft because barring injury and bye weeks they are the players you will count on each week to win games. It may mean you sometimes have to draft a particular player a round earlier than you would like.

Handcuffing

The idea behind handcuffing is to back up some of your top stars at either QB or RB by selecting their backups in your draft. This can be an effective technique in an offense that is very strong or when you have backups who are dynamite. For example, drafting Marc Bulger this year after taking Kurt Warner earlier is a good idea. Bulger was capable of winning with the team last season when Warner was hurt or ineffective.

Be careful not to get carried away with this technique however. More often it is better to attempt to select other players who are already starters and may become very productive. These starters can be moved into your lineup if they prove valuable enough, or used as trade material to improve weaker positions in your starting lineup. When you handcuff too often, you are basing a pick on the likelihood of major injury to a starter. That isn’t going to help you win most of the time. Even with a back like Jamal Lewis, who has had major knee surgery twice, taking a chance on a potential starter like Vikings rookie running back Onterrio Smith or Redskins back Ladell Betts would be a smarter move than selecting Musa Smith at the same point in a draft.

Personal Opinion

If you never go out on a limb in fantasy football, you will never get the sweetest fruit. When you have a hunch about a particular player having a much better year than the majority of owners predict, do select him. Owners who drafted Clinton Portis last year even though he was at one time fourth on the depth chart were handsomely rewarded for their foresight. The other half of this plan is to avoid players who you just do not like because of their injury history or their unwarranted hype. Keyshawn Johnson is a big name every year in fantasy football, but in my opinion he is always drafted before he should be. Even last season, with Gruden as his coach, Johnson’s production was not as high as many receivers taken after him in drafts. There is nothing worse than selecting a player you don’t like and then watching him play poorly for you.

If you use these techniques in a timely fashion, you will be able to look over your entire draft and feel good about the value you gained in each round. Against quality competition, you may not have the best team after the draft, but should be one of the top three or four squads in your league, good enough to get you moving toward the playoffs from the start.