The owner who finishes with the worst record in my fantasy
football league buys the beer for the following year’s
draft. It’s written into our league constitution.
Even worse, he has to suffer the humiliation of serving
drinks to fellow owners. By the time the sixteenth round
is in the books, the poor guy has typically made several
dozen trips to the beverage cooler. I don’t imagine
the tips are all that great.
Although I’ve never been designated beer guy for
our draft, I started wondering what it would take to
finish dead last. The following list represents 10 mistakes
I believe owners will make on draft day and leading up
to draft day. Unless you strive for Bengal-esque futility,
I suggest you shift your strategy to avoid these errors.
1. Draft a quarterback in Round 1.
It wasn’t long ago that Steve Young and Brett Favre
graced the covers of fantasy football magazines as consensus
number one picks. But those days are over. Based on the
drafts I’ve seen so far in 2003, fantasy owners
are pursuing quarterbacks with the urgency of a diseased
turtle. Even the NFL’s premier passers (Donovan
McNabb, Michael Vick and Daunte Culpepper) are falling
to the second or third rounds.
Why the sudden distaste for quarterbacks? More than
anything, it can be attributed to be the fantasy football
passion for running backs. Witness the SOFA experts’ draft
http://www.sofaleague.com/draft/draft.htm, in which 14
of the first 15 picks were running backs. With such an
emphasis on the running game, quarterbacks have taken
a back seat. In fact, more and more owners now even favor
receivers over quarterbacks. And rightly so, the difference
between the top quarterback and the 10th ranked quarterback
isn’t all that great.
Whatever the reason, don’t fight the trend. If
you blow a first-round pick on a quarterback, there’s
a good chance you’ll find yourself irrevocably
thin at running back and receiver – positions which
are clearly harder to fill than quarterback. Wait until
at least the second round to draft your passer. Better
yet, delay your selection until you have at least a few
running backs and receivers in the stable.
2. Underestimate the importance of the last half of
After their starting lineups are filled, many owners
tend to relax. They lose focus. They forget to record
draft picks. They increase their beer consumption. And,
more often than not, they spend the rest of the season
trying to recover.
It has been well-documented here at The Huddle that
about half of all players will fail to live up to expectations.
No matter how confident you are that this is Corey Dillon’s
year, there’s a good chance he will disappoint.
And if he does disappoint, who will you have to fill
his shoes? The simple answer is you need to draft backups
and sleepers who are poised for breakout seasons.
Every draft pick counts. If it’s the tenth round
of your draft and you’re thinking that all the
guys left on your draft sheet are scrubs, you’re
either unprepared or you’ve had one too many fermented
beverages. Each year, without exception, late round picks
emerge as fantasy starters. Trust me. Owners typically
don’t stumble upon the Tiki Barbers or Koren Robinsons
of the draft by mere happenstance. They come prepared
with a list of late-round gems and they keep their heads
in the game until the final pick is announced.
3. Draft with tunnel vision.
It always amazes me when an owner tells me a month before
his draft that he’s going to pick running backs
in each of the first two rounds, followed by a receiver,
then a quarterback. While it’s good to have a plan,
experienced owners monitor every selection in the league
and adapt their strategy based on the flow of the draft.
Go ahead and project the first three or four rounds of
your draft. However, count on owners making a few picks
that have the rest of the league scratching their collective
heads. When that happens, don’t be afraid to react
by tossing your draft plan in the wastebasket and taking
Tracking your fellow owners’ rosters as players
are selected can become quite burdensome for some drafters.
If you feel like it’s causing you more harm than
good, go ahead and scale your draft tracking to a few
of the owners who draft immediately before and after
you. Knowing that the two guys sitting next to you in
the draft order already have selected their starting
quarterback can give you the confidence you need to delay
your own QB selection another round – and nab that
running back everyone has their eye on.
4. Over-analyze the preseason.
Let me take you back to 2002. The Oakland Raiders offense,
under the guidance of a new head coach, looked lost for
the entire preseason. Rich Gannon failed to throw a touchdown
pass in four games. In the midst of his slump, many owners
pushed the panic button and dropped him and other Raider
stars several spots in their rankings. The result? Gannon
went on to lead many fantasy leagues in passing, Charlie
Garner accumulated more than 1,800 yards of total offense,
Jerry Rice was his usual self, and fantasy owners who
were so sure of the Raiders’ demise wiped egg off
their faces all season.
The preseason is a bit of an enigma for fantasy football
participants. Gannon looked horrible, but in reality
wasn’t. Kurt Warner looked equally bad, and was.
So how do you factor in preseason performance when formulating
your rankings? Keep things in perspective. NFL players
understand that the preseason doesn’t count for
anything and so should you. Receivers who are guaranteed
a starting spot typically aren’t going to risk
injury by making a catch in traffic. Workhorse running
backs will step out of bounds when they’d normally
challenge linebackers. Don’t bump the fantasy studs
down your board based on a couple poor preseason games
Also, pay close attention to injuries – not only
to players on your draft sheet but players surrounding
them as well. If Ahman Green is averaging less than two
yards per carry, is it because he has lost a step or
because two of Green Bay’s starting linemen are
injured? Many preseason injuries can be dismissed as
the normal bumps and bruises that come with getting back
into game shape. However, when a quarterback suffers
an injury to his arm or hand, take heed. Likewise, when
a running back or receiver sustains a leg or foot injury,
it should trigger a red flag. Depending on the severity,
these often have a direct and lasting impact on performance.
5. Spend your free time projecting stats.
For most of us, fantasy football is a hobby, not a profession.
Therefore, you only have so many minutes in a day that
you can dedicate to draft preparation. While I won’t
go so far as to say projecting stats and building value-based
spreadsheets is a complete waste of time, your energy
can probably be better spent on information gathering.
That’s because when you get right down to the heart
of fantasy football, it’s guesswork. You may read
about some mystical mathematical formula that will tell
you who to draft, but in the end it’s just someone’s
guess in the guise of Microsoft Excel.
The only edge you can gain in fantasy football is knowledge.
And that’s why I suggest you put aside numbers
in favor of words. Read. Read. Read. If LaDanian Tomlinson
sprains his ankle just hours before your draft, you should
know who’s going to get his carries by the time
his big toe touches the ice tub.
To achieve this level of fantasy aptitude, follow the
Team Links button at the top of this page, select a local
publication and start reading. Browse the local beat
writers for each of the NFL teams. Local reporting provides
more insight than you’ll find on ESPN or CBS. Visit
the member forums on this site and see what local fans
have observed. If yours is a league with several years’ worth
of history, look back on previous drafts for owner trends.
Do this, and when your commissioner raises his mug
of Budweiser and declares the start of the draft, you’ll
be prepared with rankings based on sound research and
a thorough understanding of the NFL landscape.
6. Draft Michael Bennett.
At some point, perhaps as early as the eighth round,
you’ll be tempted to take a gamble on Bennett.
You’ll convince yourself that he will be healthy
at the midway point and fuel your team’s late-season
playoff push. Don’t do it. In fact, cross Bennett
off your list completely.
While spending a late-round pick on a top running back
may seem like a bargain, in actuality, the price is too
high. The primary reason to avoid Bennett has nothing
to do with the nature of his injury. It’s all about
what you’re sacrificing in favor of a player who
will not see your starting lineup until Week 9 at the
earliest. First, you’re passing up the opportunity
to select the next Donald Driver (see #2 above). Remember,
every draft pick counts. Why dedicate a pick to a player
who will get you squat for half the year when you could
land an every-week contributor?
Second, and perhaps more important, is your roster
configuration. With so many teams on bye week at once,
to have multiple backups available at each position.
Again, if Bennett is absorbing a roster slot, he is doing
so at the expense of another player (unless your league
has an IR rule). Not only does this cripple your team
in terms of dealing with injuries and bye weeks, it may
also prevent you from having the freedom to acquire a
hot free agent who could be a difference maker.
7. Invest heavily in players from one NFL team.
As with stock holdings, it’s advantageous to diversify
your fantasy football players as much as possible. While
the Rams and Raiders boast a plethora of high-scoring
stars, owning three or more weekly starters from any
one team is too risky. In addition to setting yourself
up for a painful bye week, you’re putting all your
proverbial eggs in one team’s basket. All it takes
is a key injury to a quarterback or even an offensive
lineman to bring an entire offense – and your entire
fantasy team – to its knees.
On a side note, many owners actively seek out quarterback-receiver
connections (i.e. drafting both Warner and Holt). I’ve
actually seen this work on a couple separate occasions,
so I’m hesitant to dismiss this theory all together.
However, the risk doesn’t seem to be worth the
reward. Draft the players who you believe will score
your team the most points in each position. Period. Exclamation
point. If that lands you a QB-WR connection, so be it.
8. Live in the past.
Let’s get a few things straight. Emmitt Smith will
never again rush for 20 touchdowns. Brett Favre is no
longer a top five quarterback. Jerry Porter should be
drafted before Tim Brown. And trust me; Barry Sanders
isn’t coming out of retirement. If you enjoy the
novelty of seeing future Hall-of-Famers on your roster,
go for it. However, understand that overpaying these
veterans – all of whom are past their prime – is
the surest way to end up in your league’s cellar.
9. Let your emotions be your guide.
My father was an excellent teacher. When I was growing
up, he passed along his wisdom to me on many occasions.
He taught me how to fish, to hammer a nail, to swim,
to read and write. But the lesson that had the greatest
impact took place every Sunday in the fall and winter.
We’d sit in the family room and he’d teach
me to love the Green Bay Packers and hate the Minnesota
Vikings. I was an excellent student.
Even so, when it comes to fantasy football, I have
learned to put my emotions aside. I don’t feel like I need
to draft a third-string Packer receiver to complete my
fantasy squad. I don’t avoid choosing Vikings.
On the contrary, there was a stint in the mid-1990s where
the dreaded Cris Carter was a mainstay on my fantasy
team. All he did was catch touchdowns … and lead
my team to a championship.
The point is, to succeed in fantasy football you need
to draft players who will give you the best opportunity
to win your league. Eventually, that will mean putting
your emotions on the backburner and selecting a player
you despise or bypassing your favorite player.
10. Overemphasize the running back position.
The notion that you need two stud running backs to win
in fantasy football has gotten a bit out of hand. It’s
gotten to the point where many owners don’t consider
any position other than running back in the first two
rounds. Some even go so far as to select a running back
in each of the first three rounds.
There is no question that running backs are critical.
However, you can’t win with Wayne Chrebet and Tai
Streets as your starting receivers, so don’t get
carried away. More importantly, if the situation dictates,
don’t be afraid to break from the norm and take
a receiver in one or both of the first two rounds. If
it’s your pick and your decision is between Jamal
Lewis and Terrell Owens, you really ought to take Owens.
He is a top tier receiver, whereas Lewis is at best a
second-tier running back. While you may be sacrificing
quality at running back, you can make up ground by selecting
several mid-tier backs in the class of James Stewart,
Garrison Hearst and Amos Zereoue.