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The Art of Drafting
Joe Levit
July 16, 2004

What is it that makes draft day so much fun? And why do so many fantasy football owners prefer to remain faithful to the serpentine method of drafting rather than crunch numbers on the open market in auction leagues? In a word: Attitude. Everyone likes the opportunity to show off. It’s fun to display all of your accumulated knowledge, and end up with a roster that outranks all others.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, that part of the process has become too easy. Every newsstand fantasy football magazine and fly-by-night website will parade the basics. Advice like “pick running backs early”, “don’t draft kickers until the last round” and “you can wait on finding your starting quarterback” is the same old rhetoric everywhere. Does it work? Yeah, it does. If you follow such counsel, you very well can end up with a playoff team, so the challenge becomes how to win with style.

There is true talent in being capable of not only putting yourself in position at the draft to win the championship come December, but also to astonish, dumbfound and even humiliate your fellow owners by amassing an unbeatable starting lineup with a carefree flair, exuding an air of ease that belies your true effort. Here then are the tips to become the sinuous coral snake, slithering through the rounds of your draft – beautiful, but deadly successful.

Pole Position

Before the draft, determine how deep the talent goes in the first round or two, and try to trade into the slot that is most likely to offer up the best three-round haul. If you think that Priest Holmes is going to blow the other players away again this year with his touchdown output, then go get that number one pick.

Perhaps you believe that being in the middle will ensure that you will have three solid picks. If so, then stay there. Or maybe you sense an abundance of top talent in the first round, and think you can get two peak players by having a late first-round and early second-round pick. It doesn’t matter which option you choose, only that you have a strategy. Passive play lacks panache.

Theft

As often as feasible, steal a stud right from under the nose of the owner drafting after you. If you can cause cursing on a back-and-forth basis, you are doing it right. Know your opponents. If they are partial to a particular team or player, be aware of that and select guys they covet.

Another tactic is to chart the progress of other owners. Mark down which starting positions they have filled. It will become glaringly obvious when the fellow behind you desires a starting quarterback, or when everyone abruptly needs a tight end. Taking a prized name off the board at this time will bedevil anyone. Just be certain not to jeopardize your own roster simply to annoy another owner. There is nothing stylish about losing.

Master of Dominos

Get the top player at a given position at every opportunity. Starting player runs is simply smart, and makes you appear decidedly clever. It allows you to call the shots. You are actually engaged in a mini auction, except no one else gets to bid. This strategy holds true throughout a draft. It should be applied to defenses, and especially backup players. There is point in every draft, for example, where suddenly everyone scrambles for a viable second quarterback. You be the person to pluck the best of the bunch. Don’t be a bonehead by starting too soon though. Taking Tony Gonzalez in the first round is purely a poor use of resources.

Snag the Falling Star

Take a calculated risk on a player who has flashed star statistics in the past, but has run into rough times lately, or is being undervalued. This is not an endorsement to take someone who is simply getting old. It’s not ok to select Eddie George or Tim Brown, thinking the glory days will saunter back in. This must be a player who still has time in his prime. Think instead of a David Boston, who could bounce back, or maybe Kurt Warner, who might star again in the right set of circumstances. Someone like Jimmy Smith has been forgotten, but can still be that extra playmaker for your fantasy crew.

Trigger Happy

If possible, draft someone as soon as it is your turn. This quick decision exudes confidence and makes everyone else less certain about the players they are considering. To ensure that it is a sound decision, you need to be thinking about it well ahead of time. Note the number of players that will be picked ahead of your next selection, and figure out some ideal choices for your pick. Obviously, you are not going to be lucky enough to get the player you crave every time, so find enough players who you could live with to make it back to your draft slot.

Double Bonus

There is never an excuse to go out of your way to draft players from your favorite teams, but when you are choosing between players of very similar caliber, go with the guy you’ll have fun rooting for. It adds character to your roster, and I guarantee you that there is nothing more exciting while watching football than having a player from your favorite NFL team, who is also on your fantasy team, score a winning touchdown for both squads simultaneously. You won’t soon forget it.

Dark Horses

Always play your hunches. If you have a feeling about a particular player, go get him in the draft. You may have to recruit him sooner than you would like, but that is better than watching your sleeper star on someone else’s roster. It is always brainy to pick the third-year wideout who breaks out, or the rookie running back that busts up the league for a top-ten season. If you miss on him, it is no big deal because you took him with a later pick. If you hit, you look like a genius.

Remember, winning these days is not enough. Bragging rights count for a lot during the off season. Subtly set yourself apart with the methods mentioned above, and show the other owners in your draft a little class. It is great to win your league, but priceless to win your league with grandeur.