If you’re like many owners, you probably walked out of your draft feeling like the conquering hero. Your roster is a thing of beauty. Your playoff ticket is all but punched. It’s time to kick up your feet and wait for the season to begin, right?
Here’s a dose of reality. Your team probably isn’t as good as you think. And even if you did have a truly outstanding draft, your journey cannot stop there if you have championship aspirations. You need to prepare yourself for a 13 or 14 game regular season schedule and, with any luck, a couple postseason games, as well.
It’s a long road. So rather than sitting on your hands and waiting for the season to kickoff, follow these five suggestions. They’ll help you get a leg up on the competition and put you a few steps closer to that shiny silver trophy you covet.
1. Analyze Every Roster for Strengths and Weaknesses
My favorite line from any sports movie comes from Hoosiers. Gene Hackman’s character (coach Norman Dale) tells one of his players, “Think of [the opponent] like a stick of chewing gum, by the end of the game I want to know what flavor he is.”
As the general manager of your fantasy football team, it’s essential to have this same tenacious approach to learning about the competition.
In the days following your draft, take the opportunity to scrutinize your roster and all the other rosters in your league. Take notes. Be thorough. Be honest. Does your team have an unproven TE? Are the “Brooklyn Bruisers” counting on Phillip Rivers as their starting QB? Are the “Amish Hitmen” once again stacked at RB?
I don’t care how many teams there are in your league or how experienced you are. Every fantasy football franchise has a weakness after the draft. Whether it’s RB depth, the starting QB or even too many players with the same bye week, nobody ever has the perfect draft or auction.
After you’ve identified the strengths and weaknesses of all the teams in your league, you can use this information to your advantage. If one of the better teams in your division is weak at RB, you know they’ll be scouring the waiver wire for the first quality RB who emerges. Even though your team may be set a RB, you can swoop in and claim the player off the wire in a defensive move.
You’ll also want to have a good feel for where the trade opportunities will most likely be. If team “Vegas Vic’s” strengths and weaknesses are the same as yours, his team likely won’t be a good candidate for a trade. However, let’s say your team is loaded with WRs but weak at TE and your third RB. If the “Nawlins Knuckleheads” are four-deep with quality RBs, have Tony Gonzalez, but own the worst WR corps in the league, there could be a real opportunity to swing a deal early in the season.
By identifying three or four teams that are good candidates for a trade, you can focus your efforts on putting together a trade offer that will greatly improve your chances of making a playoff run.
2. Get to Know Your Players
You picked the players on your team for a reason. Chances are you know at least a little bit about their situations. However, now that they’re on your roster, it’s time to dig deeper.
You may have overheard something about a mysterious injury to Marques Colston’s knee? It didn’t seem serious enough to deter you from picking Colston. However, now is the time to read up on the situation and determine if it has the potential to hurt your squad down the road.
The New York Jets offensive line has looked terrible in the preseason. Is poor blocking going to be an albatross around the neck of your second RB, Thomas Jones? Too early to tell, but it might be a good idea to develop a contingency plan to implement at the first sign of ineffectiveness from Jones.
A greater understanding of your roster from top to bottom can help you be more agile in your decisions. When a situation develops, you’ll be ready to pounce on the waiver wire or swing a trade.
3. Map Out the Strength of Schedule for Your Entire Team
After the draft, most fantasy owners jump on the league website as soon as they can and check to see who their players are will match up against in Week 1. The average owner will continue this “one-week-at-a-time” method of roster management throughout the course of a season.
To take your game to the next level, you must understand the bigger picture. Don’t just look at who your players are facing this Sunday. Examine their schedules for the entire season. Look at each player individually. Then, scrutinize them as a whole to determine where your team’s points will come from every week.
The Huddle publishes an Ease of Schedule tool that can help. It’s updated periodically throughout the year.
Let’s use Willis McGahee as a straw case. If you drafted McGahee, it’s worth knowing that he begins the season with what should be a relatively favorable schedule. The opposing defenses are particularly soft in Weeks 5-7. It appears you can count on him for good production early. However, things get a little dicey at the midway point. With a bye week and games against Pittsburgh, San Diego and New England, McGahee could let you down when you need him most. It might be in your best interest to trade him halfway through the season. His value figures to be high at that point due to an advantageous early schedule.
Going through this exercise with all of your players will help you recognize the stretches of the schedule where your team is in danger of putting up fewer points than normal. Keep a single chart with all of your players’ schedules handy and update it with every roster move you make. This knowledge will help you manage your roster accordingly by making more educated free agent moves and trades.
4. Examine the Free Agent Pool
“Who didn’t get picked that should have?” This is perhaps the most important question you need to ask yourself after the draft.
No championship fantasy team ever won the title without making at least a couple good roster moves. It’s how you’ll overcome the inevitable injury. It’s where you’ll uncover a diamond in the rough like Marques Colston or Maurice Jones-Drew. It’s how you’ll address the weaknesses you identified in Step 1 above.
Now is the time to become a diligent observer of who is available in your league at each position. When you’re aware of the talent pool that’s available, you’ll be poised to make proactive roster moves a week or two before your competition is even aware that a free agent has value.
5. Talk a Little Trash
Release your inner Chad Johnson. There’s always room for a little good-natured ribbing in fantasy football. It keeps things loose in your league and adds to the overall enjoyment.
Before the season begins, I like to assert myself as the dominant owner in my division. One of my favorite ways to do so is to pose a simple, honest question on the league message board: “Hey, who put me in the division with all the crappy teams?"