There are three things that send the butterflies all through my stomach: my wife saying she loves me, my children saying the same, and the middle of August, when I know the fantasy draft is coming. Yes, it’s that far up there in my estimation. Maybe it means I’m addicted, but I prefer to think of it as dedicated. Supremely dedicated. This year is no different.
Last fantasy season I made it a point to give you a solid list of 6 Simple Rules of preparing for the draft. I won’t repeat them here, but they’re just as important now as they were then. If you expect to win your fantasy league, or at least to be competitive, it pays to read all the research out there, to study the matchups, and to make sure you have a plan (or 3) firmly in place before the draft ever takes place.
So this year I want to share with you the 8 definitive steps to a successful draft:
- Find out your draft position as early as possible. Where you are in the draft order can (and should) drastically change your approach to who anchors your team, and where you go from there. For example, last year I was 9th out of 10 in one of my drafts, so I knew I was out of luck for the first tier running backs. I could have gone for a second-tier running back, but I was happy to settle for Gronk, and I still got a steal in DeMarco Murray in the second round with the quick turnaround. This year if you’re picking 5th or later you might want to employ a similar strategy, or go with a first-tier wideout and wait on the running back in round two.
- Know the other owners in your league. This is when having an IRL league can help out a lot. If you’re just signing on for a random league on ESPN.com and you know absolutely none of the other owners, then you don’t know their drafting techniques, and you certainly don’t know which players they’re targeting. If you’re friends with the other owners, though, odds are you know their predilections. Use those, because there are precious few advantages you will have in the process.
- Don’t be loyal to “your team.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to tell someone to stop thinking about loyalty when it comes to your fantasy draft. Listen, I might be a great fan of the Oakland Raiders, but I would never select their defense/ST as my unit in fantasy. The same is true if I come from Cincinnati and I’m dying to make Andy Dalton my starting fantasy quarterback. Too often owners tend to reach for players from their favorite team when the numbers don’t back them up. Don’t be that owner.
- Do your homework on the rookies. Every year there are a few rookies that have the possibility to explode, and if you do your due diligence you can get at least two on your team from the draft. By homework I mean going back into the college numbers, look at the offense they’re being plugged into, and study what’s been going on so far in the preseason. While the numbers are limited, often they can tell you all you need to know about potential. Last season I drafted Kelvin Benjamin and Martavis Bryant. Both paid big dividends for me in the end.
- Go early and often with running backs. While wide receivers can be largely interchangeable, and are often available off the waiver wire, good fantasy running backs are few and far between, especially in this age of platoon backfields. Besides, injuries happen, and I’d rather have a back I can trust in for some of consistency sitting on my bench that I can plug-and-play instead of plumbing the depths of the waiver wire for someone every other owner in the league has passed over already. For my money, I like to grab backups for my primary two running backs. I call it an insurance policy.
- Plan for the bye weeks. If you have four wide receivers on your team and they all have byes on week 7, guess who’s going to have some major trouble fielding a team of wide receivers on week 7? That’s right, you are, unless you drop one of those receivers to pick up someone off the waiver wire. I’ve seen that way too often, when owners drop a receiver they don’t want to drop because they’re in a bye week jam. To plan for this make tiers of players you could substitute for the ones you weekly put in your lineup if and when you come up against an issue of byes. Just make sure those substitutes are still quality players, and that they don’t share the same bye week as the ones you are replacing.
- Never settle for someone just because they are a warm body. If you’re not a fan of the Giants backfield don’t grab Shane Vereen just because he’s available when your turn comes up in the 10th round. If you don’t think C.J. Anderson is going to thrive as an every down back in the Kubiak system, don’t reach for him in the first round. Victor Cruz is available in the late rounds so you think you should grab him in the off chance that he’ll regain his glory pre-injury days. If you’re not sold on it, though, don’t pull the trigger. Grab someone you think will actually help your team.
- Use your “on the clock” time wisely. In most leagues you’re going to have between 60 and 90 seconds to make your pick once you’re on the clock. Use that time to analyze the previous selection by the owner before you, to look at your own needs, and to just breathe instead of making a snap decision. Yes, you should have your draft well planned ahead of time, but contingencies are important, and changing your mind is allowed. Just don’t put it on fast-forward because you’re on the clock. Auto-draft can do that. Go back over your options and make an informed decision by the end of your clock time.
If you’re serious about challenging for your league championship this year then following these 8 definitive steps. Keep in mind that the only way to really prepare is to do your research, both on the players who will be available come draft time and on the other owners in your league and their selections during the draft. With this plan in place you will at least be competitive, and you might just be hoisting a trophy in a few months’ time.