Draft strategy

Congratulations! If you’re reading this article, feel confident knowing that you have already gained a distinct strategic advantage over the rest of your fantasy competitors.

We at the NFP Fantasy Front Office pride ourselves on putting our readers in the best possible position to take home a league championship. It’s what drives us to produce the best fantasy content you can find anywhere on the internet.

That same drive is the reason the NFP came out on top in the 2009 Fantasy Expert’s League, beating out the likes of Rotoworld, Yahoo!, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and CBSSportsline, to name a few. You can take it to the bank that those guys will be gunning for the NFP in 2010.

Stick with us. We’ve got you covered. But we’ve still got work to do.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some key strategies to remember on draft day.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

We cannot drive this point home enough. No owner has ever won a fantasy title without doing any research. We’re not saying you should commit your summer to studying the entire kicker class. But we are saying that by spending some time doing a few key things, you will walk into draft day as calm as the Caribbean Ocean on a June afternoon. Owners must be sure to:

Mock it up

Participate in as many mock drafts as you can. This is the single most important element in your preparation. By taking part in several mock drafts, you’ll get a solid idea of what each player’s draft value is, not to mention have an understanding of when the tight end and D/ST runs will begin. More importantly, you’ll know when some of your favorite sleepers are being targeted, so you can go ahead and pull the trigger one round earlier.

Go to Fantasy Football Calculator.com and get after it. You can enter mock drafts that have anywhere from 8-14 teams (if you’re in a ten-team league, be sure to enter a ten-team mock) and go through an entire draft in record time. Each pick gets only 60 seconds, so there’s no screwing around.

And DON’T FALL ASLEEP IN THE LATER ROUNDS! This is where you'll find the diamonds in the rough, like Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles, who actually went undrafted in most leagues last year.

Trust us. Take part in 10-20 mocks and you’ll be able to see the future on draft day.

Get familiar with the rankings and read the scouting reports

School is in session this summer and your teacher (me) isn’t taking any lip (spitballs, however, are permitted).

No fantasy website on the internet produces player scouting reports that are as detailed as those written by the National Football Post. We aren’t telling you to read all 350+, but make sure you study up on the sleepers, busts and mid-round guys who provide some quality upside. Also, get familiar with the top-20 so you form a personal opinion on which direction you want to go to get things started.

You want to have an understanding of who you are drafting. Why select a player you know nothing about? That makes no sense. The best owners know their teams and their talent inside and out.

Show up ready to kick a$$ and take names

Outside of a case of Corona (and limes), there are five things I bring to every fantasy draft:

1. The NFP Top 200
2. Positional Rankings
3. A list with every team’s bye week
4. Notepad
5. Pen
6. Air horn

Those are all pretty self-explanatory (more on the air horn later). I find a comfortable spot before the draft and put the information in front of me. No trash talk, no chitchat, no distractions. It never takes more than ten seconds for me to select a player because the moment I pull the trigger, I immediately create a list of 4-6 players I want with my next pick.

Always stay one step ahead. It will keep you calm and will limit the possibility of a bad pick made under pressure.

And if anyone at your draft is taking too long on a pick because they were screwing around in between selections, walk up behind them and blast an air horn.

No chance they make a solid pick after that.

Ask questions

I’m here to help. Take advantage of the “Ask Joe” feature and/or participate in some of our live chats.

Having a second opinion can be a big help.

Some strategies to keep in mind on draft day…

Engage in mental warfare

Anyone can make a crack after an owner selects a D/ST in the fifth round. It’s often hilarious and goes over well with the semi-intoxicated crowd in attendance.

But I’m talking about TRUE mental warfare. You need to get your competitors thinking about something other than their strategies and sleepers. Getting them to lose focus can go a long way. Two tricks I employ each year include:

Propose a major rule change before the start of the draft

If you play in a standard scoring format, suggest you switch to a PPR league. Bring up adding another receiver to the starting lineup. Mention you want to add an IDP roster spot this season.

If you’re fellow league members go for it, great. You’ve already prepared for those scenarios, so you’ll have an advantage over everyone else during the draft. If not, at least they’ll be arguing against it—and that means they won’t be thinking about the draft.

Look to trade draft picks

After the draft order is set, look to make a move (unless you hold one of the first two picks). Talk with fellow owners about moving from the sixth spot to the tenth or moving from the twelfth spot to the seventh. You want your competitors to start thinking about whether or not that would work for them, and in turn, lose focus on the issue at hand.

One thing to keep in mind with this strategy: Be sure to make the deal lopsided in your favor. If you are willing to trade down, tell the other owner you want his sixth round pick as well and that you will give him your seventh in return. He or she will likely turn you down, but at least they will think about it.

Know the trends

Last season, the trendy thing to do was land multiple wide receivers early. How did that work out for everyone? Based on last season’s ADP (Average Draft Position), there were several owners who drafted Larry Fitzgerald before Chris Johnson. In standard scoring formats, Johnson outscored Fitzgerald 332-180. That averages out to Johnson scoring 9.5 points per week more than Fitz. That’s a pretty big draft mistake and it certainly cost several owners more than one win.

This season it’s all about the quarterbacks. Expect to see Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers off the board in a hurry on draft day. Throw Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Tony Romo into the mix and you could end up hearing five quarterbacks’ names called in the first 25 picks.

Landing a reliable quarterback is important, but you don’t necessarily need to target one in the first three rounds. Brett Favre was a mid-round selection last season and finished the year as the fifth-highest scoring QB in fantasy. Matt Schaub was drafted later as well, and he finished fourth.

When battling the trends, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Target workhorse running backs

There are more NFL teams employing a running back-by-committee approach than ever before. However, keep in mind that you can’t score fantasy points without touches.

Did you know that of the ten running backs that ranked in the top-ten in rushing attempts last season, seven of them finished the year as top-ten f antasy RBs? It’s not rocket science. The more opportunities you get, the more points you will score.

While DeAngelo Williams is a nice pick, Jonathan Stewart is going to steal a ton of his carries. Why not target a guy like Rashard Mendenhall instead? He’s going to handle the full workload in Pittsburgh this season and will see a lot more touches than Williams.

Always go with upside over name recognition

This area is what separates the fantasy owners who get it from the fantasy owners who don’t. It’s why knowing the NFL from top to bottom is important because the later rounds are where championship squads are built.

You’ll see it happen again this year. It’s the 13th round and a rival owner wants to draft a backup running back to add some depth to their roster. They recognize the name Larry Johnson, think about how Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan loves to run the football with multiple backs and remembers the days when L.J. was tearing up the fantasy world.

And then they make a mistake by pulling the trigger on a 30-year old malcontent that hasn’t scored a touchdown since 2008.

However, the savvy fantasy owner leaves Johnson off their draft board and targets Cleveland backup Montario Hardesty (rookie, Tennessee). The Browns only won five games last season, but still ranked 3rd in the NFL in run to pass ratio (51.3%). Hardesty will compete with veteran Jerome Harrison for the starting role and has a good chance at cracking the starting lineup this season. Remember, the Browns didn’t draft him in the second round to keep him on the bench.

Same thing goes for quarterbacks. The uneducated fantasy owner will draft Donovan McNabb because of his resume. The savvy fantasy owner will select Kevin Kolb and make a killing.

Draft for depth and don’t get caught up in the runs

The tight end, defensive/special teams and kicker runs ALWAYS start earlier than they should. We’re here to tell you to avoid getting caught up in the hype.

Check out these stats from 2009:

The No. 1 ranked fantasy tight end (Vernon Davis) averaged just 3.7 fantasy points per game more than the No. 9 ranked tight end (Jason Witten) last season.

The No. 1 ranked fantasy D/ST (Green Bay Packers) averaged just 4.2 fantasy points per game more than the No. 15 ranked D/ST (Pittsburgh Steelers) last season.

The No. 1 ranked fantasy kicker (Nate Kaeding) averaged just 2.0 fantasy points per game more than the No. 10 ranked kicker (Jeff Reed) last season.

So if you were the guy that landed all of the top fantasy scorers at the TE, D/ST and K positions, you would have scored 9.9 fantasy points per game more than the owner who drafted the No. 9 tight end, the No. 15 D/ST and the No. 10 kicker.

Does that seem like good value to you? Stockpile your running backs and wide receivers. At the very worst, they’ll become good trade bait.

And for the love of God, please DO NOT DRAFT A KICKER UNTIL THE LAST ROUND!!

Hit the waiver wire hard immediately following the draft

I play in a league that has regulations on how many players you can draft at each position. You must select 2 QBs, 4 RBs, 4 WRs, 2 TEs, 2 D/STs and 2 kickers.

You can bet your bottom dollar that one minute after the draft ends I’m dumping my backup kicker and backup tight end and grabbing free agent running backs and/or wide receivers.

Your leagues may not be like this, but hit the waiver wire anyway immediately following the draft. You never know what gem may have slipped through the cracks and gone undrafted. At the very least, it gives you an opportunity to correct a mistake you made late in the draft.

Make it a point to draft two (2) D/STs

I know that many owners feel one D/ST is enough, but make sure you back this position up. I’m a HUGE fan of having two D/STs so you can play the more favorable matchup each week. It’s one of the big reasons I won three straight playoff games to take home the 2009 Expert’s League Championship.

Keep this nugget in mind: The No. 15 ranked D/ST from last season posted a total of 172 fantasy points in 2009.

The No. 15 ranked running back scored just 158 points, while the No. 15 ranked wide receiver scored only 147 points.

And you can bet both of those players (Cedric Benson and Santonio Holmes) came off the board earlier.

Don’t deny it. Defenses score some legitimate fantasy points. Take this position seriously.

Have fun

The serious and well-prepared fantasy owner will always have a leg up on the competition, but remember to enjoy yourself out there. Throw down a couple of beers (if you are of legal age), talk some trash and have fun with the process.

Fantasy football is intense, but it’s also meant to be enjoyed.

And it sure as hell beats a day at the office.

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