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Making The Playoffs Combining Several Draft Strategies

There are all kinds of draft strategies out there – VBD, ADP, Stud RB theory, Stud WR theory. This year, there seem to be more question marks than ever. Will Maurice Jones-Drew repeat his stunning rookie performance? How long until the Arizona offense gets on track? Who exactly is going to play RB for Green Bay?

Let’s start with the basis behind my drafting strategy. Eliminate as many question marks in your draft as possible. Glenn Close once said when deciding which roles to accept and turn down, she’d take one chance. She’d work with a new director if she were confident about everything else. But she’d only take one chance. (We’re just getting started and we’re already referencing an over-the-hill Hollywood actress; Awesome). If you draft a team this year starting Randy Moss and Jamal Lewis (personal issues and new teams), Jay Cutler (1st full season as a starter), MJD (one year wonder? See: Ickey Woods), and Calvin Johnson (rookie WR), you’re probably not going to succeed. If you make your picks based on value, don’t make too many reaches, utilize ADP, and pull off a trick or two, you should make the playoffs without a problem. That’s the basis of my theory and here’s how to pull it off.

Let’s start with the basics. I’m assuming your league starts 1 QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE, a defense, and a kicker and has a 12-team serpentine draft (as most drafts are). First two rounds, you go RB. I don’t care if you’re drafting first or last. Also, you’re not taking QB in the first six rounds. Maybe if Manning drops to the 4th, but with this strategy you’re waiting on a QB. There is plenty of platoon value later on.

First Round

The consensus rankings seem pretty solid to me. I’ll give a few tips, though. I don’t really like Larry Johnson this year. Will Shields retired and the offensive line of the Chiefs has been shaken up. I’d also preferably avoid Shaun Alexander in the first round—age and injuries scare me. Remember, we’re limiting risks.

I do like Joseph Addai. His role should be expanded and he could legitimately put up “Edge in his prime” numbers. I love Stephen Jackson—take him over Gore. He plays on artificial turf and has a better supporting cast. If I’m drafting in the middle to the end of the round, the guy I like is Rudi Johnson. He’s been a solid performer over the past few years, has probably the best tackle combination in the league, and has a great supporting cast of skill players. Yeah, I want to kick Marvin Lewis when he pulls Rudi at the goal line, but you can’t have everything. Another thing to consider is Rudi’s favorable schedule during weeks 14-16. Rudi is the ideal pick late in the first if you not only want to make the playoffs, but also win your league outright.

One player I wouldn’t reach for is Travis Henry. Denver lost two starters on their line from last year. Lepsis is coming back from a season-ending injury and one of the projected starters (Holland) wasn’t good enough to get on the field the last half of last season. Nor do I want Reggie Bush. He’s explosive and will get his touches, but McAllister is going in the fourth round in most mock drafts. This pretty much eliminates the possibility of handcuffing Bush. You can’t spend two of your first four picks on RBs that play for the same team. Well you can, but if you do, I want you in my league.

Second Round

Again, we’re going RB. The exception to this rule is if you have the 2nd or 3rd pick in the draft and one or two top-tier WRs are left on the board—Harrison, Holt, Owens, Chad Johnson, Wayne, or Steve Smith. If you have the 2nd pick and just one of these guys is left, I say grab him. If you don’t, you know the owner with LT is going to take the WR out from under you before you get to pick in round three.

This raises a point about draft strategy. If you’re on the corners in the draft order—2nd and 3rd pick or 10th and 11th pick—be aware of who’s drafting behind you. A few years ago, I went RB-RB-WR-WR in the first four rounds from the 11th spot. I needed a QB, but Ricky Watters was still on the board at the end of round five and the guy drafting behind me already took a QB. So I took Watters because there was a big drop-off at the position after him. At this point, I thought the guy in the 12th spot was going to punch me in the face—I’m not kidding, it almost happened. I happily grabbed Favre in the 6th after the guy in the 12-spot took two backs far inferior to Watters.

Back to picking in the 2nd . Let the other guys take the top tier WRs. Get your 2nd RB because there’s another drop-off at the position going into the 3rd. There are plenty of WRs in the next few rounds. I’d rank the RBs who could be available in the 2nd as follows:

  1. Travis Henry – Yeah, I know I just said he’s a risk. But he’s a good value in the 2nd.
  2. Laurence Maroney – Probably won’t be available, but if he drops…
  3. Willis McGahee – Not thrilled with Baltimore’s offense, but Billick plays ball control.
  4. Ronnie Brown – Showed promise two years ago. Trent Green should help.

If these guys are all off the board when your pick comes up, this is where I make my first reach: Cedric Benson. He’s had issues, but due to his big contract and the trade of Thomas Jones, I think the Bears have to give Benson a chance to carry the offense. Throw in the fact that his handcuff—Peterson—is being taken in the 11th, and I’ll gladly go with Benson over the other guys available.

Benson should be available in the 2nd if the rest of these backs are gone. If not, my next guy is Thomas Jones. I don’t like MJD to repeat last year’s season because his TD numbers seem like an aberration in relation to his touches and I believe Fred Taylor is going to get plenty of playing time. I’d rather bet my money on the guy I know will get the lion’s share of touches than a guy that’s in a platoon situation. It is the same reason I’m shying away from Portis.

Third Round

Now that you have two stud RBs you need to fill other voids. If any top tier WRs are left, you have to take one in round three. This is where the value of getting LT expands even further. After the top tier of WRs, I don’t like what the ADP is telling me. I don’t really like Boldin, Fitzgerald, and Roy Williams above Javon Walker, Andre Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The Arizona offense was awful last year and Williams is up and down. If no top-tier WR is left, or a starting RB doesn’t fall in my lap I would probably take Antonio Gates here. There’s a pretty big drop-off at TE after Gates, and you can still get a 2nd tier WR in the fourth without having to risk your pick on a ‘Zona WR. At this point, a lot of guys are going to be playing catch-up on RB or drafting QBs. Don’t give in and draft QB. I don’t care if there’s a huge run on QBs, don’t do it!

Fourth Round

Now is the time you grab a WR. There is more value at WR in this round than any other. Andre Johnson has been consistent, although he’ll be working with a new QB. Javon Walker is coming off a great season and injury is no longer a worry. He’ll be the #1 target in the Denver offense. Housh performed as the #9-ranked WR last season, and often outperformed CJ. If you somehow get screwed out of all of them and you are drafting toward the end of the round, I’d go with Driver—the most underrated fantasy WR over the past few years.

Let’s assess…. At this point, you have 2 stud RBs and either, 2 WRs or a second tier WR and Gates. Your team is looking good. Now you may want to go QB, but don’t. There have probably been six or seven QBs taken and there is really no value here at QB, unless Manning is still on the board—Peyton that is—and he won’t be. Don’t even think about drafting defense yet, unless you want to pull the equivalent of Glenn Close taking the Cruella De Vil role in the remake of 101 Dalmations. It sounds smart, but it is over-thinking on a monumental scale that will have your opposition replaying the moment for future laughs when the word defense passed your lips in round five. Keep stacking your roster with value.

Fifth Round

This is where things get tricky. If someone else takes Gates you’re not going to take a TE for another few rounds. There’s not too much of a drop-off between Gonzo and guys like Crumpler, Cooley, and Witten.

If a guy like Jamal Lewis, Marshawn Lynch or Ahman Green is available here, you want to think about taking one of them. As the season approaches, guys like Brandon Jackson, Marion Barber and Adrian Peterson will establish themselves as “the man” and will be completely legit picks at this point. There are 32 starting RBs in the NFL and some guys in your league are going to have two backs and others are going to have three. You want three. Every year there’s always a guy in the league who ends up making a bad trade to get a 2nd RB because he never drafted a suitable 3rd RB. This is where your cheatsheet needs to be up to date so you can evaluate whom you like on moments notice.

Sixth Round

This is a good time to go after your 2nd WR, if you took Gates, or your 3rd WR if you didn’t. This is how I’ll rank the possible players here: Evans, Burress, Ward, Coles, Santana Moss and Branch. If all those guys are gone, you take Braylon Edwards or Mark Clayton. Waldman and I disagree with who should be ranked higher here, but they are both primed for a big season.

Let’s check in once again…At this point, you should have great value at the skill positions. You took care of the RBs, got two WRs with great value, and you possibly have the best TE. Now is the time to start thinking about a QB. I have the #7-16 QBs all in the same tier. Obviously you’ll adjust my rankings based on your own preferences, but here’s how I have them ranked:

  1. Hasselbeck – WCO, solid performer the past few seasons. Gets to go against the weakest division of defenses in the league, hands down.

  2. Cutler – If you project his stats from last year he’ll throw 28 TDs. Lot’s of weapons.

  3. E. Manning – Fell off toward the end of last season, but he also has a lot of weapons—his current ADP is 8.12.

  4. Kitna – Threw for over 4000 yards last year—weapons galore. Detroit will be playing from behind a lot. Expect some 300-yard, 3-INT games.

  5. Rivers – Consistent. Low INT total last year. Not much to work with besides Gates, though. Suffers from the fact he’ll be playing ball control.

  6. Favre – Never gets hurt and GB should be playing from behind quite a bit. Also, keep an eye on Brandon Jackson. He definitely fits the mold of Ahman, Levens, and Edgar Bennett. High INTs are a concern, as always.

  7. Leinart – Probably the biggest question mark of the bunch. Will he repeat last year or blow up? If you draft him, make sure you get another guy in the top 16.

  8. Romo – Fell off toward the end of last year, but has great weapons.

  9. Young – You might want to move him up if your league rewards rushing TDs. Not much to work with on offense, though.
That’s 7-15 and you should be able to get two of them in rounds 7 and 8. If not, my 16th guy is Pennington. With the addition of Thomas Jones to a cast featuring Cotchery and Coles who are capable of breaking a TD on any play, Pennington should be a nice #2 QB available as a round 8-last resort. I’d like to mention that I don’t want McNair here under any circumstances…

The reason you wait on QB is that your team is stacked everywhere else and you have a two-QB platoon among the top guys. Compare the stats of Brady last season to the last guys on my list. Brady’s ADP is currently 3.09, but you’re getting a platoon that will outperform him much later in the draft.

Ninth Round

You want a TE if you haven’t grabbed one yet. Jason Witten, L.J. Smith, and Ben Watson are all perfectly suitable if someone like Cooley, Crumpler, Winslow, or Vernon Davis doesn’t fall this far. If you grabbed Gates this is where you want your #3 WR. Without listing every WR in the book I like Greg Jennings here followed by Berrian and Devery Henderson. Even if you mess up, there will be a few WRs worth picking off the waiver wire a few weeks into the season—at this round it’s the lowest risk time and place to select backups.

Round 10 and Beyond

From here you fill your roster. I generally try to get the handcuff for at least one of my RBs (if you grabbed Benson, this would be a good place to get his backup, Peterson). You’re probably asking yourself what you’re supposed to do with defense. If Carolina or Minnesota is available take them due to their good sack and turnover numbers. But the strategy I’ve been using the past few years is to simply pick up whatever defense is playing a turnover prone offense at home. There are always six or eight defenses on the waiver wire and there will be a nice match-up every single week—trust me on this. When that guy in your league is proud of himself for taking Baltimore in round five, know that you’ll be able to play defenses like the Redskins, Falcons, and Colts with home-field advantage every single week and outscore him in the long run. If your league charges for waiver wire moves you’ll have to adjust this strategy.

Take your kicker in the last possible round. I’ve missed the playoffs once in nearly a decade of play in close to 30 leagues. If you follow this drafting strategy, you should make your league’s playoffs. But if somehow you don’t, please don’t break into my house and boil my rabbits.