Draft Strategy (What I Really Think)
The “Gut Feeling” is often synonymous with a sense
of desperation resulting from a lack of preparation. The Gut Check
is a huge proponent of studying the numbers, but there’s
a point where one can place too much emphasis on the wrong information.
This can result in the undervaluing or overlooking a player’s
potential. Therefore, The Weekly Gut Check is devoted to examining
the frame of reference behind certain number-driven guidelines
that fantasy football owners use to make decisions.
Although The Weekly Gut Check doesn’t claim to be psychic,
he does believe that he can dispel certain numbers biases and
help you make the best choices for your team. We’ll keep
a running tally of The Weekly Gut Check’s insights. This
way you can gauge his views as something to seriously consider,
or at least seriously consider running the opposite way as fast
as you can!
There are more draft strategies than brands of toilet paper (unless
you count cheat sheets published in fantasy magazines and that gives
the advantage back to the paper products). Doug (some guy I know)
projects every player and every game. It works for him (he’s
a sports genius). A guy I know by the name of Charles Spellman has
this cool idea called V.O.W.W. – Value Over Waiver Wire –
and he’s writing an article on the strategy for FFToday.com.
It’s a stat-based theory that factors injury and waiver wire
quality players into the mix. My buddy Bill buys half a dozen magazines
and averages the rankings of each player from the prominent writers
then tweaks them with news updates and common sense. He has won
our local re-draft league as much as anyone, that is, except for
our owner who wants everyone to believe he drafts drunk with only
a magazine cheat sheet. He actually pulled this off a couple of
times in the ‘90s (But now he’s full of Shipp –
and I’m not talking about Marcel).
The first thing about executing a good draft strategy is to be
honest about the preparation time you want to put into the event.
If you’re the junior executive type that’s grown up
“delegating” (copying work from another’s paper)
and is perfectly fine using another’s cheat sheet, then
you only have to think about how to work your draft. If you’re
an overworked, underpaid middle manager type lacking in self esteem
(me in an earlier incarnation) then you feel absolutely sinful
if you aren’t meticulously doing your own projections.
Regardless of which end of the spectrum you fall, your first
resource should be Mike MacGregor’s Cheatsheet
Compiler and Draft Buddy (Don’t be a chump, buy it!
You’ll thank me later…). It’s easy to use and
will help you regardless of your level of experience or time commitment.
If you’re going to be the bottom-line kind of owner, then
with the Compiler you can at least use the updated projections
as a timelier magazine and draft day tracker while pimping your
laptop. If you like getting lost in the forest of data, then the
Compiler will at least help you find you way out and provide a
map for future reference. Plus, you’ll get a kick of crunching
numbers for any league type with the push of a button, or customize
the projections within a great structure that works seamlessly
with the draft Buddy (and have a geek factor of 20,235 on a scale
of 1-10, but geek is chic in fantasy football).
Watch Some Football
Once you have done the bulk of your prep work, it’s time
to watch football! If someone tells you the preseason doesn’t
mean anything, just nod your head, smile, and keep walking (then
try out your best maniacal laugh). You may not get earth-shattering
insights from these contests, but I can tell you without any reservation
that the preseason has solidified my views of several players
that helped me succeed once the real games began (Edgerrin James,
Maurice Jones Drew, Selvin Young, etc.). You don’t have
to stay glued to every preseason game, but if you see a player
impress there is no need to discount it. You want to look at rookies,
unproven free agents, or young players getting a chance to prove
themselves. Nothing will tell you more about a player’s
prospects than observing them in action and knowing what to look
for. You get strong observational skills from watching all the
games you can, studying coaching manuals, and paying attention
replay analysis by former players working as analysts. I’ve
been watching volumes of football games going on four years, but
I still have a ton to learn.
Get a Grip on Your Entire Cheat Sheet
Projections are just part of gaining an overall draft strategy.
Be careful about viewing another’s projections. Some people
don’t tell you that they project player stats according
to a “best-case scenario,” while others think “worst-case
scenario.” Then there are folks who apply a different scenario
for every player (nothing like psychoanalyzing projections). It’s
not exactly a science, is it? A great way to gain an overall perspective
of your draft – even if you employ a value-based projection
method – is to evaluate the overall player pool as you ranked
it. I recommend looking at the rankings you plan to use with these
questions in mind:
- How many players in the top 12-24 by position have never
attained the totals you are projecting for them?
- Which players are recuperating from a season-ending injury
from last year or a training camp injury this year?
- How many players in your rankings are in a new offensive
system or have a new head coach?
- Which players have lost teammates from their unit to free
agency or retirement?
- Which players are coming off record-breaking seasons?
- Are there any players who fit the profile of seeing a decrease
in production due to wear and tear?
- Who is playing for a new team?
- Who is holding out or dealing with an off-field situation
that is a potential distraction?
- How many running backs in your top 12-24 at the position
had fewer than 45% of the carries split amongst their respective
depth charts and the situation hasn’t changed?
- How many runners in your top 12-24 at the position will be
competing for carries with a new back in the fold?
- Which players are significantly above or below average draft
Keep track of how many players fit into the answer for each question.
Next, tally the number of questions that apply to each player.
Then, find the total number of players at each position that fall
under each category. Once you finish this exercise you’ll
be able to articulate which positions have greatest or least question
marks. This acquired knowledge may impact how much confidence
you truly have in your projections or the value of specific players
across positions (you could make a sweet little chart and hang
it on your refrigerator, much to your wife’s dismay).
You may have 20 receivers with projections where you felt initial
comfort, but after running them through this series of questions
you discover there are only 10 where you have confidence in their
situation. This could change your views about when you normally
take a position – for example, taking two receivers in rounds
two and three and getting that second runner in round four. You
don’t want to get so conservative with this approach that
you cross off players from your list because they have even three
or four question marks (unless you’re in a league with me,
then I encourage you to cross off several good players). Then
again, if you find a position is loaded with several question
marks per player, you may discover this newly gained sense of
perspective will help you take a more effective approach on draft
Which pick do you have? It makes a difference. If you’re
playing with a group of conservative drafters (those fictitious
competitors we fantasy writers like to conveniently use as examples
for our generic advice…they’re practically extinct
if they ever truly roamed the earth in the first place.) then
you can enjoy the idea that having the first pick gives you a
slightly bigger advantage. Otherwise, here’s my advice with
each draft spot in a 12-team league if you are trying to exploit
common drafting tendencies of owners in leagues were the typical
stud back route dominates:
1.01 Through 1.03 – Congratulations
you get one of the best players in your league (or my condolences
you passed up one of best players in the league to pick the FF
equivalent of Blair Thomas). You also get the chance to observe
the positional runs and make selections that start new trends.
Solid early round draft strategy:
This is a great place to adopt the Big Three approach of nabbing
an elite RB, and two of the following by round three: an elite
WR, an elite QB, and an elite TE. The pitfall is you have fewer
runners to choose as your second back in round four. But you just
have to be more comfortable with risk when it comes to your runner
pool. The top of round four will likely net you a Reggie Bush
(I still believe, DVOA be damned), a Thomas Jones, or a prominent
rookie back. If I accurately picked one of the top two players
at each of those three positions, any of these runners should
be more than adequate.
Houston, we have a problem (and it’s
not David Carr): If you go RB-RB with your first two picks,
you risk selecting an RB that won’t be much better than
the guy you could have grabbed in round four, but with a lower
tag. Meanwhile you potentially missed nabbing two excellent receivers
or studs at two non-RB positions if your competition were going
nuts on the stud RB approach. This year it’s unlikely you
wind up with a stud QB at the end of round two because Tom Brady
will be going (way too high) at the end of round one. At that
point you have a shot at Brees or Romo at the 4/5 turnaround,
but still unlikely. If you remain patient, you’ll feel okay
with a lesser-regarded back as your fourth pick after you’ve
scooped up three studs.
Mid-rounds: If you listen to
me (Do you always listen to what strangers tell you? Get
the Compiler, you’ll thank me later), you’ll have
RB-QB-WR heading into rounds 4-8. In most drafts, this range is
the middle. You still might get a shot at the top TE (you tell
me who that is, because there seem to be 4-5 who could really
pull it off this year), but I’d recommend you stockpile
RB and WR depth. If you snagged two receivers instead of a quarterback
(very smart), then you either pick a signal caller in this area
or you keep stocking up on RBs and receivers.
End game: If you’ve waited
for your first starting QB until rounds 9-13, you are now ready
to play the match up game with two lesser regarded QBs. Might
I recommend Vince Young and Marc Bulger as a duo you pick back-to-back?
David Garrard and Matt Schaub are potentially another.
1.04 Through 1.06 and 1.07 Through 1.09
– These two groups are often the beginning or end
of positional runs. In most leagues a position run lasts between
three to four picks. For instance, in the July
FFToday Staff Mock, picks 1.07 through 1.09 generally made
up a position run on the way up and then picks 1.04 through 1.06
constituted a position run on the way back. Technically, whichever
teams had picks 1.07 through 1.09 in a particular round created
a position run.
Solid early round draft strategy:
A savvy owner will often take advantage of the tendency fantasy
owners in these draft spots have. For instance, our writer T.J.
Thomas and his team The
Prototype exploited this trend by picking players to interrupt
the positional runs and created a formidable starting quintet
of Carson Palmer, Larry Johnson, Michael Turner, Randy Moss, and
Plaxico Burress. On paper all of these players will see a ton
of opportunities to score points every week.
Don’t push the panic button:
If you decide to steer clear of the herd mentality, don’t
succumb to the temptation of picking a position too early because
you have seen the top players go off the board in these position
runs. In hindsight he could have selected a strong #3 WR or RB
and still had a shot at Jeremy Shockey, Todd Heap, or even Cooley
at least a round later. At the same time, he did pick up Fred
Taylor as a serviceable bye week/injury fill-in. When examining
T.J.’s strategy, he probably realized that the sixth-rated
TE in a 12-team league often has no more than a 30-40 point gap
in total points at the end of the year. The fact he didn’t
panic and let Cooley fall to him shows thatyou want to avoid the
temptation to pull the trigger too early to compensate for a positional
Mid-rounds: As you can see,
it’s probable that you can extend this “zig where
they zag” approach as deep as round seven or eight. Round
eight is often the place were I see an owner select the top defense
and this draft spot makes this a place to take that chance.
End Game: In most leagues this
draft strategy of breaking the positional run will net you a WR-RB-WR-RB-QB-TE.
Although a quarterback of the caliber of Carson Palmer is a nice
mid-round pick, taking a back in round five and waiting until
round nine for a starting quarterback isn’t a bad risk,
either. To get more depth at RB and go for a higher risk reward
at QB-TE, a place where a squad with a strong RB/WR corps can
get away with it, I would recommend WR-RB-WR-RB-WR-RB/TE-TE/WR-QB-DEF
and then alternate with RB and WR picks until you find good value
with for your second QB and a kicker. I don’t advise going
with a set strategy to pick a particular position by round, but
these two position-by-position pick illustrations are examples
of what will likely happen if you don’t succumb to being
a part of the herd in many leagues.
1.10 Through 1.12 – Obviously
if you find yourself in a league where three to four owners went
with a QB or WR in round one, then you have the pleasure of picking
up two strong backs. But more than likely it is these picks that
often have to break the RB trend in rounds one or two in order
to obtain early round value. This is probably my favorite area
to draft because there is more freedom to operate. I like the
1.01-1.03 turnaround, but you pretty much know that you’re
stuck with taking an RB (unless you have titanium cajones). The
1.10-1.12 turnaround provides an owner a greater sense of freedom.
You may do equally as well picking a top QB or WR as you would
two RBs in a row. I have even seen owners successfully build winners
leading off with two WRs at the turnaround (it was rare).
Solid early round draft strategy:
If the draft opens with every owner picking strictly RB, I would
suggest taking either the top WR or top QB off the board with
the first pick and then following up with a back in round two.
I have long emphasized caution about selecting a QB in the opening
rounds because of the historical gap in points being narrower
than the RB or WR positions so I would personally go with a receiver
if I veered from a first round RB. But if you’re absolutely
convinced Tom Brady is going to do what no quarterback in the
100-plus year history of the league has ever done (twice), then
have at it.
Sloppy seconds: At this spot
it’s generally a good idea to look at a player’s average
draft position and pick him a round earlier, otherwise you will
often feel like you are consistently one step behind. Mike
Krueger felt this way in our first mock draft when he was
picking at the turn and consistently had his targeted players
taken just before he could grab them. This is a great spot for
an owner who believes strongly in his views on a player and isn’t
overly concerned about value.
Mid-rounds: Because picks 1.04-1.08
often comprise the herd mentality, drafting a certain players
a round earlier will help you in an unexpected way. You don’t
necessarily want to start a positional run at this spot, because
these owners with the middle picks will target the players at
the positions you’re seeking as the draft comes back to
you. If you draft that TE or WR a round or two earlier than many
expect, there’s a good chance the run at that position will
not begin until the draft is making its way back to you and you’ll
have more choices at the position(s) you’re targeting. If
you’re not into this idea, I suggest you load up on backs
in the mid rounds because like owners with picks 1.01-1.03 in
most leagues, the middle herds will have two RBs by round three
and are busy loading up on WRs, QBs, and TEs. If you can have
four backs by round nine, you should have enough depth to increase
your chances of landing a stud rookie, underrated starter (Thomas
Jones prior to last year) or an a-1 handcuff (Larry Johnson behind
End Game: Once again, I advocate
waiting as long as possible to get that starting quarterback.
If you have at least four RBs and three receivers by rounds eight
to ten, you should be fine with a Marc Bulger, David Garrard,
Matt Leinart, Matt Schaub, or Vince Young. Especially when in
many leagues you can land Donovan McNabb this late.
General tips for any league: Don’t
draft more than one defense and unless you pick the three I mention
here, wait until the end of the draft and monitor weekly performance
on the waiver wire. Don’t draft more than one TE and I recommend
waiting until round eight or later when you can have a shot at
rebound-year candidates Todd Heap and Alge Crumpler or breakout
candidates Vernon Davis and Dustin Keller. Don’t draft any
back up receivers; stockpile back up runners. Here are a few players
you can grab after round 10 in a deep league that I think are
worth a shot (in no particular order):
With the preseason under way, here are some updates to my rankings.
The projections are for a 12-team league and a starting lineup of
1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, and 1 TE lineup with FFToday
default scoring. In order to remain conscious of space and formatting,
I will only list the top 32 QBs, RBs, and TEs and the top 50 WRs.
I had a number of e-mail requests for me to provide projections
for other scoring systems, but I will not have the time to do more
than this type of league. I suggest you register for a MyFFToday
account (it’s free), input your league scoring system,
and use your scoring system to run the numbers from the Crank
Score Calculator to get the raw data. Then use the previous
articles as a guide to calculate the simplified new Crank Score.
Perry Ė The Bengals running back is a strong receiver and
powerful runner. So far, the dislocated ankle is holding up
well and if he stays healthy, Rudi Johnsonís role as the starter
in Cincy could be in jeopardy. He is going undrafted in most
leagues at this point, but donít waste your time on rookies
lacking the same kind of talent (Steve Slaton or Jacob Hester
Ė talented, but not Chris Perry talented).
Rice Ė Willis McGahee head a good year (for Willis McGahee),
but he also had some conditioning issues. He also loses Jonathan
Ogden. Rice is quicker and I believe hungrier for an opportunity.
He wonít beat out McGahee, but I believe if the Ravens starter
gets hurt, Rice could be that kind of player that keeps McGahee
on the bench (even when heís ready to take the job back).
Williams Ė His value is rising, but if Ronnie Brown continues
to get first team reps, Williamís stock could fall to an advantageous
spot to grab him.
Bell Ė Brown is undoubtedly talented, but canít stay healthy.
If that holds true to form, Gary Kubiak knows what Bell is capable
of doing and the Broncos cast off will get a shot if Ahman Green
(another good late round RB if he falls past round seven) canít
make it through the year.
Norwood Ė If Michael Turner gets banged up, Norwood will
profit a lot. Heís one of the most explosive young backs in
Jackson Ė Iím not the biggest fan of Jackson, but heís playing
behind a good line and is capable of filling in well enough
for Ryan Grant if the things go south for the former Golden
Harrison Ė The Browns like Harrison and he reminds me a
bit of Priest Holmes: not very big, not very fast, but patient
and savvy between the tackles. Heís probably a waiver wire pick,
but if he begins receiving a lot of in-camp notoriety, donít
wait on him.
Jordan Ė The Pats pick up a talented runner/receiver when
healthy. If Maroney goes down, Jordan could be a steal.
| Tier Color Codes
|Primary Back ups
|Secondary Back ups
The tier color codes are my way of grouping the players by specific
ranges in Crank Score. Once can see the codes have some mathematical
logic, but it is still a subjective delineation on my part. One
could argue that there are only two elite backs or there is seven
to twelve elite receivers depending on how one looks at the impact
of the Crank Score attributed to the positions. Again, this is
a limited list of players. There are far more flier/waiver wire
picks for my personal draft list. The players in bold reflect
changes from last week.
This article was submitted prior to Farvre being traded to
the New York Jets.
I placed Brett Favre as the last #2 QB I would pick in a re-draft
league because his situation is extremely fluid. If he starts
in Green Bay, heís a top-five quarterback. If he is traded
to Minnesota this week heís a worthwhile #2 QB with great
upside Ė remember, he has to learn a new offense in a very
short period of time and expectations for Fare-like numbers should
be tempered significantly. If the Packers wait until the last
week of the preseason, Favre might be relatively worthless as
a fantasy starter for three to six games. Favreís placement
drops Croyle, Clemens, and Smith down a notch.
Turner edges out Willis
McGahee and his banged up knee. Consequently, Ray
Riceís (predictably) good showing boosts him up the rankings.
Bradshawís release from jail and no subsequent suspension
levied by Roger Goddell, Brandon Jacobsí value tumbles in my eyes.
Stewartís initial showing in training camp has me optimistic
that heís showing no ill effects from his toe surgery and heíll
make a strong push for DeAngelo Williamsí job. Donít expect him
to be the starter on opening day, but heíll have a great chance
to out-produce Williams. Chris
Brownís aching back and Mike
Bellís signing precipitates a change.
drops a bit due to his muscle pull so I swapped him with Braylon
Edwards (I know one person who e-mailed me yesterday that
will feel like he wonít have to consider getting his fantasy advice
from the Piggly Wiggly checkout girl). Steve
Smithís two-game suspension drops him a bit. Brandon
Marshall already dropped in my eyes before his certain three-game
time out. Vincent Jacksonís continued improvement gives him a
bump as does longtime Gut Check fave, Derek
Hagan, who is currently getting reps ahead of Ernest
Wilford after lighting up camp. Dustin
Kellerís impressive scrimmage signals to me that heís going
to get first shot at being the receiving tight end in this offense.