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Mike Davis | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Saquon Who?
11th-hour drafting tips for those who haven't paid attention to the NFL since the Super Bowl ended

You don't follow college ball. You didn't watch the NFL draft. You usually stop following the NFL after the Super Bowl, and you don't start paying attention again until 24 hours or so before your fantasy draft in August or early September. You have no idea how strong the rookie crop of RBs for 2018 is, and right now it seems like you have a million things to learn before your draft tomorrow night.

Don't panic. You're not alone. It's not a crime that you missed the Hall of Fame game or didnít read about Martavis Bryant struggling with John Gruden's offense in Oakland. Maybe you didn't even realize that Bryant had left Pittsburgh or that Gruden had left the broadcast booth. These are the kinds of details that can overwhelm you if you let them.

But there's no reason to be overwhelmed. Drafting competently in your fantasy league does NOT require encyclopedic knowledge of the NFL. I've been drafting multiple fantasy teams every year for over 20 years now, and I can assure you that when it comes to drafting, a minimalist approach is always less stressful (and usually more effective) than trying to wrap your noggin around the implications of every little factoid you can find.

When it comes to drafting, less is usually more. Seriously.

The less obsessive you are about details, the easier it will be for you to achieve the clarity of vision that you need to draft competitively. The more you bog down in details & micro-considerations, the more likely your thinking is to become muddled.

If you're feeling pressed for time and out of the loop, allow me to make 3 recommendations to prevent hyperventilation and improve your draft performance: 1) don't get carried away with mock drafts; 2) pay reasonably close attention to how things shook out in at least one real draft; and 3) don't worry about quarterbacks at all; instead, stay focused on the skill positions with glaring productivity gaps between tiers (RB and WR in most scoring systems).

1: Mock drafts have limited value.

Please don't get me wrong. If you enjoy mock drafting and have the patience and leisure time to participate in 10 consecutive mocks to get a feel for what it will be like to draft from the No. 5 slot, knock yourself out. There are lessons to be learned that way--trends and tendencies to be observed. Some of those trends and tendencies will manifest themselves in your actual draft, and you'll be ready for them. But others won't, and youíll probably make the mistake of depending on them. No matter how many times your favorite 13th-round long-shot darling falls into your lap in mock drafts, you won't know that you can get him there in your league until the actual draft takes place.

Mock drafts can be a blast, but you usually have no way of knowing how serious or competent the other mock drafters are. You don't know what strategies they're toying with (perhaps ineptly and unrealistically). For all you know, 1 or more of them is mocking in a PPR with you just to kill time while waiting for a standard mock to fill. This is just one reason that players will routinely fall to you in mocks, but almost never in an actual draft.

In my opinion, if you're pressed for time in the draft preparation process, the ideal number of mock drafts to do is somewhere between 0 and 1. I opted for zero mocks this year because I subscribe to a Youtube channel whose hosts routinely do mocks from different draft slots and provide commentary on the choices made by other drafters. So far, my mock research for 2018 has consisted of listening to one of these episodes while I was grilling some burgers. There are plenty of other fantasy podcasts out there that also get into mocks, so in the interest of time management, perhaps you should listen to one of those on your commute (or while jogging or doing dishes, etc.) instead of setting aside time to do your own mock.

2: Find a recent & credible draft, and check it against the rankings you will be using (whether your own or someone else's).

The draft I'll be studying as I move forward is the FFToday Staff League draft (because I participated in it). But any draft in which people are playing for stakes (from a purse to the satisfaction of keeping Doug Orth from winning again this year) will work for this exercise.

You don't need to study the whole draft. Remember, we're taking a minimalist approach and trying to get as huge a return on as little an investment of time as possible. Whatever your draft slot is, just look at the team generated by the owner at that position. How does that team look to you? Where does it need to be improved? Where is it surprisingly strong? After you've answered those questions as precisely as possible, take a look at that owner's round-by-round selections. If the real weakness on the team was the tight end selection in the 7th round, pay careful attention to which players went immediately following that selection. Which ones would have been a better choice? What alternative tight ends were still available three rounds later, when he took that extra running back you don't expect to see any action?

Keep the questions simple and practical, and pay attention to anything that surprises you. You don't have time to read the bio blurb and injury updates on every single player, and you probably can't commit all that information to memory anyway. Don't waste time investigating draft choices that will most likely play out according to expectations. If you're picking from the No. 5 spot, a quick glance at any competitive draft should convince you that Todd Gurley & Le'Veon Bell will both be off the board, so every second you spend wondering whether Bell will outperform Gurley in 2018 is wasted.

It's reasonable to be concerned about late-breaking news that can have a dramatic impact on a player's value, but instead of trying to update yourself on all the latest news from around the league, take a deep breath & remember that you only need a few seconds to do a quick search for news on any 1 player. Most electronic drafts will give you a link to the latest news story, so if a player is suddenly available three rounds later than the cheatsheet & real draft you consulted led you to expect, do enough research to find out whether he's injured or suspended or simply being shunned by your competitors. Don't wear yourself out by trying to anticipate which players you need to know the most about in advance. Go into your draft understanding that the most important research you can do is always done at the last second because that's the way to get the most up-to-date information.

Remember, the easiest way to find out which players require the most research is to allow them to present themselves to you during the draft, and the way to identify them is to notice that your draft isn't responding to them the way you expected based on the real draft you studied and/or your cheatsheet. Most drafts play out in mostly similar ways, so giving yourself permission to ignore everything that goes according to expectations allows you to focus all the more clearly on the anomalies that cry out for your attention.

3. Don't give QBs a single calorie of mental effort until the very end of your draft.

The owners taking Deshaun Watson at the end of the 4th round are chasing thrills, not fantasy production. They're thinking about how electrifying he was for a 6-game stretch last year and want to participate in that excitement once again. What they're not thinking about is how hard it will be for him to return value at that draft spot.

Let's say he finishes the year as the best QB in the NFL--ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, & Tom Brady. Even if that happens (which I don't think it will), you would have to sacrifice your 4th-round pick to get him in most leagues. That may sound tempting, but the No.2 QB (Aaron Rodgers, let's say) will almost certainly be breathing down his neck in the stat department. We see this year after year in the NFL: The productivity gap between elite QBs is minor compared to the gap between tiers of RBs & WRs.

For example, my 4th-round pick in the FFToday Staff draft was JuJu Smith-Schuster, a rock solid WR2 candidate (with WR1 upside). The projected drop in value between Smith-Schuster and my 5th-round pick (Chris Hogan) is huge compared to the disparity between any of the top few QBs in most years. If I had burned my 4th-round pick on Watson, I would have a more exciting QB than the one I nabbed in the 17th round (Blake Bortles), but I would have Hogan as my WR2 and Will Fuller as my WR3. If you would rather have Watson, Hogan, and Fuller than Bortles, Smith-Schuster, and Hogan (with Fuller as a backup), you're simply overvaluing the QB position. There will be multiple weeks this season when even the lowly Bortles outperforms Watson--and given Bortles' improved weapons this year as well as his solid track record (QB3, QB8, and QB13 from 2015-2017) , I'm not even willing to bet that Watson will be more valuable than Bortles in 2018.

I'm only using Bortles to make this point because he's the QB I took in the penultimate round of the Staff League draft. I wasn't fixated on him, but I was determined to keep the drafting process simple for myself by not worrying about QBs until the end. I knew there would be plenty of promising options available to me at that point, and there were. Remember how much you had to pay for Derek Carr or even Dak Prescott last year? They both went undrafted this year, so I could have had either one, as well as Tyrod Taylor, whom I would gladly have taken for the start of the season if none of the others had been available.

It's next to impossible to generate top 10 productivity at the WR or RB position by streaming players available on the waiver wire who just happen to be matched up against garbage defenses in a particular week, but it's quite easy to get top-10 QB production from precisely that strategy. You've seen people draft Cam Newton low and ride him to a championship; you've seen him drafted high before being thrown back to the waiver wire. This is a familiar story at the QB position. One of my friends last year overpaid for Carr in his auction draft and let that decision hamstring him for the rest of the season because even though he wound up with 2 better QBs on his roster, he couldn't bring himself to cut Carr based on how much he had paid for him.

There is absolutely no reason to get caught up in an emotional roller coaster ride with QBs. Worse yet, it's probably safe to assume that at least 2 of the QBs you predict to finish in the top 5 won't even end up in the top 10.

So in the interest of saving time, stop thinking about QBs. For all I know, Patrick Mahomes will outperform Watson this year if only because Kareem Hunt is so much more dangerous than any of the Houston RBs. If you want to chase a thrill, I think you're worlds better off taking Mahomes in the 10th than Watson in the 4th.

But if you can stand waiting until the very end for your QB, you'll have a much easier time focusing on the RBs & WRs that make or break teams in fantasy. When you try to think about everything all at once (the value and volatility at QB, RB, WR, TE, Def, & K), it's hard to reach any conclusions with clarity. You'll have a bazillion different calculations & counter-calculations running through your mind, which can be paralyzing when you're on the clock in a draft--especially if you feel inadequately prepared.

Don't make things harder on yourself than they need to be. You should spend most of the draft focusing on the positions that make the biggest differences between teams (RB & WR), and I'm happy to report that by refusing to give a thought to QBs for the first 16 rounds of the Staff League draft, I was able to enjoy my wine in addition to building a satisfactory stable of runners and receivers. The more out of your depth you are (and I'm always out of my depth when competing against Mike Krueger & Doug Orth), the more important is to simplify the expectations that you have of yourself.

Less is more.

Loose Ends from Last Monthís Column

A reader named Scott argued (correctly) that fans of small leagues who want to keep waiver wire talent thin can simply increase the number of starters at each position. As he pointed out, an 8-team league with 3 RBs per team will have 24 starting RBs each week (the exact same number of starters as there are in 12-team leagues with room for 2 RBs in the lineup).

I want to thank the readers who took the time to send in photos from their own drafts over the years, but no one sent me a link to any kind of web aggregator for photos of fantasy drafts. I assumed there would be some such website by now, and I mention it again in the hope that someone can point me in a promising direction.

Mike Davis has been writing about fantasy football since 1999--and playing video games even longer than that. His latest novel (concerning a gamer who gets trapped inside Nethack after eating too many shrooms) can be found here.

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