The Lost Art of Drafting: A 2013 Fantasy Football Draft Guide
Over the past two years I have given out some basic advice on trends you should be paying attention to in your league, especially if you were a beginner on playing Fantasy Sports. While I think that has been informative and helpful, I’m hoping that this year I can try and be a little bit more specific and try to give out pertinent tips that you can use this upcoming season. In addition to all of that, I realized that I had never done a draft guide in the previous years. Well today I’m going to change that!
Before I get into my specific strategies for this year, here are some general assumptions that you should be aware of.
SNAKE! OH IT’S A SNAKE - My Fantasy Football draft experience is limited to the Snake draft. For anyone unfamiliar with that term, it means that you establish a draft order with as many teams as you have in your league. Most standard leagues have 10-12 teams, with smaller ones being 6-8 teams and larger ones being 14-16. Regardless of league size, the snake draft works exactly the same way. The simplest way to put it, is that every round the draft order alternates. Whoever picks first in Round 1, would pick last in Round 2. Whoever picked last in Round 1, would pick first in Round 2. If you pick third in Round 1, you pick seventh in Round 2. So on and so forth until you have filled out your roster.
This leads to the people at the ends of rounds the opportunity to have a “double pick“so to speak as they will have the last pick in a round and then the first in the next round. That has it’s advantages, but it also means you have a lot of downtime in between your picks. There are other drafts where you’ll do an auction, bidding on various players. While I understand this method, it’s not my area of expertise so just keep that in mind.
The reason why Snake Drafts work out well, is because no matter where you pick, you have the opportunity to get a set of good players. The person with the first overall pick gets the opportunity to draft the best overall player, whomever that may be. Yet that person can’t pick again for awhile, so it’s not a huge advantage. Picking earlier, generally means that you can get a stud player at a particular position, and feel confident that they will be strong at that position.
So if the first few teams draft running backs, they will usually have the best of the RB crop. Does that mean people at the end of the round are totally boned? Absolutely not! If people early on in the draft take a ton of running backs, then the people later on in the draft may be “weaker” at RB, but they will have the opportunity to draft a really strong wide receiver or quaterback. In the end, it all evens out, and assuming that teams aren’t drafting crazy, everyone should have strengths and weaknesses on their squads.
Player Value Appreciation – When you look at your player cheat sheets, you’ll see that all players are ranked in terms of value. If you just want to look at a list, check out this ESPN Top 300 to see a generalized outlook on where particular players should be drafted. Is that list the total authority? No, absolutely not, but it’s a good guideline to go by. Why you should pay attention to it, is that if and when teams draft out of this order, they are leaving good players available for you to pick up.
If you know a player will not make it back to you, then it’s totally fine to draft them early. You just don’t want to do it too early. You don’t want to draft San Francisco Quaterback Colin Kaepernick in Round 2 when he is ranked at #46 overall. Not only are you ignoring other great players at the QB position like Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, or Tom Brady, but you would also be missing out on elite wide receivers like AJ Green, Brandon Marshall, and Demaryius Thomas. Not to mention all the solid RBs you could’ve had like Matt Forte, Steven Ridley, or hell, even Jimmy Graham at TE. You may have a great feeling about Kaepernick, but is it worth missing out on some stellar talent just to take him far too early?
The answer is no. Remember that you can’t win your league at the draft, but you can certainly lose it. Taking players far too early can cause you to have a weak team overall, so be sure to relax and not over extend.
Mock Drafts – My wife Katie loves to make fun of me for caring so much about Fantasy Football that I go out of my way to take part in mock drafts. What is a mock draft? It is exactly what it sounds like; a simulated draft where you choose what draft position you get and then see what kind of team you can make. These teams don’t have any bearing on what you will eventually choose when your actual draft comes along, but it can allow you a chance to see what kind of players are generally available at a particular draft position, and some of the trends that are happening.
The most important reason to do a mock draft though? Every league is very different and usually, something weird will happen. Someone will take a player really early, people will ignore a good player for whatever reason, and other weird stuff. Doing a mock draft simply prepares you to deal with and improvise your strategy when weird shit happens.
Go check out the ESPN Mock Draft Lobbies and try it out!
Don’t Panic – This is the biggest advice that I can give you. Do not, under any circumstances, panic! Weird stuff is going to happen. Someone is going to take a player, even though they are starting off the season injured. Teams may see that there are no good running backs left, and rather than stockpile a different position, they are going to take average RBs way too early to try and compensate. Do not fall victim to that tendency, instead remember that you should be picking based on value.
If people are spending early round picks on average running backs, that means that elite wide receivers or quarterbacks available. Snatch them up! So what if you are weak at running back? If you lock up the other positions, then you’ll have an advantage there that the other teams won’t have. In the end, if you remember that, it will all even out. It’s when you reach that you end up with problems.
2013 Specific Strategies
Running Back Shortage – In 2012, the running back position was so thin, that many people just ignored it in the early rounds, hoping that people they picked up off of waivers or in later rounds would pay off. This year, there are some quality running backs to be had! Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of them. In my opinion there 10 quality running backs, 4 sneaky good picks, and then a bunch of mediocre or bad picks. Do everything in your power to get a quality running back early, preferably two. There is depth at QB and WR, so you can afford to wait on those positions. If for some reason you can’t grab a top 10 running back, then I hope for your sake you have a stacked lineup at QB, WR1, WR2, TE and Flex.
Joey V’s Top RBs
- Adrian Peterson
- Arian Foster
- Marshawn Lynch
- Ray Rice
- Doug Martin
- Jamaal Charles
- Alfred Morris
- C.J. Spiller
- LeSean McCoy
- Trent Richardson
Peterson and Foster are pretty much givens at this point. Lynch, Rice, Martin and Morris are workhorses and should get you your points through sheer force. Jamaal Charles, CJ Spiller and LeSean McCoy will get you big players from time to time, and solid production the other times. The only one I’m lukewarm on here is Trent Richardson. He has the talent, but he is playing on the Browns with Brandon Wheedon at QB. If I were an opposing defense, I would stack the box and dare Wheedon to beat me. Richardson could break out just based on talent alone, but I would be cautious.
Sneaky Good Picks
- Steven Ridley
- Matt Forte
- Maurice Jones-Drew
- Darren Sproles
No one is taking Ridley seriously. The Patriots were in the top 3 in all statistical categories when it came to the running game, and Ridley was a big part of that. With the Patriots being devoid of all their best targets in the passing game, they are going to have to run the ball a lot to win games. I think Ridley is in for a huge year.
Matt Forte is not a sexy name. He doesn’t put up huge numbers, and he has a stigma for being injured all the time. Forte has only missed a handful of games the last few years, and his point totals are very consistent from game to game. He’s a very safe pick that if you can get one of the top RB1s and put him into your RB2 slot, you’ll be winning a lot of games.
MJD has the talent to be a Top 5 RB in Fantasy. Last year, he missed the majority of the year due to a foot injury. This year though, he’s healthy and he is in a contract year. He is going to be motivated to show everyone that he is still a top talent in the league. While it is true that he plays on the shitty Jacksonville Jaguars, MJD is a three down back and will catch a lot of passes out of the backfield.
There are a lot of running backs playing on the New Orleans Saints, but Sproles is the top option. He has big play ability, is a fantastic pass catcher, and is just plain more talented than Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram. He’s a great RB2, but if you can somehow draft him into your Flex position, then you are set. He has the talent to be a Top 10 RB, so drafting him early isn’t uncalled for.
- Steven Jackson
- Montee Ball
- David Wilson
- Chris Johnson
Everyone is building up Steven Jackson to have a huge season now that he is playing on the Atlanta Falcons. Let’s making something clear: the Falcons are bad at running the ball. Their offensive line is terrible and they haven’t done much to improve that. Jackson also has a ton of mileage, and isn’t exactly a speed demon anymore. Unless he can somehow break one to two tackles on every running play, he is going to have a very average season. Late Round 2 or early Round 3 is a fine place to take him, assuming you have one of the top tier running backs already, but his current ranking of early Round 2 seems dumb to me.
Montee Ball is a rookie who is on the Denver Broncos. People assume that he is going to break out as a star for the team. Maybe that’s true, but I just can’t condone using a 3rd Round pick on the guy. He’s not listed as the starter right now, and he’s going to be heavily dependent on touchdowns for his points. That’s just a risk I don’t want to take. Maybe I’ll be wrong on him, but I’m OK with being wrong in this case.
David Wilson has talent and is super fast. Unfortunately for him, he plays on the Giants and coach Tom Coughlin has already shown that if you can’t produce you are going to sit. Wilson sat most of the early 2012 season because of not producing yards and for fumbling the ball. He did well in the second half of the year when the rest of the running back core was injured and Coughlin had little choice. Wilson could absolutely be a good Fantasy option, but you are going to live in fear of him being benched, or the Giants fucking up a game like the always seem to do. Not worth the risk if you ask me.
I made my opinion on Chris Johnson pretty clear last year. He spent most of his time getting slammed in the backfield for a loss. His offensive line is atrocious and Jack Locker isn’t a very good quarterback. Johnson has the ability and speed to score a touchdown on any play. Unfortunately for him, no one can seem to block for him, and the Titans are generally trailing early so they have to abandon the running game. Stay away unless he slips to Round 4 or 5.
Jimmy Graham or Bust – Jimmy Graham of the Saints is the best tight end in the league in terms of Fantasy. No matter what, he will give you a significant advantage at that position, and is worth a 2nd or 3rd Round pick. If you really want him and pick early in the 2nd round, do not hesitate to grab him. Trust me, he will not be around when it comes back to you late in the 3rd. The reason why you choose Graham so high is that he gives you production at the TE position that you normally can’t get. An average tight end will give you 5-6 points on a good week. Graham usually gets you 8-12 points per week, and has the potential to get you 16-20. The points you gain with Graham can help prop up your other positions.
If you don’t want to spend the pick on Graham, or you can’t seem to get him, then my advice to you is to ignore TE until the much later rounds. Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots has talent but is such an injury concern that it’s not worth the risk. Also remember that the Patriots are very tight lipped about their injury status during the week, so you will have to deal with the stress on whether or not he’ll play for a good chunk of the season. Jason Witten is good, but has a tendency to not score a hell of a lot. If you are in a PPR league, Witten can make up for his lack of touchdowns and yardage with catches, but otherwise he’s a mediocre pick. Tony Gonzalez of the Falcons had a great first half last year, but at his age can he keep it going?
What tight end should you get then if Graham is off the board? Use those middle rounds to stockpile some good WR’s, RB’s with upside. Towards the end of your draft, take a flyer on TE’s that are in good situations with the potential of touchdown targets. Greg Olsen of the Panthers is a favored target of quarterback Cam Newton. Jared Cook of the Patriots has the potential to take at least a portion of the targets Gronkowski and Hernandez were going to get. Martellus Bennett scored a ton of touchdowns with the Giants last year, and he’ll be very valuable on the Bears this year. Finally, Ed Dickson of the Ravens isn’t the best player, but with Dennis Pita out for the year, and Anquan Boldin traded to the 49ers, Joe Flacco needs to throw to someone!
You can wait on Quarterbacks & Wide Recievers – Since I spent a ton of time talking about how there is little depth at RB and TE, let me brighten up your day and tell you that there are plenty of quality players at the quarterback and wide receiver position. How can I best illustrate that? I’m going to list all of the QBs and WRs that I feel like could be a top tier player for you.
- Drew Brees
- Aaron Rodgers
- Peyton Manning
- Cam Newton
- Tom Brady
- Matt Ryan
- Colin Kaepernick
- Matthew Stafford
- Robert Griffen, III
- Russell Wilson
- Tony Romo
Now, obviously Aaron Rodgers is better than Tony Romo in terms of Fantasy. But just how much better? In 2012, using ESPN standard league scoring, Rodgers had 330 points whereas Romo had 271 points Difference of 59 points seems like a lot, but think about it this way. What if you skipped out on Rodgers and used that to get a really stellar running back, or wide receiver, and then “settled” Romo. Don’t you think you could make up those points between all the different positions on your team? Maybe Romo is way more erratic than Rodgers, but at least he has the upside since he’s throwing to Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Jason Witten.
Now, I’m not telling you that you should ignore Aaron Rodgers and taken Romo. That’s not the best strategy for everyone, but it’s an option. Hell, let’s take the idea of Rodgers or Cam Newton. Rodgers you have to take in the 1st or 2nd Rounds. Newton you can probably get in the 3rd or 4th Rounds. Newton scored 309 points in 2012. That’s only a difference of 21 points! Instead of taking Rodgers in that 1st or 2nd Rounds, you could take a combination of LeSean McCoy, Dez Bryant and Cam Newton. That’s not a bad smattering of players, and gives you some rock solid production across a wide spectrum of positions.
There are so many good quarterbacks now that you really have some great options to you, regardless of whether you want to take one early, or if you want to wait around. Even in leagues with a lot of players, you theoretically should be able to get one of those 11 guys on your team. If your league has 12 teams, then your next option is Andrew Luck … which really isn’t that bad if you ask me!
If you think that depth is good, then just wait until you see what we have for you at wide receiver! Here’s a list of everyone I think can be a great / solid WR1.
- Calvin Johnson
- Dez Bryant
- Brandon Marshall
- AJ Green
- Julio Jones
- Demaryius Thomas
- Roddy White
- Andre Johnson
- Larry Fitzgerald
- Vincent Jackson
- Randal Cobb
On the border between WR1 & WR2
- Wes Welker
- Victor Cruz
- Marques Colston
- Reggie Wayne
- Mike Wallace
I’ve listed 11 names of players that can easily give you big numbers if asked to. On most weeks they’ll give you a solid 6-10 points, but on other weeks they could explode for upwards of 16-22. They all have the capability. Even the other five who are on the borderline have that in them, but it’s a tad bit more risky. Wes Welker is a beast in PPR format, but with so many weapons in Denver he may have down weeks. Victor Cruz and Marques Colston are solid players who may not have a ton of breakout games, but they will generally give you respectable showings. Reggie Wayne is getting a bit older and may be transitioning to be a second option for the Colts. Finally, I personally like Mike Wallace from a talent stand point, but he plays for the Dolphins now. QB Ryan Tannehill can certainly throw a nice deep ball which plays to Wallace’s strengths, but there are likely to be more down weeks than stellar ones.
Defenses & Kickers are crap shoots – Anyone that tells you that the key to drafting is getting a fantastic defense and kicker combination, is crazy. Can a bad performance from your Defense or Kicker lose you a week? Sure they can, but generally speaking, all defenses and kickers are the same. At the end of the year, you are going to see that most of the defenses and kickers used are going to be similar in point totals, at least on average. In my opinion, do not waste a draft pick on either of these positions until you have filled all of your main team spots, and a few quality bench guys.
So what is the best way to determine who you should try and get at these positions? Defenses are very difficult to predict, but there are a few things you can factor into your decision.
- Divisional Strength - If a team defense is in a division with a lot of strong offensive teams, then you may want to avoid pick them. Avoid picking teams from the NFC South for instance, because the Saints, Falcons, Panthers and even Buccaneers can score a ton of points. Whereas on the flip side, a team from the AFC North might be a great choice. Teams like the Bengals, Steelers, Ravens and Browns have talent on offense, but that division is generally known for very close, low scoring affairs.
- Find good pass rushing teams – Pass Rushing is a fancy way of saying that a defense is really good at putting pressure and / or sacking the quarterback. These are the teams you want to try and focus on. Sacks are worth points, and if a defense can get a QB out of their comfort zone, then that means more potential for interceptions which also score points. Defenses that lock other teams down are good, but they don’t work well in Fantasy because their output is on average low. You don’t want to pick up a reckless defense, but teams that take a few more chances on that side of the ball can make some big plays that will help you out.
- Injuries at key positions – This is obvious advice that you should keep in mind at all times, but just pay attention to what injuries or suspensions are happening on a team. If the defense is supposed to thrive at pass rushing, but their defensive ends or middle line backers are out for extended periods of time, the entire defensive machine will stall. More than that though, be sure to avoid teams with a really shitty cornerback / safety situation. If a team defense is prone to giving up deep passes, then you want to avoid them like the plague.
On the kicking side of the ball, I don’t have as many suggestions. Generally speaking, a kicker is a kicker is a kicker. They all output at pretty much the same rate. That being said, the two small tidbits that I like to take into account are:
- Plays in a Dome
- Plays in AFC West
Why those two factors? A kicker who’s home stadium is a dome, doesn’t have to worry about wind as much. That means they can just focus in on leg strength and forget the other factors. I especially like kickers Matt Bryant of the Falcons and Garret Hartley of the Saints. Falcons & Saints both play in domes and are in the same division. That means they play eight games each in a dome, and since both teams have to play against each other, you are guaranteed a ninth game as well. That is pretty great!
The AFC West teams (Broncos, Raiders, Chargers and Chiefs) I like because they have to play in Denver with the mile high elevation. That allows the ball to travel further and could lead to a few extra points. In addition to that, cities like Oakland and San Diego generally have good weather, which can just make the kicking job a little bit easier.
Other than that, try and avoid kickers who play in really windy stadiums or cold weather situations. Prime examples are San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants / Jets. Those teams deal with rain, snow, and home fields that cause the wind to swirl INSIDE the stadium. That can be a terror to kick in, and while it won’t affect you too often, it may fuck you over when you need those extra few points.
Well, that’s all I have for now. These are simply my suggestions on what you want to look for in a draft, but that doesn’t mean I’m the authority on this. Just my observations after nearly 10 years playing Fantasy Football. If you would like my advice on anything, whether it be draft strategy, player profiles, or even how to run a league, please get in touch with me! You can leave a comment here, drop me an email, or send a tweet my way. I will definitely answer your question and give you the best advice that I can, whether I’m playing against you or not. =)
The best advice I can give you, and I know it sounds cheesy / lame, but have fun! Hold your draft, drink a beer, smack talk your opponents, and just enjoy the experience. Drafting is one of, if not the best part of the Fantasy Football season, so go out there and get yourself a really great team.