Fantasy Football: Tips for Beginners —– Part 2 – The Draft

Alright, you’ve made your handy dandy cheat sheet, done your research like I recommended in Fantasy Football for Beginners – Part 1.  You’re so ready for this draft, right?  Well you certainly are on your way, but here are some important strategy tips for constructing a spectacular team and things that you might not realize you need to consider if you haven’t played before.

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Part 2: The Draft

1. Keep in Mind Your Starting Lineup

Standard leagues have a QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, a Flex (can be WR/RB/TE) a TE, a Defense, and a Kicker.  You’ll in general want to fill your starting RB, WR, and Flex before you start getting bench players. QB, and TE are a little more flexible and can be picked up at any point, because both are pretty deep (especially this year).  So it’s ok to wait on those positions if you want, but I don’t recommend getting, say, a backup QB until you lock up the other positions.

2. Rankings are a Guideline not a Rule

Whatever rankings you choose to use, don’t follow them to the letter.  You should reevaluate the rankings you have on the fly, adapt to how people are being drafted, and keep in mind what positions you have open and still need to fill.  In addition, keep track of who has been taken.  There is nobody worse than the person who tries to draft someone who has already been chosen every single round.  Don’t be that guy.

3. The Studs Will Go First

I know what you’re thinking: “Duh Cozy, everyone knows that the better guys go first.”  Well it’s just good to keep in mind that if you wait to draft a certain position, you’re not gonna get a stud.  if you don’t draft a QB the first few rounds, you won’t get a top QB.  Same is true for every position.  There’s no secret to getting a stud every round, it isn’t going to happen.  Even if a couple of your sleepers pan out and you get great value for them, in all probability, you will not get stud value at later rounds.  The reason the later guys are going later is because there’s typically a concern: they have upside but… insert concern here: injury history, unproven, backup to another player, declining veteran.   So just make sure you understand their trade offs.

4.  Think about a WR at Flex.  Actually, Absolutely Draft a WR at Flex. 

But really though.  You will get better value for a WR at the point you’re drafting a flex player, plus they’re a little more reliable than RBs.  I’m not saying you can’t start a RB at flex come the season when a sleeper RB starts doing really well.  But I’m saying I don’t recommend you draft one.  But hey come draft day, if there is a great RB left when you’re looking for flex options, take them, but in general, WR is probably the way to go.

5.  Sleepers and Busts

Ah yes, those mysterious words that every analyst throws around with gusto when talking about draft day.  So what exactly do they mean when they say this term?

A Sleeper is a player who outperforms their draft position, say they’re drafted outside the top 20 at their position and make it into the top 10.  That’s a sleeper who pans out.  Every analyst has different sleepers, they’re your rookies who suddenly do great, your veterans who bounce back from a bad year, your players who suddenly take off with a new team/offensive coordinator/overall situation.

A Bust on the other hand is someone who performs far worse than their draft position.  Last year, Ray Rice among other notable RBs devastated teams by being a first round picks who performed very poorly and are this year is going in the early 6th round where he probably should have gone last year.

Here’s the thing.  You don’t know whether someone’s a sleeper or a bust until the season is over.  Yep, so what analysts are referring to as sleepers are guys with high upside, or a good chance to do very well.  However a lot of analysts “sleepers” could end up being busts.  These two terms are all about value.  And frankly after the 8th round or so, most of your picks are potential sleepers (to avoid confusion some people call them flyers).  These are the players you love that you think will do much better than their draft position.  These are super important because you could have tremendous value on your hands if a flyer does really well (last year Peyton Manning was a sleeper, so was Randall Cobb 2 years ago were both sleepers, albeit in different tiers).  That’s why its important to research ALL the players you could potentially want to draft.

6.  Handcuffs

A handcuff is a player’s backup.  This is really important for running backs (where typically there is one main starter who gets the majority of carries) especially injury prone ones.  A handcuff will only do well if the starter gets hurt, so if you draft a running back with injury history, it’s a good idea to pick up their handcuff.  For instance: you draft Le’Veon Bell, his handcuff is LeGarette Blount.  If Bell gets hurt, Blount is the guy.  If  you have both on your team, you have a little bit of safety in case something happens to Bell.  Also a handcuff has very little value unless their starter is hurt, so know that if you draft a handcuff for a RB you don’t have.

7.  Defense and Kickers (This is last for a reason)

Defense and Kicker should be your last 2 positions filled, in that order, in the second to last and last picks of the draft.  As Matthew Berry points out every year in his Draft Day Manifesto (which you should for sure read), “Over the last four years, on average, only five of the teams drafted as a top-10 defense actually finished the year as a top-10 defense.”  Yep 5 out of ten.  That’s why I’m not reaching for a defense early.  I would rather have a sleeper at that position, and defenses are horribly unpredictable.  I’m not saying you can’t draft one early, but I’m saying don’t do it unless you have a really good reason (especially if it’s your first year playing fantasy). If they don’t end up doing well, it’s very easy to pick up a different defense/kicker, or pick up a new one each week based on match up (that’s called defense or kicker by committee and can work really well if you didn’t draft the top defense).

Practice Makes Perfect – Mock Drafts and Football Discussions

Mock drafts.  I cannot stress the importance of mock drafts enough.  ESPN has a great mock draft lobby where you can find a league similar to yours (in terms of amount of teams, type of draft) and choose your specific draft position.  The best way to practice for the day of the draft and get used to how it will be like to draft against real, unpredictable people is to do lots of mock drafts.  They help you get a feel for who will be left in what round.  They let you try out crazy strategies like not drafting a running back until the 6th round.  After each mock draft, look at how your team ended up and see if you are happy with who you have starting and how your value stacked up.  If you aren’t pleased with a position, do a different mock draft, try a new strategy and see how that affects your final team.  I cannot stress how important mock drafting is especially if you have never done a draft before.  It will make you feel a lot more confident going in to draft day!

Alright, now the final bit about practicing, you know the person that dragged you into this in the first place?  Talk to them about fantasy football!  They love this game too and I bet they’d love to answer your questions, hear your opinions and maybe clue you in on stats or news you may have missed.  Don’t be scared to ask them for tips or advice, you are new at this and there is a lot to learn.

One Last Thought

After you’ve read everything there is to know about players and teams and sleepers and handcuffs and injury risks and studs, what’s most important is how you feel about each player.  At the end of the day, YOU have to love your team, so pick guys you love.  I don’t care what some analyst says, if your gut tells you a player isn’t going to do well, don’t take him.  Don’t let some analysis or specific rankings make your decision for you.  Because even if that guy busts you took a chance on someone you believed in than having drafted someone you didn’t really like because of else’s opinions.  Plus every person has different preferences.  I like reliability, someone else might like upside, someone else might not worry about injury risks.  It doesn’t matter, but if you’re gonna have fun, YOU have to love your team.

Best of luck on draft day!  If you come prepared, you will draft a great team! If I left anything out or you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to comment!

Fantasy Football: Tips for Beginners

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I love playing fantasy football, but if we’re being totally honest I got dragged into it.  A couple years ago TIm’s fantasy football league needed a new team, and I needed to understand football because that’s mostly what Tim talks about.  Cue the beginning of my fantasy football career and an overwhelming journey into figuring out just who all of these non-Packer players were.  Needless to say I was pretty overwhelmed at the thought of learning and analyzing stats and information about 200+ players and 32 teams. So I made a list of players and dug through sites and research and bugged Tim constantly about who this person or that person was. But I had absolutely no clue what I was doing.  So here’s the Beginners Guide to Fantasy Football for anyone who was dragged into this crazy game. The fear that you won’t be able to learn you need to know in less than a month? Yeah, I’ve been there, and somehow I survived. So if you want some practical beginner tips, here’s what I’ve learned on this journey:

Preseason Research

Research is your best friend, but you don’t have to read the whole internet.

Seriously, there are a million websites, a million articles, a million rankings, A MILLION. You can’t read them all, but how do you pick one? Well here’s what I do.

Don’t worry about paid sites because the information they offer will probably confuse you more than it helps.  The sites you can buy a subscription to give really detailed analysis which you can chose to buy in a few years, but for now you probably want to focus on the basics.  You can do a lot with what’s out there for free, and I think I only looked at articles Matthew Berry wrote my first year. (See those here: Matthew Berry at ESPN.com). You can pick any analyst you want, but find one or two that you like to read, and stick with those. You’ll get enough information without going overboard. And remember that person that dragged you into this? Ask them what sites they like! I bet they would love to point you to some resources to help you out.

P.S. Here’s some sites I think are great:

Podcasts are an Excellent Resource

If reading isn’t your thing, or you just want another resource, I highly recommend Podcasts. Most Fantasy Football websites produce a podcast as well.  This is great way to start understanding how to evaluate players, because you can listen to other people discussing the important things about players.  I listen to a couple Podcasts daily as I drive to work, and they are invaluable for analysis and player news.  Here’s my two favorite

Flag Football

Bonus: Picture of me as a 9-year-old playing flag football. I played on my brother’s team and had big dreams of being the first girl to play in the NFL

2.  Preparing for the Draft

This is it, the first real step, the day that the players you take make or break your team.  Not that your team at the end of the year will look anything like it does now by the end of the year.  Who you draft gives you a very important base to build off, and can make or break your team and trade options later.

ESPN.com has a lot of great resources, including a brief description of any fantasy relevant player, here:  Top 300 Rankings – ESPN.com

Create a Master Cheat Sheet

Since when I first started playing fantasy football, I thought Randy Moss was a Quarterback, my best friend in this game is my handy dandy cheat sheet with all the pertinent information about every player.  My first year, I printed out the top 200 rankings and then wrote notes about every single player. Actually I did that my second year too. And I’ll be doing it again.  You really need to know certain information at the draft and if you can’t remember it all (which is pretty likely if you’re new) I recommend showing up to the draft with some notes.  Here are some basic things you may want to take note of

  • The Basics: Team and Position,
  • Injury history
  • Current status on the team (Are they the starter? Are they a back up who will only play if someone else is hurt? Are they fighting for a spot with someone else?)
  • Who else on their team will affect them (for example, Tom Brady does far better if Gronkowski plays.  So if you are nervous about Gronk’s injury status, Brady may also drop in your rankings)
  • Any other news you feel is relevant: like how are they doing in training camp? Are they currently facing suspension? (cough cough, Josh Gordon)
  • ADP – ADP stands for Average Draft Position, which means the average spot a given player is being taken in fantasy football drafts.  So if a Player’s ADP is 2, they are on average being taken 2nd overall in the draft.  This is a really relevant statistic when you’re evaluating where to take a player on the day of the draft.  Say you are at the 30th pick in the draft and trying to decide between Player A and Player B.  Player A’s ADP is 35, Player B’s ADP is 45.  You think they’re pretty equal players and you have another pick before 45, so you take Player A, because in all likelihood Player B will still be around for your next pick.  Now ADP is not a given, just because Player B’s ADP is 45 doesn’t mean he won’t be chosen before then, but it gives you a pretty good idea of what players will be left at a certain round in the draft so you don’t take someone in the 4th round you could get in the 8th.

If you have all this written down in a handy cheat sheet?  You will be golden.  You will have plenty of info to go into the draft strong.  Don’t do it all at once! I take notes on 10-20 players a day.  And remember in a ten team league, only 200 or so players get drafted, and a twelve team league might have a few more than that.  You only have to research as many players as will be drafted, so don’t waste your time on super deep sleepers unless your league is that deep.

Check out Part Two (coming soon) where I’ll talk about what to do on the day of the draft.  If you’re new to fantasy football and have any questions or have a topic you’d like me to cover, feel free to comment and I’ll try to help you out!  

Other Resources

Here is a great beginners guide created on Reddit. It covers some stuff I didn’t go into because this was getting lengthy.  There’s a great glossary of terms, discussion of the different types of leagues, and links to tons of resources.  All in one convenient spot.

Fantasy Football Glossary – Reddit 

Fantasy Football Beginner’s Guide – Reddit