After a year or two of playing fantasy football, you may feel like you’re learning the finer points of the game that separate the rookies from the veterans. Not unlike the mindset of a recent college graduate, you are now grasping how much there is still to learn on an annual basis about the nuances of assessing the talent pool, the revolving door of NFL head coaches and front office executives, and how this turnover affects said talent.
In addition to the NFL’s daily offseason activities, you may realize that you have a lot of learn about the tendencies of the fellow fantasy general managers in your league that you’ll match wits with come draft day.
1. Availability of talent per position
Each preseason, fantasy football experts across the land assess which positions are rich in talent compared to other positions with less depth. Although there are obviously the same number of NFL players from year-to-year in the league (barring expansion, of course), some years produce, say fewer quality fantasy quarterbacks or running backs than others.
Headed into the 2010 preseason, there are actually more startable fantasy QBs than a year ago. As an example, Houston’s Matt Schaub has approached stud status. Before the 2009 season, he was a high-upside pick that was considered a steal in the fifth or sixth round. In 2010, Schaub likely won’t last past the third round.
Brett Favre was a speculative pick in what was supposed to be a run-based offense in Minnesota. Many prognosticators felt that, at this stage of Favre’s storied career, he would simply be a game manager whose primary responsibility would be handing off the ball to RB Adrian Peterson. Assuming Favre doesn’t retire since he recently underwent ankle surgery, the 40-year-old provides QB1 upside, something we didn’t really see coming in 2009.
Other fantasy QBs that are new to the draft radar in 2010:
Philadephia’s Kevin Kolb, who will take over under center for the traded Donovan McNabb. Kolb has performed brilliantly during brief stints on the field during his career, and Eagle Nation has been calling for him for years.
Baltimore’s Joe Flacco really stepped up both his play and leadership in 2009, and with the addition of Pro Bowl WR Anquan Boldin, he will certainly get drafted a lot earlier in 2010 than 2009.
Matt Moore, Chad Henne, the aforementioned McNabb, and Jason Campbell all provide upgrades at quarterback for the Panthers, Dolphins, Redskins, and Raiders compared to these teams’ ‘09 starters.
Former first-round picks Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, and Alex Smith each took major steps forward towards establishing themselves as fantasy starters, and will command more dialogue as players to target as opposed to being players to settle for.
2009 disappointments Jay Cutler and Matt Cassel are expected to bounce back after a rough first year with their new teams. Cutler will benefit from new offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s expansion of the playbook, and Cassel has highly-touted rookie wideout Dexter McCluster to add to a somewhat deep receiving corps that includes Dwayne Bowe, a rejuvenated Chris Chambers, and newly-acquired possession threat Jerheme Urban.
Given the changing landscape in fantasy football with regards to quarterbacks, one notices that there are more startable QBs than a year ago. For this reason, you should apply principles of supply and demand to your draft. Since there is a bigger supply of signal callers, you should address other positions with scarcer talent before QB. In other words, wait a round or two to pick your QBs, and grab an elite RB or WR with that earlier pick instead, especially in leagues that only start one quarterback per fantasy team.
2. ADP rankings
Do ADP’s reflected in FF publications correctly address your league’s scoring system?
Before you blindly trust the Average Draft Position Rankings, make sure that the list that you are referencing is designed for the same type of league that you are in. If you are in a “touchdown league”, where the vast majority of points scored is from trips to the end zone, then you shouldn’t use points-per-reception ADP Rankings for your draft. Or, if you are planning for a PPR draft, don’t use a cheat sheet for yardage-heavy leagues, as the player valuations can alter completely (e.g. Matt Forte)
Cross-reference ADP with where you are in draft
During your draft, you’ll see players that you’ve been targeting all preseason, and are hot to snatch that player for your team. Before you click ‘draft player’, take a look at your ADP rankings. If that player’s ADP Ranking is, say, 15-20 points lower than your current draft position, then you might want to wait a round, as there is a decent chance that your guy will be available in the next round.
For example, let’s say you’re a big Bret Favre fan, and that he’s coming back in 2010 to play for the Vikings again. During the fourth round of a 12-team league, you’re tempted to take Favre as your QB1 after Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tony Romo have been selected. If Favre’s ADP is around, say, 92, and you’re only on the 43rd pick, then you should know that you can probably wait on Favre for a couple rounds. However, if you have to have him, then take him with a seventh-rounder, as Favre theoretically should be available then.
ADP is compiled from averaging out hundreds of drafts from all over the fantasy football industry. The most knowledgeable fantasy pundits essentially voice their opinion in the valuation of the talent via the draft, and ADP is a critical tool in helping you to prepare for your draft.
Remember this equation when thinking in terms of draft valuation: ADP / # of teams in league = round you should draft a player
Don’t let ADP serve as the know-all, end-all…if you’re hot for a particular player, his ADP is a bit lower than where you’re at in your draft, the next player available at his position is a big drop off in talent and upside, and you feel like that person won’t be available next round, then reach a little if you feel you have to, but don’t make a habit of it.
3. Latest injuries/depth chart shifts/holdout news
Stay aware - in today’s age of information, there is no reason we can’t get up-to-the-minute info from dozens of NFL beat writers around the league. If you have an internet connection, you should know exactly who is damaged goods by the time your draft comes around.
4. How will coaching changes affect the fantasy landscape? Mike Martz, new OC in Chicago, Mike Shanahan in Washington, Pete Carroll in Seattle, Chan Gailey in Buffalo,
Martz should breathe life into a Chicago passing game that ranked 17th in the NFL in 2009. This is great news for owners of Jay Cutler in dynasty leagues, as this personnel hire will elevate Cutler’s fantasy stock, and should also benefit wideouts like Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Devin Aromashodu, and possibly Earl Bennett. When Martz was coaching the St. Louis Rams in the late 1990s, the team, led by QB Kurt Warner, was known as the “Greatest Show on Turf”, and was arguably the most explosive offense of its time. Unfortunately for tight end Greg Olsen, Martz has a history of having his tight ends stay in to block more than running pass patterns, so I would advise staying away from Olsen this year.
When Martz went to Detroit in 2006 to serve as offensive coordinator and quarterbackss coach, he helped 34-year-old quarterback Jon Kitna reach the 4000-yard plateau, and also launched the once-dormant Lions’ passing game to rank 7th in the NFL in 2006.
Martz didn’t encounter the same type of success in San Francisco when he was hired to serve as the 49ers offensive coordinator in 2008. Equipped with a still-green Alex Smith, Shaun Hill, and J.T. O’Sullivan, the coach faced an uphill battle from a talent perspective before being replaced by Mike Singletary and a ball-control mindset midway through the season.
When Shanahan coached the Broncos from 1995-2008, he was famous for employing a zone-blocking scheme that was popularized by other NFL teams, and for churning out the most unlikely of 1000-yard backs (see: Olandis Gary, Reuben Droughns, Mike Anderson). Washington has three veteran backs in Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker. Although Portis made a name for himself in Shanahan’s scheme in Denver before getting traded to Washington, he isn’t the same running back with fresh legs as he was seven years ago. For that matter, Parker or L.J. are also shells of their former selves, but Redskin Nation is hoping that the running-back-by-committee, led by the so-called “Mastermind”, produces an effective ground game in the nation’s capital in 2010.
While it’s too soon to assess whether any of the Washington RBs will warrant fantasy consideration, one should expect Shanahan to employ a ground attack to the Redskin offense this season with three former Pro Bowlers all vying for carries.
When the name Pete Carroll is mentioned, the first thought that comes to mind is the high-powered pro-style offense he employed at USC. Having coached a well-oiled scoring machine in New England from 1997-1999, Carroll knows the ins and outs of running a successful offensive scheme at any level.
Unfortunately, the Seattle Seahawks’ 21st-ranked offense lacks many of the same effective tools that Carroll had in New England over ten years ago. Instead of Drew Bledsoe and Curtis Martin in their prime, Seattle will trot out 34-year-old QB Matt Hasselbeck, who appears to be in the waning years of his playing career, and a RBBC consisting of Julius Jones, Justin Forsett, and an injured Leon Washington (currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list, recovering from an awful compound leg fracture sustained last year).
Expect Carroll to resuscitate the Seahawks’ passing attack in 2010. Wide receiver T. J. Houshmanzadeh should improve on a disappointing first season with Seattle, highly-touted Notre Dame rookie Golden Tate can provide explosiveness at flanker, and talented tight end John Carlson could hopefully find more consistency.
The Buffalo Bills’ 30th-ranked offense in 2009 was so inept that watching them was well, offensive. Even though Buffalo was proactive in improving the team in the previous offseason by signing an over-the-hill WR Terrell Owens (who will not return to the team in 2010), they had been trying to unload embattled RB Marshawn Lynch during a critical time when they should be adding talent.
Chan Gailey is the Bills’ new head coach whose most recent NFL experience was serving as the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator in 2008. Gailey was eventually stripped of play-calling duties by head coach Todd Haley in early 2009. Although he led the Cowboys to consecutive playoff runs in 1998-99, Gailey’s name doesn’t share the same cache in fantasy football circles as Martz or Shanahan. I wouldn’t get too excited about any Bills in 2010 except for perhaps RBs Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller in PPR leagues, or the Bills’ defense in occasional spot starts at home.
5. Assess your draft order – bookend pick? Middle pick? How will that affect your drafting?
In your first season or two of fantasy football, you probably jumped for joy when the draft lottery resulted that you would have the No. 1 pick, and were outraged if you drew last.
By the time you become a fantasy football veteran, you shouldn’t be too particular about what number pick you have. Most fantasy experts are able to field a great team regardless of where they are positioned in the draft order. However, you need to approach your player selections a bit differently with a bookend pick as opposed to if you had, say, the fifth or sixth pick.
If you have the #1 pick in a serpentine-style draft (1,2,3,4,5,5,4,3,2,1), you’ll have to wait 19-22 picks until your next selection (depending on whether your league has 10 or 12 teams), so you need to stay aware of the remainder of talent levels per position compared to your team’s needs as you flesh out your roster throughout the draft.
For example, if you have the #2 overall pick, and haven’t drafted a RB1 by the end of the second round, then you will likely experience a steep dropoff in available RB1’s as your league competitors stock their teams with the available backs. In other words, if you haven’t taken a RB by the third round, your team will likely already be behind the 8-ball in terms of missing production from a vital position with relatively few available superstars that can flourish on a weekly basis.
You may have seen a draft expert or two categorize the NFL player pool into tiers, or echelons of talent. If you have a bookend pick (first or last in order), no quarterback on your roster yet, and your tier sheet tells you that there is only one top-echelon QB left, then you had better grab that last QB1 before someone else does with one of the next 19-22 picks. If you lag on addressing needs for your roster at the appropriate time, you may be forced to trot out a sub-par fantasy starter like, say, Kyle Orton as your starting signal caller every single week. Even if that available QB1 isn’t the specific QB1 you were targeting, it’s probably in your team’s best interest to take the best player available at that stage of the draft.
Use these aforementioned tiers wisely, color-code them if necessary, and keep them updated in case there’s an injury late in the preseason that affects a player’s ADP.
One more note regarding ADP and bookend picks: If you really want a particular player and don’t want to reach for a guy whose ADP is too low relative to the current round, but you’re also not sure if that player will fall to you in the following round, then go ahead and grab that guy as long as you’re not reaching more than 15-20 points higher than the player’s ADP. If this player fills a legitimate need as previously mentioned, then your team should make the acquisition. If said player’s ADP is more than 20 points higher, then he should theoretically fall to the next round.
6. Your drafting neighbor’s tendencies (favorite team, player, particular philosophies toward drafting)
Based on drafts from previous seasons, does your drafting neighbor tend to draft receivers early? Does your drafting neighbor have a favorite NFL team, and may be inclined to draft one or several players from that team? Does your drafting neighbor tend to go for established Pro Bowlers or future HOFers? Or does he tend to target the trendy, high-upside but unproven diamonds in the rough that are getting love from FF pundits in the preseason? Furthermore, does your neighbor fall in line during runs on a position, or is he more cavalier in his drafting strategy? If three TEs are consecutively drafted in front of him, will he draft a fourth, or stay his own course?
If you’ve played fantasy football with the current crop of players in previous seasons, then you already have data on how your league mates draft. Dig up the previous year’s draft results, and study the drafts of the two teams that draft before and after you. Pay attention to whether they drafted RBs early, QBs or WRs late, and then have a casual discussion about last year’s draft to see which picks they regretted making. This conversation should lend some insight as to how they’ll draft in 2010.
7. How to get under competitors’ skin during draft
Almost every draft has “That guy”, the guy whose mindset seems to be more dedicated to irritating the league members than fielding a team from scratch. Don’t be afraid to be “That guy”. The only weapon you can use in a draft that doesn’t cross the line of good taste and physically impede your competitors’ strategy is the written word, but they can come in many different forms. Those of you fantasy football aficionados who moonlight in hacking into computers should refrain from uploading a virus to your competitors’ workstations, as this diabolical strategy is considered poor form.
Some would label this strategy as “bush league”. That said, fantasy football is all about gamesmanship, so don’t be afraid to pull out all the stops for one of the most critical three-hour-stretches of the entire year.
Chat / Video Chat – send your league members website links, articles, or video/Youtube links during your live draft in the draft chat room. The links, articles and video clips can be football or non-football-related. If they’re football-related, then they might get read and succeed in distracting your opponents. If it’s something else (except perhaps porn), your opponents may disregard your correspondence until after the draft.
Email – Find out which of your league mates gets emails to their cellphones and check their phones for emails regularly, then take advantage of this distraction by emailing them with inane questions, quips, quotes and attachments. Generate distractions that will cause your competitors to lose focus.
Telephone Call / Text – I wouldn’t waste too much time talking on the telephone because you may be just as easily distract yourself by the conversation instead of your opponents, or said opponent may simply ignore your call. Sending quick texts can affect your football league opponents’ concentration and hinder them from achieving their drafting objectives.
Note on piece of paper – If you’re sharing the same physical room as your league mates, then go old school by bringing several pieces of paper and a thick marker. After you make your pick, and are not scheduled to make your next selection for several minutes, then you’ll have time to divert your opponents’ attention. Make a series of controversial notes or signs that can range from mocking competitors’ recent picks, to insulting members of their immediate family, to the most non-sequitor nonsense you can possibly conceive.
In any case, this section is devoted to finding ways to push people’s buttons. If you know your league mates well enough, then you should have specific ideas of how to piss off your opponents, and throw them off their game.