So I had my draft last Saturday night.
Before you read further I should warn you that I am not what one would describe as a "fantasy football junkie."
I mean, don't get me wrong, this is probably my tenth consecutive year of playing, but traditionally I devote myself to one league per year. My attention span is too short and my laziness far, far too overwhelming, for me to take on the grandiose multitasking of four, five, six leagues. I have some friends who engage in practices such as these, and frankly it boggles my mind.
Like, don't you care about playing Madden at all? Priorities, right?
I even have one friend who uses the same team name for each of his leagues. That would confuse the hell out of me, I would think, and I'm convinced it will lead him on the path to financial ruin. However, that same friend is in my one and only league, so all the better for me.
I'm not quite the fantasy expert some of the other fine fellows here are, but I have picked up a few pointers over the years and so I'll pass them out to you, kind faceless stranger.
1) The later the draft, the better.
You don't want to be one of these geeks - and I can't emphasize that adjective strongly enough - who organizes a draft before a single preseason game has been played. I had my draft on August 29th and if it were up to me, it'd have been on September 9th, the day before the season opener. Each day passing on the calender is like playing "third base" on a full single deck blackjack table and seeing all the cards that people who hit are getting dealt in front of you. The information is invaluable.
Obviously you don't want to make too much out of some star playing poorly or not playing at all in preseason, but it can give you a heads up on rookies, on which second or third year players might finally be having the lightbulb flashing on above their heads, and most importantly, on injuries.
Nothing makes you feel dumber than drafting some guy who tears his ACL in Week 3 of preseason. If you can wait out the preseason - at least the third week of it when starters play the most - before you get your fantasy fix, you'll be armed with more information than any dumb fantasy magazine published in June can give you.
2) If you can, always do a live draft versus an internet one.
I cannot overstate how much more rewarding a live draft experience is, on numerous levels, than an online one where everyone is hunched over their laptops, isolated from one another, and debating the merits of Clinton Portis versus Frank Gore has all the drama of ordering a pizza.
Live drafts give you laughs, camaraderie, and above all, the opportunity for psychological warfare.
After all, people are all different than you, and they deserve to be mocked for it. Some are thin-skinned. Some are unattractive. Some are just plain dumber. It might not be their fault for being born the way they were, but by golly money is on the line here and if you can seize the opportunity to throw someone off their drafting game by remarking on the size of their Ochocinco, then by golly you take it.
Again, live drafting isn't ideal for everyone. Some can't afford to hold a draft in the champagne room of a gentleman's club where the deejay is announcing your latest pick on the mic and an exotic dancer is personally feeding you buffalo wings. The economy is hurting everybody.
And some people don't have their nine closest friends living within a 100 mile radius. Some people don't have nine friends period.
To these people I guess internet drafts with their two-minutes-per-pick time limits and their rampant auto picking are the only available option.
But really, auto-picks are an abomination of God. If you're in a draft where more than two people are auto picking, you need to seriously consider where your life is going. More than likely, if lots of people are auto picking, it means they don't care, and if they don't care, it means there's no money involved.
And fantasy football without gambling is just all kinds of lame.
3) Pay attention to your league rules
A lot of leagues still go by the traditional scoring system. But a lot of leagues also don't. I'm in a league that's fully geeked out. We have a flex position, a defensive player, return yardage counts, quarterbacks get six points per passing touchdown instead of four or five, receivers get half a point per reception, it's nuts.
In my league the top weekly point-producers are quarterbacks - and believe it or not - team defenses. So you might think you're doing great getting the 12th best back, somebody like Marion Barber in the second round after snatching up Maurice Jones-Drew in the first round, but meanwhile Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning have all been picked and you're gonna get your ass handed to you.
Different positions do well in different league setups, so it's important to figure out the math before hand. Take five or six guys you like in each position, plug in their projected numbers, and find out how many points those numbers will get you in whichever league you're in. The results might surprise you.
Rule three goes hand in hand with rule four, which is...
4) Don't overvalue running backs
Too many teams are doing the split carries thing these days and very few teams have a clear cut number one guy that's in line to get 80% or more of his team's carries. And most of the guys who are in that position - Michael Turner, Steven Jackson, Brian Westbrook, Frank Gore - are big time injury risks. This is why everyone is so high on Jones-Drew and Matt Forte. They're the only two guys, besides Adrian Peterson who gobbles up the yards even with Chester Taylor playing on third downs, who are the clear cut workhorses of their teams and have clean medical histories.
If you're the type who steadfastly has to take RBs with your first two picks, come hell or high water, my advice would be to take guys who are receiving threats as well. It's a passing league and you're gonna want guys who are versatile enough to still be on the field for all those check down passes that wuss quarterbacks throw on 3rd-and-14 to pick up 8 yards.
Forte, Gore, Jones-Drew, and even Westbrook are candidates to lead their teams in receptions, and this is important, especially in leagues like mine that give points per catch.
And some body is going to be throwing these guys the ball, which leads me to my final bit of advice:
5) Don't undervalue quarterbacks
Any draft projection site that has guys like Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo and Kurt Warner slated to be fourth or fifth round picks doesn't have a clue. Believe me you want to have a guy who'll pass for 3,500+ yards and 20+ touchdowns that you can depend on for points week after week.
Like Alex Olson wrote in his AFC preview, there are certain studs out there, like Manning, Brady, Phillip Rivers, Matt Schaub in the AFC and Brees, Warner, McNabb, and Rodgers in the NFC that you won't want to miss. You don't want to be the guy in your draft that has to pray week after week that Carson Palmer or Matt Hasselbeck will stay healthy or to be relying on Eli Manning to develop chemistry with his young receivers right away.
Pay attention when teams are making runs on quarterbacks, because it could happen in the second round of your draft. If you're drafting ninth or tenth in the first round, then please, pick Brady or Manning over somebody like Jackson or Portis.
If you're thinking about grabbing a stud receiver like Greg Jennings or Anquan Boldin, hold off and take the guys throwing them the ball instead. Receivers are a dime a dozen and about four million of them will catch passes for 1,000+ yards and 6 plus touchdowns this year.
Get yourself a great quarterback, grab a top-five defense in round seven or eight, and laugh all the way to the bank while your competition is cursing out Jonathan Stewart for taking carries away from his precious DeAngelo Williams.