Beginner Series Section VI: Preparing for the Fantasy Draft
By Bob Magaw and Chris Smith
May 17th, 2012

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"Confidence comes from being prepared." -- John Wooden

Now that you have decided to take the plunge, and have a working knowledge of different league structure variations, and have familiarized yourself with the your league's rules and scoring system, you are a step closer to the big event, the draft itself. One thing about the draft, it will be the main factor determining how your team ultimately does during the season (granted you can modify your team in season through savvy trading and targeted acquisitions from the waiver wire, subjects covered in later chapters of this guide). Draft well, and enjoy the benefits of success for the whole season. Draft poorly... well that really isn't even an option for a Footballguy, especially one schooled in this course. Just like taking a test or going into an interview, it is better to do so from a place of confidence and relaxed focus, which flows effortlessly from and is a byproduct of having done your homework beforehand. Don't be like those guys that grab a fantasy football magazine on the way from work, and look at it for the first time the night of the draft (at least give it a cursory look at lunch that day, dude!). Last minute scrambling can lead to disorganized and incoherent draft selections and team building.

The main areas that will be covered under this section's theme of Preparing for the Fantasy Draft will include the following (and they will be broken up into separate components and studied in isolation first, before combining the different strands of information and knowledge later):

  1. Scouting reports and player profiles
  2. Rankings and lists
  3. Mock drafts
  4. Thinking about what you know and putting it all together

Scouting Reports and Player Profiles

The information and knowledge acquired about individual players, and the roles that connect them to their team's offensive schemes and plans can be likened to the building blocks and bricks that are the constituent parts of the team you will build. One of the most useful sources I have found is Footballguys.com (that's not the paid shill in me talking), including the player profiles, team reports, expert rankings, rookie impact reports and face-off series.

The information to be found at this site doesn't just passively regurgitate a dry recitation of disjointed facts, in an un-interpreted, mentally "undigested" state... look for content/style in which there is a sense of an active mind behind the scenes, pointing the way, identifying important things, making connections not apparent to the general reader, and suggesting likely implications, so others can make judgments, form plans and arrive at good decisions based on this. The best Footballguys.com breakdowns, analysis and commentary can serve an important purpose and fill a largely unmet niche and need - that of framing and having a clear and lucid sense of context and relevance.

Rankings and Lists

If scouting reports and player profiles were likened to the building blocks that will comprise your team, rankings and lists could be viewed as building codes and ordinances that guide an architect's decision on what can and can't be built, and what is functional. Footballguys.com expert positional rankings (quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, place kicker, team defense, defensive lineman, linebacker, and defensive back) are a great source for compiling rankings, orderings and lists. Some other resources for this can include positional scoring leader tables from other leagues and prior seasons, so you don't need to reinvent the wheel. These can also be found at Footballguys.com, in places like the Shark Pool message board. The Footballguys.com depth charts can be handy, if you are uncertain if a given player is a starter or reserve, depth-type player.

Season-to-season and game-to-game statistical breakdowns are ideal for hardcore trend spotting and sleeper-trolling. You get to see not only the stats, but also the distribution of the stats spread out over the course of the season. Kind of like unrolling a large tapestry, where you need to stand back to see the pattern and organizing principles writ large. Trends can really roar off the page and announce their presence with almost no mental effort expended on the part of the pattern recognizer. You miss this critically important opportunity when the cumulative season-long stats are merely summed and all rolled together.

Age is sometimes a consideration when putting together your rankings and lists. Age is very important in a positional sense. If a running back is 32, that might give someone more pause to rank them highly than if they were a wide receiver or quarterback. Running backs typically have already peaked and seen their best days when they are still south of 30. Pedigree can be vital, and this kind of information can be found in numerous places around the net. They help to answer questions like... did prospect have a distinguished collegiate career, and maybe going even further back, did they stand out among all their prep counterparts across the nation? If a prospect has succeeded at every level they have ever played at, and rose to Top 10 status in high school, then once again in college, doesn't guarantee success, but all things being equal, the athlete with the better pedigree will sometimes be weighed more heavily. This can be an important, underestimated, and not to be neglected factor when assembling rankings and lists and merging multiple, different and competing criteria.

Mock Drafts

After having the building blocks, and a working knowledge of building codes, the next step is to have a blueprint for what your eventual team will look like. Architects don't just start building randomly and haphazardly to see what happens. They have a plan (usually visual and bound by 3-D constraints), with the foresight and vision to prefigure what things will look like, and are grounded enough in that vision to see the steps needed to realize its completion. Footballguys.com is a great source for mock drafts. The better the quality of your scouting reports and player profiles, the better will be the accuracy and relevance of your positional lists. These in turn will better inform your mock drafts, whether you do your own or follow along with the experts. Mock drafts are very important, because they give you a sense of where the tiers of talent are bundled and clustered, and where the talent drop-offs are located, which punctuate and demarcate the lines of talent. There will be points in every draft, and no doubt in every one of yours, where positional runs occur. One of the skeleton keys of success is identifying and recognizing when to stay within a positional run, if that is where the value resides. Following from this is an understanding of where the talent tier drop-offs are, and when to break from the pack and go in a different, better direction. Knowing when the best running backs begin to thin out into more marginal types, can point you towards timing decisions on when to make the first move towards a higher tiered wide receiver or quarterback and just as importantly, when to go back to the running back well. More than anything else, pre-draft preparation along the following outline will help you to nail down these vexing matters and solve them to your own specifications.

Chris Smith's note: By the end of the preseason, we will have many featured drafts at our site featuring David Dodds, Jason Wood, Clayton Gray, Sigmund Bloom, and yours truly among many other exceptional staff members. Not only do we give you our picks in these drafts but we explain our thought processes behind our strategy in the draft. Each of the participants has a ton of experience and knowledge and the drafts are always ultra-competitive.

After a few/couple dozen/hundreds of mock drafts, depending on your time, inclination and level of obsession, you are almost ready for the draft.

Thinking About What You Know and Putting it All Together

The final level, not to press the analogy too far, is that of a city planner, and seeing how the parts fit in a balanced way.

The use of several layers and levels of informational streams (i.e. scouting reports, player profiles, team reports, expert rankings, face-offs, etc.) can better inform your lists and rankings, which will translate to more accurate and relevant mock drafts, and better enable you to hunt sleepers and run them to ground.

Using resources such as those found on Footballguys.com are invaluable. In order to build a bridge between the consensus emerging from scouting profiles, how those prospects fit in with their team's plans, data such as that found in league scoring leader tables (parsed by position and back tested with two-three seasons of stats) and to connect and hook that up with the rankings, lists and mocks, we all need - thoughts! In a vacuum, without the proper context and framework, information and events can seem random, fragmented, disorganized and transient, like trying to do a land survey on quicksand. But all the various magazines, guides and sites give you thoughts to think with!! And by which you can gain the information, knowledge and detachment to orient yourself and render intelligible what was before a vast and disconcerting conceptual wilderness.

If you take nothing else away from this part of the Beginners Guide series, let that be your sole recollection and conceptual scaffolding taken away from this reading. A ladder is a tool. Once you climb up to where you need to go, you don't thereafter have to carry it on your back. It serves its purpose if it raises you to the level you wish to rise to. Footballguys.com in general and this series specifically will arm you with tools needed to actively think about these matters strategically, to see connections, suggest implications, recognize patterns, identify trends, etc.

I personally find the Shark Pool one of the greatest tools in the tool kit. Even if some of you already use some of the above layers and levels of informational strands, and some of these thought processes make sense and seem to hold forth potential usefulness, there will still probably always be times when, due to gaps in knowledge of players, teams, coaches, systems, schemes, historical changes over time, projections into new positions, player movement, etc. in which you may have some of the pieces of the puzzle, but you are missing some important part. The piece that will snap it into a gestalt and enable you to see the larger pattern that links and connects the disjointed parts into a unified whole is the message board. Avail yourself of the board as a resource. Resident football minds in the Shark Pool and IDP board, in aggregate mental horsepower, are the closest thing you will likely come across in your cyber wanderings, to a thousand-eyed monster that sees everything.

** A critically important lesson to learn before the draft is to not fall in love with players. It is common to read a blurb out of context and hone in on a player, effectively stopping your background search at that point. Better to think of, and constantly be on the lookout for why not to select a player. You are more likely to continue your search further, to the point where you can attain a better balanced, more rounded and well informed appraisal with this sort of method and mindset.

Chris Smith Note: One of the keys to having a strong draft is taking the thought processes outlined above and molding them into an easy to use cheat sheet at your draft. If you can use a notebook computer during your draft, do so as it is one of the best ways to track what is happening in the draft. As stated earlier, the Draft Dominator is easily one of the best tools every created for this hobby and we'll look at it even more in the next section. If you cannot use a computer, print a comprehensive cheat sheet that has the following information:

  1. Detailed set of rankings
  2. Bye weeks (avoid backups with the same bye week as your starters as much as you can)
  3. Average Draft position
  4. A place to record when player was picked and by whom
  5. Strength of schedule grade (if you are feeling ambitious)

Here is an example of a cheat sheet for use in a draft. It has everything you will need to put together a good squad:

Rk
Pos
Player
FPs
VBD
Bye
Pk#
Rnk
Fantasy Team
1
RB
Arian Foster
266
146
8
.
.
.
2
RB
Ray Rice
262
142
8
.
.
.
3
RB
LeSean McCoy
256
136
7
.
.
.
4
RB
Maurice Jones-Drew
245
125
6
.
.
.
5
RB
Chris Johnson
242
122
11
.
.
.
6
RB
Ryan Mathews
226
106
7
.
.
.
7
RB
Darren McFadden
225
105
5
.
.
.
8
RB
Marshawn Lynch
218
98
11
.
.
.
9
RB
Adrian Peterson
215
95
11
.
.
.
1
WR
Calvin Johnson
222
120
5
.
.
.
2
WR
Larry Fitzgerald
205
103
10
.
.
.
3
WR
Andre Johnson
196
94
8
.
.
.
4
WR
Roddy White
188
86
7
.
.
.
1
QB
Aaron Rodgers
404
97
10
.
.
.
2
QB
Tom Brady
376
68
9
.
.
.

On another page have space to record your roster (example below):

Running Backs
Bye
Rnd
Quarterbacks
Bye
Rnd
Tight Ends
Bye
Rnd
Wide Receivers
Bye
Rnd
Place Kickers
Bye
Rnd
Defenses
Bye
Rnd

Conclusion

"All men by nature desire knowledge" -- Aristotle

The keys to the weeks leading up to your draft are as follows:

  1. Research, Research, Research
  2. Analyzing each of the 32 NFL teams
  3. Breaking down the potential of each individual player
  4. Projecting your thoughts into numbers (or use the Footballguys.com projections)
  5. Sort your projections into cheat sheets taking into account injury risk, competition, etc (again, the Draft Dominator does this best)
  6. Look at your cheat sheets and determine if anything looks out of place
  7. Compare your rankings to the average draft position of each player to find value and reaches before the draft begins
  8. Tag the players in your cheat sheet you feel you can 'steal' later than the average draft position
  9. Adjust the projections as breaking news occurs such as injuries, waiver wire movements and trades
  10. Keep on top of the news right up until the start of your draft

Knowledge is power and the key to success within fantasy football. Take the time before your draft to prepare, and you will dominate your league.

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