Beginner Series Section VII: Dominating on Draft Day
By Will Grant
May 17th, 2012

"The only yardstick for success our society has is being a champion. No one remembers anything else." -- John Madden

It has finally arrived. Draft day. This is your first real taste of fantasy football as a new owner, and the first head-to-head competition you will have against the other owners in your league. Your entire season will spring from this one day. It is a fantastic mix of tension, excitement, anxiety, anticipation, disappointment and flat out fun. To be successful, you need to out draft your opponents. You need to jump before they jump and restrain yourself when they overreact. In short, you need to dominate your draft - leaving the others wondering what happened to them. Here's how.

General Tips

Here are a few general tips to observe during your draft:

  • Arrive on time. A few minutes early would be even better. No one likes to wait.
  • Be prepared for each pick. When you time comes, double check your short list and make your selection. Don't go over your time.
  • Stay focused. If your opponents are in the middle of a backup quarterback run, don't get caught up in it. Stick to your list.
  • Keep a clear head. Save the serious drinking for after the draft.
  • Opening Rounds

    When the draft starts, you should have your first 2 or 3 picks in mind. These guys will be the bread and butter of your team. They need to be guys who will consistently score better than 80% of the other players in the league. They'll build the foundation for your team each week. That probably means that you'll need two solid running backs in the first three picks although that isn't written in stone. Don't panic if running backs start flying off the boards. Just follow your list and select the best player based on who is available. These rounds are pretty easy. It's during the later rounds that things really become interesting. As things start to heat up, make sure to keep a close eye on the players that other owners are drafting. Pay particular attention to anyone who is in your division/conference, especially if you will face them more than once.

    Chris Smith Note: Don't be afraid to skirt the running back position if tremendous value presents itself. If owners are reaching for questionable running back talent in rounds two and three, buck that trend and scoop a top quarterback or receiver instead. It is always nice to have two running backs after the first two rounds but don't reach for a questionable talent with top-tier talent at the other positions still on board. You will be able to find running backs with upside in rounds five or later. If you can start a fantasy draft with only one running back in the first four rounds but emerge with a top quarterback and two of the better receivers along with the running back then go for it. For example, in a fantasy draft I participated in back in 2011, I started with Calvin Johnson at the 12th pick and Larry Fitzgerald with the 13th pick. That was an elite pair of receivers to begin a draft and with my next two picks I landed running back Reggie Bush and quarterback Drew Brees who was inexcusably still available with the 47th pick.

    Sure I had just one running back on the team through four picks, but the trio of Brees, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald is a wonderful cornerstone for a fantasy league. If you find yourself following a similar path however it is a must to completely ignore the quarterback position until very late in your draft and also to only target receivers when value shows its head. You should pick a running back with four of your next six picks to secure depth at a position you will be weaker in.

    As you head into rounds four through seven, start looking for a way to break from the pack. If every other team has taken a quarterback by this point, you don't gain much by taking one now. Focus your attention on another position where you can pick up a stud No. 1 or solid No. 2 guy. Look at the teams who will draft in between your next few picks. Can you see a possible run on one position about to start? If so, grab the highest player from that position now and start the run. When your next pick comes up, start the next trend. If you can stay ahead of these runs, you'll be able to consistently out draft your opponents at every position, and even control the flow of the draft.

    Middle Rounds

    Here is where all of your pre-draft preparation comes into play. As you try to decide whether to add depth, or finish out your starting lineup, a lot will depend on who is available. Your list will tell you which way to go. Continue to draft the best player available, regardless of position. In rounds eight, nine and ten you should focus on guys who have big upsides, or players who can post big games during the season. These guys can take over for your starters in the event of an injury, or streak of bad play. Keep your off weeks in mind here, and try to balance them whenever possible. Don't bypass a player strictly because they are off the same week as your starter. However, if all things are equal, take the guy who can start when your No. 1 guy is off.

    Most owners will wait until after round ten to take a kicker and/or team defense. While this is a good general strategy, at some point is will become obvious that you should take one or both. Again, trust your list. If your opponents are waiting too long to fill these positions, it might be time to start another run. If your list is telling you that it is better to take a defense than to add another wide receiver, you should not be afraid to do so. Your pre-draft preparation was done when you were thinking objectively about how each player could benefit your team. Don't lose that objectivity in the heat of the moment.

    Chris Smith's Note: Never pigeon hole yourself into one strategy but rather let the draft come to you. It is perfectly acceptable not to select two running backs in the first two rounds but you then must focus your attention on the position in three of the next four rounds before the viable candidates vanish. If you take three running backs in the first three rounds, it would be a smart move to avoid the position for the next few rounds, focusing on the other key positions. Flexibility is one of the keys to a great draft.

    Later Rounds

    As you enter the later rounds, your focus should turn to filling your roster gaps. If you have off week issues draft players to fill those holes. If you have starters who are injury-prone, consider drafting their backups as insurance (otherwise known as handcuffing). Once all of your bases are covered, take a flyer or two on some of the guys that you have earmarked as sleepers. Look at your opponents and see if they have made any mistakes in their drafting. Look to exploit those mistakes at this point as well.

    Don't get hung up on drafting a backup for every position. Many teams will go into the season with only one kicker and one defense, adding a backup during free agency. If you are confident in your draft, consider this as well. You can add an additional sleeper or two now, and cut the dead wood from your roster during the regular season. If one of your sleepers works out, it will be well worth it.

    Keeping Track of it All

    Keeping track of everything is a daunting task. Managing your team is hard enough, but following every team in the league is even harder. Analyzing every team on the fly, looking for drafting trends, off week gaps and other mistakes that you can exploit can seem like an impossible task. It is not. Everything that you need is already taken care of by the Footballguys Draft Dominator, which will be available later this preseason. Should you take a wide receiver, or a tight end? The Dominator will analyze your opponent's rosters and suggest which player is best for you. Can you lay off a quarterback for a round or two? The Dominator will look at the teams around you and determine if you should wait or not. Have any of your division rivals drafted a defense yet? The Dominator can tell you with a few quick clicks. Based on your scoring rules, your opponents' rosters and the current drafting trends, The Draft Dominator will suggest which available player is best for your team. Just download projections into it, and let the program do all the work. This year's model has even more features than ever. If you really want to dominate your draft, and put yourself in a great position to win your championship, you need to check this program out. Your opponents won't have a chance.

    Chris Smith note:On the Draft Dominator, if you haven't taken the time to download this program and play with it, you are really missing out on something wonderful. For years, I would use an excel-based cheatsheet that I came up with that would help me track the various things happening during a draft. I felt that I really had a step up on my competition in understanding what was going to take place next.

    However the Draft Dominator takes that excel-based sheet and expands on it to the 10th degree. Once you are familiar with the various functions of the program, you will have incredible insight to what the other owners in your league are doing, what their next picks are likely to be and which players you should be targeting in your drafts.

    Here are some comments by David Dodds on the Draft Dominator tool:

    "I am clearly biased but I believe it represents a new breed of logical drafting. Things someone could never do without the aid of the computer. Just as VBD and later Dynamic VBD made their marks on this hobby, the Dominator will change how you draft.

    1. Imagine if during a draft, you could look at your lineup against your opponent's lineup and attempt to predict team strength, scoring margin, etc. for every single week of the season while the draft was happening.
    2. Assume for a moment that you could also emphasize or de-emphasize certain weeks during the draft based on how you are faring against your opponents, league rules, etc.
    3. Imagine an auction draft where you know exactly how much everyone has spent, has left and has dynamically adjusted player values after every pick.
    4. Imagine a program that you can tell it not to look for a kicker or defense until after nine have been taken.
    5. Imagine being able to assign distributions to players (other than normal) for how they will score their points. Think Jimmy Smith here who was suspended for the first four games last year.
    6. Imagine a program that analyzes schedule strength and applies it to select complimentary players for your roster.
    7. Imagine a product that recommends different picks to different teams based on their need and how those players would maximize their head to head play.
    8. Imagine a program that works for all positions (IDP included) and virtually any scoring criteria.

    You know what. I do not have to imagine these things. The new Dominator does every one of these and a lot more. I know it does these things because Bruce Henderson and I have been working for the past four years to deliver the best product ever to this industry. For those not in the know, Bruce Henderson is a full-time C++ programmer in his normal job. He also is a very skilled fantasy football player. And now working with our staff and soliciting all of the input last season for improvements, we have put together something that WE KNOW will change the industry.

    I will say it right now. If you are playing in a high stakes contest (FFPC, etc.) this season and are not using the Draft Dominator, you are playing from behind. I know that to be true."

    David Dodds, Footballguys.com

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