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Faceoff: Discussing Fantasy Mistakes

Footballguys staff members discuss common mistakes made by fantasy players

What is the most common mistake you see others make when constructing a team - either in a draft or an auction?

Chad Parsons: Drafting a kicker or defense outside of the final two to three rounds is one of my biggest pet peeves. I cannot understand it. Another is drafting backup quarterbacks or tight ends with rosters of less than 18 or so players. An owner is giving away valuable running back and wide receiver depth, where the waiver wire is a more than adequate bench player at quarterback and tight end.

Andy Hicks: Getting hung up on certain players, either positively or negatively. Some people must have certain players and will draft them far too early or totally wipe a player off of their draft board if they dislike the player, team or for whatever other reasons occur. Every player has a value and drafters need to understand ADP and know the true worth of every player.

It occasionally means sacrificing a player you really like, but if you know he will go earlier than he should then you need to move on and take a player that will give your squad maximum value. eg if you really like Eric Decker, drafting him in the third round would be a tragic mistake. Instead you could draft Andre Johnson, Dwayne Bowe and see if Decker is there in the fifth round. Sacrificing depth for a squad you really love will hit a brick wall very early on in your draft when you find yourself short of players that will help you compete for a championship.

Matt Waldman: While I agree with Andy's early-round example, it's a no-brainer example. Even if you have Eric Decker projected for a better total than Andre Johnson, the range of draft position tends to be tighter (high and low picks within a player's ADP) in the early rounds. Therefore taking a chance on Decker a round or two early is not a wise play in the early rounds when you could have gotten Johnson and Decker if you pay attention to the ADP. In fact, the 2013 ADP data shows that in a 12-team league this year you could get all three of the receivers that Andy mentioned if you stick with ADP in lieu of any projections you might have that rank Decker first, Johnson second, and Bowe third.

Andy Hicks: There are plenty of other examples I could give that maybe are more true to drafts that I have been seeing. In every draft I've been in so far this year, there has been at least one player, often more, taken at least two rounds above ADP. Players like Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen and Lamar Miller are getting taken way above their ADPs in a lot of drafts. Scoring rules may factor into this sometimes, but often it doesn't. People REALLY must have one of these guys and will sacrifice an early pick, way above their value to ensure they get him. I get that people shouldn't draft according to ADP if they vehemently disagree with a players placement, but I'm trying to ensure that anyone drafting doesn't get hung up on players and make the mistake of taking them too high. You can have your cake and eat it in a lot of these situations, by just having patience. If you miss out on a guy or two, so be it. Soon enough the value will pour back into your draft as players you rate highly fall into your lap below their ADP.

Matt Waldman: I think where it's important not to take such a rigid view of ADP comes in the middle rounds where the range of high-low for ADP expands as the draft progresses. Whereas ADP is probably the safest guideline to follow and stick to as a rule in the first three to five rounds, the middle second of the draft is where I think it's important to begin relying on your projections as a deciding factor as the ADP ranges of high-low expands. Otherwise, you begin relying too much on the wisdom of a crowd over your own work and that's a mistake.

There's a balance between playing not to lose and playing to win. If you do your homework before the draft and have a strong process to prepare your draft board, then you should be able to see that you projected Player A at a spot where his value to you is Round 3, but his ADP is Round 8. If that's the case, I think it's common sense not to reach for that player in Round 3. However, I think it's also a mistake to wait until Round 8 if you see if the upper range of his ADP is Round 5 and this player is gaining momentum in the fantasy community due to on-field performance, injury to a key teammate, etc., then looking at this player in Rounds 5-6 makes more sense than taking a rigid stance. Especially if you see that you have multiple players valued higher than ADP but rated below that player so you're not forsaking good picks later for that one player a little earlier.

If you have a good process and make that mistake, you should be able to look back at this draft and learn from it faster than if you followed someone else's idea of what's right or wrong but don't truly understand the process. If you are truly a student of how you construct your draft boards then your mistakes are valuable because they can help you get better long-term at a faster rate. And this is where I think people make the biggest mistake constructing a team: they don't have a method of constructing a draft board that they can examine from season to season and pinpoint where they continue to make errors in judgment with setting it up or executing it.

The hard part is not choosing between Andy's more rigid ADP guideline or my looser version. The real crux of the matter is that you ultimately have to develop good decision-making skills. Andy is coming from a more black-and-white, strict rule perspective. I'm coming from a looser, guideline stance. However, I bet if we explored how we view players and drafts, we'd find a lot more middle ground than it might seem. We're just starting from opposite sides of the road and journeying to the same place. Both methods work well, but you have to find which base suits you best as a starting point and then work hard to refine your strategy over time.

If you're playing fantasy football for the long haul, pick a method that suits your decision-making best and adjust it methodically. You might find that three years from now that you're way too strict and need a methodology that forces you to be more open and loose with certain aspects of draft board construction and execution or that you need more discipline and have to hem yourself in. You won't know this without making mistakes.

But the biggest mistake that you can make is not having a way to see how you made them and figure out how to avoid them in the future.

Andy Hicks: You misunderstand me. I do not advocate drafting purely off ADP, nor do I hold a rigid view of it. It is however a very sensible guide to determining your draft board. I agree with you more than you think.

If using your example you have a Round 3 grade on a player with an ADP in the 8th round, then you'd shouldn't be surprised at how often common sense flies out the window and people take that player in Round 4 or 5. I think even the 6th round is a judgement call in this scenario. If you have a better than even chance of getting this player in Round 7, take it. You'll have a much better squad.

Experience is important and learning from your mistakes more so. This gets back to my fundamental point though, do not get hung up on ANY player. Assign each a value, compare it to ADP and plan where is an acceptable place to take them. Taking it to the extreme, if you have a Round 1 grade on a player and he has a 10th round ADP, don't jump out of a window if someone takes him in the 6th round and take him in the 5th round at your next draft. Move on, there's always another player that can help you win that championship.

Jason Wood: The guys have covered some of the big ones, although I will say that I completely disagree with Chad on the defenses aspect. While kickers are a dime a dozen, defense in many leagues have a wide range of values and if you're confident in your roster (as I often am), I will happily grab one of my top two or three defenses a few rounds earlier than the end game. That aside, I think he's spot on in terms of people drafting multiple positional backups at the PK/TE/DEF spots. Makes no sense in shallow leagues, in particular.

I think a common mistake is the one-size-fits all mentality. I continue to see way too many people treat PPR and non-PPR leagues as though they're analogous. You can use that to your advantage particularly in PPR leagues. It seems like every year I will draft someone like Darren Sproles and Shane Vereen (or Tiki Barber and Charlie Garner back in the day) and my league mates will mock the pick as a reach, and they they never connect the dots that in PPR formats those guys are legitimate high end RB2s if not RB1s.

Matt hit on THE most common mistake -- relying on ADP as your guide. How many times each draft do you hear someone say "oh man, I was going to take him next!" or "that was my guy but I figured he would fall another round or two." When you're constantly finding yourself sniped by other owners and feel like it's bad luck, it's actually your lack of preparation at play. ADP is a powerful weapon IN YOUR FAVOR if you use it to set a baseline. Let's say you love a receiver with an ADP of 150. You genuinely think he's going to put up every week starter numbers. Then you should use the 150 ADP as an indicator that EVERYONE will draft him by that point because he'll be at the top of the ADP/predraft rankings lists in their draft room. So if YOU love him, then you need to take him AT LEAST a round earlier, and most likely two or three rounds earlier if you genuinely feel he's worth it.

Will Grant: Jason nailed it. Lack of preparation is the biggest mistake a fantasy owner can make. I can't tell you the number of drafts that I have been in where people have clearly not read the rules. In a league that allows you to flex two quarterbacks with six points for passing touchdowns, they are stuck in the must have three running backs right of the bat mode and are passing on guys like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees for third-tier running backs. Many commissioner software management systems now allow you to sort potential players by average draft position. This actually makes it worse because guys without any preparation can just go with their 'best available' player. The first question that you should ask is "best by what standard?" If you're drafting early, you might find rookies over-inflated because many dynasty leagues are rookie only-draft. If the projects are based on standard scoring and your league is PPR or even PPR with tight end bonus, you're going to see guys like Jimmy Graham go well before their suggest draft position. You don't see as many people drafting injured players anymore, although I'm sure someone will try to draft Dennis Pitta this year in a redraft league. But knowing to avoid Jeremy Maclin is one thing. Knowing who to pick up as a replacement is another. Average draft position won't help you because so many people have already selected Maclin. You need to see what's happening in camp to see who's getting the most reps and who the likely replacement player will be.

Being over prepared in leagues that offer flex positions is really critical. It's easy to say that you want Jordy Nelson as your No. 2 WR instead of Miles Austin. It's much harder to decide if Denarius Moore is a better flex option than Eddie Lacy. The decision to go with Moore instead of Lacy might give you just enough of a boost to win another game or two this year and that might be the difference between making the playoffs or watching from the sidelines. That kind of decision only comes with being well prepared.

Adam Harstad: I think to some extent, Chad's pet peeves here are going to depend a lot on the league. For instance, fantasy experts nearly universally agree with Chad - get a defense late, take a kicker with your last pick, and don't roster a backup quarterback or tight end in shallow leagues. In a league filled with like-minded people, it's perfectly safe to follow the herd. If no teams roster a backup quarterbackk, then you can functionally use the waiver wire as your backup quarterback - if your starter gets hurt, the 13th-best fantasy quarterback is there for the taking. Some leagues, however, go quarterback crazy. If one person does it, it's wasting valuable roster space. If everyone does it, it's a perfectly rational response to market forces. If I'm in a 12-team league and I know that the other 11 teams are going to roster two quarterbacks, then I'm going to make sure that I get a decent pair of quarterbacks out of the draft; the alternative is that, should injury strike, I'll be forced to rely on a Mark Sanchez, Blaine Gabbert, or Brandon Weeden.

Likewise, in the majority of leagues, most owners will pick their favorite defense and use it week after week. In a league like that, a savvy owner can easily go to the waiver wire for whichever defense has the juiciest matchup and still outscore all of the other teams with their top defenses. This strategy is wholly dependent on the availability of defenses with good matchups, though. As an extreme example, I'm in a particularly deep league where every defense is rostered except for the Oakland Raiders. Good luck trying to play matchups in a league like that- you better hope that you managed to get some good defenses during the draft. Every year, a couple owners decide against making an investment at the position, and every year, at least one of them gets stuck facing the prospects of either trading a quality player away for a defense, or else staring down a huge disadvantage at the defense position every week.

This brings me to Rule #1 of fantasy football (Know Your League), and the biggest mistake I see people make (not following Rule #1). If you play in a league that rewards return yardage, you have to know how much of an impact that's going to have. If the league gives a point for every 50 return yards, a guy like Keshawn Martin is basically unrosterable. If it gives a point for every 10 return yards, he's an every-week starter. If you're in an IDP league where defensive players typically score very little, but where return yards are rewarded very heavily, then Leodis McKelvin becomes a fantasy MVP. If your league typically only rosters 12-16 defenses at any given time, then playing matchups is a fantastic idea. If your league rosters 24-28 defenses at a time, then playing matchups will get you killed. If you're playing in a league that gives tight ends two points per reception and allows you to use them as a flex and you wait until the 12th round before drafting your first tight end, then you deserve what you're about to get. You have to know your league. You have to know the scoring system and starting lineup requirements inside and out, and you have to understand the implications. You have to know whether the other owners are going to be drafting quarterbacks early or late, and whether they'll be carrying one defense or two. You have to know whether they're active traders, or whether they typically prefer to stand pat. You can read all of the expert advice you can find, but it won't do you a lick of good if you don't understand how it applies to your specific league.

It's very easy for fantasy experts to get trapped in their own little bubble, playing in a series of 12-team leagues with standardized scoring systems against other like-minded owners. Many experts have been participating in mock drafts all through the offseason; their experiences will be shaped by constantly drafting against the type of fantasy player who does mock drafts in May or June. God bless that kind of fantasy player- those are the hardcore fantasy nuts who eat, sleep, and breathe fantasy football. They're the guys who get us all of that useful ADP data we rely on so heavily. I don't know where we'd be without them. I don't feel it's at all controversial, however, to claim that the type of fantasy owner who plays in dozens of leagues and spends the entire offseason debating player value is very different than the type of fantasy owner who only plays in one or two leagues, who uses the offseason as a chance to take a break, and who just grabs a fantasy magazine in August so they can read a summary of what everyone worked so hard to figure out from April to July - is wide receiver deep or shallow? Is RB-RB back in vogue, or going out of style? Should you wait at quarterback, or target one of the studs, and just which guys are the studs, anyway?

This is another reason why it's so vital to know your league. If you're playing in a 12-team league with relatively standard scoring against a bunch of diehards, then the typical expert advice is going to be right on the money. Running back is shallow, so grab some early. Quarterback is deep, so grab one late. If you're playing in a 10-team league, or an 8-team league, or if your league starts two quarterbacks, or if it only starts one running back, then the numbers change. Suddenly running back isn't shallow anymore, and you can afford to wait. Suddenly it becomes more important to have a difference-maker at quarterback, and you should target one early. If you're playing in a friendly league with a bunch of casual football fans, then you can expect quarterbacks to go a lot earlier than ADP would suggest, and picks that would qualify as reaches in most leagues suddenly just become good old-fashioned common sense. If you're playing an in-person league where everyone lives in the same area and most are fans of the same team, you can go ahead and assume that players from that team will go at least a round before ADP suggests. There are so many possible permutations out there when it comes to fantasy football, and no advice can ever be one-size-fits-all. I think Footballguys does a fantastic job of covering as many of the more popular setups as is possible, but at the end of the day, nothing will ever replace Rule #1. Know Your League.

Mark Wimer: I'll amplify on Matt and Jason's point about worrying excessively about ADP - you must NOT be afraid of reaching in your fantasy drafts. ADP is a guide of generically where a particular player may be drafted. However, after the elite players at each position (generally three to five guys at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end) there is going to be a range of opinions about player values in any given league, with some owners valuing any given player much more or less than ADP indicates - this year, let's use Eddie Lacy/Johnathan Franklin as an example. Lacy and Franklin both have their adherents and detractors entering the slate of 2013 preseason games - consensus opinion may be reached in a few weeks, but right now due to the uncertainty surrounding the Green Bay running back stable, both of these guys are available in drafts much later than an established starter (like Ahman Green used to be) in Green Bay would be. In my book, this means that if you can draft the starter in Green Bay, you'll get a great value. The value makes reaching for Lacy and/or Franklin one to three rounds earlier than their ADP would indicate a sensible move, in my opinion.

As a fantasy owner, you have to have the courage of your convictions/projections/rankings and not be bothered by those owners in any given draft that will berate you for "reaching" or "making a dumb move" to draft a player you really expect to perform well during 2013. Now, don't misunderstand, I am not advocating taking Lacy or Franklin in the first round! This would clearly be way too early. ADP on Lacy (in the PPR format) as of August 6 puts him at 29th running back off the board (66 overall) and Franklin as the 45th running back off the board (107 overall). So Lacy is going mid-sixth in a typical 12-team draft, with Franklin sometime late in the late ninth/early 10th round. I would have no problem drafting Lacy at the end of the fourth/beginning of the fifth round or onwards from there as my RB3 in a typical league. Some would call me out for "reaching" for Lacy, but that is not going to bother me.

To sum up, I'd say worrying excessively about reaching and getting teased about reaching on draft day is the biggest, most common mistake I see in most live drafts/online drafts with chat.

Andy Hicks: The examples you've given Mark, perfectly illustrate my point. You are not really reaching by taking Lacy in the late 4th/5th and Franklin in the 10th. If you really like these players, then this is perfectly walking the line on really liking a player, knowing their ADP and knowing when to pull the trigger.

Taking Lacy in the third and Franklin in the eighth as an example, is the problem I see far too often. If you really love players, you have to be prepared for someone else to love them more and take them way above their ADP. You cannot have any MUST HAVE or DO NOT TOUCH players.

As an extreme example, if I have David Wilson rated as my No. 1 running back, T.Y. Hilton as my No. 1 receiver, and Martellus Bennett as my No. 1 tight end, where do I draft them, but not reach for them? If I'm drafting at 2.02 do I take Wilson then knowing there is a fair chance he doesn't make it back to me at 3.11? I probably wouldn't, but I have to be prepared to let him go, even if I really believe he is going to be the number 1 back. I'm going to get great players at 2.02, 3.11, and 4.02, I cannot let my fixation of Wilson get the best of me. I'd try and trade back into the late-second, early-third round and strengthen my middle rounds, but often this is difficult to achieve. Would I take T.Y Hilton in the fifth round? Most certainly not. With an ADP of 83, I'd target the seventh round (7.11 using the above example). Martellus Bennet would be a 10th-round target.

If these players go before I have them, so be it. Other players with value will fall to me.

Mark Wimer: The other point I'd add to Andy's about being willing to lose out on a guy you really want is to not allow yourself to get thrown off your game (negged out or bummed out) if a guy you really like gets taken before your pick. Don't allow a negative mentality to invade your draft day - proceeed logically and try and keep emotion at bay as much as possible. Everyone in a fantasy draft gets disappointed - just move on to the next player on your overall or positional list and keep forging ahead.

Heath Cummings: There are already a ton of great answers here, while I think some of them touched on this, the biggest mistake I see on draft day is playing it safe...or letting your fear win. It's easier said than done, but you need to at least be able to look at the draft when it's all said and done and say that you took the guys you wanted. This means not getting sucked into a run on wide receivers (or any other position) when there's a player you view as a great value available at a different position. It also means not taking a running back in the fifth that you don't really like because you think he has a low floor and ADP says he should have been taken two rounds ago. Like Mark said, this also means taking the players you want, even if ADP says it's a round too early. On the flip side, it also means not taking the player you want four rounds too early just because you're afraid someone else will reach for him. Whenever possible, let your research and pre-draft thoughts dictate your draft instead of emotion.

Jeff Haseley: There are several mistakes that can be made throughout a draft, most of which have already been mentioned. Bye-week problems, failure to know your league's scoring format outliers, backups with poor match ups, selecting a player that has an injury you weren't completely aware of, etc. In my opinion the biggest mistake you can make is zigging when you should've zagged in the draft. Let's say for example, you choose a running back early in the first round, followed by a wide receiver at the end of round two that you absolutely have to have. However RB2s are becoming weaker by the minute and when the third round turns back to you, the RB2 that you wanted isn't there. The better value is then going to be wide receiver (or tight end) so you decide to pick your WR2 in the third round. When the late fourth comes around, now there's really a poor selection for your RB2, let alone your RB3. The long and short - you zigged when you should've zagged. Falling prey to the dreaded draft mishap is not fun - we've all done it. How do you prevent it? Know your positions of strength, follow how others are drafting, anticipate where certain players might be selected and above all, mock often so you can learn the strategies, stay ahead of the curve and draft wisely.

Jeff Pasquino: My first take on answering this question is to go into a fantasy draft or auction with a plan - but only one plan. They think that their strategy is rock solid and often will refuse to deviate from their pre-conceived notion as to how to best deal with changes on the fly. Not being able to recognize that your leaguemates are spending too many auction dollars at running back or that quarterbacks are going off the board way too soon can steer you in the wrong direction. If you planned on waiting at quarterback until Round 9 or later and 14 are already gone, you may not have a chance to catch back up. Owners who fear changing their plans at the last minute either cannot deal with on the fly decisions or have not thought of multiple strategies to deal with situations that can (and do) come up on draft or auction day.