Everyone knows the point of a fantasy football draft is to draft the best team possible, but there are plenty of suggestions as to how you should do that. I'm here to offer you one more way that, while maybe unconventional, can lead to the types of results you're looking for. First, I want to offer a few disclaimers:
- This strategy is not for the owners that want to draft their team and forget about it. You cannot put your team on auto-pilot with this strategy. In fact, you'll probably be more involved than you've ever been.
- This strategy is not for the faint at heart. You are definitely raising your chances for ridicule with this strategy, especially on draft day. You will, for the most part, ignore bye weeks, and even ADP to a certain extent. We'll get to the reason for that later; just know that you are assuming a greater risk for the chance at a greater reward.
- This strategy is not for the loose-lipped. Even if you do hear it on draft day, the key to this strategy working is that your league mates don't know what is coming. Explaining even a part of your strategy to those in your league will have a seriously negative impact on its effectiveness. Take your lumps on draft day, and then take your trophy in January.
Okay, enough about what this strategy isn't, what is it? Drafting to trade is all about maximizing talent and the schedule. A lot of people in your league probably take into consideration some sort of strength of schedule rating for the upcoming season. What you're going to do differently is to look at the strength of schedule in sections of the season. Thankfully, our own Clayton Gray does an incredible job of providing this information to you weekly in his Ultimate Strength of Schedule feature. Here's a brief overview of how it works, and then I'll get to the players I would target in the draft to make it work.
The specifics of this will depend on your league's trade deadline, but let's assume a trade deadline after Week 10. We're basically going to break the season into three sections:
Weeks 1-4: This will be the focus of today's article. You will focus your draft on players that have the easiest schedules over this period of time.
Weeks 5-9: This is when you unload a few, some, or even a majority of the players you drafted BEFORE they hit the more difficult portion of their schedule. Depending on how many trades you make at this point, you may or may not have a lot of work to do at the deadline. You will focus heavily on players that may have underperformed solely because of the difficulty of their schedule.
Weeks 10-17: Just before the deadline you start looking for players poised to finish strong. We'll discuss more later in the season what to look for, but it definitely includes an easier schedule and an increase in opportunity amongst other things.
Okay, for now all you're really worried about is the draft right? What we're going to do is target the players with the easiest opening schedules, or those we expect to have fast starts for one reason or another. It's okay to reach a little for these players, but not more than one round in the first half of the draft. A lot of it will depend on where you draft, but I would not suggest you take this so far as to affect your first round pick. Here are your targets and a brief explanation for each:
- Stevan Ridley (ADP: 2.10, RB14) RIdley's ADP may get out of control before long, but for now he's a solid selection. I don't see Bill Belichick putting much faith in his young wide receivers early in the year, which means a heavy dose of Ridley and Shane Vereen. It doesn't hurt that Ridley starts the season with three of his first four (and five of his first seven) games against subpar run defenses. By week four he could easily be viewed as a top ten running back, and you know what kind of trade value that has. I also wouldn't hesitate to take Vereen (ADP: 7.3, RB31) in the fifth or sixth round. There is no currency in fantasy football quite like starting running backs. If Rob Gronkowski misses time early in the season, Vereen may be the most highly targeted Patriot in the first few weeks.
- Lamar Miller (ADP: 4.4, RB21) Miller starts 2013 with arguably the easiest schedules of any running back in the league. The hype train was chugging awfully hard on Miller earlier this summer, but his ADP has settled in at a place where you can comfortably take him as a RB2. He also gives you some flexibility, because his easy schedule actual continues through week seven...so if you don't get the deal you want you don't have to push hard for a trade. I'd happily take Miller anywhere in the early third round.
Rashard Mendenhall (ADP: 6.11, RB29)
- Larry Fitzgerald (ADP: 3.2, WR7) If you miss Ridley, or just don't feel comfortable with taking him in the second, Fitzgerald is a great option in the second round. he is feeling rejuvenated with the presence of Carson Palmer, and I can definitely getting off to a hot start. Last year was a nightmare for Fitzgerald and he's very eager to prove it was not the beginning of the end. Fitzgerald is also one you have to be more careful for, because his schedule gets drastically harder after week four.
- Steve Smith (ADP: 6.6, WR25) Smith is aging, and unlikely to match his production over the past two seasons. That being said, there's a lot of evidence that age doesn't matter near as much in the first half of an NFL season as it does in the second half. Smith starts the season with a touch opponent before landing back-to-back poor pass defenses. I like the fact that he has a week four bye, because some owners will be tempted to discount players with a bye upcoming if they're getting a guy back that's already has his.
- Mike Williams (ADP: 8.4, WR35) If you've read anything I've written this year, you already know that I believe Williams is greatly undervalued. Even if this wasn't an article about trading, I'd still be advising you to take him. That being said, undervalued players work great in draft to trade as well. Williams is currently being drafted as a borderline WR3, he's going to perform like a WR2...in other words you're going to make a profit. There will be others in on Williams so I would take him in the seventh round if I were you.
Backup plan: Kenny Britt (ADP 9.7, WR36)
- Jermichael Finley (ADP: 8.11, TE9) I'm going to talk about tight ends more in part two of this series, but Finley is the perfect combination of value and early season schedule. The possible absence of Jordy Nelson early in the season only sweetens the pot. Finley has frustrated owners for years, but a hot start will quickly remind people of his potential in this high-powered offense. I don't see a lot of people reaching for the Packers tight end, so I'd feel comfortable waiting until the eighth to take him.
To recap, the ideal start to a draft I see here looks round-by-round like this:
- Best available running back
- Stevan Ridley or Larry Fitzgerald
- Lamar Miller (Yes, you can start with three running backs)
- Best available quarterback
- Steve Smith
- Shane Vereen
- Mike Williams
- Jermichael Finley
At this point you should have at least three running backs, and maybe four. Again, these running backs will turn into great trade pieces down the line. Of course, you aren't done with a draft after eight rounds. I'll focus more on quarterbacks and the later rounds in part two coming up early next week.