As we all get ready for the last week of drafts and the last download of information from the dress rehearsal third week of preseason games, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. If you try to think of everything you need to think of during your draft, you’ll lose the cool calm clarity that makes drafting with confidence much easier. The best thing to do is have a few flexible but simple principles to keep in mind. Commandments if you will. Ten seems like a nice round number, but it's never enough. This list goes to 11.
I. Thou shalt know thy lineup and scoring and monitor thy draft
Fundamentals, people. Examine your scoring system and lineup requirements. Look at how players scored in this system last year in comparison to each other. Get an idea of which positions are emphasized and de-emphasized and adjust your board accordingly. Be prepared. You’d be surprised how much of an edge that will give you over at least half of your fellow owners in some leagues.
Your draft position should give you an incentive to watch how the picks come off of the board with an eye for profit, especially when you pick near or at the turn. Breaking ties between players at different positions becomes easy when you see what the two or three teams picking before your next pick need. If you pick at the turn, you can see the potential to kick off runs at a position and benefit at the next double dip. Tune in and you can win.
Study the playbook and keep your head on a swivel, folks.
II. Thou shalt trust thy gut
Intuition is not mysterious. It is your brain doing countless calculations based on your knowledge and experience and distilling it down to a “gut feeling”. If it doesn’t feel good to take a player, you probably shouldn’t take them. Don’t take players you have to talk yourself into! Don’t take a player just because I or anyone else said so if you don’t see it. The point of fantasy football is that YOU are the general manager. Make it YOUR team. Follow your instincts. When a name gives you the warm fuzzies, that’s the pick. Don’t overthink it.
III. Thou shalt not be a slave to ADP (The Waldman Admonition)
It’s good to know how players are coming off of the board so you have can have a realistic sense of who will be there at your picks. It helps when you have two players you like equally and you want to want to break a tie. Otherwise, forget ADP. ADP will convince you to take a player you don’t want because they are falling two or three rounds past their ADP. There’s probably (but not always) a reason your league is passing on the player round after round. Don’t let your leaguemates pick your team by using ADP to determine your targets during a draft. Don’t be afraid to reach! If you have evaluated a player who is usually going in the sixth round as a third round value, don’t feel like you shouldn’t take them in the fourth or fifth (unless a player you have graded as a second rounder is there). Your leaguemates are smart. Chances are someone else sees this thing about this player and will take them before the sixth round. Few things sting worse in a draft than missing on a top target because you got cute and tried to get the biggest discount on their services. If you don’t have enough clarity about a few players to be willing to reach for them, you probably aren’t ready for your draft.
IV. Thou shalt not draft for depth
Repeat after me: Depth is the residue of good late drafting and waiver wire picks. From the ninth round or so on, you shouldn’t worry about the risk. Any of these players can be cut at any moment after Week 1. Business, not personal. Instead focus on a) the reward if they do hit and b) how early we’ll have a good idea whether that reward is real. Swinging for singles in the second half of your draft is not a winning strategy. You should be able to find cheap points in a pinch on the waiver wire unless you’re in a very deep league. You can do better than “depth” with your late picks. Aim higher.
V. Thou shalt be willing to create and draft for a weakness in thy lineup
In 12 team and larger leagues, you can’t have everything. You aren’t going to like your option at every single starting spot. That’s ok! Embrace it! Quarterback by committee. RB2BC, The mid round wide receiver corps. Minimal RB theories. These strategies are your friend once your get into your draft. When you’re on the ground and you see how your first few picks unfold, which positions the room is under- and overvaluing, then it’s easy to pick the hole you’re going to create in your lineup and then devise and execute how you’re going to address it with your draft.
VI. Thou shalt not be attached to handcuffS
Backup running backs are fine uses of bench spots, but unless you’re in a deep league with a thin waiver wire or you draft an injury worry starter, you don’t want to feel compelled to handcuff your starting running backs to their backups. This only limits the upside of your roster. If your first or second round pick misses so much time that their handcuff is an important fantasy commodity, then that means your early pick missed if your handcuff hit. You’re stealing from your own roster’s upside. Instead, target a backup with a better overall payoff. Try to win at both ends.
Consider the talent of the backup, the clarity of their role if the starter goes down, the quality of the offense/running game, and the likelihood of the starter to go down/get demoted. Sometimes the best backup running back pick will happen to coincide with one of your early picks, and that’s certainly not a bad thing or something to avoid.
Backup RB Targets/Worthy Handcuffs
Alfred Morris, DAL
Jerick McKinnon, MIN
Devontae Booker, DEN
Christine Michael, SEA
DeAndre Washington, OAK
VII. Thou shalt beware of injured players
The universe speaks to us in many ways, and sometimes it so straightforward that we miss its message. Getting into football shape and staying at a functional NFL player level of health for a season is grueling. If a player is already injured or not fully recovered from an offseason injury/surgery, they are already at strike one. You shouldn’t be looking at these players unless a) you have a good reason and b) the price is right. Yes, Odell Beckham. The price (last round pick/WW) and reason (talent) made that one ok.
VIII. Thou shalt not talk thyself into taking a player thy don’t wanteth, or talk thyself out of a player thy do wanteth
I get lots of questions about whether someone should avoid taking two early picks from the same team or going too heavy at a certain position early. My answers aren't very long because I don’t believe in going away from the best player on your board unless you are fearing a run on the last startable players at a position. And don’t even get me started on bye weeks. Ignore them. It might be best to have your whole team on bye in the same week for all we know. Of course when you take your tight end or quarterback, you move the number two options down a bit on your board because they have less value to you, so they move down in priority, but you should really stick to your evaluation of a player’s outlook and ceiling over lineup building or avoiding bye week alignment, position gluts, overinvestment in an offense when you’re on the clock. Don’t use your intellect against yourself by undermining the good work you’ve done to prepare for your draft.
IX. Honor thy waiver wire moves and trades
Which leads right into this important note: the season hasn’t even started yet! You have all kinds of bullets to fire on the waiver wire and in trade offers to improve holes and leverage off of talent surpluses you built in the draft. Taking the best player available can give you unforeseen advantages in trades because of depth. Throwing picks at players you are reluctant to buy into after a weakness has emerged in your draft can be akin to throwing good money after bad. Stick to taking players you believe in, and your team will be better off for it (as long as you're right)
Don’t draft like you have to stick with the roster you have at the end all season. Embrace change. It is coming.
X. Thou shalt NOT BE LOYAL TO bench draft picks
Which leads right into keeping your emotions in check once the season starts. You’re going to stock your bench with all of kinds of players you’ve talked yourself into loving for one reason or another. With the exception of your rookie and ascendant talent picks that require some patience a la Beckham, you have to be ready to let players go without remorse to take advantage of the fruits of the waiver wire. This is why we put extra value on the players with the early reveal in the second half of the draft.
XI. Thou shalt have fun
Saved the most important for last.
Life can be so dreadful. Our failures have real consequences, sometimes irrevocable ones. We spend so much time putting our efforts into things with questionable (or even non-existent) rewards. So we have this silly little diversion where we are in total control only to hand our fate over to something we have absolutely no control over. Our failures and triumphs vanish when the Sunday crowds dissipate. That’s the beauty of it! Much like when we’re in the crowd, we can cheer our team on and mourn our losses with all of our heart, leave it all on the field, and then leave it behind us. Life doesn’t give us much of a chance to celebrate our victories and mourn our losses in real time. I believe sports gives us a “safe place” to let out all of the pent-up emotions that life makes so inconvenient to have as we’re trying to navigate these rough waters.
So if the first thing on your mind this morning was how you can pull off your running back starters with a WR-WR start, or if your biggest worry today is how to draft around not having LeVeon Bell for the first three weeks, take solace. Because at least that means that you aren't worrying about or preoccupied with something near and dear to you right now like a loved one, or your sense of security, or your health.
And because it means football season is about to start.