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2014 Draft Stratagy
By Adam Pfeifer

It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.

But we all want to win, so yeah, let’s do that.

The game continues to change, and with that, so does the strategy in fantasy football leagues. It used to be a simpler time—draft two running backs with your first two picks, and watch the featured backs carry the football a billion times, and thus, carrying your fantasy squad to success. But again, the game has changed, and we will get into that later.

Going into a fantasy football draft is more than just picking players. Players do countless hours of mock drafts, research and projections. It’s more than a game—it’s a phenomenon. And, while I’ll be providing a handful of strategies to help you win your draft, there may only be one way to consistently win at fantasy football.

Be psychic.
In all honesty, this is one of the most unpredictable games out there. I mean, who would have thought that a backup quarterback would emerge during the second half, and average more fantasy points per game than anyone else in football? That Drew Brees would toss 39 touchdowns, an impressive number, but would still trail the league’s touchdown leader by 16 scores. I am all for having a set plan heading into a draft, and it’s pretty darn important. But let’s not forget that, as Denny Carter states, fantasy football is a math-based game about football, one that can be very, very fluky at times.

Let’s get lucky.

Quarterback is Deep
It’s a passing league, you fools.
In 2002, only four quarterbacks reached the 4,000-yard plateau. In 2012, 11 passers accomplished that feat, and nine passers did it last year. Passing for 4,000 yards used to be a big deal, but nowadays, it’s more of the norm. The position is deeper than ever.

According to Matthew Berry, in 2013, a whopping 13 quarterbacks totaled at least 240 ESPN fantasy points, the most since 1960. And, in 2012, 21 passers eclipsed 200 fantasy points, the most ever. I mean, think about it. There are more quality starting fantasy quarterbacks at your disposal than roster spots available on your fantasy roster. The position is so deep that the likes of Tom Brady are regarded as a fantasy quarterback outside of the top-10. Good is the new mediocre, at least when it comes to quarterbacks in fantasy football.

Running Back is not
Sure, there is a plethora of good options to choose from, but waiting on quarterback isn’t even 100 percent about the quarterback. It comes down to roster construction, and nowadays, there just aren’t a ton of safe running backs to choose from. The days of the featured, workhorse back continue to fade. Via Chris Wesseling, in 2010, the NFL saw eight running backs with 300-plus carries. However, during the three years since, only nine running backs have accomplished such a feat.

Running back is so, so scarce, which is why I won’t be drafting a quarterback until at least the 7th round. You need to stockpile on running backs because every single year, a handful of guys emerge. It is the easiest position in sports to replace. It’s relatively easy to find a running back to utilize on a weekly basis, but finding a stud running back for an entire season isn’t easy. Just look at last year, for instance. A handful of first round backs absolutely busted, including Doug Martin, Ray Rice, Trent Richardson and C.J. Spiller. Last year, only 10 running backs averaged more than 12 fantasy points per game, a rather ugly number. And, according to Tristian Cockroft’s Consistency Ratings, there were only eight rushers who posted at least 12 top-25 finishes a season ago. And, via ESPN, there were only five running backs that accumulated 200 fantasy points or more last year, the fewest since 2001. With committee approaches and constant injuries, it is an absolute necessity to grab at least one stud running back in your fantasy drafts.

Workhorse running backs continue to fade. Last season, only two running backs (McCoy, Lynch) carried the football at least 300 times. Meanwhile, if you look back at the 2003 season, the NFL had 13 rushers to post at least 300 carries. It’s common sense. The more touches a back gets, the better off they’ll be in fantasy, as eight of the top-12 fantasy backs from last year also ranked inside the top-12 in carries, too.

I looked at the top-20 scoring fantasy running backs from 2013, 2010, 2006 and 2003 and added up their total carries. Both totals and averages continue to decrease, making the case to grab a high-usage back early. I mean, last year, the top-20 fantasy backs averaged just 245 carries, a rather mediocre number.
The game is changing, and because the running back position isn’t as important in real football anymore, makes it even more important in fantasy.

Know your league
It may sound obvious, but understanding your league and the scoring system is crucial. If your league rewards six points for passing touchdowns, rather than four, don’t draft a passer like Andrew Luck or Cam Newton as your starters. Luck has thrown for a mediocre 23 touchdowns during his first two seasons, while Cam is averaging just over 21 aerial scores through his first three seasons.

No, instead, target these guys.
-Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons- The Falcons have one of the worst defenses, a banged up running game and are projected to be the most pass-heavy team in football, according to Mike Clay. Ryan was second to only Peyton Manning in pass attempts last year, so the volume should remain.

-Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys- You wanna talk about volume? Romo was already a guy throwing the ball 530 times a year, and now gets Scott Linehan calling plays, a coordinator who had offenses rank inside the top-10 in pass attempts per game in seven of the last eight years. The Cowboys will have to throw a ton to stay in games, and Romo has been a consistent 30-touchdown, 4,000-yard guy during his career. And with elite end zone target Dez Bryant to throw to, the scores will come.

And, vice versa, if your league gives just four points for passing touchdowns, rushing quarterbacks like Cam, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson see an uptick in value.

Be aware of whether it’s a PPR or standard league (duh), as well as if your free agent process is a FAAB budget or just first come, first serve. Just know your league. Simple enough?

Don’t Overrate Rookie WR
I get it, we all love the shiny new toy. Take fantasy baseball for instance, when a highly touted prospect is called up to the majors, it’s a battle to the death to acquire him. In fantasy football, it may not be to the same extent, but rookies are always fun to target.

That doesn’t mean, however, they are always fun to own. Especially wideouts.
This year, the NFL has a handful of exciting rookie pass-catchers entering the league. There’s Sammy Watkins, the most hyped, complete receiver to come out since A.J. Green. Then there’s Mike Evans, a freak athlete with elite ball skills. Also, Brandin Cooks, Jordan Matthews and Kelvin Benjamin were all drafted relatively high in good situations to succeed. All have talent, all have upside. However, almost all will falter, at least for fantasy purposes, in year number one.

Last year, Keenan Allen was an anomaly. He became just the second rookie wideout since 2005 to post 1,000 yards in their inaugural season (Green). The position rarely sees immediate success because the targets aren’t usually consistently there, and they have to learn the system, etc.

Since 2008, only eight receivers posted top-20 fantasy numbers during their rookie season. Current star fantasy players such as Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson and even Calvin Johnson struggled during their first years. Meanwhile, it’s the second-year receivers that you may want. Also, according to ESPN Stats and Info, the last 18 wideouts drafted in the top five averaged just 38 catches for 569 yards and 3.5 touchdowns as rookies.

According to ESPN, when they looked at the 57 wideouts to ever accumulate 1,200 fantasy points, they noticed that the biggest jump occurred during their second season. Sophomore receivers saw a 65 percent increase in fantasy points from their rookie year, and that trend continued in 2013 with second-year guys like Josh Gordon, Alshon Jeffery, Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright all emerging.
So, before you get excited about Sammy Watkins in the 7th round, wait three rounds later for second-year wideout, DeAndre Hopkins.

Don’t go crazy over bye weeks
Too many times have I seen folks pass up on either terrific values or terrific players because of the bye week. Sure, it’s rather ugly to see five players on your team with a Week 9 bye, but you may actually be better off getting the majority of your bye weeks out of the way. At the end of the day, drafting in fantasy football comes down to picking the best players at the best value, not so much the bye weeks.

Don’t stress.
Dreaming Of Streaming
Don’t be that guy.
Don’t be the guy that drafts the Seahawks D/ST in the 8th or 9th round. Sure, they allowed the fewest yards, fewest yards per play, lowest red zone efficiency and lowest QBR, but you are essentially wasting a pick if you draft them that high. Instead, look for defenses with friendly matchups to open the season, draft them with your second-to-last pick and then stream throughout the season.

Here are some units to consider:
Pittsburgh Steelers- The Steelers aren’t exactly the Steel Curtain from year’s past, but they still pride themselves on playing defense and open the season with a good slate, facing the Browns, Ravens, Panthers, Buccaneers, Jaguars, Browns and Texans.

Philadelphia Eagles- The Eagles forced a significant amount of turnovers last year, ranking 8th in interceptions, but this secondary is still a concern, one that wasn’t addressed as much as people may like. Still, a strong defensive front led by Trent Cole could make them a decent streaming option to start the season.

The draft isn’t the end
Sure, nailing your draft is pretty important, but let’s not forget that fantasy football is a marathon, not a sprint. Stock pile on running backs and receivers, the positions that get hurt, and prepare for the inevitable injuries. Fantasy owners will still have the waiver wire to use to their disposal, as well as plenty of trades. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve drafted a team, only to see it look completely different weeks into the season. Just because you don’t like your team at draft’s end does not mean you won’t like your team at season’s end. So much can, and does, happen in fantasy football, altering teams in a heartbeat.

For instance, whichever team picked up Nick Foles last year became absolutely stacked. Whoever added Zac Stacy after Week 5 earned themselves a borderline RB1 the rest of the way. So much happens over the course of the regular season that your draft becomes an afterthought in a hurry. Don’t drive yourself crazy over your current roster because it isn’t final.

Not even close.

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