Rules Are Not Made To Be Broken
For fantasy sports nerds like myself, this time of year h can be a double-edged sword. It’s a great time of year because fantasy is in the home-stretch, fantasy hockey and fantasy basketball are right around the corner and fantasy football drafts are all anyone is talking about. It’s also a time where what’s left of my brain cells get stretched pretty thin, but I’ve managed to find some time to cobble together some strategies that have helped me be successful over the years in order help you all get prepared for your upcoming drafts. I realize all of you owners are likely stricken by information overload from the myriad of fantasy analysts out there, so I’m going to keep it simple with a list of 15 draft/in-season rules that have helped me over the years. There are obviously exceptions to every rule, but I've fared pretty well over the years by sticking to these rules (which started as a list of 10 and has now grown to 15) and try not too veer too far astray. Disclaimer: I’m generally thinking about a 10-12 team league with these rules.
1. Draft, draft, and then draft some more
This would be the rule that my wife hates the most, but practice really does make perfect. There are tons of great sites out there to do free mock drafts, and I try to do as many as my schedule allows before I get to my real drafts (I’m a complete addict and usually end up doing something like 40 real teams, but that’s a topic I’ll save for my fantasy addiction counselor). By doing more drafts, you’ll get a better feel for what it’s like to draft out of different spots, and you’ll also get a better idea of where certain players are being drafted. I promise you that by the time you’re done doing all these mock drafts, you’ll have a huge head-start of the rest of your league and you’ll never get frazzled when the guy you’ve been targeting gets taken right before you’re about to pick.
2. Schedule your draft closer to the season
I realize everyone’s excited to start drafting now that football season is upon is, but why draft if we haven’t even started preseason games, people?! There’s SO much that can happen during the preseason in terms of injuries, position battles, and even new player signings. For instance, do you even know who the starting running back is going to be for Pittsburgh, Denver, or Arizona? (If you do, you should start playing the lottery). I’d much rather mock now and do my real draft during the first week of September when we have a little more clarity. I guarantee you that a big-name star is going to get injured this preseason and if you’re drafting in early-August, you deserve what you get.
3. Bring TWO cheat sheets to your draft
Remember when I mentioned information overload before? Don’t be the owner that brings nine different cheat sheets to your draft and gets stuck with an auto-pick because you were too busy shuffling between stacks of paper. Create your own top 250-300 list (more on that in No. 4) and then create a list of tiers by position. With Value-Based Drafting being all the rage (as it should be), you’ll want to have all your positions broken out into tiers so that you can assess which positions you’ll be able to wait on, and which ones you’ll have to address immediately.
4. Know your league rules
I’m just as guilty of this as the next guy, but make sure you know the type of scoring settings your league has. I mistakenly assumed standard scoring in a money league I did last year and found out after the draft that quarterbacks got one point for each completion. I didn’t own Drew Brees, Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers, so as you can imagine… I was pretty much assured of being kept ouf of the playoffs. Different types of scoring settings influence the way you’ll need to draft, so make sure you know whether you’re in a points-per-reception leagues, two quarterback leagues, and yes… even a points-per-completion league.
5. Don’t over-think things by planning too far ahead
One of the biggest mistakes I see made every year is people trying to plan their bye weeks, or worse yet, trying to plan their playoff weeks. I’m not saying to discount bye weeks, but they’re only one week per player, so don’t let that make you pass up the RB you REALLY want just because he has the same bye week as your other RB. If you draft enough depth and are active on your waiver wire (more on that in No. 9), you’ll be able to fill in whatever holes you have due to bye weeks. As for planning ahead for the playoffs… just worry about getting there and then we can talk.
6. Defenses and Kickers grow on trees
Any halfway-decent fantasy football analyst will tell you this, but DO NOT spend a pick on a defense or a kicker unless it’s one of your last two picks (and take kickers last). It’s almost impossible to predict which defense is going to be worth owning (even harder with kickers) so just stock up on running backs and wide receivers until the last two rounds and then take a couple fliers. Some leagues will even let you bypass drafting a defense or kicker and in those instances, I’ll draft an extra running back or wide receiver to have on my roster before the season starts.
7. You can only start one QB/TE
If you draft a top quarterback and tight end (which you should), you’re drafting them for a reason: to start each and every week. If that’s the case, why would you waste a roster spot on a backup for either position? If I spend a first or second round pick on someone like Aaron Rodgers or Jimmy Graham, the only time I’m sitting either one is during their bye week. For that one week, the world will keep spinning if you have to spot-start a waiver-wire QB/TE, so don’t waste a roster spot all year for one bye week fill in.
8. ALWAYS stay active in your league
This tip boils down to two things: trades and waivers. In terms of trades, I try to throw around a trade offer to every team in my league once a week. By doing so, you’ll show the rest of your league that you’re an active owner who is willing to deal and you’ll also increase your chances of finding a sucker that will overpay you in a trade (just make sure you don’t throw around lopsided offers that are going to insult anyone and make them not want to trade with you). In terms of the waiver wire, make sure you’re constantly checking it. There’s always people that panic and drop players they shouldn’t, and by taking five minutes to check your wire every day, you’ll quickly turn their loss into your gain. Plus, this goes back to No. 7 in that you’ll want to keep scouring your waiver wire for good D/ST and K matchups, as I prefer to stream those positions based on matchups, rather than lock in on one D/ST or K all year long.
9. Open Up the Trading Post
I try to throw around a trade offer to every team in my league once a week. By doing so, you’ll show the rest of your league that you’re an active owner who is willing to deal, and you’ll also increase your chances of finding a sucker that will overpay you in a trade. It only takes one idiot to accept that trade, and it also shows owners that you’re active and willing to deal (again, just make sure you're not insulting people with low-ball offers).
10. NEVER accept a 3-for-1 where you’re giving up the best player
There are exceptions to this rule, but there is almost NEVER a time when giving up a star player for three middle-of-the-road players is going to help you (unless you’re in a super-deep league). Even though those three guys might equal the stats of the star you’re trading, don’t forget that you’re also dropping two players. A three-for-one is really a three-for-three -- don’t forget the waiver guys who you can pick up with the extra two spots if you’re the person trading multiple players.
11. Don’t Get Attached
Don’t be the owner who picks up a guy no one knew about and then gets too attached to pass up good value when someone offers you a trade you shouldn't refust. If you just grabbed a waiver-wire wonder and someone wants to overpay you for him… take the deal. Fantasy football and nostalgia don’t mix. Furthermore, once you get to the end of the season, feel free to drop “bigger name” players who aren't producing for lesser known guys who are. You don’t get fantasy points for having a big name on your team.
12. Bookmark Your Waiver-Wire
I can’t even tell you how many idiots there are out there who get impatient and drop players they spent a fifth-round draft pick on after two underperforming weeks. There are always people who panic and drop players they shouldn’t, and by taking five minutes to check your wire every week (usually Wednesday night and Thursday morning and then later in the week too), you’ll quickly turn their loss into your gain. It only takes one or two days of not looking at your waiver wire to miss out on someone good, so take the five minutes I mentioned each day to make sure you’re not missing someone good. If you can’t afford to spend five minutes a week look at your waiver wire, you probably shouldn’t be playing.
13. Keep an Open Spot
Part of this goes back to my desire to be on the “one” side of a 3-for-1 trade, but I always like to keep an extra spot to either stream or grab a guy who is worth taking a flier on (like Alfred Morris last year). Target players on a hot streak and see if they blossom into a star (sometimes they do)… even if they don’t, you can just drop them for another player on a hot streak. Keeping a spot open like this allows you tons of roster flexibility, and trust me, it almost always pays off.
14. Twitter isn’t just for college kids
I saw someone once say that anyone on Twitter who is over the age of 25 has issues. Well, I won’t deny the issues part, but I’d take that a step further and say that anyone who plays fantasy football that doesn’t use Twitter is just asking to lose their league. Whether it’s a local beat-writer, an NFL insider, or a fantasy analyst, there are TONS of good people to follow on Twitter that will help make your fantasy football team better through player updates, injury news, and even personalized fantasy advice.
15. Be Your Own Man (or woman, as the case may be)
There are so many good fantasy football analysts out there, but the whole point of fantasy sports is to have your OWN team. Every fantasy sports analyst (myself included) isn’t always right, so while you should seek advice and listen to fantasy football tips from analysts, make sure your decisions are your own.
Remember, fantasy analysts spend a lot of time researching this stuff, but no one is ever going to be correct 100 percent of the time (and don’t let them tell you otherwise), so make sure the team you own is the one that YOU want – not the team that Jake Ciely wants, not the team that Charles Murphy wants, and not even the team that I want (don’t worry – we won’t be offended if you don’t listen to every piece of advice we give you).
I know some of those are no-brainers, but I’ve seen way too many people ignore some of those rules and lose their league because of it.
Do you have any unbreakable rules that you follow either during the draft and/or during the season? Let's hear it in the comments section.