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Fantasy Football Draft Day Tips


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When draft day rolls around and you are sitting in your chair, flipping frantically through countless fantasy football magazines and scratching your head while you're up against the clock, it can get pretty intense. Here are a few tips to help you remain calm and select the right players when it's your pick.

1. Pay attention to philosophy changes on offense

First and foremost, one of the leading causes of frustration for fantasy owners is when they select a player that had a good season the year before, or even a string of good seasons, only to completely flop while entering a new system with a new offensive coordinator or new philosophy. A lot of times, the offensive line makes the running back. If a back changes teams or his current team loses key offensive linemen (i.e. Shaun Alexander losing All-Pro Steve Hutchinson), their production could very well take a hit. Likewise, a quarterback might lose a key receiver or even a running back that can take pressure off the passing game (i.e. Peyton Manning losing Edgerrin James), and he'll also see a slight decline in his stats.

2. Don't follow runs

You've seen it happen a thousand times, and you've probably fell victim to it as well. There might be a wide receiver that you covet and plan on taking in the third round, only he gets drafted five picks before your turn. You say, "That's okay, I'll just take the next best receiver." But much to your dismay, the next guy ends up taking him. Two picks later, another receiver is taken. And finally, the guy right before you takes yet another one. In a panic, you say to yourself, "Gee, I'd better take one before they all get snatched up." Big mistake. This is an error that happens frequently. It's called a run when several players from the same position are taken in succession. Instead of taking an inferior receiver in the aforementioned situation, why not take a solid running back instead? You can never have too many good running backs, but if you find yourself in need of a receiver, you can always trade for one later.

3. Draft at least three starting running backs

Running backs are the pistons that keep your fantasy machine in motion. Point in case: I sailed to three Super Bowls in a row with the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson, Clinton Portis (in Denver), and Shaun Alexander running my ship. You have to have a solid running game to win ballgames. However, don't just draft two running backs in the first three rounds and forget about them until later. The fact is, injuries happen to running backs all too frequently and they rarely start all 16 games. I would recommend getting not only three starting running backs, but three top 16 running backs. As always, if you find yourself in a bind, you can trade one later for a position of need. But remember who brings home the championships for your fantasy franchise.

4. Secure at least two backup running backs

By backup running backs, I'm not talking about any random NFL backups. I'm talking about the backups to your starters. Those who were able to secure backup Larry Johnson if they had Priest Holmes as a starter the past two years were very happy. If you draft Thomas Jones, make sure you pick up Cedric Benson later because he'll take away several carries this year and might even assume the starting role by midseason. If you're in a league with limited bench spots on your roster, then carrying five running backs, two of which are backups, might not be the best idea for you. But if you have a big bench, then securing two backups to your starters is a wise move.

5. Wait on selecting a quarterback, then take two

If you are in a league that allows six points for passing touchdowns, you might want to draft Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, or Tom Brady. But if you only get four or three points for a passing touchdown, it's best to pass on the upper echelon of quarterbacks and wait til later to select your signal callers. I'd wait until rounds 4-8 to pick up not only your starter, but your backup, too. A lot of times, owners will select a guy like Brady early in the draft, and then get stuck with a guy like Kyle Boller or Joey Harrington as their backup. Should the unthinkable ever happen and Brady goes down with an injury, guess what? You're S.O.L. Wait until rounds 4-8 when smart fantasy owners are about to pick up their backups. You need to beat them to the punch and take two in a row of the Jake Plummer-Drew Bledsoe-Trent Green variety.

6. Middle rounds are a good time to select receivers

Unless you are in a receiver-heavy league, you can hold off on them until rounds 4-6 for your starters and 8-12 for any backups you want. There's no need to take one in the first three rounds because no receivers are head and shoulders above everybody else. Gone are the days where Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison, and Terrell Owens were the clear-cut top three receivers and nobody came within 4-6 touchdowns and several hundred yards of them. These days, you have Steve Smith leading the pack with Chad Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Torry Holt, Hines Ward, Harrison, Moss, Owens, Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, etc. following close behind. Not to mention, there are a host of others that will be past over because of either age or offensive question marks such as Rod Smith, Terry Glenn, Donald Driver, and Chris Chambers. Bottom line, you can get some solid starters in rounds 4-6, so focus on your ground game early.

7. Get a premier tight end early, otherwise hold off

Tight ends are a huge x-factor in fantasy football. If you can get one that is as good as most top-10 wide receivers, then you should grab one. Every time your team takes the field, you'll have an automatic advantage over your competition. Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez are the best of the bunch and then there's a slight dropoff after that. Jeremy Shockey, Alge Crumpler, and Todd Heap lead a very strong second tier. I'd say if you can get Gates or Gonzalez, you need to pull the trigger. Otherwise, wait until you have your running backs, quarterback, and at least one receiver taken. Remember, just because you have to fill your starting tight end position, that doesn't mean you need to take one before taking a better receiver.

8. Don't draft kickers too early

If there's two things that are almost certainties in fantasy football, it's that kickers and defenses are never the same from year to year. Often, a kicker can go through a slump and other times a kicker's team can struggle to get into field goal range. Even the most accurate kickers like Mike Vanderjagt, Jason Elam, and Adam Vinatieri can have their good seasons and their bad seasons. Take Neil Rackers, for example. He led the league in field goals in a record-breaking season last year, and he probably didn't even get drafted in hundreds and even thousands of leagues across the country because he played for the Arizona Cardinals. As soon as that first kicker gets taken off the board, you usually see a run of kickers taken. You have to fight the urge to draft one there and hold off. Then, after most teams have their starting kickers, you go ahead and take two off the board because it's quite possible one of those two (if not both) could finish in the top five or top 10 in kick scoring.

9. Draft kickers from weaker offenses, but good defenses

Quite often, the most successful kickers are the ones whose offenses rely on them to score points. Take a look at Neil Rackers, Matt Stover, Rian Lindell, Phil Dawson, Jeff Wilkins, and Joe Nedney. All of these guys were top-10 in field goals made last season and none of them played for dynamic offenses. On the flip side, most of them had good defenses that at least kept their teams in games. Having a good defense is a necessity otherwise teams won't let their kickers kick meaningless field goals when their team is down three touchdowns. Such kickers to look at are ones on the following teams: Chicago, Arizona, Baltimore, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Jacksonville, Atlanta, and Carolina. Some of those teams have good offenses, but most are middle of the pack to the bottom.

10. Draft dome and warm-weather kickers

In the previous example, I mentioned some cold weather teams that you might think are contradicting to this tip, but those kickers were good last year and traditionally were used a lot in their systems. For this tip, kickers that are dome kickers or warm-weather kickers are better for field goal percentage. For instace, Joe Nedney did well for the lowly 49ers, Olindo Mare was effective in Miami, and Josh Scobee had a decent season for the Jags. Meanwhile, Jeff Wilkins, Kris Brown, and Paul Edinger were all effective indoors. I happen to know from experience that weather plays a huge factor in the kicking game, so pay attention to those kickers that play quite a few games in good climate.

11. Wait til the very last round to select a defense

Along with tip #8, this is tip you need to live by. Defense are almost never the same from year to year, so there are very few that you can count on to have good seasons. Baltimore, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Denver, and Philadelphia are among the defenses that have been quite consistent and look to be good again this year. But there's no need to jump on any of these teams. I suppose if one of them is available in the second-to-last round, it's okay to break this rule. But, otherwise, you can still pick up an effective defense in the last round and be fine. And on a side note, don't even bother picking up a backup defense. It's a waste of a roster spot.

12. Draft west coast players

No, I don't mean players who operate in a West Coast offense. I mean players from teams that primarily play at 4:00 p.m. ET games. There's no real strategy to this tip other than players have more time to sleep and rest before the game, and teams from the west coast are generally a little more explosive offensively, but not all the time. The main reason I like to take players from the west coast is because I like to have more players playing in the late games so that it gives me more confidence. I can't tell you how many times I've watched my teams falter in the early games, leaving me with a whopping one or two players in the later games and nearly all of my hopes of winning shattered.

13. Pay attention to schedule; draft players with weak schedule near playoffs

When making your playoff run, it's much better to have players that have easier competition. However, that doesn't mean you should pass up on a player that has a tough schedule in the final weeks of your season just because you're looking for somebody facing easy competition. You still need to win games early in your season in order to make the playoffs. But if you're having a tough time picking between two players, check out each team's schedule.

14. Make sure you target red zone threats

Red zone threats are just as they sound: players who pose a threat when their teams enter the red zone. These players might not be the best offensive weapons on their team, but they become go-to players inside the 20s. Some times, though, the best players on the team are the red zone threats. On this site, I've compiled a list of players you should consider because they are their team's red zone threats.

15. When in doubt, take player from best team possible

The golden rule of fantasy football is that if a player can't score on his own NFL team, what makes you think he'll score on your fantasy team? Fantasy football is fake, not real, remember? So, if you find yourself in a bind on draft day and can't decide between two or more players, go with the player that plays for the team that should score the most points or have the most opportunities to score.

If you live by these rules, chances are you'll have more success this year in your fantasy football league. Since fantasy football doesn't rely on skill alone -- it has some level of luck to it -- you need to play the percentages. These tips will help you gain the edge you need to win. .

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