Fantasy Football 2011: Draft Strategies & Tips

SB Nation Houston has you covered leading up to your fantasy football draft this year.

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What's The Best Fantasy Football Draft Strategy?

Let's be honest from the beginning, key waiver-wire acquisitions and trades can be very influential on your fantasy team's success each year. However, the real key to first-place comes on draft day. You must evaluate sleepers, avoid busts, handcuff running backs, and wait on a kicker.

With that being said, the research you put in before your draft is extremely important. You need to be prepared, have some cheat sheets/rankings lists that you feel comfortable with, and have a draft strategy picked out.

Here are five tips that can help you draft that perfect fantasy team this year:

5) Don't put too much stock in preseason numbers
Every single year, there's a sixth-string receiver or a practice-squad running back that puts together a few solid preseason games. Every single year, they get drafted because they looked good in the preseason... against the Raiders' third-team defense. These guys that shine in the preseason are normally fighting for a roster spot, but they're not trying to elevate themselves on your fantasy football draft board. Keep an eye on those guys because they could be valuable pick-ups down the stretch, but don't waste a late-round pick on them.

By that same token, key injuries in the preseason are extremely significant. Arizona's Beanie Wells and Detroit's Jahvid Best are just two guys that are benefiting from an uptick in preseason playing time. Yes, put stock in the fact that they are clearly establishing themselves as number one running backs on their team's depth chart because of something that happened in the preseason.

4) Don't draft Michael Vick with the first overall pick
I don't care that Matthew Berry disagrees with me, Vick isn't worth that much of a risk. Sure, he put up marvelous fantasy numbers last season, but defenses are beginning to figure him out. While his talent is undeniable, there's no greater high-risk, high-reward pick than Michael Vick. He won't rush for nine touchdowns again this season, and he gets tackled more often than any other quarterback because he runs so much. Can Vick's body hold up for the entire season? Maybe, but I'm not risking it.

Put your team in a position to succeed while minimizing risk. It's that simple, and I'd rather draft a top-tier RB and get Brees/Brady in the second round than risk losing Vick to an injury.

3) Handcuff your stud running backs, not all of them
This strategy has been a fantasy football mainstay for a decade now, but I have a problem with some of it. The basic idea is that you should spend a late-round pick on your running back's back-up. That way, you're still okay if you drafted Toby Gerhart and your first-round pick Adrian Peterson suffers a major injury. I understand handcuffing a running back that you draft in the first or second round, but I'm skeptical after that. Do you know if the back-up is getting all the carries? Is it going to be a running back committee? Make sure you have researched some of these questions before you start drafting handcuffs this year.

2) If you can't get a top-tier defense in the middle rounds, don't overdraft another defense
That might sound confusing to some, but we all know which team defenses are the elite ones year in and year out (Steelers, Packers, Jets, Ravens). You could make the argument that the Eagles' defense will play well this year, but that's beside the point. My basic strategy for drafting a team defense is as follows:

- If you can take one of those top-five defenses in the middle rounds, do it.
- If they all get taken too early, don't panic because there's a solution. I don't want you to draft the Saints/Falcons/Bears (second-tier defenses) just because you're worried about how everyone else is drafting. Don't let them influence your strategy.
- While the other guys are drafting these decent team defenses, go ahead and snag some high-upside running backs and receivers. You can't have too many players from these skill positions, but you only start one defense per week.
- Do some schedule research and find a defense that you like with a favorable opposing slate. Pick up the defense with a good match-up each week and go from there. It could end up being the Cincinnati Bengals' opponent each Sunday, and so be it.

1) Draft a kicker in the last round
Every year, someone in your league will select Nate Kaeding or Mason Crosby three rounds too early. They think that they have figured out which kicker is the best, and they're going for it. Please don't be that guy. There isn't any proven way to evaluate fantasy kickers, it just doesn't work that way.

Kickers are terribly inconsistent in terms of fantasy points, and you'd be much better off waiting until the last round to select your guy. Look at some high-scoring teams and draft their respective kicker, that's one way to do it.

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Fantasy Football 2011: Draft Guide Central

If you're looking for that one-stop place to find all your fantasy football rankings, mock drafts, projections, and news, then look no further. We'll be keeping you updated all season and especially leading up to your fantasy draft. Feel free to post any questions you might have in the comments below, and I'll get to them as soon as possible. 

Overall Draft Rankings
ESPN - Top 300
CBS Sportsline - Top 200
FF Toolbox - Top 200
NFL.COM - Top 200
Walter Football  - Top 150

Position Rankings
Quarterbacks
ESPN
CBS Sportsline
FF Toolbox
NFL.COM
Walter Football

Running Backs
ESPN
CBS Sportsline
FF Toolbox
NFL.COM
Walter Football

Wide Receivers
ESPN
CBS Sportsline
FF Toolbox
NFL.COM
Walter Football

Tight Ends
ESPN
CBS Sportsline
FF Toolbox
NFL.COM
Walter Football

Defense
ESPN
CBS Sportsline
FF Toolbox
NFL.COM

Kickers
ESPN
CBS Sportsline
FF Toolbox
NFL.COM

Mock Drafts
ESPN 12-Team Standard League
ESPN 10-Team Standard League
CBS 12-Team Standard League
CBS 14-Team Standard League
FF Toolbox 12-Team Standard League
ESPN 12-Team PPR League
CBS 12-Team PPR League

Player Projections
ESPN sortable projections
CBS sortable projections

Sleepers/Busts
ESPN Staff Sleepers & Busts
ESPN Ten Deep Sleepers
CBS Sleepers, Breakouts, and Busts
FF Toolbox Sleepers
FF Toolbox Busts
Walter Football Sleepers
Walter Football Busts, Players To Avoid

Check back tomorrow for an article on this year's perfect fantasy football draft strategy with plenty of useful tips.

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Which Houston Texans Are Fantasy Football Sleepers This Year?

Most successful fantasy football teams rely on a strong draft and the emergence of their late-round picks. When trying to find a decent sleeper that can take you to the promised land, look no further than the following Houston Texans:

TE Owen Daniels - I know what you're thinking; Owen Daniels isn't a sleeper. That might be true, but Daniels is currently being drafted as the sixth-best tight end on the board. I view him as a solid value pick because his production could be noteworthy, relative to his draft position. He has proved to be one of the best tight ends in the league when healthy, and Matt Schaub loves throwing to him. If Daniels can put together a season free of injury, look out because he has the potential to certainly finish in the top-five.

RB Ben Tate - He missed all of last season with a preseason leg injury, and his roster spot was certainly in danger before last night's game against the Saints. He rushed nine times for 95 yards and a touchdown, solidifying the strong depth in Houston's backfield. Sporting News took notice, and the preseason hype surrounding Tate has been resurrected. He will only be relevant in fantasy circles if Arian Foster misses time with an injury, but it wouldn't hurt spending a late pick on Tate in hopes of striking it big.

RB Steve Slaton - The speedster from West Virginia was a sleeper in 2009, but we all know that didn't turn out well. Slaton had trouble holding onto the ball, but he claims that his neck injury was the real problem. I realize the odds of Slaton rebounding with a solid season are slim, but he has looked more than capable in training camp this year. I wouldn't draft Slaton, but he could be a decent waiver claim if an opportunity arises. 

WR Kevin Walter - While Jacoby Jones has teased fantasy owners with large expectations and few big games, Walter has at least shown some signs of consistency. Kevin is going undrafted in almost every 12-team league, but he is being targeted enough to warrant some consideration with a favorable secondary matchup. Pick up Walter to start aginst a suspect opposing corner, but don't draft him unless you can predict the future.

I think Tate has the most promise among these potential sleepers, but Owen Daniels could provide substantial value if he can stay healthy.

Good luck in your upcoming fantasy drafts folks, and be sure to check back often for more articles and rankings.

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Where Are These Texans Being Drafted In Mock Drafts?

If you're pretty serious about fantasy football, then I'm sure you have stumbled across many mock drafts while conducting your research and player rankings.

Fantasy "experts" on espn.com such as Matthew Berry and Eric Karabell recently took part in their fourth mock draft, and I'm here to break it down with some focus on our beloved Houston Texans and where they are being selected.

The following Texans were drafted in this 12-team expert league:

RB Arian Foster - First Round, #2 overall
WR Andre Johnson - First Round, #8 overall
QB Matt Schaub - Fifth Round, #54 overall
TE Owen Daniels - Seventh Round, #81 overall
RB Ben Tate - Thirteenth Round, #146 overall
K Neil Rackers - Sixteenth Round, #183 overall

With Houston's high-powered offense, it's really no surprise that two of their players were drafted in the first round, but I have a feeling that Arian might not live up to his high draft ranking. 

To be honest, Foster was "out of this world" last season, leading the NFL in rushing yards and amassing 18 total touchdowns. While the loss of Vonta Leach might hurt Foster on the ground, I also think he's somewhat injury-prone. He played most of last season with a torn meniscus, and he pulled his hamstring early in training camp this year. I do think Foster has a bright NFL future ahead of him, but there's about three or four other running backs that I'd rather select with the number two pick.

Andre Johnson is again the consensus number one receiver in fantasy football, and he's about as consistent as they come. He's currently being drafted late in the first round, around number eight overall. His value is higher in PPR leagues, but you certainly can't go wrong drafting him in a standard 12-team league. He leads the NFL in targets year in and year out, and he's been known to play through pain. Johnson catches the ball in traffic better than anyone else in football, and he remains the key to Houston's potent passing attack. Roddy White, Calvin Johnson, and Greg Jennings spearhead the group of wideouts that look to challenge Andre as the best receiver in fantasy football this upcoming season.

Matt Schaub was the next Texan selected in ESPN's latest mock draft, and he was taken in the middle of the fifth round. While Schaub is sometimes criticized for his late-game decision making and lack of postseason appearances, you can't deny that he puts up solid fantasy numbers each year. He's currently ranked as the eighth-best quarterback on ESPN's 2011 projections, and he's proven more than capable of leading Houston's strong offense. With a healthy Owen Daniels and the best receiver in the league, I think Schaub has the potential to be a top-five quarterback this season. His average draft position is around 60 (late in the fifth round), but he should outperform that ranking if he's stays healthy.

Owen Daniels was drafted late in the seventh round of this mock draft, and his current average draft position is 71. While he's not in the same category as Antonio Gates and Jason Witten, I believe that Daniels should be a top-five TE when healthy. He missed five games last year with a lingering hamstring issue, but he led the team in targets for the last four games of the season after returning. Matt Schaub loves throwing to Daniels in the middle of the field, and I think his potential is very high this season.

I'm somewhat surprised that Ben Tate is actually being drafted in some of these mock drafts because he truly hasn't shown anything yet. His brief NFL career has been derailed by injuries, and he's yet to prove that he can stay on the field. If he shows the coaches something during the preseason, Tate might make the team. With an improving Steve Slaton and the reliable Derrick Ward, Tate certainly has his work cut out for him.

For what it's worth, Neil Rackers is ranked as the second-best kicker in fantasy football by ESPN. The Texans will score a lot this season, but that doesn't warrant wasting an early pick on a kicker. Draft your kicker in the last round, please.

Check back often for more fantasy football rankings leading up to your draft this season.

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Houston Texans Fantasy Football 2011 Rankings - Wide Receivers

Looking at the Texans' wideouts to see how they rank in the fantasy this season.

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