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.