As somewhat of a fantasy football guru, I am used to being asked by friends for help with their draft.
Mind you, as a female myself, most of my friends are females, and most do not know much about sports, let alone how fantasy sports work. So it has fallen upon me, as, in most cases, their only female friend who knows much about football or fantasy sports, to help guide them through their first fantasy football draft.
On Monday, my dear friend Sara, who is an attorney in New Orleans, sought my advice. She is playing in a league with co-workers, and wants to at least appear to know what she is doing.
So, I will share my advice with you all as I did with her.
First, find out what kind of league you are in – most are a "standard scoring league," but occasionally a commissioner will want to mix it up and make theirs a "points-per-reception league." A PPR league raises the values of wide receivers (and running backs who catch the ball out of the backfield, a la Reggie Bush) because each reception they get results in a point for your team. Running backs are still the most point-friendly, but the gap in value between RBs and WRs is narrowed. For example, receivers who catch 10 balls a game become highly valued. It is worth noting that quarterbacks do not get a similar bump for throwing the pass, only the person that catches the pass gets the point.
Second, do your research – read fantasy guides, make sure you are up on depth charts and injury reports, and, of course, look at draft kits. These kits, made by ESPN, Yahoo!, etc., are made up of "cheat sheets" that give their top-300 overall rankings, rankings by position, and depth charts. All are necessary for your fantasy draft. Make sure you bring all of these to your draft with a pencil to cross out players as they are chosen. If you are doing an in-person draft, you don’t want to be "that guy" who drafts someone who’s already been taken; if you are doing an online draft that won’t be a problem, as players are taken off as they are drafted and you can’t choose them, but it will also help you to keep track of the best available players by position.
Third - your first pick has to be the best available player. Most likely that will be a RB, but if you get a late first-round pick (7 or later), you may want to take the #1 QB or WR. Especially if you are in a PPR league, taking Andre Johnson (Houston), Randy Moss (New England) or Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona) in the late first round would be a good choice. I would not take any QB besides Drew Brees (New Orleans) in the first round.
Once you have made your first pick, things start to get tricky. Your draft is dependent on who other people pick, and how you are able to keep track – this is where the cheat sheets and pencil come in handy. Personally, I like to choose one RB, WR and QB before I double up on any other position. If your first three rounds get you one of each of those positions, you will likely have a stud in each position, instead of having, say, three good RB and a garbage QB.
Don't take a tight end until the 4th round at the earliest, and then only if one of the top-3 guys is available. The only TE that I would take before round 6 is Dallas Clark (Ind.), Vernon Davis (San Fran) or Antonio Gates (San Diego). When you are thinking about taking a TE, try to get one who doesn’t have a bye until week 9 or 10 (Davis and Gates), then you only need to draft one TE. You can grab someone off the waivers later in the season to take their place in the bye week.
Now, the cheat sheets also come in very handy with bye weeks. Each NFL team has a bye week during the season – the week when they don't have a game. Make sure that your top two at any position do not have the same bye week, because then that week you will have a very hard time making up those points.
The later rounds are when it gets fun for me – I like to take risks after I’ve already chosen 2 WR, 2 RB 1 QB and 1 TE. Take a rookie who could have a break out year. Maybe they won’t pan out, but they were late-round picks so they are worth the risk. I took CJ Spiller, the first-year RB in Buffalo from Clemson, in the eighth round, and Golden Tate (WR, Seattle) in the twelfth round.
Another late round tip: take a risk on a second-stringer, especially if he’s backing up someone who tends to get hurt.
As for defense and kickers, do not, under any circumstance, draft one before round 9 – and even then, only take a defense that is top – two in the league. For example, taking the Jets or Vikings defense in the ninth or tenth round will pay off. All kickers are pretty close, so don’t really need to pick one up until the last 2-3 rounds – just grab a kicker in an offense that might have trouble finishing drives - which means a lot of points for you. Again, a kicker with a late-week bye is a bonus.
Make sure you are aware of players who are not active, who have been placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list (which means they are out at least the first six weeks of the season), or who have been suspended or released by their team. In other words, don’t be that guy who drafts Ben Roethlisberger (QB, Pittsburgh, suspended first six games of the season) in the fourth round, or Sidney Rice (WR, Minnesota, placed on the PUP list Wednesday) at all.
Finally, a few of my personal tips:
• Don’t take Steven Jackson (RB, St. Louis) in the first round – I’ve been fooled by him twice before. In fact, I didn’t even take him in the second round out of spite.
• Don’t be fooled by Clinton Portis’ (RB, Washington) rank – he will undoubtedly get hurt. Speaking of, Larry Johnson (RB, Washington) is now the #2 RB on the Redskins – I got him in the 15th round, which I think was a great pickup because Portis is bound to get hurt and LJ will get a lot more carries when he does. If he’s available in your draft in one of the last two rounds, he could be worth a gamble.
• Avoid a Houston RB before round 7 – Steve Slaton is nursing a neck injury, and even though Adrien Foster looks to have a breakout year, the Texans have three very good backs on the team, so they will all split carries and none with have huge numbers.
Good luck to all!