Pick your league’s commissioner wisely – This is of extreme importance as this is the individual that can make or break your league and fantasy football experience. Nothing is worse than a little “dictator” that has strange rules and has an agenda. Go with a person that you believe is fair, can take care of the money for the season, and knows the rules.
Know your league’s rules – This is the most cumbersome part of being in a fantasy football league. We all know rules are a pain in the a__, but they can also save you too. Knowing your league’s rules like how many players can be active, how much yardage on a particular play kicks-in a specific points bonus, how much a missed field goal is worth, lineup restrictions, floaters (extra WR or RB in your lineup), if your league is a point per reception league, or any of myriad of topics is paramount for any great fantasy football player.
Agree upon the ground rules of your draft early – Where are you holding the draft (Some people like bars and others like a quiet basement), Draft Order, League fees and dues for the year, What are we eating and drinking (This is the most important, because you need to be relaxed – I vote for beer and pizza), The League Trophies/Prizes, How many rounds the draft will be, How much time between picks, Number of required players at each position, etc. Once the ground rules are set, stick to them or be prepared to be “trash talked” the entire draft.
Have a Good Attitude (This could be your year) – I always hear naysayers talk about their draft is coming up, but they have no chance. Just because you are a rookie or an 11-year veteran of fantasy football who has never won or won it 10 times before, it doesn’t matter. Every year starts fresh for your entire league (unless you are in a keeper league, which I hate) and everyone has a chance to be the “big winner” for the year.
Arrive early for your draft – By doing this, you can pick your seat, have all of your notes, cheat sheets, pizza, beer, and everything else you need in place for a good selection process. Nothing is worse for a group of people to wait for a “Johnny Come Lately” who is unprepared or even worse someone calling in their picks on a cell phone.
Make a “wish list” with rankings – Once you know your draft spot, a “wish list” will be your best friend. By knowing where you think a player will be targeted and scratching players off as your draft progresses, will help you quickly find and select the player you want. Some magazines and websites now have cheat sheets that you can have right at your fingertips (no overextended reading when you are on the clock though — See Don’ts).
Get your stud early in the draft – I recommend looking for a running back to build your team around early (maybe two), then quarterback, and wide receivers should be your last first round option in the draft. Running backs are fantasy football scoring machines with their ability to run, catch, gain yards after the catch, score touchdowns, and their big play potential. For example in 2006, LaDainan Tomlinson was like two or three players in one by scoring 31 total touchdowns (receiving, running, and even throwing). I always like to say, “Trust your list”, you know where a guy “should” go and you should stick to your plan. A basic plan is in Rounds 1-3 think RB first then QB, then WR; Rounds 3-6 Continue with the aforementioned strategy and add in TE’s; After Round 6 fill in your roster needs.
Know who is injured for the season or has already been cut – This is extremely important, because every year there is a FF player that has no idea who was put on I\R for the year or out of the league and selects them to the delight of all of their buddies. Here’s a free tip…former Giants receiver Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress will be in jail this football season serving time shoot himself in the leg. Make sure that you check the injury and roster cut down lists right before the draft. This same rule definitely applies during the season when setting your roster for the week. Nothing is worse than finding out at game time that you have a player in your lineup that won’t be playing on game day.
Make sure to get handcuffs when drafting – Let’s face it certain players have a higher chance of missing games whether it is injuries, suspension, or poor play. There is also the new phenomenon of teams splitting plays for a position based on situations, this is especially common for running backs (goalline, 3rd downs, etc) where the two-headed backfield is becoming the norm – there were only five 300-carry backs in the NFL in 2008. So it is important to find a “handcuff” or partner for certain players. For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers backfield is currently unsettled as starter Willie Parker is getting older and emerging back Rashard Mendenhall is returning from a shoulder injury, so many people drafting both backs for their teams so that each back can serve as a handcuff.
Know your “Bye” weeks – Just like injuries having conflicting players on your roster can kill your team. When you make your draft wish list make sure that you know when your players are off, so you don’t pick players that will both be out at the same time. This same rule definitely applies during the season when setting your roster for the week. Nothing is worse than finding out at game time that you don’t have a position covered in your lineup, because of a bye week.
Remember rookies when drafting – More than ever rookies are having a higher impact in the NFL. Fantasy Football owners that selected 2008 impactful rookie Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte. The former Tulane star leapt from the 2ndround of the NFL Draft into being a bonafide fantasy football cornerstone player, while piling up 1,715 yards from scrimmage — third most in the NFL. Forte’s numbers for 2008 were 316 rushes for 1238 yards and 8 TDs; 63 receptions for 477 yards and 4 TDs.
Be willing to talk trade during the season – There is nothing worse than a league participant that holds on to all of their players like little pieces of platinum and doesn’t entertain emails or phone call. If a fellow player offers you a “reasonable” trade, either take it, counter offer, or respectfully decline. Make sure that you are smart in your trade offers by being realistic of your player’s value, status, and your trading partner’s history — some guys are known to try and fleece new players, so beware…Hey how does a deal of JT O’Sullivan, TJ Duckett, and Javon Walker for Adrian Peterson sound to you?
Use the waiver wire – Usually after the first 6 weeks or so pending on your league’s rules, you will have the opportunity to grab players that were not selected in your draft — beware some leagues charge for waiver wire picks. The waiver wire can help you fix mistakes and replace non-producers/injured players. Every year some grabs a stud player off the waiver wire and it will always be a feather in their cap. I still remember in 1998, quarterback Brad Johnson was slated to be the Vikings starter and he got hurt early in the season opening the door for Randall Cunningham, who I happily grabbed off the waiver wire and he went on to have a huge year including 34 passing touchdowns.
Play for the playoffs – Just like regular football, the only thing that matters is making the playoffs in Fantasy Football. Once you are in the playoff rounds – usually weeks 15 -17 of the NFL regular season – anything can happen. I have seen last place Fantasy Football teams win championships in the playoffs by making solid waiver pick-ups and riding “hot” NFL players/teams making their playoff push.
Have Fun!!! – This is the most important part of fantasy football!! Fantasy Football Leagues offer you a chance to talk, have bragging rights for the year, bond, trash talk, and hangout with your friends. It also gives you, the fan, the chance to be the Head Coach and General Manager. You will win or lose based on your decisions of who you played, who you did not play, injuries, game time decisions, trades, etc. But also remember that most champions are built on the luck of the draw – drafting position and player health are truly keys to winning.
Don’t panic at the draft – If the player that you wanted to select was taken right before you pick, don’t sulk, just follow your wish list. It happens to everyone, but you have to pull the trigger when the player you want is on the board.
Don’t sit at the table reading a Fantasy Football magazine or other cheat sheets – If it was up to me, I would recommend that you leave the Fantasy Football magazine at home. But make sure that you know your material as nothing is worse than sitting at the draft waiting for some slow poke to incessantly read a FF publication trying to find a player.
Don’t drink too much at the draft – This is a good rule of thumb for any activity, but especially when you are building your team for the upcoming season. You don’t want your judgment clouded by too many brews. I was at a draft once where a guy drank too much booze and wanted to quit the next day when he saw his roster.
Don’t get catch in a position run situation at the draft – I have seen it too many times where one FF participant makes a selection of a particular player at a position that didn’t warrant the selection, another guy follows right behind them — think TE Tony Gonzalez being taken in the 3rd Round and someone reaching to grab Eagles TE Brent Celek – late round value). I can’t emphasize it more, “Trust your list”.
Don’t forget about defensive units and kickers – Though I usually select these two areas last in FF drafts, they truly matter. Often with the “pinball” machine numbers created by quarterbacks, running backs, and top-level receiver, people forget that you can “steal” points with kickers and a good defense. You never know when you will need a point here or there to get you over the top. On defense look for a team that gets turnovers, defensive touchdowns, and sacks (Ravens in 2008). I have to admit that I am not a “kicker guy”, but an accurate kicker who can put it in from long range (40 yards or more), can help carry a team during a slow week. Also factor in dome vs. non-dome in your kicker selection.
Don’t become too focused on teammates – When I first started playing FF back in the day, a veteran said that the key was to get a receiver and quarterback on the same team. That works fine if you have the best quarterback and receiver for that particular season (Think Brady and Moss, 2007), but I like to have a diversified roster of guys in different divisions and team, so I can guard against when a particular NFL team has a bad couple of weeks. I have also seen where a FF player reaches to grab a second tier wide receiver just because they have that WR’s quarterback.
Don’t cry over last year – Every year I hear people in my league complain that so and so always wins and that they have no chance. Well if you don’t want to compete then do us all a favor and quit. As I stated earlier every year is new and everyone in a Fantasy Football league has an equal chance based on the luck of the draw (good drafting and roster health are pluses).
Don’t be a quitter – I have seen it year after year, where someone has a bad draft or gets behind after a couple of weeks and packs it in. I know most leagues try to guard against this by having playoffs, rules, and other incentives, but quitting should not be an option. Always submit your lineup and try to do your best till the end of the season. You never know through waiver pickups and trade you could get back into the playoff scenario.
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