Drafting to build a winner
I first wrote about my fantasy football draft strategy back in 1995. In nearly every year since, I'd updated the article, but 12 years later I think it's time to start anew. The basic strategy I've employed in nearly every fantasy draft since 1988 hasn't changed much at all. There have been wrinkles added here and there, primarily due to specific fantasy scoring rules or due to the ebb and flow of talent at key skill-position players in the NFL. But any way you look at it, the gist remains the same. The "STUD RB" Theory is a proven winner for more than a decade, and I still swear by it. Other fantasy "experts" preach different strategies such as Value-Based Drafting System (VBD) or a STUD WR Theory. But if you take a detailed look at the odds of success, you'll find that nothing compares to drafting STUD RBs early and often. Let's take a detailed look at the theory itself and you'll see what I mean.
First, the primary rule of the "STUD RB" Theory is to grab a top-notch fantasy-producing running back with your first draft pick and another in the second round. The choice of running backs is simple. In most fantasy leagues, the running back position produces the most consistent high-scoring players in the game. Unless your league has very unusual rules, that statement still holds true today. How does a running back do it? A featured back in the NFL will touch the ball 20-plus times each game.
Unlike starting quarterbacks, who touch it just as often, featured running backs are somewhat a scarce commodity. Some like
What about leagues that include a point-per-reception rule? Does that alter the STUD RB Theory? Should you draft a top wideout before your second RB? In most cases I'd still say no. However, if you near the tail end of one part of the draft (assuming you draft in serpentine fashion) and the wideouts are going fast in the second round and you can easily grab a STUD RB early in the third round, then taking a wideout late in the second isn't such a bad idea. How does this rule effect the RBs themselves? Basically, it enhances the value of those backs who catch more than 40 passes each season. Players such as
With the internet explosion since 2000, more fantasy football players know just how important RBs are to the game. As a result, most fantasy owners are following this theory to the letter. What happens in most fantasy drafts with experienced owners? Nearly EVERYONE drafts a RB with his or her first pick. But that's OK. The secondary rule for hardcore STUD RB Theorists consists of drafting a THIRD RB before the fifth round of your fantasy draft. This is an especially important part of the theory if your league not only starts two RBs but also employs a flex player (RB, WR, or TE). Nothing can be more intimidating that starting not two, but THREE top-25 RBs every week of the fantasy season.
Nine years ago, I mentioned that all starting quarterbacks in the league have similar chances to produce solid games. Is that still the case? Well, Mr.
However, scanning the league in 2007 finds some surprising facts about the quarterback position. There are many more quarterbacks with questions than in years past. After Manning, you have
The goal of the STUD RB Theory follower is to enter the seventh round of the fantasy draft with three STUD RBs, a top-six QB, and two top-20 WRs. One caveat is the tight end position, where
As I said many years ago, a good reason to delay drafting wide receivers or tight ends is the readily available quality players at these positions later in your draft. When considering wide receivers, other than a select few (e.g.
Looking at the other positions (kicker and defense), the key here is to continue to do your best to draft quality players at low cost. When considering a place kicker, there is still no reason to waste a draft pick on this position until the 14th round or later. Go ahead and let that competitor take
The key here is to draft a kicker whose team has a good offense, but not too good of one. You should look at teams that move the ball well between the 20s, but bog down near the goal. Teams like Philadelphia (Akers) and Baltimore (
In 1998, I said the key to drafting rookies is to NOT draft them early. Has that changed? For the most part, NO. Only the select few such as
For 2007, there appears to be a few examples of rookies who appear to have a decent chance to become immediate fantasy producers. They include RB
The best approach to take with regard to most rookies is to draft them late. The key to a smart draft is to target specific sleepers and wait as long as possible before selecting them to fill depth positions on your team. Examples of veteran players that I was able to snatch up in the latter rounds of fantasy drafts last year include: QB
One final point, make sure to give your rookies ample time on your roster to develop. Don't be too disappointed if those you draft don't pan out immediately. One or two of them could come on late in the season and make a big fantasy impact come playoff time, as TE
In dealing with bye weeks, the basic advice to follow is simple. There are seven weeks with teams on a bye -- from Weeks 4 through 10. When drafting players, fantasy owners need to do their best to avoid drafting backups with the same bye week as their starters. Of course, most of the time, this can't be avoided, but it's always important that in any given week, a fantasy owner NEVER PLAYS SHORT. In other words, always make sure you have enough players on your roster actually PLAYING in any week of the season so you aren't forced to take a ZERO at any starting position.
Subscribers often ask me whether bye weeks are really important when drafting your first six players. My answer to that remains NO. You should take the best player available to fill out your starting roster and pretty much ignore the bye weeks. Why? Look at the big picture. If your top two STUD RBs are off the same week (i.e.
Another topic that must be discussed has come about since the devastating injuries to
Simply put, injuries are a fact of life. They will happen, and there's nothing anyone can do about them. Unfortunately, injuries were magnified in three of the past eight seasons because they struck down several top fantasy RBs in the league for much of the season. While injuries won't disappear, odds have shown that these types of injuries likely won't plague this year's top RBs, much less strike them at the start of the season.
Due to these past injuries, I can't tell you how many times I heard fantasy owners say that they would never follow the "STUD RB" Theory again (especially last season with Alexander). That would be a bad move in my opinion. While owners may not be able to win a championship based solely on their draft, they surely can lose it, and I'm not talking about injuries to their top picks. I can't stress enough that drafting RBs with your first two picks is not the only rule of this theory. Flexible drafting in the early rounds to adjust to your competitors, drafting for quality and value in the middle rounds, and drafting for depth with sleepers late are the key portions that make up a successful "STUD RB" draft.
Once your draft is over, don't fall into the trap that your STUD RB team will kick butt and you won't have to make any adjustments or player moves throughout the season. If those nasty injuries strike, DO NOT GIVE UP. Do your homework and be quick on the draw with regard to free agency in your league. You can bet those owners were smart and quick enough to stake early claims to
In closing, some quick rules, that I still stand by today, which everyone should adhere to during the draft:
• Don't draft too many players from your favorite team. That is a sure-fire way to build a loser.
• Don't draft backup players (with the exception of a third RB) at one position before you have drafted your starting quarterback, running backs, and wide receivers.
• Don't EVER draft straight from a fantasy magazine's cheat sheet. Most fantasy veterans know better, as the information in many magazines are months out of date.
• Come to your draft prepared! Have your own personal cheat sheets with top 30 quarterbacks, tight ends, place kickers, and defensive players/teams lists as well as top 80-plus running backs and wide receivers lists. You may also want to create a top-40 overall player rankings list if you are that confident of whom you want in the first four rounds (10-team league), and scan a copy of the latest Average Draft Position (ADP) Chart.
• Always make sure you have access to the NFL regular season schedule.
I also recommend that you keep track of all your competitors' picks (I know it's a lot of work), especially if you are drafting near one end of a draft round. You can then keep a handle on which players the owner sandwiched between your two picks has and what area his needs rest in and draft accordingly. For example, it is the fifth round and your pick. You know the owner with the two picks before your next pick has already selected a QB and you haven't. However, he has not taken a wide receiver yet. Thus, there is a good possibility that he will use one of his two picks on a receiver. It would then be wise to select a wide receiver (if there's anyone you like available) before his picks and wait until your next pick to consider a quarterback. Finally, in Drafting to Build a Winner (no matter what year it is), use common sense, don't panic, trust your instincts, and have fun!