July 15, 2008

The smart fantasy football owner relies on much more than just numbers, match-ups and luck. You have to be a scout, a gambler, a dealmaker, a coach and a lot more. You'll never have full peace of mind, and you will always be working to improve your squad, even when you have the best record in your league. The road to the championship begins on draft day, and you'll have to be ready for anything as your build your ideal squad. Here are my top 75 tips and observations for your 2008 draft, listed in no particular order, because they are all equally important.

1. Be ready for anything, and adjust on the run. No matter how many mock drafts you take part in or look at, you'll never know for sure what will really happen when the actual draft begins. Don't spend too much time projecting who will go where. Just be ready to make the best possible selection every time your pick comes up.

2. Believe in Eli Manning. At some point in the career of many quality quarterbacks, "the light goes on" in their heads and everything comes together. Manning isn't about to revert to past form, after his career took a pivotal turn during the '07 postseason. I don't care what his numbers were from last year or how his regular season played out. He's a new quarterback now, and he's going to be a quality fantasy starter in '08.

3. Think past your first pick. Too many fantasy players spend a lot of time wondering who is going to fall to them or whom they should take in the first round. That's going to be your easiest pick. Be ready just as much for the fourth, ninth and 14th rounds

4. Avoid Larry Johnson until at least the fourth round. The offensive line in Kansas City is nothing compared to what it used to be, and a shaky passing game will mean less drives to finish off with touchdowns and more defensive attention on a consistent basis. He'll have to battle hard for most of his yardage this season.

5. Unless you play in an auction, don't plan on drafting specific players in certain rounds ahead of time. If the guy you wanted in the third round goes off the board before you pick, you'll end up disappointed. If he's still there, consider it a bonus. Focus on groups, or tiers of players at every position, not on individuals.

6. Don't assume anything negative about Adrian Peterson just because of the Minnesota passing game. The air attack was weak in '07, and that didn't prevent him from delivering some incredible performances. It takes more than just sticking "eight in the box" to stop an outstanding running back who plays behind an elite offensive line.

7. Don't waste picks on reserve defense/special teams units, kickers and even tight ends. You're only going to use your backup one time in an ideal scenario, and you can pick that unit or player up from free agency. Use those late picks on sleeper candidates from the "Big Three" skill positions.

8. Opportunity doesn't always equal success. Just because Ronnie Brown is coming off a major injury, and Ricky Williams has obvious issues, don't assume that any Miami running back listed behind those two on the depth chart will break out if given the chance to start. Sure, it's possible, but I won't be wasting even a final-round pick on Jalen Parmele, when I can easily pick him up as a free agent during the season if I need to. I probably won't have to pick him up.

9. All young quarterbacks are not created equal. Among rookies, Joe Flacco isn't ready for prime time if given the chance to start. Matt Ryan could develop much quicker than anyone expects and at least keep defenses honest, which would ensure that Roddy White continues to produce well. Aaron Rodgers still needs more consistent playing time to be respectable, but Trent Edwards is showing some clear signs that he can be a quality player very early in his pro career and will bring some stability to the Buffalo offense.

10. Don't bother me with schedule analysis. It's all based on last season, and too many changes happen every offseason to realistically determine strength of schedule during the new campaign.

11. Marvin Harrison is finally done. Think Moises Alou with a football helmet. Reggie Wayne is the new Marvin Harrison. Anthony Gonzalez is the next Reggie Wayne.

12. We all know kickers are unpredictable, but so are defensive units. When there are key changes among such a large group every season, it won't be easy to project who will play as well as or worse than last year. That's why you don't take defenses in the sixth or eighth round. You don't want to spend one of your better picks on units that are mostly destined to perform uniquely different than they did in '07. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are usually few.

13. Look out if Matt Schaub stays healthy this season. He may not have any reliable targets other than Andre Johnson and maybe Owen Daniels, who I'm not a big fan of. Yet Schaub does a great job of taking what defenses will give him and can overcome a lack of quality depth at receiver.

14. Speaking of the Texans, I'll avoid their running backs on draft day and just keep watching the free-agent list during the season. There is something obviously wrong with a front office's mode of thinking when they still consider Ahman Green a starter, and bring in Chris Brown as "insurance."

15. Concentrate on filling out your starting lineup on draft day in the early rounds. Don't draft to trade when the quality of player you can deal for is readily available in the initial selection process. Don't load up too heavily at one position early, or your roster will look unbalanced when the draft is over.

16. Try to avoid trading for draft choices in yearly leagues. If you're well-prepared and well-informed, you can just be ready to make optimum choices in every round. Some owners ahead of you are bound to make questionable choices, and you can simply let the best available guy drop in your hands in every round.

17. Laurence Maroney will emerge as a fantasy star in '08. He progressively became a better inside runner in '07, and he'll be the complete package as a ball carrier this year.

18. The Jets have made significant, obvious improvements on their offensive line. Yet that doesn't mean Thomas Jones will be anything more than respectable this season. The guy who will really benefit from the improved blocking is Kellen Clemens, who I believe is poised for a breakout season.

19. Don't get too excited about Mike Martz coming to San Francisco. The receiving corps still looks very thin, and Isaac Bruce will regret leaving St. Louis at this point of his career. I'm not drafting anyone from that passing game other than Vernon Davis.

20. Never let 'em see you sweat on draft day. I never let others know what I'm thinking, or yell out in frustration when the guy I want goes one pick ahead of me. Again, if you're well-prepared and well-informed, you'll just make the best possible selections in each round and keep moving. Maintain your composure at all times.

21. Don't be the nice guy and share information on draft day with other owners who are unprepared. You play to win. If someone doesn't know a guy is injured, that's their fault and they have to live with the pick. You're friends after the draft, but during the competitive stages, you don't have any allies. If someone wants to know what you think of a certain player, tell him you'll let him know after the draft.

22. Bernard Berrian may be the projected No. 1 receiver in Minnesota, yet I believe Sidney Rice will actually be more productive for fantasy purposes. Neither guy will be better than a No. 3 fantasy WR, but Rice will score more touchdowns and have a few good outings. He'll be useful when the match up is friendly.

23. Time-shares at running back are not always a bad thing. Having a quality backup or alternate can mean the starter will not get overworked and should be less susceptible to injuries.

24. Julius Jones is set for a revival in Seattle, but some players are simply not good runners in short space near the goal line, and he is one of them. Jones should have a few impressive outings, but he won't be a dependable No. 2 fantasy running back in '08. If your league uses a flex position, though, he'll be a standout in that role.

25. Exhibition games are not meaningless. When the backups come in, you'll get a good chance to see what they can do if given quality playing time. Watching preseason games as much as possible can only help you make informed decisions during the later rounds.

26. I'm using the No. 1 pick on LaDainian Tomlinson. After how his '07 season ended in New England, he's going to be primed for a monster season. Football is a game of emotion and motivation, and Tomlinson will have a lot of emotional fuel in '08.

27. Don't be too rigid in planning for bye weeks on draft day. Sure, you want to ensure that you don't have two quarterbacks with the same bye, but be more flexible at other positions. Your roster may look quite different in Week 7, so don't pass on the better player at running back or wide receiver because you have to get your "bye guy" first.

28. Ryan Grant is going to disappoint early, as Aaron Rodgers struggles to adjust to facing starting defenses on a weekly basis. You'll have to be patient with him, as his better performances may come later in the season. Don't draft Grant as your No. 1 running back.

29. Don't hold too fast to the "handcuff" rule at running back. It all depends on who the backup is. I'd rather take a late flier on a guy from another team than use a pick on Marcel Shipp or DeShaun Foster.

30. Derek Anderson was no fluke last year. He's on the cusp of being a top-5 fantasy quarterback.

31. If you play in an individual defender league, go for linemen who make a lot of tackles first. There's tons of depth at linebacker and lots of good defensive backs.

32. Let's just say if injuries become an issue again in New Orleans, I absolutely love Aaron Stecker. He is tough and shifty, and he'll make the most of any playing time he receives.

33. The quality of the running back position has declined overall, but you still have to address the position early, because you have to start at least two guys and want to have more options and depth available if your top RBs disappoint or get hurt. Don't get too cute and start by picking sleepers in the middle rounds while hoping one of them will pan out. You should draft your first running back no later than the third round.

34. I'm worried about Willis McGahee. I don't like the offensive line, and I believe Troy Smith will win the starting job in Baltimore. He's untested with a mediocre group of receivers. I still rank Willis at the end of my top 10 for running backs, because I know he is a willing warrior. However, I'm going to build depth behind him quickly if I draft him as my top RB.

35. Now that Justin Fargas has his money, I expect him to play not nearly as well as he did last season. I was never a believer in Fargas, although I loved his dad in I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka. Gotta love the fishbowl platforms. Darren McFadden will be statistically inconsistent, but sometimes amazing.

36. I would not be surprised to see Shaun Hill emerge as the top starter for San Francisco this season, and he'll be a decent fantasy backup. If only he had better receivers ...

37. If Donovan McNabb does not stay healthy, I won't be surprised to see Kevin Kolb become a respectable fantasy option.

38. Steve Smith's success doesn't totally hinge on Jake Delhomme's health. Matt Moore has a strong arm and throws a nice downfield ball. Smith will still have some big games, but he will be less consistent if Moore is needed to start.

39. The "other" Steve Smith has a good chance to become a worthy fantasy option this year with the Giants. Take a shot on him in the late rounds.

40. I don't think Rudi Johnson is done. He can still be adequate from the fantasy perspective. If not, Kenny Watson will exceed expectations.

41. The Titans are committed to making sure LenDale White succeeds, I believe. I'm not bothering with any other Tennessee running backs.

42. If you don't get a top 10 fantasy quarterback, it's been proven that you can win by rotating two lesser-heralded guys.

43. Keep in mind that should you lose Marshawn Lynch at any point, Buffalo seems to be very high on Fred Jackson.

44. Don't buy too much into training camp stories. Everyone looks good in July, according to most hometown newspapers.

45. I'm avoiding Chad Johnson, personally. Let someone else worry about him.

46. Darrell Jackson was a great acquisition by Denver. He was a bad fit in San Francisco and will enjoy a comeback year with the Broncos.

47. Dwayne Bowe will draw more defensive attention this season. That could mean Devard Darling takes advantage and becomes a quality fantasy player.

48. NateBurleson scored nine times last year, but I still don't trust him. He will still disappear at times, especially against physical secondaries.

49. Philip Rivers showed us a lot during the '07 playoffs. He's ready to take his game to the next plateau, and he'll be a solid, sometimes outstanding fantasy starter this season.

50. I'm staying far away from JavonWalker in '08.

51. When in doubt, always take the healthy player over the guy with injury questions on draft day.

52. Jabar Gaffney is a nice role player for the Patriots and a good fantasy reserve, but nothing more. There's not much more upside than what you saw last year.

53. I still like Vincent Jackson a lot, especially with Rivers continuing to improve this year.

54. Atlanta's Laurent Robinson is a breakout candidate, and a very good keeper and dynasty player.

55. Devin Hester will continue to help you from a defense/special teams perspective, but I wouldn't look for too much from him as a wide receiver for fantasy purposes.

56. If you really want to study up on defenses when making your picks, look for teams with a strong defensive line. That's where it all begins in many cases. So you have to like Minnesota. Having a solid front seven is just as good. Seattle has made good strides to develop a solid line and has the best trio of linebackers in the league.

57. Greg Olsen will be the Bears' best pass-catcher for fantasy purposes in '08.

58. Alge Crumpler is set for a rebound season in Tennessee.

59. Ben Utecht will be the best value selection at the tight end position.

60. More on Adrian Peterson: Yes, there are lingering durability concerns and he may have a few disappointing outings. But no player explodes every week, and he will lead your team to some convincing victories this year with more brilliant outings.

61. After Tomlinson, though, I'm not taking Peterson. Give me Tom Brady, even if he doesn't exactly match last year's numbers. He will still be the centerpiece of many fantasy championship squads.

62. If you get Marques Colston in the third round, I urge you to jump out of your seat. He's going to further prove he is a fantasy superstar this season.

63. Keep track of other people's picks. You don't want to be the guy who calls out names of players who are already drafted, and if you know who needs to fill what needs later in the draft, you can plan for your upcoming picks accordingly.

64. After each pick, make a "short list" of the players you will consider for your next selection. Then you simply take the guy left at the top of your list when your turn comes up. It's great to make "mini cheat sheets" on the run.

65. Bring some goodies to the draft, like snacks and beverages. This way, when you're ruthless during the draft, you still won't look like the bad guy afterwards.

66. Don't bring multiple fantasy football magazines to the draft. Rely on one or two expert sources (like us at RotoExperts.com, of course), and all you'll be doing is providing materials for the guys who are unprepared. "Hey, can I borrow one of those?"

67. The more well informed you are, the better your trash talk will be in the draft room.

68. Get to the draft early. It shows you mean business, and you can get all of the small talk out of the way early before getting down to the important stuff.

69. Respect your commissioner and the league rules. Instead of complaining about the league setup, just adjust to whatever the format is. If you are well-prepared and well-informed (there it is again) you can win in any scoring format.

70. Of all the rookie receivers, I like Buffalo's James Hardy the best. He'll be an instant red zone threat and should help Lee Evans perform more consistently than last year.

71. If you won your league last year, bring the trophy and set it up in front of you wherever you sit on draft day. If you just won money, wear a new NFL jersey and thank everyone for buying it for you.

72. Steven Jackson is the best runner after the first hit in the game, and he's nearly unstoppable in the red zone. He's well worth the third overall selection this season.

73. Braylon Edwards has arrived as a fantasy superstar. I will take him as my No. 1 receiver early in the draft in any format.

74. Someone will often make an unexpected pick in the first round, and if you're not in the top two, you will enjoy a pleasant surprise as a player you really liked falls a bit further than you thought he would.

75. Thanks for hanging with me this far. I do lots of research and spit out lots of analysis to save you time. That's the RotoExperts way of doing things. My goal is to help you win your championship this season, because without you, I could not be here.

The preceding article is a free preview piece from RotoExperts.com 2008 Fantasy Football Draft Central. The kit includes nearly 70 strategic advice columns, positional analyses, team previews, and draft tools, so register today at http://www.rotoexperts.com/ to see the full range of coverage.

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