Straight Draft Strategies
Tuesday, July 14, 1998
Here at the Sandlot Shrink, we talk to many people who participate in all kinds of leagues around the country. Some play in simple 8-10 team, touchdown-only leagues while others find themselves in 12-16 team leagues factoring in every combination of bonus points and performance scoring that you can think of. Then you have keeper leagues (where teams retain a certain amount of players from year to year), play-by-mail leagues (owners from around the country play head-to-head) and assorted pick-your-player contests (like the ones that operate within a salary cap) that have to be taken into account.
Obviously, draft day preparation and strategy differs from format-to-format, league-to-league and sometimes even owner-to-owner. It is impossible to customize these strategies for everyone in this space (or anywhere else for that matter) which is exactly why we set up this web site with our live scout line available as well. There, we deal with each individual scenario one-on-one and-- let me tell you-- there are as many different scenarios as there are callers.
So, what follows here are general rules of thumb along with specific strategies thrown in when and where appropriate. Beginners should pay particularly close attention. Good luck in the coming season and remember-- get to know your own leagueís rules like the back of your hand and use then to your own advantage.
1. Be prepared. Start casually studying a few weeks after the NFL college draft and gradually increasing your load every week. You should have all of your preliminary work done by the time training camps start. Then adjust your notes as per the information you get from the camps. Read a couple of newspapers daily and also a non-fantasy football magazine that employs professional beat writers. This will help you get a feel for real football. You should also subscribe to a reliable fantasy service like The Sandlot Shrink that also employs NFL beat writers and knows how to translate their scouting reports into valuable fantasy insight. All of the information in the world means nothing if you do not know what to do with it.
2. Bring only the cheat sheets with you. List the all of the players available in the approximate order that you want them on one or two legal sized sheets with a minimum of notes attached. Cross out the players as they are picked. This will maximize your mental capacity while eliminating the need to shuffle through excess pieces of paper which do nothing but add to draft day confusion--something you can easily do without.
3. Keep track of everybodyís team. This letís you see at-a-glance the entire leagueís needs for the critical middle and late round picks. If you know certain teams are nearly filled at running back it is safe to assume they will be grabbing receivers. If you and several other teams need a certain position later in the draft, then jump in a get a player from that position. If you still need a backup quarterback and everybody else has taken theirs then select from another position and make it your last choice. When in doubt, choose for your specific needs or just simply the best player available. You can always trade from your strengths later in the season.
4. Draft kickers, defenses and tight ends late. Kickers and defenses are notoriously unpredictable. After the first quality two or three itís anybodyís guess of which ones will produce under your leagueís scoring rules. Injuries sometimes reek havoc to defensive cohesion, which is one of the reasons for choosing them in the later rounds.
5. Ignore the exhibition games. This is the time of the year when coaches want to see what theyíve got so they play as many players as necessary. Of some interest is what running back and tight end each team goes to around the goal line in these games and what quarterback is emerging as the #1 backup to an injury-prone veteran.
6. Know the starting lineups and check the injury reports just before the draft. The last thing you want to do is waste any pick on a player who has lost his job or one that recently sustained an injury that will keep him out of action for a substantial period of time.
7. Donít draft strictly on last yearís statistics or to anticipate bonus scoring as per your leagueís rules. Two-three year trends are a much better indicator of a playerís worth when predicting future performance rather than just last seasonís stats. But remember, injuries must be considered if their is a glitch in the numbers from a playerís recent output. And as for the bonus point theory, trying to predict who will break off the longest runs, throw the longest passes or kick the longest field goals is risky and will only confuse you more than you already are. Blow it off and let the other owners worry about it.
8. Donít concern yourself too much with holdouts or those facing legal hassles unless they are rookies. Remember the holdouts of Emmitt Smith and Robert Smith several years back? Top players always seem to sign in time for the first game and rarely miss a beat. If a rookie holds out, he loses valuable training camp time and is generally ineffective in the first half.
9. Study all of the teamís schedules for opponent's strengths and weaknesses and which bye week each teamís open date falls on. Be aware of the strength of each teamís schedules when making decisions on questionable players late in the draft. You may want to pass on them if they are up against tough defenses every week. Color-coding your depth charts helps against selecting too many players from the same bye week.
10. Get a good nightís sleep before the draft, eat a balanced meal and do not drink alcoholic beverages before or during most of the draft. Stay relaxed, do not fret over a bad or blown pick and try to have fun. Remember that most draft day mistakes can be corrected during the season by astute trading, maneuvering and free agent or waiver wire acquisitions.