If you cannot get one of the big five or so, you can hold off for a few rounds and still get a quality contributor. The exceptions being the leagues with more than ten teams, those that require two starting QBs, whose scoring is heavily weighted to QBs or those that protect players from year-to-year. You must then grab the best available QB you can find as soon as you can. The more teams in your league, the greater the need to get a productive QB early and a quality backup in the mid-to-late rounds. A good reserve QB is important regardless of your league rules because the position is extremely vulnerable to injury. Collectively, starting quarterbacks missed a total of 59 games last year and parts of several others.
Past history is usually a good indicator of a QB's future effectiveness. Study his last three years in the league. The numbers do not vary much for the veterans unless an injury, a new impact receiver or a radical change in offensive philosophy is the case. Age is a consideration as well as most young quarterbacks take at least 2-4 years to adjust to the NFL. If a young QB has legitimate talent and has a decent surrounding cast, then you can assume he will emerge after his first couple of learning seasons.
Take into account the quality of his wide receivers. Are they reliable and/or speedy big-play guys or just possession types? The burners are better for long-distance bonus points but also drop more catchable balls (like the Raiders the last few years.) If the receivers are new to the QB, there could be a 3-6 week getting acquainted time before they click.
Consider the team’s offensive schemes and determine whether they are a running or passing offense.
Consider the defensive side of the ball. A poor defense generally means the team will be throwing a lot trying to play catch-up football while a good defensive club sometimes grinds it on the ground on offense, especially if they have a lead.
Consider the offensive line. Pass protection is critical for the non-mobile types like Scott Mitchell, Gus Frerotte and Jeff George.
Consider a quarterback’s injury history. Guys like Chris Chandler and Troy Aikman always miss a few games while securing a quality backup later in the draft is crucial for insurance purposes no matter who your QB happens to be. Try to avoid the injury types in the early rounds along with those in the middle of QB controversies or in unsettled situations.
Consider running ability. Some leagues count double points for a QB rushing touchdown while others count yardage gained. This is what makes Kordell Stewart such a valuable fantasy football commodity. Generally speaking, a QB with talent with no receivers will fair better than a receiver with talent but nobody to get the ball to him.
Stay away from rookie quarterbacks as they ultimately struggle their first year in the league. The same generally holds for second year men as well. Look up the career statistics of the best quarterbacks in NFL history and you will find that the majority of them had a rough go of it in their first couple of seasons as a starter.
More than any other position in fantasy football, the running back rankings are the most diverse according to the rules you play by. Barry Sanders is worth more in yardage leagues because he is sometimes pulled from goal-line situations reducing his scoring output. Goal line backs are worth more in touchdown leagues and substantially less in yardage leagues. Third down specialists like Amp Lee have value only in performance leagues because they accumulate yards through the air as well as on the ground but do not score often. But they do have extra value in leagues that award double bonus points when running backs catch TD passes.
Be careful when drafting the middle round backs however. More teams are going to the new two-back set, which cuts into the production of those backs. These teams include Arizona, Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina, Chicago, Green Bay, Kansas City, New York Giants, San Francisco and Tampa Bay.
Try to get an impact player early. If you do not have a chance at a player in the top ten or so then grab another position first and get a runner in the next round. Generally, the top 20 or so players listed at this position will all be solid fantasy picks barring an injury.
Concentrate on the backs with a history of scoring that play every down, that catch the ball well and play for teams with the better defenses and offensive lines. A good defensive compliment will give the ball back to the offense more often and generally create a lot of run-out-the-clock yardage for running backs in winning games. Remember too that roles change and that, more than any other position, running backs get hurt the most often. Several significant contributors like emerged last year because of injury and/or role change so be sure to draft for depth at this position.
Goal line specialists are valuable in just TD-only leagues and draftable strictly in the later rounds. These types seldom touch the ball often enough outside the red zone to accumulate significant yardage or score more than five or six touchdowns a year to be considered in the early-to-mid rounds.
Because of their instincts for the game, rookies succeed at this position more than any other so consider drafting them more so than quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends. If you have an extensive reserve roster, take a flier on a rookie who is rated well but does not have a starting job set in camp. Intuitive owners could have snagged them with their last pick on draft day for a song. This also provided them with added depth at a position that is ravished with injuries year after year. Because of this, try to select your extra running backs before taking a backup tight end, kicker or defensive team.
Draft for depth because of the injury-risk factor but remember to generally avoid runners (until the later rounds) that play on passing-oriented teams, those with a history of breakdowns or those on teams with unsettled or committee situations.
Very few wideouts consistently score year after year. You can generally count on the top ten or twelve to come through for you but the next 20-30 are usually interchangeable. The best method of drafting these guys is to rank them in blocks of talent. Try to identify each drop-off in talent and block them accordingly on your draft day worksheet and select a player from the highest block available.
There are many talented receivers in the NFL and one of the draft day keys is to grab the ones that know what to do after they get their hands on the ball. These are usually the #1 targets on each team but not always. Sometimes the #2 man in a pass-oriented offense is more valuable than the main guy for a team that likes to run the ball. Therefore, when in doubt, grab the guys in the high-powered passing attacks. Even the third and sometimes the fourth receivers on the passing teams are worth consideration. However, production at this position seems to have become diluted as teams are going to 3-wideout sets more often, thus reducing the effectiveness of some #1 and #2 men.
Be selective when drafting the possession types in touchdown-only leagues. These guys are reliable receivers and can rack up the catches and the yardage but generally do not score much. When they do, the scores are usually not worth any long-distance bonus points.
As a general rule, avoid receivers on poor passing teams or those with quarterback controversies brewing as well as the run-oriented and tight end-oriented offenses.
Be wary of the talented guys who have a history of dropped passes as, more often than not, quarterbacks tend to look away from them when they are going bad. Rookie wideouts are also risky.
Much depends on your league's rules in determining the value of tight ends. Predicting which ones will score is an even bigger crapshoot than at the wide receiver position. If your league requires you to select one or two tight ends then try to grab one of the first ten or so but not until the fifth or sixth round. After that, the drop-off is very pronounced so the best strategy would be to wait until the later rounds if you get shut out early. This gambit will work because there seems to be adequate depth this season as opposed to the last few years.
In leagues that lump tight ends and wide receivers together, do not choose them until all of the premium quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers are gone regardless of your league’s scoring rules-- but especially in TD-only leagues. In leagues that treat them like any other receiver, Ben Coates, Rickey Dudley, Shannon Sharpe and Wesley Walls would be the only one to rank within the top 20-30 wideouts. The others would rank much further down the list of regular receivers even if your league awards points for multiple catches in a game.
Draft in the later rounds those that project to be goal line targets or those who play on teams that like to throw to the tight end or H-back. If your league counts H-backs (the extra TE in one-back offenses) as tight ends, then consider drafting them as your second TE as they are reliable pass catching targets. But remember, these H-backs are situational backs and usually do not see regular playing time.
Do not draft the tight ends from the teams that use the position primarily for blocking purposes. (However, teams that have non-blocking tight ends sometimes sacrifice rushing efficiency so be aware of that aspect when ranking your running backs.)
The last few collegiate free agent drafts have produced several quality TEs that will be making some serious noise in the NFL within the next couple of seasons. However, like rookie wide receivers, young tight ends need to get their feet wet for 2-3 years before they start producing decent numbers. They will be the guys whose hands, speed and blocking ability are all rated above average. Why consider blocking for fantasy purposes? Because non-blocking tight ends are generally used as role players and do not garner the regular playing time needed to produce good fantasy numbers.