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Fantasy Football Feature: Draft Philosophy - Pt. 1

Fanfootballfeature-the_mediumWelcome back to the Fantasy Football Feature! DBN's discussion and open thread about everything fantasy football.

Draft Philosophy - With the first week of NFL preseason underway, for many fantasy football managers it's time to start preparing for the draft. This issue of the Fantasy Football Feature takes a comprehensive look at various draft philosophies and strategies. In order to take a more in-depth look, this will be split up into two parts. Today we're examining specific primary positions, where to value them, factoring in risk, as well as just sticking strictly to the best player available.

Check it out after the jump...

Targeting a position:

  • RB - Running backs are almost universally accepted as the premier position in standard fantasy football. This is because they're capable of scoring a ton of fantasy points but are not nearly as deep as quarterback. This year is no exception to that rule. In fact, many people are suggesting that's even more so the case this season than in the past. There are three really elite tier backs: Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, and Ray Rice. They are young guys that have proven they can play at an elite level over the course of multiple seasons. They also carry a lower risk, compared to some of the backs just on the cusp. If you're picking in the top three of your fantasy draft, you'll want to lock up one of these three. There are still great fantasy running backs other than those three of course, such as Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson, Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, and the list goes on. These guys vary a lot more than the top three and are subject to where you value their potential.
  • QB - Solid quarterbacks will get you by in most fantasy leagues. However, if there has been a run on the top six to eight running backs and you're drafting outside of that, you might want to look at an elite QB. Guys like Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady can definitely carry a team. They'll definitely be scoring a lot more points than the nearest elite WR. Something you may have to consider, though, is whether the gap between that elite QB and a solid one you could grab a few rounds later is large enough compared to the gap between the potential WRs or RBs. The Tony Romo's and Eli Manning's of the league will still get the job done that you need from that fantasy position. You definitely want to solidify this position in the draft because QBs are among the harder positions to find waiver wire gems. Michael Vick, Cam Newton, and Ryan Fitzpatrick are the rare exceptions.
  • WR - This might be the hardest position to gauge. Wide receiver is still considered the deepest of the three this season, which is typical. But, outside of the obvious No. 1 WR this year, Calvin Johnson, there is a lot room for subjectivity and/or personal opinion. Larry Fitzgerald, for example, I've seen as high as No. 2 among WRs and as low as No. 6. It was almost the exact same case for Greg Jennings, between No. 2 and No. 7. From my experience, drafting a WR first has not been nearly as fruitful, especially with the likes of Victor Cruz, Laurent Robinson, Stevie Johnson, Miles Austin, and more coming off the waiver wire any given year. Wide receiver is not only deep in the draft, but has the most sleepers that no one thought to pickup in the preseason. We also have TEs like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham putting up fantasy numbers just as high as elite WRs in today's NFL.

Best Player Available (BPA): Rather than determining what position or player to target based on where you're drafting, with the BPA philosophy you play off of those drafting in front of you and target the best fantasy player available. You don't follow trends or runs of a certain position. The key is sticking to the plan while filling out your roster with good value picks. It's unlikely to happen, but you don't want to take this to the extreme where you'd end up with eight great-to-solid running backs but only two below average wide receivers. You still want to consider depth, but you have to balance that with value. The BPA is my draft philosophy of choice.

Other Draft Day Considerations:

  • Handcuff / Insurance - "Handcuffing" refers to drafting your star running back's backup. This can be particularly important for injury prone RBs. Losing your first round draft pick to injury can be absolutely disastrous in fantasy football, something I and many others know from firsthand experience. The idea here is that you can cut your losses significantly if you already have said pick's backup sitting on your bench ready to plug in. Ask last year's Michael Bush and Ben Tate owners. With that explained, I still don't stress this as much as others. Drafting BPA doesn't allow for reaching, which is often the case with handcuffing. If you can get value out of the pick, that'd be ideal.
  • Understanding Risk: Low vs. High (Recent Injury) - You might be thinking that you're getting an amazing deal with Adrian Peterson slipping all the way to you at No. 10 or so. You're not. You have to factor the risk you're taking. Peterson, for example, tore his left ACL and MCL in Week 17 last season. Recent reports have the Vikings only considering the possibility of even activating him for the season opener. Darren McFadden is another risky player coming off injury. Chris Johnson is coming off a career low season. Consistency is generally the key to low risk. Some players have immediately proven they can come back from injury to perform at a high level, such as Foster. You want to weigh risk against not only the potential reward, but also where you're looking to draft someone.

Mock Draft: Practice makes perfect. Actually in the case of fantasy football, practice makes for slightly lower chances of major mistakes come the time for the real thing. Mock drafts can help you get an initial sense of value, especially if you're new to fantasy football. Even if you're a longtime veteran, the outlook of the league changes a lot from season to season. Trends come and go. You may have to prepare to draft from anywhere, front, back, or middle of the pack. Mock drafts can help you prepare for these things as well as others.

Closing statement: Fantasy leagues are not won in the draft. Good drafts will help a lot, sure. But, leagues are won throughout the season. The most obvious thing is just to set your lineup every week. That seems simple enough, but you might be surprised how often that relatively simple task is forgotten. The next thing can take a little more time and effort, but is still very doable, and it's something I've been preaching since I started writing these. Work the waiver wire! Master that and you'll do well.

Just as with the regular season editions of the Fantasy Football Feature, feel free to treat this as an open thread on the topic of fantasy football. Talk about the players mentioned above or any of your own sleepers, strategies, ect...