Next week marks the beginning the NFL regular season, which also means the return of America’s favorite addiction: Fantasy Football. Every year more and more people join Fantasy leagues throughout the Internet to compete for a trophy, bragging rights and cold-hard cash. However most participants don’t know the difference between a slot receiver and a nickel corner so we asked Fantasy experts to offer a series of tips to help lead you to a 2014 league championship.
1. Wait on a Quarterback
Everyone knows the NFL is a passing league now. From 2003 to 2012 passing attempts increased around eight percent, while yardage increased 15 percent. NFL teams are throwing the ball more and with greater efficiency. You might think that makes quarterbacks the most important position on your roster but actually the opposite is true. Waiting to draft a quarterback until later rounds allows players to stock up on positions with more volatility and unpredictability, such as wide receiver and running back.
“The more intelligent drafters know you wait at quarterback because this year there’s 13 pretty decent quarterback options,” says Mike Clay, Director/Managing Editor of Pro Football Focus Fantasy. “There’s no reason in reaching for one when you can get one so late in your drafts.”
2. Running Backs are overrated
One of the most common draft strategies is to select running backs with a player’s first two picks. As mentioned above, however, most teams focus on cementing their pass attack and place less emphasis on the ground game.
“There are very few workhorse running backs left who get the majority of the carries,” argue the Sablich Brothers, The New York Times’ fantasy football experts. “A lot of teams are going with a running back by committee approach, which is good for their teams because they want to keep guys healthy but bad from a fantasy perspective. We’re going to pass over a lot of guys after the elite running backs are gone.”
That doesn’t mean to skip on the position entirely early on. Running backs remain the spot with the least amount of talent and greatest risk after the first few rounds.
“To get two running backs in the first five rounds has to be a goal,” says Fox Sports Fantasy Analyst Ryan Fowler. “If you wait until after the first five rounds to get your two starting running backs, you’re looking at a thin talent pool.”
3. Tight End is a crapshoot
Tight end may be the toughest position to draft. After the New Orleans Saints’ Jimmy Graham, there aren’t many locks for consistent and solid performances. Julius Thomas caught one pass in his first two NFL seasons before last year’s 12 touchdown campaign. Vernon Davis’ numbers fluctuate season-to-season. Rob Gronkowski has as many healthy bones in his body as a jellyfish. There’s no locks at tight end other than Graham, so you might as well wait as long as possible to draft one.
“Once you get outside the top three tight ends, it’s worth waiting,” say the Sablich Brothers. “There’s not a lot of difference between our 6th ranked through 13th ranked guys. There are a lot of sleeper guys you can try late. Jordan Reed’s one of them. Zach Ertz in Philly is going to be one of Foles’ favorite targets. There are so many guys we wouldn’t pass over to get one of the top tight ends.”
4. You don’t need to draft a Defense or a Kicker
In 2012 the Kansas City Chiefs allowed 425 points (26.6 per game), which ranked 25th in the NFL. In 2013 they lowered that number to 305 (19.1 per game), making them a top-5 scoring defense. What does this tell you? Projecting the quality of a team’s defense is one of the most difficult things to do.
“I pretty much ignore defense. Frankly, my strategy is if I don’t have to draft a defense, I won’t,” says Clay. “What do you need to draft that defense for? Why not take a high upside running back or wide receiver? At defense your best strategy is to stream them and go with the best matchup. There’s always going to be good defensive matchups on a given week.”
And kickers are even more pointless. In ESPN standard scoring leagues in 2013 the difference in points-per-week between the third-best kicker (Justin Tucker) and the 15th-best (Graham Gano) was only two points. Why draft a guy if he’s barely going to give you an edge over a random kicker you pick up in free agency?
5. Don’t Believe the Rookie Hype
Watching Buffalo Bills’ wide receiver Sammy Watkins making fantastic one-handed catches in practice may motivate you to draft him early because he looks like a freak talent (and he may be), you probably shouldn’t. E.J. Manuel is one of the ten worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL and he’s the one trying to get Watkins the ball. Not a recipe for success. The most talented rookies end up on the worst NFL team, which rarely gives them much fantasy value.
“I shy away from rookie wide receivers, tight ends and quarterbacks,” says Adam Levitan, Fantasy football writer for Rotoworld.com. “Only eight rookie wide receivers have gone over 1000 yards in the last 20 years. The only exception is running back, but the problem is this year is a poor class for rookies in both talent and situation.”
6. Handcuffs are not created equally
If you draft a running back with an injury history, most people will tell you to also take his backup. That way if your star goes down, you’ll have an option on your bench to replace him. Except that’s really not the best solution.
“I need to know if my starter goes down that the handcuff is definitely going to get the carries and make a difference on my team,” says Levitan. “If Adrian Peterson gets hurt, the Minnesota Vikings are going to go with a mix of Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon. But if Eddie Lacy goes down, James Starks is the guy in Green Bay.”
And don’t draft a handcuff too early. It hurts your team’s overall depth and could be unnecessary in the long road.
“A lot of handcuffs get drafted then by week 3 or 4 they’re on the waiver wire because owners realize they have other needs and don’t have room to hope a team’s starting running back gets hurt,” say the Sablich Brothers. “I only go for them if I really feel good about the rest of my team and depth.”
7. Don’t be afraid to double dip
Drafting a quarterback and wide receiver from the same team is a calculated risk. If the team struggles to move the ball and doesn’t put up a lot of points, they won’t help you win your matchups. But if the offense is clicking and your two guys connect for a touchdown, that’s double the points. While you shouldn’t go out of your way to double dip (don’t draft Brandon Marshall in the second round and Jay Cutler in the third, Bears fans), it shouldn’t be avoided as well.
“You have to be smart about it,” says Fowler. “You’re probably not going to be able to partner Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas. But maybe you can with Reggie Wayne and Andrew Luck or Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. If it falls that way, I’m totally on board with it.”
Ryan Fowler: @FOXSportsFowler
Sleepers: Ben Roethlisberger, Fred Jackson, Justin Hunter
Busts: Russell Wilson, DeAngelo Williams, Sammy Watkins
Sablich Brothers: @5thDownFantasy
Sleepers: Ryan Tannehill, Terrance West, Brandin Cooks
Busts: Nick Foles, C.J. Spiller, Jeremy Maclin
Mike Clay: @MikeClayNFL
Sleepers: Alex Smith, Lance Dunbar, Justin Hunter
Adam Levitan: @adamlevitan
Sleepers: Jay Cutler, Bernard Pierce, Markus Wheaton
Busts: Nick Foles, Le’Veon Bell, Pierre Garçon