Friday 20 October 2017 / 07:44 PM

The ultimate Fantasy Draft Guide for 2014

While I’d like to think that Commentary Box Sports hired me for my dashing good looks and Gentleman’s Quarterly fashion sense, the reality is that the real reason I am here is to inspire passion in the hearts of Australians for American sport.

It’s no easy task, especially considering the fact that us Yanks are far from reciprocal.

I mean, the only time we’d watch cricket is if we’re hammered at 3am and a match happens to be on ESPN2 when we finally stumble home from the bar.

Nevertheless, it’s a challenge that I duly accept.

After all, 50 per cent of the entire Australian continent wears a set of testicles every day, so it’s not like peddling bone-crushing hits, slam dunks and three-pointers should be all that difficult of a sell. Men are pretty simple; we love this kind of stuff.

So with exactly one week to go until the kick-off of the 2014 NFL season, I’d like to cordially invite all you Fantasy Football virgins out there in Oz to drop your pants and join the club.

Even if you haven’t got the foggiest notion of what you’re doing, there’s gambling and trash talking with your mates. So really, what have you got to lose?

Plus, by the time you finish reading this article you’ll have all the basics you need to avoid looking like a tool on draft day.

First, a little housekeeping

Short and sweet. Here are a few links to the major sites offering free Fantasy Football leagues.

You can either set up a custom league for you and your mates, or join an open league and participate with other players from around the world.

NFL.com

ESPN.com

Yahoo.com

CBSSports.com

While the true connoisseur of Fantasy Football may find subtle nuances to make one platform seem superior to the other, for the lay fan, they’re pretty much all the same.

Plus, nowadays the scoring system is almost entirely customizable, meaning that you can tailor your league’s settings pretty much however you’d like.

A look at a few of the major settings implications

For the most part this article is going to focus on the “default” scoring settings when looking at draft strategies, but just in case, here are three common alterations that have a major impact on draft strategy and play.

1. League Size: Size does matter when it comes to Fantasy Football. How you lay out your draft strategy will be entirely contingent on how many teams are in your league.

The standard number is generally 10 or 12, and so the draft advice that will follow will pertain to leagues of this size.

If your league is smaller, say eight teams, you will find that nearly every team is entirely stacked with star players. You will not need to spend nearly as much time planning for sleepers, rookies and role players and you may be more prudent to take a quarterback early since there will still be quality running backs available in the second and third rounds.

There is a lot more luck involved in an eight-team league as every week you’ll have to bench players that would be automatic starts in 12 team leagues. Setting your line-ups won’t be as simple as selecting your best players; you’ll need to look at match-ups and guess correctly as to which of your stars will have a better outing for any given week.

On the other hand, if you’re playing in a 14-team league you’ve really got to look at finding value in the middle-to-late rounds. If you’ve got one of the top five picks there is a real risk that taking a quarterback first will leave you with very few options at running back by the time the draft order snakes back around your way.

In terms of in-season play, players in 14-team leagues need to actively monitor the waiver wire each week as there’s little chance that the team you compile on draft day will be good enough to win the championship.

2. PPR (Point per reception) Leagues: The PPR setting basically awards receivers and backs one point for every time they catch the ball. This is a setting that you either love or you hate.

On the positive side, PPR leagues even out the scoring disparity between QBs and WR/RBs and give credence to the importance of possession receivers and backs that catch a lot of balls out of the backfield.

On the negative side, PPR leagues have the tendency to skew scoring and diminish the importance of scoring touchdowns, which is the whole point of football to begin with.

For example:

Say Julio Jones has 2 catches for 85 yards and a TD. In a standard league this performance would be worth 14.5 points and in a PPR league it would be worth 16.5.

Now, imagine Wes Welker hauls in 10 catches for 70 yards. A standard scoring setting would award Wes 7 points whereas a PPR system would bump him all the way up to 17.

The difference is even more pronounced with running backs. A 10-yard run is now exactly the same as a reception that goes for no gain!

When playing in a PPR league, slot receivers and running backs that catch a ton of swing passes carry a lot more value than they do in traditional leagues.

If you’re new to Fantasy Football I would not recommend PPR.

3. Adjusting the value of passing TDs: In order to balance out the fact that quarterbacks touch the football on nearly every single play of the game, the standard point value for a passing touchdown is 4 points.

Some fans, however, prefer to make the scoring more “real” by awarding QBs the full 6 points for all TDs thrown through the air.

The implications here are simple. The quarterback now unequivocally becomes the most valuable player on your team and you’ll want to snag yours in the first round.

The good thing here is that everyone else will be taking their quarterback first as well, so once the second round begins everything returns to normal.

It’s very important that your league commissioner announces any alterations to the scoring settings long before the draft, as seemingly innocuous changes can make a world of difference.

Quickly, here are a few other things to watch out for:

1. Leagues where tight ends are just considered receivers and you don’t start a dedicated TE each week.

2. Leagues where you start two quarterbacks.

3. Does your league have a flex WR/RB.

4. How many waivers are you allowed to use throughout the season?

Draft Day for Dummies

Nobody wants to look like a noob on draft day. Here are a few strategies that are universally seen as “idiotic” by Fantasy gurus.

-Getting the jump on the best kicker and top defense.

While it might be tempting to pick up last season’s top-scoring kicker and best defense by jumping the gun and selecting them in the middle rounds, this is the fastest way to ensuring that your team will have little to no depth.

I like to take my kicker and defense in the last two rounds no matter what, but at the very least you need to wait until the bottom third of the draft.

Looking at the projections, the difference between Stephen Gostkowski and Jay Feely (#1 & #12) is a whopping 33 points over the course of the entire season.

Plus, predicting which defensive units will be the top in scoring is incredibly difficult. For the most part you’ll be swapping and changing defenses throughout the season based on match-ups.

– Don’t draft your favorite players or pass on players you hate out of spite.

Fantasy Football and real football are not the same thing. Don’t let getting caught up in collecting all your favorite players distract you from drafting the best player available.

Similarly, refusing to draft star players from teams that you dislike is a quick way to lower the quality of your Fantasy team.

(That being said, I must admit that Colin Kaepernick sits securely at the very bottom of my draft board. I’d draft with Frank Gore, Vernon Davis or Michael Crabtree in an instant. But Kaep? No thanks. I’d rather roll the dice with Carson Palmer.)

– Remember what year it is.

Don’t be tempted to draft “past their prime” stars prematurely. It’s been five years since CJ2K ran for 2,000 yards and 7 years since Tom Brady tossed 50 TDs.

Perhaps Brady is a bad example since he’s hardly past his prime, but you get the basic idea here.

Steve Smith, Marvin Jones, Greg Jennings, Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew, Steven Jackson, and the law firm, BenJarvis Green-Ellis. All these guys were once absolute Fantasy studs and they’ve all still got something to offer to your team, but don’t let their glory days fool you into drafting them ahead of up-and-coming stars.

Fantasy Football is easier than ever

When I first started playing Fantasy Football we drafted in a cave and had to build a fire for warmth.

Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration but there certainly was no such thing as online scoring and our commish, Zach Edwards, literally had to tally up the scores each Tuesday morning with the newspaper and email out the results.

Preparing for draft day entailed scripting out hand-written lists of players or perhaps springing for a $7 Fantasy Football mag. We drafted in person, with a large paper draft board, and spent half the time arguing because guys would get too drunk and try to draft players that were already gone.

Today, you literally can draft an “OK” team even if you are unconscious. Every single Fantasy platform has pre-ranked every player in the league according to their projected value and so whenever you get stuck it’s easy to see who ESPN or Yahoo Sports suggests you take next.

You can even sign up to participate in mock drafts to get an idea of how the process works prior to the big day.

So really what it comes down to is who to take when

Alright, so if the Fantasy professionals pre-rank all of the players ahead of time, doesn’t everyone wind up with the same draft strategy?

Hardly.

The order in which you (and your opponents) select players has an enormous effect on the outcome of the draft, and while your first four selections will make up the cream of the crop of your team, finding value and depth in the middle rounds is a huge part of getting your team to the playoffs and ultimately winning the championship and all the money.

The ultimate fantasy argument

The core and the crux of any draft strategy revolves around one big question: Who are you going to take first?

Personally, I’m a traditionalist and I always take a running back in the first round, almost no matter what. But more and more players are balking at this old school draft axiom and starting their roster off with an elite QB.

Here is the logic behind both strategies:

Running Back First- The idea here is that there are a limited number of running backs who get sufficient touches each week to put up consistent Fantasy points, and the drop-off from the top tier of backs to middling players is huge. Take a quarterback first and there will be a real dearth of backs available by the time the draft order snakes back to you. Then again, if you draft eighth through 11th, then you could conceivably draft a QB first and still wind up with a solid RB1.

I like to wait until the sixth or seventh round until I start to even think about a quarterback. Tony Romo, RGIII, Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Russell Wilson … all these guys will be available in the middle rounds, whereas there will be nothing but role players left at running back.

Quarterback First- The logic here is that the NFL is becoming a pass-first league and the top-scoring Fantasy players in the league are always quarterbacks. Boasting an elite passer gives you a chance to win every single week with just one player going off, and there’s no question that a good number of Fantasy champs last season were teams that had Peyton Manning at the helm.

There’s a more scientific approach to analyzing this conundrum but as far as I’m concerned, if you’ve got a top five pick you really should be taking AP, McCoy, Charles, Forte, Lacy or Lynch.

Think depth and balance

The season is long. Players suffer injury and you’ve got the BYE weeks to contend with. You need to have depth at both WR and RB, so be sure to alternate picks between the two positions to give yourself more start-worthy players than you think you’ll need.

You need to go into your draft with an open mind and keep tabs on what other teams are doing.

Sometimes your best bet is to take the best player available while other times you need to think about the holes you need to fill and what players that remain now might be off the board before you get the chance to pick again.

But the bottom line is this: if you’ve never played before, round up your mates and give it a shot. I guarantee that Fantasy Football will add an entirely new edge of excitement to the 2014 NFL season.

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Michael Airhart

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