The NFL season is fast approaching, meaning it's also about that time when most fantasy football league drafts begin taking place for the upcoming NFL season. In fact, I believe that August has been officially dubbed "National Fantasy Football Draft Month". If your league waited to draft this late, then kudos to whoever is running your league. Nobody wants to be the guy that feels out of contention before the games even count because his number one pick got injured in a meaningless preseason game.
My league's draft was held on August 26. It was the latest we could have it while still ensuring 100 percent participation. Now, it's important to go into a draft with a strategy. But strategies need to be flexible to deal with the unforeseen surprises that often come as a draft unfolds. That is exactly what happened in this past Monday in my draft-- I was forced to switch strategies on the fly, and so rather than just sit here and give out blind draft strategy advice, I decided to recap my own strategy and how it evolved to meet changing circumstances during the course of the draft.
Our league is a 12-team, PPR, head-to-head league. We use Yahoo! as our league's provider, and draft live online. Our rosters are comprised of one QB, two RBs, two WRs, one WR/RB flex spot, one TE, one K, one DEF/special teams and six bench slots. I have been playing with the same guys in this league for about five years, and it is very competitive, with no quitters.
We use a standard snake draft. One of the best things we have done though is to announce our random draft order about two weeks prior to our draft. We enter the team names in an online randomizer, and in a few seconds, our random draft order is set. This gives each owner more time to plan a draft strategy, and has made our league much more competitive. I highly suggest that readers try t have your draft orders set well in advance-- it really has an impact on your planning.
My Pre-Draft Strategy
My plan going into the draft was to wait on a quarterback. I wanted to try to get my two running backs and two receiver spots filled before I even thought about a quarterback. In a one-QB league, this is usually a solid strategy to use, and I had targeted guys like Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo and Andrew Luck in all my mock drafts somewhere between rounds five and seven. I also intended to fill my entire bench and wait until the last two rounds before selecting a defense and kicker. In my opinion, there is no kicker good enough to select before one of the final two rounds, and defenses can be rotated according to their weekly matchups. I also made a promise to myself to avoid players who are constant injury risks such as Darren McFadden and Hakeem Nicks, both of whom ruined my 2012 season. I would make an exception if a really talented player fell so far that the value outweighed the risk.
Fortunately, I was awarded the first overall pick in our draft, and I selected Adrian Peterson, basically just a formality when you're picking first, so I'll begin my recap with my back-to-back picks in rounds two and three.
Round 2, Pick 24: Julio Jones (WR, ATL)
Every player picked in the first round was a running back, except for Calvin Johnson, who was taken tenth overall. In my mock drafts I had targeted, in order, Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones, Chris Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, and Roddy White. As the round progressed toward my pick, guys like Fitzgerald and Thomas went earlier than I had expected. Another surprise was the selection of Colin Kaepernick before Aaron Rodgers. As my pick approached, all of my targets had been selected, save for the two Atlanta wideouts, but TE Jimmy Graham was there. I gave serious thought to taking him, but he was ultimately selected one pick before mine, making my selection of Julio Jones a no-brainier.
Round 3, Pick 25: Aaron Rodgers (QB, GB)
My third pick was anything but a no-brainer. Of the five guys I targeted to select with my two consecutive picks, the only guy left was Falcons wide receiver Roddy White. I love what White offers in a PPR format, but I didn't want both of my top receivers to be on the same team, so I passed on White. I gave a brief thought to selecting Frank Gore with this pick, but with this being a PPR league, and already having AP, I didn't want to have two running backs who were afterthoughts in the passing game. Surprisingly, Aaron Rodgers, who hadn't reached me in any of my mock drafts, was still available. I now had a to decide if I wanted to stick with my plan and select a guy like Reggie Bush or Andre Johnson, or change my strategy on the fly because the best quarterback in the league was still available. I decided to go with Rodgers, figuring having the games best running back and quarterback would be the best course of action, and worth a change of draft strategy.
Round 4, Pick 48: Eric Decker (WR, DEN)
After watching Darren Sproles, Eddie Lacy, and DeMarco Murray all come off the board much earlier than I expected, there were no running backs I felt comfortable taking with my next two picks. My strategy was now going to be to stock up on talented receivers, and take some chances on guys in some later rounds. I usually prefer playing receivers in the flex spot of a PPR format, so this plan seemed reasonable. With the signing of Wes Welker, Denver's Eric Decker has seemed to be a forgotten man in many of my mock drafts, despite having a 2012 that saw him catch 85 balls for over 1,000 yards and 13 TD's. Even if Welker cuts into his production, Decker should provide plenty of value as a WR2. I jumped at the chance to grab him at the end of the fourth round.
Round 5, Pick 49: Pierre Garçon (WR, WAS)
Continuing with my new plan to grab as many top receivers as possible, I selected Washington's Pierre Garçon with the first pick in the fifth round. He looks to be RG3's main target this year, and is a sexy pick by many experts, myself included, for a monster breakout season in 2013. He will make a terrific flex play, and provide plenty of value here in the fifth round.
Round 6, Pick 72: Giovanni Bernard (RB, CIN)
As I watched running backs, even back-ups, fly off the board, I was beginning to worry if my new strategy was going to leave me with little-to-no depth at a very important position. I had been hoping to nab six running back, and that number seriously seemed in doubt now. I decided to look at some young RB's who may fly under the radar. So with my next two picks I was going to target the Bengals' Giovanni Bernard, Denver's Montee Ball, and the Rams' Daryl Richardson, with the hopes to get two of the three with my consecutive picks. I like Bernard the best, albeit as more of a RB3 than an RB2, and luckily he was available at the end of the sixth round. Unfortunately, both Ball and Richardson were taken earlier in the round, forcing me to switch plans again as made my next pick. At the very least, I now had my starting RB2 slot filled.
Round 7, Pick 73: Jermichael Finley (TE, GB)
I thought strongly about selecting another receiver here, as there were no running backs i felt comfortable taking here. T.Y. Hilton, Greg Jennings, and Tavon Austin were some names still available, but I still needed a starting tight end. I then turned my attention to the two guys left that I had been targeting in my mock drafts in Jermichael Finley and Antonio Gates. I now had to decide if I wanted to take one of them, or grab another wideout and hope that one of them would still be around at the 96th pick. I decided to go with Finley here. According to most reports, Finley is having a great preseason, and many are predicting a huge year from him after a disappointing 2012. I really feel he's a low-risk, high-reward pick here, plus he's much less of an injury risk than Gates.
Round 8, Pick 96: Michael Floyd (WR, AZ)
With all of my starting spots, other than kicker and defense, filled, it was time to fill in my bench spots. While I was still in the need of running back depth, I was ecstatic to see Arizona's Michael Floyd was still undrafted. Floyd emerged as the Cardinals' number two receiver during his rookie year in 2012, and was arguably the teams best wideout down the stretch last year, even with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton throwing to him. This year he'll have Carson Palmer, who put up solid numbers for a terrible Oakland team last year, as his QB. He'll also benefit from having Larry Fitzgerald being the focus of most opponents defensive schemes, meaning Floyd could find himself with plenty of open space to work with. It seems like a formula for success, and could pay big dividends for my team.
Round 9, Pick 97: Chris Ivory (RB, NYJ)
What do Ben Tate, Danny Woodhead, and Andre Brown all have in common? Well for one, none of them is a starting running back, and two, they were all selected in my draft before the Jets' Chris Ivory. Yes, Ivory's team is an absolute mess, but there is a lot to like here, especially this late in the draft. Ivory seems to be the team's unquestioned starter, plays for a coach who wants to run the ball, and to say his team has quarterback issues is an understatement. Need more? Well his career numbers may offer a glimpse of what the speedy and powerful runner can offer in a full season as a lead back. In 256 attempts, Ivory has 1305 yards, a 5.1 YPC average, and 8 scores. Ivory will be replacing last year's starter Shonn Greene. Greene is not the sexiest name, but he did finish with over 1000 yards and eight touchdowns, making him a solid RB2. There's no reason to think Ivory can't duplicate those numbers with the same amount of playing time. In the ninth round, getting any starting running back has to be considered a win, so taking him here, especially with my lack of running back depth, was a no-brainer, and could end up being the steal of the draft.
Round 10, Pick 120: Ronnie Hillman (RB, DEN)
Even after drafting Chris Ivory, I was still in need of running back depth. With very few quality options remaining, I decided to turn my attention toward the other two-thirds of the Broncos' three headed running back monster, which lead me to selecting Ronnie Hillman. Hillman spent most of the preseason as the projected starter until fumble concerns prompted many to believe Montee Ball would be the starter. Now it's being reported that Hillman has returned to practicing with the first unit. In other words, it looks like Hillman and Ball will be in a "1 and 1-A" situation to start the season. I'll admit, I'd rather have Ball, but after missing out on him Hillman makes for a decent consolation prize four rounds later.
Round 11, Pick 121: Kenny Britt (WR, TEN)
I gave serious thought to selecting the third runner in the Broncos' running back competition in Knowshon Moreno, but I decided to gamble that Moreno would still be available when I picked in the 12th round. I ended up selecting Kenny Britt, who was still on the board almost two whole rounds later than his ADP of 98. Do I believe I selected the better player? Yes, however, this is one pick I wish I could do again. I Moreno would be gone before I picked again, and rather than add another running back who could end up starting, I selected a guy who plays a position I'm already really deep in. The only way Britt sees my starting line-up will be as a fill in for bye weeks or injuries.
Round 12, Pick 144: Ben Roethlisberger (QB, PIT)
In a one QB league, there is always at least one QB that falls later than expected after everyone has selected their starters at the position. I like to try to snag that guy whenever possible for my bye week starter or as injury insurance. Roethlisberger isn't a great fantasy QB, but he's solid, and makes for an above average back-up to Aaron Rodgers.
Round 13, Pick 145: Denarius Moore (WR, OAK)
I think the Raiders are going to be terrible this year, and their quarterback situation is less than desirable, but still, I decided to take a chance on Oakland receiver Denarius Moore. Other than playing for the Raiders, there are some positives with Moore. He's young, speedy, and has shown flashes of greatness in the past. Maybe this is the year he puts it together. At this point in the draft, it's worth a shot.
Round 14, Pick 168: Sebastian Janikowski (K, OAK)
For the most part, I think kickers are interchangeable, but I decided to go with Janikowski for two reasons. First, the league I'm in gives an extra point for field goals made between 45-50 yards, and two extra points for any field goal made longer than 50 yards. Long distance kicking has always been Janikowski's storms suit. Second, and more importantly, I think the Raiders offense is so bad that its going to rely on Janikowski pretty heavily, giving him plenty of field goal opportunities.
Round 15, Pick 169: St. Louis Rams Defense
In my opinion, team defenses are the most interchangeable positions in fantasy football. If you pay attention through the season, you can add and drop team defenses and simply play favorable match-ups, saving you from having to waste an early pick on a top ranked defense, like the guy in my league who took Seattle's defense in round seven, the same round guys like Jermichael Finley and Andrew Luck were selected. As for my choice, I simply took the team left with the highest Yahoo! ranking.
Team Summary and Further Strategy
After 15 rounds, the draft was complete. Here is what I ended up with...
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger
WR: Julio Jones, Eric Decker, Pierre Garçon, Michael Floyd, Kenny Britt, Denarius Moore
RB: Adrian Peterson, Giovanni Bernard, Chris Ivory, Ronnie Hillman
TE: Jermichael Finley
K: Sebastian Janikowski
DEF: St. Louis Rams
The Good: Having the best quarterback and running back in the NFL on my team is a strong foundation to have, and should help secure at least some modest success going forward. My receiving corp is extremely deep, and should play well in my leagues PPR format. Jermichael Finley is a very solid tight end, who could be poised for a big season.
The Bad: Yes, I have Adrian Peterson, but after that, I have nothing but question marks, and very little depth. My three other running backs are all boom or bust picks, and if I lose AP at all for any significant amount of time this year, I'm in trouble. The same can be said at the tight end position. I never draft more than one tight end, so this is by design, but there is still some risk here. While there are some solid bye week fill ins left on my waiver wire, such as Marcedes Lewis, there are no viable long term solutions should I lose Finley to injury.
Further Strategy: Another owner in my league who has running back depth, but is shallow at the wide receiver position, has already contacted me about a trade. He's looking to deal DeAngelo Williams for a guy like Kenny Britt, and it's a deal I'm giving serious thought to. If that falls through, I will be keeping a close eye on any injury replacements that may be available after week one, as well as free agents like Michael Turner or Willis McGahee, who could end up on a team like, say, Pittsburgh after the season starts.
So that's my draft, strategy change and all. Overall, I'm happy with my squad, and think I have as good a chance as anyone to win it all. So, what do you think?
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