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Draft Strategy and Sleepers for Non-PPR Leagues

By Mike Morris (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Our first 2014 Fantasy Football Draft Strategy piece will take a look at Non-PPR (what we will call Standard) leagues. Now that the NFL draft is complete and most free agents have found a home the picture has become much clearer for NFL players' roles heading into the 2014 season.

Early Round Draft Strategy (1-4)

Even though the NFL is moving away from the running game that doesn’t mean your fantasy team should. In standard leagues you should focus on having both of your starting running back slots selected by the end of the 4th round. Last season only 13 players were able to crack the magical 1,000 yard mark and only 5 players were able to put up double digit rushing touchdowns. Players such as Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy will all be lock picks in the top 5, but after that there will be a wide variety of options available.

Others players to consider in the opening rounds are Packers young stud Eddie Lacy, Chicago star Matt Forte, Seattle workhorse Marshawn Lynch and Washington beast Alfred Morris. If you cannot get your hands on a truly elite back, you can also turn to the elite receiving options. Jimmy Graham and Calvin Johnson are the only elite pass catchers worth choosing in the opening rounds, but having one (or both) of these machines will put you in a class of your own. The final option would be to take a quarterback in the mold of Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers. The downfall with this plan in that quarterback depth is at an all-time high and unless you play in a very deep (16 team league or 2 QB league) it will mean you are sacrificing depth in other areas, depth that other teams will surely have.  Every team always needs quality running backs, and they are always in short supply, so make sure to stock up on good RBs early and often.

Mid-Rounds Draft Strategy

RotoBaller-NFL-News-Fantasy-Football-Vince-LombardiAs with any draft, the middle rounds are where you build and fill out your team. These rounds are filled with a multitude of different players with young players like Bishop Sankey and David Wilson, along with established veterans like Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Jackson.

If you choose to go running back heavy early, these rounds are where you can fill out your receiving corps and quarterback positions. As we mentioned, in 2013 only 13 running backs topped 1,000 yards, however an amazing 24 pass catchers top the 1,000 yard mark. It is always nice to have a Johnson type of receiver on your team, but middle round options like Jordy Nelson, Kendall Wright and Michael Floyd all topped the 1,000 yard mark. My strategy here is to find consistent players who are around the 80 yard mark each week without much volatility. Another great group to target here is quarterback. Players such as Manning, Rodgers and Brees will certainly be gone, but Tom Brady, Andy Dalton, Tony Romo and Russell Wilson all threw for over 3,300 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. If you can pair two top running backs, and 3-4 quality wide receivers with one of these quarterbacks you should be well on your way to a great season.

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Later Rounds Draft Strategy

Late rounds 10+: There are two types of players to target in the late rounds: veterans who are not flashy and young players who are capable of huge days. While some players will see their stock rise, some veterans such as Dwayne Bowe, Mark Ingram, Steve Smith and Greg Jennings will see their stock fall as their best days are behind them and some fantasy managers will avoid them. These aging players should not be counted on to be mainstays in your lineup, but they are great bye week or injury fill-ins as they provide a steady point source that will keep your team afloat.

The other set of players to target are the boom or bust options that have as much chance to be top 10 players as they do to be waiver wire fodder. Some players to keep on an eye on in this group are Hakeem Nicks, Rueben Randle, Carlos Hyde, and LeGarrette Blount. Nicks gets a new start in Indianapolis and he is one of the few players who has two 1,000 yard receiving seasons under his belt who will be available this late in the draft. Hyde is a rookie who had a monster season at Ohio State last year and is entering a run happy 49ers offense. Despite being buried on the depth chart, one injury to Frank Gore could put Hyde in a great position to be a top flight running back. The late rounds are where the real fantasy teams make their move and build depth to ensure their team can handle any setbacks during the season.

Top Late Round Sleepers

Top Sleeper RB: Bernard Pierce: With Ray Rice’s pending legal trouble, Pierce could be in line to see a huge uptick in carries. Even though he failed to reach 100 rushing yards in any game last year, he did show that if given the chance he can find the end zone.

Top Sleeper WR: Brian Hartline: If you read above, 24 receivers went for 1,000 yards last year, and it would surprise most that Hartline was one of them. He is consistent (over 30 yards in every game last year) and is also capable of the big game with two games of 9 receptions and over 110 yards last season. He also has another year under his belt with Ryan Tannehill which should only help him.

Top Sleeper QB: Jay Cutler: The Bears QB is often pushed down draft boards due to his injury history and propensity to throw interceptions. Yes, both of those are negatives, however Cutler not only has the physical ability to be a top 5 fantasy quarterback, but is surrounded by receiving playmakers. Before his week 7 injury last season, Cutler had 1,630 passing yards and 12 touchdown passes. With Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte to throw to you will not find a quarterback with better weapons. It’s also important to note that he gets to face the bad pass defenses of Minnesota, Green Bay and Detroit in six of his games this year.