Fantasy Football 2014 Draft Strategy

Father Time is undefeated on the football field. 

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I believe it was Seneca the Younger, or perhaps Seneca Wallace, who said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” It’s a quote I recite often – or at least attempt before mumbling it away – when people assert that winning a fantasy football league is simply a matter of providence.

Concededly, serendipity definitely plays a part. Anyone who lost a playoff matchup thanks to Matt Asiata’s three-score windfall in Week 15 can attest to that sentiment.

Yet godsends are integral in all sports’ endeavors, real and rotisserie. Peyton Manning’s lone Super Bowl win came against the immortal Rex Grossman; his brother Eli would not have two rings without a fortuitous grab from David Tyree and lack thereof from Wes Welker. Caveats are for First Take and Twitter, so excuse me if I play the world’s smallest violin for those that chalk up fantasy shortcomings to misfortune.

Though you can’t win your fantasy football league with a good draft, you can put yourself in a position to contend. Perhaps more importantly, a poor selection showing will doom your season before it begins. To increase your chances for a successful campaign, follow these dos and don’ts for your 2014 fantasy football draft:

Know your league rules

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This may seem like a straightforward concept, but it’s astonishing, and somewhat disconcerting, how few owners are versed on their league’s rules and structure. Are receptions counted in scoring? What’s the waiver-wire policy? How many points are awarded for quarterback touchdowns? Even something as simple as roster construction has historically thrown managers a curveball. Before draft day, set aside five minutes to digest and understand your format’s make-up.

Patience is a virtue with quarterbacks

Heralded assets like Drew Brees and Denver’s Manning lived up to their hype, yet six of the top-10 fantasy field generals last season were selected in the sixth round or later. Philip Rivers’ revival and the emergence of Nick Foles were the highlights among the unexpected stars. Andy Dalton fits in this contingent as well, as his 33 aerial scores were third-best among arms.

Granted, part of this standing upheaval stems from touted arms like Aaron Rodgers and Robert Griffin III struggling with injuries, and Matthew Stafford’s penchant for throwing it to the wrong team didn’t help his rank. Nevertheless, this development is not necessarily new considering seven of the top-12 quarterbacks in 2012 fell outside the first five rounds.

Draft position is not the only catalyst behind this theory. The point discrepancy between the top-flight quarterbacks and subsequent tiers is quite small, at least compared to other positions. The average output in terms of weekly point totals from standard leagues in 2013 illustrates this case. Note – quarterback classes were broken into sixes, with the first 12 signal callers classifying as starters in regular formats, whereas running backs and receivers were grouped into eights under the premise that all three divisions would be in the lineup at their positions or in the Flex spot:

Average Fantasy Points by Position

Position Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
Quarterback 21.21 19.28 16.16
Running Back 16.17 11.24 8.19
Wide Receiver 14.13 10.74 8.14

Amazingly, that’s accounting for Manning’s record-breaking campaign in Mile High. Subtract his weekly destruction from the sky and the figures become extremely blurred.

A big day from a quarterback can prove the difference in weekly matchups. However, taking into account the spotlight we put on those under center, the prominence of quarterbacks is hyperbolic in fantasy. Playing the waiting game is the way to go with this position.

Be conscious of Bye weeks

Some accuse this counsel as over-examination, an argument I can understand. Alternatively, you don’t want to find yourself in a predicament of having multiple players with coinciding Bye weeks, especially at the same position. This problem can result in a thrown contest. Bearing in mind that many leagues are shortening the regular season to hold two-week playoff matchups and/or avoid Weeks 16 and 17, each game is decisive. I’m not saying this tenet should be front and center during your analysis, just be mindful of possible ramifications.

Hit the ground running

While owners want to postpone the election of a quarterback as late as possible, the opposite strategy is true for running backs.

Because the NFL offensive landscape has become more passing conducive in the last six years, fans believe the ground game is dead. This is a misnomer, as overall rushing figures have remained relatively steady in this time frame:

LEAGUE RUSHING STATS PER GAME

Year Team Attempts Yards Touchdowns
2013 27.1 112.9 0.8
2010 27.2 114.5 0.8
2007 27.3 110.9 0.8

Astute fantasy competitors will swear the performance from the RB space has seen a precipitous drop. This view is true, and can be attributed to the growing reliance of backfield committees. In 2006, 23 rushers crossed the 1,000-yard barrier. That number dropped to 17 in 2010, and last season only 13 players accomplished this feat.

Admittedly, this can be a dicey venture. Not sure if you’re aware of this disposition, but football can be a dangerous affair, especially for those that are ball carriers. Doug Martin and Arian Foster, universal first-round picks last preseason, are testimonies to this volatility. Alas, it’s a risk owners must be willing to take, for the growing use of split-time backfields has made the heavy-workload rusher a dying breed. Shore up the RB depth chart with two of your first three picks, ideally securing three backs by the end of the fifth round. Like beer in the fridge or videos of cats playing musical instruments, you can never have enough running backs.

Sleepers are sleepers for a reason

One of the more common mistakes made by the fantasy community is its relationship with so-called sleepers. Many interpret sleepers as sure-things or up-and-comers, a context that’s simply not the case. The proper definition for this label is a player that might produce at a high level with the help of ancillary circumstances.

Owners drop the ball with sleepers in two respects:

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– Stockpiling sleepers after their starting lineup is filled.

– Snagging someone earlier than their projected draft position.

Each path is a road to ruin. For the former, the bench is vital in the outcome of your campaign, as injuries or letdown will rear its head at some juncture. Though some players may not offer the allure of others, they can still serve as stopgaps if and when they’re needed. As for the latter, a sleeper’s value diminishes if picked too soon. For example, with DeSean Jackson’s exodus leaving a void at receiver, Jeremy Maclin has an opportunity to see an elevated amount of action. However, though he has the potential to be a top-15 fantasy wideout, it doesn’t mean he should be drafted in such a capacity. With his ailment-riddled history, he’s far from a dependable entity, and the jury is still out on Foles’ ability to replicate his stellar debut.

By all means, take a flyer on a dark horse or two, but wait until the later rounds of your draft when going this route. In this fashion, your losses are manageable if the sleeper doesn’t come to fruition.

Beware of the hyped rookie

At first glance, this is hard to abide as a result of recent first-year performances from Eddie Lacy, Griffin III, Cam Newton, Alfred Morris and the like. An obligatory addendum to this statement is that, aside from Lacy and RG3, none of the above players were expected to do much of substance in their first tour of duty. True, Keenan Allen was phenomenal for the Chargers last season, yet he went unselected in the majority of drafts. Moreover, fellow rookie Gio Bernard’s game log displays a feast-or-famine proclivity.

For every culmination of a greenhorn, there are a dozen Tavon Austins and Montee Balls who donated little to their fantasy squads and serve as cautionary tales. Don’t enforce an unfair onus on 2014 draftees like Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Bishop Sankey, Johnny Manziel and Odell Beckham. As mid-round picks, their gambles are easier to justify, but in a user’s primary selections, it’s a major assumption of risk.

Balance over position surplus

This is one of the more disputed debates in fantasy: do you draft on need or availability? Personally, the rationale for need holds more merit, as many leagues confine rosters with position maximums. The “best available” claim can render successful as a possible trade chip, but this comes with the stipulation that, not only must this player be desirable to others, but that you receive fair value in return. (The only proviso would be in reference to running backs from above, as most teams could always use another formidable rusher.)

With the high frequency of injuries in today’s game, constructing a sound and complete roster is the best play in surmounting a charge for the championship.

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Caution on committees

By last count, 16 teams are entering camp with some semblance of a divided workload, and that’s not counting the precarious matter Ray Rice finds himself in with Baltimore. With half the league in this state, give priority to acquiring clear-cut first-string backs in your draft.

Don’t bet on the comeback

Praying for a renaissance is more applicable to baseball, as it’s easier for a former star to facilitate rejuvenation thanks to the physical nature, or lack thereof, on the diamond. The same logic doesn’t apply to the gridiron, as once a player begins to deteriorate, it’s a swift and rapid regression. Peyton must have made a Faustian bargain to continue his success at his age after four neck surgeries, and Tom Brady is no spring chicken. These are the exceptions, however, as football does not grant a graceful aging process. Keep this in mind when viewing Steven Jackson, Michael Vick, Reggie Wayne and other geriatrics.

Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @JoelMBeall

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