2013 Fantasy Football Dos and Don'ts

BY foxsports • July 24, 2013

Due to my curiosity/nerdiness, I tend to plow through books like JaMarcus Russell at a Golden Corral buffet. Recently perusing an account of Royal Air Force ace/bad man Douglas Badar, this quote from the British war hero stuck out:

“Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.”

Ain’t that the truth. From the Founding Fathers to Paul Walker’s character in Fast and Furious, breaking the letter of the law in the spirit of such directives has proven an effective course. Hence, when consuming the following parameters for success in your fantasy football draft, view these not as commandments, but counsel.

For example, frequent readers are acquainted with our department’s stance on restraint in securing a quarterback. Conversely, this decree is not condemnation on taking Aaron Rodgers with a team’s first selection, or exploring Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Peyton Manning as early choices. Moreover, the flow and nature of your particular draft could differ from the norm, and in turn, lessen the impact of some of these tenets.

Keeping these notations in mind, here are the dos and don’ts for the 2013 NFL fantasy football season:

Know your league rules

You would be amazed how many owners are unsure of their league’s waiver-wire policy, position maximums, even straightforward concepts like roster construction and scoring. Before your draft begins, take five to review your league’s bylaws.

Take two running backs with your first three picks

Concededly, there’s a degree of risk associated with this theory, as halfbacks are extremely conducive to injury. A look at this year’s projected No. 1 overall player, Adrian Peterson, is a walking testimony to this discretion. (In a related note, watching a game with a Peterson owner will be unbearable this fall, as every hit All-Day takes will send his proprietors into alarm, hoping the dude’s leg doesn’t come unattached. Wait, did I say “unbearable”? I meant “sinisterly delightful.”)

Nevertheless, as illustrated in our latest Mock Draft, viable rushers are at a premium, and neglecting to fortify the position through the draft will put a manager at an immediate disadvantage.

Most traditional formats are comprised of 12 teams, with each roster featuring two RB slots and a flex setting. Taking this playing environment into account, the following statistics shed light on the vocation’s scarcity:

- Sixteen players reached the 1,000-yard benchmark in 2012.

- Eight runners crossed the goal line 10 or more times.

- Seven backs were allotted over 280 carries.

For context, in 2006, 23 players hit 1,000 yards and 12 rushers racked up 280-plus attempts. As noted in last year’s draft guide, the infusion of backfield committees and the NFL’s offensive evolution into an aerial-based league has made the heavy-duty running back an endangered species. Managers can obtain mid-round value picks like Lamar Miller and Chris Ivory, and it’s easy to see the parallels between Pittsburgh neophyte Le’Veon Bell and last season’s rookie sensation Doug Martin. Unfortunately, the bargains end there. Fill your running back depth chart early and often.

Don’t feel compelled to select a quarterback early

Put this in your pipe and smoke it: seven of the top 12 fantasy arms from last season were drafted in the fifth round or later. Granted, the premier contributors (Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Tom Brady) were all highly-touted assets and lived up to their billing. However, Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, Russell Wilson and Andy Dalton all flew under the radar in relative calibrations. (Yes, Dalton finished 2012 with the 12th-most points among quarterbacks. I’m sure that’s shocking to those familiar with the Red Rifle’s wayward cannon, but Dalton’s 27 passing touchdowns were third-best in the AFC and he added four trips to the end zone from the ground.) Even Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, both of whom received their share of rotisserie flaunting thanks to the first-year offerings of Newton in 2011, weren’t chosen until the mid-rounds last August – which was miles ahead of Newton, who went undrafted in a majority of leagues in his freshman season in Carolina.

Draft position isn’t the only affirmation for this tactic. The variance in production between the elite and adequate field general is comparatively small to other positions. For example, the average output (in standard leagues) for the top six scorers at quarterback was 24.8 points per contest. The next six, who would still be starters in 12-team formats, were slightly behind at a score of 20.9, with the subsequent six - the best backups - coming in at 18.7. Given that reserve quarterbacks are often interchanged into a starting fantasy role depending on matchups, byes, weather and other intricacies, the drop-off is manageable.

To give framework to this quarterback parity, the same cannot be said for running backs. The top 12 rushers averaged 14.5 points per game; the second 12 players, still with starter status in standard divisions, fall to 10.7 points. Our third group of 12, many which hold staring spots in the flex, submit a mark of 7.3, with the fourth squadron posting 5.4 points.

A bountiful day from a quarterback can prove the difference in a weekly matchup, and in no way is this stating that Brees and Eli Manning are on the same stratums. Yet, considering the gravitas that comes with the position, in truth, the importance of those under center is exaggerated in fantasy football.

Speaking of venerability and quarterbacks…

Keep the faith in Tom Brady

The two-time MVP turns 37 in August, his favorite target departed to his arch-nemesis, his once dexterous tight-end duo is kaput and his current receiver corps consists of the ever-injured Danny Amendola, two rookies and a cat so slow his nickname is “Molasses Mike.” So yeah, understandable why people are down on Brady’s outlook.

But why Brady is falling out of some experts’ top-10 lists is stupefying. Call me crazy, but I have a conviction that Brady and Bill Belichick will make do with their depleted cast. Hell, it’s still an improvement over David Givens and Daniel Graham, right?

Be mindful of bye weeks

Formerly I dismissed reading into bye weeks, deeming this worry as trivial. Then again, I also used to think Summer Sanders was cute and that I’d be on the PGA Tour by now, so clearly I haven’t always shown clear foresight.

Avoid stacking up multiple players with the same bye week, especially at one position. Such a predicament can manifest itself in a thrown game, and with many leagues shortening the regular season to hold two-week matchups in the playoffs, every week is critical.

Sleepers are sleepers for a reason

I love oxymorons. French Resistance. Dodge Ram. A Ryan Reynolds comedy. Fantasy sleepers belong in this arena, as listing a player that may experience unexpected success is inherently contradictory.

The biggest misnomer in dealing with this subject is that many people confuse sleepers as sure-things. For clarification, a player is conferred sleeper status due to the belief that he might produce at a high level, one that’s exponentially more bountiful than his draft position dictates. Owners drop the ball with sleepers in two respects:

- Stockpiling sleepers after their starting lineup is satisfied.

- Snagging someone earlier than their projected draft position.

Both are formulas for disaster. For the former, your bench will be a key factor in the outcome of your season, as injuries will surface at some juncture. Though some players may not offer the attractiveness of others, they can still serve as vital stopgaps when their number is called. As for the latter point, a sleeper’s value diminishes if picked too soon. Using the aforementioned Steelers back Bell as an example, I think the Michigan State product offers tremendous bang for your buck if he’s taken in the fifth round or later, and wouldn’t be surprised if he finishes as a top-15 rusher. HOWEVER, just because Bell has the potential to finish in a preeminent class doesn’t mean he should be drafted in that mindset, as rookies, especially in the backfield, are fickle in disposition.

If you want to take a flyer on a dark horse or two, have at it, but wait until the end of your draft in this venture. By taking this course, your losses are manageable if the sleeper doesn’t come to attainment.

Beware of the hyped rookie

At first glance, this is hard to abide as a result of recent first-year fulfillments from Newton, Griffin III, Wilson, Alfred Morris and the like. An obligatory supplement to this statement is that, aside from RG3, none of the above players were expected to do much of substance in their rookie campaign. Newton and Wilson went unselected in many of their respected drafts, while Morris wasn’t named first-string back until Week 1. (Even then, many were skeptical of his fantasy longevity by reason of Mike Shanahan’s love of committee backfields.) Additionally, for every culmination of a greenhorn, there are a dozen Mark Ingrams and Michael Floyds who donated little to their fantasy squads and serve as a cautionary tale.

Don’t enforce an unfair onus on 2013 draftees like Tavon Austin, Eddie Lacy, DeAndre Hopkins, E.J. Manuel and Montee Ball. As mid-round picks, their gambles are easier to justify, but in a user’s primary selections, it’s a major assumption of risk.

Roster balance over position surplus

This is one of the more contentious dialogues in the fantasy environment: 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 caveats 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, as most teams could always use another formidable rusher.)

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

Caution on committees

Amazingly, the architect of this monstrosity, Shanahan, is anticipated to ride most of his runs on a single rusher (Morris) for the first time in years. Or at least that’s what he WANTS you to think, right before Morris receives five touches in Week 1. (By the way, this isn’t a forced joke. It’s truly my belief that Mike Shanahan is the fantasy devil.)

By our count, 12 teams are entering camp with some semblance of a divided workload, and that’s not counting Oakland or San Diego, who will likely face this quandary when the inevitable ailments to Darren McFadden and Ryan Mathews occur. This perspective gives more fuel to the fire of acquiring clear-cut first-string backs promptly 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 (think Carlos Beltran in St. Louis) 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. Tony Gonzalez has fought an admirable battle with Father Time, and Peyton Manning must have made a Faustian bargain to continue his success at his age after four neck surgeries. These are the exceptions, however, as football does not grant a graceful aging process. Keep this in mind when viewing Brandon Lloyd, Carson Palmer, and others geriatrics.

Have Fun

Remember our advice about using these points not as protocol but as assistance? Good, because if you are feeling a course of action that doesn’t jive with our blueprint, no worries. As the adage says, “If you obey all of the rules, you miss all of the fun.” And this is FANTASY FOOTBALL, dammit, so enjoy yourself.

Sign up today for your free fantasy football season at FOXSports.com, and test your draft preparation by entering our mock draft lobby. Our fantasy experts will provide you with all the 2013 fantasy football news you’ll need to push for your league’s championship.