This is the first in a series of pre-season articles that will debate different topics related to preparation for the upcoming season. Topics will include draft strategy, roster management, and trade strategy. We look forward to providing guest columns to theCFFsite for the upcoming 2015 season.
Our standard league structure is laid out below so that you can understand the basis for our answers. If your league structure is different, then your strategy will probably be somewhat different as well.
In this article, we debate 5 questions that most fantasy owners ask themselves when preparing for their draft. We subscribe to the adage, “You can’t win the league on draft day, but you can certainly lose it.” Undoubtedly, the folks who have the best drafts are in a better position to win early and parlay those early wins into trade leverage and continued success. So then what can you do when planning for draft day to put yourself in the best position to win your league? We discuss that below.
Question 3) When should I start considering Sleepers? How do I identify them?
I think you should have your sleepers picked out before your draft even starts. There are always one or two players that I think “Man, no way anyone else has scouted this guy.” If those guys are still available come round 7, I’m going to take a flyer on them. If they pay off you look like a genius; if not then you have opened up a roster spot for a FA move. Most people have already locked in on the known variables if they have played more than a year or two - for instance, the “take Wisconsin's backup RB” method. These are not sleepers. This is just a common strategy, so dig a little deeper. Teams returning a stud WR who will get the best CB on every team usually have big performances from their WR2 (Duke Williams opposite Sammie Coates; Corey Coleman opposite Antwan Goodley). Who will be on the other side for Oklahoma this year, or who could benefit from a late offseason arrest of a teammate? Little nuisances like this could pay off big in weeks 5 or 6.
This partly depends on your definition of sleeper, but I tend to view sleepers as RB’s, WR’s, and QB’s who are either unknown quantities (freshmen or newly christened starters) OR potential beneficiaries of a coaching change (e.g. Todd Graham to Arizona State, Bielema to Arkansas, etc.). I believe the best results are usually achieved whenever your first-line starters are known quantities - even if they aren’t studs. Last year, for instance, I would have taken a guy like TJ Yeldon over Karlos Williams. The potential for Williams was higher, but I knew what I was getting with Yeldon. As soon as I have filled my starting RB’s and WR’s, I start looking at sleepers (boom or bust players). This usually begins in round 6 or 7.
A couple of tricks for identifying sleepers:
Replacements of guys who were studs last year in high-powered offenses (Auburn RB’s, Wisconsin RB’s, Baylor QB’s and WR’s, Arizona State skill players, Oregon skill players, Michigan State RB’s, Texas Tech WR’s, etc.)
Potential Studs on Lesser Teams. These take some research, but guys like Jordan Matthews at Vandy, Nelson Spruce/Paul Richardson at Colorado, Andre Williams at BC, Leonte Caroo at Rutgers, etc. These guys are going to be playing from behind and relying heavily on their playmakers, especially early in the year when they haven’t gotten the opposing teams’ attention. They can make excellent trade bait in weeks 3, 4, and 5 because you’ll be able to sell high before defenses start keying on them and their stats come back down to Earth.
Question 4) How early should I be taking Defenses, Tight Ends, and Kickers?
As late as possible. With the way offenses are innovating, a dominant D has been harder and harder to come by. Outside of a few players, these secondary positions are just not as important as a deep stable of WR and RB talent. Most players are not going to draft multiple Defenses, Tight Ends, or Kickers, so in a 12 person league if you draft these in your last 3 rounds you still have a top 12 option in each. An added bonus in waiting until the last round to pick up these players is that you know you have very little invested in that player. So if a great Defense or TE emerges in weeks 2 or 3, you won’t hesitate to grab them off the waiver wire while the guy who took Stanford’s D in round 5 because it is always elite sits around trying to decide if it is worth dropping them.
I usually use the last three rounds to fill these spots. On occasion there will be a TE that warrants a mid-round selection, but buyer beware, TE’s tend to be the least predictable producer in a lineup. A guy like Tyler Kroft absolutely takes off in 2013 and then disappears in 2014. The difference in production between the top 5 or 6 TE’s and the next tier of TE’s tends to be only 1 or 2 points a week. Use those valuable middle round selections to grab RBs and WRs who have boom or bust potential. If one of those picks works out, you gain a lot more than 1 or 2 points a week that you would’ve gained grabbing that #1 or #2 TE. Things are rarely black and white in fantasy football but if there is one rule I’d follow religiously, it would be to never draft a kicker or defense before the last two rounds. It’s a complete lottery, and those mid-round picks have more value in choosing sleepers and backup QBs.
Question 5) How does the strategy change in keeper leagues?
I would say it changes a lot, but it should not alter your draft strategy as a whole. Those mid rounds where, let's face it, you are basically guessing on boom or bust players or whether Baylor has a great 15th option at WR this year is where you can spend a pick on a chance for the future. Teams like Alabama, Wisconsin, and yes Baylor usually have an heir apparent at RB or WR that you can afford to take a chance on in these middle rounds. Worst case scenario, if you need that spot and the guy is not producing you drop him then pick him back up in later weeks if he is still your guy for the future. It is always a gamble. My plan was to use Braxton Miller as my keeper this year, so I grabbed him in the 12th round last year, but who knew there was a quarterback whisperer up there in Ohio?!
For me it doesn’t change at all. My goal is to win the current season. I might consider a potential keeper as more valuable in a trade, but for draft purposes my strategy is exactly the same in keeper and non-keeper leagues. There are enough things to think about when making picks without considering whether a redshirt sophomore will have a good enough year to turn pro and thus not be kept. I want my draft to be built around generating points in the current year. If I stumble upon a great keeper, then great, but it rarely crosses my mind on draft day.
Purchase theCFFsite's 2015 Preseason Draft Guide below.