Tips and tricks for the 2014 NFL fantasy draft

fantasy_football_mock_draftThe 2014 fantasy draft is closer than you might think – close enough that rosters and depth charts are nearing a settled state and mock drafts are well underway. For any of you who don’t make a habit of mock drafting, you should strongly reconsider. You learn a lot about how to draft depending on your pick position and depending on how your opponents are picking.

Because I’m ridiculously lame, I’ve already done dozens of mock drafts. I’ve learned some great tips that have consistently helped me beat the crap out of my online competition. ‘HernandezRocks69’ had a team way worse than mine in my last mock; of course, that may have had something to do with him drafting Hernandez first overall….

Here are the results of three mocks I did on fantasyfootballcalculator.com. Each of these columns represents a 12 team, 15 round snake draft (standard scoring) that I did online against total strangers. On the left, you see a team I drafted at pick #11 that I drafted receiver heavy. In the middle is a team I drafted at pick #2 in which I went running back heavy. On the right is a team I picked at #6 in which I picked every position evenly at the start.

Here are some pointers that I’ve learned throughout all of my mocks:

1. Your position really will determine how you draft.

I’ve spent the last several years of fantasy football being the biggest advocate for going running-back heavy right off the bat. Seriously, if I could snag a solid back with each of my first 78 picks, I would. So when I tell you to consider grabbing a receiver with your first pick – maybe even your first two – I mean it. This has all come down to where I’ve drafted. If I’ve fallen within the first 5-6 picks, I’m very happy with the elite running talent that can be snatched off the board. Anyone from Jamaal Charles to Eddie Lacey is well worth the early pick. However, I feel like the next tier of runners is incredibly deep and talent can span all the way down to the end of the fifth round of picks. When I slide into an end position (picks #8-#12), I’d rather pick one of the top receiver talents than settle for one of the lower top-tier runners. Guys like Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas and A.J. Green have proven themselves to be invaluable for several seasons straight and are definitely worth a first round pick.

2. Tight end talent drops off hard… but so do the other positions.

There are exactly four tight ends that stand miles above the rest of the competition. They are Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, Julius Thomas and Rob Gronkowski (pending an injury). Even the next tight end off the board, Jordan Cameron, is a huge step down from the rest of these guys. I’ve made a habit of targeting one of those top picks in each of my earliest mock drafts so that the position wasn’t wasted. However, every time I snag one of those top guys in the first three rounds of draft, I always end up regretting the big names I’ve had to pass at receiver and running back. You’ll notice that in both my receiver and runner mock drafts, I’ve taken a late tight end with high upside (Eric Ebron) and immediately drafted another tight end to back him up. I’ve found this to be the best strategy unless one of those top names happens to slip into the mid-to-late fourth round. It’s rare, but it happens.

3. Elite receiver talent drops off hard.

There is a select group of receivers spanning maybe 10-15 positions that are miles ahead of their competition. These are names that contain both a high floor and high ceiling in their value. They’re basically guaranteed to finish among the top 20 at their position by the end of the 2014 season. After these top prospects, talent drops hard. Guys like Andre Johnson at #18 and Cordarrelle Patterson at #21 are surrounded by a million question marks and have incredibly low floors (meaning there is a great possibility they’ll have terrible seasons). The receiver pool is incredibly deep, and great talent can be found as late as the 8th round of your draft; however, the increased talent in the top names is too great to pass up. Grabbing a receiver (or even 2) in the first three rounds of your draft adds an insane amount of talent to your roster. Though my receiver-heavy mock draft example is a little overkill, I’ve managed to scoop up 3 top-tier receivers to round out my team. Those are some insane guaranteed points week-to-week. Not only that, I’ve still managed to grab a few runners with high floors.

4. Solid running talent can be snagged late.

I’d like to point out that none of the late runners have a particularly high ceiling – thus why they’re going so late; however, there are several names that can be grabbed in the fifth and sixth rounds of your draft who have incredibly high floors. This means that if you do wait on running backs, you won’t be completely screwed. You aren’t likely to come across a Lesean McCoy who will net you 20 points a week. However, guys like Chris Johnson, Joique Bell, Toby Gerhart, Ben Tate and Andre Ellington are all shoe-ins to have 1,000+ yard seasons paired with a fair amount of touchdowns. Even better is that all of those guys can be grabbed in the fourth round of your draft or later! In fact (hype train incoming), Joique Bell finished last season as the #15 running back overall despite being Detroit’s backup. Bell is being drafted as the #28 RB overall, despite the strong possibility that he’ll overtake Bush this season (drafted as the #15 RB overall). Every team should at least attempt to grab a top-tier back. Guys like Charles and McCoy provide a fantasy value that can’t be overstated. However, you should consider going for receivers instead of reaching at the mid-tier runners who may very-well be duds. Names like Montee Ball, Doug Martin and Giovani Bernard are going in the first three rounds and have high chances of busting. Consider value when you’re drafting your backs.

5. Grabbing a quarterback early screws over your team.

Take a look at my draft labelled ‘qb.’ I do have Peyton Manning who outscored every other person in fantasy by sixty points last season. However, the rest of my team looks pretty dull. Aside from a top tight end, my receiving core is just alright and my running backs are very mediocre. Notice how, in the other two drafts, I still managed to grab top quarterbacks in the seventh round while severely reinforcing other positions. Though Peyton is certainly a force to be reckoned with, and is definitely worth his early pick, I’d rather find value elsewhere. That being said, I was picking sixth in that draft. The middle picks are interesting because it’s hard to validate either the running back or receiver strategies. When you’re caught in the middle, your picks are entirely determined by everyone else in your draft. Grabbing players with the highest value as they fall to you seems to be the only way to go. Practice a lot of mocks and make up a very solid cheat-sheet.

Ultimately, the name of the draft game is value. Sticking to a running back strategy if you’re a top pick, or a receiver strategy if you’re a bottom pick only works if the right players fall your way. Be flexible and be willing to adjust your strategy if you find great value in a player who happens to drop on you. As you can see in my drafts, I clearly have favorites who I consistently pick due to the rounds in which they fall. Players like Kendall Wright and Riley Cooper scream value to me where they’re being taken. Look up average draft positions and try to find your value players to target!

Featured image source: mmqb.si.com

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