Dec 30, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome. The Vikings defeated the Packers 37-34. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

How to Draft Your 2013 Fantasy Football Team

Okay folks…given the increasing amount of posts on fantasy football on this and many other sites, it’s obvious that fantasy football season is underway.

While few leagues draft this early, they ARE out there. My own leagues draft in late August, but the time after the draft in any given season through mini-camps, training camps, and preseason games, you need to really keep an eye on ALL teams and players – not just your favorites.

Each season seems to have a different or changing theme and I’m here to the rescue! I have compiled a list of strategies that should serve you well when you draft in the evermore fast-paced fantasy drafts:

Bell-Cow RBs are at a Premium:

Oct 7, 2012; Jacksonville FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew (32) misses a short pass on third down in the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at EverBank Field. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

In round one of your draft, you should take the best available running back that is NOT in a “running back by committee” situation. Running backs like Adrian Peterson (who should be drafted first overall in EVERY DRAFT) are a vanishing breed, and are even more highly prized than star QBs.

Why?

Easy – it’s a pass-first league and high-scoring QBs literally are a dime a dozen. TRUE RB1’s? There’s not even a dozen of those that exist, and some situations change from year to year. Take New England for instance. I said earlier this week in my “Five Fantasy Football Players to Avoid for 2013,” I don’t think Stevan Ridley will post near the fantasy numbers he did last season because the Patriots’ receiving corps isn’t as strong (losing Wes Welker for the brittle Danny Amendola, and Gronk’s continued injury issues for example) means they’ll need more receiving out of the backfield and that has the name SHANE VEREEN stamped all over it.

Therefore, don’t just take last year’s best and project for them to do the same this season.

Don’t forget the rookies, either. The running back position is generally accepted as the _easiest_ place for a rookie to come in and make an immediate impact, which means you need to take a long look at the Green Bay Packers’ 4th-round pick in 2013, Jonathan Franklin, as well as Eddie Lacy. See who seems to have a leg-up in the preseason and in training camp, and draft accordingly.

It’s easy enough to find a list elsewhere of those top-5 or 6 RBs and some of them are fighting injuries as I write this. Those are the guys as a group who should make or break your FFL season, and you need to take the best available in round one.

Wait, wait, and wait some more for your QB!!

Jan 6, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) during the AFC Wild Card playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens at M

The reason is from what I said above. Would you rather have say an Arian Foster with a Matt Ryan as your top RB/top QB or would you rather go with, say, a BenJarvis Green-Ellis, J-Stew or D-Will, or Knowshawn Moreno along with Brady/Manning/Brees or Rodgers?

See what I mean?

What you might gain in RP from a high-drafted QB you’ll more than lose when everyone else makes that RB cupboard much more bare in the first round and part of the second before you draft your own 2nd-round pick?

Better to take the best-available RB in round one, then another in RD 2 OR a top-flight WR if available like a Calvin Johnson, who will probably be gone in the first round anyway and is one of very very few WRs where a latter first-round pick might be warranted.

If you take a QB with your 1st or 2nd-round pick, you’re in effect going to be behind the curve and playing catch-up on both RBs and WRs for the rest of the draft.

Let OTHER teams draft the big-4 or so QBs early…some guys like Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson or even Matthew Stafford could (and should) be around in rounds 6-9 and depending on how things flow, that’s where you should get your starting QB.

Draft your kicker Last…or not at all!

Let’s face it, kickers are FFL pariahs for a reason…rarely does a kicker who led the NFL in scoring repeat that feat and it’s rather random as to which one WILL in any given season, so drafting a kicker early (as some idiot managers will do with Sebastian Janikowski or Greg Zuerlein) is a wasted pick. You might even be better off drafting a fringe/bench position player with the last-round pick and waiting until the night before Opening Day to pick up a kicker – you should by then have a better idea of which rookie you drafted may not be productive. Accurately predicting which kicker will be top-five in scoring in fantasy leagues is a fool’s errand and should be avoided.

May 20, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) listens to wide receivers coach Larry Kirksey during organized team activities at the Methodist Training Center at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t Forget the “Sleepers”

Every year there are rookie sleepers and veteran ones due to offseason roster moves. As I mentioned above, Shane Vereen is a nice sleeper this season and can probably be “had” in latter rounds. 2nd-year pro from “Da U” – Lamar Miller for the Miami Dolphins – looks to be another good bet as a breakout candidate because the team let Reggie Bush go to Detroit in Free Agency, and someone has to pick up the slack.

Rookie WRs generally have a more difficult time making a big splash as kids like A.J. Green are rare. Even Julio Jones didn’t hit his stride until his second season, and a lot of people are looking at Clemson product DeAndre Hopkins as the most likely rookie WR to succeed since he’s going to a veteran, balanced offense on a playoff team with a monster on the other side named Andre Johnson. The risk in his particular case is he may lack the targets for that very reason – Johnson’s presence and two starting-caliber RBs on the team in Arian Foster and Ben Tate, so the risks are always there.

I’d not look much for these sleeper-types until the 5th round, when you’ve already gotten 2 RBs and 2 WRs or a top-flight TE.

Look at team schedules vs. their fantasy performances last season!

This is perhaps the most-overlooked thing in all of fantasy football and also helps, for instance, Lamar Miller’s value as a sleeper candidate. From what I’m hearing, the Miami Dolphins face in aggregate the schedule that, last season, would have given up the MOST fantasy points to opposing running backs of all 32 NFL teams. While certainly, a few of those teams will make great strides in rush defense from last season’s to this one, the overall idea is a good one.

Would you rather draft a player who faces a bunch of tough run defenses or a bunch of softer ones? That’s a no-brainer; yet, most managers don’t even look at things like that. If you do, you’ll have a huge edge and be able to spot those managers who didn’t check it out a mile away with their picks.

Jan 20, 2013; Foxboro, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen (34) carries the ball during the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on League Scoring Rules, do NOT draft a defensive team early!

This one does largely depend on how many points your particular league gets for sacks, interceptions, and such. In fact, it’s probably better to have two middle-of-the-pack defenses as opposed to one great one and one also-ran due to scheduling. What if your “great defense” faces Peyton Manning a particular week when the only other option you have is the Jags or the Raiders? Manning doesn’t take many sacks and will “get his” pretty much no matter who he plays. I’d rather have a couple of “average” defenses playing in weaker divisions where I can simply determine which one has the best match-up on a particular week, freeing up that 5th-7th round pick for a WR3/sleeper/FLEX starter rather than putting all my eggs in one defensive basket…especially if the scoring system doesn’t give defenses that much upside.

Adapt your draft style in case of a PPR league!

I’ve been playing FFLs since way before they became so popular, and have noticed certain things over the years. In PPR leagues, there always seems to be a small number of managers who just don’t get it. Let’s use another example from above – in PPR leagues, Shane Vereen should actually be drafted AHEAD of his teammate, Stevan Ridley, who had about as many receptions last year as he has seasons in the NFL, but some fool will draft Ridley in PPR leagues in the 3rd or 4th round.

Ouch for them, good for you though – you’ll be looking at Vereen in the first place and guys like LeSean McCoy or Steven Jackson will have a lot more value than in “normal” leagues. Keep in mind Wes Welker likely won’t see 100 catches in Manning’s offense, and a guy like Brandon Marshall should definitely be in the top-5 WR group. Marshall might be top-5 in any type of league, but more especially with PPRs. There are other examples like this and that’s where your own research should focus if you’re in that type of league…along with offensive styles and RBs with soft hands like Matt Forte should be drafted a bit higher than in a “regular” league.

Use a late-round flier on a high risk/reward player OR a suspended guy with upside!

Dec 16, 2012; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon (14) celebrates a touchdown catch over Miami Dolphins defensive back R.J. Stanford (not pictured) but it was called back on a penalty in the second quarter at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s where you keep an eye on guys like Justin Blackmon of the Jaguars. Yes, he will see zero FP over the first 4 games, but don’t forget – it’s quite possible you’ll lose a starting WR by the time Blackmon returns, and the fantasy season is a long slog that isn’t won in September. Blackmon has several things going in his favor despite his suspension: He has Cecil Shorts who broke out last season and will force defenses to account for him, making sure Blackmon probably won’t be getting “extra” attention…unless he produces like mad, but then that would be a good thing for you in the first place.

Secondly, he’s going into his 2nd year when most talented WRs start to turn that innate talent into fantasy points. Some don’t see that until their 3rd season, but Blackmon began to come on strong towards the tail end of last season so the upside is certainly there. It’s questionable (yet STILL POSSIBLE) that he could develop into the team’s #1 WR over Cecil Shorts, but again…if you’ve got only a 9th or 10th-round pick invested in him, he could be that Ace that helps your team get stronger down the stretch.

A lot of managers don’t even look at all into drafting suspended players and that, in turn, causes guys like Blackmon to slide. Your FFL team is going to be 100% healthy in week 1 – unless you’re completely clueless OR you have a star player with a minor issue that should quickly heal, fine – and you won’t even NEED Blackmon until bye weeks start, at which point he’ll be available for you.

Those type of players I have noticed are oft-overlooked during the draft process as some just won’t draft them at ANY round while others may hope he goes totally undrafted and could be had on the waiver wire later. Taking such a guy near the end of the draft could pay huge dividends in the second half of the season. Don’t be short-sighted…no pun intended.

Dec. 23, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) is pressured by Buffalo Bills middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard (55) during the first half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Draft a young QB2 with upside

Other than your bye week, chances are pretty good you won’t be using your QB2 that much unless you’re in a league that starts multiple quarterbacks. Most do not.

Here’s where you can possibly change the matchups to your favor over the course of the season in a few games and have an outside chance of finding an exploding gem of a pick.

Prime example? Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill. While he has yet to do much on the field to warrant being chosen as your starting FFL QB, he’d be a GREAT bench QB with all the additions the team has made in free agency. It looks like he’d be okay for your team if your QB1 gets injured for a length of time as well. In that case, he may not be a top-ten FP QB, but I think he’d be a guy who probably won’t be the reason your team LOSES a given game, either. A few others fall into this “possible upside” category, like say…Christian Ponder or Andy Dalton – both guys who may or may not “wow” as your starting QB compared with many, but won’t end your season if pressed into the starting role.

Don’t count on trading with another team to get what you need!

Oh boy, if I had a dollar for all the stupid one-sided “trade offers” I’ve gotten over the years, I’d be retired. Managers in FFL tend to greatly over-value their own players and won’t make an equitable trade unless they are completely forced to by circumstances. The league trade deadline is usually somewhat early also, in general, so the best time and best situation to make a trade at all is when you have an “extra” player who gets off to an unforeseen very, very fast start….that’s when you should sell high, if possible or necessary, to shore up another area but this is an area you simply cannot count on. Don’t. It makes the draft process even THAT much more important.

As always, keep a good eye on your bye weeks!

Few things are as frustrating as giving away 2 losses simply because you’ve got so many guys with bye weeks at the same time. Try and work it so no more than 2 starters get lost on any given bye week and make sure you’ve got someone who at least produces SOMETHING each week on the bench. That can often make the difference in a win and a loss in the middle of the season.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

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Tags: 2013 Fantasy Football Draft How To Draft Fantasy Football Teams

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