Winning an NFL fantasy championship is awesome. That’s the whole reason we play fantasy sports, after all, and it’d be silly to try and play it for any other reason — if you like messing around with spreadsheets, you can just fire up Excel and tinker to your heart’s content. No, when you sign up for a fantasy sports league, it’s because you want to win that league, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the draft (the live draft, autodrafting is the eighth deadly sin) is the most important part.
Entire seasons can be won and lost over an hour of picking and trashtalking, online or in the flesh. You might luck into a sleeper or wind up with a steal on the waiver wire, but it’s a much better bet to go into your draft looking, and picking, to win.
Like Samuel Beckett, Irish playwright and would-have-been fantasy football enthusiast once said, “Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” No one wins their fantasy league their first year (and if you do, you’re lucky and/a jerk/really, really good at fantasy football. Maybe all three.), and no one finishes out their first draft completely happy. Whether it’s snake or auction, there will always be regrets. That’s how these thing’s go.
So, first and foremost, we’ll advise you to get familiar with your league(s) rules: what positions are being used, how the waivers work, whether you’re in a Points Per Reception (PPR) league or not. That’s not something you should avoid. That’s something you should go after as if your very life depends on it. Which it might, depending on the stakes.
We’ve won a couple fantasy leagues in our day. We’ve lost many more than that. Here’s some things we’ve seen that we definitely won’t be doing when we sit down to draft our teams this year.
1. Doing Too Much Prep
First thing’s first, this does not mean that you can get away with no research. It’s important to know your Torrey Smiths from your Steve Smiths and the names of the players who are out because of preseason injuries. You’ll also want to be aware of things like Deflategate or drug suspensions, because you certainly can’t rely on the rest of your fantasy league to tell you, even if they’re your friends. Especially if they’re your friends.
But it’s easy to go overboard with prep work. We all know that guy — the guy who spent the last month and a half doing four or five mock drafts per day, in every format, and knows exactly how much better the second wideout on the Bills’ practice squad is projected to be than that same player on the Bucs. This is the kind of guy who is picking sleepers and fringe picks in the fourth round of a casual eight team league, outsmarting himself all the way into last place because he’s neglecting to draft any players of actual value when they’re available.
You don’t want this to be you. Let your accountant friend be that guy. Indulge him, even. Cast doubts on the veracity of his sleeper list (which there’s no way he’ll let you see) so he doubles down on his own superior research and picks Andy Dalton over Tony Romo or something, but don’t fall into the trap yourself.
2. Getting Too Intoxicated
Apologies to anyone who abstains, but we firmly believe that an essential part of the fun of fantasy drafting, especially in person, is the opportunity to kick back with your friends and put a couple of adult beverages away in the process.
The link between beer and football is deep (just count the number of alcohol advertisements during the next game you watch, if you don’t believe us), and enjoyed responsibly there’s nothing better than taking a deep swig after nabbing someone’s pick from right under their nose. As anyone who’s had too much can attest, though, it’s easy to go over the line if you’re not paying attention. This is disastrous for a number of reasons, but we’d like to highlight the adverse effect it can have on your fantasy squad.
Imagine, if you will: It’s 2013, and you need a quarterback. You also need to find a ride home, since you’ve been roped into shotgunning beers and doing whiskey shots with Chip, whom you haven’t seen in person since graduation and, unlike you, hasn’t stopped shotgunning beers and doing whiskey shots. You squint at the draft board.
Peyton Manning? Nah, he just had neck surgery, he’s probably done. What about EJ Manuel? Isn’t he supposed to be the next Michael Vick? Your sober self would say: “no, don’t be dumb,” but he’s on vacation. So you draft EJ Manuel and watch Peyton Manning have the best statistical season for a quarterback ever.
Even if you’ve got the constitution of an ox, don’t get so twisted you choose EJ Manuel over Peyton Manning. And tell Chip to relax with the shots, man.
3. Being Hung Up On Players
If you cruise up to the draft in a car that has a TMBRDY12 vanity plate or if you pop into the chat window of the draft with a username like Cam1stallday, you’re probably going to lose your fantasy league. Why? Because it’s more than likely that you’re taking your own fandom into the real of digital sports, and that is no way to be a winner when the points are counted and the stat corrections come in.
Here’s a little anecdote. Every year some of our sportswriters play with people who wind up drafting their own teams’ players way, way, way too early. That’s one thing to do if you’re a Seahawks fan, but we know Jets fans who pick up Geno Smith because “he’s my quarterback.”
This sort of thing is a dilemma, because the reason we watch real sports is to cheer for our teams. That’s why we have loyalty, that’s what separates the real fans from the bandwagon fans. In some ways, it’s an admirable decision, because you’re sticking by your team. In other ways, you’re starting Geno Smith, and that’s no way to live a fantasy life.
4. Getting Locked into a Pattern
In some ways this is a byproduct of point number one — doing to much prep work — but it’s a finer point that needs some distinction, even if it’s a direct symptom of too many mock drafts and too much predraft analysis.
What most people fail to take into account is that the randoms that you draft with are not the people who are going to be in your league for real, and while the Internet consensus may be that Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles may be picks one and two, respectively, that’s all going out the window as soon as John, aka PackersFanatic1234, grabs Aaron Rodgers with the second overall pick and everyone races to snap up the other top tier QBs.
More than anything else, flexibility is key here. You’ve got to be able to roll with the punches (even Chip’s Fireball shots) and figure out ways to game the draft environment that’s being created in front of you. You’ve got to Zag when everyone else starts to Zig, but you don’t want to do it in such a way that arouses suspicion. Lets say you’re picking after John, and he grabs Rodgers. Don’t be afraid to grab Charles, even if that means you’re missing out on Andrew Luck. It might mean you wind up with Marshawn Lynch, too.
That said, you don’t want to be a contrarian all the time. If you need a tight end and there’s a solid uptick of people picking Tight Ends, go ahead and grab one. Just don’t do it at the expense of something more valuable.
5. Taking it Too Seriously
Don’t get it twisted, everyone wants to win their fantasy football league, and we want you to win yours. There’s a reason we’re not just telling you to autodraft and hope for the best (also if you win your league after you autodraft your team your victory has the biggest asterisk next to it ever).
At the same time, there’s a difference between being competitive and being a jerk, and at the end of the day, you’re probably playing in a league with a modest prize pool — if it has one at all. It’s not worth losing sleep over the time that you threw caution to the wind and started Johnny Manziel last year, and it’s not worth being a stone faced killer when your friends are trying to relax and unwind.
That goes out the window if there’s big money on the line, but then it’s likely that everyone is going to be in the zone already, and you won’t be offending anyone when you hurl your popcorn across the room or start shouting at the guy who nabbed your sleeper three spots before you were slated to pick.
Take these five tenets to heart as you enter into your NFL fantasy draft, and you’ll have a decided leg up on the competition.