2009 APC Fantasy Football Primer

It's that time of year again.  The summer heat makes your AC-less apartment an unbearable sauna, and you can't stand in front of the freezer anymore because you left it open for so long you overheated the motor.  Now you either have to pitch everything or eat everything; both options create a lot of waste.  But while you stand dangerously close to your ceiling fan because you're afraid the sweat is going to literally make your boxers disintegrate, you're comforted by the fact that fantasy football season is here again.

Based on the fact that 90% of you are regular commenters here (or elsewhere), I know two things.  One, you guys know your football.  And two, you guys likely play fantasy football.  C'mon, if you're checking blogs, you're a player.  Just embrace it.

I myself have been a player since my sophomore year of high school.  Our first draft was during Honors Geometry class.  There were only four of us, and we just kept passing a sheet of paper with names sorted by position, crossing them out one-by-one as we made our selections.  Our commissioner collected the stats of our teams every week and delivered the results by Wednesday.

The next year, we expanded the league from four to ten teams, and we actually held a live draft in my friend's basement.  Internet access was scant for me at the time, and I was not yet aware of fantasy football magazines, so I used the only resource I had available: Madden 2005 for Playstation 2.

I had a comprehensive list that went deep into the heart of all 32 rosters.  Unfortunately, I didn't use real stats, but Madden stats, which led to this exchange:

Evan (the commissioner): Ok, pick 7, that's Mitch.  Who do you want?

Me (with a huge grin): Michael Vick.

(silence)

Nine other people, in unison: WHAT?!

Yes.  I once took Michael Vick with a first round pick.  Each year since, every time my pick is up, at least two people shout out "Michael Vick!" on my behalf.  Very funny, guys.  (By the way, I took third place in the league that year, with Michael Vick as my first rounder.  So there.)

Last year, I really came into my own.  I won a one-time league from my summer job, thanks to Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald, and Michael Turner.  I took third in my high school league, largely because of an 8-1 start fueled by trading down in the first and third rounds and ending up with five picks in the first three rounds (I am the Ted Thompson of fantasy drafts.)  More relevant, I took third in the first annual Acme Packing Company fantasy football league.

Brandon advertised it last month here, and again last week here.  This league is not yet filled, so I implore you to join it.  Just know that I fully intend to decimate all opponents this year in redemption of my disappointing finish last season.  Consider yourselves warned.

But, hey, what's the fun in grinding your opponents into dirt without giving them a fighting chance.  I love a challenge, and nothing would be more challenging than imparting some of my proven wisdom to my potential competitors/future victims.  With that, here's a short list of tips for you for your fantasy drafts.

  1. Tier and rank the three main positions (QB, RB, WR).  Unless you have the first overall pick, you have some major decisions to make in your draft.  Do you focus on one position, or do you simply grab the best player available?  But what if there's two elite players at the same position?  Different positions?  What about in rounds 3 and 4 when you need to draft another WR, but there's a stud QB staring you in the face?  Decisions, decisions.

    Here's the solution for your woes.  First, seperate your list of players into groups, or tiers.  The first tier should be "elite", the second should be "very good with upside", the third should be "very consistent", and so on.  Then, after you've made your groups, rank them by preference.

    For example, there are four running backs that figure to make up the "elite" tier: Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Matt Forte.  The next running backs are players like Brian Westbrook and DeAngelo WIlliams, who simply don't stack up to the criterion of the "elite".  Each of the four top backs will likely be gone by the first round, but there isn't a consensus to what order they'll go in.  If you think AP and The Burner will continue their success from last year, rank them higher.  Or, if you think that the "Curse of 370" will hinder them, or if you put a higher value on an RB's participation in the passing game, rank MJD and Forte higher. 

    You can do this for each tier at each position.  The benefits for this are twofold.  First, it helps establish value across positions and puts an ordered preference on your draft chart.  Second, it helps you make those tough decisions between rounds 2 and 6.  For example, say you group Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson in the same tier.  Picking between them is a matter of preference. 

    However, say Calvin Johnson is the last available player in his tier, and all the other top-tier players at RB and QB are gone as well.  Should you get a player at a lower tier, or should you stick with your system and pick Megatron?  Obviously, getting an elite player is crucial to fantasy success, and you should take Johnson.  He will help your team more than a Ronnie Brown or Matt Schaub.
  2. Know what you're getting yourself into.  DeAngelo Williams was a stud last season, especially in the second half.  He's young and healthy, so he should figure to continue his dominance, right?

    There's nothing wrong with this line of thinking, but it fails to consider the player's situation.  Williams is playing for a team with a shaky quarterback, an erratic defense, a hit-or-miss offensive line, and most importantly, Jonathan Stewart filching carries.  Plus, it's not like Williams has a proven track record.  These factors add up and make DeAngelo Williams a risky pick in the early rounds.

    More importantly, you want to be sure about how the player relates to the rest of his team.  Namely, you want to avoid overpaying for two kinds of players: a good player in a bad situation, and a bad player in a good situation.

    A good player in a bad situation can sometimes overcome his surroundings, a la Calvin Johnson.  Likewise, a bad player in a good situation can take advantage of his environment, a la Matt Cassel.  But more often than not, putting too much faith in a 4-12 team's top wideout is a bad move.  Fantasy football is all about reducing risk.  Always be mindful of the situation surrounding both the player and team.
  3. Don't be the first one to draft a player that needs an explanation.  Last year, I decided to spend a second round pick on Ryan Grant.  My rationale was that I needed a running back, and if he could push through his injury and if his holdout didn't set him back, and if the offensive line could hold it together, he would be a good pickup.  Obviously, none of these if's came true, and I traded Grant as soon as I could. 

    Basically, don't be the first guy to have to justify a pick.  It can happen anywhere between rounds 2 and 7, usually earlier rather than later.  You don't want to spend a pick that high on a risky commodity, because they rarely pan out.  Plus, you'll get ostricized by the other drafters, which will deal a big blow to your self confidence while providing a boost to theirs. 

    So if you want to draft Michael Crabtree in round 6, you better hope that someone already chose Darius Heyward-Bey.
  4. Avoid "home run" players like the plague.  I cannot tell you how many people had their fantasy seasons derailed because they used a high pick on Felix Jones, Leon Washington, or Jerious Norwood.  It is impossible to predict when they're going to break off a 70-yard score, no matter what matchup they have.  Either you'll start them when they submit a 13 carry, 40 yard performance, or you'll sit them when they put up a 4 carry, 120 yard game.  Save yourself the trouble and save these guys for the later rounds.

    Obviously, one exception to this rule is Chris Johnson.  He's widely projected as a late 1st/early 2nd rounder, and he'll likely put up the numbers to back that up.  I personally wouldn't take him until after pick 12 or so, but he's simply better than your average home-run hitters.
  5. Draft for depth, trade for starters.  So it's round 5, and you're sitting on a nice core of a team.  You've got a top RB, a top QB, and two good receivers.  You're up again, and you have a few choices.  You could a) take another quality running back, b) take a third quality receiver, or c) grab one of the really good QBs still on the board.

    While it might seem counterintuitive, option C gives you the most flexibility.  Look at it like this: if one of your drafted players gets hurt, you would have to give up another major asset to replace him, which creates a hole elsewhere on your roster, which will scuttle your playoff chances. 

    If Aaron Rodgers slips to you, who cares if you already have Drew Brees?  Grab him!  You'll both infuriate your league mates now and cause them endless consternation later.  Face it, if you have two top-10 QBs, the odds are that there's an owner or two that has none.  And when they get desperate, who are they going to try to score a deal with?  You, that's who.  And you're going to make them pay through the nose.
  6. Make trade offers early and often.  No matter how you draft, you should never ever be complacent.  Make at least 5 credible trade offers a week, even if they're a little lopsided.  It shows that you want to be active and, as long as you're reasonable, you're willing to negotiate. 

    More importantly, if you follow rule number five, it'll set you up for a playoff run.  The longer a season goes, the less valuable depth becomes.  Sure, you can have four starting-quality running backs, but if you only get to start two, what's the point?  After week 8, you should begin thinking about your playoff rotation and, depending on a multitude of factors, you ought to dump whatever players don't fit in.  Use them to shore up weaknesses elsewhere on your roster.

 So there's a path to fantasy greatness in a nutshell.  Like what I've given you?  Or do you think there's a rule that should replace one of my Golden Six?  As they say in Canada, "Hit up the comments, der, eh?"

(Note: I have no idea what they say in Canada.  Nobody does.)

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