The NFL season is rapidly approaching, which really means the 2014-15 NFL fantasy football season is rapidly approaching. And if you are a little worried about how you will fare in fantasy after having wasted your offseason surfing the web for cat pictures and sharing Upworthy links on Facebook, then...
This article WILL change YOUR life.
No, not really, but it will help you get back up-to-speed on who to pick, or not pick, in your fantasy draft.
But first, I have to warn you, I do things a little differently around here when it comes to drafting. I go by trends; not tradition. And you won't find many of these suggestions applauded by the so-called "gurus".
But, I assume if you're reading this, you have probably been following the so-called "gurus" and their advice for years, and, yet, here you are now...looking for advice.
So, if you're here for a fresh new take on drafting for your fantasy football season, let me show you a different path, round-by-round, for the first three rounds:
Note: Picks are based on an 8-10 player league size, and standard scoring formats per ESPN, NFL Fantasy, and Yahoo (non-PPR).
In terms of the preseason fantasy rankings by "experts", running backs will always get the top billing.
But I am writing this today to tell you that it doesn't have to be this way. There is no law in fantasy football that precludes you from selecting a position other than running back in the first round.
And here is why you should think "outside the back":
Assuming we are playing in a standard scoring league, wherein a running back receives six points per touchdown run or reception, and a quarterback only receives four points per passing touchdown (six per run), then a running back appears to be the better play.
However, consider this: Jamal Charles, the NFL's leading fantasy RB last year, only had 19 combined scores for 308 fantasy points; as opposed to the top quarterback, Peyton Manning, who threw for 55 touchdowns in the 2013 season for 409 points.
Additionally, the second best RB, in terms of points, LeSean McCoy, had 278 fantasy points last year; as opposed to the second best QB, Drew Brees, who scored 357 fantasy points last season.
And that trend continues down the entire list, only with the disparities between the two positions getting higher and higher as you go down.
It is my theory that this pattern of QBs scoring more fantasy points than their ranked running back counterpart is indicative of the growing offensive passing trend in the NFL.
In an entire seven-season span in the NFL, from 2003 until 2009, there were only two teams that averaged over 40 passes-per-game during a season: the 2005 Arizona Cardinals and 2007 New Orleans Saints.
However, from 2010 to 2013, 13 NFL teams averaged over 40 passes-per-game. In fact, in 2013, there were four teams that accomplished that feat.
Meaning, twice as many teams threw more than 40 passes-per-game last season than did the entirety of the NFL for seven seasons combined before 2010.
The game's changed, folks. The old school pundits will go to their graves with running backs as their top plays, but before you make your first round pick, just remember that last year, eight of the ten fantasy league points leaders were quarterbacks.
"tl;dr" version for round one: Take a quarterback. It's much easier to find a couple workable running backs in the later rounds than it is capable quarterbacks, and the difference between having a good and bad quarterback on your team can make, or break, your season faster than a bad running back can.
Round two means it's now time to talk UP running backs.
Most likely, if you took a quarterback in round one, some of the bigger name RBs will be gone. But that's all right; as the saying goes, there's always money in the banana stand.
Translation: there's always a top-tier running back that sneaks its way into the later rounds.
And here's why quality scoring backs are easier to find:
Unlike drafting a quarterback, running backs often share carries on a team with multiple backs. And, while the big name players often steal the spotlight, some of the lesser-known teammates snatch the points.
Take Reggie Bush, for example. Reggie put up some great numbers last year, and just missed cracking the top-10 fantasy football scoring leaders, for backs, by two points.
But just behind Bush, in terms of fantasy points, was his backup, Joique Bell.
Why? Because Bush drove down the field better with his speed, amassing points for yards, but when it came time for pounding the ball into the end zone, the Lions relied on the bigger back, Bell.
The point being, don't get discouraged when the big names, like McCoy and Charles, dart off the board in the first round. Stick to the plan, trust in your reads, and look for the backs that will get you touchdowns.
"tl;dr" version for round two: Take a running back, but don't be a name gazer. Look for the backs that coaches use more often in short-yardage or goal-line situations, and backs that are used as "outlet receivers"; as backs with good hands can score you some solid receiving points as well.
After all, by land or by air, a touchdown for a RB gets you six points.
With a top-tier quarterback in the first round, and a solid running back in the second, taking a "ball catcher" in the third is the obvious choice.
By "ball catcher", I mean a wide receiver or tight end, depending on your options; because here's the scenario you might face this round:
It's your pick in the third, and the top-tier wide receivers are all gone.
Again, that is okay. Take a deep breath and just remember that last year, Peyton Manning almost doubled the fantasy points of the top wide receiver in the league, Josh Gordon.
Digression and panic attack aside, it's time to assess your options. More than likely, a quality mid-range wide receiver is still around, and if more than a few of them still are, it might be time to take a chance on a tight end.
I know that sounds crazy, but the Saints' TE, Jimmy Graham, would have been the fourth best receiver, in terms of fantasy points, in the league last year, and while he is more than likely gone way before the third round, there may be some tight ends still around that could get you more points than any available receiver.
Plus, like quarterbacks, the top-tier options for tight ends are limited, and the point differential between a good tight end and a bad one is a big one.
Again, though, keep in mind that wide receivers will start to go fast in these next couple rounds, so the tight end play is only a good one IF there are a lot of receivers still left on the board.
If not, go wide receiver.
"tl;dr" version for round three: Unless there exists an abundance of good, mid-tier wide receivers and only a couple top-tier tight ends left on your board, taking a wide receiver in this round is a must. Remember, in non-ppr leagues, explosive WRs, not just the ones who get the most looks, can be to your benefit for their yardage and touchdown potential. So, don't be scared of taking a team's second option wide receiver. The second option to a star wide receiver has the ability to get big points in a game while the star is being targeted on defense.
Final "pro" tips:
Defense wins championships: Don't slouch on picking a defensive team; the good ones get big points. In fact, last year, the Kansas City Chiefs' defense would have been the sixth highest-scoring wide receiver in the league.
Don't commit to kickers: Pick a kicker that starts for a team initially, and if you see a better matchup for another one the next week, then pick the new one up and drop the other one. Repeat the process sixteen times if you want to, playing a kicker for the matchup is a much better strategy than committing to one for the whole season.
Play the teams, not the names: If you really want to get in-depth about your drafting, check out a potential player's schedule and see how it ranks against another opposing player's schedule. After all, the big name stars will get their points over the totality of the season, no matter who they play, but don't be afraid to mix-and-match or add-and-drop some of your mid-tier players based on who they are playing that week.
On a final note, remember that this article is meant as simply a guideline for your drafting. Situations may occur in your league's draft where this guide won't work at all. Or, your draft may pan out to the point where this guide fits the situation perfectly.
Either way, just remember that no one remembers who you draft. They only remember who wins.