The NFL, in typical copycat fashion, has adopted new trends like the wildcat and committee backfields that we are used to seeing only in the college game. We are also seeing some movement towards dynasty franchises (Patriots, Steelers) and away from the much ballyhooed parity of the late 1990s.
As a result of this, the fantasy football landscape has changed heading into the 2009 NFL season. The prognosticators are suggesting that owners should take wide receivers earlier than ever before, that taking wide receivers with each of your first two picks might be an acceptable strategy and that taking a quarterback early makes good sense.
What does this mean for the traditional approach to fantasy football? Maybe not as much as it seems. It says here that, because so many others are getting wild in their approaches, the best strategy is to stick to the tried and true. While some of the owners in your league are trying out new strategies, I’m advocating this is the year to stick to the old school approach perhaps more than ever. In this piece, I offer some advice on using the tried and true fantasy draft strategies.
Stud Running Back Theory
Tradition dictates that the most conservative fantasy draft approach is to get 2 top flight ball carriers in the first two rounds of your draft. In recent years we’ve seen players like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens turn this strategy around a little. Heading into 2009, many prognosticators are advising the fantasy drafter to avoid the pitfall of overpaying for a tailback and go for the value provided by a top tier WR. Ironically this is exactly why you should take two RB at the top of your draft.
As more and more owners talk themselves into Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald as a top 7 pick in your draft, solid players like Frank Gore and Clinton Portis are getting pushed down the board. If your draft plays out like the experts project, go against that and secure two backs early. There will be plenty of talent left at WR in rounds 3 and 4.
Wait at Quarterback
In years gone by, the popular advice has been to let the suckers in your league overpay for a QB by squandering an early pick on one. This year Drew Brees, Brady and Manning are in everyone’s top 24. They shouldn’t be in yours.
Assuming standard lineup and scoring, there is a good size middle tier of passers to choose from as the draft wears on. After those three passers, ask yourself how much difference you see between them and Donovan McNabb, Aaron Rodgers or Philip Rivers. I would even argue that you can expect solid production from Tony Romo, Kurt Warner, Jay Cutler and Carson Palmer too.
Why not use the top 5 or 6 picks to stack up your backfield and receiving corps? Then take your pick of whoever is left from the above list. Just be sure you get another capable QB towards rounds 9 or 10 as insurance against the question marks the last group has.
Parity vs. Strength of Schedule
The age of parity reduced our focus on schedule strength and that might be a good thing. You shouldn’t spend a lot of time analyzing team stats from last year or avoiding players who play on a specific team altogether. What you do need to do is figure out some ‘absolute truths’ about the game.
In my opinion, the most absolute scheduling truth in existence is, “it sucks to play against the Ravens”. I won’t spend thousands of words explaining this or positing other truths; you get the idea. So what’s the plan? Don’t avoid everyone in the AFC North and don’t avoid teams from other conferences playing the Ravens. What you do need to do is make sure your entire team doesn’t have to face the Ravens as the season wears on.
The flip side, of course, is that playing against the Lions, Saints and Rams promises to be great for fantasy stats. Don’t change your cheatsheets (much), but just be aware of these opportunities as you draft.
The moral of the story is that you can be successful at fantasy football using various strategies, so don’t discount the traditional strategies just because there is a new flavour of the season. Watch what the other guys in your draft are doing, and adjust accordingly. If everyone thinks they are going against the grain, then really, no one is going against the grain.