May 21, 2013
The NFL and fantasy landscapes change quickly these days, so if you have a draft strategy, it had better be year-specific. I have already done several mock and real drafts for various publications, and the 2013 trends are pretty clear – so they dominate the following 10 draft tips.
- Try to hold off a little before drafting a QB – To summarize the best 2013 draft approach in a word, it’s “patience,” and that specifically applies to the QB position. Just 2-3 years ago, I was all about getting as many impact players as possible, regardless of position, and QB was a big part of that approach. After the passing game bonanza that we saw in 2011, you’d think that I’d be all over the signal-callers as rock-solid early picks. I do still believe in the BPA approach (best player available), and the top QBs are almost always safe and extremely productive options. But in 2013, it doesn’t make nearly as much sense taking a QB early as it did even just one year ago. There are many paths to a championship, and there’s nothing wrong with using a No.1 pick on Aaron Rodgers, or a 2nd-round snag of Drew Brees. But obviously, there’s no value in it, either. I’ve seen Cam Newton slip to the 7th round of a 10-team draft this year, for example, which is outrageous. And great options like Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck, Tony Romo, and Russell Wilson will cost much less than the top dogs. Ultimately, your best chance for domination is clearly holding off a bit on drafting a QB while loading up on talent at the other skill positions. If you hit on those picks and slam it out of the park with a guy like Luck or Kaepernick, then you’ll have formed a fantasy all-star team.
- Going RB-RB with your first two picks is more viable than it’s been in quite some time – The key, of course, is picking the right two players – two options who are very deserving of such a high pick. That might not be viable for those who draft near the top of Round One, since the talent level at the RB position does dry up considerably after the first 13-15 backs are off the board. But for those drafting near the end of the first round, kickin’ it old school and going RB-RB looks like a great play this year. Again, that is due in large part to the outstanding depth at QB and WR, but also due to the quality at the top of the RB position. It’s entirely possible, for example, to grab a Marshawn Lynch and an Alfred Morris with your first two picks this year, or a LeSean McCoy and a Matt Forte, and both would be great starts to a draft. There’s almost always a hole left at RB or WR if you take a QB or TE very early, so the best plan is to not do that, especially since QB is so deep and WR is deep enough to still get at least two excellent options in the 3rd-5th rounds.
- TE is not a position to invest heavily in – Ironically, the lone exception is New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham, who I think is worth a top-15 pick this year. I do because the number of high-end options at this position in 2012 has fallen off, due in large part to the questionable status of Patriot Rob Gronkowski. An advantage can be gained this year if you dominate TE production with a stud like
Graham, but you do have to make up for using a high pick on a TE while others are loading up on stud RBs and WRs. If you do by drafting well in the middle rounds, then your team just might be devastating with a major positional edge at TE. If you fail to hit on 1-2 mid-round picks, however, drafting Graham could leave you with a fairly significant hole on your roster. And since there are some appealing TE options who should be available in the middle rounds (I really like Dennis Pitta as one of them), holding off on TE is just as viable as drafting Graham early and is probably a little safer.
- Reaching for players is not advisable – An overriding theme of this article is the ridiculous depth available at all skill positions other than TE. Whenever the viable player pool is larger than we’re used to, that makes reaching for a player with some issues – durability, inexperience, etc. – even riskier. With great depth at QB, RB, and WR, fantasy players have options and can be flexible. Although it pains me to write this because I’m an aggressive player, they can also be conservative. So that means trying to be a hero by drafting Giant RB David Wilson, who still has to earn the trust of the coaches, in the 3rd round is not advisable. With so much talent to be had, the best plan is to sit back and let the draft – and hopefully some values – come to you.
- Remember the outstanding depth at WR – Again, I focus on depth, and this time it’s the WRs. It’s a deep group this year, so while you might be feeling slick taking three stud wideouts in the first 4-5 rounds, you might feel like a fool when there are still some really nice WRs available in the 6th and 7th, and you’re looking at Vick Ballard as your #2 RB. Calvin Johnson is in a class by himself and is comparable to most RBs, but otherwise there are plenty of strong options – roughly 40 of them this year plus sleepers – so it’s not a position one needs to be overinvested in.
- Durability is more important than ever – I believe there are more viable fantasy options at the skill positions in 2013 than ever before. That might mean you’ll be able to overcome a key injury or two, but more likely it means you took an unnecessary risk by selecting Darren McFadden in the 3rd round when you could have had a reliable stud in Demaryius Thomas instead. With more desirable options to choose from than usual, players with serious durability issues have to be downgraded, plain and simple.
- Strength of schedule isn’t as critical as it used to be – Each year I do a very extensive SOS analysis and 2012’s wasn’t nearly as accurate as it’s been in years past. This is likely due to the decrease in shut-down defenses in the league, but also a slight decrease in “get-well” defenses that are easy matchups. There is more “sameness” when it comes to NFL defenses these days, so it’s harder than usual right now to handicap a team’s schedule. In short, strength of schedule is still a factor to consider, but it’s only one of many factors and shouldn’t be given too much weight.
- Handcuffing your studs isn’t as practical as it used to be – For one, due to the great depth at RB and WR, you might be passing on a productive player in favor of a guy who’s a backup for a reason (he’s not starter material). Furthermore, it’s just harder than ever to find a must-have handcuff. The top one last year was Ben Tate, and he was being selected as high as the top-75 in drafts in 2012. He ended up being completely worthless. At this point, handcuffing your studs appears to be more of an unneeded luxury than a necessity.
- Forget about drafting a defense until one of the final rounds – At this juncture, most fantasy players know the defenses have been an absolute farce and have been impossible to handicap on a year-to-year basis, so this tip isn’t very profound. But just in case you’re tempted to grab the Bear D a few rounds from the end of your draft based on last year, give it up. You certainly do want to get one of the more appealing options with one of your final picks, but let’s not forget that more than half of last year’s top-12 finishers at DT were Waiver Wire pickups, so you’re more likely to fetch a solid unit off the scrap heap than you are to draft one.
- Prepare for an active Waiver Wire – And finally, with all this great depth at most key positions, we should prepare for a WW that is very fruitful in 2013. There are many jobs and roles up for grabs in training camps this year, but most likely a lot of those situations will still be fairly fluid come Week One, so fantasy owners will probably leave a lot of viable options undrafted this year. That’s also true simply because there are more viable options than usual. So in the final rounds of your draft, you should be able to focus a little more on upside potential and not worry too much about drafting a player who’ll be an obvious cut after a couple of weeks. In fact, you might prefer having a player or two to release with no worries because appealing options will be emerging on the wire.