Every season witnesses change to how people build fantasy teams and 2014 is no different. Normally a draft reflects what positions were the most successful in the previous season. The pass-happy days of 2011 turned into four and even five quarterbacks drafted in the first round of 2012. By the next season, there were often no quarterbacks taken in the first round and running backs suddenly became highly coveted. Only one or maybe two wideouts showed up in the first rounds on 2013. Here’s a listing of the differences you can expect for 2014 and a couple of timeless tidbits.
- Quarterbacks are cheap – Unless you start two of them or get six point passing touchdowns, expect quarterback quality to last and last. The Big Three of Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees will go by the second or third round but beyond that just wait. Most savvy leagues see Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Robert Griffin III and Nick Foles doled out in the fifth to seventh rounds. If you can live with Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Tom Brady and the like you can wait until the midpoint of the draft. Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill and Andy Dalton offer crazy good value in the tenth round or deeper.
- Week three preseason game stars are expensive – The upcoming weekend will have NFL teams trotting out first teams for a true glimpse of what offenses and defenses will do this year. But it is still a preseason game and the coaching staff is still trying out players to better evaluate them before deciding on a final depth chart. Just because a wideout gets eight passes doesn’t mean he’s due for a breakout season. The team may be deciding what to do with him and up until halftime of week three is as close to real game experience they have to observe. Don’t over-value week three stars even though your league mates are certain to do so.
- Wide Receiver is the hot position – There is a record number of wideouts drafted in the first two rounds. This is less a new trend and more about the realization that you do not need an early quarterback to win and the first two rounds of running backs in 2013 produced a lot of painful flops. Now wideouts are more consistent and reliable than running backs. If your league awards reception points, expect three or more to be taken in the first round of a 12 team draft. In expert leagues, as many as six are gone. Expect that a top ten wide receiver will not see the third round in a reception point league and even without that extra point per catch, wideouts are still far more popular than ever.
- Only four running backs are first round locks – Some mixture of LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson will be the first four picks in almost every draft. There is much less consensus with all of the rest of the running backs. Eddie Lacy, Giovani Bernard, DeMarco Murray and Montee Ball could all show up in the first round but often one or more end up in the second round. Each offer some upside and yet either a lack of a track record or an injury history to consider. Hard to plan which back you can grab after the first four because the order always changes.
- Starting running backs exist into the sixth round – The drain on the position will be constant from the first round but even by the fourth and fifth rounds you should still access Toby Gerhart, Rashad Jennings, Bishop Sankey, Chris Johnson and Ben Tate. This is an era that often produces sleepers. Notice that these rushers are all new to their teams which is what depresses the expectations of the masses. A few years ago you had to own two running backs by the end of the third round or you had a team liability. No more – NFL starters exist out to the sixth round and some have upside worth considering.
- Tight ends are “one or wait” –The delta between Jimmy Graham and all other tight ends is likely greater than any other player regardless of position. But after Graham goes in the first or second round, what is your hurry? Expect a gamble on Rob Gronkowski usually in the second or third round depending on whatever optimistic or disappointing news last comes out of New England. About a round later someone will get an itch for Julius Thomas hoping that he repeats the first half of 2013 (39-451-8) and not the second half (21-301-4). But overall there are a dozen decent options at tight end and much difference between them. Jordan Cameron usually starts the run in the sixth or seventh round and the tenth best can last until the tenth round.
- Defenses are sneaking into earlier rounds –Seattle will go in your draft at least two or three rounds ahead of anyone else and make the owner look a bit silly. The reality has set in though – why not take starting position four or five rounds before the draft ends? Is it really better to secure that sixth wideout or speculative running back you may never use or control your pick of a defense you will start 15 times? Expect that the 49ers, Panthers, Rams and Broncos defense are gone well before the second to last round of your draft.
- Kickers are still just kickers – Most of your league will wait until the final round to take one and there is plenty of proof why that is probably where they belong. But know that Stephen Gostkowski, Matt Prater and often Justin Tucker end up going three or four rounds earlier than the end of the draft just to make owners feel good that they have a top kicker. For my money, just Gostkowski and Prater deserve an earlier pick.
- We all know about your sleeper – Your other league mates not only know about “your guy”, but they are likely sitting to your left and drafting said player. If you want a specific “sleeper” – reach for him. Do not wait. Conventional wisdom may laugh now but roughly half of all popular choices accompanied by a “nice pick” are going to disappoint. Sleepers rocket up the rankings in the final weeks of the summer. Case in point – the Saints rookie wideout Brandin Cooks started out as a fantasy depth pick late in drafts and now is taken as early as the fifth round as a starter. Never let conventional wisdom get in the way of you taking the players you want.
- Use the Average Draft – Almost all fantasy web sites will offer the “Average Draft” which shows the mean values for where players are being drafted. Big contests and commissioner software usually provide this as well. Limit it to the size of your league, scoring rules and consider only drafts held in the last week or two. They are largely useless after the fifth or sixth round but are amazingly accurate for the initial rounds of drafts. They can help you plan where you intend to fill positions.
Other Fantasy Drafting Strategy Articles of Interest:
Your Draft Plan – First Three Picks in 12 Team Leagues
Six Coaching Changes That Impact Fantasy