By Andrew Kahn
In-season roster management is key to winning your fantasy football league, but the draft goes a long way towards determining the champ. Value is the most important word when it comes to the draft. Here are a few tips to stay a few moves ahead of your competitors.
1. Mock it up
It seems weird, the idea of participating in mock drafts to prepare for the actual draft. It's fantasy fantasy football, but it's very helpful. Let's say you think Keenan Allen is underrated and due for a big season. You think you can steal him in the fourth round. After a few mock drafts, you realize you're not alone in your evaluation of Allen: He's usually taken in the third round. On the flip side, a player you liked just as much might regularly fall to the seventh round. Either way, you've learned something valuable. There are some flaws of mocks, as not everyone takes them seriously, but usually the first few rounds are a good indicator of how your draft will play out.
2. Big board
Let's face it: Most player rankings are going to be pretty similar. Unless you're a pro scout or have inside access, your big board is not any better than the next guy's. But it's important to have a tiered ranking system. Remember, no pick is made in a vacuum. I'll use real examples to simply the argument: If we all agree that Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees are fairly even and a notch ahead of whichever QB is fourth best, then it's important to get one of those guys, but also not to reach for one over the other two. Let's also say we feel there is a drop-off in tight ends after Jimmy Graham. With all of that mind, you should go with Graham with your first pick if you are confident you can get one of the top three QBs in the second round. That's better than going with Manning in Round 1 and settling for a player not as valuable as Graham with your next pick. Likewise, if you miss out on the top quarterback trio, maybe there's not much of a difference in waiting to take, say, Philip Rivers.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to lock yourself into a particular draft strategy. There's no benefit to entering the draft set on going RB, WR, WR, RB, QB with your first five picks. Your only plan should be to get the most value out of each pick. See how the draft is progressing and don't be afraid to start a run on a certain position. And keep track of all picks so you know what positions the other GMs are targeting. If you're picking 10 out of 12 in a particular round and teams No. 11 and 12 already have a QB, you can probably wait to draft a QB until the next round.
4. Have fun
Fantasy football, and the draft itself, should be fun. Surely someone will show up to your draft with an outdated fantasy preview magazine, and it's OK to make fun of him. Same with the person who drafts Josh Gordon. Sometimes you don't know who will get the last laugh. A friend recalled to me the time he took the Baltimore Ravens defense with the first overall pick in a year when good defenses were at a premium. The selection was ridiculed at the draft, but the Ravens helped him come in second in the league that year. And while it won't win you any monetary prize, get creative with your team name. A pun involving one of your key players can be funny, but you can do better.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about the NFL and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn
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