Contributed By: Andy Pino
The ancient Chinese masterpiece” The Art of War” by Sun Tzu was probably the greatest book written outlining the philosophy a successful leadership. His philosophy is applicable not only to war but to other areas of existence. His principles teach strategy, preparation, patience, and timing. The book basically divulges the mind and spirit of a real strategist. Personally, I have used many of his standards in my role as an educator and coach to achieve immense success. However, I have determined that many of these concepts are applicable to successful drafting in fantasy football. Therefore, in short, the successful fantasy football drafter “knows thy self as well as thy opponent.” Although the basic premise here is common sense, too many times does an individual ignore the many crucial elements needed to achieve successful fantasy football accomplishment.
I can vividly remember my very initial experience in fantasy football. Unaware of the league’s scoring system and the draft process, my season was compressed early and I suffered through seventeen weeks of humiliation. I swayed myself that I really enjoyed playing the fantasy game, but the constant losing wore on my ego. To resolve this quandary, I needed to acquire some strategies. I had to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of my drafting process from the previous campaign. Above all, I needed to prepare for battle, and I would let the wisdom of Sun Tzu be my guide in the fantasy wars. All the hours of preparation and planning proved to be successful over the next 20 years, even financially rewarding.
During the off-season, the role the drafter becomes that of a general manager. Initially you have to familiarize yourself with the depth charts of each team. Observe any major changes on a team’s roster in regards to the additions and deletions of certain players during the off-season. In most cases, the acquisition of a new player will indicate an area where the team was not pleased in the previous season. With the influx of new players, one must pay close attention to these situations because unknown certainties normally signal “Fantasy Bust!” Always look for opportunities for various players to emerge into a starting role. Check the injury status of players as well as potential hold-outs. Also, recognize changes in the coaching staffs particularly the coordinators. They are the ones who control the offense and defense schemes of their respective teams. I know from my years of coaching that very few people change their basic philosophies. Oh sure, they’ll add variations and wrinkles, but everything goes back to a base system. Remember, it’s the system associated with a particular coach which gave him that present job. Some systems are more complex than others and normally take additional time in learning and executing. In reality, coordinators and not head coaches control most of the play calling throughout the game so assess their backgrounds.
Another area that is often neglected is the strength of a team’s offensive line. The key element to a successful offense is the ability of the line to block and protect. Drafters often pay little attention to this area in respect of tendencies towards run and pass. If you are drafting a Denver Bronco running back, you know that player is destined for a 1,000 yards season because the line will enable the offense to be executed effectively. Concentrate on the team’s offensive run and pass ratio and recognize the value that teams with solid defenses normally tend to be more conservative and will put emphasis on the running game. Investigate statistics on each team with their tendencies to score in the red zone area. When it comes to fantasy football, no matter what the scoring system, in order to win you need players who can score touchdowns and gain points. In summation, hunt for offensive tendencies, roster additions and deletions, offensive line strength, and coaching philosophies. In recent years I have formulated an off-season notebook and jot down information on teams and players. Remember, there is never enough information!
The Evaluation List
The next step is the development of a list of players to assess. This concept is comparable to the draft boards that each NFL team utilizes in the collegiate draft. Now this doesn’t have to be extremely time consuming event. Consider that most leagues consist of anywhere between 10 to 14 teams with rosters that range from 14-20 players. Examine your league’s rosters limitation and comprise a list of players that exceed the maximum player level by 20. For example, if you’re in a ten team league with 16 players per roster, your draft list should consist of 180 players. Utilize current depth charts from the many online sources that are accessible, and select players that you feel will be rewarded with substantial playing time. This technique will allow you to focus in depth on established trends of players and their potential roles on respective teams. Those fantasy drafters who compile lists of 300 to 400 players spend pointless time on analysis and often confuse themselves with additional, unnecessary information. Over 95% of these fringe players will be available on the waiver wire during the season.
Once you have finalized a preliminary list, your next action is to analyze the scoring system your league. Look over the final scoring reports of each season to see where to place value. Through a continuous and yearly analysis you get a good grasp of which positions are important in your league’s scoring system. I’m a firm believer in the value based draft theory. This will give you a great perspective at how the scoring actually affects players in your league and how to genuinely value player positions in your draft. This is a great indicator of where to place emphasis in your draft because fantasy numbers at a position rarely change from season to season. Thus, your draft philosophy or strategy can be formulated to your league scoring system.
The most difficult and the most time-consuming aspect of your draft are making projections for the upcoming season. I’m a firm believer in compiling statistics and examining probable production outlooks on respective teams and players. I know many people will look acquire as many cheat sheets as possible to form their own draft sheet, but most magazine cheat sheets are actually made in May or early June. Although these sheets can be somewhat constructive, they fail to reflect changes that may occur during the exhibition season. Many fantasy owners have tried this method before and suffered some poor seasons. Additionally, I have found that their research was based on other scoring systems which may be entirely different for your league’s format. To be perfectly honest, each service has to be somewhat different to sell their product. Therefore, I only value their projection of statistics. One can utilize these projections effectively to fit their league’s scoring system. We all purchase pre-season magazines because we’re fanatics and want to explore new concepts or ideas to improve the game. However, most are published in May and June and lack current information needed by the serious enthusiast. Surprisingly many novice drafters selected players who were on injured reserved for the season because they were unaware of current conditions. Compile a list of total projected points for each player, according to your league point system, based on projections of these various sources. From this point gather your projections and determine an average point value for each player. My feelings on this method are that the laws of averages present a more thorough picture of player performances than individual lists which may contain bias.
The Cheat Sheet
We strongly recommend staying attuned to the current information regarding players on your individualized list and to continuously examine your own cheat sheet. Too many people panic on draft day and rely solely on cheat sheets of various services or magazines. The key element in fantasy drafting is to “know thyself”. Sun Tzu clearly understood that a person that is unaware of his self, is unable to consistently gain insight from the actions of those around him. You have done the work and analyzed expected performance levels and basically developed a game plan for the type of team you want assemble. As Don Shula stated, “Sometimes it takes just a little extra something to get that edge, out but you have to have it.” Your draft sheet should be a simple one-page format. On draft night one doesn’t need additional distractions and should clearly focus upon his draft needs and those of his opponents. Too many times I’ve seen people fumbling through a variety of magazines and cheat sheets unaware of the drafting that has taken place. The key element of drafting is being focused upon the task at hand. At all times, you need to be aware of your league’s drafting by the other owners. So keep your sheet simple – remember your analysis has already been completed!
For simplicity, let’s examine a cheat sheet using a ten-team format. The list would include 20 – 25 quarterbacks, 40 – 45 running backs, 40 – 50 wide receivers, 20 – 25 tight ends 20 kickers and 20 defenses or special-teams. Initially we would arrange each position according to the average projected point total of each player for the season. We would also want to include the bye week of each player listed for future reference. After completion of this list, stop and print it out. Complete a thorough examination of this sheet. Pay close attention to each positional column as to where the natural breaks are occurring. Do this for every position and before long you’ll realize that you have created different tier levels. Put a line between each level because that will indicate player value in that position. As your draft progresses into the mid-rounds this will become a very valuable feature because not only are you drafting quality and depth, you present your team with excellent trading value.
An important point to remember here is to adjust the tiers based on the knowledge you acquired during the off-season. Depth charts will change and injuries will occur on each team. Check into injury reports regarding the extent of each player’s injury. A serious or lingering injury will affect that player throughout the season. This should also serve as an indicator to rate a backup player a little higher. Adjustments to the sheet become a vital element of success. At this point, I normally add a special feature to my sheet- the sleepers. I have a separate column that designates potential players not on my list who may break out during the season. When you’re scrolling through newspapers or online sites during the exhibition season make a list of players that are performing well. Add this list to your cheat sheet especially if your gambler in the final rounds of the draft. You’ll take great pride in discovering talent! Then take out the magic markers or colored pencils and shade in players that have the same bye week. There’s nothing more embarrassing or costly in selecting players on the same bye week especially if one is a backup.
There’s nothing more exciting than draft night. Some simple rules- don’t drink and sit alone away from the crowd. Listen to what is being said because many owners will get away vital information. Bring only your cheat sheet, some scrap paper, and a draft worksheet which will enable you to keep track of the other team selection. Personally I like to participate in as many mock drafts as possible to the general feel of what to expect in the upcoming season. Also, one needs to examine as many mock drafts as possible to analyze the average draft position of each player. This is vital to individual success – “know thy opponent”.
For the draft I will construct a simple sheet of all (ex.) ten teams listing the various positions on a roster. This list will include 3 quarterback slots and lines for 6 running backs, 6 -8 wide receivers, 3 tight ends, 3 kickers and two defensive/special-teams. As a draft proceeds, I list and examine each team’s rosters and selections. One way to gain value in a draft is to keep close track of which slots your fellow owners are likely to fill between your picks. By tracking what other teams already have, you are in a better position to predict what they will do. This method will help influence your selections. Always take quality over need because it weakens your competition. Another key procedure that is effective takes place directly after each of my selections. Examine your cheat sheet and make a list of quality players remaining on the board that have value. With timed selections of usually three minutes, you don’t want to scramble and make hasty choices. This will also enable you to analyze your opponents’ strength and weaknesses of their teams. Familiarize yourself with every owner’s favorite team and past drafting patterns. Owners have a normal tendency to choose familiar players especially in the mid-to late rounds. It’s just human nature to choose a player that you’re accustomed with. Many owners choose players because they are on their favorite team and watch that team every weekend. I have often heard the remark “I need to select players for my team so I’ll have someone to cheer for.” Just because he plays for your favorite team doesn’t make that player a fantasy producer. Don’t ever get caught up in a position run. Show confidence with your selections and when the opportunity presents itself, become one to initiate a position run. Remember, always stick to your sheets and draft for quality players over kickers and defenses unless it’s a super team defense like the Ravens or Patriots.
Very few people understand the analysis principal. After drafting, go through your team’s roster thoroughly to examine your strengths and weaknesses. Check out your bye week situation along with your players opponents in the final weeks of the season. Make a list of un-drafted players and keep this list handy throughout the season. Examine your opponent’s rosters for their areas of strengths and weaknesses. Don’t be afraid to initiate trade talk and make it known that you’re willing to trade during the season. In conclusion, I have one final procedure that is extremely effective. I like to perform projected ranges for 4-week periods throughout the entire season. As the season progresses this becomes an essential reference tool because defensive tendencies have been established. This also helps the individual team owner in trading for strength. Remember, drafting is an educated science whereby one combines knowledge, calculated risks and team dynamics. As Sun Tzu would indicate a preplanned, determined attempt to procure leadership is different than an incidental leadership. Faith, confidence, and inner arrogance are prerequisites for success, but above all, decide that you’re going to have fun.