There are two ways for a beginning fantasy player to approach a draft:
1) "Fantasy football draft? Tomorrow? Sure, I can make it.", or ...
Since you're hanging around here at FootballGuys.com, you are obviously shooting to be in the second group. If so, then you likely already have a personal cheatsheet (or plan to utilize the Footballguys.com rankings), but maybe you aren't quite sure how to use it. There are plenty of advanced strategies out there (including Stud RB, Stud WR, VBD w/static baselines, VBD w/sliding baselines, and AVT), but for beginners (or those with little or no extra time) the following guide or outline is excellent.
For the purposes of this article, your draft can be divided into several distinct categories or sections. Let's name these categories as follows:
The Premier Rounds
Below you will find the exact location of each category as well as the primary goal you should achieve in that section of your draft.
The Premier Rounds (rounds one and two) are obviously important to the success of your team. In these two rounds, your strategy should focus on solid, proven point producers. It has been said by many that you don't win your league in these rounds as there is plenty of talent to go around, but you can quickly lose your league here as there are also plenty of busts waiting to happen. For this reason, you should look for players that have at least two (preferably three or four) straight seasons of top level production. At this stage of the draft, you must attempt to avoid possible one year wonders and injury prone players. You want players that will lead your squad for the entire 16-game schedule. Granted, there will always strokes of bad luck (i.e. Edgerrin James going down to injury), but you still must try to take players you know you can count on.
Positions targeted in these rounds are QB, RB, and WR.
In the premier rounds of your draft, consistency and dependability (Curtis Martin for example) are much more important traits than potential (a la LaDainian Tomlinson).
In The Early Rounds (rounds three, four, and five), you simply take the best available player. You probably think that's a no brainer, but hold on. Suppose it's the fifth round and you have a QB, a WR, and a pair of RBs. Probably nine times out of ten, you'd take a WR with your fifth pick in order to round out your starting lineup. If so, you could be passing over a more talented QB or RB which means your opponent will draft a better prospect. That's not good strategy. At this stage of the draft, you will be much better off taking the highest rated player regardless of need. Look at your situation if you had taken a third back instead of the receiver -
Even the 'worst case' is pretty good.
Positions targeted in these rounds are QB, RB, WR, and possibly TE (Tony Gonzalez).
During the early rounds of your draft, value takes precedence over positional need. Select the highest rated player available. You must acquire as many studs as possible.
In The Middle Rounds of your draft (rounds six, seven, eight, and nine), it is time to draft for need. Rare is the draft that allows you to assemble comparable talent at every major position (QB, RB, and WR).
The middle round section of your draft is likely the most important and should be used for four purposes (in order of importance):
Remember in the middle rounds, you must focus on positional needs.
The Late Rounds (rounds ten, eleven, twelve, and thirteen) are where you can roll the dice. By now you should have starters and adequate reserves at the major positions of QB, RB, and WR. You now can afford to take some gambles. Now is when you go after your sleepers, your long-shots, your boom-or-bust guys. Take chances and don't look back. If you have drafted well in the first nine rounds, you can afford to take shots at some players that may or may not pan out. If only one or two of these guys hits big, that will be one or two bonus studs - pure gravy. If possible, take players that have a shot to set the fantasy world on fire. When/if they do, you'll look like a genius. When/if they do not, no one will remember because you only used a late round selection. Now if you run out of legitimate sleeper candidates, don't just take anybody. Instead select a decent TE if you don't have one already, or go ahead and take a quality performer from one of the lesser positions of PK or defense.
The most important attribute of a late round draft pick is potential.
The final rounds of your draft are The Deep Rounds (rounds fourteen and beyond). The is where you return from Sleeperville (twenty miles south of Stud City, by the way) and make well thought out decisions regarding filling out your roster.
There are many tasks to accomplish in this section of your draft:
This late in the draft, you'll likely see some of your fellow drafters growing very weary of the drafting process (laugh as they ask questions like "Who's he?" and "Uh, what position does he play?"). The best thing you can do in the deep rounds is remain focused and continue to make quality selections.
Fortunate is the fantasy roster that can go an entire season without suffering at least a couple of significant injuries. If you use the above draft guide (along with a good draft list), you will assemble a solid roster from top to bottom that will be able to withstand those inevitable injury bugs. Follow the waiver wire all year, and at the very least, you'll avoid being the guppy of your league. Add in a little luck, and you'll be on the fast track to your league championship.