The most common mistake for people to make is to not know their rules and scoring. No “Fantasy Football Expert” knows the rules of your league. They make generalizations based on standard scoring and points per reception leagues as these are the most common settings used. Say your league puts a heavier emphasis on high end QB’s (any commish reading this, please don’t do this, it makes leagues extremely lopsided towards 2-3 teams). My draft prep advice is based on 10-12 team leagues with standard or ppr scoring. I will focus solely on redraft (drafting new teams every year) drafts and not dynasty or keeper leagues.
If your league puts heavy penalties on interceptions, sacks and fumbles you should complain to your commish to change them. If the league agrees to this (again it decreases competitiveness) it would behoove you to take a quarterback with your first pick if you have one of the first 5-6 picks. This is a rare case but you don’t want to be caught off guard. More commonly leagues employ any variety of 2 QB, 2 TE, 3 WR, Flex and no flex, return yards. Just make sure you know the scoring and roster rules before drafting.
After you have that down, you need to mock draft. There are any numbers of sites to mock draft on, I will not list them here but you can find them. The draft is the make or break for your team, you need to build a core of players that will get you points. Remember that perfect practice makes perfect, you need to mock draft with a purpose. When mocking, pay particular attention to what positions thin out after the first 3 rounds. Every season is different and usually there is one position that has more turnover than others. You have to ensure that you get quality players for your starting roster in the early rounds. The positions that are harder to find quality starters for after the early rounds should be a point of focus in your actual draft.
You have to be prepared in the event that your guy(s) don’t drop to you. This is fairly common and you want to have 3-4 other players you are comfortable taking if your guy isn’t there. Mocking also allows you to see are routinely taken ahead of and lower than where they are projected to go. This lends insight as to which guys you can let drop and which guys you have to reach for. Lastly, If it is your first time playing, do as many mocks as you can just so you get a feel for the intensity of a live draft. I wouldn’t take the SAT blind (without taking any practice tests) and I wouldn’t draft blind. Proper preparation is always the key to a good season.
Research is an undervalued fantasy football tool, mostly because it is time consuming. If you are new to fantasy football look at as many draft rankings as possible, finding trends among the “experts”. Not all fantasy websites are made equal so make sure you ask around and find out which ones people use (especially those that win a lot). If your league drafts after training camps (most do) it is important to find a site that gives you updates (not opinions) on teams and players. There are also a lot of sites for this, many of them for free. This helps you know how to find that diamond in the rough, the proverbial “sleeper.” It is such an imperfect science that anyone who thinks they are an expert is a liar. You have to research the heck out of these players for yourself and then look up what the “experts” say. If both are positive, it is worth looking at that player.
If you like a player based on your research, and the experts disagree, take it with a grain of salt (always trust your gut). This gives you insight on who to reach for and who to let fall from their average draft position (ADP). Be careful not to fall in love with guys that are so far off the radar that they aren’t on anyone’s list. You can always get them during the season if they aren’t drafted.
Coaches will talk up plenty of players, but are they getting first and second team reps? It’s a lot easier to look great against third team and practice team caliber players than it is against first and second team players. The first and second team players are the guys who are going to see the most playing time so see who is lighting it up against them. Watch preseason games, paying particular attention to who gets first team reps.
After that, pay attention to those late round fliers when they come in. Do you hear their name? Do you notice they are on the field? What kind of mistakes are they making? If you see and hear a guy in preseason games that you have been targeting, he is probably worth looking in to. When I say “see and hear”, I mean did they pass the all-important eye test? They are making plays with some regularity while they are in. If they tend to disappear when they are on the field, I usually knock their draft number down in my pre-draft rankings.
Lastly, always re-rank your pre-draft rankings based on your research. Always be prepared for a worst case scenario (internet failure, birth of a child, etc.). The last thing you want is the computer using the original rankings on whatever site you use, otherwise you could wind up with a kicker in round 5. Do this by finding a site you trust or people who know their fantasy football trust. Go with their rankings initially and modify them based on mock drafting and research.
If you have a player you want or must have, put them just after the last player you would take ahead of them. If you have a personal blacklist of players you won’t draft (from being burned by that player) remove them from the draft (or risk the computer taking them). You should move guys you don’t want in a particular round to the round you are willing to take them in. Lastly, make sure you have ranked enough skill players ranked to fill out every round of the draft, then rank defenses and kickers. That is, rank defenses outside of the top 150 for smaller (8-10 team leagues) or out of the top 250 for larger leagues. Calculate the number of teams and rounds in your draft to determine what your number is.
If there are roster limitations (must draft a kicker or defense, max number of players at a position) the computer will take care of filling in those spots automatically. If not, you can go back and drop some players to get a kicker or defense. If you do have to miss the draft and the computer doesn’t draft those positions, people will understand. However, to intentionally not draft a kicker or defense in a live draft is in poor taste. You will make everyone in your league angry and risk not being invited back to your league.
I conclude draft prep 101 with a word of warning about ranking your own players, this is intended for intermediate players and advanced players. Those of you who have less than a few years of experience should avoid ranking your entire draft by yourself. Rookies and second year players are better off using rankings from a trusted website or using stock rankings, adjusting here and there for your “sleepers” and late round picks. Unless you know what you are doing, don’t touch the first 6 rounds (unless there is a preseason season ending injury, in which case remove that player from your draft). Rookies should follow my advice regarding ranking defenses and kickers, you don’t want to have a kicker or defense in the middle rounds if you miss your draft.