10 tips toward a fun, successful draft

Published August 31, 2005

As popular as fantasy football has gotten the past five years, there are still people trying it for the first time, so we're reaching out to you and showing you the ropes. If you've played for a decade, you know this stuff, but even if you're a defending league champ, a little refresher never hurt.

We'll assume a few things: You're in a 12-team league, with the draft order reversing or "snaking" back in even-numbered rounds. You're starting a QB, two RBs, two WRs, one TE, kicker and defense, with another seven or eight players on a bench.

1. Focus on running backs first. Unless you're getting somebody named Manning, Culpepper or Moss, take a running back in the first round. Get somebody you can bank on having 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns, a threat for 100 yards every week. If you don't have two backs in the first four rounds, you'd better have an A-list quarterback and top-five receiver.

2. Don't take a kicker or defense in the first 100 picks. Don't ignore these positions, but don't address them until you have five or six solid starters and a reliable backup at RB and WR. I'd put David Akers and Adam Vinatieri in a top tier of their own; same with the Ravens defense.

3. Don't take your backup QB in the first 100 picks. Plenty of good QBs will be left, such as Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich, Aaron Brooks, David Carr, Jake Plummer. And don't take a third quarterback, unless it's to draft your starter's actual backup as insurance.

4. Watch the bye weeks, but don't worry too much. The NFL's 32 bye weeks are staggered from Weeks 3-10, and though you don't want your top three players all off the same week, don't avoid drafting a player just because of one bad week. If that one bad week knocks you out of the playoffs, you weren't going to win your league anyway.

5. Don't double-dip at QB and WR/TE. Just a personal thing, but I don't like putting too much of my team on one NFL offense. Getting Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens is great, but your team will largely win and lose based on whether those two hook up for touchdowns. Think of it like investing and spread your assets around the league to be safe.

6. Take time to come up with a dumb team name. In a good league, it's half the fun. In a league with friends, play up the dumb inside joke you understand. Some are barely mentionable in public. They're like garage bands, in that a good name can make up for marginal talent. Why be just the Cowboys when you can be the Clockwork Frogs, or the Outsourced Avengers?

7. Don't go crazy with your favorite team. Yes, we know you love the Browns. You don't need another reason to be frustrated every Monday when they score 13 points. Draft your favorite player, sure, name your kids Antonio and Bryant after him, yes, but don't take more than three players from the same franchise.

8. Ageism is really okay here. There are exceptions, but as a general rule, aging veterans aren't going to help you. I count four guys in my top 80 who were in the NFL in 1995: Curtis Martin, Brett Favre, Kerry Collins and Trent Green. Just ask yourself: Do I want this guy, or can I wait three rounds and get the third-year pro who's chipping away at his touchdowns?

9. Never draft a backup kicker or defense. Yes, your starter will have a bye. But you can find a perfectly serviceable fill-in off waivers that week. Save that roster spot for a high-risk investment in a rookie or sleeper who could be a breakout star and start for you.

10. If, somehow, it's a pay league, pay on draft day. Yes, technically, those rare fantasy leagues that have cash pots are illegal, the same way we all avoid those illicit NCAA basketball pools. If there's an entry fee, just pay your commish the $50 now and don't make him e-mail you in January. And February. From what I hear, that's really annoying.