It may not feel like it yet, but soon enough the leaves will turn from poignant green to mellow yellow, and summer will at last give way to fall. With fall, comes football. With football, comes fantasy football, where millions of people put on their managing caps and draft a star-studded team that, if all goes according to plan, will lead them to the promised land. However, with great power comes great responsibility, and it takes more than a little general know how to win at all. That's where I come in. As a 10-year veteran in this game, and a year doesn't go by where I don't learn something new, and hopefully, with this article, I can bequeath some knowledge on how to build and maintain a team to give you the best shot at ending the year on top.
1. Pre-Draft Research
Now, I know that we don't all get paid to be fantasy experts and spend all day scouring statistics and analyzing trends on players. We have homework and social lives. That being said, before your draft time, make sure you at least have a general sense of who is who, what they did last year, and what to expect this year. That running back with a down year might have a new coach or a revamped offensive line that points the arrow upward for the impending season. Most fantasy draft sites have tools that give little notes on players. These can include injury updates, practice performance, and many other bits of useful information. This is a good foundation, and while you may want a bit more know-how, this is the least you should do.
2. Take it Year by Year, Game by Game
Sports are very unpredictable things, especially football. With its physical nature and a constant carousel of coaches, players, and schemes, no two years are quite the same. Likewise, its very rare to have players replicate breakout performances, let alone breakout years. Yes, they are (barring injury/losing a step) the same players year to year, but there are a plethora of variables that can affect players, things like strength of schedule, coaching changes, and personnel changes (new receivers for a quarterback, new line for a running back, etc.). While you can never truly know how one will perform until the season starts, tieing in your research should help you here.
3. Have a Plan, and Hold on Tight
In a perfect universe, you set out with players in mind, and they all fall right into your lap as the draft snakes on. However, this NEVER happens, as odds are, at least a few people in the league will have done their homework, and value the same players highly on their board. This step also goes back to the research tip. Don't only have enough players in mind to fill the roster. Have backups, and backups to the backups. The worst thing you can do is have no idea where to go with a pick, and end up selecting someone you have no prior knowledge for. If I had a dollar for everytime someone I had planned to pick got taken ONE PICK BEFORE, I could actually own a real team. Flexibility is key, and having plans A through Z in mind will only help you in the long run.
4. Positions and When to Pick Them
In football, there are 11 positions on both sides of the ball, as well as kickers, punters, and specialty positions (longsnappers and such). In fantasy football, you only have to worry about seven: quarterbacks, running backs, wide receiver, tight ends, FLEX's, kickers, and defenses. If you have any slight understanding of football, most of these will make sense to you, and the two that might confuse are FLEX and defense. FLEX's are not an exact position on the field, but rather a spot on your roster that you can place either a running back or wide receiver. If you're deep at running back, you can play an extra one, and the same goes for wide receivers. For defenses, instead of picking individual players, you pick an entire team's defensive unit, and score points based on points allowed turnovers and other variables.
As far as when to pick certain positions, running backs and wide receivers are generally picked early on, filling out most of the first, second, and sometimes even third rounds. While there are certainly elite tier quarterbacks that sneak their ways into the early rounds, you don't see too many picked until the second or third rounds, as the point differential from quarterback to quarterback isn't too drastic. Tight ends are top-heavy, as while the elite have greater potential to make an impact, once they're off the board you can most likely wait a while and end up with someone O.K. Kickers and defenses are picked towards the end of the draft, and you should avoid using bench slots on backups at those positions. Use your bench for mostly running backs, wide receivers, a quarterback and a tight end.
5. Post-Draft Management
You did it. You drafted your team, and the job is all done, right? Not quite. If you want to make the playoffs, and eventually win it all, it is crucial that throughout the season you keep an eye on your team, as well as players NOT on your team. Take a look around the league at other teams, and take notice on how they perform. Maybe a team has a deep corps of receivers but is struggling to find a consistent running back, while you have the exact opposite problem. Much like in real life, you can offer a trade to said team. Now, trades are tricky, as both have to agree for them to happen, and in some cases other members of the league have to approve it as well, so make sure that is plausible and reasonable for both parties.
The other way to improve your roster is the waiver wire. As the season progresses, players tend to come out of nowhere and put up numbers that could benefit your team. Odds are, if you have a fantasy team, you probably watch a little football, so take notice of these players and try to snatch them up ASAP. These players don't always keep up their scoring pace, but every once in a while you can secure a diamond in the rough that transforms your season.