The frenzied few weeks before fantasy drafts are enough to make you doubt everything you know about football and maybe even your existence. In the past, I would start preparing for the chaos a month or two before the drafts by reading copious amounts of fantasy guides, studying every team’s and the top 200 players’ statistics from seasons past, checking and double checking off-season transactions and injury reports, watching all of the fantasy analysis shows on ESPN, participating in dozens of mock drafts, charting my strategies and top picks in excel spreadsheets, and crying into a tub of ice cream while watching Jerry Maguire and questioning why I do this to myself year after year.
Don’t get me wrong. I had a decent amount of success employing this approach to fantasy draft preparation. Out of 6 seasons and 29 leagues, I had 14 championships and 8 runner-ups. I was convinced my neurotic method was the key to triumph. Until three seasons ago…
Let me set the scene for you: it was a drizzly late summer day in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Monsoon season came late (or stayed late) and it had been pouring all day, but it was damn hot and impossible to tell if you were moist due to sweat or humidity. I was heading into my second year of law school and, strangely enough, obsessing over fantasy football was not helping me feel better about the impending academic torture. So, thinking my first fantasy draft was a week away, I decided to get out of the house. You know, do something different like talk to people (apparently, arguing with sports commentators on TV doesn’t count). I met friends at a bar downtown and attempted to carry on a conversation that wasn’t about football.
Then I got the text. The draft was unilaterally rescheduled by the commish and it was starting in 10 minutes. I was 25 minutes away from my computer, my charts, my notes, my guides. I threw my credit card onto the table and hurdled towards the exit, screaming to my friends that there was an emergency and they needed to pay my bill and return my credit card later. I may have pushed a friend out of the way, causing her to stumble into a neighboring table and spill one of the occupants’ drinks, but that’s still in dispute.
I have never driven so recklessly in rainy conditions in my life. By the time I got out of my car (I left it running in the driveway), catapulted through my front door (I left it open), yelled at my dog to get out of the way (THERE WAS NO TIME DAMMIT), opened my laptop (I almost snapped the screen off), and signed into the draft (I almost snapped the screen off again when it refused to let me sign in), it was the 10th round. I had auto-drafted 3 risky WRs, 1 second-tier QB, and 1 RB on IR. Oh yeah, and 5 TEs. My life was over.
Nope, just kidding, I ended the year as champion of that league. As I hugged the trophy to my chest and sobbed sweet tears of victory, I puzzled over how…how had I managed to pull it off with the odds stacked against me from the very beginning? All of that hard work preparing for the draft was wasted (well, not really, because I put it to use in the next three drafts, but that’s beside the point). And I was still champion. I just assumed for awhile that it was an act of god or a glitch in the matrix. Now that I’ve reflected, I’ve narrowed it down to a few explanations:
- I made trades, and gave up players, that I would have felt uncomfortable about under normal fantasy circumstances. I took risks and ended up stacking my team with some epic sleepers.
- I KILLED it on the wire. I was consistently checking and actually made several quality pick-ups.
- I went four games without a kicker, but was better able to get steals on the wire or in trade.
- I spent more energy studying my opponents and their teams. Going into games, I scrutinized the past performance of the opponent in terms of W-Ls (not just how many, but to whom and why), points (overall earned and projected as well as difference between winners and losers in previous games), roster decision-making (are they taking risks or playing it safe, are they making deliberate and well-considered moves each week, do they apparently know jack shit about football?), etc. In regards to their players, I checked their past performance, current opponent and playing conditions, projected points, etc. When it wasn’t game day, I observed each opponents’ level of involvement especially in regards to waiver moves and trades. It not just helped to determine which opponents were in fact playing and which must have lost their fantasy password weeks ago because they played Doug Martin for the past 4 games despite his being on IR (cough Dad); it also helped to predict my opponents’ behaviors and thwart their plans (there’s nothing sweeter than beating Mr. I-Live-on-the-Wire to awesome pick-ups as they become available). Moreover, if they are making a ton of trades or moves on the wire, they might be hunting and open to lucrative exchanges. I also kept an eye on the overall strength and health of my opponents’ teams to identify personnel needs and maximize trade opportunities. As they say: “know thy enemy.”
- I prioritized the team. I probably spent an extra 10-15 minutes each week setting the roster for the team in that league than I did in my other three leagues. It was the team I was thinking about when I was setting my other teams (even though I told the other teams that that team meant nothing to me).
- I may or may not have ritualistically sacrificed a few small animals. No, I didn’t do that, and you shouldn’t either.
But, ultimately, it could have been any and all of those factors or none of them. Because it doesn’t matter. I don’t mean that in a nihilistic Debbie Downer sort of way, but in a humbled recognition of all of the variables of the game sort of way. That’s what makes it so fun, right? Fantasy football is fun and engaging because each year is a new year (even for dynasty leagues if you really think about it). New unforeseen obstacles, new unpredictable circumstances, new dynamics amongst fantasy owners that influence trades, new make-it-or-break-it roster decisions, new rookies, etc. There is no perfect formula for fantasy football. After all, my neurotic approach still resulted in 6 subpar and 1 dead-last seasons. Yeah, you can prepare for the draft until you have an ulcer, but did preparing stop Jordy Nelson’s knee from exploding in the second pre-season game? No, no it did not.
The point is that fantasy isn’t merely a game of skill; a considerable amount of luck and misfortune come into play, too (refer back to Jordy Nelson’s knee exploding). With this being said, the true key to success in fantasy is adaptability. It has very little to do with initially drafting the Dream Team, and more to do with having a deeper awareness of influencing factors, taking advantage of unexpected opportunities, and knowing what to do when things go wrong. I’m not saying you should abandon strategy and interest in the draft. I’m saying it isn’t the end of the world if you end up with an average roster that, if done right, has higher trade value than playing value.
So, try not killing yourself before, during, or immediately after the draft this year. Switch up your strategies, test your ability to adjust, and get comfortable with the idea that there’s no right way to draft.
EDIT: But, there is a wrong way to draft. For example, if you draft a kicker before the final round, we can’t be friends anymore.