Fantasy Football Strategies

Draft Strategies
One of the most important moments in any fantasy football season is the league draft.  The draft sets the tone of the rest of the season.  It is when your team’s identity is created.  And it is when you and all of the other owners in your league have the best opportunity to add great players to your teams.  So how do you make sure you get your share of great players – and the right mix of them?  The strategies that follow will help you get an edge on the competition in your league.

1. Use a Cheatsheet
Cheat?  Really??  Well, not really.  Cheatsheets are used by almost everyone during fantasy football drafts.  A cheatsheet is a list of NFL players in the order they should be drafted based on the way they are expected to perform in the upcoming season.  Cheatsheets are helpful for beginners and experienced owners.  They give beginners a way to start playing without having to know the names of many pro football players.  And cheatsheets help experienced owners stick to a plan and make informed decisions about who they are picking, especially as the draft plays itself out into later rounds when only lesser-known players are available.

So where do you get a cheatsheet?  Cheatsheets are available in fantasy football magazines and on fantasy football websites.  These types of cheatsheets are developed by experts who are sharing with you how they would draft players based on certain scoring settings and expected player performance.  When you use a cheatsheet, you should make sure that is based on scoring settings that are very similar to those of your fantasy league.

Some cheatsheets are developed by fantasy football owners by themselves for themselves.  These owners usually have a decent or strong understanding of pro football and fantasy football.  Even though they might study some of the publicly available cheatsheets, in the end, they prefer to use their own cheatsheet for the draft.  Making your own cheatsheet can be helpful if you want to make sure your cheatsheet takes into account your league’s unique scoring system, or if you want to shift some players higher and lower on the list from where the “experts” have them.
A hybrid of these two types of cheatsheets works well for many people – that is to take an expert’s cheatsheet and mark it up with some changes that reflect what you think the list should look like.  The beauty of being a fantasy football owner is that you get to run your team however you want.  So if you want to use an expert’s cheatsheet as a starting point and then pave your own road, you are more than welcome to do so.

The important thing about a cheatsheet is that it gives you a map to follow during the draft.  If the draft starts moving too quickly or you are suddenly surprised that the players you wanted are no longer available, your cheatsheet will help you figure out what to do next.

2. Know Your League’s Settings
Knowing your league’s settings can make a huge difference during the draft.  When you know the league settings, you can make better decisions about which positions and players to pick.  For example, if your league calls for 2 starting running backs and only 1 starting quarterback, and running backs score more points in your league than quarterbacks, you probably want to draft a good running back in the first round and maybe another one in the second round before all the good ones get away.

Specifically, you want to make sure you know your league’s scoring system and your league’s roster requirements.  Do QBs get 4 points or 6 points per touchdown pass?  Do WRs get points for receptions?  How many RBs are you allowed to start every week?  Are there any flex positions in your league?  If so, how many are there and what kind of players can be used to fill them?  These are the types of questions you should ask yourself as you go over your league’s settings.

Sometimes it can be tough to see how your league’s scoring system makes some type of players more valuable than others, especially if your league uses scoring settings that aren’t common.  In some fantasy football game sites, you can see how the year-end scoring would look using the previous year’s statistics or this season’s projections.  And some owners will purchase or create spreadsheets that can do this.  But many owners will simply look at how their league’s scoring differs from the standard fantasy football scoring system and make the adjustments in their head.
However you do it, always make sure you go into the draft with an understanding of your league’s settings.

3. Do Some Homework
Cheatsheets are great.  Knowing something about the players is even better.  One of the easiest ways to do this is to buy a fantasy football magazine at your local bookstore.  They usually appear in June and July.  These magazines list players by position and give a short paragraph describing each one, along with some projected stats and rankings at each position.  This is a quick way to get a good feel for the players.  And you can keep the magazine by your side during the draft to help you.

Another way to do this is to research the players on sites like ESPN and Yahoo.  They often have articles and lists of players that provide insight into who they are and what they are expected to do in the coming season.  You can also research their stats from last season by yourself (the information is readily available online).  Many seasoned owners will use a fantasy football magazine/website and supplement it with their own research.

An important part of this research is Tier Designation.  In fantasy football, football players are often placed in different categories or tiers that help fantasy owners understand how good each player is relative to the rest at his position.  For example, there are Tier 1 quarterbacks, Tier 2 quarterbacks, and Tier 3 quarterbacks, often represented as QB1, QB2, and QB3.  Someone like Aaron Rodgers would be a QB1. Usually, only elite players are considered Tier 1 at their position.  Average to above average players are in Tier 2.  And average to below average players are in Tier 3.
Knowing which players belong in which tier will help you keep the list of available players in perspective.  So when you are faced with drafting either a QB2, a RB2, or a WR1, the decision you should make might become more obvious.  A little bit of homework can go a long ways.

4. Take Advantage of Mistakes
It’s important to remember that some owners are less prepared than others for the draft.  Mistakes will be made.  And you can take advantage of those mistakes if you know what to look for.

One of the biggest mistakes owners make is picking players without thinking about their league settings.  Not all league settings are the same.  Scoring systems can vary, as can roster requirements.  If you are in a league where quarterbacks score much more than running backs and you can a have starting quarterback and a quarterback in a flex position on your weekly roster, then making the traditional move of drafting a running back in the first round may not be wise.  But some owners won’t think it through.

Sometimes owners draft players who used to be all-stars but can no longer produce the way they used to.  Memories of prior greatness still linger in the minds of these owners.  Or maybe they draft someone early who had great numbers last season without considering that those numbers were great because someone else was absent on that player’s NFL roster due to injury.  If that dynamic has changed, last year’s productive player is unlikely to be as productive this season.  That is your opportunity to grab the player they should have drafted.

If you are paying attention, you can capitalize on these mistakes and make your roster stronger than you thought you could.

Waiver Strategies
Learning how waivers works can take some time.  But once you’ve grasped it, you can apply strategies that will allow you to use the waivers process to your advantage.  The key to making the most of waivers is how you use the waiver wire.

The waiver wire is the list of players that can be added to your team through the waiver process.  The waiver process is usually applied to a player immediately after he has been dropped by a fantasy team.  Sometimes it is also applied to a league’s entire list of free agents once Sunday’s games have started.  The waiver wire changes on a regular basis as players enter waivers and others clear (exit) the waiver process.
The skill with which you work the waiver wire can make a big difference in the success of your fantasy team over the course of a season.  So here are some key waiver wire strategies that can help tip the balance in your favor.

1. Be Patient
First of all, remember that once an owner adds a new player through the waiver process, that owner goes to the back of the line in the waiver order.  Why is that important?  Well, let’s say you just picked up David Wilson on waivers because he had a good game the week after Rashad Jennings pulled a hamstring.  That may work well for you for one or two weeks of football.  But when Jennings returns and one of the owners in your league suddenly drops Eli Manning after a bad game (and, yes, some owners will do dumb things like that), are you going to be wishing you were still sitting near the top of the waiver order with a chance to add Eli to your team?

In almost every league, someone will drop a Tier 1 or high-end Tier 2 player during the season.  And when that happens, you want to be at or near the top of your league’s waiver order.  So be careful about chasing after every player that goes through the waiver process.  More often than not, it is best to wait for the waiver process to run its course before adding someone who was on waivers.  Your team will likely still be competitive without that player if someone else grabs him on waivers.  Save it for someone who can really add some value to your team.

2. Seize the Right Opportunities
So when should you charge forward and pursue who you want on the waiver wire?  As mentioned above, you want to go after Tier 1 and upper Tier 2 players who are dropped for any reason other than a season-ending injury.  These are the kind of players that can make all the difference when added to your team.  Even if you already have all the starters you need at that position on your roster, a player like this can filled an important role later because of injuries to other players on your team.
Or maybe you already have a major need on your roster (can’t fill a starting running back slot due to injuries).  This is also the right time to make a bid for someone on waivers, even though it means going to the back of the line on the waiver list.  Being third on the waiver order is nice, but don’t stay there if the need is pressing.

The other time to chase after players on the waiver wire is when you are near or at the bottom of the waiver order in your league.  At that point, what do you have to lose?  If someone higher on the order snags the player you wanted, then you simply move up on the list.  But if you are awarded the player, you will stay at the bottom or only lose a spot or two on the waiver order.  Not a bad trade-off.  So when you are at the bottom of the list, remember that you can be a little more carefree about pursuing players on the waiver wire.

3. Check the Waiver Wire
You never know when another owner is going to switch out players on their roster.  It can happen any day at any time.  The waiver process only lasts 1-5 days, depending on your league’s settings.  So don’t be the owner who didn’t look at the waiver wire all week and missed an opportunity to add someone you wanted to your team.  Check the waiver wire regularly – daily if possible.  It’s a simple thing, but it is the most important waiver strategy to follow.

Start/Sit Strategies
Every week you have decisions to make about who to start and who to sit on your roster. Some of those decisions are easier than others.  And those other decisions can be downright tough.  So here are a few tips on how to work those tough choices into some great decisions for your fantasy football team.

1. Start Your Superstars
No one is going to perform like a superstar every week.  But your superstars will perform like superstars more often than anyone else.  So make sure you have them in your starting roster every week.  Yes, there are weeks when Andrew Hawkins or Malcom Floyd will perform better than Victor Cruz.  But can you accurately guess which week?  Keep your superstars where they belong: on your starting roster.

2. Assess Opposing Defenses
If you are having trouble deciding between two players, look at the defenses of the teams they are facing that weekend.  Specifically, look at how the opposing defenses normally perform against players at that position.  So if you are deciding between two running backs, and one is facing the second best defense in the NFL against the run, while the other is facing the 28th ranked rushing defense, consider starting the running back facing the easier run defense.

3. The Injury Factor
Don’t forget to check the injury status of your players.  Someone suffering from a rib injury or a tender ankle might be worth sitting while you start a healthy player of the same capability.  Lingering or suspect injuries can serve as a useful tiebreaker when deciding who to start.

4. Hot Streaks and Cold Streaks
Some players get on hot streaks.  Others can be on cold streaks.  The beginning and end of the streaks are tough to call.  But you can usually do right by starting the player currently on a hot streak over the one on the cold streak.

5. Home Field Advantage
Finally, consider home field advantage.  Players at home know every crevice of their field and how to play on it.  They understand the winds and the weather.  And they have the boost of supportive fans. Playing on one’s home field is an advantage.  So make sure you factor it into your decision-making on who to sit and who to start.

Bye Weeks
Bye weeks are a struggle every fantasy football owner must go through between Weeks 4 and 12 of the NFL season.  It would seem like one of your best players is having to sit out every week.  This can lead to frustration and anxiety if you haven’t prepared yourself for this.  Here is how you can minimize the effects bye weeks have on your fantasy team.

1. Draft Day
You can start solving the bye week puzzle on draft day.  During your league’s draft, you can choose players that have different bye weeks so only one of your normal starters at each position has to sit on the bench on any given week (a player’s bye week is usually listed next to his name on cheatsheets).  But this tactic can be limiting when your goal is to draft the best and most important players available.

Another way to deal with bye weeks on draft day is to pick bench players who fill the gaps on your roster.  So if the two starting running backs you drafted have bye weeks during Week 5 and Week 8, you should consider drafting a couple of extra RBs during the late rounds of your draft who do not have a bye on Week 5 or Week 8.

It is not necessary to cover every bye week gap during the draft.  You can always add players during the season to address those needs.  But keeping bye weeks in mind during your draft can help you minimize the effects bye weeks have on your team later on in the season.

2. Address Future Gaps Early
If you know you have some bye week gaps to fill, begin addressing them sooner than later.  Look for free agents or potential trades that can solve your dilemmas or even improve your current plan to fill the bye week gaps.  Waiting until those bye weeks arrive will leave you with limited options.  Some of the players you could have used may have already been taken by someone else.  And there is no guarantee anyone will make a trade with you that week that will give you the substitute player you need.  Look ahead and act early to straighten out your bye week situation.

3. Expendable Defenses and Kickers
Are you having a tough time finding someone on your roster to get rid of to make room for the bye week fill-in player?  Look at your kickers and defenses.  If you have bench kickers and defenses, consider dropping one of them to make room for the player you need to fill the gap in the bye week.  Of course, you don’t want to drop one of the top 4 or 5 defenses.  But most other defenses and nearly all kickers can be dropped and replaced later by any other kicker or defense without much difference in point totals (check your league’s scoring settings to be sure).  This can provide you with the flexibility you need to cover some of your bye weeks.

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