As the month of June winds down and we approach the Fourth of July weekend, millions of fantasy football players across the country will begin working on draft boards in anticipation of the upcoming 2011 NFL season. Although some may argue that it is premature to begin the draft process with the uncertainty surrounding the labor stoppage and CBA negotiations, I would argue that it is never too early to begin thinking about the fantasy draft.
Kramerica Sports will be unveiling a new draft tool this season to help simplify the draft process for fantasy owners. Our new CPR Rating (Consistent Performance Rank) will give fantasy owners a clear gauge of how consistent a player performs each week, as players who provide consistent solid performances week in and week out are the most valuable players in head-to-head fantasy formats.
In lieu of our CPR rating that will be unveiled next month, I thought it would be useful to provide a list of three basic strategies that I have used over my ten plus seasons playing and writing about fantasy football. Although some of my fellow fantasy football writing colleagues will argue that detailed draft and trading strategies are the key to fantasy football glory, I believe that adherence to these three simple rules will give owners all they need to win their league.
1 – Start with Foundation Players
Fantasy Football teams should be constructed in a similar way to how sky scrapers are built, with strong foundations in which everything else is built upon. Championship teams are built with three or four foundation players drafted in the first four rounds of drafts. These foundation players are well established players who have a history of consistent performance, are in the prime of their playing careers, and are relatively injury free.
Foundation Players by definition are rock solid picks who possess the least amount of uncertainty. They are players who provide an average of between 8 and 20 fantasy points each week, with a limited number of poor performances that will hurt an owner’s chance of winning a given matchup.
At Kramerica Sports, we base our early round Foundation Player rankings on our CPR rating system. The CPR rating system shows how consistent a player performs each week by reviewing the total number of times a player is in the Top 10 and Top 5 (Elite) of their respective position each week. If a player has a CPR rating of 45%, that lets owners know that in the previous season, that player was a top performer 45% of his games played. Although, past performance is not necessarily a guarantee or future success, the CPR rating gives owners a good idea of the scoring tendency of a certain player. After all, a player who scores well each week is more valuable that a player who has only a few huge games followed by weeks with little or no points.
A player coming off a breakout season with only one solid year of fantasy stats under his belt should not be considered a Foundation Player. For example, in 2009 Ray Rice had a breakout campaign and propelled many owners to fantasy glory. The following season, Rice was overrated by numerous fantasy websites and was subsequently drafted much too high over other Foundation Players with a longer history of solid performance. Rice did not have a top 3 fantasy season as predicted, and proceeded to let down those fantasy owners who could have used that pick on a more established player.
As I will discuss in the next section, the middle rounds of fantasy drafts are where owners should use picks on riskier players who have the upside potential to produce like early round picks. It is far to risky to use a first round pick on one of these Upside Players in the first few rounds, as you may be without the benefit of consistent stat production that Foundation Players provide.
2 – Target Upside Players in Middle Rounds
After beginning with a solid foundation of top tier players like Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson, fantasy owners should use a few picks of the middle round on what I call Upside Players. These players have all of the tools to become top fantasy performers, but who have yet to have their breakout season. There is no shortage of opportunities for new players to become fantasy relevant. Free agent signings, injuries, retiring players, depth chart battles, drafted rookies, and new coaching staffs are just a few of the many variables that can lead to a breakout season for an otherwise unknown player.
A prime example of this happened in the 2010 season with the emergence of Arian Foster of the Houston Texans. Foster was an undrafted rookie from the previous season who was signed to the practice squad by Gary Kubiak and the Texans front office. Poor play by the incumbent Steve Slaton opened the door for Foster to become the top fantasy back, leading many fantasy owners to glory. Foster was taken in the mid rounds by most owners due to his upside. He was certainly not a proven commodity, however the situation presented in Houston and his strong pre-season made him an excellent Upside Pick to use a mid-round draft pick. If he ended up having a great year then the owner received huge value for the pick. Conversely, if he is a bust and does not perform well, the owner still has the strong foundation built in the first two rounds to rely upon.
3- Be Active in Free Agency for Upside Players
In many cases, Upside Players are not presented with an opportunity to perform until the middle of the season. The violent nature of the National Football League leads to opportunities for players to play when an incumbent player leaves with an injury. Successful fantasy owners should always be on the lookout for such opportunities throughout the season, and more importantly, owners should not be afraid of pulling the trigger on a player via free agency. Many owners fear that the opportunity cost (thank you economics 101) of dropping a player for an Upside Player on the waiver wire is too great, when in reality missing out on a chance for a breakout performance from a player like Stevie Johnson in 2010 is far worse than dropping a bench player.
Many of my readers will argue that successful fantasy football owners must review schedules, match ups, weather reports, and a multitude of other variables when building their fantasy roster. While I believe that there is merit in all of those things, I think that some owners can get carried away and have a bad habit of over-complicating things. The fact is that these variables are unpredictable. Some players have terrible games against easy opponents, only to follow with an excellent game against a much harder defense. While one quarterback may do excellent in cold and windy weather, another may struggle in the warm sunshine down in Miami.
The honest truth is that 90% of fantasy football is unpredictable. It is what makes the game fun. I believe that following my three simple rules is an excellent and proven way to build a contending team, complete with a foundation of proven players to act as the backbone of the roster, and a few Upside Players to possibly give the owner enough momentum to win the championship.