How to Win Your Fantasy Football League

Okay, you’ve been playing fantasy football for a couple of years now, but you have yet to win your league. And you’re tired of hearing the same guys gloat year after year while they’re playing in the championship games and your season is over. Well, I’m here to help.

I’ve been playing fantasy football since 1992 and have had teams in more than one league since 2001. In those 14 years, I have made the playoffs in at least one league every season and have claimed four titles. I want to share some information on how to be a force in your fantasy league beyond the typical “know your bye weeks” that most fantasy advice columns tout.

The first thing you should do is actually a don’t – as in don’t spend $7 (or more) on a fantasy football magazine. You will be much better off saving that money to spend on the waiver wire (if your league charges for transactions). Instead, go online and print out cheat sheets. Just go to a search engine and put in fantasy football cheat sheets. There will be tons of matches. Cheat sheets are lists of players by position, usually ranked by the author’s preference. These will normally have bye weeks listed as well as previous year’s stats and sometimes projections for the coming season. This is all the information you’ll need from a fantasy magazine and you can get it for free. All you miss out on are some nice color pictures. And you can find that for free, too, if you’re into that kind of thing.

You can have a championship team by drafting off of someone else’s rankings. Of course, you can adjust the rankings if you want. The one thing to be careful is that you have a solid reason to move a player up or down from where he is on your cheat sheet. It’s okay to move up Daunte Culpepper if you see him healthy during pre-season action. It’s not okay to move up Chester Taylor because he’s the starting running back on your favorite team.

Once you have your cheat sheet organized by ranking, see if there are any “natural breaks” where there is a noticeable drop in talent from one player to the next. There may be three running backs head and shoulders above the number four player on the list. Those first three backs are the top tier, while those that come after form the second tier. I recommend forming three to five tiers for each position. Whenever one of your tiers are exhausted (everyone in the group drafted), you should look to see who is available at another position. All tiers are not created equal, but if you reach the point where you are in your third-tier running backs and there are still first-tier receivers available, the choice becomes a bit easier

Next, prepare for the draft based on your draft position. Most leagues select draft order well in advance of the actual draft date. Your draft strategy has to be based on where you are going to be picking players. You’ll need a different strategy if you’re picking first then if you’re picking in the middle of the pack or last.

If you’re picking at the top of the draft, you have to pick a running back. After his outstanding 2004 season, lots of people picked Peyton Manning first or second overall in 2005. He had a nice season, but not the record-breaking year he did the year before. You can not count on someone having a record-breaking season. And the combination of normal Manning year plus sub-standard runners and receivers does not equal championship team in most competitive leagues.

Don’t be afraid to pick a wide receiver in the middle of the first round. This year, there are three sure-fire picks. In every league these players should go in the top three picks. In alphabetical order, they are Shaun Alexander, Larry Johnson and LaDanian Tomlinson. So, what do you do if you have picks four through eight? Do you want the second tier running back or the top tier wide receiver or quarterback? There is no easy answer to this question. But this is where your draft strategy comes in. You have to arrive at the draft knowing that you are going to take a RB or WR or QB and know what to expect will be available when you pick on the next two rounds.

If you pick at the end of the first round, you have to employ a value approach. If you have pick nine and the first eight picks have been seven RBs and Manning, you need to think about grabbing the top wide receiver on your board. But, if several wide outs have gone ahead of you, take the back. A second-tier running back is better than a second-tier receiver in most instances. And by all means, if Manning is available when you pick ninth, grab him!

If you have done your homework, when draft day comes you should be able to predict every player drafted in the first two rounds. That is the players, not their exact draft position. There are two things you can do to prepare for this. First, if you are playing in a league with some or all of the same people from a season ago, review their drafts and look for tendencies. These are easier to spot than you might think. Some owners always take a running back in the first round, regardless of where they pick. Others have favorite teams or players. Others always come out of the first three rounds with a QB, RB and WR. Knowledge is power, so know the tendencies of others in your league.

The next thing is to study mock drafts. After you print out your cheat sheets, view as many online mock drafts as you can. AntSports ( has an impressive collection available to view for free and the best thing is you can customize them to fit your league. You can pick the number of teams in your league and the basic parameters of your scoring system to get the most accurate mocks for your league.

If you know the tendencies of the owners of your league and you know who are the most popular players in the early rounds of mock drafts, you can do an excellent job of predicting who will go in the first two (possibly even three) rounds of your draft.

Knowing who will be available when you pick should play a key role in your strategy. Let’s say you have the seventh pick in a 12-team league. By studying your fellow owners’ strategies and viewing the mocks, you should have a reasonable idea of who will be available when you pick on the first round (seventh overall), second round (18th overall) and third round (31st overall).

So, what is a good starting strategy? Here is an example of a plan with which to enter draft day:
With the seventh pick, I am going to take Manning if he is still available. If not, I will take the top running back left on my board. With my second pick, I will take a running back if one of my top-12 RBs are available. If not, I will grab the top WR on my board. With my third pick, I will grab a running back if I do not already have two backs on my roster. If I do have two RBs, I will pick a QB if one of the top three on my board are left. If not, I will pick the top WR available. I expect to come out of the first three rounds with Edgerrin James, Jamal Lewis and Cliff Chambers.

Now, it’s okay if the names don’t match the plan. You can expect James, Lewis and Chambers but end up with Stephen Jackson, Willis McGahee and Larry Fitzgerald. The point is you kept to your plan and ended up with two solid starting RBs and a top notch WR. What you don’t want to end up happening is having three RBs or a QB and two WRs because that deviated from your plan and left you with big holes to fill later.

If you do the proper research, formulate a solid draft plan for the first few rounds and execute that plan without deviating too far from it, you will be in better position than most other owners in your league and are well on your way to a championship-type season.

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