Fantasy Football Tips, Sleepers, Busts, and Mock Draft.

by Dustin Dietz | Posted on Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Image: John Biever/Sports Illustrated & Getty Images

By: Dustin Dietz

The beginning of autumn means the leaves start to change colors, the air becomes more crisp and cool, and men’s eyes are perpetually glued to their computers and smart phones to check how their fantasy football teams are doing.

Fantasy football has become a billion dollar industry with millions of Americans playing each year on several different websites. A silly game which was created by employees of the Oakland Raiders in the early 1960’s has become a national phenomenon, and has helped the NFL become more popular among the fringe football fan.

Despite the fact nearly 75% of all Americans already play fantasy football, there are still a select few who are about to embark on their maiden fantasy football draft voyage in the next two weeks. And since I have experienced an incredible amount of success in my fantasy football leagues the last decade, I have agreed to share my infinite fantasy wisdom with the reader and help prepare you to become a fantasy football jedi this season.

I am going to assume one already knows to avoid drafting kickers in the early rounds. So, I will not insult your intelligence that much. Well, without further ado, here are my draft tips.

Make sure you draft one of the stud QB’s in the first three rounds.

Fantasy football was once a game where running backs ruled the landscape with many owners using their first 3 or 4 draft picks on running backs.

Today, things have changed quite drastically. Most NFL teams use a running back by committee approach which has destroyed the value of running backs. Running backs simply do not receive the amount of touches they once did. Only two running backs in 2011 (Maurice Jones-Drew, and Michael Turner) carried the ball over 300 times.

The NFL has become a passing and quarterback league with three, four, and five wide receiver sets being the norm. San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers had the 20th highest passing yardage total in NFL history last year and still finished 6th in the league in passing yards.

With more and more teams chunking the football all over the yard, quarterbacks have begun generating video game like numbers. These ridiculous numbers have resulted in incredible fantasy point seasons for QB’s. In 2011, the top 8 fantasy point scorers in standard leagues were quarterbacks.

With NFL teams now relying more on the arms of their QB’s to move the ball, and less on the legs of their running backs, I highly suggest drafting one of the elite quarterbacks (Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Cam Newton) early to help boost your team’s scoring every week.

The top 5 point producers at quarterback in 2011 (Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Cam Newton) averaged a score of 28 points per week, while the top 5 running backs (Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Michael Turner) averaged only 16 points per week.

Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush averaged 11 points per week last season, and he is available to draft in the 5th or 6th round of most drafts this year. Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan averaged slightly below 20 points a contest last season. The difference between the top 5 QB’s and next tier QB’s is greater than the difference between the top 5 RB’s and next tier of runners.

Unless one has an opportunity to draft Arian Foster, Ray Rice, or LeSean McCoy, one should draft one of the top 5 quarterbacks from last season in the early rounds. Fantasy teams can now survive with three or four average running backs.

Do not let emotions control your draft.

I have seen many players victimized by allowing his or her emotions to affect the way he or she drafts. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU!

Far too often I see owners either reach for players he or she admires because the player is on the owner’s favorite team, or the owner will pass on certain players because the player might have burned the owner in the past.

I was in a league last season where an owner drafted Sam Bradford in the 3rd round because he was an Oklahoma Sooner fan. I informed the owner he could have selected Bradford much later and used his pick on a much more consistent player. Predictably, the owner had a terrible season.

Do not tear your rotator cuff and reach for players many rounds before the player is due to be drafted. For example, I know there are several Robert Griffin III fans in DFW. If one is an owner of a fantasy team drafting soon, and a fan of RGIII, do not draft RGIII before his average draft position of rounds 8-11 because you are smitten over the former Heisman Trophy winner. If an owner selects Griffin early, one could be passing on many potential proven superstars.

If an owner has been burned by a player in the past, do not be afraid to choose the player once again. I drafted Reggie Wayne last week as my 3rd wide receiver after he produced two consecutive mediocre seasons on my bench in 2010 and 2011. While Wayne frustrated me beyond belief in 2010 and 2011, I decided to select Wayne in the 8th round because Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck is already targeting Wayne many times in preseason.

Many times when owners pass over players due to angst, the owner will select a much worse player than the player who previously burned the owner.

In summary, draft with your brain, not your heart.

Running backs are producing at an older age.

There is a belief out there that running backs begin to break down and fall apart when they approach age 30. While that is true for the most part, some running backs are beginning to defy the odds and are bathing in the fountain of youth.

Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner turned 30 in February and was one of only two running backs to have over 300 carries last season. The Burner also gained 1,300 yards on the ground for the Dirty Birds.

Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson turned 31 this past February and was the leading fantasy point producer at his position before suffering a season ending injury in his age 30 season in 2011.

Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee turned 30 last October and rushed for more yards in 2011 (1,199) than he had since 2007.

Due to advances in medicine and treatment, the tread on running backs’ tires is now lasting much longer. Do not be apprehensive when selecting an older running back just because he is a few years away from using a walker at a nursing home. Older running backs can still produce decent numbers.

Don’t draft a tight end in the first three rounds, unless it’s Gronk or Graham.

The tight end position is deeper than it ever has been. Owners can wait until rounds 5-9 to select productive tight ends such as Vernon Davis, Aaron Hernandez, and Jermichael Finley and receive decent points on a weekly basis.

Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham had spectacular 2011’s, but do not even consider using a 1st or 2nd round selection on either one of them. Both fantasy stalwarts production should decline slightly as defenses will most certainly be double teaming them with regularity.

A wise owner will use his or her first two picks on a star QB, RB, or WR, and pass on Gronk and Graham in the first two rounds, but The Gronkster and Graham are worth a pick in the 3rd round.

Note: If one selects Drew Brees or Tom Brady in the first round, Gronk or Graham should definitely be your third round selection. Each touchdown pass will be worth 12 points plus the owner will receive extra points for yardage gained.

Look for RB’s who have no competition behind them.

One bit of advice I always recommend to owners preparing to draft is too find a running with an average draft value between rounds 7-10 with little to no competition behind him, and to select the back in the middle rounds.

Last year, I selected Beanie Wells in the 8th round of a fantasy draft and he rewarded me with over 1,000 yards rushing and scored 10 touchdowns. Wells was the beneficiary of a situation where the Cardinals had little depth at running back after rookie Ryan Williams suffered a season ending knee injury in the preseason. The 167 points Wells scored was 14th among running backs in fantasy football, tremendous value for an 8th round pick.

I will provide owners with two players who I feel will have similar years to Wells in 2011, Indianapolis Colts running back Donald Brown and Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith.

Brown is clearly ahead of Delone Carter and Vick Ballard on the running back depth chart in Indy. The 4th year RB from UConn has displayed game breaking speed and elusiveness through two preseason games. Brown has scored two TD’s, one of them coming on a 63 yard shuffle pass, and the other coming on a goal line dive from one yard out. Brown should provide fantasy owners with 160-180 points this season, a fantastic output from a player drafted in rounds 7-10.

Smith scored 7 TD’s in 7 games last year, and is fortunate enough to be the lead back in a high octane offense. The Lions are unsure when Jahvid Best and Mikel LeShoure will return from injury. Best cannot shake a concussion problem, and LeShoure has been nursing a hamstring problem early in camp. Plus, LeShoure is slated to serve a two-game suspension to start the year. If Smith can remain healthy, owners could receive great flex numbers from a player drafted in a position where not much is expected.

Draft a defense in the last three rounds.

The San Francisco 49ers did not allow a rushing touchdown until Game 15 last year, and allowed only 3 in the entire season, an NFL record since the league expanded to a 16 game season. The Niners led the league in fumbles recovered (15) and were second in the league in interceptions (23). With Justin Smith and Aldon Smith rushing the passer, the Niners were able to sack the quarterback 42 times, tied for 7th in the NFL.

The result of this superb defensive season was a trip to the NFC Championship Game, but more importantly, 190 fantasy points in standard leagues, 29 more points than second place Baltimore.

However, defenses rarely duplicate such fantastic success the following season. Green Bay had the #1 overall fantasy defense in 2010 and ended up finishing 12th in 2011. Also, the team who loses the NFC Championship game has not won a playoff game the following season since the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles. The odds are stacked against the Niners repeating fantasy dominance.

The San Francisco defense average draft position is in rounds 8-10. In my fantasy league, an owner drafted the Niners D in the 9th round instead of selecting high ceiling players such as Denarius Moore, Jacob Tamme, Stevan Ridley, and Titus Young.

The difference between the 10th best fantasy defense in 2011 (New England) and the 2nd ranked fantasy defense (Baltimore) was 25 points. Basically, there is not much of a difference between above average defenses and mediocre defenses. Wait until the last few rounds to draft a defense such as Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, or Chicago and expect to see similar production.

Every pick matters.

Every draft I am involved in I see many owners waste picks on players who have no business being drafted just to garner a few laughs from their buddies. Do not be that guy. Treat every single pick like the pick is the only selection you have, no matter the round.

In one of my drafts last year, Jordy Nelson was selected in the 17th round. Nelson would go on to have a remarkable season and finish as the 3rd ranked fantasy wide receiver behind only Wes Welker and Calvin Johnson. Nelson is now being drafted in the 3rd or 4th round in 2012.

There are gems to be found throughout the draft in every round. Do your homework, and select players you feel have an opportunity to be successful. Your friends might laugh when another owner selects Cole Beasley in the last round, but you will be laughing in December when you collect the other owner’s money because you took every pick seriously.

5 Sleepers you must draft.

1. Donald Brown, Colts RB – I have already mentioned what I think Brown can do for you. New head coach Chuck Pagano says Brown is the man who will receive the lion’s share of carries. Choose him in the middle rounds and enjoy your trip to fantasy football pleasure land.

2. Jay Cutler, Bears QB – Cutler has been reunited with Brandon Marshall and it feels so good. Cutler will produce better numbers than Philip Rivers and Matt Ryan, and Cutler is being drafted 4 rounds later.

3. Randall Cobb, Packers WR – Remember what Jordy Nelson did last season? Cobb will pass Donald Driver and James Jones on the depth chart and produce similar numbers this year as the featured slot receiver in Green Bay’s high powered offense. Take Cobb in rounds 12-14.

4. Jered Cook, Titans TE- The 4th year pro had two 100 yard receiving games in December last year. New Titans QB Jake Locker will depend on Cook to be his trustworthy security blanket as Locker adjusts to the pro game. Take advantage of Cook’s potential in rounds 13-15.

5. Robert Meachem, Chargers WR – Meachem was Drew Brees’ home run threat in New Orleans. San Diego signed the speedster to be their #1 receiver after the departure of Vincent Jackson. With Vincent Brown out for close to two months, Meachem unquestionably will be Philip Rivers’ go to guy. Select Meachem in the 8th round if possible.

5 players to avoid.

1. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants RB – Bradshaw is already experiencing injury problems in August. The Giants used a 1st round pick on David Wilson in April, and Wilson is already taking reps with the 1st team in practice. Select Wilson five rounds after Bradshaw.

2. Andre Johnson, Texans WR – Johnson has not played a full season since 2009, and he plays in a run heavy offense with two running backs who will be given a ton of carries. Johnson is not worth a 2nd or 3rd round pick. Draft Julio Jones instead.

3. Peyton Manning, Broncos QB – The Broncos traded Tim Tebow in the offseason, and signed the future hall of famer. Manning missed the entire 2011 season due to neck problems, and is reportedly already having trouble throwing to his right side. Do not be fooled, this is not the Manning of 2004. Select another QB.

4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars RB – MoJo lead the league in rushing last season, but is currently in a contract dispute and is not reporting to camp. In his absence, Rashad Jennings has excelled and is 3rd in the NFL in rushing after two preseason games. Even if MoJo reports, he will need time to get in game shape. He is not worth a 1st or 2nd round pick.

5. Miles Austin, Cowboys WR – Miles had a breakout 2009, and was given an enormous contract as a reward. However, since then Smiles has been beyond mediocre. Austin played in only 10 games last year and is already experiencing hamstring trouble this year. Avoid the nuisance of checking Miles game-time status every week.

Fantasy Football Mock Draft First 5 Rounds

Here are the draft results of the 10 team fantasy league in which I am commissioner. This should give you a pretty good idea of where certain players should be drafted. Good luck to all players this season.

Round 1

1. Arian Foster, Texans RB

2. Ray Rice, Ravens RB

3. Aaron Rodgers, Packers QB

4. LeSean McCoy, Eagles RB

5. Tom Brady, Patriots QB

6. Drew Brees, Saints QB

7. Calvin Johnson, Lions WR

8. Darren McFadden, Raiders RB

9. Chris Johnson, Titans RB

10. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys RB

Round 2

11. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs RB

12. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks RB

13. Matt Forte, Bears RB

14. Matthew Stafford, Lions QB

15. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars RB

16. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals WR

17. Cam Newton, Panthers QB

18. Fred Jackson, Bills RB

19. Steven Jackson, Rams RB

20. Greg Jennings, Packers WR

Round 3

21. Adrian Peterson, Vikings RB

22. Julio Jones, Falcons WR

23. Andre Johnson, Texans WR

24. Jordy Nelson, Packers WR

25. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots TE

26. Jimmy Graham, Saints TE

27. Roddy White, Falcons WR

28. Brandon Marshall, Bears WR

29. Victor Cruz, Giants WR

30. Ryan Mathews, Chargers

Round 4

31. A. J. Green, Bengals WR

32. Trent Richardson, Browns RB

33. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants RB

34. Michael Turner, Falcons RB

35. Darren Sproles, Saints RB

36. Hakeem Nicks, Giants WR

37. Wes Welker, Patriots WR

38. Brandon Lloyd, Patriots WR

39. Dez Bryant, Cowboys WR

40. Peyton Manning, Broncos QB

Round 5

41. Steve Smith, Panthers WR

42. Matt Ryan, Falcons QB

43. Frank Gore, 49ers RB

44. Doug Martin, Buccaneers RB

45. Willis McGahee, Broncos RB

46. Percy Harvin, Vikings WR

47. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals RB

48. Marques Colston, Saints WR

49. Mike Wallace, Steelers WR

50. Jeremy Maclin, Eagles WR

Follow Dustin Dietz on Twitter @DustinDietz18

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