One of the most exciting parts of dynasty football leagues is the rookie draft. Once a year you get to pick players with no track record and a ton of potential who will fill some type of hole on your roster. Let’s be honest though, rookie drafting is a risky proposition and in my experience, which consists of ten years of commissioning a dynasty league, at best you have a 50/50 chance of any particular pick making an impact on your team. I’ve had first round busts, fifth round studs and everything in between. So how do you stack the cards in your favor? Here are a few tenets that I keep in mind when making my annual picks. They are in no particular order, but they have worked for me over and over again.
Just to level set: Our league’s rookie draft is 5 rounds with 12 teams (60 picks). We use IDPs, so we draft both offense and defense. No veterans are allowed to be chosen (we’ve done that in the past, but putting the initial waiver wire order equal to the rookie draft order takes care of it for us). There is no official time limit for choices, although you start to get severely heckled if you take more than a minute! We also do the draft within two weeks of the start of the season to allow for tracking during the NFL draft all the way through training camp. We then have one week to cut our rosters to 40 players.
Tenet #1 – Two WRs are Better Than One
In almost every draft in which I’ve taken a wide receiver, I’ve actually taken two. Here’s my rationale: receivers take longer to develop for the most part (i.e. the third year WR rule) and even then there is a lot of variability around first and second round NFL wideouts. If you take two you like in the first three rounds, there are only three scenarios that will occur and two of them are favorable.
Scenario #1: Both WRs develop into productive players for you.
Scenario #2: One develops and the other is a bust.
Scenario #3: Both WRs are a bust.
Now, Scenario #1 is both obvious and rare, but scenario #2 is also a darn good deal. If I told you that if you drafted six receiverss and half would be productive for you, wouldn’t you rather do that over three years rather than six?
Now, it’s also possible that Scenario #3 occurs but I’ve found that to be rare too. In 2004, I picked Larry Fitzgerald and Reggie Williams. In 2005, it was Mark Bradley and Vincent Jackson. In 2008, it was Chad Jackson and Eddie Royal. In 2009 it was Darrius Heyward-Bey and Jeremy Maclin. That makes eight receivers in four different years, with two studs (Fitz & Vjax), 1 solid contributor (Maclin) and 5 duds (Heyward-Bey could still develop). You’ll notice I took on this strategy in 2004/2005, then skipped to 2008/2009. Bunches of receivers – that’s how you do it. I picked up Marques Colston as a rookie, Roddy White the year before he broke out and last year Victor Cruz in free agency, so I’ve got myself a wide receiving corps. In rookie drafts, two receivers are simply better than one!
Tenet #2 – Your first pick is critical, don’t overreach
This seems so stupid you don’t even have to say it, right? Well, you’d be surprised how much overreaching I’ve seen. Onterrio Smith was a top three pick in 2003. Kevin Jones was a top five pick in 2004. Mike Bell was a top three pick in 2006. It’s not confined to just running backs, either – Chad Henne was a top five pick in 2008. Not that all of these players didn’t have potential, they did. I would argue they were all drafted well above their actual potential mostly due to a hunch or a great preseason. Again, for the most part, drafts are a 50/50 proposition. If you miss on a few first round picks in a row, suddenly everyone around you has uber-talent and you don’t. You have to make your first pick count.
How do you do that?
If you pick in the top half, stick to the top five consensus rookies after doing your research online. Don’t pick Mike Shanahan’s rookie running back just because it’s Mike Shanahan’s rookie running back. Don’t take a quarterback unless it’s Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck. If you’re at the bottom of the first round, let the draft come to you. Inevitably you will value six or eight of the top players and one of them will fall to you, so make sure you take that player. After picking Marion Barber in the fourth round in 2005, DeAngelo Williams with pick #6 in 2006, Adrian Peterson with pick #1 in 2007 (yes, even dynasty veterans have an off year), I felt really good with my running backs and didn’t plan on taking another one in 2008. I had the tenth pick that year and low and behold, Rashard Mendenhall fell into my lap. I HAD to take him. Let the draft come to you. You’re first pick is critical, don’t overreach.
Tenet #3 – Never Pick a DB or a Kicker
There is just no value in a rookie draft for DBs and kickers. I’ve done both in the past and have quickly realized the folly of my ways. In 2005, I picked Mike Nugent in the fifth round thinking I was getting the next great kicker. Wow, was I proud of myself! Now granted Nugent is alive and kicking (pardon the pun), but he’s never been fantasy relevant and I would have been much better off with a DL or taking a chance on a second tier WR. In terms of DBs, I’ve picked Ken Hamlin and Mike Doss in 2003, Bob Sanders in 2004 and Laron Landry in 2006. None of them are on my team and none of them had any fantasy relevance whatsoever. If you use IDPs in your league, take a look at the top 20 DBs last season and tell me how many you would have drafted as a rookie. In my league there were two, Patrick Peterson and Morgan Burnett. Rather than shoot for a needle in a haystack, just don’t draft a DB and pick them up as free agents. As you can tell from above, I stopped drafting DBs in 2006 and I’ve been quite successful picking up different guys every year that fill out my IDP squad who finish in the top 20 (starter quality) for DBs. Never pick a DB or a kicker, there are plenty out there for free.
Tenet #4 – Pick a TE sooner than anyone in the league would expect you to
This is a relatively new one for me, but it’s been very effective. Let’s set the stage here – two years ago we were breaking into the second round of our rookie draft and midway through the second round is usually when the first tight end goes off the board. That year, you might recall, was the year of the tight end. Jermaine Gresham was the consensus #1, followed by Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jimmy Graham and Tony Moeaki. Now, typically not a lot of tight ends are picked in the rookie draft, but this year was different. That being said, consensus was that Gresham and Gronkowski were second round material, Hernandez was third round material and Graham and Moeaki were guys with big upside to take a flier on in the fourth or fifth round (remember, Graham had all of one season as a college tight end at the University of Miami).
So, back to the story…
Gresham goes at pick 13, Gronk goes at pick 15 and then at pick 19, I take Jimmy Graham. The whole room laughed because they thought I was nuts. Hernandez was taken late in round round three and Meoki late in round four. One of the guys during round four even forgot that I took Graham and called for him again (which also solicited a round of laughs). You know the rest of the story. Tight ends are no longer an afterthought in the NFL and they should not be in your league either. Following my success with Graham, I took Lance Kendricks during round two last year. The jury is still out on Kendricks for sure, but he has the potential to be a top tight end in the near future. The point is, if you feel strong enough about a guy, take him where you feel he’s a value, not where the rest of the league values him. Pick a tight end sooner than anyone in the league would expect you to and you may well be paid off handsomely in the future.
Tenet #5 – Every Position is Important, Draft Accordingly
This one slightly cuts against the grain of Tenet #3, although I would argue if you can get quality DBs and kickers outside of the draft, they are still important, just not draftable. I’ve won multiple dynasty league championships in my ten years of playing in them. The one thing I’ve learned is to have a well balanced team. In 2011, I won our league again and I had the worst quarterback situation in the league, bar none. I had Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford and John Skelton. Fitzpatrick was in the top ten early, but dropped out at the end and none of my other quarterbacks even sniffed the top ten all of last year. Last year I won by being balanced everywhere else and absolutely stinking at quarterback. In a league that starts 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1K, 2DL, 3LB and 2DB, although I didn’t have a starting quality QB, I had 2 top 20 RBs, 4 top 10 WRs, 3 top 10 TEs, 2 top 10 Ks, the top 2 DLs (Jared Allen and JPP), 3 top 30 LBs and 2 top 20 DBs. Depth everywhere else carried me to the championship this season.
The lesson here is that every position is important and you should draft accordingly. Every draft has a different strategy depending on the depth at each position in the draft and your needs. If the draft is strong at DL and you need depth there, draft early and often. If you don’t need a RB, get depth in the first round at WR or QB. Make sure you see what positions are deep in each draft and try to focus on how you can exploit that, either by taking early and often or waiting for quality late and using early picks at a different position of need. The point is, every draft needs a different strategy. Make sure you have one that will focus on your needs as well as the talent that presents itself in any given year.
I know our drafts are still months away, but these tenets are always worth talking about!