Winning a fantasy football title isn’t easy. It comes down to a lot of prep work, some lucky breaks, and most importantly, a solid draft! Your championship hopes start on draft day which is why I want to take a look back at my 2011 championship draft and offer reflection and insight.
I struggled with whether I wanted to even write this blog. On one hand, I didn’t want this to come off as some blowhard who is bragging about his fantasy football win. On the other hand, I thought it would be fun to look back at what worked and didn’t work, with the idea that maybe someone could take something out of this and apply my strategies to their fantasy football draft next season.
Fantasy football is more than just a game for me, it is a true passion. I love talking about it, I love playing it, I love the strategy, I love the nerves, I love it all. By veteran standards, I am probably still a newbie with only five years experience. I remember when I started and my brother in law told me that it would take five years before I even make the playoffs in our highly competitive money league. I thought he was crazy. I know football so it will be easy right? Wrong.
I learned a lot of lessons in the last four years to set me up for my winning season. I learned these lessons by making every mistake a rookie fantasy football player can make. Bad drafts, too much trading, over-analyzing, getting cocky, yep you name the mistake and I made it. The most important lessons came in drafting my teams. That is why this year I prepared for my drafts differently, and took all of the wrongs I had made and turned them into rights.
For the record, I played in three leagues this season. I went to the championship games in all three leagues, and went 2 of 3 in my Super Bowls. Two were PPR and one was standard scoring. Prior to this season I had only played in one championship and came out with a big “L”. Did I have a lucky year in three different leagues or have I finally turned the corner? I guess we’ll find out next year.
So today I wanted to look back at my 10-team standard scoring league. It is (with all due respect to my other leagues), the most competitive league I play in. Prior to this season I had never even made the playoffs. This year I not only won the title but I also outscored everyone in the league. It all started on draft day and here is how it went down.
This is a keeper league and I chose to keep Maurice Jones-Drew with my first pick. I actually traded for MJD late last year with intentions of using him the following year as my keeper. Obviously this and your second round picks are the most important. Having someone you can rely on and was consistent is the number one prerequisite here for me, and MJD fit the bill.
Every preseason fantasy draft “expert” was down on MJD coming into the season due to the offseason knee surgery. This was my biggest concern but the more I looked into the injury, the less worried I became. Plus, the situation in Jacksonville couldn’t be better for someone like MJD. He is one of the few running backs in fantasy that doesn’t split time and that is huge for me. I refuse to take a running back with my first two picks that splits time with anyone. Due to the lack of a vulture threat and MJD’s career consistency, I felt confident that my first pick or keeper in this case would give solid double digits on most weeks and quite frankly, I think that was a big difference maker here.
I took Greg Jennings with my second pick. In past years I always took running backs one, two, and sometimes even with my first three picks. But this year was different. I felt there was a lot of parody at the running back position after the top tier were drafted. I did consider LeSean McCoy highly, but I thought I needed a top wide receiver here. I didn’t feel the same about wide receiver. I felt I needed a solid wide receiver I could count on in this spot. I needed someone I could count on to give me double digits every week. He didn’t have to be the flashiest, but he had to be the most consistent. Greg Jennings fit the bill!
Let’s take a look at Round 3, another pivotal round of your fantasy football draft. At this point I felt extremely confident that I had two rock solid starters on my team. I went into the draft targeting Matthew Stafford and was confident he wouldn’t be picked anytime soon. So at this point I was looking for an upside guy. My thinking was I’ll take a guy here that could go off because if he can’t, I already have two solid starters in place. I was eying Calvin Johnson hard but he went four picks before me. I felt at this point I could find an upside running back in the next round, but receivers were getting thin. So I took Vincent Jackson.
In retrospect I probably should have taken Mike Wallace who was generally rated higher than Jackson. I knew there would be some off-weeks with Jackson because he was never consistent. But I knew that when Jackson goes off, he goes off big time! I was also confident that Jennings could carry those off-weeks and at minimal, Jackson would get high single digits. I thought that having two #1 wide receivers in two of the most explosive offenses in the NFL was money. It was for awhile, but in hindsight I would have been better off with Wallace, who coincidentally was available in the next round.
So here I sat now with Maurice Jones-Drew, Greg Jennings, and Vincent Jackson going into Round 4. Looking at how the draft was going for some of the other guys, I felt confident that I had one of the better drafts thus far. Barring catastrophic injury, I knew I had three serious studs to start the year off. Now that I had my upside wide receiver, it was time to take my upside running back. With my #4 pick I took Ahmad Bradshaw (Mike Wallace went with the next pick).
I certainly had my reservations about Bradshaw. The time share issue the biggest, but like Jackson, I knew that when Bradshaw goes off, he goes off. I felt that even if Brandon Jacobs steals some touchdowns, Bradshaw would have enough touches to at least get me high single digits, if not low double digits. Between Bradshaw, MJD, Jackson, and Jennings, I felt that I had the nucleus of a team that could outscore the league weekly and they did.
There were a lot of great wide receivers at this spot. I probably should have passed on Jennings and taken LeSean McCoy with that pick, and then taken two wide receivers with my next two picks. If I took McCoy with my second pick I could have taken Mike Wallace and Vincent Jackson with my next picks. I think in hindsight due to Jackson’s inconsistency I made the right move, but it is hard to argue with a backfield of McCoy and MJD.
I am now going into the fifth round with my starting lineup at the skill positions. To me, it was still early to draft a QB. I thought I could pick up plenty of receivers towards the latter stages of the draft. I was targeting Antonio Gates, but he wound up going a few spots before me (luckily). However, I was concerned with Ahmad Bradshaw’s injury-history and wanted to make sure I had a capable backup in case he went down. With my fifth pick I took Shonn Greene.
I remember a few of my fellow draft-mates telling me at the time what a great pick that was at five. Honestly, I felt a little uneasy taking him there. But looking at the rest of available RBs, he was the only one who appeared to be the most reliable at the spot. The irony here is that I wound up coming into the season with such a strong tandem of running backs that I dropped Greene after a few weeks into the season. I was stacked, he was underperforming, so why waste a spot? In hindsight I should have taken Beanie Wells.
So now we get into Round 6 and I have three RBs and two wide receivers. Now that Gates was off the board I was targeting Jimmy Graham at tight end. My thinking was that the usual suspects would go before Graham. Once they started dropped I thought I’d reach for Graham. I was planning on taking Tim Hightower or Beanie Wells here but all of the sudden I heard a few guys chatting up Matthew Stafford (note: keep your draft plans to yourself during the draft). I loved Stafford coming into the draft and made him my top target at QB. I knew he wasn’t going to be around so I reached for him early at six.
I took Stafford the year before but as we know, unfortunately he got hurt. The injury-risk is always there with him but the upside is tremendous. I watched the Lion’s in preseason and Stafford was on fire. With a guy like Calvin Johnson at wide receiver, you know he is going to put up weekly numbers. Sitting here with a starting lineup Stafford, MJD, Jackson, Jennings, Bradshaw with Greene on the bench had me feeling pretty damned good at this point in the draft.
Round 7 was a tough one because I already had my backup at running back and needed some depth at wide receiver. I had targeted Mike Tolbert and Willis McGahee but I had a feeling they’d be around for another round or two. However, Fred Jackson was available and I was intrigued. Here was a guy that wasn’t in a time-share and finished the season strong last year. The remaining wide receivers were all huge reaches at this point so why not go with a starter here and grab my reaches later. As you can expect, this was probably the best move of my draft.
I was getting a bit worried as I entered Round 8 because as stacked as my running backs were, I can only play two per week. But with Bradshaw’s injury history, it was important to have some serious depth there. Tolbert was gone so I took McGahee at Round 8 which turned out to be another fantastic pick for the spot. I won’t lie to you and tell you I targeted Jackson, but I did target McGahee. I loved the potential he had in a John Fox offense and knowing Moreno’s potential for injury, I thought it was only a matter of time before McGahee took the job.
Round 9 saw a few defenses go with the picks before me. There was no way I was taking a defense in Round 9, especially when I needed some depth at wide receiver. At this point it was a crapshoot as all of the guys available were all reaches. So I went with arguably the worst move of my draft and took Pierre Garcon.
I really hated the idea of taking any Indianapolis Colt with so many questions about Peyton Manning. But when Manning is healthy, he and Garcon have great chemistry. I assumed that Manning would be back by midseason and I’d have a great sub for the bye weeks. Like Greene, I wound up dropping Garcon to waivers in the early weeks of the season. In retrospect I would have been much better taking Steve Smith or even AJ Green. If there is a lesson learned here it is not to ignore obvious talent when you get this late in the draft. Smith was a bust the last few years but it wouldn’t have hurt to take him for depth and the upside was we know was much better than Garcon.
The defenses are now flying off the board as we enter Round 10 and I am starting to think. The Baltimore Ravens are still available. Do I reach for the Ravens and potentially lose out on Jimmy Graham or take Graham and wind up playing waiver wire defense this season. I took the Ravens.
Now I know just about every expert will tell you that defenses don’t matter but I completely disagree. Whenever I have done well in fantasy, it is because I have a defense that consistently gives me double digits. The Ravens are going to get turnovers and to me, that makes them worthwhile to take at 10. I am glad I did because their 20 points on some weeks made all of the difference in the world in getting to the title game.
As I enter Round 11 Jimmy Graham is still on the board. I am stunned! Guys like CJ Spiller, Austin Collie, Kellen Winslow, and Lee Evans are being taken before Graham. I wasn’t going to tempt fate any more so I made my pick and got Graham. I was ecstatic. Not only did I get the tight end I wanted, I didn’t have to reach for him. This is another pick that was arguably my best of the draft.
The lesson here is that you need to know when to stay cool and you need to know when to pull the trigger. There are some guys you target that would be nice for your team, but you aren’t going to sacrifice an entire draft to get them. Hey, if someone took Jimmy Graham in Round 7 that’s fine. But I knew I needed running backs there because after the 8th round, it’s all about reaching for a backup like Michael Bush or handcuffing your guys. By Round 11 I had my starters and some decent backups, so why not grab the tight end I targeted? I don’t mind taking a great tight end higher because I do think getting double digits weekly from tight ends is a big difference maker. I just won’t sacrifice the rest of my draft to do it.
As we enter Round 12 I am solid at running back with five starters, alright at wide receiver, but my quarterback situation is shaky. Stafford has enormous potential, but he is a big injury-risk. I needed someone with his same potential on the bench in case he goes down and I miss out on Shaun Hill on the waiver wire. So with that pick, I took Sam Bradford.
In retrospect, this was a total bust. I bought into the Josh McDaniels hype like just about everyone else. Unfortunately Bradford became another waiver wire casualty after I picked up Cam Newton in the second week. I thought I had a steal with Bradford, but it was not to be. In retrospect I would have been better taking Jordy Nelson, Joe Flacco, or even Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The rest of my draft consisted of reaches, and all wound up becoming waiver wire casualties at some point. There were some good reaches I missed out on here like Flacco, Nelson, Fitzpatrick, Aaron Hernandez (and Gronkowski who wasn’t even drafted), and Denarius Moore but there were no difference makers drafted in the later rounds.
I hope you enjoyed this look back and may have taken something away from it good or bad that you can use for your draft next year. I also want to thank everyone that visited the site this year for fantasy football coverage. I promise you that next season we will up the coverage with rankings and more blogs. Until then rest easy, you will need it.