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Fantasy Primer Part I: Picking a winning team!

NFL training camps are now in full swing which can mean only one thing ... your fantasy football draft is right around the corner. The fantasy football season is won and lost on draft day, so don't go into the season blindly. The key to winning in fantasy is to have a draft strategy. Here is the strategy I recommend:

Draft players from offensive powerhouses

It is important to load up on players from offensive powerhouses. Minnesota, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Denver, and Oakland are my top five offensive picks this season. My second tier includes Green Bay, New Orleans, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Kansas City, and Buffalo. This doesn't mean that I'm going to pass over Eddie George (Titans), Jamal Lewis (Ravens), Keyshawn Johnson (Buccaneers), or Curtis Martin (Jets). The point here is that you want to try and concentrate heavily on teams that are offensive scoring machines. Let's face it, how many fantasy championships have been won by teams who have a lot of starters from the Cardinals, Bengals, and Browns?

Try to take both the QB and WR from one team

When possible try to take the star receiver from the club whose quarterback you've drafted. I'm sure it will be nearly impossible to pair up Daunte Culpepper with Randy Moss this year, but I'd certainly settle for the Culpepper/Carter combination. If you can get Kurt Warner along with either Isaac Bruce or Torry Holt, or Peyton Manning with Marvin Harrison, your talking fantasy gold! Culpepper, Warner, and Manning are the only quarterbacks guaranteed to be taken in the first or second rounds. Rich Gannon, Donovan McNabb, Brian Griese, Brett Favre, and Trent Green are likely to go anywhere from the late second round to the early fifth round. While McNabb doesn't have a proven number one receiver, James Thrash would be the guy you'd want to pair him up with. Gannon/Tim Brown, Griese/Rod Smith or Griese/Ed McCaffrey, Favre/Antonio Freeman, and Green/Derrick Alexander or Tony Gonzalez would all be excellent combinations to have on your roster.

Draft a running back early and wide receivers later

While quality quarterbacks and wide receivers can be found in the middle to late rounds of a fantasy draft, starting running backs are tough to come by. Since most fantasy teams start two backs, I like to get my starters in the first couple of rounds. The only way I'd deviate from that format is if Culpepper, Manning, Warner, or Randy Moss fell to me. A best case scenario would have me landing two of my top ten backs early, grab my highest rated receiver in the third round, and pray that one of my top ten quarterbacks is available in the 4th round. If I feel that there are 3 or 4 quarterbacks of equal value still available when I pick in the 4th round I might grab another receiver and wait until the 5th round for my starting signal caller.

I've had great success at drafting quality receivers late. Last year I was lucky enough to get Derrick Alexander in the 7th round. Since there are 62 starting receivers in the league it's easy to find quality starters at that position in the 6th round or later.

Make sure you have depth

In the middle and late rounds you also need to see which starting running backs might have slipped through the cracks. You never want to be an injury away from having a weak lineup. Also keep an eye on new starters who have not proven themselves yet. Too many fantasy fans draft players based on last year's stats. You need to have the foresight to grab the guys who you know will touch the ball enough to make an impact.

If you draft a star player who is injury prone or a quarterback on an offensive powerhouse, you'd be wise to pick up the backups to those players. Although I think Terrell Davis is going to put two year's worth of injuries aside and have a great season, I'd be sure to draft Olandis Gary (currently running second string) if I'm lucky enough to get Davis.

The pre-season has officially begun so go out and do your homework. It's time to put your general manager's hat on and find those diamonds in the rough. Scout the players, draft guys who will put up big numbers, and go into the season with a deep team. Do those things well and you'll have a great 2001 NFL season.

Next week I'll break down this year's rookie class.

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