With the start of the 2014 fantasy football season coming soon I wanted to take time to give some thoughts about draft day strategy and what not to do and what to do in the early, middle, and late rounds of a draft. Before I go into too much detail please note that this is only general thoughts and not a model that one must follow for success. In fact, too often do owners decide what position or even the players they are going to take in each round before a draft. That is a waste of time and a bad idea. I will elaborate on this more but long story short, it is impossible to plan out an entire draft from start to finish. You will never end up with the team that you had planned out.

As we always state at FantasySmackTalk, knowing your settings is extremely important and will change how you should be looking to draft. If you are in a full point per reception league, two quarterback league, or another variation of a league these rules might change slightly but overall it does not affect what I am stating below too much. Below is based on a 12 team, 0.5PPR, 1QB, 3WR, 2RB, 1FLEX, 1TE, 1 DEF, 1K league (a common setup but the theories hold true for majority of leagues).

Rounds 1-4

Best Player Available

The statement “You cannot win a league but can certainly lose a league in the first few rounds of your draft” is getting overused with each passing year but it is a true statement. It basically means do not get cute in the early rounds. You should be drafting the best player available early on in your drafts. This is why I stated above you should not plan out your entire draft. If someone is going into this year saying I am waiting on tight end and not taking one early no matter what happens; that is a short sided idea.

If Jimmy Graham is still there in the third round, he is too good to pass up on even if you have decided you are going to try and get Dennis Pitta in the later rounds. You should just draft Graham and adjust your strategy. That is what it is really all about, adjusting strategy and going with the flow of your draft in the early rounds. You want to have the best possible four players relative to their position with your first four picks. If that ends up being three running backs and a wide receiver that is just fine. The middle and later rounds are to be used for rounding out your team so do not stress about positions in the first few rounds just take the best player.

Rounds 5-8

Best Value Available

These are the rounds where so many leagues are won. One must be disciplined and must not panic in these rounds since these are when the quarterback and tight end runs most often occur. As these runs are occurring, capitalize on them by grabbing a running back or a receiver that slipped due to everyone else taking the other positions.

For example, I am not a huge fan of Torrey Smith this year but he certainly has upside. In a recent draft that I was participating in, he fell into the 8th round. I needed a tight end and could have drafted his teammate (that I do like) Dennis Pitta but I decided to draft Smith due to the crazy value and got Zach Ertz (nice upside tight end) one round later. Again, the value of Smith was too great for me to pass on him. These picks do not have to be specific to any position just all should have a good chance for a great return on their investment.

Rounds 9-12

Fill Positional Needs

Ok, so you have taken the best possible players in the first four rounds, you took whoever should not have slipped and best values in the second four rounds, now it is time to round out your team. First things first, if you do not have a quarterback or a tight end at this point in the draft take one as soon as possible and maybe even take two. Next you need to ensure your bench compliments your starters. So if you have stud wide receivers and only decent running backs you will want to take running backs with these picks.

Think of it this way, even if there is great value left on the board there is no need to take another wide receiver that is never going to make your starting lineup (again if you are thrilled with your starting receiver corps at this point in the draft). I know there is always trade bait but anyone you draft in these rounds are going to be hard to deal to get good value for so you might as well take the gamble where you need help the most.

Rounds 13-15

Handcuff, Defense, and Kicker

In the last rounds I want to do the following, in order. Take the handcuff to my elite running back (a handcuff is the backup of said starter. The reason for this is if my elite running back goes down I at least am ensured the starting team for said team).

Next, I will take my defense and I like to take a solid defense that has a good Week 1 match-up (Carolina is a prime example for this year as they play the Bucs). Most likely I will rotate my defense week to week so I do not put too much stock into this position. Side note, everyone had the Bears and Patriots as a top five defense last year. They both finished outside the top 20 in yards allowed. It is so tough to predict how a defense will fair year to year.

My last pick is either a kicker (if the season is about to start) or a backup running back. Yep, I do not draft a kicker in some cases. Here is the thought, I can draft a guy like Roy Helu and hold onto him up until the day before the season starts. Should Alfred Morris go down at practice I have the starting running back locked in on my team. If Morris doesn’t get hurt then I just cut Helu before the season for my kicker. No harm no foul.

I just spent this entire article basically stating do not plan out your draft. So this goes against everything I have written but I know this is what you all wanted when you clicked on this article, so here you go.

My Ideal Draft

Round 1: Elite Running Back

Round 2: Elite Wide Receiver

Round 3: Top Three Quarterback

Round 4: Solid Running Back

Round 5: Nice Value Wide Receiver

Round 6: Nice Value Running Back

Round 7: Nice Value Running Back

Round 8: Nice Value Wide Receiver

Round 9: Tight End

Round 10: Sleeper Wide Receiver

Round 11: Sleeper Wide Receiver

Round 12: Upside Running back

Round 13: Handcuff to my Elite Running Back

Round 14: Defense

Round 15: Backup Running Back (yep, no Kicker – see above)