Fantasy football 101: How to draft your team

USA TODAY Sports

You've done your homework. You've thought about your team for months. Now it's time for the main event. The draft.

We've arrived at the point where you finally stop reading articles and listening to podcasts. It's time to draft your team. Where do you start?

Every owner has a different mentality when it comes to fantasy football. Some study for days or weeks before drafting. Some do multiple mock drafts to prepare. Some don't care at all. There's no standard procedure here.

If you are drafting for the first time, though, you need to know what positions you have to fill, when to draft players and how to handle yourself on the day of the draft. We'll start by going over strategy for each position and then offer a few tips.

Roster breakdown

Quarterbacks

Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees appear to be solid focal points for your roster. However, if you're willing to wait, quarterback depth this year is impressive. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Andrew Luck and RG3 are currently getting drafted around pick No. 75. Russell Wilson is going off draft boards on average at No. 84 overall. Those are three potential fantasy top 10 passers you can find later in the draft, while focusing on other positions in the earlier rounds.

You want a reliable player. Having to decide each week which quarterback you're starting isn't as exciting as it sounds (it doesn't even sound exciting). Backup quarterbacks aren't huge concerns, unless your starter has an inclination for injuries.

Running backs

Every league witnesses an early run on running backs. Why? Because there are only a handful of trustworthy, no-doubt No. 1 starters in the league. Today's NFL is filled with running back platoons. Adrian Peterson = dominant workhorse. Le'Veon Bell = newcomer already dealing with injury issues in a crowded backfield.

Running back is not a deep position either, so you want to grab at least one solid back in the first few rounds. A lot of fantasy experts will take two or three running backs to start, just to solidify that position.

Once you get to the late rounds, you want to grab a "handcuff" for you starter. A "handcuff" is a guy who acts as the primary back-up to a starter. If you have Peterson, take Toby Gerhart as well. If Peterson suffers a serious injury, you're already set with the guy who's stepping in for him.

Feel free to take a shot at some flier backs as well. Roy Helu is gaining traction in fantasy circles. He went off the map after suffering a few injuries, but if Alfred Morris' owner in your league forgets to take Helu, you can benefit. He has value in points per reception (PPR) leagues already, and again, if Morris goes down, guess who just gained a No. 1 running back? Make sure and check depth charts to find those backups.

Wide receivers

Another deep position. Last year, 36 wide receivers posted double-digit points (standard scoring) in at least five games, per Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN. While the number of elite receivers is limited, overall, the position runs well down draft boards.

Touchdowns are difficult to predict, so focus on receivers who either A) see a ton of targets regularly, or B) are definite No. 1 wideouts. Torrey Smith's production was sporadic in 2012, but he's the main option for Joe Flacco now. Anquan Boldin is gone, Dennis Pitta is injured and Smith is entering his third season. Receivers take time to really hit their stride.

Adjust your rankings for PPR leagues. Danny Amendola didn't receive much attention from standard scoring owners while he was with St. Louis, but PPR owners always kept a close eye on him.

Tight ends

There are sure options here. Jimmy Graham is a scoring machine. Rob Gronkowski can be, when healthy. Continue down the list, and you'll find a scarce group. Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten have always been dependable. Vernon Davis could bounce back. Who's left?

If you aren't able to get one of the top tight ends, don't overreach for another player simply to fill the position. You can wait to draft one of the multiple mediocre options. Try to find a player with upside.

Kickers and D/ST

These two positions are not pressing matters. Just because you're starting lineup is almost complete, that doesn't mean you need to fill the rest of it out with two relatively unimportant positions. Team defenses are highly volatile. Sporadic fumble and punt returns for touchdowns will leave an opponent frustrated, but you can't rely on points from those scenarios.

IDP

Some leagues are now drafting individual defense players. Defenders who rack up tackles or sacks are going to earn you the most points. Don't draft a fat defensive tackle in a 3-4 defense. He's just plugging up the middle. Luke Kuechly is a tackling machine and will likely be a top IDP scorer. Just like D/ST, though, you don't need to address your IDP(s) until the late rounds.

Draft day tips

A few tips to get you started:

  1. Don't be late for your draft. If you're not going to show up for it, what's the point? Sure, some auto-draft teams end up turning out well. And the Raiders win a football game every now and then. It's bound to happen, but don't bank on it.
  2. If it's an offline draft, bring a cheat sheet of rankings with you to follow along. There are a few apps you can buy to help guide you through drafts. They aren't necessary. Crossing off names with a sharpie works fine.
  3. Create a list of sleepers. What is a sleeper? It's a simple concept. Find players who have the potential to breakout. Most fantasy experts create lists of potential sleepers. You can find your own by reading up on teams and learning about which players are standing out in training camp and practice. Watching preseason play helps, too.
  4. Know your league's scoring settings. If it is a PPR league, plan for it. Be sure to keep in mind roster size. Two quarterback leagues will emphasize finding a second passer, instead of just waiting to grab whatever backup is left at the end.
  5. Watch out for bye weeks. If your quarterback is off in Week 9, you don't want to draft a backup with the same bye. Bold strategy? Load up on players all with the same bye week. You're taking a loss, essentially, that week, but at least your roster is good to go the rest of the way.
  6. Watch out for bad teams. The Cardinals could not find a quarterback to get Larry Fitzgerald the ball last year. The Raiders look awful this preseason. There are teams you'll want to avoid in general, because drafting their players won't bring much upside.
  7. Go with your gut. If you've done your research, you should at least have a good idea of who you want. And while you can read a thousand different articles on fantasy football strategy, you ultimately decide which players like best.
Time to draft. Good luck.
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