The foundation of a good fantasy team is preparation and clarity in your player rankings — but preparation is nothing without the mental qualities of agility and tranquility on draft day. Here, guidelines for drafting like a ninja gymnast: flexible, sneaky, calm but alert, and ready to execute acrobatic decapitations.
Prepare Constantly For Disaster
As information becomes more free and swift-travelling in the fantasysphere, it is becoming more difficult to count on being able to land a specific player in a specific round. Your plan A might be Matt Ryan in the sixth round at quarterback, but would you call an audible if Tom Brady fell to you in the second? Michael Vick in the fifth? By walking through these scenarios before they happen, you’ll avoid the panic of improvising. Not knowing what to do when an expected pick is sniped is the primary cause of “going on tilt” and losing your focus. Envision your perfect successful draft, but also envision failure — both before the draft and during it — and make notes on what you might do if you don’t get what you want.
This is also where tier-based drafting can be your Xanax. List your targets in groups of players you consider to have roughly the same value; when the last guy in one tier is nabbed right in front of you, it's time to move to a different position of need.
Anticipate And Manipulate Others' Panic
The herd mentality reigns supreme in fantasy drafts. When a certain position goes off of the board at a faster than anticipated rate, the adrenaline-laced feeling of not wanting to be on the outside looking in is hard to avoid. There are a few things you can do to turn the phenomenon of runs on one position to your favor:
Leave the ranch before the stampede begins... You probably know your league's history, but even if you are drafting for the first time, you should think about who’s an experienced fantasy player and who isn’t. Expect less experienced players to go quarterback and running back early and more experienced players to slow-play quarterback and tight end. If there’s someone you really want from one of those positions, get ‘em quick.
...And remember that runs beget runs. Drafts can have a “hive mind” effect, where owners move en masse to fill certain positions after checking another one off of their list. If ten quarterbacks go in the first three rounds, chances are running backs will be flying off of the board next.
Be an agitator. If you are at either end of a snake draft, you’ll have to play some guessing games about the direction the draft will take. Don’t forget that you can also influence that direction. If you double up on a position at the turn, you may cause other owners to get scared about how quickly their list is getting shorter at that position, which then kicks off a run that increases the value at other positions by the next time you are on the clock.
Limit Your Tendencies Toward Vengeance And Gluttony
It’s going to happen. You’re going to get sniped by an opponent and lose a target just before you pick. Don’t do anything stupid like take the handcuff to their top running back or a surplus player at a position they need out of spite or retaliation. Resist the urge to let your emotions overcome logic, especially when a pick seems directed at you personally.
Another common scenario: seeing value persist on the board at a position after you have addressed it. You may feel an inclination to punish your opponents by taking an extra player you’re high on to hold hostage in a trade. The reality is that these trades can sometimes be difficult, or even impossible to pull off, and you are setting your team back elsewhere. After the 11th or 12th round, taking players for trade value alone is viable, but not before. You can’t stop your opponents from getting great values, so just accept that now.
Look Over Everyone's Shoulder
Pay attention to the makeup of your opponents’ rosters as they make selections. Position runs and potential snipes of your targets become more obvious when you can look at an updated roster and put yourself in your opponents’ shoes. It’s a simple idea, but not everyone takes the time to realize that all three (or none of the three) teams picking between their ninth pick of the round and fourth pick of the following round have a quarterback — information which makes the decision of whether to take a starting quarterback now or put it off another round elementary.
Maintain A State Of Infuriating Calm
You want to rattle your opponents. Don’t trash talk and attempt to get in their heads. Instead, just quietly go about your business. Always appear to be updating some list. Don’t give any clues as to whether you’re happy or disappointed to hear the latest pick. If you need to take some of your clock to have real clarity, go ahead, but attempt to get your picks in as quick as possible — as if there is no question who the best pick is at the time — it’s obvious.
When your opponents start to feel like their draft is getting off track, your calm, all-business demeanor will make them feel even worse about losing their grip. Don’t even react when one of your opponents eventually comments that your silence is scaring them and making them worried that you’re running away with the league. You are running away with the league.
Sigmund Bloom, a Football Guys staff writer, lives in Austin.