Q: What's the best positional strategy for a fantasy football draft?
Too many fantasy football owners enter their drafts with too much clutter in their heads. This game comes down to picking the best players. Period. So while we're glad to offer creative ideas -- always take a first-round RB; wait on your QB; go WR-WR at the first-round turn; stack your byes; don't believe in rookies -- your primary draft responsibility is player evaluation.
There's no "right way." There's no secret positional methodology that perfectly games the fantasy football system. There are no players you have to get, no matter the cost. There's no amount of hype or positional need that should force your hand into taking players you hate. The simple truth is this: The teams with the best and healthiest players usually perform best; the teams that assume undue risk or misjudge a player's ability usually perform worst. You must be wise enough to tell the true studs from the one-year wonders, and flexible enough to take advantage of how your draft unfurls.
Choose stability early. Give me a choice between the shooting star and the dependable orbiting satellite early in my draft, I'm taking the moon. I have Adrian Peterson as my personal top pick for 2010. I get a lot of email: How could I snub Chris Johnson, and don't I know Peterson has never been fantasy's top runner? Hey, I love Johnson. In the fantasy "industry," I doubt he had a bigger booster last year than me. But while AP may not be No. 1, I feel secure saying he will finish among the game's top five rushers, because he's never not done it. As I discuss at length in this column, there's quite a bit of evidence that indicates Johnson is a far riskier pick than Peterson for '10, and I can imagine more scenarios where Johnson does wind up outside the top five. Don't pay for someone's career season a year too late. In your first few rounds, err on the side of proven players in their prime. Have your best players be your most stable players, and try to hit home runs later.
Don't assume unnecessary risk. Not many people saw Matt Forte's disappointing 2009 season coming; if you were unlucky enough to draft him in the top five, you got burned and I'm sorry. But if you took LaDainian Tomlinson or Brian Westbrook in the first round last year (and their Average Draft Positions indicated that they were both first-rounders), you deserved what you got. When you find yourself contemplating a potential early-rounder and saying, "Yeah, but if this guy comes through against what seem like kind of overwhelming odds, boy, what a steal he'll be," don't draft him. Don't assume faded glory will return. Do such players sometimes come through? Ryan Grant circa '09 would say yes. But you'll go broke more often than you'll strike it rich in taking such chances early in a fantasy draft.
Never feel obligated to fill a position. We've all felt that wave of regret crash upon us when six tight ends come off the board in a row right before we pick. We've all looked at the underwhelming pool of remaining quarterbacks and thought, "I'd better get one now." And we've all gone RB-RB in the first two rounds, and then had to choose in the third round between another RB we love and a WR that leaves us lukewarm. Take the players you think are best, not the ones that fill out your team. If your league-mates go WR-crazy and only leave you scraps, be flexible enough to take a great QB instead. Adjust to what other drafters are doing by grabbing guys who shouldn't fall, but do. Now, of course, take this advice within reason -- don't use your first six picks on wideouts -- but remember that your fantasy team will almost never go as planned. Injuries happen. Ineffectiveness happens. When you're stacked with players you like and believe in, you'll be able to make adjustments.
Trust your board. It's the NFL's drafting mantra every April, and it should be yours too. Spend your pre-draft days adjusting our player ranks to your personal tastes. Figure out which sleepers you love, and slot them where you'd take them. And then take them there. Drop the "problem children" you want no part of, and don't elevate them just because nobody selects them early. Approaching your draft day with flexibility in your heart doesn't mean changing your preferred order of players. It means taking advantage of in-draft trends to select more of your highly ranked players. That's your goal: Get as many of your highest-ranked guys as possible, while refusing to be a slave to hype, in-draft trends and positional needs. Not only will you wind up with a squad that's got lots of potential, but you'll also like your team. Never underestimate how much more fun the fantasy football season can be when you like your team.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.