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Five basic rules of drafting in fantasy football

Jason Bridge/USA TODAY Sports

The chat area at the bottom of ESPN Fantasy draft rooms often swings to one side of the pendulum or the other: busy with constant chatter amongst friends and league mates, often of the playful banter variety. The other side of the spectrum is a quiet chat room, reserved for just a comment or two throughout the duration of the draft. Sometimes the impetus for those select comments in the latter scenario is a draft pick so inexplicably ill advised that a fellow league member cannot help him or herself but to rib the person who made the pick with something along the lines of: "You're kidding, right?"

Been there. We all have our moments. Whether it's the running back who fell down the depth chart in the offseason or the wide receiver who got injured or -- worst of all -- the guy who is an unsigned free agent without a team, we all have made picks along the way that we wish we had a mulligan on.

But even if you avoid one of those embarrassing drafting faux pas, the reality is building a fantasy football team through the draft process is an inexact science. Who, exactly, had Le'Veon Bell and Odell Beckham Jr. as superstar picks for 2014 at around this time last year? That's right, virtually no one, and that's not a jab at prognosticators. It's just the truth: players emerge -- or decline -- even when we aren't expecting it. So, drafting will never be algorithmic as it relates to player output.

All that being said, here's a look at five starting-point rules to guide you through your draft.

1. Never enough good running backs: Let's start here. There's no more valuable commodity at the outset of a fantasy season than a starting running back. The reason? Supply and demand. There were just 30 running backs who tallied 100 total points in standard scoring in the 2014 season. Among wide receivers, that number ballooned to 41. That's not to devalue the position of receiver, but the fact of that matter is that there is, on average, a larger pool of wide receiver fish out there. The decision of drafting a running back versus another position early is even more pertinent when contemplating snagging your starting QB. There were 14 quarterbacks who scored 240 points last year (which would be an average of 15 per game). That means every player in a 10- or 12-team league has a reliable quarterback at his or her disposal. It's one thing if Aaron Rodgers slips to you at the top of the third round, but more often than not, the prudent play is being willing to take running backs early and often. Factoring in byes and trade proposals, it's rarely a bad problem when you have a capable back on your bench.

2. It's OK to be late to the QB train: Colts quarterback Andrew Luck looks primed for another outstanding season, perhaps the best among any NFL quarterback in 2015. If he winds up on my fantasy roster, I'm happy. But I'm also not drafting him where he is currently going, as his average draft position at the time of this writing is 16.0. Hello! Luck was brilliant in 2014, finishing with nine games of 20 or more points and just one in single digits. Tony Romo, however, was not too shabby himself, finishing with seven games north of 20 points and just two south of 10. Romo's ADP, meanwhile, is 79.5 right now, ninth among quarterbacks. The two running backs bracketing Luck right now in terms of ADP are LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Hill. The two backs bracketing Romo are Isaiah Crowell and Chris Ivory. Whereas you can rest easy with a QB-RB duo of Romo and McCoy/Hill, a Luck plus Ivory/Crowell is less certain (on the running back front, of course).

3. Gronk or bust at TE early: This rule stacks up both in concept and through empirical evidence. Despite playing just 15 games last season -- in four of which he was a part-time player as he worked his way back from injury -- Rob Gronkowski finished with 30 more points than any other tight end. He offers the highest ceiling and, frankly, the highest floor. He had just two games (note: He didn't play a snap in Week 17, which is often a non-playing week in fantasy leagues) when he didn't manage at least seven fantasy points. The five tight ends who finished directly behind him had at least seven games apiece with south of seven fantasy points. He also fits as the one tight end who has a combination of steady quarterback play matched by his role as the focal point of his team's offense (even if Tom Brady's four-game suspension holds up). If it's not Gronk early, I have no problem snagging Zach Ertz -- with a current ADP of 106.4 -- late. The tight end position also tends to lend itself to a reasonable allotment of waiver-wire adds during the season.

4. Defenses go in the final two rounds ... no sooner: OK, it's not that you aren't capable of selecting a D/ST earlier than Round 15, but the logic is misrepresented. The Seahawks have a current ADP of 57.2. Am I confident the Seahawks will finish as one of the top five defenses this season? I am. But taking a defense that finished with 150 total points last season some seven plus rounds ahead of any other defense, for example, is shortsighted. Defenses in fantasy win you weeks with touchdowns. The Eagles, who were far from a good defense in 2014 in "real" football, were second among defenses with 153 fantasy points by dint of 11 combined return touchdowns. Eleven. And even 11 return touchdowns wasn't enough for them to lead the league in scoring. The next person you find who forecasted a historic start to the season for Philly's D in 2014 will be the first. The problem with D/STs is that even the very best rarely turn out to be weekly difference-makers and, truth be told, it's hard to sniff out precisely which will be that good. Be patient before picking yours and stay active on the waiver wire; this is the best position in fantasy to stream.

5. Play the lottery: Regardless of which players you take with your early-round picks, the justification is usually the same: an upside player you will count on to start -- and perform well -- every week. But there comes a point -- and you'll know it when you get there -- when the pool of available players becomes less inspiring. It's not that Saints receiver Marques Colston or Chargers wideout Malcom Floyd can't be a serviceable lineup member from time to time, but the ceiling looks to be capped and the floor is low. So, roll the dice every once in a while. Maybe you're hopeful that Tyler Lockett, the Seahawks' shifty third-round pick out of Kansas State, can become what the team had hoped Percy Harvin would be when they traded for him. Or maybe you're convinced that Cordarrelle Patterson will eventually put it all together and maximize his natural talents (I'm not counting on this, but you never know). Stash a few guys on your roster who have enough upside based on talent alone that perhaps, just maybe, they'll burst out onto the scene. All those forward-thinking drafters who took a flier on a wide receiver who hardly saw the field in training camp because of injury (Beckham) were rewarded handsomely for their willingness to think big and roll the dice on an upside guy.