SPORTSCENTER'S 25 FANTASY FOOTBALL RULES TO DRAFT BY
By Matthew Berry
ESPN2's "The Fantasy Show"
Thursdays, 6:30 p.m. ET
RULE No. 1: Avoid Terrell Owens. He is a big name and a sexy pick but consider this: In 17 years as a head coach, Bill Parcells has never had a 1,200-yard WR. And other than Keyshawn in '98, he has never had a WR get double digit TDs. Those are the kind of numbers you want out of your No. 1 WR. This is his first year in a non-West Coast offense and that's before you throw in the fact that he's nuts.
RULE No. 2: Practice by doing mock drafts. The first time you drive a car wouldn't be at your license test so why are you going to draft without practicing? ESPN.com's Mock Draft Lobby is free and a great way to see where players are going and where they aren't. Like Corey Dillon is going around pick 35 while Laurence Maroney, his backup, is going around pick 85. Meanwhile, Thomas Jones averages being taken with pick 60 and his backup, Cedric Benson, is being taken with pick 70. So, if you want to handcuff your starter with his backup, you now know you have to grab Benson almost two rounds earlier than Maroney.
RULE No. 3: Take 2 RBs as your first two picks. In a standard 12-team league, you have to play one QB and two RBs. The difference between the No. 1 QB last year (Carson Palmer) and the No. 12 (Trent Green) averaged out to just three points a game. Yet the difference between last year's No. 1 RB (Shaun Alexander) and the No. 24 RB (DeShaun Foster) was 13.9 points a game. It's a field goal a week vs. two TDs. There's a lot of depth at QB and you can get one in the later rounds but if you take a QB in the first round, you won't find a strong No. 2 RB in round three.
RULE No. 4: Don't draft any rookie wide receivers or rookie quarterbacks. Since the year 2000, 200 WRs have been drafted. Only two of them - Anquan Boldin and Michael Clayton - have had 1,000 yards receiving. And in the last two years, only one rookie QB, Ben Roethlisberger, has been a top 24 fantasy QB. The odds are against you. They're sexy names but not worth the gamble.
RULE No. 5: Handcuff your studs. By "handcuff" we mean take the backup. You invest an early round pick on a stud RB, why would you not use a mid-round pick to protect it? The Priest Holmes owners last year who did not have Larry Johnson or any Fred Taylor owner who did not have Greg Jones will be happy to tell you. You must, must handcuff your studs.
RULE No. 6: WRs are a dime a dozen. You score in fantasy football the same way you score in real football - by touching the ball. And that's RB and QB. Don't waste an early pick on a WR - they are too inconsistent. Consider: Over the past three years, only one WR has had at least five 100-yard games each of the last three seasons: Torry Holt. And only two others have had at least five 100-yard games two of the last three years: Anquan Boldin and... Eddie Kennison. Not suggesting you make Boldin and Kennison No. 2 and No. 3, but rather that WRs are inconsistent. You can always find a guy in the middle rounds - Santana Moss last year is a great example - and save your high picks for RB and QB.
RULE No. 7: It's all about consistency. It's not just about the big numbers, it is about guys that get you points week in and week out. Consider this: He's a sexy name, but last year, Eli Manning had over 300 yards or at least two TDs in only seven games. That's nine games where he did nothing for you. And it's less games than less-popular picks like Jake Delhomme, Mark Brunell or Drew Brees had last year. You need points from your big position every week.
RULE No. 8: Contract-year players: It's always good to know who is playing for a contract and has that extra motivation. As someone who grew up in College Station, Texas, and is an Aggie fan, it pains me to admit it, but former UT Longhorn Chris Simms is due for a huge year. Dominic Rhodes, Ahman Green and Chris Brown all have more motivation to stay healthy this year and for WR, Drew Bennett would like to cash in after this season.
RULE No. 9: Don't waste a high pick on kickers. It seems obvious, but according to ESPN.com's Average Draft Position, guys like Neil Rackers and Adam Vinatieri are being drafted in the middle rounds. Statistically, it does not make sense. Last year, the No. 1 fantasy kicker (Rackers) scored 165 points. The #12 kicker, Jeff Reed, scored 123. Over the course of a 16 week season, that equals less than three points a game. Kickers are kickers are kickers - just grab whoever in the last round and you'll be just fine.
RULE No. 10: Don't draft Tony Gonzalez. He's a big name, but TE is very deep this year. New head coach Herm Edwards has never had a TE catch more than four TDs in a year. Over the last two years, Tony Gonzalez has the same amount of TDs as ... Randy McMichael. And with Willie Roaf and Tony Richardson leaving, Gonzo is going to have to stay in and block more for Larry Johnson. The high pick you'll have to spend won't return that value for Gonzo this year.
RULE No. 11: Fantasy defenses are statistically unimportant. Over the last three years, the #1 fantasy defense has averaged 166 fantasy points. The No. 12 defense? 122. That works out to less than three points a game. Here's another stat that will blow your mind. Over the past three years, the Tampa and Miami D have averaged 120 fantasy points. The Detroit Lions? 121. Draft a defense in the second to last round, just ahead of your kicker. You'll score the same amount.
RULE No. 12: Know the coaching philosophies of the guys in charge of your players to turn up sleepers. For example, in 15 years as a head coach or offensive coordinator, Norv Turner has had 13 1,000-yard rushers. Suddenly, Frank Gore's value takes a rise. Look at Mike Martz in Detroit or Al Saunders in Washington. The fantasy fortunes of guys like Jon Kitna, Chris Cooley and Brandon Lloyd take a spike as both guys are terrific offensive minds that are very fantasy friendly.
RULE No. 13: Know who gets the the looks in the red zone: For example, did you know that last year, no WR in the NFL was targeted more than Chambers? Marvin Harrison was the No. 2 target but you know who was No. 3? T.J. Houshmandzadeh with 25 targets. Chad Johnson, since I know you were wondering, was 14th with 18.
RULE No. 14: Make draft day your day; have a plan. It's important to have a draft day plan, but it is also important to be flexible if things are not going your way. One thing I like to do is, if you find yourself on the long end of a run, load up on a position. So, if all the RBs are going off the board, grab a second or third stud QB rather than reaching for some warm body like Curtis Martin. Give yourself something to trade.
RULE No. 15: Don't believe the hype -- Reggie Bush. Yes, he is an exciting player. But he is also going in the late second rounds and that is way too early for a player who will be splitting carries. And not just splitting carries; he won't get the ball at the goal line either. If USC gave it to LenDale White inside the five, what makes you think the Saints won't do the same with McAllister? And by the way, during the fantasy playoffs of weeks 14-16, Bush's schedule is @Dallas, Washington, @Giants.
RULE No. 16: TEs are deep this year. There's no reason to waste an early pick this year on Gates or Gonzo. Listen to this list: Jason Witten, Jeremy Shockey, Todd Heap, Chris Cooley, Alge Crumpler, Randy McMichael, Dallas Clark, L.J. Smith. All very good choices for you at TE and that's before you get to sleepers like Ben Watson in New England or Kellen Winslow in Cleveland. What about Vernon Davis in San Francisco? You will be able to find a good TE late in your draft this year.
RULE No. 17: Don't forget about backup running backs. Because RB is such an important position, I like to take fliers on backup RB in the middle and late rounds. I grab one more WR than I need, take only one K, D and TE and then load up on backup RB. Look at guys last year like Ryan Moats or Larry Johnson. Neither guy had a starting gig in Week 1 and both helped teams win their leagues last year. Instead of grabbing an extra TE you don't need or another WR that you'll just end up cutting, why not grab a guy with upside like DeAngelo Williams, LenDale White or Jerious Norwood?
RULE No. 18: Mike Shanahan hates you and he hates me. Mike Bell, Tatum Bell, Ron Dayne, Cedric Cobbs. Who knows who will ultimately be the starter. All we do know is that whoever Mike Shanahan says it will be, that's the guy it won't be. Over the last three years, the Broncos have had seven different players be the leading rusher in a game. Don't reach too early for a Denver RB.
RULE No. 19: Ignore the preseason. Last year, the leading scorers in preseason were Adrian Peterson and Tyson Thompson, both RBs, with three TDs each. Something to think about when looking at 2006 preseason stats.
RULE No. 20: Pay attention to what other people say at the draft. Make sure you see who gets upset and listen to what people are saying. For example, say you draft Chris Chambers this year and some guy goes, "Argh. That's who I wanted." (It'll probably be me. I love Chris Chambers this year.) So, you write down my name next to Chambers on your sheet. That way, in the middle of the year, you can look at that sheet and know who really values Chambers. Now you know who to target in trade negotiations when you are dangling Chambers as the bait. And you have a leg up, too.
RULE No. 21: Doing research before your draft. Knowing those extra nuggets can really help when trying to make decisions in the middle rounds. For example, did you know that last year, no QB had more 300-yard passing games than Kurt Warner. He had five. Or that when he took over for Edgerrin James as the full-time back that one year, Dominic Rhodes' yards per carry average was 4.7. Higher than James has ever had in his career. How about this one? Over the past three years, only Chad Johnson and Torry Holt have had more receiving yards than Derrick Mason.
RULE No. 22: Look at the schedule. Knowing who has favorable schedules and who does not will make a difference as fantasy football is very matchup driven. For example, instead of wasting that first round pick on Manning, who goes on the road to Jacksonville in Week 14 and gets Cincinnati in Week 15, consider Brett Favre about 6 rounds later. He is @San Francisco and vs. Detroit and Minnesota at home in Weeks 14-16, one of the easiest passing schedules in the league. The Bears and Thomas Jones, meanwhile, have one of the most fantasy-friendly schedules when it comes to run defense.
RULE No. 23: The third-year wide receiver rule is a myth. What do Taylor Jacobs, Kelley Washington, Charles Rogers, Andre Johnson, Tyrone Calico and Bryant Johnson have in common? All of them were third-year WRs last season. In case you were wondering if there was any validity to that "rule."
RULE No. 24: Know the playoff schedule. Knowing who a guy plays in Weeks 14-16 of the year can help you make some tough decisions. For example, do you have the No. 1 pick? Does this help make up your mind? During Weeks 14-16, Shaun Alexander is @Arizona, gets San Francisco and then San Diego at home.
RULE No. 25: The Smurfs are back, baby. Take small wide receivers. Last year, nine of the top 15 WRs were under 6' 0" and 200 pounds. With the new defensive rules, speed is what is getting it done these days. Think about guys like Steve Smith or Santana Moss last year. When trying to decide between WRs, go with the guy who is short and fast. This year, small is what will come up big.
Matthew Berry is an ESPN Fantasy Expert featured weekly on "The Fantasy Show" on ESPN2 every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can read more of Matthew's work in every issue of ESPN the Magazine and on his website, talentedmrroto.com.