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Fantasy football strategies: Be flexible in your draft

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So what's your fantasy draft strategy? Play it by ear? Yea, me too.

Okay, but there are some not-so-hard-and-fast rules that I play loose with ... hey, call them a cheatsheet for drafting success. Here's a few:

Get rare first. What's the hardest thing to get in fantasy? A lead running back? A fantasy monster at tight end a la Jimmy Graham? Be willing to draft these players earlier than normal if there's not much depth behind them. Just as an example, if you think Graham is a mid- to late-second round pick in a 12-team league, take him early in the second if that's where your slot is. After all, many people feel it's Rob Gronkowski and Graham with everybody else a distant third at tight end.

Never draft a Lions running back ... or a Seahawks receiver.

If no "rarities" are available, go off the "big board" in your head. Just like a scouting department, know your top 50 and pick them off one by one. If that means you have to draft three wide receivers before your get to quarterback or running back, so be it. Remember, every draft is different. People could hit the RB and QB well so often that you can get a ridiculously productive wideout far later than normal.

Let's say you're going to wait on a position. Quarterback is a logical choice. There are many quarterbacks putting up big numbers. You can wait past the first couple of rounds. I skipped QB early last year, and still picked up Tony Romo (who finished seventh in fantasy points at his position.) So, you can still get value later. How about those fantasy owners who waited and took Eli Manning in the middle rounds?

Yes, you can pick a defense in Round 14 while relying on the waiver wire to fill gaps in the schedule. Especially when the one you drafted has a ridiculously tough matchup. But, if there's a unit you really believe in, grab it in the middle to late rounds. Defense is the most underrated aspect of fantasy football. It's far more important that you get a great defense than a fourth running back.

Speaking of defense ... if you can't decide between the two, always look at their schedule from Week 14 through 16. Because that's such a finite period of time, it will be easy for you to appraise the opposing offenses and which of your prospective defensive options has the easier road. Ditto this rule when debating heavily on early draft picks, irrespective of position. If you can manage it while on the clock during your league's draft, broaden the schedule glance to Weeks 12 through 16, i.e. the stretch run. Then choose.

Good kickers are reliable, but they are not worth diddly-poo in fantasy if the team they play on can't get into the red zone. Josh Scobee is one of the best kickers in the game -- hands down -- but the Jaguars offense made up for his greatness by sucking often, ultimately causing Scobee to place 25th in fantasy points. Twenty-fifth! Bottom line: Just because other fantasy owners and fantasy experts make fun of drafting kickers doesn't mean they aren't very relevant to your success. A bad decision here can easily cost you more than 40 points over the course of the season.

I'm a fantasy dinosaur in that I still have a Tony Dorsett-Herschel Walker double-trouble poster in my room and I still like getting the featured back early. Those guys don't grow on trees, and getting Darren McFadden and Matt Forte had me out in front last year, until Run DMC got hurt ...

... but I still almost won it all because of another drafting axiom: Value the contract-year player. Thank you, Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch.

I hope these help. Remember, no strategy should be etched in stone. What if you always win at chess by using the bishops to take out the other guy's pieces ... but your opponent is intent on capturing your bishops come hell or high water? You adjust.

Always be flexible. Don't stick to the same approach irrespective of what the other guys in your league do. Be ready to junk your way, reassess, and kick their tail in a different manner.

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