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As time goes on, I realize how flexible I have to be in my fantasy draft. If a running back I really want is taken, I can't force another running back in there or I risk my fantasy season resting on the shoulders of Roy Helu. But that doesn't mean I don't go in with hard and fast rules, because I do. In fact, there's five rules I will use this season no matter what. Now, my rules next season may be different, because the game changes. But in the words of Rowdy Roddy Piper, just when you start changing the answers, I start changing the questions. So to you I impart the following for 2012. Please take this as seriously as Frodo did getting the ring.
1. Draft a QB in the first round. Don't listen when analysts say, "You still have to get a star running back before a QB." This is not 1995, and Eddie George is long gone from fantasy. There aren't that many great running backs to begin with, and their health is certainly much more of a factor than it's ever been. Quarterbacks for the most part stay healthy. Go get one of the elite (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees) in Round 1. And also, don't forget that RBs are more susceptible to a down year than QB's. Look back at last season. How screwed were you if you took Jamaal Charles, Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden or Rashard Mendenhall with your first pick? Even Adrian Peterson had a down year before he got hurt. How about the No. 1 RBs taken later on -- like Fred Jackson, Matt Forte, Peyton Hillis, DeAngelo Williams, Tim Hightower, Jahvid Best, Knowshon Moreno. They all got hurt or were ineffective or both. Take the star QB.
2. Gamble on the running backs, take the sure thing in wide receivers. Like I said, running backs are hit and miss. You could have taken LeGarrette Blount in the third round and been disappointed but if you took a flier on Michael Bush in the 10th round he saved you. When it comes to RBs, take a gamble. If the RBs you like aren't there early, wait until the later rounds and grab the rookie who's in a time share (Doug Martin, David Wilson). Take someone who may not contribute right away but by Week 5 could be starting (Taiwan Jones). Take Peyton Hillis when everyone is discounting him. Remember, you don't need every RB you take to come through for you. You just need a couple. To quote Effie Trinket, the odds are ever in your favor. (Hey, Effie and Roddy in the same column, I'm on a hot streak.)
As far as the WR's go, play it safe. I know teams are relying on more pass-catchers on their roster than ever before. But you need to go with the known quantities. I know they're not sexy or fun, but avoid reaching for the rookies if at all possible. A.J. Green and Julio Jones were anomalies last season. If it comes down to Santonio Holmes or Justin Blackmon, go with what you know you're going to get rather than a wildcard. Because rookie WR's usually don't "get it" as fast as other positions do. Don't get stuck waiting for Michael Floyd to start tearing it up because pretty soon you'll be in Week 8 saying "Wow, I really need a new No. 2 receiver."
3. Your kickers and defense are the final picks of your draft. After you have all your positions and their backups sorted out, then take the kickers and defenses. Why? Because they're a crapshoot. You're going to change your kicker at some point, and if you're smart, you're changing your defense all the time and picking up one who has the best matchup on a weekly basis. Someone is going to congratulate themselves when they take the 49ers or Texans defense in the fifth round this year. Tell them nice job and then you draft Miles Austin. It makes no sense to reach for these positions.
4. Avoid the guy coming off the career year. This is one of the most common traps that owners fall into. OK, so you're like most people. You do your research, then go into the draft with a big sheet of all the players and their stats, and you cross them off as they get chosen. When it comes to you, you see a name with huge numbers from a year ago, and you take them automatically, thinking they're going to duplicate it. Stop. Don't do it. Chances are Marshawn Lynch, Rob Gronkowski, Victor Cruz and players like that aren't going to do that for you. There's going to be some slippage. Make sure you project, rather than react. Project players who you think are going to bounce back (Dwayne Bowe) or break out like someone did a year ago (Ryan Mathews). That's how you win. Being right looking ahead, not going by the book.
5. Don't worry if you don't like your draft. Hey, it happens. Things don't go your way and you look at your team afterwards and think it's the worst in the league. It's not that big a deal. If you're an active owner, you will likely waive 50 percent of your roster over the course of a season, possibly more. Think about that. Half the guys you think you're going to count on will be out the door. Realize you have to be active in free agency. That's all it is.
Bonus: Try to be in first place by Dec. 21. Just in case the world does end that day, whoever is in first place will be considered league champion. And don't you want to be the last fantasy football champion ever?