Knowing your competition is important for draft success

In the 2006 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans were lambasted for taking Mario Williams ahead of Reggie Bush with the first overall selection.

The reason the Texans took Williams had a lot to do with knowing their competition.

With the Indianapolis Colts (and more notably) Peyton Manning in their division, the team knew it had to take a chance on an impact defensive lineman who could put pressure on the quarterback.

More to the point, the Houston needed a defender who could put some heat on Manning.

Much like the Texans, fantasy footballers need to know their competition when it comes time for their own draft.

Week in and week out, I receive countless emails about what positions to target and when to target them. And while entering your draft with sound strategies and following the flow of the draft is important to building a well-rounded roster, it's equally important to size up the competition.

This is especially important this season, simply because there is so much uncertainty across the fantasy landscape when it comes to the value of several notable players.

We can all agree that LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, Brian Westbrook, Steven Jackson, Tom Brady and Joseph Addai (in some order) are the most likely first six picks in seasonal formats.

But once these players come off the board, owners will face more questions than answers.

Are Larry Johnson and Frank Gore still worth first-round picks despite last season's struggles? Should I take Manning and pass on a running back? Does Randy Moss warrant a first-round selection after his immense 2007 success?

These are just a few of the conundrums that need to be answered, and we're not even out of the first round!

As an admitted running back fanatic, it would be hard for me to pass on the position even if it meant taking Johnson or Gore.

The reason is simple.

True featured backs have become all but extinct in the current state of the NFL, so it's imperative to land one before they're gone.

And trust me, featured backs will be gone before your can say Houshmandzadeh.

Furthermore, I can still land a solid quarterback like Manning, Tony Romo or Drew Brees in the second or third round of most drafts.

Or can I?

Well, this is where knowing your competition is a major factor.

In most of the experts leagues I'm in, the most popular skill position selected in the first two rounds is running backs. That trend was confirmed in a recent mock draft, where I took a chance on Brady in the first round in a predetermined experiment and paid for it dearly with a backfield of Jamal Lewis, Brandon Jacobs and Justin Fargas. I also had a less-than-attractive core of wideouts that included Roy Williams, Roddy White and Hines Ward.

Had I passed on Brady, I would have ended up with Marion Barber, Jacobs and Matt Forte in the backfield and Braylon Edwards, Williams and Javon Walker at the wide receiver position. I would have also landed Ben Roethlisberger in the sixth round, which is an absolute steal based on his solid 2007 statistics.

Big Ben might not be Brady, but he's no slouch, either.

This is not to say that taking Brady or any quarterback in the first round will result in a total roster disaster, because that's not true at all. But since I knew the competition and their tendencies to take runners first, it made the experiment a bit of an eye opener for owners who might be targeting Brady in Round 1.

On the flip side, I also run leagues with friends and family from back home in Connecticut. And while my sister, Denise, is a huge Dallas Cowboys fan and loves fantasy football (I raised her well), she doesn't have the same sort of experience or knowledge as the participants in my expert leagues.

I also know that Denise is more apt to draft with her heart and not her head, so she might take Barber, Romo, Terrell Owens and Jason Witten because of her undying love and dedication for the Cowboys.

After all, novice fantasy owners have more fun when they can root for players on their favorite teams. That's all part of knowing the competition.

When you're in a draft with less-experienced owners, positional runs are also far more common. So if Brady, Manning and Romo are all selected in the first two rounds, there's a good chance other owners will panic and create an unintentional run on quarterbacks. In that case, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer and Roethlisberger could all be off the board a lot sooner than normal.

So when you're getting prepared to pick your team (and there's no better place to do that than on NFL.com), be sure to consider the competition.

Much like the Texans, it can help you make the best possible decisions in your draft.

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