Usually, I'm a believer that you should be a leader, not a follower. A trend-setter, not a wannabe. But that's not always the case. I've been doing fantasy football for nearly 20 years and every year, without fail, there's something new that comes along that I have to adapt to. Sometimes you know what it is ahead of time and sometimes you don't. This year, I already know exactly what awaits me in my draft, which is nice even if I don't happen to like it:
Know your opponents, and be like them.
I know, it sounds like something a mentor tells the warrior he's training in a spy movie. What do you mean be like everyone else? Fall in line with the herd? In a word, yes. Because if your draft strategies don't mesh with everyone else's, you're going to find yourself with a bad team at the end of your draft. Let me use our experts league here at the NFL to illustrate just what I mean.
If you know anything about me fantasy-wise, you know I believe how important it is to get an elite quarterback early in the draft. Statistics have proven year in and year out if you select a top quarterback early in the first-round of your draft and then follow it up with a good running back in the second-round, you'll have more fantasy points from your first two picks than if you did it in reverse order, taking a running back first and then a quarterback. But I'm going to have to throw that philosophy out the window for 2013, because most of the other owners in experts' leagues all believe you should take a running back in the first-round no matter what.
This is a strategy that is going to take hold in the majority of leagues this season, I would surmise, with the depth of the quarterback position and the dearth of bell-cow running backs. I would venture to say that in our 10-team league, at least seven or eight of the owners think that way: take a running back first. That puts me and whoever else wants to get their hands on Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady in the first-round at a huge disadvantage if we select them.
Think of it this way. Say this is a 10 team league and I pick fifth in my draft, right in the middle of the first-round. If eight owners draft running backs in the first-round, I'm going to get whatever great quarterback I want. But when I come back around in round two at pick 16 overall, how many star running backs are going to be there for me to draft? None. I'll be taking a chance on someone like Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson, DeMarco Murray or Reggie Bush. Do you really want to go into the season having one of those guys as your No. 1 running back? Or, I'll decide I don't like any of them and will take a wideout at that point like Julio Jones because he's the best player left on the board. Then I'm not getting a running back until at least round three and my running back corps will be awful.
Also, I'm flying blind now because all my strategies are out the window because of what happened in the first two rounds. And when that happens, your possibility of a great draft is downgraded in a big way. However, my opponents? They'll all have a stud running back, and since only two teams took quarterbacks, they'll have their pick out of, say Peyton Manning, RG3, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Matthew Stafford. You tell me what a better first two round combo is: Doug Martin and Cam Newton or Aaron Rodgers and Reggie Bush?
So now I have to think running back first even if I don't believe in it. If I do, then I'll be on more even footing with everyone else. It doesn't pay to stray from the pack in fantasy. I used the example of running backs over quarterbacks in my experts league, but the trends of your league may be different. Maybe everyone in your league wants a quarterback first, and you want a running back first. In that case, you have to go with the majority and get a quarterback before your running back even if it's against your fantasy morals and values. Or it could be a different course of action that has its hold on the majority of owners in your league.
Whatever that trend is, you need to know what it is so you can plan accordingly.
Use the next couple of months to figure out what everyone else in your league has a loose plan to do during the draft. When you 'talk shop' about your fantasy league and try to get inside information from them (we all do it), don't worry about finding out what exact players that person likes, instead try to glean what their overall thinking is going to be on draft day. That will allow you to implement a solid plan that will give you a good idea of what players will be available when, and as a result you'll get a deeper, more balanced roster.
It will also aid you in not being taken by surprise by anything that occurs while the draft is taking place, which if that happens, could put you into a panic. "Oh, man, I have a minute to decide between Steven Jackson and Andre Johnson. I didn't think I'd have to do this so early, but four running backs in a row just went and I can't believe that. How did all of those guys go bam-bam-bam-bam like that? Oh, man, I have 30 seconds left to pick, let me go look at their stats."
Don't let that be you.
Jason Smith writes fantasy and other pith for nfl.com. He hosts NFL Fantasy Live during the regular season on the NFL Network, and you can download the weekly NFL Fantasy Live podcast with him alongside Michael Fabiano and Elliot Harrison. Talk to him on twitter @howaboutafresca. He only asks you never bring up when the Jets play poorly.