Fantasy football comes in many different varieties -- all of them are wonderful in their own way. But there are some basic truths that transcend all leagues. First, don't drink beer during your draft. Well, maybe a couple. Just do not over indulge. Trust me on this one. Nobody wants to wake up the day after, look over their roster and see that you picked Tim Tebow in the third round.
There used to be a day when you rolled into your fantasy draft, picked two running backs in the first two rounds and then mocked those who took a quarterback -- or God forbid -- a wide receiver in the first round.
Those days, my friend, are over.
Quarterbacks matter now more than ever. Or so you may have heard. The near extinction of the true featured back and the evolution of the passing offense means fantasy has changed, too.
Running backs are still important but when Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner fly off the board, don't be afraid to go with a quarterback in the first round. Or a receiver for that matter. Seems like Nick Bakay might have been a year ahead of the curve on that strategy.
The game has changed, my friends. And you as a fantasy enthusiast must change with it. But here are some long-standing rules that still ring true to this day.
Kickers and defense -- don't do it. In fact, if your league doesn't require you to pick one in the draft, skip it, take a couple of fliers and fill out your kicker and defense prior to Week 1. Honestly, my friend took the Steelers in the fifth round in 2009. He was not holding a victory party at the end of the year. And we were laughing it up. I would not laugh this hard again until I saw Hot Tub Time Machine. But I digress. If you have to take a kicker and defense, make it your last two picks. Not a moment sooner.
Know your league's scoring system. This is very important. Pay attention if your league awards points per receptions, six points for a touchdown pass, etc., as these scoring changes will alter player values. If you sign up for NFL.com's new standard game (and really, why wouldn't you?), be aware that it rewards four points, not six, for touchdown passes.
Know the bye weeks. Week 10 has some notable quarterbacks on a bye - Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers. Don't back up any of the three with Jason Campbell (a nice sleeper), though, because he also has this week off, too. Weeks 8 and 9 have six teams on byes. If you have Matt Ryan (breakout alert) and Eli Manning (Craig Ellenport special) as your two quarterbacks, you are going to be bummed in Week 8 when you are starting Trent Edwards. Ryan and Manning are both off that week.
OK, let's look at some of the more advanced league strategies.
Basic scoring leagues
The most basic scoring systems award points only for touchdowns, field goals, extra points and some yardage milestones, such as 100 receiving yards, or one point for every 10 yards rushing.
There were a number of different strategies that I've used over the years, but none of them really hold much weight now, as they've gone the way of the sub prime loan. My key rule now is this -- don't draft a player who had offseason back surgery. Looking right at you, Steven Jackson.
Seriously, if back surgery can keep Bono from touring with U2 this summer, what do you think it will do for an NFL running back?
So here is my new rule of thumb for basic scoring leagues. Make your list of 10 (or 12 depending on the size of your league) players and use the old GM axiom of drafting the best player available. Regardless of position. The old rules had you drafting a running back in the first round. Now, pick your best player. If he's a running back, quarterback or receiver ... take your highest rated player.
One key, though, is to get a running back with one of your first two picks. Quarterbacks are important now, but you cannot completely ignore backs in the first two rounds. So if you draft a quarterback or wide receiver in the first round, make sure you take a running back in Round 2. From there, be flexible. Recognize when people are loading up on a certain position and act accordingly. After that, everything else is cream cheese.
Auction leagues call for you to bid on players, viewing everybody as a free agent. Unlike drafts, every owner has a fair chance at all available players.
The first time I played in an auction league, I wanted Marshall Faulk, then of the Indianapolis Colts, very badly. He was the first player I offered up for bid, and I paid for it. Literally. The guys in my draft drove up the price because they knew I wanted Faulk, forcing me to overpay for him and leaving me with little money to complete my roster.
The lesson here is simple -- target the guys you want and don't nominate them for auction until later. Nominate quarterbacks early because you will get somebody to panic and overpay. Nominate players from your buddy's favorite teams. Those loyalties will cause them to overbid. Conversely, don't become too attached to guys on your favorite team.
Also, don't be afraid to get in the mix for some of the top studs, because it would be hard to "Moneyball" a good fantasy roster. And it's not like you are going to sneak Adrian Peterson past everybody. Running backs, again, are your best bet here.
Touchdown-only leagues only award points for touchdowns, so quarterbacks have a lot of value. In fact, the first round of a touchdown-based league will be littered with signal-callers. Seems simple enough, right? Well, you have to field more than just a quarterback on your fantasy team.
Last season, Ray Rice was a much better fantasy running back than Willis McGahee in standard scoring leagues. But McGahee was the better back in touchdown leagues. You want to know why? Simply put, McGahee scored more touchdowns.
The nice thing about touchdown-only leagues is that it's the one league where RBBC (running back by committee) is not a four-letter word. Goal-line plungers become just as valuable as the guys who run for 2,000 yards. But there are going to be some interesting decisions to be made.
Do you go for LeSean McCoy or Mike Bell in Philadelphia? And does Toby Gerhart make an impact on Peterson's value? These are the questions you need to ask.
PPR leagues reward one point for a reception in addition to basic scoring. This one will turn your leagues upside down and change everything you know about fantasy football. Alright, that might be a little dramatic. Running backs are still very important, but the type of running backs you select is the key.
Frank Gore becomes a real force in PPR leagues because he's had at least 50 receptions in three of the past four seasons. But a guy like Michael Turner can see his value drop in a PPR league.
Fantasy guru Michael Fabiano loves PPR leagues, but I don't. I prefer to keep it simple. If you think it's troubling watching a wideout drop a potential touchdown, imagine when every drop costs you points. You'll end up hating Braylon Edwards and Terrell Owens.
But if you have never done a PPR league, it's worth at least trying out once. Then you will understand why I don't like them. Seriously, people who play in PPR leagues are akin to those bores at a cocktail party who prattle on about art house films. So pretentious. But still, try it at least once.
IDP leagues use individual defensive players instead of team defenses. Why do this to yourself? Do you hate your family so much you want to double your fantasy workload? Alright, if you won't listen to me, here's the skinny on IDP leagues.
Don't draft defensive players early. Even when there's an inevitable run. Linebackers are the running backs of the defense, so take them early. And then be sure to take cornerbacks that get beat (those are the guys that quarterbacks throw at, giving you interception and tackle opportunities).
Also realize that Antonio Cromartie will likely be more valuable than Darrelle Revis. Not because Cromartie is better -- we all know Revis is considered the top cornerback in the NFL -- but he will have more opportunities to score fantasy points because opposing teams avoid throwing in Revis' direction.