Ten Tips to Winning Your 2013 Fantasy Football League

By Dan Forsthoefel

Every year, the shape of a fantasy football draft is a bit different, and if you’re behind on the trends of each draft, you’ll be behind in the standings.  Here are a few tips to help you stay ahead of the game, and while some of them are applicable to every year, the fact that they are in this column are just a reiteration of how important they are.

  1. Formulate your own rankings- Every website and publication is different, and they’re all for different formats and scoring systems. Your best bet is to do a little bit of homework, and formulate your own, based on your leagues scoring system. It will make things a lot easier for you when you’re on the clock and can’t decide between a few guys.
  2. Take at least two running backs in the first 4 rounds- And really, I’d prefer to get them in the first three. Most leagues require two starting running backs, and in a 12-team league, that means there will be 24 starting running backs each week. Looking at some preliminary rankings, I really only see 22 guys who are truly RB1 or RB2 material. These guys typically are off the board by early round 4. Don’t get caught without them! Sure, you can risk it by waiting on a few guys in the 5th-6th rounds, but wouldn’t you rather have a guy who has a 75%-80% chance of being  solid RB2 material over a guy who is a total coin flip?

The biggest exception to not drafting two running backs in the first three rounds would be if you can get your hands on Jimmy Graham at a mid to late 2nd round pricetag and while still taking a top receiver in the third, you would then be forced to choose between a weak RB2 and a solid WR2 in the 4th round. I’d still take the weak RB2, as there will still be some decent WR2’s left in the 5th.

3.  Wait on quarterback- Unless you’re in a scoring format that is passing touchdown heavy, I’d really rather wait on quarterbacks this year. There are 15 quarterbacks that I’d be happy starting almost any given week, and the last 4-5 of them are going as late as round 12. There are even a couple of deep sleepers (If there is such a thing at quarterback) that I’m much higher on than most.

 In 2012, The difference between the no.1 QB (Brees) and the 12th QB last year (Josh Freeman) was 110 points. In 16 weeks, that averages to 6.875 points a week difference in a standard, 4 points per passing touchdown league.  The difference between the No.1 running back (Peterson) and the no. 24 running back (Willis McGahee) was 191 points!

(Note: I used the top 12 quarterbacks because that’s generally how many will start per week in a standard 12 team league, and 24 running backs for the same reason)

Over 16 weeks, that’s an average of 11.9 points difference a week! See the value? I certainly don’t mind seeing guys take Stafford in the 7th, or Romo in the 8th, but the real value is streaming quarterbacks on a week-to-week basis.

With how the NFL is shaping to be a pass happy league, there should be plenty of solid starters available on the waiver wire that can post top 10 numbers, just by cracking the matchups! It takes a lot of confidence to exit a draft with a middle to late tier quarterback and find the value each and every week on the waiver wire, but I assure you, it’s there.

4.    Take a stud WR in the first 3 rounds- There will be a major drop-off in wide receivers after the first 13 or 14 taken, and you will have a big disadvantage if you’re caught without one of them. Sure, every year, someone will find a value in the later rounds that can be a WR2 quality (Thanks, Randall Cobb!).  Judging by early mock draft results, those 13-14 guys tend to be off the board by the end of the third round, leaving you playing catch up at the position if you don’t have one.

5.    Either take one of the top 5 tight ends by round 5, or grab 2-3 of them late- This is another position that I am a fan of streaming on a weekly basis. Some NFL teams play extremely well against the tight end position, while others can’t keep up. Most fantasy sites have a “Fantasy Points Against” feature that allows you to find out which teams are which.

But, I do think there is a major advantage to having one of the top 5 guys, and an even bigger advantage to having Jimmy Graham, and Rob Gronkowski, if he’s 100% healthy. They are a cut above the rest, and give you a major weekly advantage that can’t be matched.

I’m not saying you should take either in the first round, but if Graham is there mid to late round two, snatch him up! Gronkowski is a little tougher to determine his draft status right now because of his back surgery, but I feel that by week one, he will be good to go, as the Patriots wouldn’t have waited on his back surgery if they didn’t feel he’d be ready to go.

Once the top 5 tight ends are gone, the rest of them fall into one big tier. Sure, some of them have a shot to be decent, but not on a week to week consistent basis, and that’s what you pay for when you get a top TE early.

The upside to taking several sleeper tight ends is that all 5 of the top tier guys are such demanding targets and have an inherent injury risk as a result. That’s the price of catching balls up the middle of the football field.  Having several TE’s on your squad allows you to sidestep the injury bug much easier, and I’m not a guy who likes to spend a high pick on a TE just to let a backup TE rot on my bench and take up valuable space for WR’s and RB’s.

Pick one strategy, or the other, not both.

6.    DON’T take Calvin Johnson in the first round- While he is certainly the clear-cut no. 1 fantasy WR, you will hate what’s available to you at running back when your turn comes back around to select. You don’t want to be stuck with a lisfranc healing MJD, or an always-injured Darren McFadden as your RB1. The drop-off in clear-cut RB1’s is significant after the first round, and you shouldn’t fall into that trap. As tempting as it may be, you’ll be the wiser to take your chances with one of those top RB’s. Leave the question marks for your RB2.

7.    Stash a quarterback on your bench, even if you have a stud, in case he becomes a stud- last season was absolutely an anomaly, and none of the top quarterbacks really had any major injury problems. I don’t expect to see another year of that, and you’ll want to have either a solid backup plan in place, or a solid quarterback to hold over the owner of that injured signal caller. Quarterback is typically the easiest position to gain value for your team by trading, and it’s always fun to see the other owner panic when his goes down, especially when you’ve got just the cure for it. Milk it for all its worth.

8.    DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, DRAFT A KICKER BEFORE THE LAST ROUND- They’re all the same. Maybe try to target a guy on a high scoring team in a dome. Or a mediocre team that can’t find the end zone. But, really, who knows? Next.

8a.  Don’t take a defense until the second to last round- While they’re not all the same, like kickers are, this is a position that can easily be streamed weekly by selecting the matchups against the worst offenses. I’ll sometimes draft the squad playing the worst team week one, and drop them if their second week matchup isn’t any good. Sometimes as the end of the season nears, I’ll even pile up a few of them for my playoff matchups, and drop some of my benchwarmers when my bye weeks have passed for my locked in starters. The difference between the top defense and the bottom defense is never very much.

9.     Use Twitter to give you an edge- I like to follow Matthew Berry (ESPN), Evan Silva (Rotoworld) and a few others on twitter for up to the minute fantasy news. This minute can make or break your season, because the draft is only half the battle. Staying on top of the waiver wire is essential to staying on top of your league. Don’t think that there aren’t other owners doing the same thing, so every second counts to get the newly minted starter that could push your squad above the rest.

10.    Have an awesome team name, talk lots of trash, and have fun!-         When it comes down to it, there are far more important things in life than fantasy football, despite some of the reactions I’ve seen over my fantasy “career”. No one wants to ruin a relationship over a game, but finding that line of tongue-in-cheek trash talking makes it lots more fun. Most people have team names that are player name based, and some of them have become common (Somewhere over Dwayne Bowe) and are way over played. Get creative, not cliché, and make it something that everyone can have a laugh at.

Over the next month, I’ll be posting a fantasy preview series. I will take a tiered look at the draft, position-by-position. Please feel free to email me at Dawgs4401@yahoo.com with any questions or comments!

Mat Latos Has Been Everything the Reds Hoped For

When the Cincinnati Reds traded for Mat Latos nine days after his 24th birthday in December of 2011, he was still a rising star. Latos never appeared on a Baseball America Top 100 list, but he wasted little time establishing himself as a front-line starter in San Diego. From 2010-11, he led the Padres staff by compiling 379 innings of 3.21 ERA ball with 8.9 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. It was pretty obvious to Walt Jocketty that the kid was something special, but Cincinnati wound up paying a hefty price for four years of Latos by dealing top prospects Yonder Alonso (24 at the time), Yasmani Grandal (22) and Brad Boxberger (23) as well as starter Edinson Volquez to the Padres. Two years later, Latos has compiled a sterling 24-7 record as a Red. While his 3.45 ERA isn’t exactly top tier, his improvement is more than notable.

With a plus slider, a plus 2-seam fastball, and a breaking ball that seems to get better every time he takes the mound, he’s been able to keep hitters off balance in major game situations, also sporting a 4-seam fastball, a cut fastball, and a change-up. Generally known as a fly ball pitcher, many questioned how this would affect him in the tight quarters of Great American Ball Park, especially coming from pitcher friendly Petco Park in San Diego. While he’s gotten solid run support this season(5.2runs/9 IP) the Reds bullpen has blown 5 potential wins for him, leaving some to wonder what could be.  Many do not realize that Latos finished 8th in NL Cy Young voting his first full season as a Padre, and if he continues to pitch the way he is, he should be in contention again this year.

Latos did not miss a start in 2012, nor did anyone from the rest of the Reds starting rotation, and he piled up 209 1/3 innings in 31 starts. Unfortunately, Latos was forced into action in Game 1 of the NLDS following an injury to Johnny Cueto and delivered four brilliant innings of relief, but he was unable to replicate that magic in his second appearance.  He is unquestionably the Reds ace at this point in the 2013 season, with Cueto frequenting the disabled list for a good portion of the year.

I believe that if Walt Jocketty had a chance to do this trade again, he would do it in a heartbeat. Latos is a solid clubhouse personality, and the young core of this team is now locked up for several more seasons. Prospects like first baseman Grandal (who is now being mentioned in the BioGenesis steroid scandal) and catcher Alonso are tough to part with, but the Reds already had Joey Votto at first base and felt confident that Devin Mesoraco could become their everyday catcher.

The Reds surely need him to continue the pace, with Cueto’s health in doubt for the remainder of the season.  When Cueto is healthy, this may be the best pitching staff the Reds have ever seen.  Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake could be number 2 starters on half the teams in baseball, and with the emergence of Tony Cingrani, it’s tough to find a better starting pitching staff in the majors. There is no such thing as too much good starting pitching, but health will be the key for this 2013 Reds team if they want to play baseball in October.

As for Latos’ future, I believe he will be a successful Red for a long time to come. He signed a two-year, $11.5 million contract in the offseason that bought out his first two years of arbitration. Assuming another successful two seasons, he’ll likely earn well over $10 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility, although the Reds could pursue a long-term contract extension that would delay his free agency.