How to nail your fantasy football draft

Gurley and OBJ exchange jerseysFantasy football drafts are where leagues are won and lost. Sure, there is a level of attentiveness that's required to steady the ship throughout the season—especially when      injuries and bye weeks start to factor in—but for the most part, a fantasy team's playoff chances will hinge on the strength of the roster that was drafted before the NFL campaign began.

That's why it's critical to be as well-prepared as possible heading into that draft. It's a situation where even the best-laid plans can change in a heartbeat. If you're not ready for the plot twists and turns that are sure to arise, then that's your own damn fault.

The advice laid out below doesn't focus on players so much as it does on strategies. While it's obviously essential to have a sense of how you feel about every player on the board, it's equally important to have a philosophy that you can adhere to so that you don't get too caught up in drafting individual guys that you've targeted, at the expense of what builds a true contender.

So gather round and pay close attention. It's time for Live Bets to get all 'fantasy football Scorates' on you and dish out its draft philosophy.

Draft by tier

The tier strategy has been circulated pretty widely at this point, but some managers fail to realize just how useful it can be. Its basic tenet is this: each position can be divided into tiers, which are separated by a significant gap in projected production.

For some positions and seasons that gap will be greater than others—like all the years where Rob Gronkowski was head and shoulders above every other TE in the league. Sometimes it's a bit more of a tenous distinction though, and the gap between tiers isn't devastatingly large.

The more players you draft from elite tiers, the better chance you'll have of dominating. For instance, let's say the second tier of RBs is a deep one, and is expected to stretch into the third round of a draft. Meanwhile, the first tier of TEs and QBs are just 1-2 players each, and those players are absolutely dominant at their position. Snagging a tier 1 QB and TE in the first two rounds will give you more value than selecting a tier 2 running back in the second round, because it gives you such a strong positional advantage over other players, without sacrificing too much in strength at the RB position.

Does this mean you should draft the best kicker in round 1? Of course not! But it does mean you have to be hyper aware of the points in your draft where players of comparable skill at a position are expected to dry up, and draft accordingly.  

Try to gauge risers and regressors

Recency bias is a very real thing in pre-season fantasy football rankings. If our collective last impression of someone is good, it's going to be tough for us to rate that player lower, even if a lot of signs are pointing to worse production this year.

Same goes for the reverse. It's natural to want to exercise caution when a player like Adrian Peterson comes off of a season-ending injury, but that didn't stop Peterson from rushing for 2,000 yards and winning an MVP award in 2012. He made everyone who drafted him in round 3 or 4 look like a genius.

Given that it's almost statistically impossible for a player to duplicate his performance from the year before, it's paramount to determine who seems primed to rise or regress. Todd Gurley, for example, is a player who dazzled as a rookie but struggled mightily last year. In all likelihood, he'll bounce back this year and finish somewhere in between those two poles production-wise. If your competitors are overlooking that and letting him slide, look to scoop him up when it makes sense.

Target feature guys, up until a point

One of the most difficult dilemmas in fantasy can be whether to take a second or third option on one team or the feature guy on another. Think about someone like Carlos Hyde. He's the clear number one RB on San Francisco, but the 49ers are expected to have a shaky offense compared to the league's best. Does that mean it would make sense to take the second RB option in New England over him?

Though it's excruciatingly tough to forecast sometimes, taking the feature guy seems to generally be the smart move—unless the second option is a surefire stud in his own right, or the feature guy's offense projects to be anemic. Provided those conditions aren't in place, then it's worth your while to invest in the guaranteed carries or targets.

Don't get caught up in the 'bye week game'

When you're midway through your draft, it's tempting to look at your roster taking shape and try to identify holes. One that might come to mind is bye weeks. You might be drafting and suddenly realize that four of your key players all have a Week 6 bye.

If that happens, take a deep breath, exhale, and relax. It's not that big of a deal.

Cross the bye week bridge when you get there. Don't draft a player simply because he has a more desirable bye week date then another. If you're truly drafting a quality team, then one shaky week won't stop you from making the playoffs. And in the playoffs, there are no bye weeks. So don't let bye weeks could your player evaluation judgement.

Remember that the WR pool is deeper than the RB pool

Wide recevier fever is an easy malady to catch. There's always a long list of pass catchers with huge upside, seemingly worthy of your mid-round pick.

Though there's certainly nothing wrong with targeting receivers you think are set to break out, it shouldn't come at the expense of shoring up your RB position. As discussed earlier, there's huge value in drafting a featured player who gets guaranteed targets and carries every game. The NFL is such a pass-happy league now that on a really good offense, that description could apply to as many as three or four receivers. Typically, it only applies to one, maaaaaybe two RBs per team.

Because the WR pool of players is so much deeper than the RB pool, it can often be in your best interests to hold off on loading up on receivers until you have at least two—ideally three—solid RB options. That isn't to say you should hold off on WRs altogether. You should absolutely be on the lookout for studs and blue-chippers at the outset. It's just a lot easier to shore up that position later on with promising options than it is with running backs.

Go with the flow of your draft

In fantasy football drafts, adaptation is essential. It's almost inevitable that things won't unfold optimally for you, which means you need to ready to commit to different situations on the fly.

You had your eyes on Mike Evans but he got unexpectedly snaked by the manager one spot ahead of you? Suck it up and turn to your best backup option available. Maybe that means taking a running back instead and messing up the plan you had started making for your second pick (and subsequent ones), but that's no excuse to pass up good value.

Every round there is bound to be something that trips you up a bit and drives a fork into your preferred plans. Roll with the punches and find an alternative that works.

Trust your gut

Fantasy football projections have gotten more and more sophisticated over time, but at the end of the day, it's still a game of educated guesses. If you want to trust those public projections and base your draft purely off of them, that's a totally reasonable course of action, but it means you're giving up the opportunity to swing for the fences—and maybe walk away with a home run.

Sometimes, even if the interface of the site you're drafting on is telling you that it's a good time to draft 'so-and-so QB,' but you'd rather snag Carson Palmer, who's ranked slightly lower but is  a guy you feel great about heading into this year, then DO IT! Fantasy football is more fun when your team is refelctive of your beliefs and provides vindication if you win. And in order to win, a few 'trust your gut' picks are usually necessary anyways.