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Since I've spent the better part of the past three weeks immersed in NFL scouting reports and preparing the 2004 NFL Player Value Rankings (which will run in the upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated as well as here on SI.com), it's the perfect time to segue into fantasy football season.
So without letting the cat out of the bag (you'll have to come back early next week to see who's No. 1 in the PVR), here are the top 10 strategic tips to help you in your draft.
10. Two words: dome kickers. You won't go wrong drafting kickers who tee it up inside at least half of the time. And if they're also in a temperate climate division (Mike Vanderjagt, John Carney, Jeff Wilkins) it's even better. When was the last blizzard to hit Jacksonville or Phoenix?
9. Don't assume that players will duplicate last season's stats. Well, most players, that is. Guys like Brett Favre, LaDainian Tomlinson, Marvin Harrison and Tony Gonzalez seem immune to the stinker season. For the ones who are less inconsistent, you should examine a player's career trend. Were Matt Hasselbeck's 26 TD passes last year a fluke, or has he become an elite quarterback? Will Deuce McAllister ever find the end zone? Or Charlie Garner? Or Keyshawn Johnson?
8. Know the type of offense each team will run so you can pick the right players. The Cardinals have been a black hole in the past for fantasy players. However, with Dennis Green at the helm, Arizona will feature a wide-open style similar to his teams in Minnesota. Whether quarterback Josh McCown is up to the task is debatable, but at least you know that drafting Cardinals receivers is a good idea.
7. Don't be scared off by preseason injuries. It goes without saying that football players are tough. Many will sit out preseason games with injuries that would not even sideline them for a single regular season play. Coaching and training staffs are very careful with their investments when the games don't count. So if you've read that someone's been out with a sore ankle or bruised ribs that kept him out of summer games, there's no reason to ignore him on draft day. Nearly every player will be injured at some point during the season and sometimes the known evil is a lot easier to handle than the one that comes as a big surprise.
6. Bring an NFL schedule with you to the draft and know the bye weeks of your key players. Drafting Edgerrin James, Jamal Lewis and Tiki Barber would be awesome, except for the weekend of Oct. 17 when all three are on their bye week. Don't get stuck starting waiver-wire claims like Cory Schlesinger and LaMont Jordan.
5. Wide receivers not named Terrell Owens, Harrison, Randy Moss or Torry Holt are a dime a dozen. Unless you can grab one of those elites, you're better off patching together a receiving corps of underrated players and sleepers in later rounds. By the same logic, you should draft the top tight ends (Gonzalez, Todd Heap, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow) earlier rather than later. Not many tight ends contribute and the winning teams more often than not have one.
4. Know your league rules before you draft. Know how many players are active each week for each team. It's great if you have three great quarterbacks, but it does you little good if you can only play one per week. Is your scoring based on yardage, touchdowns or a combination of both? How are the points weighted? In leagues where touchdowns account for most of the scoring, TD plunge specialists like Mo Williams and Zack Crockett have value. In leagues that award points for yardage milestones, they're worth much less.
3. In most leagues quarterbacks are the only position that regularly can lose points for you (interceptions) so be very careful whom you draft. A large touchdown total is nice, but it's more important for your QB to have a great TD-to-interception ratio.
2. Much like closers in baseball, quarterbacks tend to be overrated so don't bite too early. If you can get a Steve McNair, Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb or Peyton Manning early then by all means do so. If not, a fifth round Trent Green, Carson Palmer or Tom Brady will get the job done nearly as well.
1. Starting running backs are like gold so use your first two picks on the elite runners. Drafting gets a whole lot easier if you come out of the first two rounds with a great pair of running backs like Ahman Green and Corey Dillon.
David Sabino is an associate editor in charge of statistics at Sports Illustrated.