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Friday Free-For-All: 8 League-Winning Ideas*

It is August and this is not a drill. Drafts are here and your angle needs to be a memorized sonnet. Who is going to answer the red phone at 3:00 a.m.? Is this the year to finally draft a top shelf signal-caller? What about just drafting all of the Patriots? What about going RB-RB-RB in a season where the hot strategy is Zero RB? Is there value to be had in Oakland, Calif.? Can you afford to draft any rookie whatsoever? If Jamaal Charles is the Cadillac of PPR backs should you also buy a Chevrolet Cruze?

Our in-house starters huddled up and put together the league-winning ideas that they’re thinking about as we head into August.

[*Maybe the title should have been “Approximately 8 League-winning Ideas” since some of the ideas below slightly overlap and/or are contradictory. But the fun thing about fantasy football is that there are multiple winning strategies.]

No. 1: Game ain’t the same

My league-winning idea this year is the same as it should be every year, and that’s don’t think you can just take home a championship using the same strategy that worked the year before. After 2011 everybody went quarterback early and got burned. Then after 2012, when it looked like running backs were safe again, everyone went RB early and got burned. Just the fact that the market moves to address the prior year’s winning strategy sucks out a good amount of the advantage. So I will not be drafting RB Zero this year even though it’s an incredible strategy that Shawn Siegele has used to great effect in more years than just 2013. Instead I’m going to pursue a balanced strategy that focuses on running back and wide receiver for about 10 rounds and takes advantage of RB values that wouldn’t be there if everyone hadn’t gotten burned last year. I’m a big fan of Mark Twain’s line about a cat and a hot stove and nowhere is that thinking more evident than fantasy drafts every year.  — Fantasy Douche

No. 2: Say it with me class, ‘Pass on QBs’

The league-winning idea I am incorporating into my drafts this year is to absolutely wait on QB. Maybe even wait to draft one with my last pick in the draft. QB points are easily replaceable compared to the other positional players. Waiting on QB allows you load up at RB and WR in the middle and late rounds and boost your odds of one of your guys breaking out. For example, last year Zac Stacy, Andre Ellington, and Fred Jackson. If you can successfully stream your QBs each week and trust your judgement of talent in the mid-to-late round guys, you can surpass the guy who reaches for Peyton Manning (who is due for some regression) and keep up with all the early QB grabbers with very little effort. — Justin Bailey

No. 3: Ditch the lamestream, man

The league-winning idea that I’m incorporating into my drafts this year is to be contrarian to the opinion of the mainstream fantasy information sites. They have so much sway that their opinions often create value opportunities that can be exploited. For example, everyone’s down on the Raider’s run game, but Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden were single digit picks last year? For that matter, someone needs to catch passes in Oakland as well, and the prime candidate is actually Rod Streater (read Vaughn Stewart’s compelling article). Everyone’s written off Knowshon Moreno for dead but he was specifically brought in during free agency? Cam Newton has no WRs (but he needs to throw somewhere, i.e. Kelvin Benjamin and Jericho Cotchery)? All of these overreactions smell like cheap points for me. — Aaron Messing

No. 4: ‘Gronk out-perform ADP!’

Draft Rob Gronkowski. His ADP is currently in the early third round in some formats, which is the biggest steal since the Louisiana Purchase. When healthy, Gronk outscores Jimmy Graham—and basically every other football player—on a fantasy PPG basis. His injury risk is more than baked into his price. Plus, for what it’s worth, the reports on his health out of training camp could not be more positive. Of course, Gronk’s ADP is rising by the day; if you’ve got a backend pick, don’t hesitate to take him in the early second. I personally love pairing him with a guy like DeMarco Murray or Gio Bernard before drafting several mid-round WRs, but Gronk is an ingredient that goes well with any draft strategy. — Vaughn Stewart

No. 5: Another vote for Late Round QB

Late round QB has been winning leagues for years. This year while Jay Cutler and Carson Palmer have been two of the more popular targets, I am specifically targeting late round QBs with rushing ability. Russell Wilson, Alex Smith, Geno Smith, and E.J. Manuel all have the ability to score with their legs. In most leagues it takes 2-2.5 times the passing yards compared to rushing yards to score a point. Rushing totals in this case can give your LRQB a healthy floor. The little things add up and can be the difference in winning or losing if a guy has a bad day through the air. In the case of Geno and Manuel, who could likely be on the waiver wire, continued improvement and refinement of their passing skills could result in more consistency and higher passing yardage outputs. Add in their rushing totals and you could see a leap that puts them in the mix for a QB12-15 finish. Acquiring two of these four players to go with a solid passing yardage QB that slips has been a staple in my 2014 draft strategy. — Scott Smith

No. 6: Free yourself from the handcuffs

My league-winning idea: Avoid RB handcuffs.The temptation is real: you were lucky enough to get a draft pick that allowed you to select LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy, or a similar clear-cut stud RB. But now you’re worried about what happens if that player goes down with injury. You’ll have a huge gap in your lineup. The old-fashioned idea is to handcuff your RB by also selecting his backup. The stud goes down? The backup should get a lot of work, right?

The answer is probably not. When I looked at recent history, I found that the backups to the studliest RBs (those drafted much farther ahead of their backups than average) seldom produced meaningful fantasy seasons. In fact, handcuffing your stud RB can actually weaken your roster. First, even if the stud is injured, there’s no guarantee the backup will get the same workload or be as productive with it. Second, if the stud running back isn’t injured, you’ve tied up two roster spots for one player.

Instead of handcuffing, look to roster RBs in timeshares. In the past few seasons, on average, both the “lead” and “backup” RBs in a timeshare situation have posted usable RB2 or Flex numbers. And these guys are much more likely than a handcuff back to produce RB1 numbers if given the chance. — James Todd

No. 7: Buy the whole fried chicken

Most of the popular league-winning strategies this year are pretty obvious: wait on drafting quarterbacks, target promising (and cheap) second-year wide receivers instead of rookies, beware talented players with major suspensions looming over their heads, etc. I’ll offer something a bit different: Go all or nothing on backfields with multiple fantasy-relevant RBs. If you pick up Reggie Bush, take Joique Bell in the next round, and Theo Riddick toward the end of the draft. If you draft Jones-Drew, make sure to grab McFadden and Latavius Murray. In love with Shane Vereen? Then you should consider a polyamorous relationship with Stevan Ridley and James White as well.

There are two reasons for this. First, you want to make sure that you’ve got a handcuff in place when your stud RB (inevitably) goes down for a few games. Second, this gives you the chance to play some defense: If you start Vereen and your opponent starts Ridley, you’re really out of luck if Ridley puts up big points and Vereen has a middling performance. I’d much rather have talented RBs putting up points on my bench than in my opponents’ starting lineups. — Jim Kloet

No. 8: It’s all about those composites, bro

My league-winning idea for this season, particularly in best ball formats, is to attack certain backfields strategically in order to lock in RB2 production. Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde will likely collectively provide a top 18 RB. Ryan Mathews and Donald Brown will collectively provide a top 20 RB—and if you wanted to throw Danny Woodhead in the mix then you could plan to have some composite production that equals two top 25 RBs. And I know that people are hesitant about Patriots RBs—but if you have Vereen and Ridley you will have quite a few weeks of top 10 production. And of course there’s always Bush and Bell. All of these guys are generally available in Round 3 or later, but collectively the backfields could provide top 20 production. In best ball leagues, I think this is the way to go. — Matthew Freedman

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