STEPHEN COVEY'S The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was, by any measure, a monster of a book. With more than 20 million copies sold, the self-help guide spawned many other titles, including The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens and the rare misstep The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Hoarders.
From happy kids to effective couples, there is no group that doesn't have a 7 Habits written for it. No group except, of course, fantasy football drafters. So it is with that glaring omission and a magazine deadline in mind that I went through the millions of teams that played on ESPN.com ?over the past two years, focusing on those that made the playoffs. After sifting through that data, and reliving my own 30 years of playing, I now present to you: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Drafters.
When you draft, you build a roster, right? So let's start there. Over the past two years, playoff teams and last-place teams had virtually identically balanced rosters (see Chart A). In general, everyone has five running backs and wide receivers, a kicker, a defense and either one or two quarterbacks and one or two tight ends.
Which just very simply means: If all rosters are constructed the same way, it's all about getting that slight edge at each position. And that's where putting in the time makes all the difference. Because of fantasy analysts who compile rankings and write sleeper columns, because of Twitter and TV shows like Fantasy Football Now, everyone knows everything. There are no secret sleepers anymore. There's no hiding injury updates from your league mates.
But all that information also creates a lot of noise to filter in order to determine what is actually important. And that takes time. Lots of it.
Effective drafters read tons; study all the stats and trends; watch as much preseason football as they can (at least when relevant players are in); listen to the news conferences of head coaches and coordinators; follow a lot of Twitter feeds; do mock drafts and the late sleeper search; look at past draft results of their own leagues; and study for their draft like it's a bar exam. It's very simple.
Like every other part of life, what you put in is what you get out.
In the past two years, a player picked in the first round averaged 191.8 fantasy points (ESPN standard scoring). In the same time frame, a player picked in the second round averaged 184.3 fantasy points. Pretty close, right? But when you get to the third round? Big drop-off (see Chart B). There is no bigger production drop-off between pairs of rounds than the difference between the first two rounds and Rounds 3 and 4.
The first two rounds are crucial. Over the past two years, playoff teams scored, on average, 1,237 points in the first 13 weeks. So if 95 points a week is what you need to make the playoffs, those first two rounds represent a whopping 30 percent of your total.
It's not the place to get cute, to try for "upside" or to reach. You can't ignore injury history, and you can't just assume you're guaranteed a good player. Ask anyone who drafted Doug Martin or Ray Rice in the first round last year.