Commentary

The Draft-Day Manifesto

Updated: September 8, 2009, 4:47 PM ET
By Matthew Berry | ESPN.com

The Talented Mr. Roto
They will play this season.

Honestly, that's the only thing I can say for certain about this upcoming season.

Make no mistake, we are off to a good start. No Brett Favre, Kim Kardashian or Jessica Simpson this year. (Editor's Note: The TMR would like to amend the previous comment about Brett Favre, but the sounds he made when trying to explain his feelings could not properly be conveyed into words.)

There might not be three more annoying people associated with the NFL on the planet. I say "might," because again, nothing is for certain. Spencer and Heidi might join the NFL.

Look, anyone who claims that they knew at this time last year that DeAngelo Williams would score 20 touchdowns, that Tyler Thigpen would finish with more fantasy points than Tony Romo or that Chad Pennington would score just as many fantasy points as Brian Westbrook is a liar.

I can't predict the future. Don't claim to. Neither can you or anyone else. And you shouldn't try. That's the first rule of drafting.

I've been writing a version of this column for a decade, updating it every year. There are always new twists, strategies and trends, but at its core, it's been about giving you a blueprint for your draft day. A structure, if you will. Or even if you won't. Because once you have that, you can veer and change and adjust. And you will need to stay nimble, during the draft and after. Because you're always one Bernard Pollard roll over the knee from having to scrap everything.

Understand this. Underline it, print it out, make a big sign that you can hang on your wall next to your Megan Fox poster: At its fundamental level, fantasy football is all about minimizing risk and giving yourself the best odds to win.

Everything leads back to that. Before you make any decision -- who to draft, trade, start and sit -- make sure you are following that basic principle; how risky is this move, does it give me the best chance to win?

In the draft (or auction!), this means having players that touch the ball as much as possible. Can't score if you don't have the ball, don'tcha know. But figuring out who is touching the ball the most is where we run into problems.

Deciding on a strategy

Used to be, if nothing else, you knew a team's main running back was touching the ball 20 to 30 times a game. You didn't know how many times a wide receiver would get the ball thrown his way.

Now, with more running backs in time shares, more teams throwing the ball all over the place and more uncertainty than ever, to paraphrase William Goldman, nobody knows anything.

LaDainian Tomlinson
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireLT had his worst rushing season of his career last season, being "limited" to 1,110 yards on the ground.
Is LT done? Can Clinton Portis stay healthy? What about Steven Jackson? Will LenDale White vulture too many of Chris Johnson's scores? Was Williams a one-year wonder? Bring it on. Gimme a guy ranked outside of the top four and I've got a question about him for you.

What about Larry Fitzgerald, whose value is tied to 38-year-old Kurt Warner? Dude, please. Want me to poke a hole in the top four? Because Adrian Peterson is still an injury risk with fumbling problems and Chester Taylor vulturing scores, Michael Turner has the "Curse of 370" looming over him and the addition of Tony Gonzalez as an alternate red zone threat, Maurice Jones-Drew, all 5-foot-7 of him, has never been the every-down back and Matt Forte has a new QB to deal with, besides the fact that he might also be a one-year wonder.

I'm not saying I believe those things, but I am saying they are legitimate questions and if any one of those guys had a down year for those reasons, you wouldn't be shocked. Or you shouldn't be.

Here's one other thing I know for sure. Ken Daube is a smart guy. And he makes a lot of sense when he talks about taking a wideout in Round 1.

Add to that all the running-back-by-committees, all the rules that make it impossible to guard anyone so that teams are throwing even more, and we're going wideout in Round 1, right? Well, hold on Sparky, we're not there yet. (Note: I am assuming your name is Sparky.)

The number "7" doesn't do a lot for you by itself, so let's put it into perspective.

Of the top 50 fantasy scorers last year in ESPN standard scoring, only seven -- count 'em, seven -- of them were wide receivers.

Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings, Steve Smith, Roddy White, Anquan Boldin. That's it. That's the list. I'd add Randy Moss in there now that Tom Brady is back and Reggie Wayne should be there. But that's it.

I can hear what you're thinking. "OK, Sparky, I get it, I need to draft one of them early to make sure I get one." (Note: I am assuming you think my name is Sparky.)

And yes, I think it's vitally important to get an elite No. 1 wideout in the first three rounds. In fact, I'll just say this here and now: You need at least one running back and one wide receiver in the first three rounds. If you want to add a quarterback or a second running back or wide receiver to those two, that will depend on your scoring system and who is available to you when you draft. But just know that there is a very finite number of elite wide receivers this year.

Let's put it another way. If you just look at running backs and wide receivers, only 10 of the top 30 scorers last year were wideouts.

Now remember, we play with at least two, with the option of adding a third in an ESPN standard league. And I want to add this important caveat. If you don't wind up with one of what I am calling "The TMR Nine" then ... wait. They are all the same after that. Some have more upside than others, but seriously, the difference between No. 8 on the list of wide receiver scoring leaders from last year (Antonio Bryant, 157 points) and No. 30 (DeSean Jackson, 110 points) works out to fewer than three points a game. So if everyone in a 10-team league started three receivers every week, outside of the elite, you're basically getting a three-point advantage starting the best non-elite guy over the guy that's barely better than waiver-wire fodder.

Yup, there's a lot of the same after the top receivers. But because of all the committees, there are more chances of finding a breakout running back later in your draft than a wide receiver that becomes special. Think about where Forte, Turner, Williams, Chris Johnson and Steve Slaton went in your draft last season.

Let's take a small detour here. I believe touchdowns are impossible to predict. Isaac Bruce had more scores than Steve Smith, Brandon Marshall and Reggie Wayne last year, for example. Justin Gage had more than Marques Colston and Donald Driver. Anthony Fasano and Visanthe Shiancoe had more than Dallas Clark. I could do this all day.

Peterson had the second most rushing attempts of any running back last year and finished with the same number of scores as Le'Ron McClain. Tim Hightower had more than Clinton Portis. Lots of people had more than Frank Gore. He had six. Hmmm. All the people who yelled at me last preseason for saying Gore was a second-round pick seem to have finally shut up, haven't they? This has nothing to do with anything, I just wanted to take another opportunity to point out that Gore was the 14th-best fantasy running back last year. Hah! But back to the business at hand.

Instead of touchdowns, I like to judge consistent players based on yardage.

Do you know how many wide receivers had five or more 100-yard games last year? I mean, five is not that many, right? Basically once every three games, right?

The answer is ... seven. That's right. Thirty-two teams, three main receivers each. Only seven receivers had five or more 100-yard games. Can you guess who they were? Yep. Almost the same list as above. In order of the number of 100-yard receiving games they had, they are: Andre Johnson (8), Steve Smith (8), Roddy White (7), Larry Fitzgerald (7), Antonio Bryant (6), Calvin Johnson (5) and Greg Jennings (5).

Roddy White
Jerry Lai/US PresswireRoddy White has 2,584 yards and 13 touchdowns the past two seasons. Just sayin'.
Do you know how many of these guys had five or more 100-yard games in 2007? Only one, Mr. Roddy White, who "isn't an elite wide receiver" according to many of the folks who are engaged in Conversation on my "Love/Hate" column.

Something to think about, no? White being the only guy on the list in back-to-back years, not the comments on "Love / Hate."

So let's look at the running backs from last year who had five or more 100-yard games (total yards).

There were 17. In order, they are Adrian Peterson (11), Matt Forte (11), Steve Slaton (9), LaDainian Tomlinson (8), Michael Turner (8), DeAngelo Williams (8), Marion Barber (8), Steven Jackson (8), Frank Gore (7), Thomas Jones (7), Clinton Portis (7), Chris Johnson (6), Pierre Thomas (5), Maurice Jones-Drew (5), Brian Westbrook (5) and Marshawn Lynch (5).

Got another good stat for you: Last year, there were 394 game performances in which a running back, wide receiver or tight end had more than 100 total yards from scrimmage. Of those 394, 159 were from a wide receiver or tight end. To put it another way, when a player went over 100 total yards last year, 41 percent of the time it was not a running back. Almost half. Still want to take running backs in the first two rounds?

As a result, it's best player available. Points come from everywhere, but they still seem to come most consistently from running backs. The difference now is that the point differential is not as great and there are more running backs contributing to point totals (but contributing less in terms of total points) than before.

Bottom line? Take that elite receiver early. There'll be plenty of running backs to chose from in Rounds 2 and 3, but there's not the same depth at receiver. And if you go quarterback in Round 1, your next two picks had better include one of those top wide receivers.

If you are in a points-per-reception league, however, I want two of your first three picks to be wideouts and the other one to be a running back who catches passes. I have Forte at one and MJD at two in a PPR league. I also want you to get a tight end by the sixth round, ideally by the fifth. But we'll get to tight ends in a bit.

Before we do anything else:

OK, you've got a basic strategy to approach your leagues. Now we need to set one up, which means four huge things have to be decided:

1. Is it a draft? Or is it an auction?
2. Where are we playing it out?
3. Where are we doing the draft?
4. What shall we eat?

Let's take them one by one, but if you're already all set and want to get on with the strategy, just skip on ahead to the next section.

First, I highly recommend an auction. The argument against was always that to do it correctly everyone needed to be in the same room. Now, thanks to our auction draft software, that's no longer a concern.

It's more engaging, it's more fun and most importantly, it's the truest test of skill. In a draft, at most, only two people are getting a shot at Adrian Peterson this year. In an auction, everyone has a shot at Peterson. In fact, everyone has a shot at every player. It's about money management, reading the other folks in the room, calling their bluffs, identifying value and reacting quickly. Those who complain that luck plays too big a part in fantasy football can eliminate, or at least limit, a lot of it by using an auction.

Yes, luck will still play a part during the season because of scheduling, injuries and the occasional fantasy heartbreak-type play like DeSean Jackson's premature touchdown celebration on the 1. But this gets rid of the constriction on a draft. You wanna brag about how smart you are? How much more brilliant you are than anyone else? Then even the playing field and give everyone a shot at every player.

Try it once and you'll be hooked. And if you've never tried, you can do it now in our free, mock auction lobby. Right now, go ahead. This article will still be here. Actually, come back, don't come back, I don't care. I've already got your click. Anyway, auctions are the way to go. I cannot recommend this strongly enough.

Second, where are you playing out the league? You know I am a company man, so I'll just merely mention that everything you want or need for your league is here and free on ESPN.com. And here's the thing. I've played on other sites. I'm not trashing other sites. But, and I am being honest here, the best experience is on ESPN.com. And if you don't believe me, it's because you haven't tried it recently.

Look, it's 100 percent free to play. So if your long-term league has been playing elsewhere, set up a second "mirror league" here on ESPN. A taste test, if you will. And just see which one you like better. It costs you nothing except maybe an hour to set up the second league and, considering how much time you spend on your league every year, don't you want the best experience? The most fun, the most timely injury updates, the most tools in the game, the easiest interface, etc etc. Just try it. And if you hate it, I'll shut up. I promise.

Third, where are you holding the draft/auction? It may not be possible because of circumstances, but if there is any way possible, you must do the draft (or auction!) in person. It's so much more fun, it becomes an event, you get to know your leaguemates better ... it's just a much more satisfying experience.

Molly Sims
Getty ImagesI'll be honest here, I'm probably much more excited about hanging out with Molly Sims than she is about hanging out with me.
And if you really want to do it in style, do it in Las Vegas. Ideally, do it the weekend of Aug. 27-30 at the SuperDraft Weekend, where, in addition to giving you a customized draft room with Wi-Fi and cheerleaders, there will be tons of parties featuring folks like Shannon Elizabeth, Stacy Keibler, Flo Rida and, um, me. I feel like that Sesame Street song. "One of these things is not like the others, one of these things doesn't belong ..." Molly Sims and the person I'm most excited to meet, Gary "Baba Booey" Dell'Abate of the Howard Stern show, will also be there. Not to turn this into (more of) a commercial for Las Vegas, but seriously, it's a great town with something for everyone. Why not make the best weekend of the year even better? Draft and then spend the rest of the weekend giving your buddies crap over their picks poolside. Or craps-table-side. Or pretty-girl-side. (Note: If you talk about your teams for more than 20 seconds, the pretty girls will leave. Trust me on this.)

Finally, eat after your draft. Much more fun to look over rosters and look at teams during dinner than nervously thinking about the upcoming draft during dinner. You'll have much more fun.

OK, back to work: Keeper leagues

If you are in a keeper league, you obviously need to figure out who to keep. You keep your difference-makers, and that's it. I define a difference-maker as someone who is clearly better than most of the others at his position. The Peterson, Brees and Fitzgerald types. But that's it (other than an elite tight end, who might be OK to keep).

I made the point already, but I'll make it again a different way. Guys like Santana Moss are a dime a dozen. The difference between a 1,200-yard-a-year wide receiver and an 800-yard scrub is 25 yards a game. Less than three fantasy points a week. It's just not worth reaching for a guy like that in the draft, keeping him or trading for him.

Oh, and you should never dump a quarterback or running back to keep a tight end unless it's one of the top three guys. Tight end is really deep this year, as we'll explore shortly.

Adam Sandler
Carlos Alvarez/Getty ImagesIf Adam Sandler updated "The Lonesome Kicker" for the 2000's, he'd probably include the line "I never get picked, before the last round ... except by people who don't know what they're doing."
Never, ever keep a kicker. I don't care if you're Stephen Gostkowski's cousin, or you once got Ryan Longwell's autograph or happen to actually be Mason Crosby, let 'em all go. And you'll never find me keeping a defense unless the rules say I have to.

If you are in a league in which you have a penalty for keeping a guy -- like, you have to give up a third-round pick for Michael Turner, as one reader with more running backs than roster spots recently wrote -- you need to decide what is more valuable.

Fantasy sports are all about value. So in this blatantly obvious case, you keep Turner, because he is a first-round pick and it's only costing you a third-round pick. But what if it's Big Fat LenDale White and he's gonna cost a fourth-round pick? Well, I throw him back. Because a quick glance at our live draft results shows White currently going in the sixth round. Even when you factor in the fact that all the guys who are kept will thin the player pool, I can get him cheaper by throwing him back and using the fourth-round slot on someone I really like, such as Vincent Jackson.

By the way, I am aware Big Fat LenDale White lost weight in the offseason. I don't care. He can become bulimic and weigh 95 pounds soaking wet. He is still and always will be Big Fat LenDale White. Just like Big Fat Bartolo Colon will never shed his nickname. Or his plus-five ERA. But I digress from my digression.

Look, unless you are in a very deep league and/or a league in which you keep a lot of players, I don't like keeping "projects." The average life span of an NFL player is something like five years.

For every Aaron Rodgers you hang on to, there are a lot more Vince Young and Matt Leinart types out there. How many years in a row did someone in your league hang on to Laurence Maroney? There's a black hole in my heart for the number of years I waited on Kevan Barlow.

You keep elite guys who can play. Maybe you keep one project at most, but otherwise you need to stick with as close to sure things as you can. I keep saying this, but frankly, some of you aren't that bright (not you, the other guys reading this), so I'll say it again: Fantasy football is by far the most luck-based of all the fantasy sports, so your goal is to minimize bad luck as much as you can by loading up on those sure things.

Draft preparation

OK, you've turned in your retention list. Or it's just a start-from-scratch league. So let's prepare for the draft (or auction!).

Obviously, you should be reading as much as possible. I would be checking ESPN.com at least once a day. Read the articles, listen to our daily podcasts, watch our daily videocast and stop by our twice-daily chats. I highly recommend our free mobile alerts, and for those who want even more of an edge you should sign up for ESPN Insider (or get yourself a Rotopass, which includes Insider as well as access to some other great fantasy sites).

But don't just read fantasy sites. Read the football sections of major newspapers. Watch "SportsCenter." And once the season starts, watch games. Not just highlights. Games. See how a guy gets his 100 yards. Was he grinding it out or did he just get a lucky 75-yard gain and got crushed on the other 20 carries? The more info you can have, the better.

There are millions of sites devoted to fantasy football. See which you like, which you trust, which you agree with, which you think are for morons. It's all speculation -- some more informed than others -- but at the end of the day, we're all just making educated guesses.

Either way, knowledge is power. The more you know -- about players, lineups, injuries, sleepers, coaching changes, schedules, bye weeks, etc. -- the better shape you are in. So prepare as if you are testing to get into Harvard med school, because the only thing worse than screwing up on draft day and listening to your buddies tell you you're a jackass for the next six months is having to sit in front of a TV on Sunday while saying, "Come on, Kurt, at least look in Early Doucet's direction!"

Speaking of knowledge being power: I know this sounds stupid, but you'd be amazed at how many people make this mistake as they sign up for more and more leagues and simply assume they know the intricacies.

Know your league's rules. Inside and out.

Like, do you get the same amount of points for a touchdown pass as a touchdown run? If so, quarterbacks are much more valuable than they are in leagues that reward six points for a TD run and just four for a TD pass. Do you get points for receptions? What about return yards? Do you get negative points for turnovers? Bonus points for long plays? Do running backs get points for receptions and receiving yards? Because Reggie Bush is much more valuable if they do. It all matters when prepping for your draft and evaluating players.

OK, you know your league's rules. You've marked draft day on the calendar. You've got Beanie Wells at the top of your sleeper list, you've checked the latest info on Donnie Avery's injury and you can't wait to grab Donald Brown and screw over Joseph Addai's owner.

But now, time to get serious. You're going to need to do some paperwork prior to the draft to make the draft easier and more efficient for yourself.

First, get yourself an up-to-the minute depth chart for every team in the NFL. We have a really good, easy-to-print version in our ESPN.com draft kit, and they will be updated throughout the preseason. But whomever's you like, print them out and bring them with you.

When you're nearing the end of the draft and you need another wide receiver or a starting tight end, the depth charts will come in very handy. Trust me. A simple depth chart is one of the best tools you can have.

Whatever list/magazine/book you choose to go with, just bring one. Too much info can clutter things up. Decide ahead of time whose is the best fit for you, and go with that. Personally, I like to make my own list. But whatever list you have, you need to prepare it. By that I mean I like to group players into tiers. As an easy example, you'll group your tight ends. Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark, Antonio Gates. Those are the elite guys.

Jeremy Shockey
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesPop quiz, hotshot. (Here, I am assuming that you are a hotshot.) How many of Drew Brees' 34 TD passes did Jeremy Shockey catch in 2008? That's right. Zero.
The next tier has about 10 guys. So you may say to yourself, "I don't want my tight end to be worse than, say, Chris Cooley." So the big four are off the board plus Owen Daniels, the aforementioned Cooley, Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, because one guy in your league is using a magazine from 2005. You don't freak out because you look at your list and see Zach Miller, Kevin Boss, Kellen Winslow, John Carlson and Visanthe Shiancoe (last year's No. 7 fantasy tight end!) are still left, and you have two selections in the next six picks.

You can probably take a high-upside running back with the first of those picks and know that you'll get one of those other guys on the way back. Or even better, a quick glance shows seven of the 10 teams in the league have a tight end, there are five left that you'd be fine with, so you can wait even longer. Chances are it will be a while before teams start drafting their second tight end, so you can keep stocking up on other players instead of "wasting" a pick on a tight end before you need to.

During the draft, it's especially important not to get hung up on one particular player. By dividing your list like this, you'll be more able to see where there is scarcity in the draft and where there is surplus. Like with wide receivers, just because you don't get T.J. Houshmandzadeh or Roy Williams for your No. 2, you're not out of luck. Brandon Marshall will be just fine.

Another thing you want to do before the draft is prepare a "draft sheet" for every team in the league. This is a sheet that has every team in your league and every position they need to fill. I cannot stress how important this is. As the draft progresses, you are going to want to be able to know who everyone has, what positions they have filled and what they still need. You can see every team online in our draft rooms but I still do it by pen and paper because I like to see every team at a glance.

If it's a keeper league, make sure you fill in who has been kept before you draft. And hey, if you are a member of Insider (or RotoPass) you get a free Draft Analyzer, which is an easy computer program that helps keep track of all this stuff for you during the draft. (I am nothing if not a company man.)

But if you're old school like me with pen and paper, here's what you do: Let's say Team 1 takes Forte. You write down "Forte" in one of Team 1's RB slots. This way you can see at a glance what you need in comparison to every other team.

Kyle Orton might be a great value pick this year, if you draft him in the right spot.

Say it's the 10th round and you need a backup quarterback, but there's a sleeper wide receiver you want to grab as well. You look at your sheet, see most everyone has two quarterbacks, and according to your quarterback tiers, Kyle Orton, David Garrard, Matt Hasselbeck and Joe Flacco are still out there. So you should be OK when it comes around to you next. You don't need to burn the pick here. Conversely, the three teams picking after you all need wide receivers, so you better grab the guy now or never get him. You grab your receiver and then get a decent No. 2 quarterback next time around.

Shonn Greene
Don McPeak/US PresswireWhy take a late-round flier on Shonn Greene? Great O-line, great fullback and one Thomas Jones knee away from being very, very good. Plus I dig the double-N on the first name.
This sheet will save your bacon more than once toward the end of the draft, and that's where leagues are won and lost, not in the first few rounds. Any idiot can take Chris Johnson in the first few picks. It's the guy who grabs Steve Slaton in the double-digit rounds who generally wins the league.

I also like to have a list of sleepers I want to target. When you're in Hour 4 and can't think anymore, you can glance at the sheet and go, "Oh yeah, I wanted to take a gamble on Shonn Greene." Or Shaun Hill. Or Michael Bush. You then grab them instead of saying, "I can't think of anybody … I'll just take my kicker now."

By the way, if it's a salary cap/auction league -- did I mention you can now do auctions on ESPN.com for free? -- I also have a place to see how much money they have left. Those of you with laptops can have a spreadsheet do all this for you, obviously (or if you are using ESPN.com Auction Draft Lobby, we do it for you). If it's a keeper league with a salary cap, you start with how much money they have left for how many positions to fill.

OK, we pause here for something really nerdy.

If you are in a keeper league with a salary cap, I suggest doing keeper-league inflation. What the hell's that, you ask? Well, basically, keeper leagues always have guys kept well below their value. I'm proud to have Wes Welker for $1 in my keeper league (last year at that price, sadly). As a result, the prices of available players will go up in the auction, because there is less talent available but relatively more money to spend.

So you look at your handy ESPN wide receiver rankings and you see we list Welker at $18. OK, we say he will be worth $18 this year in a start-from-scratch-league auction.

But that's only in a start-from-scratch auction. A better judge of what to pay for Welker in your keeper league will come about if you spend a little time calculating draft inflation.

I cannot take credit for the formula and this has been written about elsewhere, but here's how you do it.

Let's say it's an ESPN standard auction league. That means a 10-team league with 16-man rosters and a $200 cap.

That means there is a total of $2,000 (10 x $200) of available money to spend in your league. Now, you add up how much each team has spent on keepers. For simplicity's sake, let's say each team has kept five players at $10 a piece. So each team spent a total of $50, for a total of $500 (10 x $50) spent.

OK, here's where we get even nerdier. Take whatever price list you have decided to use and calculate how much "value" is being protected. For example, my Wes Welker is projected to earn $18 this year. So while I have him at a $1 PRICE, his VALUE is $18. Follow me?

So you add up all the VALUE on the teams. Again, for simplicity's sake, let's say every team is protecting $100 worth of value. So the total value being protected is $1,000 (10 x $100). And while the total value being protected is $1,000, the total price spent is only $500.

So you subtract both numbers from your starting values; $2,000 (total money available) minus $1,000 (value protected) equals $1,000 of value left.

Do the other one. $2,000 (total money available) minus $500 (total price protected) equals $1,500 of money left.

This means at the auction, $1,500 of money is chasing only $1,000 of value. So you now divide money left by value left. 1,500/1,000 = 1.5. This means every dollar in your league is actually worth $1.50.

This is your draft inflation price: 1.5. So let's say Maurice Jones-Drew comes up for auction. And your trusty ESPN draft kit has him listed at $56. You quickly multiply $56 by 1.5 to come up with $84. That's his value in this league.

The bidding gets to $70 and people, seeing $56, drop out. That's 14 bucks more than he's worth, people say. But you know that's actually a bargain for MJD. You're saving $14!

This is an extreme example, but it should clarify the point. Draft inflation calculation is a bit time consuming and can be a little confusing, but if you want those money lists to actually help, you need to do this. Every dollar counts! And where it really helps is with the superstars. Because the prices get so ridiculous, many folks drop out. Thus the stars end up becoming the biggest bargains because ridiculous bidding wars will break out for Tim Hightower or Ricky Williams near the end of the draft, when lesser players are left on the table and way too much money is left in owners' pockets. Now, I ask you, who'd you rather toss an extra 14 bucks on? MJD or your No. 2/3 running back?

Draft day: 10 rules to success

OK, it's game day, baby. Time for the big show. Don't bother cramming on the way in or anything stupid like that. It's like a test. You know it or you don't. It's like dropping off your date at the end of the night. If you don't know what you're doing now, the next 10 minutes aren't going to help.

You want to project -- even if you don't feel it -- an air of confidence. Make others sweat. That's my first draft day hint.

1. Never show fear. Just be confident. You don't have to be cocky or a jerk, but occasionally sighing a breath of relief when the guy before you picks -- as if to say, "Thank God you didn't grab the correct guy" -- will do wonders to rattle your less-confident leaguemates.

2. To me, this is the Year of the Elite Pass Catchers. Meaning you need to have a couple of them on your roster to give yourself the best chance to win. Now, there are four elite tight ends (Gonzo, Gates, Clark and Witten, in no particular order). There are nine elite wide receivers, as covered above. (Get it? Wide receivers? Covered? And people say puns aren't funny.) Ideally, you get at least two elite guys in the first four rounds.

3. If you miss out on one of the big four tight ends, wait until the very end, as tight end is fairly deep this year for solid production. I expect Cooley to have a bounce-back year (remember, he had career highs in yards and receptions last year, it was just the scores that were down; and as discussed, touchdowns are impossible to predict). I love Owen Daniels this year. And, in no order, Zach Miller, Kellen Winslow, John Carlson, Dustin Keller, Visanthe Shiancoe, Greg Olsen and Anthony Fasano are all guys I like a lot.

In a standard 10-team league, people generally draft only one tight end, unless they are idiots. In which case, it's fine, because they'll drop one soon.

By the way, here's a fun stat:

Total touchdowns among tight ends, 2006 to 2008:
Antonio Gates: 26
Dallas Clark: 21
Tony Gonzalez: 20
Chris Cooley: 15
Heath Miller: 15

4. If you find yourself getting squeezed out of a position, don't panic! Say you've got pick No. 11 in a 12-team league, and you find yourself on the short end of a run on No. 3 running backs. Instead of reaching for a guy like Kevin Faulk, just to have someone, grab another quarterback, even if you already have yours. Or grab another decent wide receiver. Give yourself something to trade with.

Faulk will still be there a round later, trust me. But by getting a surplus somewhere else rather than just grabbing a warm body, you'll be a lot happier. Last year, in one league, I had the last pick in a 12-team league and in the fourth round, I needed another running back. But there was no one decent left. So I grabbed Donovan McNabb even though I already had Brees. After the draft I was able to deal McNabb to a team with three running backs and no real quarterbacks and nabbed myself Thomas Jones. That worked out well.

5. If you are at one end of a snake draft, grab what you need when you can. Let's say it's your pick and you really want a good No. 1 wide receiver. You see there are at least eight guys left you could live with. So you grab a third running back. But one good run and you're screwed. It's 18 picks until you get to choose again, if not more. Don't wait. Grab what you need, get surplus later (unless you're in a situation like I described above).

6. Don't you dare take a kicker until the last round! You say it's obvious, but then, every draft I am in, I always see at least one person take a kicker before the last round.

Here are two numbers: 148 and 125.

Let's put those numbers in context, shall we?

Kicker scoring, 2008:
1. Stephen Gostkowski: 155 points
10. Matt Bryant: 130 points
Assuming you could have even predicted Gostkowski would be the No. 1 kicker, which you couldn't have, he is only 25 points better than the 10th-place kicker (ostensibly, the guy you wind up with in a standard-size league).

Twenty-five points.

Over the course of a 16-game fantasy football season, that's less than two points a game. Two. And that's assuming you correctly predicted who the best kicker will be. Two points a game ain't that much when you're passing up other guys.

Bottom line? The only thing I hate more than kickers are people who draft them before the last round.

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7. Practice makes perfect. Yeah, it seems like I am a company shill and I sort of am, but the fact remains, the more you do something, the better you get at it. My career notwithstanding. As I mentioned above, we have free mock draft and mock auction lobbies open 24/7. Jump in and practice drafting. Try different things. See what happens when you grab a quarterback in the first round. Or a wide receiver. See who you wind up with if you go wide receiver, wide receiver with your first two picks. The more scenarios you face, the less fazed you'll be when something screwy happens in your real draft.

8. Don't listen to anyone else at the draft! As I said at the start ... nobody knows anything! Yes, we analysts probably spend a lot more time looking at stats, trends, players and teams and the like than you do, but that's because you have a life. And we've probably been playing a bit longer. I've been playing fantasy sports since I was 14 and writing about it professionally for a decade. And my fantasy analyst cohorts here at ESPN have similar résumés. But again, that's because you have a life. So we probably have a more informed opinion. But that's all it is, an opinion. An educated guess. Emphasis on the word "guess."

So if I'm telling you "experts" aren't always right, other people in your league sure as hell aren't. If they mock your pick or sneer at your team ... who cares? Don't let it rattle you! I often find the loudest guy at the draft is usually the stupidest. I've seen too many good drafts screwed up because someone listened to some loud jerk than trusted their own opinions.

Listen, you've done the research, you've played the game, heck, you've read this far. You're into it. And your opinion is as good -- if not better -- than anyone else's in that room.

9. Don't be shy! We're here to listen, to advise, to commiserate and to help here at ESPN.com. Again, stop by our chats and our message boards, e-mail our columnists. Send in questions to our daily Fantasy Focus podcast, videocast or our twice-daily chats (and three-hour chats on Sunday morning). It's a long season and we're gonna be there every step of the way with you.

Finally,

10. Have fun. Remember, we do this for leisure. We all (especially me) take it very seriously and play to win, but it's not worth ruining friendships over. Well, unless you've got a shot at the title. I mean, you can always get a new friend ...

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is still on Twitter as TheRealTMR. He is a five-time award winner from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, including a Writer of the Year award. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his Cyberfriend

• Senior Fantasy analyst for ESPN
• Member, FSWA and FSTA Halls of Fame
• Best-selling author of "Fantasy Life"