Ah, touchdown-only leagues. They seem so easy, don't they? Each week you start a lineup of players, and you win if you score more touchdowns than your opponent. Simple as that. No worrying about any other statistic involved. You either score or you don't.
You can have Marshall Faulk when he rushes for 128 yards against the Cardinals, and I can have Jerome Bettis when he rushes for only 1 yard on 5 carries against the Raiders. In standard fantasy football leagues, you'd feel pretty good about your guy. In a TD-only league, I'm the happy one because Bettis found the end zone three times and Marshall failed to break the goal line. You get no consolation prize for those yards. You get no bonus for reaching the 100-yard milestone. You get nothing! Good day, sir! You lose! … I said, "Good day!"
That's not to say that you don't want to draft the big names early. After all, it's still better to have the Adrian Peterson in purple than the Adrian Peterson in black. But because yardage doesn't enter into the equation, you do have to take different considerations into account and adjust your draft boards accordingly. So here is a list of things to keep in mind before you make your selections:
A good quarterback is key: It's true that quarterbacks get only four points for a touchdown in many TD-only league setups, while running backs and receivers get six. However, I still wouldn't have any problem drafting a stud quarterback in the first round. In fact, I might even shoot for it. First of all, every passing touchdown from a quarterback's team, whether it's thrown to a running back, receiver or tight end, is almost sure to come from that quarterback (unless it's a gadget play or the QB goes down). Only in rare cases must quarterbacks fight for red zone opportunities, and heck, when all else fails, they can even scamper into the end zone themselves. While there's never a guarantee a team will score at all in a given week, I would venture a guess and say that it's more likely that the quarterback will get points for you than any other position. After all, there were 16 quarterbacks who threw for 16 or more scores last season (meaning an average of one per week), while the list at other positions who had that rate of success consists of Randy Moss, LaDainian Tomlinson and Braylon Edwards. That's it.
Beware the vultures: Sammy Morris, Rashard Mendenhall, DeShaun Foster, T.J. Duckett ... guys like this aren't likely to get a sniff until the very late rounds in standard leagues, but in a TD-only league, it doesn't matter that they might get only a handful of carries per game. What does matter is how close to the end zone they are when they get the call. On the flip side, guys like Willie Parker, Frank Gore, Julius Jones and Laurence Maroney will get far more carries, but when it comes to reaching pay dirt, they could lose out if someone else gets the goal-line carries.
Don't forget the specialists: Just think about it: A guy who returns punts and kicks gets roughly 10 free shots at the end zone each game. Don't dismiss these guys. They might end up scoring only three or four times per season, but I'd rather take my chances with Devin Hester and Josh Cribbs than any Titans wide receiver. Versatile return/receiver types such as Nate Burleson, Ted Ginn Jr., Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren Sproles all get a huge bump in value. Remember, the more opportunities a back gets, the greater his chance at reaching the end zone.
Don't be afraid to double-dip: If you have Devin Hester in your lineup, and he returns a punt for a touchdown, you get six points. If you also have the Bears Defense/Special teams, those six points just became 12 points. If you draft Peyton Manning and follow it up with Reggie Wayne, you have yourself 10 points each time they connect. True, if the Colts get shut out, you're now skunked on two roster spots … but how often is that going to happen? I don't suggest you use the tactic with, say, Shaun Hill and Arnaz Battle, but certainly I'd consider drafting my starting quarterback's tight end to make those sporadic visits to the end zone all the more valuable.
So that's draft strategy, but what about in-season? Well, you'd manage your lineup just like you would in a standard league, but one thing you need to realize: A TD-only league is far more unpredictable than your usual fantasy football league. For instance, the Patriots could have their typical 40-point output in one game, yet Randy Moss and Wes Welker might not get you anything, even if they both rack up 150 receiving yards, if neither is one of the guys lucky enough to score. At the same time, a quarterback such as Brodie Croyle could throw four interceptions in a game yet still post positive points because he scored on a bootleg in the fourth quarter.
So go with your gut. If you have a feeling this is the week that LenDale White goes off, then by all means start him over Joseph Addai. If you think the weather in Cleveland might be awful, and you don't want to start Derek Anderson, then feel free to put Joe Flacco in the game. You have to catch lightning in a bottle only once to have a move like that pay dividends. Have fun with it and take some chances. That's what this kind of league is all about.
AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.