You'd think a stathead like me would be furiously preparing, calculating correlations and running endless mock drafts. There was a time I did all that, but now I don't even pay attention until shortly before draft time. I don't have specific advice for anyone, like take Aaron Hernandez in the 3rd round or don't take a QB until the 4th round, but there are a few concepts that my study of football statistics over the past few years can be applied to fantasy.
1. Fantasy football is overwhelmingly random, and you are not as smart as you think you are. You don't know anything special. You have no special power of analysis and prognostication. None of us do. Admit that now and you'll be doing yourself a favor. Everyone has access to the same information, the same rankings and the same expert predictions. If you're in a 10 team league, you start the day with a 10% chance of winning it. Injuries and unforeseeable developments will determine who wins your league, not your front office acumen. Even if you are God's gift to fantasy football, you have, what, a 15% chance of winning?
2. Ignore your own analysis and trust the crowd. Fantasy football is a great application for the wisdom of crowds. You have your dumb biases and errors, and someone else has theirs, and another guy has his. Average them all together, and as long as they're not correlated, the biases and errors will cancel out. If your fantasy service of choice shows you where players have been drafted so far, and the player hasn't suffered some cataclysmic injury in the last few days, trust the crowd over your own dumb judgment.
3. Ignore total predicted points and draft players on the basis of Value Over Next Available (VONA) at the same position. If you're in a 10 team league, your worst case scenario for a starting QB is the 10th-rated guy. He's your replacement player at that position. True player value is a function of his value over the replacement level at his position. If a TE is predicted to only get 100 total points this season and a RB is predicted to get 160, that doesn't necessarily mean you take the RB. If the replacement TE is predicted for 40 points, and the replacement RB is predicted for 130, you take the TE. He's worth 70, while the RB is only worth 30. This is why you take defenses in the later rounds even though they tend to score so many total points. Defenses, in general, are closely packed together in terms of predicted point totals. Note that you should make sure you're looking at point values based on your league's particular scoring rules and not a generic rankings.
4. You are the underdog, so you need a high variance strategy to maximize your chance of winning. Say you are pretty good at this stuff, and you have a 15% chance of winning in a 10 team league. (That's really, really good, by the way. It's a 50% improvement over the baseline expectation.) That means the field has an 85% chance of beating you. Just as underdog teams need a high variance strategy to beat a strong favorite, you need to take some chances in your league. Roll the dice. Pick up the players with question marks over their heads in the middle rounds, for example. A guy like Antonio Gates, because of injuries, might be predicted for 70 total points this year. But that's because he has an equally good chance of getting 20 points as 120 points , but not a high chance of getting anything in between. Bet on the 120. Don't bother picking up a guy you know is going to be league-average. Pick up a lower ranked guy with more uncertainty (more upside) instead. This strategy will optimize your chances of being first in your league, at the expense of being 4th through 7th. But it also increases your chances of being 10th.
5. Fantasy value and real-world value of players and their stats diverge tremendously, especially for RBs on good offenses and for average QBs with poor team defenses. RB values are predominantly driven by number of carries, red zone and goal line carries in particular. Trash time allows middling QBs to rack up large amounts of fantasy points. The fact that a half-yard goal line plunge is worth a full 6 points in most leagues warps most fans' perception of real football value.
6. Don't worry about bye weeks. OK, you lose one week but win the other 15. Managing your draft around bye weeks is a great way to end up with a solid 5th place team. You're going to need to gamble. See number 4.
7. Resist the endowment effect. You know that feeling about your team right after the draft? This team is awesome, you say to yourself. Sure it is...for last year. You fall in love. It's a natural instinct to overvalue what you already have. Don't fall in love. This is one reason there tends to be so few trades despite their obvious win-win nature in fantasy sports.
8. Resist other biases, like your favorite team or player, or your favorite team's rival.
9. Ignore preseason statistics. They don't correlate.
Get the rest of this article over at Advanced NFL Stats.