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Controlled Chaos
Eight Concepts That Will Help You Rule This Year’s Draft

Before draft day, there are scads of research opportunities that will help you prepare to assemble your team. I know many poor slobs that spend hours (even entire workdays) checking websites, reading Street and Smith’s, pouring over newspaper articles — everything short of consulting psychics — just to get an edge on draft day. While it’s great — and absolutely necessary — to do your homework before the draft, it’s equally important that you have a plan for the draft itself, a mindset that will allow you to see clearly enough to pick the best team you can. Here are some tips for the draft you should consider after you’ve completed your book learning.

1. Don’t worry about the selection order
While you can control who you choose with your first pick, you can’t choose when you pick — it’s out of your hands. Most leagues operate using a snake draft, which seems to allow anyone — and I mean anyone — the opportunity to come out smelling better than a new pair of football cleats. I’ve had great teams and have won competitive leagues drafting out of several different positions, so disregard those misguided pukes who spend the first half hour of the draft bitching about when they pick. Regardless of your scoring system, there’s a number of players that you can’t go wrong choosing in the first round.

2. Squelch those butterflies
If you’re really nervous about draft day and can’t seem to shake the anxiety that comes with various forms of competition, there’s something wrong with you. I’m a little giddy on draft day, but I’m never really nervous, and try to remain pretty loose. Have a few cold drinks, eat some nachos and if that doesn’t help, imagine your league commissioner wearing pink lingerie. Actually, that should make some of you more nauseous.

3. Mistakes happen, so get over them
Don’t spend time commiserating about who you should have drafted last round. Everybody has, at one time, forgotten about a player that was available and wasn’t selected a few picks — even a few rounds — after if was obvious to do so. It happens even more in my league, which is IDP. Because selecting defensive players requires an intimate knowledge of the scoring system, depth charts and the latest injury news, many key defensive players aren’t drafted until the last few picks. Don’t panic when you see these guys materialize from the abyss and get selected — there are tons of great defensive players that don’t emerge at all until after the season starts.

4. Down with tight ends and kickers!
In my league, we start 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1K and five defensive players (of any defensive position), so the best teams rely on running backs, receivers and a solid defense. While it helps to have an amazing QB a la Culpepper or Manning, teams don’t really benefit too much from having a premier tight end or kicker. It may be nice to snag Todd Heap or Tony Gonzalez before anybody gets to them, but remember, Heap emerged as a great talent almost out of the blue in 2002 and it’s often difficult to know when to draft Gonzalez. Also, tight ends get hurt a lot because when they’re not getting blasted by linebackers on short crossing patterns, they’re throwing key blocks and dealing all kinds of punishment from big linemen. As far as kickers, it’s almost always a crap shoot determining who will put up decent numbers over the course of an entire season. Rather than waste precious time debating when to start taking tight ends and kickers during the most crucial of times, concentrate on your money positions.

5. Where have all the stud running backs gone?
When we think of studs, we think of running backs. There will be inevitably be a time in the first or second round when it looks like all the studly backs are gone. Don’t be fooled. As soon as it gets past Holmes, Tomlinson, Alexander, Green, McAllister and Portis, don’t immediately start looking for what QB or WR you can grab to make you next pick worth its weight in self confidence. Barlow, Jamal Lewis, Fred Taylor and Edgerrin James and a few others all have what it takes to make great first round picks. With the exception of Culpepper, Manning, Moss and Marvin Harrison there aren’t too many non-running backs who even have the potential to live up to a first-round nod. So when it looks like all the RBs are running away, look closer.

6. Don’t jump the gun on defense
Whether it’s IDP or team defense, it’s super tempting to grab Ray Lewis (or the Ravens defense, for that matter) really early in the draft to seal the deal. Unfortunately, that selection could mean missing a great #2 running back or even a #1 receiver poised for a big season. There are almost an unlimited number of great linebackers and defensive backs out there who will suit you well with high tackle totals and a boatload of junk points, and they will still be available near the end of your draft. Team defense performance can be just as fickle year to year —just look at what has happened to the Eagles and Steelers team defensive rankings as compared to a couple years ago. Stick to your guns, and get the bulk of your offense taken care of before you start worrying about defense.

7. Bring everything you need — but not too much
When it comes time to actually draft your team, you’re going to need a few things. In my league (and many others I’m sure) we drink a lot of beer on draft day and pour through lots of cheatsheets. While there’s always somebody working the draft board, getting confused by the two guys in the league named Andre(a) Davis and misspelling every name under the Tagliabue, I’m the guy with two markers (one black and one yellow) and cheatsheets for every position who knows everyone that is available and that has already been drafted. I’ve been blessed with a good memory, but I also pay attention to what’s going on around me, regardless of how drunk I may get in the process. If you have three magazines, printouts from four different websites and five color-coded sets of cheatsheets with projections for different weather patterns, it’s too much. One cheatsheet for every position with a few notes scribbled on it should suffice. Just don’t forget your markers — or your beer.

8. Don’t talk about upcoming picks to anyone during the draft
Unless you have a fantasy partner, you shouldn’t be discussing any upcoming picks during the draft with anyone except your inner demon. It may sound really obvious to keep your mouth shut about this, but there are plenty of things to talk about — including football — that will be fine conversation without having a negative effect on your roster. I fancy discussing retired football players, what football players have died, and what football players have obvious career-ending injuries, but you have to be careful not to discuss these things on draft day, just in case anybody doesn’t know not to select Brian Bosworth with the 12th pick.