One key element to a successful draft is correctly guessing what your opponents are going to do. This doesn’t just include the person drafting before you – I’m talking about all 7, 9, 11, or 15 other opponents in your league.
The reason? Because the picks that come before and after yours are really important to getting good value from your own. You want to know if there will be any good QB’s left in the next round if you choose a RB or WR in the current round. You want to know what RBs will be left if you choose a QB with your 1st or 2nd pick. If your league allows you to trade draft picks, this is even more important, since that gives you the ability to target specific players (or take advantage of opponents who’re targeting specific players).
Alternatively, if you react to other team’s picks without considering those teams’ other picks, then you’ll end up following the crowd, and you probably won’t end up with a very talented team. In other words, if you select your QB and TE whenever there’s a QB or TE rush, then you may miss out on a talented position player who’s still out there. (Think when the New York Giants selected WR Steve Smith with their 2nd round pick in 2007. Smith ended up being a key contributor – among many others – in their run to the Super Bowl).
So how do you find out what your opponents are thinking?
There’s several aspects to that, but the first I’ll discuss is understanding your opponents’ biases for certain players.
Everyone has biases for certain players. Everyone. If you think you don’t, then you’re lying to yourself. It’s human to be biased in things like player selections in Fantasy Football drafts. (For more detail on this topic, see this speech on Investor Overconfidence by Terry Odean)
Some biases you can’t easily guess, such as when Opponent X has been burned twice by San Diego WRs, so they’ll never draft a San Diego WR ever again. Those biases you don’t have to worry about. They’re random, and thus a waste of time to try to understand or foresee.
But some biases you can more easily see, and these typically fall into three categories:
1) Home-team players. This is the easiest to understand and guess. The idea is that So-and-So is an X fan, so they’ll favor players from Team X. For example, the commisioner in our 16 team league is a huge Eagles fan. It’s very easy to predict that he’ll have a strong desire to get Eagles QB McNabb, or WRs Curtis / Brown on his team. (He already has RB Westbrook as a keeper). This bias is stronger for some opponents than others. Just make sure to get the obvious ones down, such as those opponents who include their home team in their fantasy team names. (As a side note, you can read more about our Comissioner, Dave, here. That link also has a bio on his friend and colleague, John, who’s also in our 16 team league. John’s a huge Pats fan, and thus I’m guessing a lock to draft WR Wes Welker with his 4th round pick).
2) Players formerly on your fantasy team. In my case, when I do mock drafts, part of me screams “DRAFT LEE EVANS WITH YOUR FIFTH PICK”, even though I know full well that this is akin to choosing to see “Journey to the Center of the Earth” over “The Dark Knight” or “Hellboy II”. You don’t need to memorize every player on your opponents’ former rosters. Just try to get a sense of their top four to six players: the reason being that you’ll see some of them pick those same guys, for no other reason than that they’re familar with them.
This post talked about biases unique to each opponent. I’ll discuss biases common across all opponents in a later post.
In the meantime, you should start to get handle on the opponents within your league.
Eventually, you should be able to put together the general and specific intentions of your opponents, to understand how they should affect your draft strategy, and to know when the time is right to make a bold or unexpected pick.