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Dominate Your Dynasty Draft

The initial draft is the single most important step towards building a good dynasty team. Draft well and you could be set for several seasons. Draft poorly and you could be facing years of disappointment and rebuilding. There is no golden set of rules that can guarantee a brilliant draft, but there are some fairly simple strategic concepts that can increase your odds of building a winner. Apply these concepts and you will almost certainly improve your team's chances of being among your league's elite.

Some people believe that you should play to win now in dynasty leagues, ignoring the value of youth in order to build a squad of proven veterans. Other owners prefer to load up on youth in hopes of building a team that can dominate for several seasons. Which of these two strategies is correct? Should you try to win now or should you build for the future? The answer is easy. You should do both. There's no sense settling for either extreme when you can find a nice middle ground.

In an initial dynasty draft, you should be concerned with one thing: drafting good players. This may seem obvious, but it's amazing how many people ignore this essential rule. It seems that many owners are obsessed with finding "the next big thing." They'll pass up a proven star in favor of a younger player with limited credentials. This is usually a mistake. While it's true that good young players have more value than good old players, the key word here is good. A bad young player is virtually useless. If you're gambling on an unproven talent then there's a considerable chance that he'll flop. It happens all the time, even to players who are considered "locks" by NFL draft pundits.

You can't ignore a player simply because he's young and unproven, but you have to be extremely careful with your picks in an initial dynasty draft. You only have one chance and you can't afford to screw it up. This means you should place a premium on acquiring players with a track record of success. They shouldn't be gray-haired geezers on the cusp of retirement, but they should be guys with at least two good seasons under their belts. Though caution is always advisable when drafting, it's particularly important to be careful with your first few picks in a dynasty draft.

The first few rounds are where you should theoretically have the best odds of drafting players who will go on to become long-term contributors to your franchise. There are always a lot of proven talents available in this range. Take advantage of these proven stars while you can by using your first few picks to build a foundation of solid players who you can count on to give you good production when healthy. Avoid the temptation to catch the next rising star and focus on adding good players who are in the prime of their careers. This is the critical step towards building a champion.

After the first 80-100 players are off the board, things become dicier. You should have most of a starting lineup in place, but you probably don't have much overall depth (depending on your league's structure). This is where I recommend deviating from the strategy of selecting proven players. While it's tempting to add old veterans who can provide bye week fill-ins and injury insurance, I think it's usually a mistake in the dynasty format. Mediocre veterans are virtually worthless in dynasty leagues. They aren't good enough to start for you and they don't have much chance of ever becoming good enough. That's why I think you should sacrifice some short term depth and start swinging for the fences. If there are no more proven stars on the draft board then it makes sense to gamble on guys who you perceive as having high potential. It doesn't matter if they're unproven because there are no more (good) proven players left. You're not passing on a sure thing in favor of a lottery ticket. You're simply taking the best talent available.

You'll have to decide for yourself which kind of youngsters to gamble on. Obviously it depends on who's available, but in general your later picks should be spent on untested young guys who were fairly high picks in the NFL draft. These are the best players to take in this range because, out of all the remaining players, they have the best chance of developing into good long-term contributors. A lot of these players have star ability, but simply haven't had a chance to show it yet. Inevitably many of these lesser-hyped rookies and sophomores will slip in the draft as other owners in your league load up on mediocre veterans with limited potential.

Don't waste your later selections on guys who have proven to be scrubs. Instead take that 2nd round pick rookie WR who's currently fourth on his team's depth chart. Take that 1st round pick rookie QB who's playing backup during his first season. Take young guys who will get a chance to prove themselves in the coming seasons. After all, the cream rises to the top. Not every talented youngster will pan out, but some of them will and the benefits of finding the next Chad Johnson or Daunte Culpepper are immense.

Think of drafting a dynasty team as being akin to building a skyscraper. Your first priority should be building a sturdy, reliable foundation. This is best accomplished by using you early picks on proven stars who will contribute good production when they're healthy. Once you have the foundation in place, you can afford to experiment and take some chances. If you miss with these picks then it's not catastrophic because you still have your foundation to work with. It's much easier to acquire some promising projects than it is to acquire proven stars. As such, the owner who ignores the temptation to take major risks with his early picks has a clear advantage over the owner who gambles from round one on. Swing for the fences, but be smart about it. Build your team in layers and reap the rewards.

As one final note, I want to say that every rule of drafting can be broken. Although I firmly believe in what I've written above, I also recognize that there are times when it's wise to bend the rules. For example, right now I consider Kevin Jones a top 5 dynasty RB despite that he's only played one season. This is because I am completely sold that he's the real deal. I'm willing to take him over proven stars. You might feel the same way about KJ and about some other youngsters. This is fine, but you must remember that every year brings a few youngsters who seem poised for stardom. It wasn't long ago that guys like Michael Bennett, William Green, Plaxico Burress, Peerless Price, and Koren Robinson were each "the next big thing." While some of these guys still have some value, they haven't become the consistent stars that owners envisioned when they used top 15-50 initial dynasty draft picks on them. Surely the same will be said about some of this year's popular youngsters a few years down the road. That's why you must be very cautious when risking a high pick on an unproven commodity.

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