ESCANABA - The most wonderful time of the year is nearly upon us again. Baseball is in the stretch run toward the postseason, college football opens this weekend, and the NHL and NBA (OK maybe not the NBA) are just down the road.
However the spotlight is, and likely always will be, on the NFL - which incidently, no longer has an off-season. But there was a lockout season, a welcome respite from all the B.S. supplied by television's talking heads.
If you play fantasy football - especially if you are an avid player, perhaps in a paid league - you've been paying attention since the last seconds ticked down on Green Bay's conquest of Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV.
You've been monitoring injury lists, paying attention to where players went on vacation during the off-season, watching police reports to see who got arrested, who got released from prison, and who got their lawyer to postpone their court date until after the season.
You've even been watching preseason football! Preseason, for crying out loud!
Iit all leads up to that tense 90 minutes to four hours for your draft. You've spent a lot of time and energy coming up with possible scenarios that land you Michael Vick or Aaron Rodgers with your first pick.
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But you're also prepared to take Andre Johnson or Calvin Johnson if you get stuck picking 12th. Ah, but the first round isn't so much a big deal, you're bound to get a good player no matter where you pick.
It's when you reach the 3rd and 4th rounds and beyond that separate the good fantasy players from the novices.
Beyond the top two-three players at each skill position, there is a large muddled middle. In this pack of players you'll find dozens that can be stuck with the "inconsistent" tag. Players like Randy Moss or Chad Johnson (I refuse to call him Ocho-Cinco) who were fantasy superstars one year and duds the next, or players like Ricky Williams or Mike Tolbert - co-starting running backs on their respective teams. You don't know what you're going to get from week-to-week with them.
There's players in this group coming off season-ending injuries and you can't be certain they'll regain what they had. There's players like Plaxico Burress (and in 2010, Mike Vick) coming back from prison stints. Vick showed last year he hasn't lost a thing. Will Burress do the same? You can't be sure.
Certainly, a luck aspect comes into play, but there is strategy involved too. Here are some things I kept in mind during my team's (Silver Crush) draft last Sunday.
Avoid RB's over 28 who had a heavy load the previous season - For a running back especially, 27-28 is old in the NFL and if the guy you want is up around that age and took a heavy punishment last season, don't expect big numbers.
Look for true No. 1 RB's - They're a rarity in the NFL these days as most teams have gone to a co-No. 1 RB on their depth charts. Still, in most cases, one is almost always going to be better than the other. Find that guy.
Touchdowns trump yards - In the late rounds, and especially at the tight end position, forget about yards, look for touchdowns. Case-in-point: Marcedes Lewis on Jacksonville. I took him with my 9th pick when over a dozen TE's had already been taken. Lewis had 10 touchdowns last year but only 47 percent of Yahoo Sports leagues are starting him in week 1. Likewise, take Chargers RB Tolbert over teammate Ryan Matthews or other similar backs. Tolbert doesn't rack up the yards, but he's a goal-line hound and will outscore higher yardage running backs.
Don't neglect your defense - If your league scores like mine does, return yards count toward defense points. In our league, defense is one of the highest weekly scorers and you don't want to wait too long to draft a defender. Look for teams with ball-hawking corners with the potential to score TD's, as well as team's with standout return men.
Kickers are unimportant - I drafted a kicker with my very last pick, after I had already filled up all my bench spots. Other than Green Bay's Mason Crosby, the difference between the #2 kicker and the #20 kicker is not very significant. More important is having a backup running back or receiver you can count on.
Bye weeks - There are two schools of thought here. Draft players with the same bye week and tank it that week or spread the bye weeks around and have multiple weeks without a full-strength team. I opted for the former. There's 14 weeks in the fantasy season, I'd rather take one sure loss than a potential 3-4.
Lastly, be there for your draft - Don't do what I did last year, get caught moving on draft day (grrr), especially in a paid league with a $35 entry fee.
Have fun this fantasy season!