Mock Draft Pitfalls

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Like NFL teams using training camp and the preseason to prepare for their seasons, fantasy owners use mock drafts to help get ready for theirs. In both cases, the adage “Practice makes perfect” is appropriate, if hackneyed. Mock drafts can be quite useful. Fantasy owners can audition novel drafting strategies, study trends and figure out the basics of on-the-clock time management in a simulated environment before they truly are on the clock. And it’s always better to make major mistakes when nothing is on the line except pride.

But what few fantasy owners realize is that mock drafting presents some drawbacks that could actually decrease your skill and razor-sharp focus on draft day. In fact, if you let them, mock drafts could make you a mockery at the worst possible time.

COMPUTER CONUNDRUMS

Drafting against a computer program contains some inherent concerns. The drafting software you are up against likely imposes artificial restrictions on selections. For example, the auto-picker might not select backups at any position until all the starting slots have been filled.

This would never happen in a normal draft. Owners grab backup running backs and spare receivers well before taking a kicker and often before a starting tight end and team defense. Any computer program that fails to account for that is a questionable partner in a mock draft.

Computer software is a slave to preordained data. If you have ever gone into a draft with your personal rankings ready and then changed which player you wanted to select on the fly, you have already done something more complicated than the computer can accomplish. A computer won’t respond to runs on a particular position, nor will it adapt its draft strategy in response to others. And who’s to say the computer’s rankings reflected sound thinking in the first place?

PEOPLE PECULIARITIES

Don’t assume that live drafters are any better than a flawed computer competitor — especially when you don’t know who they are.

When drafting against strangers, you are at the mercy of their whims — selecting players from their favorite teams, taking personal favorites regardless of their value and so on. Your opponents could be blatant homers. If even two or three guys in your mock do this, you’ll lose the feel for how a true draft will unfold. Or maybe your mock draft competition simply isn’t very bright. Their terrible choices could leave you with misguided views of player value and the rounds in which you should be able to target particular players, causing you to reach for players too early or wait too long and watch perfectly good players go to your competition on your real draft day.

But at least such knuckleheads don’t purposely try to mess you up. It’s feasible that your fellow mock drafters will choose players they normally wouldn’t pick just to “try something different.” Or worse yet, what if they purposely sabotage the system by selecting inappropriate players to confuse other owners? Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? Not at all.

THE STRAIGHT TALK

None of this is meant to discourage you from participating in mock drafts. Just be careful so you don’t get burned.

When conducting mock drafts against computers, try multiple sites so you won’t be subjected to one poor set of auto-drafting conditions. If possible, find out those conditions before using the service. Also, peek at a site’s rankings before taking on its computer competitor. If the rankings seem solid, then you’re good to go. If not, look elsewhere.

In mocks involving live drafters, lean toward sites that are fantasy football-specific. Those sites tend to harbor more knowledgeable owners, helping you avoid poor drafters and homers in one fell swoop. And don’t waste time with knuckleheads. If you see people drafting curiously, leave immediately and try a different site, or at least come back when you can join a more sensible group of drafters.

Above all, don’t let mock drafts push you away from your own strongly held beliefs. Mock drafts are supposed to make you think, not do your thinking for you.

This article originally appeared in the Athlon Sports 2010 Fantasy Football magazine. Buy your copy now at newsstands and bookstores or by clicking here.

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