The tail end of the NFL preseason signals something much more festive for tens of millions of fantasy football players around the world: the nearing of draft day.
It's the main event — why you pore over niche websites, check trusted experts on Twitter and dissect projections on spreadsheets — everything goes toward proving you're the best at picking which players will have the best performances, delivering you a fantasy title in Week 16 or 17 of the regular season.
So who would you take at No. 1 overall in your draft? Don't look for a firm answer here, or from any of the major fantasy platforms. But it's a question that gets to the heart of issues you'll need to understand and navigate for a better shot at fantasy glory this year.
McCOY, CHARLES, PETERSON
Millions of people using the top three fantasy platforms have generated three different answers to the question of that top draft pick.
Yahoo says LeSean McCoy of Philadelphia. ESPN says Adrian Peterson of Minnesota. CBS Sports says it's Jamaal Charles of Kansas City.
Average draft positions compiled through results from thousands of drafts on each site illustrate how widely varied leagues are and how fantasy managers evaluate top talent differently. Some prefer Peterson for his consistency and unquestioned status as the Vikings' top offensive player. Others like Charles for his combination of rushing and receiving production. And McCoy enthusiasts love the carries and catches he commands in coach Chip Kelly's offense — 11 percent more touches last year than Charles.
Paul Charchian, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, said many fantasy players are even getting away from the idea they need to draft a running back in their first round in part because running backs often get hurt.
"It's dramatic how much it's changed now," Charchian said. "It has been a slow response to the dangers of the reality of the running back position."
CUSTOM LEAGUE, CUSTOM DRAFT PLAN
Another reason to find distinctions: your scoring and roster settings demand it, regardless of your opinions on individual players.
Most leagues now use custom scoring, deviating from the decades-old standard scoring that awards points mostly based on yards and touchdowns. That's partly thanks to advanced stats and nearly instant automatic scoring (yes, league commissioners used to score phone-in lineups by hand on Mondays with newspaper box scores).
Charchian says the customizing trend is only getting stronger and compares the shift with video games. The more you play, the more comfortable you become with complexity.
"We've gone from pretty rudimentary gameplay to extraordinarily sophisticated gameplay," he said.
And it's not just points-per-reception leagues, which offer players points for every catch — potentially hurting players like Frank Gore, Ryan Mathews and Chris Ivory while helping others such as Shane Vereen, Darren Sproles and Roy Helu. Every shift in scoring and roster requirements counts and must be accounted for when you draft: 6 points or 4 for touchdowns? Yardage bonuses? Starting two quarterbacks? It all changes where players should be drafted.
MARKETS FOR EVERYONE
It's hard to be good at fantasy and take a hard line on any player able to put up start-worthy stats. Skip a must avoid or must draft stance — it's more a matter of how much you'll need to invest.
In Yahoo leagues, Denver receiver Wes Welker is getting drafted early in the fourth round in 12-team formats, despite recently suffering his third concussion in 10 months.
Understandable, given his strong connection with quarterback Peyton Manning when the two are on the field together. But at that price, receivers Andre Johnson and Roddy White are still available.
Even if you want Welker, be sure to adjust what you're willing to invest in him based on the latest news. If another player drafts him too high for your taste, he's leaving you a bargain.
So about that team you hand-crafted, it probably won't look much like the team you end up with if you win a fantasy title. Some of the most successful fantasy owners are those who stay active on free agents and pounce on unexpected players showing signs they're breaking out.
Last year, Knowshon Moreno went undrafted in many leagues but earned a primary role in Denver's offense, finishing as the fifth best fantasy running back.
Not every free agent pickup will be that successful — or even a guarantee to be better — but a stagnant roster means missed opportunities and unacknowledged mistakes.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL .
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia