If you're looking for fantasy football draft-day strategy and advice, forget the experts and gurus.
What you really need is the brain and work ethic of Shane Schroeder, a 31-year-old corrections officer from Fort Collins, Colo., who's done something no expert ever has: won $1 million playing fantasy football.
While bracing for his tax bill from the big payday and still working three jobs, Schroeder has been busy poring over player lists and drafting some of the 25 or so rosters he's fielding this year. Among his top tips for 2009: Load up on running backs but don't hesitate to snag a top quarterback early, beware of LaDainian Tomlinson, and don't reach for rookies.
The running back strategy paid off big for Schroeder last year. He won the big money in the online Fantasy Football Open Championship when Carolina's DeAngelo Williams scored four touchdowns in Week 16. (The rest of his roster included Michael Turner, Andre Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers and Tony Gonzalez.)
"I lean toward running backs; I've always done that," said Schroeder, who has won four or five fantasy titles in leagues with friends over the past decade. "This year, it's a little different because obviously every year it changes."
One big difference this year is Tomlinson. While Schroeder isn't a hardcore believer in the theory that 30-year-olds automatically become worse, he believes Tomlinson's injury troubles last year give him the look of a guy near the end of his career. Still, that hasn't stopped folks from jumping to take him. In the 10 drafts Schroeder's done so far, LT has gone in the first round most of the time.
"I think he could be a bust this year and wouldn't take him," he said.
He's not so down on this year's other high-profile 30-year-old, Brian Westbrook, despite two offseason surgeries and the presence of rookie backup LeSean McCoy. Schroeder also feels Williams will be back with another big year, even if he loses carries to Jonathan Stewart. Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner and Chris Johnson are again can't-miss backs.
As for quarterbacks, Schroeder usually suggests waiting till later rounds, but in drafts so far the top few have gone much earlier. He considers five worth taking in the first few rounds. He has Drew Brees ranked first, then Tom Brady, whom Schroeder feels should bounce back from last year's injury. Next on his list are Rivers, Rodgers and Peyton Manning.
At receiver, Larry Fitzgerald is ranked first and Schroeder also expects big seasons again from Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne. He expects Wayne's numbers to leap with Marvin Harrison's retirement. He's expecting T.J. Houshmandzadeh to have a big year in Seattle and likes Laveranues Coles as a sleeper in Cincinnati. He's not so high on Terrell Owens, fearing he'll lose receptions in Buffalo.
Among rookies, Schroeder likes Knowshon Moreno at Denver to emerge from the giant pack of running backs there. He likes Jets third-rounder Shonn Green and Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks as late sleepers and liked Michael Crabtree in San Francisco before his contract talks got so ugly.
Overall, though, he says he's been surprised by how high rookies are being drafted early. One big mistake he's seen is people taking Indianapolis' Donald Brown too early. He thinks Joseph Addai will still be the main guy there.
"There were quite a few young players who performed well last year so I think people are drafting rookies a little higher than they should," he said.
Like most right-thinking fantasy players, Schroeder says wait to take kickers and defenses till the last rounds. Also in those later rounds _ where he picked up both Rodgers and Rivers last year _ Schroeder suggests focusing on starters, "handcuff" players who back up your starting running backs, and rookie gambles.
In the early rounds, Schroeder suggests filling out a starting lineup first, then taking the best players available. A key to spotting those players is preparation.
Schroeder usually puts together position-by-position lists in June and reranks them based on preseason developments. He also emphasizes making tiered lists to help compare players. For example, if you're drafting next and only one receiver is left in your top tier but six running backs remain in that top tier, the receiver's probably the best choice.
It's a lot of work to keep up, but Schroeder illustrates there's just no reason to be that guy rushing into the draft room at the last minute with a glossy fantasy magazine that was printed in May.
In addition to his stressful job at a youth detention center, Schroeder works part time at a post office and has a lawn care business. And still he's managing to play in his league at work and to field 25 teams in this year's FFOC. He won the league's inaugural $1 million game last year while fielding only three teams, though he missed out on the $800 prize in his league at work _ the source of much ribbing from friends.
It's a busy schedule, and also kind of a curious one for a new millionaire.
"A lot of people are like, 'What are you still doing here?' " said Schroeder, who has a degree in sports management from Upper Iowa. "It's definitely a lot of money, but if you don't do the right thing you could lose it pretty quick."
He's so far invested some, put some away and bought some real estate. But he's concerned about the economy and so is in no rush to quit any of his jobs. He actually considers himself fortunate after moving to night shifts at the detention center.
"It freed up my Sundays so I can watch a little more football this year, so that was one of the main factors," he said.
On the Web: http://www.FFOC.com