The first step to success is knowing the nuances of your particular league. Most leagues have 10 or 12 teams. Each team gets a roster of 15 players and each week you'll choose to have 1 QB, 3 WR, 2 RB, 1 TE, 1 K, and 1 Defensive team start for you and accrue points based on yards gained, touchdowns, etc. These are known as "standard leagues."
A "standard league" has a few problems. Primarily, it is heavily skewed toward running backs. If a league has 12 teams that means 24 running backs are starting each week. In a given week as many as 6 teams may be on a bye week. Add in injuries and the ability of everyone to stash running backs on their bench and you have a crippling case of demand far exceeding supply. This occurs to such an extent, that it is not uncommon for the first 16-20 selections in a draft to consist of nothing but running backs.
This is my primary objection to "standard leagues" In my eyes, knowledge of REAL football should not be a hindrance in succeeding in fantasy football. For example, go here:
Before the 2006 season it was rumored that Ron Dayne had won the starting running back job in Houston, as such, his value spiked to the point where he was a more valuable commodity than Tom Brady (Dayne and Brady are both taken in round 4 in this evaluation). Completely preposterous, but this is the kind of nonsense you will have to tolerate if you participate in a "standard league."
Here is what we have learned so far: the starting positions and number of teams in the league dictate player value. Reality does not.
At any given time there are approximately 24 running backs and 20 quarterbacks who can be counted on to have a starting job, keep that job, and not suck while performing that job. Starting twice as many RB's as QB's fantastically devalues the QB position. So, wait to draft one. There is not nearly as much difference between the 5th best QB and the 13th best as there is between the 10th best RB and the 26th best.
How this can be used to your advantage:
This mentality of "must draft running backs" has spread everywhere. It is as common dirt, and the masses don't question it. A clever person will prey on this mindset. Just for fun, I joined a 12 team league that started 2 QB and 2 RB. That's trouble if you're a drone. In this case, each team needs 3 starting Qb's (for injury and bye weeks) and there simply is not 36 starting QB's in the NFL. Predictably, the first dozen picks were running backs, then mediocre and poor running backs were flying off the board in the third through tenth rounds, meanwhile I was stockpiling QB's. Manning, McNabb, Roethlisberger, Bulger...and people laughed. However, around week 7, when injuries and bye weeks were at their worst, I still had my pick of competent quarterbacks while one opponent was starting John Beck, and Trent Green at the same time. Easy wins continued for the rest of the season. And I laughed.
All this is to say: know your league. As you formulate a draft strategy, you need to ask the following questions:
What are the starting rosters and how many teams are there?
These are some general rules of thumb for typical leagues you will come across:
8 team leagues: should start 2 QB, 3 RB, and 4 or 5 WR, 1 TE. This is the most positionally balanced league I've come across. Every week 16 QB's and 24 Rb's start. RB's are not overwhelmingly valuable. If you start less of any position, then they become completely invaluable. So if you ever see an 8-team league that starts 2 QB, 2 RB, and 4 WR, you must fight the urge to draft running backs early and instead pilfer the cream of the QB and WR positions.
(Side note: the 8 team, 2 QB, 3 RB setup is my preferred league. To anyone who would object that "It's not like a real football team if you are starting 2 QB's at the same time" you have a point. However, I find it's a lot more like real football than some bizarro world where Ron Dayne could ever be considered a better player than Tom Brady. Pick your poison. End side note)
10 team leagues: This is the reasonable cutoff for starting 2 Qb. With 10 teams, an injury to a starting QB likely means you're hosed. Most leagues this size start: 1 QB, 2 RB, and 3 or 4 WR, 1 TE. Every week 10 QB's and 20 RB's start. This makes RB's slightly less valuable since there are more available; however it also makes QB's cheap as dirt. The result is that other positions like WR and TE are more valuable than in standard leagues.
12 team league: Typical set up: 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, and 1 TE. Every week 12 QB and 24 RB's start. This is the standard running back oriented league. Draft them early, because they'll go fast.
14+ team league: These get a bit nuts. Do not participate in one of these leagues unless you are also a little bit nuts. If this league starts more than 1 RB, then backup RB's are more valuable than Peyton Manning. It's just a crazy crapshoot, and if one of your starting Rb's gets injured, you're done. Might as well pack up and go home.
Some other important questions to find answers to when investigating your league:
Does the league have deep rosters?
Deep rosters mean lots of space on the bench, which means hoarding and stockpiling like Floridians before a hurricane. There won't be a lot of decent players free on the waiver wire, just cans of "wadded beef" that no one else would dare touch. That means you're mostly stuck with the team you draft. You had better plan for injuries. You have to play it safe, and draft players you can be sure will pan out.
Shallow rosters means no one is able to hoard talent. There should always be players that you can pick up for free who will be serviceable. This means you can gable. Go for broke. Pick players that you think might go berserk, or come out of nowhere to have huge seasons. If you're wrong, there will still be players out there to bail you out.
Are the any patsy's or homers in your league?
This is an advantage to knowing the people in your league. If you are picking before a Colt fan in the second round, if he's available, take Peyton Manning and immediately look to trade him. Some folks just can't make it through the season without their favorite players. Even if they refuse to pay a King's ransom for the player, they might reconsider after they are on the wrong end of a 4 TD performance.