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5 free sites to help you prepare for your fantasy football draft

It's draft-prep season.

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I'm not here to give you fantasy football advice. My record as a fantasy football GM is checkered at best. In one league, I co-manage a team with my brother and we finish at or near the bottom of the standings each year. (Our lone title occurred back when Marshall Faulk was still playing; we recall his 1,000-yard rushing and 1,000-yard receiving season in the previous century fondly.) In my other league, I've enjoyed more recent success, but only because I've experienced an inordinate amount of luck in the playoffs -- and don't have my little brother dragging me down.

There's nothing I can tell you, other than I believe it's wise to wait to draft a QB. And it's better to have a wide receiver on a bad team than a running back on a bad team, because bad teams frequently find themselves trailing and need to throw the ball in an effort to catch up. Lastly, avoid wide receivers with lingering hamstring issues.

Instead, I'm here to point you toward a handful of free online tools that can help you prepare for your draft -- and manage your team throughout the season.

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Draft prep: Player rankings, outlooks and tiers

I refuse to pay for fantasy football information. There's no shortage of pay sites that offer customized projections and cheatsheets and rankings and whatnot. With the following five free sites, however, you'll have more than enough information to draft wisely.

ESPN's hidden outlooks

ESPN's Draft Kit offers up a ton of stuff. Some articles require an Insider subscription, but most are free, including the helpful sleepers and busts and injury outlooks articles. But what I like most are the concise player outlooks it hides in its projections. When you first arrive at ESPN's player projections for the season, you get a sortable list. Click the View Full Projections link at the top, however, and its outlooks -- brief blurbs on what to expect from each player this season -- are revealed. I find it's the quickest way to get up to speed for the upcoming season. You can filter by position and search for players, giving you player outlooks on demand.

CBS Sports rankings and auction values

In addition to its projections and player outlooks, ESPN also has player rankings from five of its fantasy football writers. I scan those and then check out the player rankings from three writers from CBS Sports. With each, you can filter by position and see rankings for PPR or non-PPR leagues, but if your league uses an auction-style draft, then CBS Sports' rankings will be more useful because they include an auction value for each player from each of the three writers. (For the record, CNET is a division of CBS.)

FantasyPros tiers

Rankings are good, but tiers are better. I love a good tiered ranking that shows where the drop off is between, say, the elite group of receivers and the next group of very good receivers. It can help you manage your draft round by round when you know that the third tier of running backs is almost gone while the third tier of wide receivers has hardly been touched. In that case, maybe it's a good idea to draft a running back with your next pick and then wait until the following pick to grab a receiver. The best free site I've found with tiered rankings is FantasyPros.

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Stay current with player news

It's important to keep up with the action during training camp and the preseason to identify the players that are primed for a big year and those who may have lost a step. And because the NFL season is long and full of injuries, it's also good to know who's recovered from last season's injuries and who hasn't.  

Rotoworld

The best source of up-to-the-minute player news is Rotoworld. Before I draft a player, I do a quick check on Rotoworld to make sure he is a) still alive and b) in good health. It's like when a real football GM calls a real football player during the real NFL draft right before selecting him to confirm that the player still walks among the living. I also read through Rotoworld's player news each morning with my coffee for a week or two before my two drafts so I know who's hurt, who's having a good training camp, and who's earned a starting job and who's lost his spot.

Bleacher Report's Fantasy Football Big Board

I also love the enormous Fantasy Football Big Board article on Bleacher Report. It's packed with player news and rankings and a great read for preparing for your draft.

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