This time of year is almost like Christmas for the fantasy football faithful as they get together with friends and participate in their yearly drafts. Slinging smack talk in anticipation of the coming NFL season and hopefully fantasy football glory has become a yearly rite of passage for armchair quarterbacks. I was invited to fill a coveted opening in a local fantasy league and I was thrilled to learn the group were drafting offline. I was told that the group drafts with a white board, keeping track on a computer spreadsheet and that they were investigating new options for this season. I had heard about the new EA Sports Live Draft Tracker and offered to bring along my XBox 360 for this year’s draft. Since this was clearly going to be an upgrade over a white board, they agreed to each kick in a little scratch so I could download the ‘game’.

The program works much like the live draft applications used by most reputable fantasy sites. One distinct advantage being that, as it was installed on my XBox, I had complete control over it. Although, after I downloading the software, I found the true purpose of the game was to get you to switch fantasy host sites to EA from whatever you usually used. I cheated by just creating a quick dummy league on EA’s site. Honestly, I had every intention of never going to my EA roster again. However, I will probably check in on the site to see if it might truly earn the right to steal us from ESPN. After creating the dummy league I was able to instantly load the teams in their proper draft order to the XBox and the draft was ready to roll.

The program’s main features include audio praises of particular fantasy players while Madden footage of them is shown. This would probably be great for newer fantasy players as it adds more fanfare and excitement to each pick. We found the program’s audio not nearly as enjoyable as our own commentary, so we muted it. The program was extremely easy to work with, as all the players were loaded in already and I could bring up any team’s roster to check specific needs or bye weeks with the single press of a button. Being able to pause the countdown was great and allowed take a halftime break and it gave us time to check in with our absentee drafter who was picking over the phone. The draft went extremely well with all parties in good spirits… even though I drafted the best team.

My main criticism of the game would be that the player rankings that came preloaded were clearly not updated frequently. Notable deadbeats like Cedric Benson and Shaun Alexander were still listed as receiving positions of honor in the draft. As such we had to search deeper for the good sleepers and the lower tier players seemed to not be ranked in any particular order. This made the last few rounds last longer than they could have if each position had been ranked deeper. The audio/video highlights stopped around when the 25th ranked player left the draft board. While I don’t think they need to record a segment for everyone, it would be nice addition for a few random sleepers late in the draft. As this is the first year of the EA Sports Live Draft Tracker’s availability I am confident that these concerns are felt by many and will be addressed for next season.

Overall, the EA Sports Live Draft Tracker was excellent and should kill the white board generation of offline drafts. If the improvements I mentioned are made and additional features are added, I would certainly commit to buying it every year.