I watched an expert fantasy football draft on ESPN three years ago.
Maybe it was ESPN2. Maybe I drank too much during the program to
have all the details straight. Maybe I’ve drunk too much since
then to remember the names of the experts. I know that Peter King
was a reluctant participant, and I remember that some of the guys
we are used to seeing on NFL Live were drafting as well
(though I couldn’t say for sure whether the NFL Live
representative was Mark Schlereth or Sean Salisbury or someone else).
In the third and fourth rounds of this expert draft, there was a
run on quarterbacks. Peyton Manning went first. Then someone grabbed
Carson Palmer. After Donovan McNabb, Matt Hasselbeck, Michael Vick
and Tom Brady were snapped up, the run became panicky. Marc Bulger
and Trent Green went in succession while there was still a ton of
RB and WR talent on the board. The next expert (I really wish I
remembered who it was, but perhaps one of my readers saw the show
and will fill me in) commented that it was silly to take a Bulger
or Green at that point in the draft because there were half a dozen
other QBs who would put up stats virtually identical to theirs and
would be available later in the draft. He was right. In most scoring
systems, Eli Manning, Drew Bledsoe, Kerry Collins, Jake Plummer,
Jake Delhomme, and even Mark Brunell were roughly as productive
in the 2005 season as Green. They all finished well ahead of Bulger.
I do not revisit this expert draft in order to question the expertise
of those who participated. I am just foolhardy enough to concede
without reservation the expertise of those who have made a living
playing in, coaching for, or writing about the NFL. The point of
my alcohol-soaked fable is this: football expertise only goes so
far in a draft. Even if every single participant in a fantasy draft
is knowledgeable about football, a dynamic is bound to develop that
will end up making suckers out of some folks and geniuses out of
But what choices can we make to ensure that we end up as geniuses
instead of suckers?
That appears to be the question behind the note I received from
Dr. Jeremy Larance (a fellow English professor and fantasy football
enthusiast who contacted me earlier this summer):
friend and I were talking about FF, and we started throwing out
weird draft strategies and the odds of how well they would work.
Mainly we were wondering if there were any effective strategies
that really were different than most traditional approaches. After
all, how REALLY different is the RB/RB vs. WR/WR approach? Well,
probably a lot, but it's not all that "out there" to
go WR/WR is it? But what about going QB/QB?
I know, on the surface that sounds dumb...and it probably really
is...but we had had a few beers and started thinking about drafting
for the purpose of trading...not on initially putting together
a solid team. What if, for example, you're picking last in a 10-team
snake draft and both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are still on
the board? Would it be completely insane to take both of them
purely for the sake of trading one early in the season to another
team desperate for a QB? Could you get value?
Honestly, it sounds a lot riskier now that I'm more sober, but
I thought it might potentially be an interesting Q&A
It’s an extremely interesting question—and one I
would be interested to hear readers’ opinions about.
My own opinion is that the desire to go into a draft with an unconventional
strategy is more appealing as an abstract concept than in actual
practice. One way to ensure that you won’t get caught up
in a QB run in round 3 is to make up your mind before the draft
to pick a kicker in round one, a tight end in round 2, a defense
in round three, and backups for all three in rounds 4-6. You won’t
end up looking as foolish as those who moved to early on Bulger
in 2005; you’ll be too busy looking an entirely different
sort of foolish.
Still, I understand what Dr. Larance is getting at. If you go
into a draft without a clearly formulated plan to deviate from
the norm in some way, you seem doomed to end up with an average
team. What’s more, being self-consciously unconventional
feels great during a draft. I play in one league that
overvalues wide receivers so heavily that you almost have to take
at least one wideout in the first two rounds. I had the twelfth
and thirteenth picks last year, and I thought I was being very
clever when I decided to go with Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison.
Steve Smith, Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens, Torry Holt, and Larry
Fitzgerald were all taken, so Wayne and Harrison looked great.
Taking the two Colts felt great at the beginning of the draft.
I didn’t start kicking myself until the season began.
Recall that Randy Moss was a new arrival in New England and that
Brady had spent years spreading the ball around too much for any
Patriot receiver to emerge as an elite fantasy player. No one
knew what to make of Moss (I for one thought he had given up in
Oakland and was simply sticking around the NFL for a paycheck),
and he miraculously lasted until the fourth round in a league
that fetishizes receivers.
If I hadn’t been so “clever” with my Harrison/Wayne
pick, I might have been forced to move on Moss in the third. I
might also have grabbed Greg Jennings in the 4th round (as was
my initial plan) instead of waiting for the 5th and losing my
chance at him.
My anger and frustration over losing Jennings ended up costing
me Braylon Edwards. I should have taken Edwards with the first
pick of the 6th round, but instead I decided to try to work the
“trade” angle mentioned by Dr. Larance.
The owner who had beaten me to Greg Jennings was the one who had
taken LaDainian Tomlinson, so I figured that if I snagged Michael
Turner in the 6th, he would have to trade me Jennings for the
I figured wrong. He decided to trust in Tomlinson’s durability,
and I ended up missing out on both Jennings and Edwards—and
keeping Turner on my bench in the hope that the LT owner would
come around, which he didn’t.
All of which proves absolutely nothing about the value of an unconventional
draft strategy. If I had made the Wayne/Harrison choice for the
2006 season (when they both finished as top 5 WRs) instead of
the 2007 season (when only Wayne did), the moral of the story
would be completely different.
Nevertheless, my own experience with using unconventional draft
strategies and drafting players with the intention of trading
them is such that I have no sexy anecdotes for Dr. Larance. If
you do, please share them with me so that I can incorporate them
into an August column about drafting against the grain.