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Week 2

In last week’s column, I asked readers to share their opinions about a sweet spot in the draft. I expected a number of people to say that there was no such thing, and I was not disappointed.
I’ll let Frank serve as the spokesperson for this group because he said what a number of readers might have felt too polite to say:

People who think there is a “sweet spot” in the draft are just looking for excuses. They don’t know how to evaluate talent; they don’t know how to assess the importance of a new coach installing a new offense; they are the same people who always draft this year’s players based on last year’s production. They think everybody drafts mindlessly from the same cheatsheet. If that last assumption were true, then there would be a sweet spot because all drafts would work out pretty much the same way. The fact is each draft is different, and the reason for the difference is that different owners value different player qualities in different ways. Some do it well; others do it poorly. The sweet thing to do is to exploit the stupidity of your competitors, and you can do that whether you pick first or last or anywhere in between.

Alan isn’t sold on the existence of a sweet spot either, but he offers a fairly compelling explanation of why people might deceive themselves into thinking that there is such a thing:

I really don’t believe there is such a thing as a sweet spot, but I can see why some people might think there is something to the idea. I usually play in 5 or 6 leagues, and it seems that if I do best in a league in which I picked third, then I also do well in other leagues in which I picked second or third or fourth. If I do worst in a league in which I picked seventh, I struggle (not always, but mostly) in leagues in which I picked sixth, seventh, or eighth. I don’t believe this has anything to do with a sweet spot. I think it has to do with the fact that I tend to make the same kinds of choices about players in various drafts. A player who is available to me at the bottom of the fifth round in one draft is likely to be available at the bottom of the fifth in another. If I already took that player in one draft, I’m likely to take him again (because I overvalue my own players just like everybody else). I don’t think the draft position itself is important. What matters is that having that slot makes me choose a certain set of players (not exactly, but mostly) over and over. If I’m right about those players, I do well. If I’m wrong, I don’t. I think any pattern you may think you are seeing that would indicate a sweet spot is probably similar to the illusion that you might see if you studied the success of my teams in relation to my draft positions each year.

I also heard from a fair number of FFers who believe that there is a sweet spot in each draft. Almost all of these readers believe that the sweet spot varies from year to year, but Daryl wrote in to contend that the later you pick in the first round, the better off you are year after year:

Picking late translates to doing a better job of distributing the risk associated with player injuries. If you have a top-5 pick and your player goes down early in the season (think Tom Brady this season or Jamal Anderson back when he was a top dog or Ricky Williams going high in drafts the summer before he announced his retirement), then your second-round pick will not be anywhere near the quality of that star player. In a serpentine draft, the earlier you pick in the first round, the greater the disparity in quality between your first and second picks.

Those who accept the “sweet spot hypothesis” tend to think along the lines of Eric, whose response begins with a recap of (and correct inference concerning) my query:

In your experience you claim to want to draft at the X+1 position, where X is the number of elite RBs availible in the draft. I am guessing that is because you are assuming someone in the draft will jump out of line and draft a QB or WR ahead of you. This will allow you the privilege of picking up one of those elite RB and then getting your second-round pick as quickly as possible.

In my experience, I choose to draft in the X-1 position. As you know the first few rounds are your foundation. With the X-1 pick I afford myself the luxury of a choice of RB regardless of what happens ahead of me in the draft. I feel much more comfortable in knowing there will be a choice to be made at my pick rather than having my mind made up for me by having only one left over RB to choose from. Usually being 2 picks further back in the second round is not nearly as critical as two picks earlier in the first round (X-1 vs. X+1.) Additionally, I believe the third round is a very critical round. Two picks earlier in the third round is again valuable to me. I tend to be a more conservative drafter and it works well for me. I tend to see teams divided as the have and have-nots in the first round (elite RB's.) I am not worried about winning or losing my league in the second round, but I have seen leagues won with a strong third-round pick. After the first 3 rounds, it becomes obvious who has done their homework. I feel I can win the draft from there on out no matter what my position is.

To recap, X-1 gives me a choice (elite RB) in the first round and a stronger than X+1 third-round pick. That's where I am most comfortable.

The most thorough mathematical analysis of the question came from Michael, whose response is particularly illuminating because he uses actual players from the 2008 season to illustrate his point:

I definitely believe in the "Sweet Spot Hypothesis." It is not that an expert drafter cannot dominate from any spot in the draft, but he is more likely to dominate if he is also fortunate enough to land in an ideal drafting location. Therefore, if you have two expert drafters placed in different positions, then one of them may have a better draft merely because of draft position.

The basis of this hypothesis is centered on Tier System Drafting. If you follow tiers, then there is only a finite number of players who you expect big production from, and different places in the draft order will allow you to obtain the most quantity/quality of them.

Also, the Sweet Spot Hypothesis only holds for the top 4 or possibly 5 rounds of the draft. Once you get past these rounds, the error in predictions/projections becomes too great for any one position in the draft to hold any real significant advantage over any other position.

For instance, I want to receive all of my top 4 round picks from the group of players in the tiers listed below. Due to some other individuals having different drafting strategies, some players can potentially drop, but the "sweet spot" means that you don't have to completely rely on players dropping.

1st Tier RBs (4) = LT, AP, Westbrook, S-Jax
2nd Tier RBs (8) = Gore, Barber, Jones-Drew, Portis, Addai, LJ, Grant, Lynch
3rd Tier RBs (9) = J. Lewis, B.Jacobs, Bush, White, K. Smith, E. Graham, D. Williams, T. Jones, F. Taylor
Total RBs = 21

1st Tier WRs (6) = TO, Braylon, Wayne, Andre Johnson, Moss, Fitzgerald
2nd Tier WRs (6) = Colston, Marshall, Housh, Roy Williams, Holt, Burress
Total WRs = 12

1st Tier QBs (4) = Brady, Romo, Brees, P. Manning

TEs = 0 (due to the overall depth in TEs this year, I did not consider any worth a top-4 round selection for this exercise)

Total players = 37
Total players taken in 4 rounds of a 12-team league = 48

Additionally, I had these tiers ranked in the following order for this season:

1st RB, 2nd RB, 1st WR, 1st QB, 2nd WR, 3rd RB

So, where is the sweet spot in this year's draft? I would argue it was position #4 for a 12-team draft (which I unfortunately did not have). Why? Position #4 has picks 4, 21, 28, and 45.

1. At pick #4, they are able to select a 1st Tier RB.

2. At pick #21, they are able to select a 1st Tier QB or a 1st Tier WR.

3. At pick #28, a 2nd Tier WR will still be sitting there (last one...or someone else higher on your list dropped to you).

4. Then, pick #45 is where it gets tricky. Very few teams will draft 3 RBs in the first 4 rounds (actually, no one in my league has for the past few years). So, 24 RBs will most likely be selected in the first four rounds. That means position #1, 2, and 3 potentially get left out of a Tier 3 RB as position #4 grabs up the 21st RB selected with pick #45.

Does the sweet spot completely depend on your personal rankings of players and of Tiers? Yes.

Does that mean two players could have different sweet spots? Yes.

Does that mean the sweet spot does not exist? Heck no.

I still believe I will be able to build a championship team from the #9 position that I was dealt. However, I also believe it would have been much easier to build that championship team from the #4 position. Therefore, the #4 position was my sweet spot.

Since I asked last week’s question based on my own sense that the draft in which I had the fourth slot was the one that seemed unusually easy, I cannot help thinking that there is something to Michael’s argument. However, it’s also easy to feel great about drafts that turn out not to have been so great, so my endorsement of Michael’s logic would have to be considered premature at this point.
My thanks to everyone who took the time to write in, and I’ll close the discussion with this point from Bart:

It’s pretty silly to argue about whether there is a sweet spot in traditional serpentine drafts because that style of drafting is simply obsolete. I can’t figure out why a guy who writes for a fantasy website would even bother with that kind of kid stuff. Everyone who is serious about fantasy uses the auction format, which is more challenging, more fun, and more fair than any serpentine draft could ever be.

I suspect Bart is overstating things, but I see the point. Obviously, those who participate strictly in auction leagues would have had nothing to say about the sweet spot in a serpentine draft. I hope that readers like Bart won’t feel excluded from the conversation by this week’s question.

This Week’s Question

Is “foregrounding the fun” characteristic of people who routinely finish on top or on bottom in fantasy football?

I know there are some people who really believe that winning at fantasy football is simply a matter of luck. Certainly luck plays a role—and certainly there are players who finish at the top of the heap one year and near the bottom the next. But in most leagues, there are a few players who almost always finish in the top three to five spots—and others who seem invariably to finish in the bottom five.

Advertisements from the various fantasy services that claim to tell us how to dominate our leagues would have us believe that winning in fantasy football is tied directly to the quality of the information one has available and the speed with which one reacts to late-breaking news.

Maybe that is true. Maybe a person who subscribes to the right fantasy service and religiously checks his email for updates and unfailingly modifies his roster according to the advice of experts will win in fantasy football even if he detests football and never watches a game. I think I have participated in a few leagues in which folks like that actually did win.

But what about the guy who picks up Favre as a quarterback even though his projections tell him that two or three better options are available—just because he wants to see how the gunslinger will do in a different shade of green?

What about the guy who always drafts the defense on the same team as his primary quarterback so that there is at least one game a week in which every single play has fantasy implications for him?

What about the guy who picks a kicker not because he cares about the kicker, but because he wants some extra motivation to watch a team with some raw and unknown players who might develop next season or the season after that—and who just wants to be sure to check in on those players from time to time?

Are these kinds of people—the people who are less concerned about maximizing their output at every position than in enjoying the regular season—more likely to find themselves at the top or the bottom of the standings at the end of the year?

Last Man Standing

Alack and alas! Matthew Schiff, who dutifully coached many of us through one LMS pool after another, informed me this week that his travel schedule will prevent him from contributing to this column any longer.

If you think you have what it takes to take over for Mr. Schiff, please write in with your picks for the Week 3 games by the morning of Wednesday, September 17th.

If not for the glamour of having your name up in internet lights, do it to save people from the deadly picks of one Mike Davis. I will share my thoughts this week only because I have no one else to turn to. The simple fact of the matter is that the NFL is better at generating parity than I am at spotting a winner. Please help! With that caveat in mind, derive what benefit you can from my picks:

#3 Kansas City over Oakland – I try to avoid divisional matchups because they are notoriously unpredictable. Nevertheless, the Raiders have shown us all for a long time now that nothing embarrasses them. They seem to take a perverse delight in getting paid for being terrible at their jobs in public. I am a lifetime Raider fan, so I sort of see the humor in what they are doing. Sort of. It’s hard to imagine feeling more confident about using the Chiefs than in their home game against the black and silver.

#2 New Orleans over Washington – I would feel better about this pick if the Saints were at home, but the Redskins looked so lost in the season opener that I would expect them to need more than 10 days of recovery time and home-field advantage to overcome the many talents of Drew Brees and company.

#1 Arizona over Miami – I always look for non-divisional games with the favorite playing at home, and this game fits the bill. The Cardinals did not look as sharp against San Francisco as I expected last week, but their offense is loaded with talent. I do not see how a team with as many weapons as Arizona has can falter against a rebuilding Miami organization.

For responses to this week's fantasy question or to share your LMS picks, please email me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football season.