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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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,
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
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
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
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
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