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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Q & A: How Much Attention Should Rookie FFers Pay to Average Draft Position?

Last Month's Question: Concluding the Sporadic Doubleheaders Discussion

My column for July featured a question from Dan that clearly touched a nerve in the FF community. Dan wanted to add a few extra head-to-head games to the schedule in his fantasy league, which meant that his owners would sometimes play two games in a particular week instead of one.

Because of scheduled byes in the NFL and the fact that most fantasy leagues crowd their own playoffs into the final weeks of the regular NFL season, it can be difficult for commissioners to sprinkle doubleheaders into their regular schedules without making some owners feel as if they are being put at a disadvantage. The Houston Texans have Week 8 off, so it is easy to imagine the frustration of an Arian Foster owner who is scheduled to play one game in Week 7, two games in Week 8, and one game in Week 9. "Hey," we can hear the owner objecting, "why can't I play two games in Week 7, when my star running back will be active? This is BS!" The commissioner picks up the schedule to make an alteration, but the owner of Julio Jones immediately cries, "Wait, don't move my extra game against him to Week 7 because that is when the Falcons are resting!"

When I wrote the July column, I expected the problem of scheduling sporadic doubleheaders to prompt a handful of responses from a few leagues with long track records of innovation and experimentation. I was wrong. The overwhelming response to that column suggests that sporadic doubleheaders are clearly more common in the fantasy community than I assumed, and a number of leagues have developed a wide range of strategies for coping with the frustration that they can cause owners and commissioners alike.

The most representative responses I received concerning the question from July appear in my August column, but I wanted to include a few "outlier" responses that did not fit in with the larger discussion. These responses tended to focus on the root of Dan's problem. The whole reason Dan wanted to schedule extra games in the first place was because some schedules in head-to-head leagues are easier than other schedules, so it can seem unfair to decide which teams advance to the playoffs based on head-to-head records in which some teams play a series of pushovers while others square off against one powerhouse after another.

Many commissioners in "total points" leagues are quick to point out that this is the chief flaw of head-to-head fantasy leagues, but there are plenty of FFers who are committed to the thrill of head-to-head competition even if it isn't the most mathematically accurate way of measuring the relative strength of fantasy teams. As Rick explains:

I commish a 12-owner auction league in its sixth year, with 3 divisions of four teams each. We have owners who prefer the weekly excitement of H2H, but also several whose background consists of multiple decades of Rotisserie Baseball, so they despise classic H2H because it is too “lucky”; they prefer the point-tally method you described. As a compromise, we’ve devised a system that both sides are very happy with.

We play a doubleheader every week for 13 weeks. Half the teams make the playoffs selected in this order: the 3 division winners, 1 with best record, then 2 highest-scoring teams. I let set the schedule, but (roughly speaking) you’ll play your division foes 3 times and non-division just 2 times. The Roto guys are happy because the effect of luck is minimized since there are 26 regular season games and you are guaranteed a playoff appearance with a good overall point total, even if you played the highest-scoring team each week. Meanwhile, the H2H guys are satisfied because the division winners all make it to the playoffs and it also eliminates the dreaded situation where you go 0-1 when playing the highest-scoring team that week even though you scored second-most. Everyone hates that.

Since it’s an auction league, there are no concerns about which draft slot your division opponents are in, so the method we use to assign divisions is based on the previous year’s total points scored: the 4 highest-scoring teams play each other in Division “Kings”, next 4 in “Nobles”, and the worst 4 in “Peasants”. This promotes annual rivalries for the variously skilled players (there isn’t as much division-changing as you might think), and it provides incentive to the poorly performing teams to at least score enough not to end up in the Peasants division next year.

These are some of my attempts at keeping the motivation up all through the season – which is one of your article’s main points: finding ways to “keep apathy away”. I don’t think it matters how many games you play, as long as people stay mentally involved until the end, yet still rewarding hard work and skill, and maybe a little luck.

Alan's league also schedules doubleheaders throughout the season to achieve a balanced schedule:

I too am a commissioner of a 10-team league. We have always played a 14-week schedule with 2 divisions. We had a real problem last year with our playoffs because of the exact scenario [Dan mentioned.] If you use head-to-head as a criterion with an unbalanced schedule, you are destined for trouble. We all got together and are trying something completely different this year. If you go to a 14-week schedule and use a single division with x amount making your playoffs, it would look like this:

14-week regular season;
every team plays each team 3 times;
doubleheaders every week except week 1.

I hope this helps you. I sure hope it works for our league. We voted on this and it was an overwhelming response to try it.

A reader named Rich wanted to point out that I oversimplified matters by dividing the fantasy world into "head-to-head" and "point tally" leagues. His complicated league (which has endured for more than two decades) not only blends those two categories, but blurs the traditional distinction between "points only" and "performance" models as well:

In our league, [teams generate two different scores] with the same lineup each week. The first score includes points for yardage, TDs, receptions, sacks, interceptions, etc. The second score is strictly for TDs, extra points, field goals, and safeties. The second score determines who wins the head-to-head matches. You can actually outscore a team in total but lose the game because of the tds or kicking points.

What we found out is the best team then wins the overall total points with a second and third also winning, but to keep everybody's interest the head-to-head schedule lasts 13 weeks , with 2 divisions of 5. You play everyone in your division twice and everyone in the other division once. The first place teams receive two byes for winning their division, and the other 4 teams in the division play for the right to play number 1.

In Week 14, 2 plays 5 and 3 plays 4, with the winners playing each other in Week 15. In week 16, #1 plays the winner of week 15 and this happens in both divisions. If you don't mind playing week 17, you have your Superbowl then, which by the way has really worked out for us.

This eliminates the best team from basically getting nothing because it has already won total points, but it gives a chance for everybody late into the year. We had one championship where both 5th place finishers played each other in the Superbowl, but the 3 best teams overall also won for their total points. This will be our 24th season playing fantasy football with 8 out of the 10 playing at least 20 of those years.

If one point became clear to me from the responses that I received to July's column, it is this: Leagues that schedule doubleheaders throughout the season (instead of having them at arbitrarily chosen points) can easily avoid the headaches described in the beginning of this article. The owners in Mark's league cannot complain that the doubleheader schedule is unfair because it is the same for everyone all season long:

Before I read your article, the thought of the doubleheaders being sporadic had not even occurred to me. My league is set up to have them every week of a 14-game regular season.

9 teams play in three 3-team divisions, awarding playoffs to 3 division winners and a wild card. 9 non-division weeks and 5 all-division weeks (wks 3, 7, 10, 13 & 14) have teams playing every non-division opponent 3 times and every division opp 5 times.

I assume the idea could be expanded to 12, 15 or 18 team leagues, but the balance of the interdivisional schedule might be off a bit.

My thanks to everyone who wrote in concerning the topic of scheduling doubleheaders. I was not able to include every response, but I have done my best to keep the discussion brief and focused while allowing readers interested in the topic to familiarize themselves with the widest possible range of perspectives and solutions.

This Week's Question: How Much Attention Should Rookie FFers Pay to Average Draft Position?

I'm not asking for your pity. Okay, maybe I am.

Just try writing a column for a world-famous fantasy football website every week of every NFL season for a decade. You try it and see what happens.

You will be swamped by requests from people you don't know--cousins of women who used to date office workers who went to high school with a guy that once carpooled with you during an internship. These people will imagine that because they are so intimately connected with you, it is your responsibility to prepare them for their first fantasy draft. They don't know anything about football. They're just going along with their coworkers by joining the office fantasy league, but they don't want to embarrass themselves. And somehow it is your responsibility to tell them what to do in their draft so that no one will make fun of them.

Most of them think they should take a quarterback in the first round because QBs are the most important players on the field. A few of them--the ones who are too smart for their own good--believe that their first pick should be the best defense in the league because a defense is eleven whole players. "I would have to be stupid to pick just one running back when I could have a whole defensive squad instead, right?" they ask--excited about their unique insight into the mysterious world of fantasy football.

The best questions are the emails that read like this: "I have the eighth pick in the first round, the fifth pick in the second round, and the eighth pick in the third round. Which three players should I target first?"

I went through a period of being impatient with these questions years ago. Now I mainly chuckle and ignore the emails. But I don't have it in me to ignore people in face-to-face conversations. When I go grocery shopping in August, someone is going to spot me and make me give them advice on how to behave in their very first fantasy draft. The problem is that the more helpful I try to be, the less helpful I am. Most rookie FFers are not ready to understand the distinctions between leagues that require owners to start a tight end and leagues that lump tight ends in with receivers. They do not want conditional advice.

Their faces cloud with impatience when I try to explain that even though quarterbacks generate more points than running backs, the scarcity of running backs makes the difference between a tier 1 QB and a tier 2 QB less important than the difference between a tier 1 RB and a tier 2 RB.

"So should I take a running back or a quarterback in the first round?" they ask.

"Well, if you're picking seventh and Aaron Rodgers is still available and the following players are already off the board . . ." I begin.

"It's a simple question!" they insist. "I just want to know if I should start with a quarterback or a running back."

It is a simple question, but the answer is rarely simple. Different leagues have different lineup requirements, different roster depths, different scoring formulas, different drafting tendencies by owners. If Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady both go in the first round, some leagues will respond with a run on quarterbacks in the second round. In other leagues, Rodgers, Brady and Drew Brees will all be taken by the middle of round two, but the next quarterback will not be drafted until the end of round four.

The simple truth is that it is rarely easy for me to give strangers the advice they need. I don't know them; I don't know their league rules; I certainly don't know the drafting tendencies of their competitors.

And so I have fallen back on a particular way of giving advice simply because it is easy for me to explain and easy for them to understand. The problem is that I have no idea whether the advice I am giving is any good. I certainly don't follow it myself.

In my experience, what the average terrified rookie FFer wants is a list of positions by round numbers. They want me to tell them to get a running back in the first round, a receiver in the second, a second running back in the third, a quarterback in the fourth, a tight end in the fifth, etc. I estimate that more than 90% of the FF rookies who come to me for advice would be delighted if I could give them this sort of formula.

The last thing they want to hear is that I do not look to fill a specific position in the second round. I start talking about the relative value of the players likely to be available with pick X of round Y, and their eyes glaze over. "Just answer the question!" I can hear them roaring inside their own brains. "Do I take the best RB or the best wide-out in that round?"

I cannot, in good conscience, tell a stranger to target any specific position in any specific round of a draft. Too much of my own decision-making process is tied to what the other drafters have done and are likely to do.

Average draft position (ADP) is the shortcut I find myself falling back on in these discussions. It's a quick and dirty way for FF newcomers to understand the perceived value of a player. I do not tell people to use certain rounds to target certain positions, but I do advise them to print out ADP lists for consultation during their drafts.

"You could conceivably draft a running back, receiver, quarterback, or tight end in round three," I explain. "I really cannot guess which one will be the best fit for your team at that point. But if you have already drafted just one running back and just one wide out in the first two rounds, then all four options are worth considering in round three. Draw through the names of the players on your ADP list as they are taken, and when it is your turn, take the player from the position that seems to be in the shortest supply near the top of your list."

As each NFL season begins, I get a lot of thank you notes from people who follow this advice, but that does not mean I helped anyone build a decent fantasy team. All it really means is that the rookies who followed my advice got through their drafts without being ridiculed.

I suspect that if my lazy ADP-based advice is any good at all, it is only good for helping rookie FFers to dip their toes in the fantasy football draft pool as they make their way towards their own drafting style in their second and third seasons. One thing that struck me about the drafts I participated in this August was that the competitors I am most worried about are the ones who seem to pay the least attention to ADP. Really good players that are generally undervalued routinely get snapped up well ahead of their ADP because attentive owners are worried about losing them to other attentive owners. So-called "reaches" are not always bad, as people who wanted Victor Cruz last year discovered.

Rookie FFers who do not want to look stupid may thank me for my advice concerning ADP, but I suspect that I am not being very helpful to those who want to win.

So I have a challenge to the fantasy community:

In 100 words or less, what is the best advice you could give to rookie FFers who are nervous about participating in a traditional serpentine draft. I don't want to know the intricacies of your drafting style. Please don't give me a bunch of ifs and maybes. These are people who want clear directions, but they do not have the patience or the experience to understand overly detailed analysis. What is the best advice you can give them to help them feel a sense of confidence about their choices and to give them a reasonable shot at building a competitive team? Would you have them consider ADP or ignore it entirely?

Last Man Standing - Week 1 (Picks courtesy of Matthew Schiff--who has graciously agreed to continue sharing his insights for 2012)

Well, it’s Week #1 and there are 32 teams tied at 0-0. Now the real fun begins. While there are rookies around the league touted as the next Cam Newton, it’s a pretty good bet that those rookie quarterbacks are going to have a rough time in Week 1. With the likes of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson all taking over control of their teams right out of college, the NFL will definitely not lack excitement.

Trap Game: New Orleans over Washington
This is a classic trap game. Robert Griffin III brings his talents to the Big Easy in Week 1, and he has no fear. In the preseason he has shown that he can make all of the necessary throws in the NFL, including the bomb, while also having legs to escape the rush. Unlike some other quarterbacks in the league with his skills, he is looking to pass the ball first and let his teammates showcase their skills. Surrounded by an offense that has been revamped with Pierre Garcon at wide receiver and a running back by committee that highlights Roy Helu, Evan Royster and rookie Alfred Morris, this Washington team will sneak up on opponents that fail to adapt to an unpredictable game plan. In the case of the Saints, you can’t have more disruption. A hurricane, a scandal, a suspension of their head coach and key defenders all tell me to AVOID this game and wait for a better matchup before picking the Saints. New Orleans has talent, but do you really want to risk your Survival Pool on a team that has had so much to deal with playing against a team that feels that they can take advantage of a Saint defense that was only ranked 24th last year and has been their Achilles heel over the last two seasons?

#3: Philadelphia at Cleveland (0-0, Last Season 13-4):
Michael Vick is expected to start for the Birds, and LeSean McCoy should be able to run for 100+ yards against a Browns defense that was ranked 30th against the rush last year. The Eagles are better than their 8-8 record in 2011, and an opponent like the Browns should help them continue their unbeaten streak from the preseason. Rookie Trent Richardson may be a game-time decision based upon his knee, but the team has always insisted that he will be ready for Week 1. If you have another running back though, think about using him since the Eagles' defense was good last year (16th against the rush) and got better in the offseason with the additions of DeMeco Ryans from Houston, as well as Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry in the draft. It should be interesting to see how Brandon Weeden handles the strong defensive front of the Eagles in an offense that only has room to improve over their 29th overall ranking last year.

#2: Chicago at Indianapolis (0-0, Last Season 12-5):
In our third game with a rookie quarterback, I suggest picking against Andrew Luck and his Colts when they march into Soldier Field. The Chicago Bears, returning Jay Cutler from a season-ending thumb injury as well as Matt Forte from his own knee injury, now have a legitimate number one receiver in Brandon Marshall. The last time Marshall and Cutler teamed up in Denver, they combined for 1325 yards and 7 touchdowns on 101 receptions in 2007 before Cutler was traded to Chicago. The Bears haven’t had that type of production in a receiver since Marty Booker’s back to back 1000+ yard seasons in 2001 and 2002. Combine that with an Indianapolis defense that was 29th against the rush and 25th overall last year, and this spells trouble for a rookie quarterback playing in a visiting city who will have a hard time matching his opponent point for point. The good news for Indy is that the Bears did allow an average of over 254 yards per game in 2011 (4th-worst pass defense in the league), so Luck should have a decent day.

#1: Houston over Miami (0-0, Last Season 13-4):
As for our number one pick for this week, you have to like Houston’s chances against the final rookie quarterback named a starter: Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins come to Houston to face a team that improved on the defensive side of the ball immensely under Wade Phillips in 2011. By the end of the season, the defense ranked 3rd against the pass and 2nd overall, allowing an average of only 285 yards per game. Combine that with an offense that is getting its quarterback back in Matt Schaub, and the Texans should easily win this at home. Don’t expect Reggie Bush to break loose in this game to relieve the pressure on Tannehill as the Texans only allowed 10 touchdowns all season on the ground in 2011.

For those of you who have not read this column before, I will be choosing one team each week in each of the three positions. I won’t repeat my selections in each slot, and I hope to give you insight into the tendencies of the teams that I pick each week. I look forward to reader feedback and hope that everyone has a wonderful 2012 NFL Season. Best of luck to everyone.

For responses to this month's fantasy question please email me.