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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Q & A - Week 17: Avoiding Busts Trumps Snagging Steals

Since Week 15, this column has examined the characteristics of top-seeded fantasy teams (based on responses to a questionnaire featured in the Q&A column for Week 14).

The Week 16 column focused on acquisitions through trading and the waiver wire. Responses to the survey indicated that top-seeded teams are, in fact, more likely to have participated in trades than the other teams in their fantasy leagues. However, since I did not ask respondents to specify when the trades occurred, the relationship between cause and effect remains murky. Are teams that engage in trades more likely to emerge as top-seeded playoff contenders than their rivals? Or is it simply the case that whatever team gets off to the fastest start in any league is more likely than other teams to receive trade offers because competitors see trading as the best way to break up a perceived juggernaut?

Perhaps next season we will be able to delve into that question with more precision. In the meantime, I want to share a comment that I received on the Week 16 column from Craig, who was disappointed to learn that according to most of the readers who responded to my questionnaire, the typical top-seeded fantasy teams engaged in just one trade during the regular season (in leagues in which most owners executed ZERO trades). As Craig explains:

Our league enjoys trading and requires it. You have to trade a top 4 draft pick before the trade deadline in week 10. Thus, we get some blockbuster trades when injuries occur and teams are looking for a 2-for-1 deal for a stud. It makes the art of trading and projecting future value very fun. I have played in leagues with no trading whatsoever and I find them horribly boring because you are simply playing your draft and selected waiver pick ups.

I think the idea of mandatory trades is something that a number of leagues might want to explore, and I am sorry that my holiday travel schedule has prevented me from asking Craig what happens to teams that fail to execute a trade by Week 10. Are they simply disqualified from the post-season? Is their fourth-round pick removed from their roster? If two or more owners fail to comply, do their fourth-round players get shuffled between teams by the commissioner? Perhaps I will have more details concerning Craig’s league in a future column. I confess I have belonged to a couple of leagues in which it felt like the only way any trades would happen was for the commissioner to force the owners to execute them.

Questions 7 & 8 from the survey in Week 14 were designed to find out whether it was more important for top-seeded teams to avoid busts with their top picks (or most expensive players in auction leagues) or to rack up steals with their bottom picks (or least expensive players in auction leagues).

Although there were some notable exceptions, it seems that avoiding busts is more important than snagging steals. According to the responses I received, almost all top-seeded teams had 0-1 busts in their top 5 picks (or 5 most expensive players in auction leagues). Steals in the initial draft/auction were not nearly as common a characteristic for top-seeded teams (perhaps because the most important “steals” happened after the season got underway). Reuben provided his own impression of the relative value of various components that help to build a successful fantasy team:

In general I think that you can't win the league in a draft, but you can lose it. I'd say winning is 50% luck, 25% pulling smart depth players off the wire (either to keep or trade), 20% not hurting yourself in the draft (including not spending too much on a QB), and 5% making good trades.

My data sample isn’t nearly extensive enough to support or refute Reuben’s conclusions, but I like his general tone. In most leagues, the performance of an owner in the initial draft/auction is less about building a winner than it is about not building a loser. Upside is obviously an important consideration, but it is not something that top-seeded teams in 2012 put ahead of durability and consistency—at least not with regard to the earliest picks in the draft (or most expensive players in an auction).

Here is a quick sample of responses from FFers who report that the top-seeded teams in their leagues had 0-1 busts in their top five picks. If you expected top-seeded teams to be great at late-round steals, then rethink your expectations. Notice that for most of these teams, there were 0-1 notable steals in the bottom five picks.

No real busts in the top 5 picks. Nelson at #26 overall and Rodgers at #2 may have been worst value.
No steals among last 5 picks.

Zero busts. Drafted 1. Tom Brady 2. Jamaal Charles 3. Wes Welker 4. Doug Martin 5. Eric Decker. 8th draft slot, live drafted.
Not including a kicker and a defense (13. Kaeding and 14. Arizona) last 5 picks were 8. Darius Heyward-Bey 9. Stevan Ridley 10. Ryan Williams 11. Jacob Tamme 12. Jake Locker. So, one steal in Ridley. The other four hit the waiver wire quite a while ago.

One team has no busts, one team had 1 bust (Vick in Rd 3), one team had 1 bust (Fred Jackson in Rd 3).
Two teams had no one significant in final 5 rounds. One team picked Mikel Leshoure in 13th Round and that is now their top RB).

Justin’s League B falls into this pattern, and his League A almost fits it:
7.) League A: Of the top 5 draft picks, 2 were semi-busts (Hakeem Nicks and Fred Jackson).
League B: Of the top 5 draft picks, there was one bust (Greg Jennings) and 1 semi-bust (Fred Jackson)

8.) League A: DEF and K were used for Rds 14 & 15. Excluding these, there were 2 steals. Benjarvus Green-Ellis in the 9th and Reggie Wayne in the 10th.
League B: Of the bottom 5 draft picks, maybe one was a steal (Malcom Floyd).

Busts from top 5 for top-seeded team—One - Mathews
Steals from bottom 5 for top-seeded team—Zero.

1. (1) RB Arian Foster, HOU
2. (20) WR Victor Cruz, NYG
3. (21) WR Brandon Marshall, CHI
4. (40) RB Darren Sproles, NO
5. (41) WR Marques Colston, NO

Sproles is the closest there is to a bust.

12. (120) RB DeAngelo Williams, CAR
13. (121) D/ST Baltimore
14. (140) TE Jermaine Gresham, CIN
15. (141) K Stephen Gostkowski, NE
16. (160) WR Danny Amendola, STL

Busts in top 5: 0
Steals in bottom 5: 1

McCoy, Graham, Jones, Jackson, Brown – I’d say McCoy is a slight bust, and Jackson in the 4th is marginal.
Dalton, Eagles, Crosby, Felix Jones, Brian Quick – Dalton is the only steal, later traded for Heath Miller and Brandon Lloyd – not a good trade.

The information I am reporting here is obviously subjective. One person’s idea of a “bust” might qualify for someone else as a “slight reach” or simply a “poor value.” Perhaps more importantly, players that perform well in scoring-only or PPR leagues might not be very valuable in ordinary performance leagues. For the purposes of this column, I am trusting the judgment of those who responded to the questionnaire to assess whether player X qualified as a bust or a steal under the scoring system of their own league.

Although nitpickers might want to bog down in technical definitions of busts and steals, the thing about the answers that leaps out at me is that, generally speaking, top-seeded fantasy teams in 2012 were not built with late-round (or low-cost) steals. They were built around a core of solid players that were expected to perform well—and delivered.

Of course, there were exceptions. Joanna participates in two leagues and reports a higher-than-average number of early round busts in both:

1) team a - 1- Arian Foster
Team b - 5- Andrew Luck
2) team b - 28- Cam Newton
Team a - 32- Ryan Matthews (bustish)
3) team a - 33- Brandon Weeden (bustish as an offensive rookie)
Team b - 38- Antonio Gates (bustish)
4) team b - 60- Vincent Jackson
Team a - 64- Micheal Vick (bust during stretch run)
5) team a - 65- Torrey Smith (bustish?)
Team b - 66- Dwayne Bowe (bust)

I wanted to include Joanna’s comment to demonstrate that even though most top-seeded teams tend to steer clear of busts with their most valuable picks, it is certainly possible for teams to overcome questionable top picks with solid mid-round value and savvy waiver/trade activity.

The final question in my Week 14 survey invited readers to submit questions of their own that they would like to have seen included. I cannot include all of the answers here (at least not without taxing the patience of readers), but Bill gave the most interesting feedback to two of the more popular questions:

#14 (from Justin and Kevin): On a scale of 1 to 10, how much of a factor would you say luck is when it comes to making the playoffs? (Can you use the points for and points against the top teams in your league to support this answer? How different would their place in the standings be if they had played head-to-head matches against every team in the league each week instead of their particular opponents?)

Luck always plays a role. For this season, our two top seeded teams were #1 and #2 in least points allowed, but #5 and #6 in total points scored. In an all-play scenario, our #1 seed would have been 72-71 and our #2 seed would have been 70-73. That would have placed those two teams as the #5 and #6 seeds instead of #1 and #2.

#15 (from J.R.): For redrafter leagues only. Which pick did the top-seeded team in the draft have? (In J.R.'s league, the teams with the top two picks finished 8th and 9th--and did not make the playoffs.)

12-team league - top two seeds drafted 9th and 11th respectively. In fact, our top 5 seeds drafted 9,11,7,10,6. The #6 seed was an outlier and drafted first overall.

I should have the space to revisit other questions (and some of the answers to them) in columns for the 2013 regular season. My thanks to everyone who took the time to write in.

I also want to thank Justin once again for pointing out that the next time I conduct a survey such as the one in Week 14, I should ask respondents not just to tell me WHAT happened, but also WHEN it happened:

I think whether these players are drafted or are post-draft acquisitions greatly affects the success of a team. It crops up when you discuss the importance of RB in your article when you provide some examples of top teams that are deep at RB. Two of the three teams you list include Alfred Morris. Since there was a lot of skittishness about drafting a Shanahan RB and uncertainty about who the eventual starter would be in Washington, Morris likely went undrafted in most leagues. Given the relative importance that is placed on RB, the foresight of a manager to pick up someone like Morris can bolster the chances of a team’s success.

As someone who drafted Roy Helu in multiple leagues, I hear Justin’s message loud and clear.

Last Man Standing - Week 17 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

Trap Game: No Trap Game (8-8, Wash, CLE, TB, Den, ATL, SF, NYG, NO, MIA, DET, NE, DAL, IND, JAC, KC, Den):
Now is that week to take the risk to win your Survival Pool – assuming that a tiebreaker doesn’t take you into the playoffs. But you still need to avoid those “gotcha games” where the coach is planning on resting his players because the one o’clock games played out differently than expected and your team already has a bye locked up before kickoff. Why go out and get hurt when the second season is right around the corner, right? So with that in mind, try and avoid that double-digit favorite playing the late game on Sunday this week if you can. Instead, choose from the one o’clock games, where even those out of the playoff picture may still be fighting in the trenches. You don’t want your final pick’s chances fouled up by the outcome of an earlier game.

#3: New Orleans over Carolina (15-1: PHI, TB, CHI, AZ, HOU, BAL, GB, SF, SD, NE, WASH, DEN, DAL, SEA, MIA, IND):
In Week 1, yours truly came out and predicted this matchup as the trap game of the week because of the bounty scandal that New Orleans was going to have to deal with in the first few weeks of the season. That shocking Saints loss followed by New England’s Week 2 loss to Arizona knocked more than 50% out of their LMS pools before they even really got started. That was then. This is now. And for now, the Saints want to win this game at home against a very dangerous Panthers team. It may be the last game of the season, and their secondary may still give up a lot of points, but it’s payback time. And NFL players like nothing more than to return the favor of being upstaged whenever they can. Look for the Saints to march all over their division rivals this week. Then again . . .

#2: Jacksonville over Tennessee (13-3: CHI, WASH, NO, HOU, SF, PIT, MIN, NE, ATL, BAL, DEN, IND, GB, CLE, SEA, CAR):
I wish that I could go out on a limb and say that the Titans will run away with this, but with the injury to Chris Johnson’s ankle during last week’s loss to Green Bay, the Jaguars are perfectly positioned to steal this game on the road to close out the season. No, this is not the trap game, and no, I have not lost my mind. If you had to look at two teams that seem to be headed in different directions over the course of the season, look no further that this game. Chad Henne has been revitalized with a receiving corps that would have helped him keep the starting job in Miami had Shorts and Blackmon been there. In their last meeting earlier this season, the Jags improved on their 30th ranked defensive ranking and beat out their opponent’s 28th ranked defense. No doubt this game will be for those that have Week 17 fantasy championships and local diehards. Otherwise, just check the box score on Monday morning to see if you have won your pool with one of the boldest picks you can make this week.

#1: Denver over Kansas City (13-3: HOU, SF, IND, BAL, NYG, ATL, NE, CHI, GB, PIT, DAL, CIN, BUF, TB, DET, WASH):
And so it came down to this: My choices were Tennessee over Jacksonville, New Orleans over Carolina, and Denver over Kansas City if I wanted to pick a favorite with my final Survival Pick of the year. Thank heavens Denver is left, right? Maybe not. This is a divisional game between two bitter rivals, which is a good reason—all by itself—to be nervous. But on a weekly basis, KC finds ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. More importantly, Peyton is playing for a bye week in the playoffs (albeit outdoors in comparison to his prior seasons with Indianapolis). If this had been a game earlier in the season where the Broncos might not be focused, it would have been a perfect trap. But with so much at stake, and an opponent that will be playing second and third stringers so that they get some game film, look for the home team to win easily—just maybe not by as much as the odds makers expect.

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