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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Q & A - Week 2: Roster Dynamics

Last Week's Question: Drafting Strategies for FF Rookies in 100 Words or Less

In last week's column, I asked readers of Q&A to share the advice that they would offer to FF rookies who were nervous about participating in their first draft. The challenge for those who wrote in was to restrict their answers to 100 words or less. Todd spoke for those who found the word-count limitation stifling:

I can tell you how to draft like a chump in 100 words or less, but the first step to drafting like a champ is to develop an attention span. If you're looking for some shortcut formula that treats kickers exactly like running backs to keep your puny brain from hurting, you're really just looking for an excuse to suck.

So if you don't have the patience to learn about tiering and the differences between positions and other important factors (age, contract years, surrounding cast, and the challenge of considering upside vs. consistency and durability) then my advice is ten words long:

Embrace your suckitude. Learn from experience. Do better next season.

Perhaps the 100-word limit was a bit too severe, but the reason for my request was to avoid the information overload that many rookie FFers experience as they try to prepare for their first draft. There are countless articles that offer fantastic advice on drafting strategy--many of them right here on the FFToday website. The advice in these articles is almost always helpful and nuanced, but the problem with nuance is that when a listener is not ready to absorb or appreciate it, it sounds exactly like gibberish.

A number of readers gave me the same three-word answer: "Use the autodraft." That may sound like a playful way of dodging the question, but Steve sent me some great evidence to support the claim that relying on the autodraft feature available in most computerized leagues is a realistic option for newcomers who want to build a competitive team:

We had an auction draft for the first time this year. There were two new players to our league, and I don’t think either of them had played FF before. The one had technical problems, so his autodraft was on the whole time. The second was late to start, so his first few picks were on auto and then he started picking his own after that. Below are the results…

All autodraft:

 Owner #1
Rk Player Bid $
1 Aaron Rodgers, GB QB $67
4 Ray Rice, Bal RB $59
5 LeSean McCoy, Phi RB $69
67 Frank Gore, SF RB $11
91 Robert Meachem, SD WR $3
101 Isaac Redman, Pit RB $3
127 Jahvid Best*, Det RB $1
142 James Starks, GB RB $1
148 Kenny Britt, Ten WR $1
152 Sidney Rice, Sea WR $1
155 Josh Freeman, TB QB $1
156 Jared Cook, Ten TE $1
157 Mario Manningham, SF WR $1
158 Justin Blackmon, Jac WR $1
159 Jets D/ST D/ST $1
160 Alex Henery, Phi K

Second guy should have left the autodraft on:

 Owner #2
Rk Player Bid $
2 Arian Foster, Hou RB $64
3 Maurice Jones-Drew, Jac RB $58
11 Mason Crosby, GB K $6
15 Drew Stanton, Ind QB $1
25 T.J. Houshmandzadeh, FA WR $3
26 Wes Welker, NE WR $38
31 Tony Romo, Dal QB $30
35 Weslye Saunders, Pit TE $1
44 Jason Witten, Dal TE $13
45 Matthew Mulligan, StL TE $1
65 Donte’ Stallworth, FA WR $1
75 Donald Driver, GB WR $1
85 Adrian Peterson, FA RB $1
95 Shaun Suisham, Pit K $1
105 Bills D/ST D/ST $1
115 Kevin Walter, Hou WR $1

Can you tell the point that he started drafting himself? The first guy is feared in the league and the second guy is still taking crap! He would nominate somebody and there would be a resonating “SOLD!” from the rest of the league. Funniest thing I ever saw.

Steve makes a very strong case here for keeping things as simple as possible for newcomers. From my perspective, if you take active participation out of the draft (or the auction, in Steve's case), you are taking most of the fun out of fantasy football. But I suspect that most FF rookies will have enough fun getting to know their own league dynamics in their first year. They can rely on the autodraft to build their first team and become active participants thereafter.

Our own Matthew Schiff (author of the weekly LMS section at the end of this column) chimed in with practical and sensible (and succinct!) advice for rookie FFers who might want to do something more than rely on the autodraft:

With regard to the fantasy draft, nothing is a simple answer. That said, here is my answer in 100 words or less:

Rank your players by position in TIERS. Then target the highest player available according to the tier that would provide the most NET positive difference over the next player available. What you are looking for is the drop off from the best available player at your current draft position versus what the DIFFERENCE in points might be in the later rounds. Many times you will find that you are considering a GROUP of players of equal value and could get the last in the “Tier” next time through while there may only be that last Tier 1 RB or QB available at your current pick. Better to have the “BEST” player in comparison to what is left at that position than to follow the “run” on RBs or QBs.

 Player Rankings
Tier 1
Aaron Rodgers 416 pts Arian Foster 314 Pts
Tom Brady 395 pts Ray Rice 307 Pts
Drew Brees 385 pts LeSean McCoy 292 Pts
Tier 2
Robert Griffen III 371 pts Chris Johnson 269 Pts
Eli Manning 347 pts Darren McFadden 249 Pts
Tier 3
Matt Stafford 334 pts Matt Forte 224 Pts

Part of my focus in last week's column was on the fact that my most dangerous opponents in fantasy football tend to be the ones who pay the least attention to average draft position (ADP). When these owners get excited about a guy like Brandon Marshall, they do not wait around in the hope of "stealing" him. They pull the trigger early--sometimes way early. Hugh was the reader whose response engaged the ADP question most clearly:

ADP’s are for new FFer’s.

Caution them to find cheatsheets that closely match their scoring rules. Encourage them to modify the list some [and to factor in the] values & tendencies of other owners. (Who else is new?; How many NFL or college team Homers are participating?; Who is having too many hard beverages?; etc.)

Experience as a commissioner and participant in different leagues since '95 tells me:

What other owners think is key. Information on other owners’ wants & desires is key, to perceptions on draft day.

Reach or gamble for 1 or 2 players based on your beliefs. [Even if you are wrong, this] leads to more interest & fun with FFL’s in general.

The Perception of your team, by other teams, will be based on your successes or failures, and not on your team as a whole.

Finally, tell rookie teams, FFL’s require constant attention. Track your team's scoring, bye weeks; injuries; etc & look to improve; through trades; waivers; better lineup choices; etc.

I’ve never had success standing still when others are making moves to improve.

There's a lot to be said for Hugh's position. His remarks focus clearly emphasize understanding the tendencies of your competitors, but he also stresses the importance of having fun. I don't know anyone who wins their fantasy league every single year, but I know plenty of folks who never win and have fun year in and year out. The main point that I extrapolate from Hugh's remarks is that rookie FFers should try to enjoy their first draft as much as possible. As Hugh observes, the draft is not the end of the world. A lot of measures can be taken in the course of the season to compensate for a weak draft.

But now it's time for the big finale. Of all the responses I received to last week's question, none did a better job of packing more information into fewer words than Michael's:

We want green FFers to have a good experience [in their first draft] so that they will multiply into more FF players and make this game we love that much more [popular]. Well, to be honest, I am sort of surprised that you don’t have them do the obvious while plugging your website. You could simply print up business cards with the following instructions (88 words including title):
A Rookie's Guide to Fantasy Football Drafting

1. Goto
2. Click on rankings/projections
3. Click on each cheatsheet (QB&RB, WR&TE, K&DEF, IDP-if necessary)
4. Change dropdown ADP to size of league (10team, 12team, 14team – if 8team use 10team)
5. Print out each cheatsheet including ADP
6. Bring cheatsheets to your draft.
7. Cross off players as they get drafted and use the ADP as a guide to pick a position.
8. Make sure to draft every position that you need during the draft.
9. Have fun.

Those instructions give them all the tools they need while giving your website more traffic. Not to mention that those rookie players get the added security of having the instructions in hand when they leave you. And yes, that last line is in the same vein as the Hitchhiker's Guide's usage of "Don't Panic." It's a simple reminder--but one that tends to be useful.

Michael does not just know how to explain a process in as few words as possible. He also knows how to push exactly the right buttons for me to have no choice but to call his response the best of the bunch. My thanks to him and to everyone else who wrote in.

This Week's Question: What rules does your league use to make roster size a significant component of team management?

If you scroll up to review the auction draft snapshots from Steve, you will see that both of the owners featured in his response ended up with sixteen players. To the best of my knowledge, that is the average size of a fantasy roster. The typical fantasy lineup calls for eight players (1 QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE, 1 kicker, and 1 defense), and the traditional roster of sixteen players allows fantasy owners to carry backups at every position.

In some leagues, owners are required to draft exactly two quarterbacks and exactly four wide receivers, but most leagues have moved away from that kind of rigidity. These days, few commissioners object to owners who would rather have three running backs and five receivers (instead of carrying four of each all season).

Consequently, a lot of owners refuse to tie up a roster spot with a backup kicker. They use one kicker until his bye week comes up and then cut him for a new kicker that will last until the end of the season. In most cases, they use the roster spot that could have gone to a backup kicker to carry an extra RB or WR.

Some owners will cut their backup kicker just to make room for an extra QB even if they already have two or three quarterbacks on their roster. These owners are usually less interested in giving themselves more choices at QB than in depriving their competitors of such options. Such is life in the cutthroat world of fantasy football.

Brian finds this approach less appropriate for some leagues than others:

I have no problem if you want to pick up a guy like Kevin Ogletree on the basis of one good game. Put your $5 transaction fee in the kitty and roll the dice to see if he pans out.

But this year a friend got me to join his online league. They don't have transaction fees.

I watched a rival owner in this league cut his backup kicker to pick up Ogletree. It cost the guy nothing but a mouse-click. What if Ogletree falls off the radar next week? The owner will probably just cut him for the next flavor of the week.

If your league doesn't charge a transaction fee, you can just pick up and discard players all season long. Where's the challenge in that? Shouldn't there be something to keep you from being frivolous about modifying your roster? You don't see NFL owners whimsically dropping and adding players at a moment's notice.

In my opinion, leagues that don't charge transaction fees should definitely have smaller rosters than leagues that do. That way at least there would be some kind of RISK associated with taking a flyer on a player who comes out of nowhere to light up the scoreboard. You would have to give up a player that matters for a guy like Ogletree--not just some random kicker that nobody cares about.

Shrinking the roster is the easiest solution that I can think of, but do you know of any other tricks commissioners can use to make owners take roster changes seriously?

I will resist the urge to respond to Brian's question in this week's column. I would rather keep the field clear for other readers to give their own answers before chiming in myself. I look forward to hearing from anyone who wants to respond.

Last Man Standing - Week 2 (Picks courtesy of the currently PERFECT Matthew Schiff)

Trap Game: Cleveland at Cincinnati (1-0, WAS)
Last week we saw a typical Week 1 where that unexpected multi-point favorite loses to a so-called inferior opponent when Washington beat New Orleans. This week, don’t be surprised if you see a Cleveland Browns team shock a Cincinnati squad that was thoroughly manhandled by the Ravens. Everyone knows that statistics and game plans routinely go out the window by the second quarter of divisional matchups, and few opponents in the NFL are more familiar with each other than the two teams from Ohio. The oddsmakers expect Cincinnati to get on track, but Brendan Weeden and fellow rookie Trent Richardson may surprise you as they take advantage of the formula that the Ravens laid down on tape Monday night.

#3: Tampa Bay at New York Giants: (1-0, PHI)
If you watched opening night, you saw a New York Giants team that was thoroughly beating Dallas in the first quarter. But after being stopped at the three yard line on an interception return and then three more times on offense, the team never looked the same. New York's offensive line was lost in front of Eli Manning with his receivers dropping more passes in this game than in any single contest last year. The best thing that can be said for the Giants was that they were less penalized than the Cowboys. Thank goodness for small victories--because that's the only kind of victory the defending Super Bowl champs could claim. “Chalk it up to not being focused,” remarked Victor Cruz. Well get ready Giants fans: The undefeated Bucs are coming to town with the number one rushing defense and 11th ranked defense overall. Old man Barber (Tiki’s “younger” twin brother Ronde) is right in the middle of it all. But what should scare Giants fans is that Josh Freeman actually has a pro bowl receiver on the other end of his passes who can draw double teams. The Giants secondary is down to their fifth and sixth best cornerbacks because of injuries, and even Freeman, who threw for 22 interceptions last year, should be able to pick this 30th-ranked defense apart. It looks very much like the Super Bowl Champs may be 0-2 when they go on the road to Carolina and then stop in Philadelphia before returning home to face the Browns. Could the G-men go 0-4? Maybe. Stay tuned.....

#2: Washington at St. Louis: (1-0, CHI)
Welcome to the NFL Mr. Robert Griffin, III. Last week Griffin proved me right with my upset pick of the Redskins over the Saints, and this week he remains in a dome against a 28th-ranked Rams defense that gave up 429 yards to the Lions. Look for Shanahan to take advantage of the Lions game film and utilize Alfred Morris, no Roy Helu, no wait, definitely Evan Royston at the halfback spot. Maybe. (Excuse me for a second while I shake my fist at Mike "Running-back-not-so-much-by-committee-as-by-crazy-stupid-unpredictable-lottery" Shanahan. There. That's better.) The interesting thing about this team is that it probably won’t matter to the Redskins, or even the running backs themselves, as long as they keep winning with a proven leader at the helm. The Rams look better than they did last year--probably because they have implemented a three-step drop for Sam Bradford. Nevertheless, Jeff Fisher and company still have their work cut out for them before they start winning again in games like this one.

#1: San Francisco over Detroit: (1-0, HOU)
This is going to be the game of the week. Strength vs. strength. The league’s best passing offense of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson will square off against last year’s number one defense. Behind the veteran leadership of Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, this defense should pressure Stafford all day long. Unlike Kevin Smith’s great day against St. Louis last week, look for more realistic rushing numbers and fantasy stats from a team that closes the rushing lanes well. This sure looks like a precursor to a playoff match between these teams in January, so this game is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re looking for a game that is not a divisional matchup or a made up of teams with more question marks than stars, than be bold and take the 49ers at home.

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