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Week 15

Last Week’s Question

One of the things that leapt out at me as I read through the responses to Jim’s question about the transition to keeper leagues was that so many people appear to have very fuzzy ideas about how keeper leagues are ordinarily structured. A lot of people who have only participated in redrafters seem to think that whoever owns Larry Johnson in a keeper league this year will own Johnson until the running back retires. Some of the responses included in this week’s column should help to disabuse readers of that notion. Other readers seem to think that the ordinary way to arrange a keeper league is to insist that owners keep the same rosters (all 12, 14, or 16 players!) from year to year. Again, this inaccurate assumption should be challenged by some of the responses that follow.

We may have to have a little keeper tutorial at some point in the life of this column, but in the meantime readers who are looking to transition from a redrafter to a keeper or readers who are simply curious about the various forms that keeper leagues can take should benefit from what follows.

Tracy’s explanation of how his league works should be particularly helpful to those flirting with the concept of a keeper:

In our league, keeper players are slotted into the next year's draft at minus 4 rounds from this year's draft position (i.e., a keeper player that was drafted in the 10th round this year will be a 6th rounder next year).

Players picked up on waivers become 10th round picks for the purpose of the keeper rule.

Only one player may be kept from the previous year's roster.

No player may be kept more than one year consecutively.

A traded player's draft position goes with him.

We've had great success with these rules. It lets an owner keep a rising star that he either had the foresight to draft or good fortune to pick up on waivers without draining the pool of good players available at each year's draft, thus perpetuating the excitement of the beginning of each new season and not giving team(s) with many good players an undue advantage.

Like Jim, Rob has struggled with the transition from a redrafter to a keeper league. Although many readers last week urged Jim to be patient and start the process next year with everyone on the same page, Rob’s league found a way to transition to a keeper without first giving a full year’s notice. (I don’t doubt that many of the readers quoted last week will object to Rob’s suggestion, but since his league was willing to play according to the rules outlined below, the information may be useful to other leagues in similar situations):

I've been pushing to turn one of my annual fantasy football leagues (and one of the baseball leagues as well) into a keeper league for a couple of years now. We went back and forth on whether 1) we should come up with a structure that lets each owner keep someone from the previous season; or 2) whether we need to start fresh and decide prior to this year's draft if we'll allow keepers for next year. While option 2 is easier, we went with option 1 because we didn't really want to wait. Before the last draft, after all the owners provided feedback on how to make it work, we came up with the following:

  • 1 keeper the first year

  • you must have both drafted the player and he must have been on your year-end roster (i.e., no undrafted player/ waiver wire addition may be kept)

  • no keepers from rounds 1 - 8

  • you lose this year's pick +1 round if you choose to keep someone ( i.e., if you picked your keeper in round 10 the year before then you lose this year's 9th round pick)

  • 2 keepers the second year, also drafted after round 8

  • 3 keepers the third, drafted after round 5

Pretty simple and it has worked well so far. Hope the thoughts help.

For the sake of balance, I’ll include yet another response (this one from Jed) that urges Jim’s league to be patient:

Regarding the keeper league, I believe it would be best for Jim and his buddies to decide before next year’s draft as to whether or not their league will become a keeper league. This type of league will more than likely affect the drafting strategies of team owners. I'm sure Reggie Bush, Maroney, Addai, Leinart and others would be drafted a round or two before they would normally go if you started a keeper league. Knowledge beforehand seems to be the only fair option. Personally, I am opposed to the keeper league for one reason. FF Draft day is more fun for me than Christmas and New Years combined!

Jed makes an excellent point about how the drafting strategy of Jim and his co-owners would probably have been different in August of 2006 if they had known then that their league would be transitioning to a keeper in 2007. I’ll reiterate that of course postponing the transition for an entire year is the fairest way for Jim and his peers to proceed. However, as long as all of the owners in Jim’s league are willing to abide by the rules of a clearly defined transition process (such as Rob’s), I see no problem with sacrificing a bit of fairness for the sake of fun. On the flip side, even if just one owner in Jim’s league is opposed to making the switch, I think the league should probably postpone the process for a year. (I can easily imagine a scenario in which the one owner who doesn’t want to play along quits the league only to be replaced by some newcomer to FF who is forced to choose his single keeper from the roster of the departed owner. It could be a year before he realized how terrible his choices were, which could lead to all sorts of problems and instability for the league in future years.)

One reason to run with Rob’s set of suggestions (one of which is to enable owner to keep only players that they drafted and had on their rosters all year long) is that it sidesteps the problems that Jim’s league encounters with waiver acquisitions (such as Colston) as well as trades and other roster moves that could easily complicate the picture for a fledgling keeper league. Craig speaks to these concerns quite clearly:

As the weeks go on when injuries and bye weeks happen, [the possibility of changing to a keeper league] will affect how you approach trades and waivers. For example, I had Vernon Davis in one of my 16-man non-keeper leagues. After his injury, I basically dumped him for Eric Johnson without a second’s thought. However, in a keeper league, there might have been some upside to keeping him. With 16 teams, pickings sure do get slim fast, and at the TE position (which we have to have), we pretty much have almost 10 teams gambling whether they will make any points, where those good TEs are netting points comparable to a WR2. Unless I had a lock #1 RB or WR, it might be more beneficial for me to keep this TE and I’d hang onto Davis for next year. Now TE may not be the best spot to use as a keeper, but this was just an example to explain possible problems a keeper/redrafter mindset have on moves in a season. If people know in the beginning what to expect they can play accordingly. If it’s still undecided then what do you do when one week it’s your problem?

Craig also wanted to chime in on the “saturation of FF” question—a column that produced a lot of belated feedback (some of which was too carefully written to be excluded because of its tardiness). Craig quoted a reader named John, who wrote:

As for saturation, yes, the world is completely saturated with FF. The reason I loved FF [years ago] was that if you worked hard and had a good draft, you could be assured of doing well. Do your homework each week, scour the stats, and things will work out. Nowadays, with the never-ending [supply of and] demand for info, some of the fun has gone out of it. Anyone can sort the stats of all the players and pick out the best of the bunch. And now the NFL is changing somewhat again. How many teams have a true #1 RB? In the coming years you are going to be faced with more and more teams forcing you to choose between RBs (like Barber and Jones in Dallas).

John’s remarks prompted Craig to observe the following:

To me it seems John’s main problem is that “winning” in FF is no longer as easy as it used to be. He probably liked that back in the day his hours of research gave him an easy win over the guy who just watched a few games and was not aware of who was sitting out, or who was playing against a top 10 pass defense league with a star DB. In my other 16-man redrafter (split in two 8 man divisions), the top in both divisions are people that are not huge fans who do hours of homework. They make sure they have no one injured or on bye, and do some trades/waivers occasionally but all they have to do is spend 30 minutes each week to read a website (like your own) which tells them all the information they need. And the site we use (FOX-MSN Footall) even tells you some decent info like pass defense your WR is playing each week (or rush defense if it’s a RB). Doing that extra homework, researching more sites/news sources, still helps but the gap between casual and hardcore player has lessened, making it more even. During week 1 I picked up Leinart and Young (different leagues) knowing that Warner would be benched eventually and that the Titans were setting up a failing QB system to get their investment in early. Sure enough they got in and I was able to make out good on trades to some QB troubled owners. That’s not something that is as easy to find and predict as some stats and requires a little extra work.

The changes in the NFL only add on to the challenge. Multiple RBs and emergence of TEs as receiving targets can sometimes be a gamble (will Barlow or Washington get the carries) but just require you to rethink draft and trade strategies. Sometimes it can hurt you, but if you adapt you can make it work. I’ve been able to pick up players like Barlow, Bell, Lundy, Gado from the waiver wires for favorable match-ups and each time resulted in decent enough points to at least secure me a playoff spot. No LT and LJ breakout performances, but it at least kept my RB position with some steady points so my receivers (Holt, Chad Johnson, Driver) could build on something.

Obviously, there are lots of different opinions on how and why fantasy football has evolved into the ridiculously popular pastime that it is today, but I want to close the discussion with the remarks of Jakob and Gary because they seem to want to focus on the most important dimension of fantasy (a dimension that sometimes gets too little attention from those of us who analyze fantasy football professionally). Jakob’s short response gets right to the heart of the matter:

I have been reading the emails you have received regarding the saturation of FF and the various nuisances people seem affected by. I agree to a large extent that corporate America may make FF drop off in terms of popularity and functionality, but I think we're all missing a very important point: This is a game. It's a great way for people to stay in touch, get our trash talking catharsis in a safe setting and revel in our nerdy addiction to sports. I think many of us are reaching our saturation point -- in our obsession! Let's reduce the huffing and puffing about external influences on our league formats, rules, etc. and keep having fun! I know it's cliché, but seriously, there are more important things to worry about.

Gary makes the something close to the same point with a somewhat more competitive edge:

I have been in a Fantasy League for over 20 years now. Yep, pen and paper and emails! We all know how things have changed, for the most part, for the better. I thought Matt Waldman had it summed up perfectly. The media will ride this pony until something else comes along. It's profit driven just like any Supply and Demand Economics. I agree that it may simmer down at some point, but always exist. As for his comment about talking heads being asked to soft sell Fantasy, that is so accurate! Over the years, I've watched the popularity grow and more information become available. In the end, when picking a starting line up, it is an educated guess! Key word is educated.

I thought the relationship issue addressed by Robbie was tremendous in that I would suppose that all of us have felt change in relationships because of our competitive natures. Websites have now made it easy for all of us to have a forum for expression. Our Fantasy League has a Party at the end of the every season, always in the setting of watching the playoff games. I've noticed year after year, the same people show up, and many of the others do not because their team stunk it up. I think these people take it all way to seriously. In the end, again, it's all an educated guess!!!! No one really knows how their season will go, because LUCK plays such an important role! For those that can't enjoy the ride and take whatever comes their way, I say, go join a Knitting Club!!! It's all supposed to be about Fun! After all, we all well know there are about a million things more important in life!

Just as I'm writing this, Outside the Lines is doing a report on how fantasy football is being used by some teachers in high schools to help make if fun! There's even a Fantasy Math Book. That would seem to be another sign of how it can carry over into our pop culture.

This Week’s Question

As I hinted in last week’s column, this week’s question has to do with scoring imbalances as they pertain to defenses. Since the question came from Terry, I’ll let him explain his situation in his own words:

My league needs to deal with defense overbalance. Our league put in a Rule to allow defenses to score a point for ever point they shut a team out under 30. So a straight 0 point shutout is 30 points, and if an offense scores 29 points then the defense only gets 1 point. This makes for Baltimore and the Bears D getting 40-60 points a game since defenses Also get scores for int, sac, fumble recovery, return TDs and safeties! To compare, a great day for a player in our league is 20 points or so. Just plain silly.

The variations in defensive scoring in fantasy football are obviously mind-boggling. Some leagues use IDPs (individual defensive players); others use defensive units. Most include special teams with defenses; a few separate the one from the other. Some award points simple for forcing a fumble; others award points only when fumbles are recovered. Obviously, the nuances of defensive scoring are too complex for me to cover exhaustively in this column. However, if you are particularly pleased with the way your league handles defensive scoring, I want to know about it. Do you like your method because it gives more points to top defenses than top QBs or because it gives roughly the same points to both positions or because it gives more points to top QBs than top defenses? Whatever your reason for liking your system, be sure to let me know why you like it. If you just mail me to the scoring guidelines for your league, I probably won’t know what to make of them.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt & Michael)

All 3 of Matt’s projected winners this week are teams that he has not used so far in the 2006 season. These may seem like dicey propositions, but those who are still alive in their LMS pools know that pickings are getting slim.

Matt’s Picks

#3: Green Bay over Detroit (10-4 Season): Can the Packers win two in a row? Most likely. Kevin Jones is out for the rest of the season, and the Kitna-to-Williams connection has been all but shut down. Now that the Packers know that the only attack that the Lions can pose is an aerial one, the advantage shifts in their favor. Look for a good December Lambeau thrashing for the visitors.

#2: St. Louis at Oakland (11-3 Season): This is the riskiest of the picks since Oakland was playing some rather good defense early in the season. The problem with this team is that they are playing football as if it is 1986 not 2006. On top of that, Aaron Brooks may be able to make things interesting with his feet, but he is only one man who has bought into Art Shell’s program. St. Louis should have more than enough weapons to finally win a game and break their losing streak. The edge goes to the home team, but the win goes to the visitors.

#1: Minnesota over NY Jets (10-4 Season): The Vikings defense is playing some very good football, and if they follow the blueprint that the Bills laid out last week, this should be an easy win. They are currently ranked 1st against the run and 6th overall and will make it very difficult for Pennington and company to have a balanced attack. On offense, Artose Pinner showed that he can step in when called upon in relief of Chester Taylor and may have established himself as the clear #2 for the team in the 2007 season. While Brad Johnson hasn’t been electric since he has very few quality weapons, they should be able to attack a Jets defense that is ranked 26th in the league.


Michael’s Picks

3 - (6-8) - Saints over Redskins - New Orleans is one of the hottest teams right now after dismantling another hot team, Dallas, last week. There is talk of the Saints and Super Bowl in the same sentence. If they truly are contenders, then they can't stumble here against the Redskins.

2 - (10-4) - Patriots over Texans - Look for New England to bounce back at home. They should be able to move the ball up and down the field against Houston. I'd expect the Patriot defense to handle the Texan offense.

1 - (13-1) - Packers over Lions - Green Bay is unpredictable, but Detroit is predictably bad from week to week. So this is mostly a pick against the Lions, who are now without Kevin Jones. Take the Pack at home.

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.

Readers who want to have their fantasy questions answered live, on the air, by Mike Davis are invited to tune into FFEXradio on Friday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. EST. Archived programs are also available.