Like any good fantasy soldier, I spend the dog days of August poring
over preview magazines, scouring the internet for training camp
morsels, scrutinizing last year's statistics, combing rosters for
sleeper candidates, and ultimately assembling my own crib notes
for the multitude of fantasy drafts that await as the summer draws
to a close and football season approaches. I usually follow that
up with a healthy pat on the back, a beverage of my choice, and
entirely too much self-congratulation for a job well done and a
battle plan well composed. It's easy, after all, to feel like a
genius in August. Rare indeed is the fantasy gamer who isn't sanguine
about his chances for league domination before the drafts even commence.
This bloated sense of self-confidence usually persists all the way
up to the precise point in time when the draft kicks off and it's
my turn to select and my league mates are clamoring for a pick and
the countless hours of (over-)analysis and reams of supporting paperwork
supply precisely no help as I proceed to take
whoever the hell
I feel like taking, damn it! Stupid cheat sheets. I'm not picking
Jamal Lewis over Randy Moss! I don't care if I need a franchise back
in the first round! I don't care if I'm gonna get stuck with Charlie
Garner or Troy Hambrick! Stop laughing, you guys!
Needless to say, the rest of my draft and all successive drafts invariably
follow this same, sorry script. I ignore my own painstaking calculations
and end up with a bunch of guys who, though not the most highly rated
players on the board at the time they're selected, rate highly in
one important and infinitely more compelling, though hard to quantify,
category: potential. Sweet, sweet potential
the crack cocaine
of fantasy football. Gimme the guys who could be phenomenal. Gimme
the guys who could set the fantasy world on its ear. Gimme the guys
who could make my league mates look like complete idiots (and me like
a complete genius) inside of three months. There's really no amount
of statistical evidence or prevailing expert opinion that will ever
convince me Jamal Lewis should be taken ahead of Randy Moss or that
Amani Toomer should be taken ahead of Chad Johnson or
get the idea. I don't care what my meticulously prepared cheat sheets
tell me to do.
You hafta understand. I've never been one to follow orders, even when
they're self-imposed. I much prefer the path of most resistance and
a potential jackpot to the path of least resistance and a solid upper-division
finish. Any schmuck can draft safe and, barring injuries and bonehead
trades, finish in the top half of a league. It takes a special kind
of person, though-or so I've convinced myself-to risk it all on a
bunch of underachievers/never-achievers with heaps of potential and
finish in the money. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
I know I'm not alone here. The world of fantasy ballers can probably
be broken down into precisely these two aforementioned groups: those
who play it by the book and those who spend all summer writing the
book only to toss it aside when it might actually come in handy. Of
course, that's exactly what makes yearly re-draft leagues so exciting.
Certain league mates of mine are so predictable that I practically
know who they're drafting before they do. (I even won a $10 bet last
year by correctly predicting a buddy's late-round selection of Troy
Murphy in our group's annual basketball draft. Troy Murphy, for chrissakes!)
Others are so unpredictable that I have no choice but to fear them.
These are the guys and gals I'm constantly leery of, the potential
poachers of my diamonds in the rough. These are also the folks, incidentally,
who make drafting such a thrilling experience.
Which camp a fantasy gamer falls into (by the book or by the seat
of one's pants) depends almost exclusively on how much risk tolerance
(or aversion) he or she possesses. In the financial world, market
gurus talk unceasingly about risk, reward, and the intimate relationship
between the two. The riskier the investment, they tell us, the greater
the potential reward. This is not groundbreaking stuff. The same principle,
however, applies even in the virtual world of fantasy football, where
rules often seem to take a backseat to good, old-fashioned luck. To
wit, the more potential (i.e., risk) one is willing to accumulate,
the greater the possible payoff (read: championship trophy, baby!)
This is not to say that someone can't win a league championship by
assembling an all-vanilla squad of Curtis Martin, Rod Smith, Kerry
Collins, and company. People do get rich hoarding blue-chip stocks
and T-bills, after all. I would argue, though, that the likelihood
of a championship increases with the assumption of more risk. You
wanna win big? You gotta bet big. Of course, if the likelihood of
a championship increases, so too does the likelihood of a last-place
finish. If you can't stomach the thought of wearing your league's
dunce cap for a whole off-season, well
you now know which camp
you're in, I guess.
So what players, you're asking yourself, do I consider high-risk/high-reward?
I should probably preface the following list by saying I'm not completely
stupid. I may be unconventional and easily charmed by prospects but
I'm not going to stake my reputation on Trung Canidate suddenly becoming
a franchise back this season. Nor am I betting on Thomas Jones to
rediscover (discover?) his game in Tampa. I'm talking about actual
prospects here with actual potential. Here goes:
He may play for Cleveland but guys who can run like the wind don't
grow on trees.
Guys who can run and weigh 230 really don't grow on trees
make sure he's the starter first.
Thank you, Duce!
Rookies generally scare me but this guy can flat-out tote the rock.
Plus, he's a fellow Duck.
If your league counts return yards, you want him. Great insurance
for Shaun Alexander, as well. OK, he's a Duck, too.
Self-explanatory. The so-called experts are picking him as late as
the end of Round 2. They'll regret that.
May not be the #1 receiver on his own team but would you draft Darrell
Jackson ahead of him?
All you need to know: he's on both my dynasty teams and I cried when
somebody snaked him in our re-draft league.
The other Jerry can't play forever
Will play John Jefferson to Donald Driver's James Lofton in Green
Bay's eighties revival
and Brett Favre is no Lynn Dickey.
See Morris, Maurice. This guy tallied nearly 2,500 yards last year
on returns alone. Marvin Harrison notched 1,700. Do the math.
Vick's favorite target last year. Hurry back, Mike!
A poor man's Michael Vick and considerably cheaper.
Still improving and if Priest goes down, watch out.
Another Favre backup who should light up the NFC West.
I'm not sold on The Ballcoach but I like his signal-caller.
Admittedly, not all of these potential stars are worthy of an early-round
selection. Only a fool would draft Duckett over one of the top five
backs or Crumpler over Tony Gonzalez and Jeremy Shockey. Nevertheless,
many of them can be had for a relatively cheap price, namely, a mid
to late round selection. One of the more interesting corollaries of
the risk/reward principle as it applies to fantasy football is that,
in most cases, the riskier players usually offer better draft value.
This is to say that they tend to be drafted right about where they
should be drafted and sometimes even later, owing in large part to
the fact that by-the-book owners won't touch them. That is precisely
what makes these guys so alluring, however. An owner who takes a chance
on a potential star isn't asked to assume the additional risk of a
too-early selection on top of the existing risk (the player's spotty
results so far).
Past performance, Wall St. constantly reminds us, is no guarantee
of future results. This certainly applies in the world of fantasy
football, as well
and that's a good thing. If you take nothing
else away from this article, consider the following two items: Ricky
Williams was once considered a disappointment in New Orleans. Priest
Holmes once lost his job to Jamal Lewis. Think most of your league
mates wouldn't want those two guys now? Most won't get the opportunity.
Expertly predicting a potential star's breakout season can be challenging
but it can also be a helluva lot of fun. Happy drafting, folks!