Wacky (But Effective) Drafting Strategies
The “Gut Feeling” is often synonymous with a sense
of desperation resulting from a lack of preparation. The Gut Check
is a huge proponent of studying the numbers, but there’s
a point where one can place too much emphasis on the wrong information.
This can result in the undervaluing or overlooking a player’s
potential. Therefore, The Weekly Gut Check is devoted to examining
the frame of reference behind certain number-driven guidelines
that fantasy football owners use to make decisions.
Although The Weekly Gut Check doesn’t claim to be psychic,
he does believe that he can dispel certain numbers biases and
help you make the best choices for your team. We’ll keep
a running tally of The Weekly Gut Check’s insights. This
way you can gauge his views as something to seriously consider,
or at least seriously consider running the opposite way as fast
as you can!
This week I planned to write about various “all-star teams”
where I could comment on various types of players with something
in common: age, criminal record, lack of maturity, etc. But as I
began thinking about common factors linking players together, I
stumbled upon something that could be used as a quick and effective
draft strategy. I know it’s almost the end of the regular
season in most fantasy leagues, but now is a perfect time to take
a look back at this season and try to remember what you’re
observing for the next.
When I looked at the current rankings by position, I was able
to put together starting rosters that if you drafted them according
to the main factor they had in common, your competition would
have mocked you on draft day. The funny thing is that you would
have realistically yielded a team strong enough to elicit a combination
of admiration and consternation from those same people mocking
you a few months earlier. I discovered if I didn’t look
at stats, but instead just combined simple ways of describing
players skills, experience, situation, I was able to compile a
variety of rosters averaging at least 70 fantasy points per week.
When you add a good defense and kicker and these squads are all
likely contenders, if not division leaders.
Some of these are crazy strategies and more to make a point,
but I believe most of them could still work. There’s a fine
line between genius and insanity, but think about it, you’ll
be able to get the players you target with this approach more
often than you would just trying to gauge them with the normal
tools you use that are prescribed by every fantasy website. The
reason tour opponents will undervalue most of your picks is they
will be following the herd mentality of Average Draft Position/Cheat
sheet rankings. We’ve become so focused on statistically
based strategies, but most of the time these strategies have proven
no more effective (or only marginally more effective) than other
viable alternatives. Have you seen a study that validates these
stats-based methods work more than others? Where’s that
ground-breaking fantasy football study that shows you how to predict
injury? I haven’t seen it and doubt we ever will.
When you view the Average
Draft Position scores for a 12-team league with a 15-round
draft, you’ll understand that there may actually be a method
to this madness. These techniques could yield you a draft of good
players as a non-stat oriented, fantasy owner.
There are guys I’ve competed with who clearly understand
the game of football that pick players based on factors not at
all related to stats or projections of stats. Some of these methods
are nuttier than others. I’d probably stay away from some
of these, but they do help dramatically underscore the point.
So if you have iron cajones, or simply just pressed for time
and want to do a last-minute draft and succeed without following
the herd of cheat sheets or doing lots of stat prep, give these
methods a shot next year.
The “All-Rookie Team” Strategy:
Drafting a ton of rookies is as high risk as you can get, but
this year it would have paid off. The benefit of this crazy strategy
is you probably could have gotten 85%-95% of the players you targeted
because you would have over valued them according to preseason
average draft position.
Imagine drafting these guys as starters in July or August, your
league would have been whispering about finding a new owner for
2009. Your first round pick would have been Matt Forte – yes, Matt
Forte! Realistically, you could have screwed up and went with Darren
McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, or Kevin Smith, but you probably still
could have gotten Forte in round four and owners would have been
checking your blood sugar.
But by now they might be looking up at you in the standings.
With this line up, you only have two picks where the average draft
position of the player was prior to round 10! This is less of
an indictment of fantasy football strategy as it is the strength
of this rookie class. As much as I watch rookies, I can’t
even imagine taking this approach, but it sure would have paid
off this year.
The “All-Third Year Breakout”
Strategy: It’s a gross oversimplification that that
third year for NFL players is the charm for fantasy production,
but what if you decided to invest solely in third-year fantasy
prospects? Once again, your competition would probably look askance
– as if you walked into a crowded elevator and began talking
to yourself. But if you picked the right combination of third-year
prospects, they would be labeling you an eccentric genius.
Throw in LenDale White and Reggie Bush and you would have great
running back depth as well. You would have had a very reasonable
time drafting this line up at a draft position near the end of
each round. You could have made Bush and Jones-Drew your 1-2 punch,
Grabbed Marshall and Jennings in rounds three and four, then follow
up with Jennings and White, and round it off with Williams and
Cutler. I’m even wiling to bet some of you have a squad with 75%
of these players I listed.
Plus you would have three to four picks before you would have
even gone after Owen Daniels, which means you might have landed
excellent depth. People will be asking you which draft strategy
you used. VBD? AVT? CRANK? Nah…Year Three.
The “All-Old Faces in New Places”
Strategy: Here’s another odd one. Imagine you took
a bet from someone that you could draft a competitive squad by
investing solely in players who have joined a new team.
Three of your starters were not even drafted in most leagues.
You could have easily gotten Ricky Williams and Michael Turner
even if you didn’t make what we consider a “major reach” and select
them in the early rounds of your draft.
You wouldn’t have a dominant squad, but I like this team’s chances
to be a winner. Each of these players has had big games that could
have carried this team to victory in any given week. Throw in
Ricky Williams, Derrick Mason, Isaac Bruce, Julius Jones, and
Chad Pennington and this team would be a deceptively challenging
The “All-Benchwarmer” Strategy:
This one would literally get you temporarily banned from your
league on draft day unless you could offer some monetary incentive
in the form of side bets to prevent a riot in the basement of
your friend’s house. In hindsight, you would have made some
cash by now.
Or you could imagine sacking up at your draft (with 12 teams
and 15 rounds) and claiming you can pick a squad that averages
80-90 points per game from players that are left. And if you’re
really gutsy, bet your owners that they can draft and you can
make the payoffs with the leftovers.
You might have been in the hole for the first few weeks, but
you might be scaring them about now, especially if your league
didn’t consider Eddie Royal, Donnie Avery, or DeSean Jackson
starters entering the season. Technically, it was still up in
the air for Royal and Jackson.
No one would seriously consider this draft strategy, but it sure
underscores the point that a bad draft is not the death knell
for a fantasy owner.
The “All-Off Season Distraction”
Strategy: Here’s an approach for the contrarian in
you: draft players that others shy away from due to injury, controversy,
holdouts, arrests, and – of all things – threatening
to come out of retirement. It’s quite probable you could
have assembled this team in late August.
This is one I just might try in some of those mock drafts that
I’ve done for magazines or websites. Not that this is an
excellent team, but it is competitive. Gates, Lynch, Marshall,
and Jones have surpassed many owners’ expectations.
Favre hasn’t been so good lately, but he’s also had
more than a couple of games that could have helped carry this
squad. Ryan Grant and Chad Johnson aren’t so hot, but they’re
getting better and with eight additional picks, I would feel pretty
good about my chances of getting players that outperformed them.
A worthwhile point here is once again that you have a strategy,
but it’s not a number’s based strategy. You are completely
rejecting ADP and stat projections. You are simply going by projected
starters who are in the news and potentially going to miss time
or change teams due to the factors I mentioned above. I could
think of better factors as a methodology that would yield good
results: Size, speed, experience, and physical toughness are all
better. See below.
The “All-Over the Hill Gang” Strategy:
Are you old enough to remember the Washington Redskins “Over the
Hill Gang” from the tenure of George Allen? Here’s a fantasy version
of “old fogies” still playing for the new millennium:
This is actually one of the best scoring lineups. Add Brett Favre,
Jeff Garcia, Gus Frerotte, Warrick Dunn, Sammy Morris, Isaac Bruce,
Laveranues Coles, Muhsin Muhammad, and Donald Driver and you have
great depth, too. Who says fantasy players over 30 have reached
the nadir of their careers? These guys are Raging against the
dying of the light.
This is also a good approach if you are sitting on one of the
book end picks in a draft. Owens and Moss would conceivably been
there. Then you could have grabbed Thomas Jones and only if you
selected Ward or Gonzalez would you have finally looked like you
were reaching for players. This would have been a strategy were
people didn’t realize you were going way out of the box
until the middle of the draft. By then they were probably too
drunk on alcohol or their egos to notice that you were making
The “All-Tough Guy” Strategy: This
is where we get into subjective views of players rather than demographics
of age, starting status, years in the league, or changing teams.
This may be subjective because you are grading a quality of play,
but I think you would get a greater consensus about the way you
would describe these players than you would about projecting stats.
So in a sense, this might actually be a viable option. Players
who can give and take punishment with the best of them might be
a good alternative to stats-intensive evaluation. I like this
strategy, because it’s not about overanalyzing stats. It’s simply
about determining the player type you want to see on your team
and filling your roster with as many of them as you can. Here’s
a Mack truck of a starting line up:
This harkens back to my old days as a fantasy football owner.
Rather than playing my usual role of junior businessman-forecaster,
I simply thought about the type of players I would like to have
on a real team. To me that was the most obvious description of
fantasy football and what I took it to be.
I wanted guys who will run over you, bounce off vicious hits,
get up and smile after a wicked shot, and then come back for more
– warriors. And you can’t tell me it was impossible
to draft these players. In fact, I have a team where I drafted
Favre, Peterson, Turner, and Ward this August and I probably could
have gotten either two of Boldin, Witten, or Marshall if I approached
my selections with this “draftegy.” None of these
players would have been considered major reaches were I would
have picked them, but if I were drafting in one of the first few
positions, it would have been likely I could have gotten most,
if not all of them. Pretty excellent team without viewing a single
stat, don’t you think?
The “All-Speed Kills” Strategy:
Attention Al Davis, sell the Raiders and join fantasy football
leagues. I think your need for speed could earn you championships.
This isn’t a bad group at all. And Al, since I know you like
quarterbacks who take all the time they can to get the ball downfield,
we could sub Garrard with Big Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler,
or Brett Favre and you’ll be in hog heaven. If you feel I’m cheating
with Adrian Peterson in this lineup, then throw in 15th ranked,
Steve Slaton or 10th ranked, Maurice Jones-Drew. Brian Westbrook
fast enough for you? You could have screwed up and picked Fast
Willie Parker early, and still got yourself Chris Johnson.
Seriously Al, you can even put Darren McFadden on this team and
you’ll be a winner. The best thing for you is that you could
have reached for several players and still came out a looking
like a good owner – unlike recent NFL drafts…
The great thing about this strategy is you’re simply rating players
according to their speed and likelihood of playing significant
time. The starters would be obvious players as seen above, but
you could have dug deep for players like DeSean Jackson, Donnie
Avery, Devery Henderson, Vernon Davis and Ted Ginn.
The “All-Understudy Gets the Part”
You could have drafted a great starting line up of former back
ups that now get a full year’s shot at the starting job.
Aaron Rodgers has been nothing short of excellent and a steal
as a guy you could have picked in rounds eight and nine and still
elicited some muffled snickers from the opposition.
Rodgers, Turner, Jackson, Walter, and Moore, are grand larceny
picks for a fantasy team. Talk about a low risk, high reward strategy?
This is it. If you simply checked out ADP averages prior to your
draft and bumped up these four picks to the 10th, 3rd, 12th, and
15th round respectively, you’d be looking good. It almost
seems ridiculous to worry about stats or where you can get the
player, if you are simply picking by criteria not so tied to stats
as much as it is to opportunity.
The pairing of Barber and Turner is someone that very likely
could have happened in rounds 1 and 3 while you picked up receivers
that should be playing better than Lance Moore and a tight end
better than Boss. Nonetheless, these receivers would keep you
competitive with this roster.
The “All-Randy Newman Haters”
Strategy: Are you one of those five-foot-three, Wall Street-working,
Type-A personalities (of course you’re not, you’re
five-foot-five…in elevator shoes)? Pick a team that has
players with relatively the same distances from their head to
the floor as yours. I warn you, they can get pretty feisty, especially
that guy Smith.
If you don’t think you can land these two backs with the
QB and receivers I have listed, you probably could have gotten
DeAngelo Williams to pair with either Westbrook or Jones-Drew.
Throw in Warrick Dunn and Steve Slaton and I’m sure you
would still have a decent RB corps.
The receiving corps is lethal. Look at Eddie Royal sitting there
at 14.03. In fact, look at how you would be drafting better producing
receivers in rounds seven and fourteen than the guy you got in
round three! When someone asks you what draft strategy did you
use to average 85 points per game without a kicker or defense
in a non-ppr league, tell them “short, quick, tough, and
smart,” is your recipe for success.
If you get one of those types that want to poke a hole in anything,
they’ll tell you the only issue with this bunch is there
really isn’t a tight end under the height of 6’3”
who is starting in the NFL. Just tell him/her you don’t
need to play a tight end with this squad of Napoleons to take