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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 143
Wacky (But Effective) Drafting Strategies

Rookie Scouting Portfolio 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.

 The Young Ones
Pos Player ADP Fpts/G Rank
QB Matt Ryan 14.02 14 12th
RB Matt Forte 6.01 15.7 3rd
RB Chris Johnson 8.06 14 9th
WR Eddie Royal 14.03 11 12th
WR DeSean Jackson 13.02 8.7 21st
WR Donnie Avery N/A 7.9 36th
TE Dustin Keller 13.1 4.8 14th
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.

 Third Time's The Charmers
Pos Player ADP Fpts/G Rank
QB Jay Cutler 7.12 20.9 1st
RB Maurice Jones-Drew 2.10 13.6 10th
RB DeAngelo Williams 7.12 12.3 14th
WR Greg Jennings 5.02 11.6 6th
WR Brandon Marshall 3.11 11.9 9th
WR Lance Moore N/A 8.3 24th
TE Owen Daniels 12.05 7.3 3rd

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.

 The New Guys
Pos Player ADP Fpts/G Rank
QB Brett Favre 7.07 16.1 8th
RB Michael Turner 4.07 14.7 8th
RB Mewelde Moore N/A 10.1 22nd
WR Bernard Berrian 8.06 9.6 14th
WR Muhsin Muhammad 12.12 8.1 25th
WR Antonio Bryant N/A 7.6 32nd
TE Anthony Fasano N/A 5.4 10th

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 match up.

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.

 Second Fiddles
Pos Player ADP Fpts/G Rank
QB Kurt Warner N/A 20.7 3rd
RB Tim Hightower N/A 9.4 25th
RB Mewelde Moore N/A 10.1 22nd
WR Lance Moore N/A 8.3 24th
WR Steve Breaston N/A 8.1 25th
WR Antonio Bryant N/A 7.6 32nd
TE Bo Scaife N/A 6 7th

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.

 Drama Queens
Pos Player ADP Fpts/G Rank
QB Brett Farve 7.07 16.1 6th
RB Marshawn Lynch 1.12 12 17th
RB Ryan Grant 2.07 8.4 30th
WR Chad Johnson 3.04 6.5 37th
WR Brandon Marshall 3.11 11.9 9th
WR Matt Jones N/A 7.7 30th
TE Antonio Gates 5.03 9.2 2nd

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:

 Oldies But Goodies
Pos Player ADP Fpts/G Rank
QB Kurt Warner N/A 20.7 3rd
RB Thomas Jones 3.11 15.5 4th
RB Ricky Williams 8.01 7.1 31st
WR Hines Ward 6.01 9.6 15th
WR Terrell Owens 1.12 9.5 17th
WR Randy Moss 1.09 9.2 18th
TE Tony Gonzalez 6.02 9.4 1st

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 unusual selections.

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:

 (Earl) Campbell's Soup
Pos Player ADP Fpts/G Rank
QB Brett Favre 7.07 16.1 6th
RB Adrian Peterson 1.02 17 1st
RB Michael Turner 4.07 14.7 8th
WR Anquan Boldin 4.01 18 1st
WR Hines Ward 6.01 9.6 15th
WR Brandon Marshall 3.11 11.9 9th
TE Jason Witten 4.07 7.4 1st

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.

 Speed Killers
Pos Player ADP Fpts/G Rank
QB David Garrard 8.04 15.3 10th
RB Chris Johnson 8.06 14 9th
RB Adrian Peterson 1.02 17 1st
WR Randy Moss 1.09 9.2 18th
WR Calvin Johnson 4.08 12.6 4th
WR Bernard Berrian 8.06 9.6 14th
TE Dustin Keller 13.1 4.8 14th

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” Strategy:

Pos Player ADP Fpts/G Rank
QB Aaron Rodgers 11.01 18.6 5th
RB Marion Barber 1.07 15 6th
RB Michael Turner 4.07 14.7 8th
WR Vincent Jackson 9.07 9.9 11th
WR Kevin Walter 13.08 9.6 13th
WR Lance Moore N/A 8.3 24th
TE Kevin Boss N/A 5.1 13th

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.

 Vertically Challenged
Pos Player ADP Fpts/G Rank
QB Drew Brees 3.01 20.9 2nd
RB Maurice Jones-Drew 2.1 13.6 10th
RB Brian Westbrook 1.03 16.2 13th
WR Steve Smith 3.06 12.2 16th
WR Santana Moss 7.04 11.1 8th
WR Eddie Royal 14.03 11 12th
TE Too Tall for This Ride N/A N/A N/A

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 them out.