The fantasy football season seems to start earlier and earlier each year and this year has followed that pattern. And I for one am thrilled to see our fake sport taking over the country. This season feels like the year we see masses of people go from amateur to professional status. No longer do we see article on top of article of opinion based blather, but instead it’s difficult to not find deep research and analytical stats in a fantasy football article. Of course football is behind baseball in this regard, but sites like Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders, RotoViz are on the cutting edge of analytics. Then of course the amount of fantasy sites out there are growing exponentially. It used to be that a fantasy football player had to wait for the Monday paper to get a box score and now we have an avalanche of statistics and punditry. I think I’ll take the latter.
So you probably didn’t start reading this for a history on fantasy football information, so I’ll move onto the 2013 fantasy football season, which of course started the day after the Ravens beat the 49ers, but the real energy started seeping from the internet after July 4th. So now we are thick in the guts of mock draft season sloshing around waiting for training camp to star and I’m as happy as a clam in high water (mixed metaphor alert). I’ve been mocking my brains out on the mock draft simulator and MFL’s Draftmasters all the while researching and working on my rankings for the last month and I’ll continue to do that up until the day before the regular season because there is always more to learn. But what I’ve learned so far, I’ll tell you about as long-windedly as possible starting . . . now!
1. Quarterbacks are dead to the fantasy football world.
Of course everyone who studies and calculates value of positions and players in fantasy drafts came to this realization a long time ago, but this year it is quite trendy. Just how trendy has yet to be seen, but if you are in any expert mock drafts you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t follow the wait on quarterback approach to drafting. This might lead you to go hard against the grain and always be the person who takes Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers in your drafts, but just recently Steve Gallo wrote a piece on quarterback value and it’s pretty mind blowing. Whereas we’ve always felt like you get more value out of running backs, tight ends and wide receivers, but still didn’t want to get skunked on a top quarterback if we could help it, Gallo shows us that quarterbacks are almost non-entities in fantasy leagues. I don’t want to steal all his data so make sure you check it out here, but his tag line for the piece is, “Zero QB Theorem – If you zero out the quarterback’s points on a winning fantasy team, they still win a majority of head-to-head matchups.” If you have a winning team it is rarely due to your quarterback, so why even worry about them?
I’m not going to bite my nails over missing out on one of my top 12 quarterbacks. If I get to a place I think my choices are low upside backups, then I’m grabbing my quarterback. I thought that was going to be Tony Romo this season, but in most of my mocks he gets scooped up before I can start scooping (Really tough not to associate scoop with poop). So I’ve been grabbing a hodgepodgery of quarterbacks. And I often grab two of them fairly close together. Eli Manning, Jay Cutler, even Alex Smith have been on my teams, but for the most part I seem to be able to grab one of the top 12 guys who falls, maybe a Robert Griffin III or Romo and then pair them with someone I like as a backups, like the Cutler types. If you subscribe to the Zero QB Theorem, which it is hard not to after looking at the numbers, the point is to never trump a pick you feel could be important with a lowly quarterback.
2. Running backs are, always were, and as long as we keep the same standard settings, will be in the future, the position to draft early and often.
I talked a little about this in my Value Based Drafting article, but the more I mock draft and study this year’s crop of running backs, the more I’m scared to death of running backs this season. So does that mean we should be scared to draft them? No disembodied question asker in my head, we should want to draft the stable, high upside guys early and then pick as many lottery tickets that we may be able to cash as the season plays out.
I love the top 13 running backs this season and am in-like with a few others, but for the most part I would rather grab two from my top 13 (or one if that’s all I can get depending on my draft slot) and then go with wide receivers who our high on my draft board until I see wide receiver value fade away and then go on a upside running back binge. This is also why I like to play in leagues with large benches. If you have a five player bench it’s difficult to stash those upside backs. Of course people we say that a smaller bench helps cut down on luck, but I feel like it just ups the ability to pick up starters from the waiver wire. It really is a balance between the two, but I just love big benches and I cannot lie.
3. Wait on tight ends because there’s only one we can draft super early which will end up hurting your team maybe.
I love Jimbo Graham this season (as does the rest of the civilized America and some corners of Europe) but he’s most likely going to come at too high a price because he feels like the only tight end we can rely on. That beam of concentrated fantasy love for Graham fills him with too much value in most people’s eyes, which in actuality makes him an albatross around your team’s neck.
I have drafted Graham many, many times in mock drafts this season because of his value over all the other tight ends not named “No-Broken Back” Gronkowski, but almost every time I end up disliking the makeup of my team. Yes, Graham will beat most tight ends in head to head matches, but enough to kill your third wide receiver or flex position? Maybe, but I rather fill my team with balanced projected outcomes. And I also am on the streaming tight ends train, so I’d rather have Steven Ridley or Steven Jackson or Steven Seagal, wait, scratch that last one, than Graham.
4. Try hard to draft Jamal Charles, Steven Jackson, Shane Vereen, Giovani Bernard, Cecil Shorts, Ryan Broyles and Marcel Reece.
Why? Because I like them and I’m writing this. Of course there are other guys I like that I’ll target, but today these guys are “my guys.” Does that mean I’ll draft them at any cost? Not at all, but it does mean that I don’t mind reaching for them and I don’t mind being wrong about them. “Your guys” and “My guys” and “Five Guys” will change as the drafting season goes along, but not drastically. You’ve researched and decided that you feel really good about drafting someone, so do it. When you make the right pick you feel good and if he flops you feel like turd. That’s the way it should be.
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5. Try a total points league this year.
I know you want to go head to head with your buddy that you can’t wait to talk smack to, but really, isn’t winning fairly, more satisfying? What do we do at the end of the season? We rank the players by fantasy points. Jimmy Graham was the #1 fantasy tight end last season. Did that lead his team to the Super Bowl? No. But it helped some people win their fantasy leagues. That’s what we are playing. Fantasy football. We don’t get into a three-point stance, line up in our living rooms and smash our computers up against each other until one fake team is devastated. Instead the players who represent our teams on the NFL field make us fantasy points that we accumulate. That accumulation should be for the entire season and the fake team with the most fake points at the end should be the real winner.
6. There’s no perfect draft slot, but let’s try to find a good one.
In some leagues people have ways to pick where they pick from, so I’ve been asked what the best draft slot is this season and unfortunately I don’t have a great answer to that question. Yes, if you can pick first and get Adrian Peterson you may very well just automatically win your league, but what if Peterson becomes normal again and then your next time around you are picking 24th and you have some scallywags to choose from? This is when you yell at me, “Play in an auction league you moron!” That’s when I say, don’t call me names, that’s mean, and yes, you should play in auction leagues, but the majority of you don’t and I’ve only got one time where I can implore you to change how you run your league and I used it all up on “total points.
So, where do you want to draft from? Like I was saying earlier, I love me some Jamaal Charles and he’s going off the board at pick #4. So pick #4 might be a good place to start if I could choose, but then your next pick is #21 and you won’t be getting one of the top 13 running backs I like so much, but you will most likely get a top wide receiver, but then you will most likely have a #2 running back by committee, which could work, but is scary. So how about my other favorite Steven Jackson? He’s currently going off as the #17 player chosen so there’s some wiggle room there. Say you have the #10 slot. That placement is surrounded by the likes of LeSean McCoy, Trent Richardson and Alfred Morris, all guys I would be happy with at #10 in non-PPR. Then when your turn comes back at #15, there’s a decent chance to snag Steven Jackson (Mr. Jackson if you’re nasty).
I think I’ve talked myself into #10 as a goodly slot to pick this season. Of course ADP is never a perfect indicator of how your specific draft will go, but often it is all we have to go on. You could always do a poll of your league and ask who they are going to pick, but that never seems to work for me.
7. Of course there is no perfect draft plan.
If there was, the proliferation of this game would never had happened. You will lose. That is a fact. If you can accept that, you have a better chance of winning.
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