Fantasy Football Today - fantasy football rankings, cheatsheets, and information
A Fantasy Football Community!

Create An Account  |  Advertise  |  Contact      

Staff Writer
Email Mike

Mike's Articles

Going Against The Grain

I watched an expert fantasy football draft on ESPN three years ago. Maybe it was ESPN2. Maybe I drank too much during the program to have all the details straight. Maybe I’ve drunk too much since then to remember the names of the experts. I know that Peter King was a reluctant participant, and I remember that some of the guys we are used to seeing on NFL Live were drafting as well (though I couldn’t say for sure whether the NFL Live representative was Mark Schlereth or Sean Salisbury or someone else).

In the third and fourth rounds of this expert draft, there was a run on quarterbacks. Peyton Manning went first. Then someone grabbed Carson Palmer. After Donovan McNabb, Matt Hasselbeck, Michael Vick and Tom Brady were snapped up, the run became panicky. Marc Bulger and Trent Green went in succession while there was still a ton of RB and WR talent on the board. The next expert (I really wish I remembered who it was, but perhaps one of my readers saw the show and will fill me in) commented that it was silly to take a Bulger or Green at that point in the draft because there were half a dozen other QBs who would put up stats virtually identical to theirs and would be available later in the draft. He was right. In most scoring systems, Eli Manning, Drew Bledsoe, Kerry Collins, Jake Plummer, Jake Delhomme, and even Mark Brunell were roughly as productive in the 2005 season as Green. They all finished well ahead of Bulger.

I do not revisit this expert draft in order to question the expertise of those who participated. I am just foolhardy enough to concede without reservation the expertise of those who have made a living playing in, coaching for, or writing about the NFL. The point of my alcohol-soaked fable is this: football expertise only goes so far in a draft. Even if every single participant in a fantasy draft is knowledgeable about football, a dynamic is bound to develop that will end up making suckers out of some folks and geniuses out of others.

But what choices can we make to ensure that we end up as geniuses instead of suckers?

That appears to be the question behind the note I received from Dr. Jeremy Larance (a fellow English professor and fantasy football enthusiast who contacted me earlier this summer):

A friend and I were talking about FF, and we started throwing out weird draft strategies and the odds of how well they would work. Mainly we were wondering if there were any effective strategies that really were different than most traditional approaches. After all, how REALLY different is the RB/RB vs. WR/WR approach? Well, probably a lot, but it's not all that "out there" to go WR/WR is it? But what about going QB/QB?

I know, on the surface that sounds dumb...and it probably really is...but we had had a few beers and started thinking about drafting for the purpose of trading...not on initially putting together a solid team. What if, for example, you're picking last in a 10-team snake draft and both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are still on the board? Would it be completely insane to take both of them purely for the sake of trading one early in the season to another team desperate for a QB? Could you get value?

Honestly, it sounds a lot riskier now that I'm more sober, but I thought it might potentially be an interesting Q&A question.

It’s an extremely interesting question—and one I would be interested to hear readers’ opinions about.

My own opinion is that the desire to go into a draft with an unconventional strategy is more appealing as an abstract concept than in actual practice. One way to ensure that you won’t get caught up in a QB run in round 3 is to make up your mind before the draft to pick a kicker in round one, a tight end in round 2, a defense in round three, and backups for all three in rounds 4-6. You won’t end up looking as foolish as those who moved to early on Bulger in 2005; you’ll be too busy looking an entirely different sort of foolish.

Still, I understand what Dr. Larance is getting at. If you go into a draft without a clearly formulated plan to deviate from the norm in some way, you seem doomed to end up with an average team. What’s more, being self-consciously unconventional feels great during a draft. I play in one league that overvalues wide receivers so heavily that you almost have to take at least one wideout in the first two rounds. I had the twelfth and thirteenth picks last year, and I thought I was being very clever when I decided to go with Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison. Steve Smith, Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens, Torry Holt, and Larry Fitzgerald were all taken, so Wayne and Harrison looked great. Taking the two Colts felt great at the beginning of the draft. I didn’t start kicking myself until the season began.

Recall that Randy Moss was a new arrival in New England and that Brady had spent years spreading the ball around too much for any Patriot receiver to emerge as an elite fantasy player. No one knew what to make of Moss (I for one thought he had given up in Oakland and was simply sticking around the NFL for a paycheck), and he miraculously lasted until the fourth round in a league that fetishizes receivers.

If I hadn’t been so “clever” with my Harrison/Wayne pick, I might have been forced to move on Moss in the third. I might also have grabbed Greg Jennings in the 4th round (as was my initial plan) instead of waiting for the 5th and losing my chance at him.

My anger and frustration over losing Jennings ended up costing me Braylon Edwards. I should have taken Edwards with the first pick of the 6th round, but instead I decided to try to work the “trade” angle mentioned by Dr. Larance.

The owner who had beaten me to Greg Jennings was the one who had taken LaDainian Tomlinson, so I figured that if I snagged Michael Turner in the 6th, he would have to trade me Jennings for the handcuff.

I figured wrong. He decided to trust in Tomlinson’s durability, and I ended up missing out on both Jennings and Edwards—and keeping Turner on my bench in the hope that the LT owner would come around, which he didn’t.

All of which proves absolutely nothing about the value of an unconventional draft strategy. If I had made the Wayne/Harrison choice for the 2006 season (when they both finished as top 5 WRs) instead of the 2007 season (when only Wayne did), the moral of the story would be completely different.

Nevertheless, my own experience with using unconventional draft strategies and drafting players with the intention of trading them is such that I have no sexy anecdotes for Dr. Larance. If you do, please share them with me so that I can incorporate them into an August column about drafting against the grain.