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Getting Excited . . . About Offensive Lines

The Getting Excited Part:

In last month’s column, I asked readers for strategies that we can all use to return to fantasy football season with fresh and eager eyes this year. My general advice (offered more to myself than to readers of this column) was to change things up if your modus operandi is getting a little stale. There is perhaps no better way to illustrate the importance of changing things up than by quoting from Luke and Aaron. These two readers offer diametrically opposed perspectives on the value of mock drafts, and they are of course both right for different readers, depending on whether those readers are in need of a change. Luke writes:

I wanted to share the best way to get re-interested in fantasy football I have come across. I haven’t ever really lost interest, but I found that mock drafting became the difference maker for me in regard to everything from research to actually drafting. Fantasy Football Calculater (with updated player ADPs and smooth running drafts with participants that actually care) is by far the best site I have been on. The best thing I found was the extra knowledge you pick up on players in the drafts. When you see someone fall or rise unexpectedly, the quick conversations with the other draftees helps fill in the holes more quickly than any other research method. I was also able to get a great feel for how the everyday fantasy player will be selecting their teams. While I had never finished in the bottom half of my leagues the past 8 years, I also never brought home the first place prize. Needless to say I did at least 100 mock drafts last year on the site and the result was a wire-to-wire domination of my league.

Aaron wrote in with a list of 8 tips for rekindling interest in FF, and his second point is obviously at odds with Luke’s position:

1) Try being a commissioner or running a league. I started doing that a few years back, and it sparked another passion of mine. I love stats and football, but I am also a very organized and detailed person. This made me a natural fit for the commissioner position. I now run the league at my office and am challenged to find ways to make the league interesting year after year.

2) Don't do mock drafts. I enjoy reading mock drafts but to actually do one is not quite as useful in my opinion. There is nothing more frustrating than sitting in a mock draft where people leave after the first couple rounds.

3) Join a league with familiar faces. I quit playing in free online leagues because half the managers could care less, and it wasn't quite as fun when you didn't know your opponent. I almost quit fantasy football all together, but I was invited to join a league with a bunch of friends from college. Even though we don't live near each other anymore, it is nice to put a face with the team you are up against each week.

4) Never draft players you don't like. This may sound weird at first, but what I am saying is that if you absolutely hate the Raiders then pass on Darren McFadden. You'll just torture yourself throughout the season hoping he does well while the rest of the team is horrible.

5) Participate in a live draft. Nothing beats good smack talk. Moreover, it challenges your concentration and focus to be able to draft with all the heckling.

6) Don't watch every NFL game over the weekend. Some of my co-workers get to-the-minute stats and are constantly following every player on Sunday and Monday. I generally chose one player from my favorite team so that I can follow them. I am a Chiefs fan, so last year I drafted Tony Gonzalez. This year if I can't get Dwayne Bowe I may just draft the place kicker. I limit myself to one football game on Sunday afternoon. I will check stats after the other games but not constantly throughout the day. This is a major reason why some of my co-workers feel like they can't commit the time anymore.

7) Don't draft the same players in multiple leagues. There is nothing worse than watching your favorite team lose and then having all of your fantasy football squads lose as well. Drafting a variety of players may give you a variety of results in the various leagues. I have been the worst team in a league and also the best team in another league all in the same year. Having one of your teams do well helps take away the pain of being in the fantasy football cellar.

8) Try limiting yourself to a single league. I used to play in multiple leagues. But limiting the amount of players I have to follow and teams to manage makes it more enjoyable for me. I know this contradicts #7, but it has worked for me also.

I suspect that Luke’s response to Aaron’s second point would be something like, “Well obviously you shouldn’t do mock drafts with dopes that lose interest after the 4th round,” but there is actually more at issue than the dedication of your fellow mockers. I remember finding a great mocking community at AntSports fairly early in my FF career. Most of the people I mocked with on that site were knowledgeable about football and draft strategy, and I went through plenty of 16-round drafts with folks who remained attentive all the way through the draft. As Luke points out, I learned more from quick conversations with these strangers than from hours of reading newspapers from all over the country. I don’t know that mocking ever resulted in wire-to-wire domination of a league for me (in part because the people in the leagues that are most important to me simply don’t draft like anyone else), but I agree that mocking is often a useful way to prep for a draft.

What I can’t help noticing about Luke’s remarks, however, is that he sounds a lot more excited about how mocking improves his performance than about how effectively it rekindles interest in fantasy (which, by his own admission, he has never lost). For my part, I found that even though I enjoy mocking, I should keep it to a minimum if I actually want to get the adrenaline rush that comes from a spirited live draft. I think I binged on mocking in the 4th or 5th season that I was playing fantasy football. It may feel great to go into a draft thinking that there will be no surprises, but the surprises are exactly where the fun is located for some of us.

I think Aaron’s best point is probably his first one. Becoming a commissioner is a great way to rekindle FF interest if you have only been a league member in the past. If you are always up for a challenge, then try being a commissioner—since there is always some new way to improve a league if you are willing to look for it.

Some people (Mike McGregor among them) would say that Aaron’s best tip is #8, since far too many FFers burn themselves out by participating in too many leagues. MacGregor took time away from his other duties at FFToday to send me this note:

This past off-season I dropped a couple of dynasty leagues, including my most active league by far. It wasn't an easy decision since it is so active, but active isn't always good. That league came with its share of headaches because of the personalities of some of the members. It turns out it was a really good decision for me as it just gave me time away from the hobby in the off-season. I guess my overall advice is to be wary of getting into too many leagues. Keep it fun (not work) to stay on top of all of your teams.

I also heard from Matthew Schiff (formerly of LMS fame in this very precinct), who offers the reminder that cocktails and the sound of ocean waves make everything better—including fantasy football:

I write this as I sit on the beach in Jersey on July 4th, and it seems to me that the beach may be the best place to get ready and psyched for the season.

Yes, to be competitive you need to review the rookies that were drafted, review the coaching changes that will impact the performance of each of your "hot" draft picks, not to mention figure out the potential draft position needed to pick each player. But what better place to do your review than on a beach with friends and family. Those magazines which are printed in May are a great start to anyone's fantasy review. And with the popularity of the blackberry and iPhone, most of the up-to-date articles can be read on these devices while lazing on the beach.

For those that are in leagues with family who are most likely to be with you at the beach, you do your research, create some subterfuge and try to figure out who they might like during these summer gatherings. What better way to get back into Fantasy mode?

In a sense, Matthew’s point touches on the thesis of my June column: Don’t let efficiency squelch fun. Picture a guy who works in a cubicle in a downtown office building and stays late because that is where he can do fantasy research most efficiently. After sitting at his desk all day doing paperwork, he stays put to read up on football players. He eats a bag of trail mix from the vending machine down the hall for his supper with only the hum of a dozen idle computers to keep him company. If he were to try to do his research at the beach, it would take him three times as long as it does at his own desk on a machine with bookmarks already set up. Then again, time flies when you are having fun.

The Offensive Lines Part:

In my June column, I hammered away (perhaps a bit too persistently) at the importance of changing up our fantasy routines if they are becoming tiresome. One way I intend to do that for myself this season is by focusing on offensive lines in the NFL.

See if this scenario is familiar: It is the 13th round of your draft. All of your starters are locked up, and the understudy that you wanted to handcuff to your 2nd-round pick was taken before you could grab him. You are looking at a couple of backup RBs to round out your ground game. They seem about equally talented. One is sitting out of camp because he is unhappy with his contract. The other is in trouble with the league for substance abuse. You can’t really decide which one to take. If only there was something to tip the scales one way or the other! Then you remember the O-line. RB1 is on a team with a better O-line than RB2; you know it’s better because the fantasy magazine you are consulting gives RB1’s O-line a B+ and RB2’s O-line a C-.

You make your selection, finish your draft, and give offensive lines no further thought until a similar situation occurs at the next year’s draft.

It seems like you gave O-lines a few seconds of thought, but in fact you gave the subject no thought at all. You spent a few seconds looking up what someone else thought about it and then applying their thoughts to your situation.

Lots of us look at O-line grades or rankings, but we do not usually understand how those rankings were arrived at. It’s easy to see the difference between a receiver who snags 100 receptions in a season and one who catches only 7 of 11 balls thrown his way, but with offensive linemen we end up looking at such information as consecutive starts, the number of Pro Bowl appearances, and (seriously!) how much weight the player has lost or gained since last season. Most of us don’t know what to do with this information, so we fall back on the rankings of people who are supposed to know how to interpret it. But even if the rankings do come from folks who know what they are doing, we don’t ascribe the appropriate importance to O-lines. And since we aren’t sure whether the rankings are sound or not, it’s awfully tempting to disregard them and focus on the sexy stats of skill players.

If any readers are willing to share their thoughts, I would be very interested in knowing 1) how you rank offensive lines if you do your own rankings; 2) how heavily you weigh O-line rankings (whether your own or someone else’s) in your assessment of the skill players; and 3) what specific successes and/or failures in your own FF career you can attribute to the proper or improper assessment of offensive lines.