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Week 2

In my column for Week 1, I reviewed some answers from readers to the question of whether commissioners are at a competitive disadvantage when running drafts. Overwhelmingly, readers felt that commissioners are not at a disadvantage as long as they understand the importance of delegation and preparation.

I covered some basic strategies of delegation in the Week 1 column. I will share one final example (from Dan) of how one league handles delegation before moving on to preparation:

At present we are using a large conference room at my office with 12 chairs. We sit in the order of the draft with the #1 and #12 pick sitting next to each other. We use a laptop and projector to view a spreadsheet where all can see the picks being made in order by round. The #1 and #12 enter the picks into the spreadsheet for all to see switching off after the #6 pick. The clock is manned in a rotating manner switching each round. We draft 18 rounds and cut down to 15 players (trying to be like the NFL). We break ever 6 rounds for 10 minutes to check picks, [run to the restroom,] and give the Commish time to do Commish stuff. I have never thought I had any disadvantage.

What I love most about this way of divvying up tasks is that the responsibilities do not fall to particular people, but to people who happen to have particular draft picks. Delegation becomes awkward when tasks keep getting dumped on the guy who doesn’t ever say no. Dan’s idea isn’t just efficient; it’s fair.

And now for the topic of preparation. See if you can tell which part of the response from JS tipped me off to the importance of preparing:

1. Preparation preparation preparation. I do my homework and read online articles, research stats, get my laptop ready with all draft tools, and prepare my strategy. This enables me to react accordingly if there is a sudden surge in drafting a particular position that upsets my expected flow.

2. Be very organized. I also use the Cheatsheet Compiler and Draft Buddy. This also allows me an easy way to input the entire draft and quickly see what players on MY list are available. I just import the league Web site after the draft despite some owners wanting me to input live into the site. If someone else wants to be the keeper of the live Web site input, give them your login and delegate that responsibility. Also, I keep other draft tools (i.e. articles, strength of schedule, O-line, playoff opponents, depth charts) open on my laptop and ready for quick review. This way I am not scrambling through papers during the draft and losing time.

3. Use a "shot" clock. This past year we used a 2-minute clock for all teams. I would not start the clock for my pick until I was done "tidying up" any draft issues - last pick, questions, bathroom breaks, getting myself a beer, etc. I highly suggest this for any Commish, especially those that may not be so organized.

At first glance, JS appears to be focused on the intellectual preparation that goes into any successful draft (research ahead of time and a strategy for adjusting on the fly to unexpected developments). His third point, however, speaks to the importance of incorporating rules that are themselves preparative measures. A commissioner who gets 6 rounds into a draft before explaining that his picks will take longer than anyone else’s is likely to get the stinkeye from everyone else in the room, but a commissioner who announces in advance that he won’t start the clock on himself until he has had a chance to do what everyone else gets to do throughout the drat (ask a question or grab a beer) is simply preparing for the inevitable.

For Chris, that 3rd step is the key to drafting successfully as a commissioner:

Here is what I do when running drafts in order to not miss good picks: I take FOREVER to make my pick!

No, seriously, I take a long time to make sure I have the pick I want. If the other drafters start to complain, too bad. I have spent time putting everything together, so they can wait an extra 2-3 minutes for me to finalize my research when making a pick.

In leagues with a commissioner who delegates few (or none) of his responsibilities, the single most important thing might be to let the commissioner take extra time on picks.

Joey wrote in with 4 general principles for drafting successfully as a commissioner, and each one is actually a different form of delegation or preparation:

I have been the comish for years. These are the things that have helped me run a good draft and draft a solid team:

1. A draft board everyone can see from around the room so no one is asking who is gone every minute.

2. Have someone else in charge of setting up food.

3. Make sure all rules discussions have been introduced before the draft so nothing comes up out of the blue.

4. Have players that have a clue about fantasy football.

His first point concerns props and goes directly to preparation. His second point (concerning hospitality) goes directly to delegation. His third and fourth points (concerning rules and league membership) pertain to preparation in less obvious ways—ways that were elucidated beautifully by other readers.

Consider how Sean focuses on Joey’s last 2 points in his response:

I will agree that gathering a league, setting a draft day and managing the draft all while trying to select a team is tough. The challenge can be overcome with patience and planning. One key to successful commissioner duty is having the right type of people in the league. Players that communicate will address issues prior to the draft rather than wait till crunch time. One strategy that I implemented this year was to have a pre-draft get-together. All players meet at the local sports bar two weeks before the draft. During this meeting draft order is selected, rules are discussed and all obvious questions are addressed. The added benefit to having a pre draft meeting is that the entire league becomes involved and can help with draft preparation. My 10-man league drafted 18 rounds in two and a half hours without a hitch. Preparation is key.

At first I thought Sean’s proposal was a little outlandish. I have lost count of the number of fantasy leagues I have been in, and I have never heard of a pre-draft get-together. But Sean is not alone, as Mike attests:

Our draft has evolved into a full-day event for most. My prep starts weeks before the actual draft. I email/call all the owners to verify they are returning and ask for new rule suggestions that we vote on. The next step is 2 weeks before the draft, most of us get together to pick the draft order and have a few beers. We have a 12-team league and on draft day have a golf outing attended by about 8 of us. It is great fun. It gets us out for a few drinks and some insults.

The more that I think about it, the more I like the idea of a pre-draft get-together—particularly if there is beer. The pretext for the event can be to vote on new rules and hash out the draft order, but the point is to get a little drunk while ascertaining that the people who purport to be interested in participating really are.

In an abstract sense, keeping the right people in the league and getting rid of the bad apples is really the most important form of preparation any commissioner can take (though I admit that the practical implementation of a selection process exceeds the scope of this column!).

Obviously, not all leagues can organize themselves along the lines that Sean and Mike suggest. Many fantasy leagues span the globe—with no two owners living within an easy drive of each other. Tom wrote in with the most comprehensive response for commissioners who facilitate online drafts:

I am the commish of a keeper league that's been running for 7 years now. I've never considered myself to be at a disadvantage during the draft, so I'll explain exactly how our draft is run to help us figure out why.

We draft online. We are spread out all over the country at this point, and it's not possible to be in one place for the draft. So we use several tools to make the draft happen. The first is the FFT Draft Buddy. I download this each year, take care of the setup, and make it available for our league. So each owner will be running it on their home computer, entering draft picks for themselves as they happen.

Meanwhile, we all gather at a website I put together. On the left there is a chat room for announcing your draft picks. It also allows me to make sure everyone knows who is next; and it allows the other owners to talk smack, etc. On the right is an auto-refreshing draft board that only I have the ability to update. So as an owner announces a draft pick via the chat room on the left, I add it to the draft board on the right, and all the owners will see the board update within seconds after the change is made. This is a relatively new feature, and it has completely eliminated the "random owner A lost track of where we are and missed a pick and now we have to pause while I go back and re-enter the last 20 picks" problem. Every owner is able to compare their Draft Buddy to the real-time draft board on the right. And only the Commish can add to the official draft board.

Importantly for me the team owner, this setup allows us to be very informal about how much time is given for picks. I keep my eye on a clock for everyone's picks, and I will start putting more and more stern smack down as someone takes too much time, but in general our owners are okay with not having a strict time limit for picks. They are pretty good about making picks in a reasonable amount of time. Not only does that allow someone to go take a bathroom break, or take care of a child who's gotten his head stuck in a stairway railing, or feed the dog, but it also allows me, commish and owner, to say "Okay, time for my pick; give me a second while I take stock.” Everyone gets that I am busier than they are during the other picks, and they are cool with giving me a little bit more time.

I’ll close the discussion on preparation there—if only because Tom’s response concludes by harking back to the opening point about giving commissioners more time on their picks. I’m a sucker for symmetry.

Question for Week 2:

Since most fantasy leagues are computerized and have the capability of auto-drafting for owners, should owners who miss their drafts be required to have their teams drafted by the computer? Or should owners who cannot attend drafts work as hard as possible to have a flesh-and-blood proxy draft their team for them?

I have been in different leagues that took very different views of this problem. Some commissioners don’t mind allowing one owner to draft for another in the same league. I have been put on my honor to do the best job possible for the guy who couldn’t make it—even though it meant taking players for his team that I wanted for my own. I have also been asked to draft in leagues about which I know nothing as a proxy for an owner who couldn’t attend—precisely because the commissioner would not allow one owner to proxy for another in the same league. In both cases, the assumption appears to be that it is better to have a person draft a team than to rely on a computer. I have long accepted that assumption, but I am beginning to have my doubts.

This year I participated in a 12-team draft in which 3 owners turned out to be no-shows at the last minute. It was an online draft, and the commissioner simply set the 3 absent owners on auto-pick for the entire draft. I am not really concerned about what that meant for their teams, but I was stunned at what it meant for mine. The automated picks were not quite 100% predictable, but it was pretty easy to see what the computer was going to do for these absentee owners. When 25% of the drafting is done by a fairly predictable computer program, things are certainly simplified for the 75% of the owners who bothered to show up with their own rankings and their own strategies.

My own sense during the draft was that even though the computer was probably doing as good a job for any of the absent owners as a proxy would have done, the true beneficiaries of the automated picks were the 9 owners who were on hand.

Frankly, that seemed fair to me. The online draft was scheduled months in advance. It required very little of me beyond having access to a computer for three hours on a Wednesday night. If other owners couldn’t keep track of the date or had a schedule conflict that they didn’t feel they needed to mention to the commissioner, then shouldn’t the 9 of us who did participate get a leg up?

The predictability of the automated picks gave us that leg up, and I’m beginning to rethink my aversion to teams chosen by computers. I am on the verge of declaring myself in favor of computerized picks for owners who cannot attend drafts at scheduled times—even if they have a proxy who is willing to stand in for them.

Instead of viewing automated picks as a punishment for those who fail to show up on time (or at all), I’m inclined to see them as a reward for those who are punctual about the draft. Do any readers take this view of the matter? Do any want to scold me for being unsportsmanlike? I look forward to hearing from you.

Last Man Standing - (Courtesy of Marc Mondry)

Talk about an exciting first week of games! The week might have been a bit too exciting for Buffalo, Cincinnati, and Oakland fans. Nonetheless, football is awesome, and the unpredictability of the NFL is what makes me so glad the season is here.

Reflection: New England over Buffalo, 25-24

Thankfully, I didn’t get burned last week by the Patriots, though it was mighty close – far too close for comfort. I’m going to address the game as if it was a loss because it ended up being a terrible selection even if in the end I got the W.

In retrospect, there were two aspects of this game that I really should have seen coming. The one that really jumps out at me is Brady. I minimized his injury too much. He is healthy, but to expect him to be immediately comfortable in the pocket coming off the injury was unreasonable. He settled in during the second half, but his readjustment to life on the field (with bodies flying all around him) is something to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.

The other thing I should have anticipated better was the sub-par play of the Patriot defense. Perhaps they just lost too much talent – Seymour, Vrabel, Bruschi, Hobbs, the list just rolls on. The losses in personnel and leadership hurt the defense a lot. The Pats did a pretty good job on Buffalo’s two dynamic WRs, but struggled when it came to containing Fred Jackson (140 total yards, 1TD), and they failed to put much pressure on Trent Edwards, creating a grand total of 1 turnover (the infamous Leodis McKelvin fumble).

This brings me to what I could not have anticipated – the Buffalo offensive line! Talk about underdogs rising to the challenge! Three of New England’s starting offensive linemen HAD NEVER PLAYED A SINGLE SNAP of NFL football, and they were without pro bowl LT Jason Peters who had anchored that line for years. Sure, they allowed 4 sacks, but for the most part, the Buffalo offensive line really impressed against a perennially sophisticated defensive scheme. I predicted only 5 wins for Buffalo this season, but if the O-line can perform at this level (4.7 yards/rush) all season long, this team could approach .500—even in the very tough AFC East.

Quick Review of Last Week

Oakland giving San Diego a major scare – you heard it here first.

Cincinnati losing to Denver: I did caution against picking the Bengals, as I thought they were a little risky in the first week, but they really should have won, so no major criticism here.

Other teams readers selected and got burned with – Houston and Arizona...

  • Houston’s loss to the Jets – Rex Ryan is for real. Bart Scott, David Harris, and Darelle Revis are for real. The Jets are for real; I have been saying it for weeks.

  • Arizona’s loss to San Francisco – this is why great offensive teams with defensive struggles are risky in LMS. Defenses very rarely go cold. Offenses clearly do.

Reader’s Week 1 Picks

Great job last week! Nine readers got all 3 picks right.

 Top Prognosticators - Week 1
Player Picks Overall Win % Point Differential
Mark Adel NO, BAL, SEA 3/3 100 60
Scott Goldschmidt NO, BAL, SEA 3/3 100 60
Paul Moore NO, BAL, SEA 3/3 100 60
Joshua Shields NO, SD, SEA 3/3 100 50
Keith Bielory NO, BAL, MIN 3/3 100 46
Dave Zucker NE, MIN, SEA 3/3 100 43
Justin Leone NO, BAL, SD 3/3 100 36
Supernewper NO, ATL, NYG 3/3 100 36
Marc Mondry NO, BAL, NE 3/3 100 33

Two clarifications about reader submissions:

  1. You can pick each team three times over the course of the season, since you are picking three teams each week.
  2. You can join in at any time! Just email me your picks by NOON EST on Sunday.

Without further ado, here are the Week 2 Picks:

Trap Game: New York Jets over New England

There are actually a whole lot of underdogs that I think have a pretty good shot of winning games this week: the Giants (at DAL), Ravens (at SD), Buccaneers (at BUF), Raiders (at KC), and Seahawks (at SF) all make for pretty solid upset picks, but this week, I decided to go bold, encouraged by my outlandish selection of the Raiders last week.

At the time of this writing, New England is a 5.5 point favorite over the Jets – in New York, which is a larger line than any of the upset picks listed above. Frankly, I’m fairly perplexed. Almost any way you look at this game, New York has the edge.

First, as mentioned earlier, the Patriot defense just doesn’t look like the overpowering unit it has been in the past. It is going to take at least a couple weeks for them to get back to form. Moreover, with the news last night that LB Jerod Mayo has a Grade 3 MCL sprain and could miss up to 8 weeks, things don’t look like they are going to be turning around quickly for the New England defense.

Ultimately, the Jets should be able to move the ball nicely. One might think that a rookie QB like Sanchez would struggle against a sophisticated defensive scheme – and he might. However, he has two excellent weapons that every rookie QB loves to have: a solid TE in Dustin Keller and an explosive RB to check down to in Leon Washington. Don’t expect miracles from Sanchez, but expect him to manage the game well and not make too many mistakes.

Lastly, you already know how I feel about the Jets defense. This might sound nuts, but I think in a couple weeks we are going to be thinking about the unit that Rex Ryan leads as one of the top notch defenses in the NFL – on par with teams like the Steelers, Ravens, and Giants. Just look at what they did to Houston (a top 5 offense in yards and points scored in 2008) last week. They absolutely dominated the Texans. The talent is in place, particularly with the imports from Baltimore, and the coaching staff is in place for that defense to do whatever it wants, including taking it to Brady and Co. this week.

3. Green Bay over Cincinnati

It’s not that I think the Bengals are awful (particularly since they were seconds away from beating Denver last week), but I think it is going to take them two or three weeks to put everything together. The defense performed admirably against Denver and has clearly shown signs of improvement from last year.

But Denver’s offense, at this point in the season, doesn’t hold a candle to what Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and Ryan Grant can do just about every week. Even last season, when Green Bay wasn’t a great LMS pick because of defensive struggles, the offense almost always piled on points. Expect the Packers to do more of the same this week.

The other aspect of this game that makes it an attractive pick is the fact that Cincinnati’s offense isn’t rolling at full speed yet, and the Green Bay defense is primed to impress this year. Carson Palmer had a fairly ugly game against a perennially below-average defense last week, and he will be lining up against the team that forced franchise QB Jay Cutler into 4 interceptions last week. Yes, admittedly, Cutler is prone to turnovers, but throwing 4 interceptions in a conservative offensive scheme more or less speaks for itself. The Packer defense certainly has sleeper potential at this point, and Green Bay should be up to the challenge of shutting down Palmer and the decidedly un-explosive Cedric Benson.

2. Minnesota over Detroit

This one just makes sense. I was right on last week about Detroit. The Lions were able to put up points (27), but in the end were unable to match the big guns in New Orleans – even without stud RB Pierre Thomas.

This week brings a bit more of the same, just in a different style. The Viking defense is an upgrade over that of the Saints—and should be able to keep the Lions in check. Somewhere between 17-24 points for Detroit sounds about right.

Once again, however, the Detroit defense will fall short of remotely acceptable and will allow the Minnesota rushing attack to dictate the tempo (and score) of the game. The Vikings should do just fine against Detroit’s porous front seven, especially considering that Adrian Peterson rushed for 180 against Cleveland. Cleveland’s defense is marginally better than Detroit’s, so does that mean by some transitive property that AP is destined for 200+ yards? Probably not, but if Mike Bell can put up 140+, AP can hit the double century mark. I’d certainly put money down that AP and Chester Taylor combine for 200+.

Here’s an interesting question for you readers (feel free to answer when you send picks in): Which is higher, the total points scored by the Lions in Week 2 or Minnesota’s total rushing yards in Week 2 divided by 10? I’m taking the Minnesota rushing attack.

1. Washington over Saint Louis

This game seems like a no-brainer pick, but for some reason it doesn’t feel great to me.

Maybe I just don’t trust Washington. Or maybe I just can’t shake my recollection of Washington’s awful loss in Week 6 of last year to the Rams. I’m pretty sure they were my #1 pick that week also, boasting a 4-1 record at the time and coming off 4 straight wins against New Orleans, Arizona, Dallas, and Philadelphia. That one hurt.

I also have roughly zero faith in Jason Campbell. People say this is the year for him given the new offensive coordinator and Campbell getting more accustomed to Jim Zorn, but I saw little in Week 1 to make me optimistic. That disappointing performance came against the best front 7 in football, so he should have a significantly easier task against the Rams.

Ultimately I don’t love this top choice, but I think the Redskins should be able to get the job done in their home opener. Perhaps this shouldn’t be the top pick for the week, but when else are you going to use Washington? Besides, I’m going to wait until Minnesota hosts Detroit to use the Vikings as my #1.

That’s all folks! Remember to email your picks to me by noon on Sunday, and as always, shoot me any questions, comments, concerns or gripes!

For responses to this week's fantasy question please email me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football season.