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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Q&A: Drafting Tendencies (Self-Reported Strengths of Weaknesses of FFToday Readers)
Week 1

Last Month's Question: What Strengths and Weaknesses Have You Spotted in Your Approach to Drafting over the Years?

In my FFToday column for August, I asked readers to reflect on the drafting tendencies that they exhibit year after year and to try to isolate their best and worst drafting characteristics. My own chief weakness is the persistent failure to grab the backups to my stud running backs before other owners move on them; and the strength that I see in my drafting style is my willingness to wait on quarterbacks no matter how dramatic a run there might be on QBs in the early rounds of a draft.

Brent wrote in to expand on the benefits of holding back on QBs by pointing out how easy it is to use the waiver wire to recover from a bad QB draft pick:

If you draft scrub QBs, you may start out [with a couple of losses. Fortunately, however, most leagues award] waiver wire priority to the teams that are lowest in the standings. Although I didn't start the 2010 season slow on purpose, I was able to pick up Ryan Fitzpatrick and Shaun Hill on waivers just because I was in the basement or close to it. Waiver wire moves notwithstanding, I credit my championship to my late drafting of QB's.

Ralph (who posts as Ralphster on the FFToday boards) wrote in to share that he is unfazed by runs whether they happen on QBs or at any other position:

My Strengths:

I don't follow position runs. First and foremost I have a built-in ceiling for when I will take any player, and if a position run starts on them before I'm ready to draft, I will doggedly draft for value without worrying that the top three teirs of TEs are now off the board. Each year position runs happen in both my steady leagues, and I'm in the playoffs nearly every year because I draft for value instead of jumping into runs.

I will also take a WR1 or a RB1 from a worse team instead of a RB2 on a strong team. My logic is that I'd rather have the #1 guy on any team instead of a #2 or #3 guy on a stronger team. I'd rather have M Lynch instead of J Stewart, and I'd rather have M Thomas than L Moore or M Floyd.

My Weaknesses:

I fall for guys too often. Each summer I start my FF prep in an effort to glean every bit of knowledge possible before my league's draft. During that chase, I will hit on someone that I think the stars are aligned for, and it's hard for me to take developing info into proper account. When my top RB loses two of his O-line starters, I don't downgrade as much as I should. When reports out of camp are that someone's conditioning is suspect and/or they're still dealing with that nagging foot injury from last year, I fail to downgrade as much as I should.

I also get caught up during the draft when the people I have on my radar get taken shortly ahead of my pick. Even though I have a list with several other names to choose from I end up disappointed and obsessive over the player I didn't get, and that can causes me to miss on subsequent players - even ones that are right in front of me on my list!

According to Jay, good drafters know how to focus on factors other than individual player talent (such as a team's offensive philosophy and the importance of different scoring systems in different leagues):

Offensive philosophy helps in deciding QBs, RBs, and WRs--and is very important. This means keeping up with coaching changes and looking at offensive coordinators). For example, as great as a WR like Derrick Mason is, I would rather take a #2 or #3 WR in a West Coast style offense than a WR like Mason in a run-first type of offense.

Another thing I try to keep track of is opportunities (or potential touches) a player can reasonably expect. For example, many people assume that since Drew Brees is a great QB, grabbing a WR (such as Colston) from that team as your #1 WR is a good move. Upon closer inspection, however, you'll find that Drew Brees spreads the ball around a lot. So while he might throw for 350 yards, you'll find, more often than not, his WRs hardly ever get over 100 yards receiving, or more than 7-8 opportunities (passes thrown their way).

I have almost always played in PPR leagues. So naturally, I'd rather take a RB that runs for 60 yards and has 7 catches for 60 yards and a TD. That scores out better than the RB that runs for 100 yards and 2 TDs. I use to love Warrick Dunn because he wasn't a sexy pick at the draft, but each week he'd produce solid numbers as my #2 RB - and for excellent value. This year, for me, Ray Rice is clearly higher than AP, because what AP does in overall yardage, RR makes up in all those little dink passes he gets for 3-7 yards a pop.

Brutus (the pseudonym of a reader who prefers not to reveal his name to competitors who also read FFToday) admits that the offensive evolution in the NFL has outpaced his own evolution as a drafter, but he is working hard to keep up:

I have finally evolved! For years (I started playing FF in 1997) I was the guy who picked an RB and then another RB and then yet another RB. Back when I started playing, that strategy actually worked out pretty well for me. I won a few leagues and was almost always in the running. But then things started to change. I can’t actually say when it happened, but it happened. Teams began using RB by committee more, and offensive coordinators started to believe they could consistently move the ball by passing rather than running on 1st and 2nd down. Either way, WR’s and QB’s began to shine in the world of fantasy!

My problem was it took me too many years to get off my RB/RB/RB kick, and I spent a few years struggling to keep up in leagues where the top QB’s and WR’s disappeared in the early rounds--leaving me with the proverbial scraps. [I used to love the early picks in the draft that you need to snap up RBs like Peterson or Foster, but now] I actually prefer to pick later in the 1st round near the bookend where I can grab one of those top QB’s and the top WR. I think my tardiness in changing my draft strategy has been a weakness, but I have gotten better at focusing on the passing game and drafting for value at RB.

Think back to the emphasis that Jay puts on knowing what works in particular scoring systems before assuming that what Brutus says applies to you. According to Jeffrey, the RB-heavy system that Brutus has abandoned continues to pay dividends:

I have only been playing FF for the past three years, but I have gotten off to a very good start. I won the one league I played in the first year, took second and third in the two I was in the next year, and took second in both leagues I was in last year. I think my strategy of RB-heavy teams is a factor in my success. Note: these are all standard 10 team non-PPR leagues. I typically take the best available RB in the first three rounds, unless in round two there still happens to be one of my top 2 or 3 rated WR’s. I have noticed that decent WR’s are easier to pick up later on and that there are more breakout WR’s than RB’s to claim off the waiver wire. I [may finish the draft weak at WR, but I] always end up having some owner who is desperate for a strong RB offering me advantageous trades by week 4 or 5 of the season.

If you have ever succumbed to paralysis by analysis, then this advice from Robert (a professional data analyst) may be helpful:

Draft preparation is key, but [the information has to be compiled into a useful, easy-to-read] cheatsheet. I use simple lines to indicate tiers and add some colors for strength of schedule. Where necessary, I add BRIEF comments. Data overload is bad when you have to make a quick decision. Using ADP allows your eyes to quickly gauge what players have been overlooked, and when you are torn between two guys you can compare the ADP/Tier/SoS to help choose your pick. Keep working on your cheatsheet until you can fit all the info you need ON ONE SIDE OF ONE PAGE!

In addition to the responses that I received via email, my August column generated some commentary from FFToday readers in this thread:

Since the commentary in that thread is available for curious readers to enjoy at their leisure, I need not repeat it here. However, the weakness mentioned by Stonewall leapt out at me as one that afflicts many FFers (myself included): "Once a player 'burns' me, I will never again draft him. He is dead to me. I can't stand to have a player that I can't stand on my roster."

I remember making this exact mistake with Curtis Martin. He was so great for me in 2001 (1500 yards and 10 TDs) that I overpaid for him in 2002 (when he barely broke 1000 yards with only 7 TDs). I didn't care that his yardage improved to 1308 on the season in 2003--partly because he only had 2 TDs, but mainly because I was still angry about the disappointing 2002 campaign. I was too bitter to have him on my draft board in 2004, when he racked up almost 1700 yards and 12 TDs. My competitors asked me where I had Martin ranked, and I simply responded, "Screw that guy." When great players fail to meet our expectations, some of us need to do a better job of adjusting our expectations instead of pretending (sometimes to our great detriment) that the players no longer exist. I understand exactly what Stonewall means about players being "dead" to him, but understanding the phenomenon doesn't excuse it.

This Week's Question: What Offseason Factors Best Indicate a Team's Stability, Improvement, or Decline from Year to Year?

My challenge to readers for 2011 is to make a set of 3 predictions at the outset of the season. In 6 weeks, we will all have a pretty good idea about which coaching changes worked and which personnel moves paid off. However, some readers who paid close attention to offseason changes around the league doubtless believe they are already in a position to know which teams are going to thrive, which ones are going to flounder, and which ones are going to finish 2011 about the same way they finished 2010. If you are such a person, I want to hear from you.

First, name one team that made the playoffs in 2010 that will not make the playoffs in 2011. In one paragraph, please explain what mistakes the team made in the offseason and the fantasy impact of those mistakes.

Second, name one team that did not make the playoffs in 2010 that will make the playoffs in 2011. In one paragraph, please explain what positive steps the franchise took in the offseason and the fantasy impact of those positive steps.

Third, name one team (perhaps a playoff contender, perhaps not) that will finish 2011 within two wins or losses of its 2010 record. In one paragraph, please review the organization's off-season changes and explain why they won't have much impact.

Every offseason, I make predictions based on obvious factors (e.g. new head coaches), less obvious factors (the loss or gain of elite blocking fullbacks or key linemen), and questionable factors (assessments of strength of schedule that have something to do with how teams performed last year and guesses about how they will perform this year).

When I am choosing between two running backs that I regard as roughly equal, I routinely use my assessment of the teams they are on as the deciding factor. However, that assessment is often flawed. I underestimated the New York Giants' offensive line several years in a row and downgraded their running backs on my cheatsheets as a consequence of this error. Many people are better at figuring out the implications of offseason changes for NFL franchises than I am, and I would like to know which factors they focus on when making their judgments. I am therefore not interested in receiving simple lists of three teams from readers who are willing to respond to my challenge. I want to know WHY you think what you think.

Last Man Standing - Week 1 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

First off, I want to thank Mike Krueger for asking me to return and write my LMS column on his site. It is a privilege and an honor to be part of

That said, I am happy to get back down to the business of sharing my picks. If you're like most LMS participants, the first thing you do is see if there any major mismatches (i.e. double-digit favorites on the betting lines). The problem with this approach is that some very good teams (e.g. New England, San Diego, Denver) have cost many people their survival pool with Week One losses by coming out flat. For the games in Week One, the Las Vegas line may be less important to consider than injuries, free agency moves in the offseason, and coaching changes, as I explain below.

Trap Game: Houston over Indianapolis:

This game has all the trappings because it is a divisional game with a very strange line (Houston minus 9) and some questionable health issues. This line is glaring because in the last 13 years, no one has started a Colts game at quarterback other than Peyton Manning, who will miss the season opener with a neck injury. Does that mean that the Texans should be almost a two-score favorite with injuries of their own (Arian Foster is probable, but hamstring injuries are known to linger)? I think not. The Texans still have holes on defense, and even without Manning, the Colts are no slouches with Wayne, Addai, Clark and Tamme. Last year alone the Texans gave up 52 touchdowns, 33 through the air (last in the NFL) and were ranked last or close to last in almost every defensive category. While Kerry Collins is no Peyton Manning, the Colts should keep this closer than everyone thinks, possibly managing an upset on the road.

#3: Kansas City over Buffalo:

I thought about taking New England over Miami here but remembered that the "Fish" always have something special for the Patriots, and they will be playing on national TV at home on Monday night (ESPN). While it will be fun to watch, it won't be all that great should you get knocked out in Week 1 by the "wildcat" formation that helped Miami win before against New England at home. So instead I chose a game in a venue where it is always difficult to be the visitor regardless of whether your quarterback is healthy (Cassel is questionable) or not. The 12th man in Arrowhead is always deafening enough to confound offenses far more seasoned than that of the Bills. The Buffalo offense of Fitzpatrick, Johnson and company probably won't be on the same page often enough to steal this one. Meanwhile, Kansas City will look to Jamaal Charles to carry the load. He and Thomas Jones should be eager for the chance to run all over last year's 32nd-ranked rushing defense.

#2: Arizona over Carolina:

How many times this season will Arizona have the chance to take advantage of an opponent? Not many. So with Carolina coming in with a questionable offensive line that has sustained two season-ending injuries already, a "safe" pick is the home favorite who has a solid quarterback (Kolb) in new surroundings as the starter, an outstanding wide receiver (Fitzgerald) who is motivated to show that his new contract was worth it, and a defense that has something to prove with the trade of Rodgers-Cromartie. Cam Newton should have a decent day with his new safety valves of Shockey and Olsen, but the home team takes this one in a squeaker.

#1: San Diego over Minnesota:

Adrian Peterson is the main man in Minnesota playing in the final year of his rookie contract. Now that Brett Favre is retired (again) and Donovan McNabb has taken over, he should become the workhorse with someone who is capable enough in the backfield to prevent opposing teams from stacking the box against him, and some decent receivers (Harvin and Berrian) stretching the field. Does this mean the Vikings are a playoff team this year? Probably not. But everyone believes that the Chargers are. They had the best defense in the league last year (271 yards per game) but gave up almost 20 points per game (good enough only for 10th overall). As long as they stay away from stupid special teams errors (which cost them two games last year), the offense of Phillip Rivers, Antonio Gates and a contract-year player of their own (Vincent Jackson) should light up the scoreboard at home on Sunday afternoon and win this one in a track race.

For responses to this month's fantasy question please email me.