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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Q & A - Week 15: Additional Questions from Readers

Last Week's Question: Can we identify the habits of successful FF owners?

My questionnaire from last week generated more feedback than I can address in a single column. And since responses to the questionnaire were still drifting in on Tuesday and Wednesday (as I was drafting this section), I have decided to break up my report concerning the answers into three articles (for weeks 15, 16, and 17 of the regular season).

In this week's column, I will focus on responses to the beginning and end of the questionnaire. These questions were designed to figure out 1) whether the owners of top-seeded playoff teams tend to focus on a certain position; and 2) which questions readers would like to have seen in the questionnaire that were omitted.

In Week 16, we'll take a close look at the responses to questions 5 & 6 (concerning the relative importance of waiver/trade activity). The column for Week 17 will focus on how difficult it is to overcome a bad draft (or how dangerous it may be to coast after a good one). The one thing I am asking of readers who respond to these questions is to point to specific evidence from their fantasy leagues in 2012 to support whatever arguments they make. Please do not write in to tell me that championships are won or lost during the draft just because you believe that to be the case. Take a critical look at the teams in the playoffs in your league. Which ones made it to the postseason BECAUSE of a good draft? Which ones are still alive IN SPITE of a bad draft? Try to find an outcome that SURPRISES you, and then speculate on what the owner of the team in question did right.

When I started playing fantasy football in the late 90s, the first piece of advice I got was this: "Go RB/RB."

I was being told that no matter what the other owners in my league did, I should snap up running backs with my top two draft picks. Although this was an oversimplified piece of advice, it really did make a lot of sense in the fantasy landscape at the turn of the millennium. But is it still true? The NFL is different now (not just in terms of personnel and the proliferation of the running-back-by-committee approach, but because of new rules and penalties that directly impact the passing game as well). Ron Jaworski has always maintained that points come out of the passing game, and the fact that three owners in my most important fantasy league opted to take QBs in the first round of this year's draft suggests that fantasy points are also coming out of the passing game.

But what do the responses suggest? Are running backs still the key to fantasy success?

If I had to summarize the answers to questions three and four in one overwrought metaphor, it would be this: Running backs no longer hold the keys to the kingdom, but they remain important gatekeepers.

I was surprised by how many readers (about 20%) reported that the top-seeded playoff teams in their league are weak at RB. However, both Bill and Cale point out that even though the top teams in their league currently lack depth at RB, the problem stems from injury (and not a conscious choice by the owner to focus on other positions). Jeffrey reports that one of the teams tied for first place in his league is "shallow (and particularly weak) at RB with Mikel Leshoure as their top RB." I heard from plenty of folks in multiple leagues. In most cases, these readers reported that their experience varied across leagues. It was unusual to hear from someone in two or more leagues with top-seeded playoff teams that were deep or shallow in identical positions, but I saw a lot of responses like this one from Bryan:

Question League 1 League 2
3 Deep - RB Deep - QB & D/ST
4 Shallow - WR Shallow - RB & TE

Running backs may not be quite as important as they used to be, but even in the face of widespread RBBCs and a pass-friendly NFL that allows rookie QBs to enjoy unprecedented levels of success through the air, successful fantasy teams still overwhelmingly feature deep running back benches, as the following testimonials suggest:

Ryan: "Top-seeded team deep at RB, can only start 2 (Richardson, Morris, Ridley, had Gore but traded for Welker)"

David: "Deep at RB - Doug Martin, Stevan Ridley, Jamaal Charles, Bryce Brown."

J.R.: "Deep at RB – McCoy, Martin, Jackson, Morris, Ballard at week 11 (traded Morris and Jackson, added Bryce Brown and Alex Green) – current roster.

The list could go on, but you probably get the idea.

Of course, it is possible to get by without depth at RB in leagues that allow a run-and-shoot offense. As Jeffrey says, "The theme seems to be strong QB and WRs, with at least one decent RB." In the vast majority of cases, however, it seems to take more than one decent RB to remain competitive.

The evidence collected in a survey such as this is only anecdotal, but my non-scientific assessment of the responses I received leads me to suspect that top-seeded fantasy teams are more likely to have talent concentrated at running back than at any other position.

But if they are deep at RB, then where are they shallow?

Apparently, they can be shallow at any position other than WR. They may be shallow at QB, TE, K, or defense, but I had very few reports of top-seeded teams that are hurting at WR. Perhaps the most curious piece of data for stat nerds is this: Far more top-seeded teams were reported to have depth at RB than at WR; however, whereas one response in 5 mentioned a team that was shallow at RB being the top-seeded team, only one response in 10 mentioned a team that was shallow at WR earning the top seed. If it's a good idea to be deep at RB, it seems that it is an even better idea NOT to be shallow at WR.

David explains how a top-seeded team got by without having a solid defense on the roster by "pick[ing] the D/ST flavor of the week from waivers." Skimping on defenses and kickers seemed to be the most widespread form of owners opting to remain shallow at a position (though the same thing also happened with tight ends and, to a lesser extent, with QBs).

The best team in Jeff's league, for example, has no backup QB, no backup kicker, and no backup defense. The second best team has a backup QB, but no kicker or defense on the bench.

Because scoring systems vary so dramatically from one league to the next, generalizations in FF are not terribly helpful. However, if I had to generalize about the personnel of top-seeded fantasy teams in 2012 based on the responses I received, I would say that the standard top-seeded team exhibits the following characteristics:

1) WR - enough talented players for each starting position, but not a lot of extras for injuries or "playing matchups";

2) RB - at least one high-profile #1, a solid #2, and a fair number of quality backups;

3) QB - talent may range from solid to stellar, but enough depth to allow the owner to play matchups regularly;

4) TE - one solid to stellar TE (rare to see enough depth for matchup play to be a significant factor);

5) K - insufficient commentary to say;

6) Defense - highly variable but tending towards a shallow bench.

That composite is based on the answers I received, not my own experience. The top-seeded team in my primary league is shallow at QB, shallow at RB, and much deeper than necessary at WR.

Jeffrey was the only reader to write an extended commentary on positional emphasis: "A few years ago, I read an article on ESPN with an argument for going WR, WR to start a draft. I haven't yet actually gone WR, WR to start a draft, but I put more of an emphasis on top end WRs and QB than RBs. I feel that the top end WRs and top end RBs are both consistent week to week. However the next group of RBs tend to be more consistent then the next group of WRs. I'd rather have top end WRs and reliable mid-level RBs then top end RBs and mid-level WRs that are hit or miss week to week. This strategy has worked for me the past three years. This year I have been killed by injuries (Hakeem Nicks) and early season unreliability (Dez Bryant and Matt Stafford), as well as injuries to my top RB (Matt Forte, traded mid-season for LeSean McCoy), but I still believe in this strategy, with this season being a blip."

This Week's Question: Extending the time for responses (along with the questionnaire itself)

I got a lot of great feedback to question 9 that I look forward to sharing in Weeks 16 and 17, but this week I want to focus on reader responses to question 10: "If there are specific questions that you think should have been included in this list but were omitted, what were they?"

Latecomers to the party are still welcome to send in their responses to the questionnaire from Week 14, but I am even more interested in responses to these additional questions. If you already sent in your answers, please feel free to follow up with the answers to these questions.

#11 (from Ryan): Did the top-seeded team in your league have key pickups during the season? Who were they and when were they acquired? (In Ryan's league, the top-seeded owner had 3: Alfred Morris in Week 2, Mike Williams in Week 6, and the Denver defense in Week 9.)

#12 (from David): Of the players the top-seeded team initially drafted, how many remain on the roster?

#13 (also from David): Did the owner of the top-seeded team in your league participate in a live draft or rely on an auto-draft? If s/he auto-drafted, did s/he set up any preferences ahead of time? (David mentions that on the three occasions that he has won a fantasy championship, he relied on the auto-draft feature in his league with no preference settings.)

#14 (from Justin and Kevin): On a scale of 1 to 10, how much of a factor would you say luck is when it comes to making the playoffs? (Can you use the points for and points against the top teams in your league to support this answer? How different would their place in the standings be if they had played head-to-head matches against every team in the league each week instead of their particular opponents?)

#15 (from J.R.): For redrafter leagues only. Which pick did the top-seeded team in the draft have? (In J.R.'s league, the teams with the top two picks finished 8th and 9th--and did not make the playoffs.)

I will make every effort to include at least one answer or comment from everyone who writes in. Those of you who wrote in last week and do not see your responses mentioned above need not worry, as I am most likely saving one of your answers for Week 16 or 17.

Last Man Standing - Week 14 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

Editor's note: I have been egging Matthew Schiff on all season to make bolder and bolder picks, and he has done a great job of coming through in most cases. I cheered him when he went out on a limb for Tampa Bay last week, but the Eagles sawed it off behind him as soon as he got comfortable..

Trap Game: Kansas City at Oakland (7-7, Wash, CLE, TB, Den, ATL, SF, NYG, NO, MIA, DET, NE, DAL, IND, JAC):
The lowly Raiders may be favored in this contest, but their defense is last in points allowed at over 30 points per game. The Kansas City offense (which averages just 15 points per game, 31st in the NFL) is also terrible, but the way for Kansas City to get well statistically is to pit Jamaal Charles against the Raider D. Charles is 5th overall in rushing this season and has clearly recovered from last year’s injury. The Oakland defenders have made average running backs look like super heroes, and Charles may be more than they can handle. It's not hard to imagine the Chiefs pounding the rock on the ground and stiffening defensively against Carson Palmer and company. So look for the UPSET in Oakland as the Chiefs go against their division rivals during a season that both teams would like nothing more than to forget.

#3: Miami over Jacksonville (13-1: PHI, TB, CHI, AZ, HOU, BAL, GB, SF, SD, NE, WASH, DEN, DAL, SEA):
If you haven’t recognized a pattern in the LMS picks each week, you should. Your opponents in these pools have definitely figured out which NFL teams to pick against on any given week. In the case of the Jaguars, you have a team that just seems to be a notch below its competition every single week. They are a fun team to watch and have some up-and-coming players. That said, so do the Dolphins in Ryan Tannehill and Reggie Bush. But make no mistake, this game will be more about the defenses than the offenses. The Jaguars are 31st in total defense and have given up 80 more points than the Dolphins this season. While both of these teams need another season before they scare anyone on their respective schedules, network TV executives are the only people scared about this potential stinker. This won’t be sexy, but take the Dolphins if you’ve already used the Lions as your LMS pick.

#2: Seattle at Buffalo (11-3: CHI, WASH, NO, HOU, SF, PIT, MIN, NE, ATL, BAL, DEN, IND, GB, CLE):
So how good are the Seahawks after last week’s shutout win? Not as good as last week’s score suggests, but hardly what a team with a rookie quarterback, a limited number of quality receivers, and an offense that is ranked 21st should be. Bill Parcells would be proud of this team that gives up the second least amount of points and fewest yards per game. Defense wins championships, and the Seattle defense may just be up that task (in the NFC West I mean--hey, let's not get crazy!). With two important divisional games against the 49ers and Rams in the coming weeks, this game could easily be that “trap game” that gets overlooked away from home. But all signs point to this team taking care of business on the road in a stadium that is intensely hostile to visitors. Unfortunately for this home Bills team, they can’t rely on snow in the forecast to help balance out the odds, as in so many previous December games.

#1: Detroit at Arizona (12-2: HOU, SF, IND, BAL, NYG, ATL, NE, CHI, GB, PIT, DAL, CIN, BUF, TB):
I guess the Cardinals had plane trouble last week. Judging from the box scores, they never even made it to Seattle. This week, they are at home and will be trying to forget about an NFL-record shutout. But they will need to focus less on licking their wounds and more on a feisty Lions team that is second in the league in total offense. So the Cardinals have no hope, right? Well, there's always a chance, but things do look grim for Arizona, which has racked up a league-low 186 points all season (which means that they only trail the Lions by [gulp!] 134 points so far this season.) The Cards will have to rely on their defense, which looked pretty good early in the season but has looked decidedly less good in recent weeks. They will try to take advantage of Detroit’s minus 6 turnover ratio this season, but the Cards haven't won since September, and according to Larry Fitzgerald’s dad, “they’ve given up."

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