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Mike Davis | Archive | Email  
Staff Writer

Q & A - Week 8: Treating NFL Rookies as a Separate FF Category

Last Week's Question: What about "no-lineup" leagues?

My Week 7 column featured a question from Michael (aka Lilprincesskoopie) about an important change that his league is considering. As things stand now, the owners in Michael's league have to set their lineups every week (like most FFers). If the change that Michael describes goes into effect, then he will not have to choose which of the QBs on his roster to start. He can simply wait until the games are played and then have the score from his most productive QB credited to his total.

In most leagues, setting the weekly lineup is probably the second most important thing that owners do. My guess is that the weekly lineup choices are slightly less important than the decisions we make during the initial draft/auction, but slightly more important than any waiver wire/trade transactions we initiate during the course of the season.

I could easily be wrong about this. I suspect there are a lot of FFers who would argue that the weekly lineup decisions are the most important choices to be made in fantasy football. Some might say they are the heart and soul of the competition.

To illustrate the importance of lineup decisions, we can take a quick look at the 2012 performance of Shonn Greene. I picked up Greene as an alternate back in one of my leagues this year. I started him in Week One and was pleasantly surprised by his performance (94 yards rushing and a TD).
Based on that promising performance, I started him again in Week 2 (when he amassed a grand total of 23 rushing yards against Pittsburgh) and was disappointed.

I started him in Week 3 against Miami because nobody knew who the Dolphins were, but most of us thought they probably weren't up to much. Greene had a paltry 40 yards rushing and 9 yards receiving in that game.

He rode the pine for me in Week 4 vs. San Francisco. Why would I start an unproductive RB against a great defense? I wouldn't. And I was glad I didn't. He finished with a dismal 34 yards rushing, no receptions, and no TDs.

I might have been tempted to cut Greene after his awful Week 5 performance vs. Houston (26 yards rushing; 19 receiving), but the bye schedule for my other RBs was such that I simply could not risk dumping Greene before Week 9.

Greene was not in my lineup when he exploded against Indianapolis in Week 6. I managed to win my game without his 3 TDs and 161 yards. But I definitely took notice.

After Greene's statistical eruption in Week 6, I looked long and hard at him in Week 7. I had a hard choice to make thanks to other developments in the NFL.

After the Cowboys' DeMarco Murray sustained an injury in Week 6, it seemed clear that he would miss at least one game, and I had pounced on Felix Jones on the assumption that he would be the unchallenged starting RB in Dallas for one week (maybe longer).

Without getting into the bye nightmares I faced in that particular league in Week 7, I will just say that my 2nd RB was going to have to be either Shonn Greene or Felix Jones.

Greene was coming off a monster performance against Indianapolis, but his Week 7 matchup was against the Patriots. I looked at his 2011 stats against New England. I saw that he had not broken the century mark against Belichick and company in either game and that he had only scored one TD in the two contests.

Jones may not have had a monster game in Week 6, but he certainly looked strong in relief of Murray. His 92 yards rushing and 13 yards receiving against Baltimore seemed like stats from a starting RB, not a backup.

So would I rather have Greene vs. New England or Jones vs. Carolina? The question was difficult to answer.

And I answered wrong. I went with Jones, who had a disappointing day: 44 yards rushing, 30 yards receiving, and no TDs. Greene had slightly better yardage totals both on the ground (54) and through the air (34), but Greene also found the end zone.

The moral of the story is that even though Shonn Greene is on my roster, I did not get credit for his two best performances so far in 2012 (in Weeks 6 & 7) because he was on my bench in both cases.

Who's to blame here? Shonn Greene? Felix Jones? DeMarco Murray? Rex Ryan? Jason Garrett? Bill Belichick? The Panther defenders who shut Jones down?

None of the above. The person to blame is Mike Davis, who failed to take Greene seriously after his stellar performance in Week 6. I made the wrong call, and I lost my fantasy matchup as a direct result.

In the "no lineup" model advocated by Michael, I would not be annoyed with myself for that poor decision because I would not have been forced to choose between Greene and Jones. The three running backs on my roster who were active for Week 7 were Ray Rice, Shonn Greene, and Felix Jones. In a "no lineup" league I would simply be awarded the points for whichever two RBs were most productive in Week 7.

Viewed somewhat negatively, this arrangement is sort of like allowing "slop" shots when playing pool. The players are balls on a table; the owner simply stirs them up with a cue ball each week to see which ones land in pockets.

Viewed more positively, the roster is like a slot machine in a casino. A machine is going to do what it is going to do no matter who sits down to play it, but the owner does get to choose which machine he will play for the evening. Choosing a machine is like setting up a roster. Once the initial choice is made, the winning and losing happens according to a pattern that is entirely beyond the owner's control.

Most of the responses I received concerning Michael's question tended to focus on the more negative aspects of the "no lineup" model. According to Charlie:

A league that does not require owners to set their own lineups is probably perfect for people who love to spend their summers doing mock drafts. I always wonder why people waste their time building teams that they will never manage, but I guess some folks think that building the team is all that matters. Maybe they think of managing a team as a chore.

To me, the draft is fun, but the main reason to do it is that it gives me a really interesting toy to play with for the next four months. I don't think owners "play" in "no lineup" leagues. They just watch.

John's dismissive attitude goes even further:

I had to read your article to remember that I was in a league with no lineups a few years ago. I never found out if I won. I forgot I was in the league halfway through the season because there wasn't anything for me to do.

I suspect that John is either joking or lying. The fact that a league does not require owners to set lineups does not imply that it leaves them with nothing to do. Owners in such leagues still need to pay attention to the waiver wire and to trade offers from other owners. They still need to make adjustments to their rosters for bye weeks and injuries. Some FFers (like Hank) consider such leagues a godsend:

I usually have to work on Sunday mornings[, so it is hard for me to] make last-minute adjustments to my lineup. I finally found a league with no lineups, and I have never looked back. Some people think that the only injuries that matter are the ones for [their own players, but] injuries on opposing defenses matter too. (Just ask any WR about Darrelle Revis if you don't believe me.) When I'm making deliveries during NFL Countdown, I can't keep up with which defensive linemen, linebackers, and DBs are ruled out of a game at the last second, so I have always been at a huge disadvantage. Not having to set a lineup makes fantasy football fun for me again.

There are obviously advantages and disadvantages to going with a "no lineup" approach, but the most balanced response to Michael's question came from Andy:

The AFFL League I referenced last week works EXACTLY as [Michael] says. I've been playing since the late 80s, and I started the AFFL this year for almost exactly the same reasons he says in his email.

The AFFL has 16-man rosters, and we're required to have 14 active each week. Of those 14, the computer (once again, MFL is GREAT!) will choose the highest scoring players for our starting lineup - in our case it's one QB, two RBs, three WR/TEs, a kicker, and two flex spots.

If you go back to the AFFL, you'll see on our rosters page we have two IR spots. Those spots are not scored. The reason we do it this way is that we want the owners to at least be required to show up and click a few things at least once per week. If you didn't have to make at least some minor decision, you'd have a few guys who would just simply not log on to check their teams.

One other interesting thing about this type of league is that owners think it's great because they don't have to make the agonizing decisions each week. But, you quickly realize that that's the case for every team. For instance, Danny Amendola likely wasn't in many starting lineups when he had his huge game, but in our league, of course, an owner who probably would have never started him got credit for his big game.

The last thing is this: This type of league isn't quite as much fun as regular leagues, it's more for the hardcore types. In a regular league if you're up against Rodgers, you are watching the Packers game on pins and needles thinking he'll destroy you. When he does poorly, you're literally ecstatic. But, in this type of league, you stop Rodgers [in the early game], you feel great, and then Ryan Fitz goes off for your opponent [in the late game] and you're sunk.

Like I said, it's not as fun on a game-by-game or week-by-week basis, [so I would] recommend it as an additional league for those that want to try it, not as the main league. The AFFL practically runs by itself, and every owner in the AFFL is in at least one of my other leagues which are more standard.

My thanks to everyone who wrote in. I hope the responses are helpful to Michael as he decides what is right for his league.

This Week's Question: Does your league have a separate roster category for rookies?

A reader who identified himself as Burbs (which is almost as colorful as Lilprincesskoopie) wrote to me about rookies in fantasy football last week. His league has a special draft for rookies each year in which owners are required to participate, and the owners are allowed to protect their rookies for their first three years in the league. Apparently this feature of the league was easier for Burbs and Co. to manage before they moved their league to an automated hosting website:

[Have you] ever seen an online fantasy site that [allows for special treatment of] rookies? We have run a keeper league for 25 consecutive years where we have 2 drafts every fall.

We have a free agency draft where we pool a certain number of players that each manager must release and trim their rosters into this pool. We also hold a rookie-only draft that is determined by the previous season's records.

This worked very well over the years when all accounting was done first by handwritten mailings and then by spreadsheet. The last couple of years we have gone to the ESPN format, but we are having issues with the rookies. In the past we would "protect" our rookies and allow the owners to keep them for up to 3 years on this list as long as they didn't start them. ESPN's system will not allow us to keep the rookies separate from the main roster, which can create a nightmare for the Commish to monitor. If you have ever heard of a system that would work for us, please let me know.

I would love to give Burbs a recommendation, but since I have never participated in a league that distinguished rookies from other players, I cannot speak from experience.

This question may be a little too specific to generate a lot of feedback, so I will open it up to any commentary that readers want to share about treating rookies as a special category in FF. However, anyone who has specific recommendations for Burbs (especially which website would be most useful for leagues in which rookies are protected for up to three years after being drafted), I'm sure that he will be grateful for the information. I look forward to hearing from readers with any insights to share.

Last Man Standing - Week 8 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

Trap Game: New Orleans at Denver (4-2, Wash, CLE, TB, Den, ATL, NYG):
This is going to be a great game. New Orleans brings the number one passing offense into Mile High for a prime time showdown against Peyton Manning and his new team (ranked 4th overall in passing yardage). Each team averages about 29 points per game and can move the ball at will, so this game should come down to the defenses, right? Probably not. Except for the fact that New Orleans is almost dead last in yards allowed, these teams are an even match (even down to the number of touchdowns the teams allow – 11 and 12 respectively). The only difference is that the Broncos allow 7 points less per game as they allow fewer field goals. While the odds makers have Denver winning this by almost a touchdown, this will be a lot closer because the Broncos are vulnerable to the deep ball and the Saints are VERY good at that. Things are changing in the Bayou, and New Orleans might just steal this one on the road.

#3: San Francisco over Arizona (6-1: PHI, TB, CHI, AZ, HOU, BAL, GB):
Everyone knows that this is going to be a low scoring affair, right? These two teams are ranked second and fourth in points allowed (14 to 17), and first and seventh for total yards allowed. But the Cardinals are not healthy and hardly scare most average defenses, let alone the best defense this season. Alex Smith may be the Achilles heel of this team, but he is much better than John Skelton (who is still filling in for Kevin Kolb). On top of that, Larod Stephens-Howling will now get the start this week, the fourth running back to start for Arizona this year. No doubt he hopes to repeat his 100+ yard performance against a team that allows almost 100 rushing yards per game. This game is not going to be exciting and may be determined by a “fluke” turnover, but the 49ers should win it on the road.

#2: New England over St. Louis (4-3: CHI, Wash, NO, HOU, SF, PIT, MIN):
This is the second week that I am picking the Patriots as a Survival Pool choice. Last week they proved that they could win a close divisional game (in overtime), and this week should find that the Rams defense, while improved, may still yield enough to allow for the victory. The Rams are 10th overall in total defense, much better than the 23rd ranked defense that the Patriots have. On top of that, Stephen Jackson has been able to stay healthy and has been used sparingly with Daryl Richardson getting about 1/3 of the carries, which may prevent Jackson from getting his eighth consecutive 1000-yards season as a rusher (since he is on pace for 860 yards as of this week). In spite of these St. Louis "improvements," Tom Brady should still win this game with his number one overall offense. The Pats have a balanced attack and should be able to overcome anything that the Rams defense throws at them.

#1: Chicago over Carolina (6-1: HOU, SF, IND, BAL, NYG, ATL, NE):
Da Bears are probably playing the most “complete” football of any team in the NFL today. While they haven’t lit up the scoreboard, they have a defense that has allowed only 78 points all year (1st overall) and is ranked 6th in total yards from scrimmage. They have created 21 turnovers on defense, and their only weakness is in the passing game, where they are squarely in the middle of the league (16th) yielding over 220 yards per game. Cam Newton and company, however, have failed to rekindle the magic from last year and have turned the ball over 13 times while ranking 24th in total yards and 29th in scoring (an average of 17 points per game). Look for Chicago to win this by more than the spread this week as these teams are not equally matched and the sophomore year jinx continues for the Cam cadre.

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