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Mike Davis | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Is this Extortion?
Q & A: Week 14

Last Week's Question: Should RB scores in performance leagues be tweaked in response to a pass-happy NFL?

Strap yourselves in. We started this wild ride with intriguing (and very different) answers from Joel and Andy last week. We'll survey six more answers today to demonstrate that there are too many perspectives on this particular subject for me to offer anything close to a "consensus view."

I'll start with Ryan's answer because he explicitly agrees with Darren's original point (about the diminishing impact of RBs):

Our league is in its fourth season now, and if there's one thing I've noticed it's that running backs are having a smaller impact. The first three seasons, each winning team has had an elite qb. Coincidence? Possibly, but it's hard to ignore that fact. It has not made me consider altering the running back scoring (however, maybe I'll take a gander in the offseason), but what it has done is reassessed drafting priorities. Not many people in the league have noticed this trend yet, but I have started to consider having an elite quarterback a much more important part of fantasy football.

This is not to say that having an elite qb is the end all be all. It still takes a solid group to win it all. Especially in our league (16 teams, 1 qb, 2 rb, 2 wr, 1 te, 2 flex, 2 dp, 1 d/st) having an elite qb cannot make up for having holes at other positions. For instance, the (previous) owner of Drew Brees is 4-7 and Aaron Rodgers is 2-9. This may make it seem that having an elite qb in our league is worthless, but the top three teams in our league have Manning, Romo and Brees (Formerly Ryan/Cutler until I poached Brees away from the 4-7 team when he was 3-6). The difference between the bad teams with elite qb's and the great teams with elite qb's is the supporting cast. Brees' team has Forte and Gore, as well as drafting Stacy, Allen, and Julius Thomas.

Overall, I think QB is definitely becoming a necessary position. However, I think it's more important in smaller leagues where the caliber of every starter is roughly the same. In larger leagues (where the caliber of starters on each team varies widely), I think you just need a consistently good quarterback surrounded by a good supporting cast.

Ryan's main point (that RBs may not be as important as they used to be, but that it's on owners to adapt to the change) is echoed by Dail:

Personally, I don’t want to see the scoring change precisely because it is changing the dynamics of roster building. Most years all you hear heading into the draft is “RB-RB-RB” and the mantra was valid due to the steep value gradient caused by a combination of scarcity and point production. If the RB top 10 scoring gets a little flatter, the first round choices are not going to be what they used to be.

Fantasy Draft Day is the best day of the year, and variety is the spice of life! Embrace the changes!

Years ago, Jeffrey's league went through a debate over scoring adjustments before deciding against it. His logic isn't identical to Ryan's, but his league is (like Ryan's) undergoing a change of attitude about the relative value of QBs:

We are in the 8th year of our league, and a few years ago, as points for QBs and WRs have gone up, ideas have been floated regarding adjusting points to equal out the positions. This would mean that QBs, RBs, WRs/TEs, DEF and K all score about the same number of points on average.

This didn't gain any traction, nor should the concept of adjusting RBs just because the NFL is increasingly pass-happy. While this is "fantasy" football, it should be at least somewhat reflective of "reality" football. QBs and WRs should have increased value in fantasy, because they have increased value in reality. Actual GMs and coaches have to change over time or get left in the dust. Fantasy is no different. The days of automatically drafting RB-RB are over.

First of all, while the dynamic has changed, the top RBs are still at the top, excluding QBs. As of week 11, of the top RB/WR/TE, Calvin Johnson is first in fantasy points, but followed by Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, and Jamaal Charles. So the top RBs are still extremely valuable. After that, it starts to vary. Rounding out the top 10 are 3 WRs, 1 RB and 1 TE. Out of the top 25, there are 14 WRs, 2 TEs and 9 RBs.

Our league places a lot of value on QBs. There are 17 QBs with more points than Calvin Johnson, the highest scoring non-QB. And guess what...that's the way it should be. QB is the most important position on a team. And if you want to "blow" your first round pick on a QB, then you either benefit or suffer from that decision.

The key to drafting well isn't who can get the best combination of RBs in the first two rounds, but who drafts the best overall team, based on the scoring rules of your league and the current statistics in the NFL. I drafted Adrian Peterson with the #2 overall pick (1st pick was Drew Brees). I was still able to draft Peyton Manning, Brandon Marshall, DeMarco Murray, Larry Fitzgerald, Pierre Garcon, Greg Olson and even grabbed Knowshon Moreno with my final pick. I am 10-1 this season. I also picked up Alshon Jeffery and Philip Rivers in free agency, eventually flipping them for Seattle DEF after Manning's bye week. I needed an upgrade on DEF and barring injury, Rivers and Jeffery weren't going to be in my starting lineup (maybe Jeffery, but was willing to sacrifice).

So drafting Adrian Peterson with your first overall pick doesn't automatically mean success or failure. It's about drafting the best overall team and then working free agency throughout the season.

With all due respect to Darren, complaining about being in last place because RBs aren't as valuable in today's league is like complaining that you can't find a VCR to watch your favorite movie on VHS. Go buy a Blu-Ray man...or better yet, stream it.

My favorite part of Jeffrey's response is the first two paragraphs, in which he uses plain language to advance a philosophical position regarding the relative value of skill positions in the NFL. The response of his league to the question, "Should QBs score roughly the same as kickers?" was simple: "No."

But how much difference should there be? When Brian joined a league with a scoring system that created huge gaps between QBs and the other skill positions, he started introducing modifications to level the playing field:

The scoring system in a league makes or breaks the league. There is nothing else more important than the scoring system. I do understand your theory that everyone plays by the same rules, but to me that does not justify using unfair or poorly constructed scoring systems. After a lot of modifications over the years, I have come up with this scoring system below. I feel it rewards (and penalizes) players for their contributions to the game. The more you're involved each week, the more points you get. I retired the league after last season, before implementing the last change so I did not get a chance to see how it worked out. But overall the system in my eyes was a huge success. The original system that I inherited when taking over the league is in parenthesis. The changes occurred gradually over a 5-year period, as a way to see how each change effected the league.

The LFN scoring system:

1 point per 25 yards passing (1 per 50 yards)
4 points per td (6 per td)
-2 points per int (same)
.1 points per completion (same)
-.1 points per incompletion (no negatives for incompletions)

1 point per 10 yards rushing (same)
6 points per rushing td (same)
.2 points per carry - never actually implemented before league retired (no points per carry)

1 point per 10 yards receiving (1 per 20 yards)
6 points per receiving td (same)
.5 points per reception (same)

1 point per 50 return yards (same)
6 points per return td (same)
* return points are awarded to the individual player not the team defense (def received return points not the player)

Default kicking scoring for field goals made (same)
* however a missed extra point was -5 points, a missed fg of 20 yards and less was -2 and a missed field goal of 21-30 yards was -1 (no negative scoring)

Default team defense scoring (received return points.)
*minus the return points

As you can see, I didn't recreate the wheel. I just made some subtle adjustments to the default scoring system with the goal of improving an already effective system. The original system was tiered with qbs being dominant, rbs being middle tiered and wr/te almost useless. This new scoring system bridges the gap between these positions and rewards players for things that usually get ignored during fantasy like qb accuracy or being a workhorse rb for your team ( although being a workhorse usually means scoring a lot of points or at least the opportunity to score). Do you think this scoring system is a fair and equal system which would keep rbs relevant like they were back in the day?

Like Brian, Craig found it impossible to talk about tweaking scores at the RB position without re-examining the underlying logic of the scoring in his league from a holistic perspective.

Throughout the years we have tweaked our lineup and scoring requirements to do our best to mimic the actual value the NFL players provide to their teams. We are a ten-team league. You MUST have 3 quarterbacks, 4 running backs, 4 receivers, 2 tight ends, 2 kickers, two offenses, and two defenses on your roster – no less – no more. We believe, and we think the NFL has shown, that the quarterback is the make-or-break piece, more often than not, on an NFL team. Admittedly, we are a quarterback-heavy league. However, our scoring system is the same for all skill position players: QB RB,WR, & TE: six points for every touchdown, whether thrown, caught, or run in; 2 points for a two point conversion, whether thrown, caught or run in; 1 point for every three carries; 1 point for every 3 pass completions; 1 point for each reception; and 1 point for every 10 yards gained either rushing or receiving, but not combined; Through the first 12 weeks, quarterbacks hold the top 12 scoring positions and over the last 5 weeks quarterbacks still hold 12 of the top 13 positions. But running backs are in no way overshadowed by receivers. Over the first 12 weeks running backs held 7 of the top 32 points scoring spots, while receivers held only 3 of the top 32 scoring spots, the rest were filled in by more quarterbacks. Over the past 5 weeks however, Calvin Johnson has jumped to the number 3 spot, but that is an anomaly. Running backs still hold spots 14, 16, 19, 27, 31 and 32. Receivers, on the other hand are found at just positions 3 (Calvin) and 21, the remaining positions are filled with receivers and running backs at positions 32-64. Tight ends, over the last 5 weeks, don’t appear until you get near that number 64 position.

We think that giving one point for every three carries keeps the elite running back positioned where he should be and recognizes the value of grinders like Jerome Bettis or Alfred Morris to their NFL teams. Giving credit for rushing yardage to all positions acknowledges the importance a receiver, who runs an end-around for big yardage, or a quarterback who keeps one or more drives alive with 3-yard scrambles.

We meet each Friday night. Waiver wire picks can only be made then. It's normal for teams to look for players at ALL positions, which tells me no one position has become so dominant that any one of the other positions has become an afterthought. It may not work for everyone, but it works for us.

I received a lot of detailed answers about scoring systems such as the ones from Brian and Craig, but these two were the most clear. I hope the other readers who submitted long notes can appreciate that the column would become unreadable if I strung too many such answers together. I also received short answers about how scoring should work, such as this one from James:

Football is about SCORING, not how many completions, receptions or carries a player gets or how many times he scratches his sack……when your league scores avg over a 100, that’s just ridiculous, way overboard. For 22 yrs ours have remained the same, based on length of score, 0-10 yrds, 11-50 yrds, 51+, rb’s and wr’s points are 6, 9, and 12….qb’s pts 3,5,7 and kickers 1,2,3 pts. Bonus 4pts for rb’s and wr’s over 100yrds and qb’s over 300yrds. Then couple more for def player and team def, that’s it. Our weekly avg score is 35-50pts and an amazing week, in the 70’s.

James makes his thoughts on scoring very clear, and if that scoring philosophy has sustained a league for 22 years, then he has every right to be confident about his thought process. But what works for James' league might not work for everyone. For James, it's obvious that even though players shouldn't get points for receptions and carries, they should get more points for long scores than short scores. Other FFers might argue that James' rules don't go far enough to mimic the NFL because, according to any NFL scoreboard, a 99-yard TD is worth exactly as many points as a 1-yard TD. I'm not trying to find fault with the system James advocates; I just want to point out that different leagues will have different attitudes about how scoring mechanics should work (as we saw in the difference between Jeffrey's and Brian's answers to the question of whether there should or should not be gaps between the different skill positions).

To return to Darren's original question, although I have heard from various leagues that have tweaked the scoring at certain positions over the years, I didn't hear from a single commissioner who thinks that the stats from 2013 are sufficient to justify a change in scoring solely at the RB position. That doesn't mean Darren's league shouldn't make any changes it wants to make--as long as Darren's peers value RB production as highly as he does.

This Week's Question: Is this extortion?

A reader named Michael is in a position that some of us know all too well. He doesn't simply need to win the final game of his league's regular season to make the playoffs. He needs someone else to lose:

My season is over unless [the division leader] loses next week, but he's up against an owner that has pretty much given up.

This clown didn't start a TE last week because the only one left on his roster (Julius Thomas) is injured. Plenty of TEs are out there for the taking, but this deadbeat says that since he can't make the playoffs, he's not going to pay a $5 transaction fee just to play spoiler for me.

He says if I give him the money, he'll pick up whichever TE I choose for him. What a douchebag!

Starting a full lineup is his responsibility. I shouldn't have to pay for it.

I told him what he's doing is extortion, and it's illegal, but he just laughed. So I told the commissioner, and he laughed too.

What would you do?

Yikes. Where do I start?

I guess I'll begin by telling you what I wouldn't do. Firstly, I wouldn't join a league with $5 transaction fees if $5 is a big deal to anyone involved (as it seems to be here).

Secondly, I wouldn't hesitate to give the other owner the $5 he's asking for if I thought his team could realistically eliminate my rival from the playoffs (though I would probably post a message on the league website to explain what I was doing and why). Yeah, it sucks for you that he's asking you to subsidize his team to do something he should do on his own. But it also sucks for him that he has to throw away good money (the transaction fee) after bad (the already forfeited entry fee) just to complete a lineup.

Thirdly, even though I agree that this qualifies as a shakedown and may, on some technical level, be "illegal," I can guarantee you I wouldn't go throwing that word around. What would the person behind the counter at your local police station say if you actually tried to report this as a crime? I'm no lawyer, so I don't know what s/he would say, but I suspect it would be hard to make out through the gasps of laughter.

Now, as for what I would do, you've already taken the first step by alerting your commissioner of the problem. I'm surprised the commissioner didn't come up with a more workable solution (such as waiving the fee for the Julius Thomas owner and inserting the highest-rated unclaimed TE into his lineup). But since your commissioner seems to think it's all right for this owner to demand the transaction fee from you, I would try to make the best of the situation. I would research the available tight ends and give the deadbeat owner the money to pick up whichever unclaimed TE has the combination of the most talent and the best matchup in Week 14 (not just the most points to date).

I'm sorry if that sounds terribly amoral, but the fact that your commissioner seems to be at peace with the deadbeat owner's shakedown suggests that you're playing in a pretty amoral league. (I don't care for such leagues, but there are plenty of them out there.)

Let me stress that however I responded to the shakedown, I wouldn't do it in secret. I would explain everything and invite the league to re-examine its policies to prevent this sort of thing from recurring. If they think it's fine for you to pay another owner's transaction fee for the privilege of selecting the player he will acquire, then you just have to decide whether that's the kind of league you want to participate in next year.

I doubt that I can get any responses back to Michael in time to help him with his decision, but I am curious about what commissioners do in leagues with transaction fees when owners who are out of playoff contention are unable to submit complete lineups without acquiring new players. I'm certainly interested to know how commissioners might respond to Michael's plight (apart from guffawing at it).

Survivor Picks - Week 14 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

#3: Baltimore over Minnesota (9-4: KC, NEP, MN, NO, SF, DEN, MIA, GB, SEA, IND, NYG, HOU, DAL)
The Ravens aren't the Super Bowl-menacing team that they were last year, but there are still enough champions on the roster who know how to "get it done" when needed. They may require some help to reach the postseason, but they need to take care of their own business first by winning out. FACT: Ray Rice hasn't been healthy all season, but he is almost healthy. Combine that with a defense that has finally adjusted to life after the departure of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, and you have a formula for a decisive victory against a Vikings team that is unsure of who their quarterback will be (Ponder or Cassel). Adrian Peterson is always dangerous, so this contest shouldn't be considered a "lock," but because the Ravens basically need to win the remainder of their games, they must start with the first one. And that game is this week. Welcome to the push for the playoffs.

#2: Kansas City at Washington (9-4: DEN, PHL, SF, IND, STL, HOU, GB, SEA, DAL, NYG, SD, DET, JAC)
How many times do you get the chance to take a visiting favorite that is so far above its home opponent that it seems like "taking candy from a baby"? Based upon the betting line in Vegas and other "reputable" establishments, the Chiefs are only favored by a field goal. Why? Because Denver has beaten the Chiefs twice "handily," and if Denver can pull that off, then everything else the Chiefs have accomplished this season is apparently moot. Not true. Even after two losses to Denver, the Chiefs are still a much better team this year than they were last year. They are certainly better than the Skins, who have already been eliminated from the postseason. Look for Kansas City to take advantage of any missed opportunity by the Redskins. That is all the help a very good Chiefs team will need to solidify another chance at playing Denver again.

#1: Arizona over St. Louis (10-3: IND, OAK, SEA, DEN, ATL, CHI, SD, SF, CAR, TEN, HOU, NO, NE)
Arizona has lost the last three meetings against the Rams, inclusive of an early season 27-24 loss at St. Louis orchestrated by a fourth quarter comeback led by Sam Bradford and Jared Cook. So why are the odds makers saying that they are almost a touchdown favorite? These are the same Rams that are 5-7 and have beaten some playoff-caliber teams in Indianapolis and Chicago but are nevertheless underdogs in the desert this week because of one thing: the Cardinals are on a mission. Carson Palmer (the same quarterback who was thrown into the dumpster by most NFL teams after his departure from Cincinnati, went to Oakland as "veteran help," and now is a lineman or two away from having a very solid offensive unit) hasn't played in a playoff game since 2010 and would like nothing more than to do that this year. The last time he suited up in January was against the Jets, and a win this week against the Rams would get the unheralded Cardinals one step closer to the playoffs. Arizona has a 5-1 record at home this season and the 7th-best defense in the league. Put that against a Rams offense ranked 25th in the NFL, and that is why you take Larry Fitzgerald and company at home.

Mike Davis has been writing about fantasy football since 1999. As a landlocked Oklahoman who longs for the sound of ocean waves, he also writes about ocean colonization under the pen name Studio Dongo. The latest installment in his science fiction series can be found here.