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Mike Davis | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Does the "Appearance" of Collusion Matter in Trades?

Last Week's Question: Is Zero-RB irrelevant in the age of golden handcuffs?

This question touched a nerve in the FFToday community and generated more feedback than I could address (or even summarize adequately) in a single column. Since the comments posted directly to the column are publicly available to all readers, I'll focus on the responses I received via email in this column.

I want to begin with Keith's response because it illustrates an important lesson that I touched on last week: Sometimes the problem is the players we pick, not the strategy we use to pick them. Stefan made this point clearly: "Picking from position 11, I went WR, WR, RB, WR, QB. How did it turn out? So far disastrous! Why? Because I chose A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Latavius Murray, Randall Cobb and Eli Manning!" It's not a bad idea to take a receiver in the second round, but it was a bad idea to take Bryant in the second round this year.

Keith learned the same lesson when a single strategy gave him different results in two very similar leagues:

I wanted to shoot you two rosters where my co-owner and I went zero-RB from the 3 and 4 slots. The roster at the 4 spot is doing considerably better and #1 in the league. We avoided major pitfalls in the early rounds and have hawked the waiver wire quite well. The leagues are both PPR which is why we tend to go WR early.

Team 1 at 4-1, top in the league by 75+ points:

1: AJ Green
2: Brandin Cooks (hoping he has a strong second half a la 2015)
3. TY Hilton
4: Matt Forte
5: Travis Kelce
6: Thomas Rawls
7: Giovani Bernard
8: Philip Rivers (a nice surprise this year)
9: Christine Michael
10: Sammie Coates

We added Pitta and M Thomas as Cooks insurance off the waiver wire.
Team 2, similar strategy but sitting at 3-2, more injury riddled

1. OBJ
2. Jarvis Landry
3. TY Hilton
4. Latavius Murrary
5. Matt Forte
6. Coby Fleener
7. Allen Hurns
8. Darren Sproles

Major waiver wire activity to get Theo Riddick, Will Fuller, and Gary Barnidge. Weak at QB.

Both teams are in solid position because we avoided a lot of landmines. Another trend is to avoid players on bad teams / bad QBs. Example, I'd rather have TY Hilton catching passes from Andrew Luck than roll the dice on Carlos Hyde on SF.

Sometimes zero-RB works; sometimes it doesn't. It depends on which non-RBs you take in the early rounds (and which RBs you take later).

John is happy with the results of his zero-RB approach, but the team that worries him most in his league went QB in round 1:
I employed a Zero-RB approach this year in our PPR league. 10 Starters, 6 bench, start 3 WRs.

I’m currently in 1st place. I think I had a great draft and targeted 3 strong WRs in the first 4 rounds (A.J. Green, Allen Robinson, and Keenan Allen), and taking Forte in the 3rd. QBs flew off quicker than they should have, and forced most into a QB run too early. I still waited and grabbed Rivers in the 8th. The only other team that really worries [me] took Cam with the #1 overall pick, but look at his roster. Who’s laughing now?
John kindly included a screenshot of the roster in question, but I'm unable to replicate it here, so here are some of the players that the rival owner snagged: DeMarco Murray, LeGarrette Blount, T.Y. Hilton, Jordy Nelson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Jimmy Graham. Significantly, he didn't grab Murray until the 7th round. The only RB this rival owner took in the first six rounds was Doug Martin (3rd—the same round in which John grabbed Forte). So both of these owners built solid teams by focusing on WRs (and even a QB in one case) early, but John's team only works at WR because of the backups he picked up later on. Green was a hit, but Robinson has been disappointing and Allen was obviously hurt right away—so it's a good thing that longshot backups such as Cameron Meredith and Tyrell Williams have come through on that roster.

I heard from a different John who is equally happy because he didn't take the zero-RB approach:

RB-heavy [was my strategy] since 1990, [but] starting around 2010, this pass-happy NFL had me wondering...?

So over the last few years I was going like WR/RB/WR/WR, and I floundered!

Our league has been in existence since 1995 (12-team, PPR, Flex, IDP, with 24 roster spots). Waiver wire is very thin and is FAAB.

This year I went back to basics.

I had the #4 pick.

1. Le'Veon Bell, rb (I knew I had no chance coming back)
2. Latavius Murray, rb
3. J. Landry, wr
4. D. Thomas, wr
5. T. Austin, wr (I know, reach)
6. C. Coleman, wr
7. T. Brady, qb
8. Duke Johnson, rb (pass catching rb on a bad team)
9.T. Taylor, qb
10/11. My TE's
12. J. Howard, rb

In our taxi round I get T. Coleman #21, K. White #22 and S. Coates #24.

I could go on about my bench and waiver pick-ups, but as you see, 2-RB, 1&2, take flyers on WR's, wait on QB's.

I am never going back!

I am 5-1, 4th in points, and like where I am going.

John's succinct approach reminds me of some of the best advice I got when I started playing FF back in the '90s: Take RBs early; take chances on WRs; and take QBs as late as possible. I had to include his comment if only to show that this tried-and-true approach still has advocates.

However, I think Jason's modification of that RB-centric approach is more likely to resonate with fantasy drafters in today's pass-happy NFL:
This season my draft has worked out really well, I am currently in first place in my league with a 6-0 record and have scored over 100 more points than the second-place team. My league is a 12-team ppr league with a flex. This league has been going for about 6 years now, but we have had some turnover so about 1/3 of the teams were new this year. With so many new teams I had to adjust my strategy. Usually I would make my rankings and try to stick to them as best as possible knowing how my league drafts. This year I focused on the first 5 rounds and trying to come out with a top 4 QB and 4 top 30 players from RB or WR. Beginning in round 5, I began to target as many RBs as I could roster. Injuries always affect RB more than any other position, so more RBs on my bench would help me either if one of my guys goes down or via trade and focus on players in hig-volume offenses that were going to have opportunity. Finally at the end of the draft I was looking for rookies who were going to start right away. I have listed my draft below.

1. D. Johnson (best all-round back for ppr)
2. Marshall (run on WR end of the first wanted a solid ppr WR with high TD potential)
3. Evans (huge breakout potential w/ low TD’s last year great value)
4. Moncrief (high volume with high TD potential. Heavy run on RB just before my pick)
5. Brees (over 5k passing last few years playing 9 games indoors)
6. M. Gordon (best available RB lead back with majority of carries)
7. Fleener ( high upside and wanted to pair with Brees)
8. J. White (ppr back with great QB)
9. Yeldon (ppr back on team that will throw a ton)
10. S. Shephard (WR2 on high volume offense)
11. Stafford (best available backup)
12. Michael ( Rawls was hurt and looked great in pre-season/ lottery ticket)
13. K Aiken
14. Vikings D
15. Vinateri

Just traded Stafford, Marshall and Yeldon for A. Robinson and Forte. Feel that when Moncrief comes back I will be set for the rest of the season.
I don't have the space to quote all the emails I received or all the comments posted directly to last week's column, but I do want to squeeze in a few more highlights. RDB decided to focus more on RBs this year than in years past, in part because of the importance of "taking depth [away] from other owners." Given the shortage of healthy/quality RBs, that seems like a great strategy both for trading and for minimizing competition at the position. Years ago, Splansing had great luck with a WR approach that landed him Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson in the first two rounds. This year, with the zero-RB approach being more popular than ever, he went RB-RB (with David Johnson and Le'Veon Bell)—and he's having great success again. Like many of the readers whose comments were featured last week, Splansing contends that "value should dictate strategy"—not the other way around. Despite his success, however, he is willing to concede that "FF is about luck, primarily regarding injuries. . . . If David Johnson [had gotten] hurt in Week 1, like Keenan Allen did, I'd be floundering."

He's right. I encourage readers to learn whatever lessons they can from the comments featured here and appended to the last two columns, but remember that even though all of us knew back in August that Spencer Ware and DeAngelo Williams would be valuable, Williams generally went much earlier than Ware. The bad luck of Jamaal Charles has turned into good luck for those of us who grabbed Ware—which had nothing to do with whether we employed the zero-RB approach or not.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts on this subject over the past couple of weeks.

This Week's Question: Does the appearance of collusion matter in trades?

My question for Week 8 comes from a commissioner who got into trouble for vetoing a trade that appeared collusive to him.

In the trade, one owner wanted to give up Amari Cooper and Markus Wheaton for Christine Michael and Doug Baldwin.

When I first saw which players were involved, no alarm bells went off for me. I would rather have Cooper than any other player listed, but I can imagine a team strapped badly enough at RB to swap Cooper for Michael, especially with Baldwin being thrown in as a sort of bonus.

However, the question isn't as simple as deciding whether Cooper/Wheaton for Michael/Baldwin should be vetoed.

The question is more complex than that because, in the first place, the owner who is giving up Cooper (arguably his best player) only has 1 win so far this season and is essentially out of the playoff picture.

In the second place, the owner who is giving up Cooper happens to be the uncle of the owner who is acquiring Cooper.

In the third place, the owner who is giving up Cooper in order to acquire Michael already has two running backs (Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon) that will presumably start ahead of Michael, so he appears to be giving up his #1 WR for a running back that will ride the pine most weeks.

And in the fourth place, the commissioner has a policy of vetoing trades strictly "on the basis of collusion or the appearance of collusion."

So I'm putting two questions to readers—one from the commissioner and one from me.

Question #1: Is it fair to say that when an uncle (who is out of the playoff picture) trades his best player to his nephew (who appears playoff-bound) for another player that is likely to stay on the uncle's bench—is it fair to say that such a trade, whether collusive or not, presents the appearance of collusion?

Question #2: Is it reasonable for commissioners to be concerned about the "appearance of collusion" given the laissez-faire approach to trading that appeals to most FFers?

If you have an opinion on either question, please comment below or email me.

Survivor Pool Picks - Week 8 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

#3: Tennessee over Jacksonville (5-2, JAX, OAK, DAL, MIN, PIT, NE, CIN)

Jacksonville fell apart vs. Oakland in Week 7. Two defenders were ejected; Allen Robinson dropped critical passes; and owner Shad Khan whiffed egregiously by failing to fire Gus Bradley after the game. The Jaguars were supposed to be better this year, but their running game remains non-existent, their quarterback seems overwhelmed, and the only place they enjoy anything approaching a homefield advantage is London. Meanwhile, the overlooked Titan offense is ranked a respectable 14th in the NFL (thanks to DeMarco Murray exceeding expectations and Marcus Mariota taking what defenses give him either as a rusher or a passer). Look for the 3-4 Titans to get back to .500 and challenge the Texans and Colts for the top spot in the NFL's forgotten division.

#2: Minnesota over Chicago (6-1, HOU, AZ, CAR, WAS. GB, TN, NE)

Both of these offenses have featured major personnel changes throughout the season. At RB, the Vikings started with Adrian Peterson before splitting work between Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata. The Bears started with Jeremy Langford before shifting to Jordan Howard and Ka'deem Carey. Minnesota changed QBs just before the season began; and Chicago has bounced from Jay Cutler to Brian Hoyer and now back to Cutler. The only thing that has been consistent about these offenses is inconsistency, so it may seem dangerous to use this game in a survivor pool. But there is one thing we know about one of these teams: Minnesota's defense is the best in the NFL—hands down. If the Bears had a good defense (like the Eagles, who defeated the Vikings in Week 7 thanks in part to their 2nd-ranked defense), then they might manage to pull out a win. But since the Bears are in the bottom half of the league defensively, there's no reason to think their mediocre offense can get the job done against the Minnesota D. (And if you're worried about the Vikings' poor offense not being able to score, don't be. If Cutler doesn't commit a pick-6, you can count on him to turn the ball over within field goal range often enough for the Vikings to win even if Sam Bradford struggles.)

#1: Denver over San Diego (6-1, SEA, CAR, MIA, CIN, NE, PIT, GB)

It's horrifying for me to focus on three divisional games, but Week 8 features so many divisional matchups that my hand has been forced. (As much fun as it is to pick against the Browns, who face a non-divisional opponent in the Jets this week, I'm just not ready to put my fate in the hands of Ryan Fitzpatrick, so I'm left pinning my hopes on teams like the Broncos.) On the plus side, when you feel compelled to resort to divisional contests, betting on the number three defense in the NFL doesn’t hurt. Better yet, the Broncos are playing at home, coming off a victory, and facing an opponent with a knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The likely absence of C.J. Anderson (bone bruise) from Denver's lineup would be more distressing if not for the promise that rookie Devontae Booker has already shown. Look for Booker (who racked up 83 yards in a timeshare with Anderson vs. Houston's stout defense in Week 7) to lead the Broncos to victory . . . if he can manage to hold on to the ball.

Mike Davis has been writing about fantasy football since 1999--and playing video games even longer than that. His latest novel (concerning a gamer who gets trapped inside Nethack after eating too many shrooms) can be found here.