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Week 2

Last Week’s Question

In last week’s column, I covered some of the most common solutions to the problem of missing a fantasy draft. Most readers appear to agree that the best solution is to have someone serve as the proxy for the absent drafter, but that someone should ideally be an outsider. As Chris indicated in his note, turning proxy duties over to someone who is drafting her/his own team at the same draft can lead to unnecessary suspicions or complications:
I had to miss my draft this year and held the 10th pick in a 10 player/16 round draft. I ended up giving the commissioner my rankings by position and a list of which positions I wanted in each round. I had a few rounds where I wanted a Tier 1 player if available and a fallback position if they weren't. I wound up with an OK team, but the commissioner picked 3 spots in front of me and took one of my Tier 1 players in two rounds which resulted in my not getting those positions (QB & DEF) until later in the draft. We tried to find a neutral person to administer my instructions but couldn't, so I ended up with the commissioner. Of course, there were some wild card picks that might have changed my strategy had I been present (Antonio Gates @ #15), but I'll have to work the free agent/trade markets a little harder this season.

Did the commissioner do anything wrong here? Were his choices influenced by his knowledge about the choices the absent drafter wanted to make just 3 picks later than his own? There’s no way to know. Certainly Chris doesn’t seem to be crying foul, but it’s obviously not a good idea for anyone to know in advance what anyone else’s picks will be. One could argue that the commissioner not only had an unfair advantage over Chris in the draft, but over all the other drafters as well.

Jill used a proxy in her draft, but she made a point of communicating that the proxy needed to be someone outside of her league. She used a cell phone to communicate her picks to the league, but had an outsider at the draft ready to pick for her in case she lost the signal on her phone. As she put it,

I definitely would want a back up plan. And I wouldn't want any of my competitors to be that plan. They definitely wouldn't have my best interest in mind. I would end up with Priest Holmes and Mike Vick if they picked my players.

I do hate to come across as unduly cynical on this point, so I want to share Bob’s comments about drafting for absent competitors:

In one of my leagues, we have an owner that is in the same position as you—gone and armed with a cell phone. However, he did one extra thing. He asked me to pick for him if we don’t hear from him in time for us to enter his picks. This is the second time an owner has asked me by the way; no one in the league had any objections either.

He has sent me his rankings of players and a rough outline of the style he wants to follow. I hope he can call and make his own picks, but if not then I will pick for him. Just so you know I do my best as a proxy. The first owner I picked for won the league that year!

I reviewed various technological solutions to this problem in last week’s column, but some of those suggestions were untested. Eric wrote in with a suggestion that wouldn’t have worked for me (we had to be on the move on Saturday afternoon), but I include it here for those who might benefit from it:

Instead of using MSN I used AIM and the free two way talk they have built in to the new messenger. Out of 10 people I was the only one that couldn't make it to the draft. The league manager signed onto AIM, connected to talk and I could hear everything that was going on in the I was there. It was an offline draft so he put in all the picks later. But this worked out incredibly well. And I could mute my microphone at anytime. And since he repeated who was being picked anyway, I was able to cross anyone off my list. IF you have internet access I think this is the way to go. It took about 2 hours for our draft and if I needed to move around I just turned the speaker up. If you can find a WIFI spot or have wireless internet through one of the cell phone providers then you might be able to accomplish this. Stop somewhere for dinner around draft time, hook up to a WIFI spot and draft away.

Another technological solution involved working with the software that most leagues have at their disposal—the software that will assign players to teams automatically if the teams fail to make a selection in the time allotted to them. Jim pointed out a solution that is at least better than relying entirely on the computer and might come in handy for a number of readers in future years:

I’ve heard that if you exclude ALL kickers (and perhaps Defenses as well) from the entire draft, you actually get a pretty good auto-pick team. Obviously you have to add a K (who cares? – Nedney or Hanson could be the Gould of 2007) and a D at a later time, but surely some dude could “override” the computer in, say, round 12 and get your highest rated available Defense, then just go back to drafting. I agree with your assessment that a ton of the fun of ffb is drafting yourself, but we’re talking about the least of many evils here, and I don’t care how much I like or trust one of my fellow drafters, I would trust computer picks over their (albeit possibly) unintentional poor judgment (fueled by inescapable conflict of interest) ANY day.

Some of you urged me to run with the complex approach I was considering that involved various tiers of players and complicated round-by-round instructions. Clearly, some leagues have had success with such complicated lists. Darron wrote in to describe a method that involved a series of documents that were apparently treated as if they were sealed envelopes. I guess you could call it the Academy Awards approach:

We had this problem in my league last year when a long-time member ended up having to leave the country for draft day.

For his draft, he sent me a series of 16 word documents labeled rounds 1 through 16. In each were potential picks for each round. Based on ADP, the owner was able to have a decent idea of who was going to be available in certain rounds. Every round we opened up his list of picks for that round. Usually they had 2 or three sets of instructions, such as:

1) if any of the following players are left, take the highest ranked on this list (of 3-4 players).

2) if they are all gone, and I already have 2 starting WRs, draft a player from this list.

3) if I don't have two starting WRs, draft a player from the third list. It was fairly easy to deal with and interpret. He made sure to include at least one player on each list that was sure to be there that he didn't mind reaching for.

Although not in an ideal situation, he ended up with a pretty good team. This would also work well for you if were able to participate by phone for some rounds and not in others.

One suggestion that I didn’t have time to cover adequately in last week’s column was the “consensus” suggestion—the idea that those who are present should collectively make choices for those who are absent. There are cut-throat leagues in which this approach would be problematic (to say the least). I can’t help thinking of the new fantasy ad that concludes with the line “You’ll take who we give you!” being barked at an absent drafter. Nevertheless, the fact that so many folks wrote in to suggest this approach (or to report on how it has worked for them in the past) suggests that it is a viable alternative in many leagues. As Skip put it,

You could have the other owners make a consensus pick for you based on the BPA. We did that in my league one year when a buddy had to miss the draft because of a wedding party that he was in. You basically use your list to define where you think each player should be ranked and then if for some reason you can't phone in your pick the group looks at your list and what's available and makes a pick for you.

Brett, who wrote that “Letting the community vote your picks is surely better than a computer,” obviously shares Skip’s confidence in this method. Peter continues in this vein:

We draft by committee for players that can't make our live draft. They submit some picks or lists of players they like, and the [order in which they want players targeted]. Some might say RB, RB, WR, WR, RB/WR, go QB in Round 6. We choose the "best available". It works because some players who haven't got a shot on a player will yell that name out. It becomes the consensus. Later in the draft, we go by a list. Last year, the 3rd place team was chosen that way.
Brian wrote in to report on his league’s experience with a spontaneous decision to go the “consensus” route:
I just did a draft where someone who was supposed to call in was AWOL—and we couldn't reach him. As we are friends and trust each other, we all made his picks. We agreed to give him 2 RB's and then a WR and then discussed what position his team needed most next - then we checked our tiers and picked the best one in that position for him. His team is better than mine....of course he wasn't drinking the PBR like I was!

Nick described the circumstances that led to just this sort of “consensus” approach in one of his leagues, but he primarily wanted to focus on how one might be able to respond to the dynamism of a draft by offering an outline of the sort of if-then statements that absentee drafters might want to include with their lists of rankings (should they choose to go that route):

In one of my leagues, we had an absentee drafter. He left us a numbered draft sheet. In the early rounds, the commish and I had no trouble following the list. However, as it got later and later, we were increasingly unsure about what to do. Basically, we discovered there was no way we could have reasonably followed his list without either A) not giving him starters in at every position (especially defense and kicker); or B) deviating from his list to draft these positions. We opted for approach B, drafting players based on the consensus of the drafters who were present.

So, my suggestion is this: list the position you want to draft by round and have a separate ranking sheet for each position. For example:

Round 1: RB
Round 2: RB
Round 3: WR
Round 4: WR

Once again, if you don't think you'll overwhelm your inebriated comrades... You MIGHT even be able to add a few SIMPLE conditions.

Round 1: RB
Round 2: Peyton Manning, if available; else RB
Round 3: WR
Round 4: Chicago or Baltimore DEF, if available; else WR

Using FF Today's esteemed and mighty tools, you should be able to lay out decent strategy based on the ADP and/or your knowledge of your opponents. You may not be able to make the sudden shifts necessary to capitalize on great values; but in the end, you should have a roster that looks more like you want it (no backup kicker, for instance...). It also simplifies things for those who might be pulling the strings for you, otherwise it'll be: "Gee, it's round 10 and he doesn't have a defense... Whaddya think guys? Should we get a defense for him? None of his ranked defenses are still available... Does that mean he doesn't want one?"

I received several general responses to my question that could be quite helpful to commissioners and absentee drafters in future years. I’ll start with one from Brady:

In all do this:

1 build your projection sheet
2 determine your own tiers
3 establish JUST A FEW draft scenarios.
ex. 2 different options for the first 4 rounds, then after that go with highest tier/highest value to build your starters (with exception of kicker). Add any other scenarios as you decide. For instance, I don't take my starting and backup kickers until the last 3 rounds.
4 fax/email to the commissioner
5 enjoy the hassle of having to sit through some guy forgetting it was his pick and then taking an even longer time to pick his player. I hate that!
6 Relax knowing that you won't be harrased being on the phone during the field trip, and lastly have fun changing that bus tire! (....the unexpected usually happens)

I’m happy to report that we made it back to campus without breaking down. I’m also happy to share this extremely detailed analysis of one reader (who identified himself as Perfect360) with the auto-pilot mode:

I recently had a similar situation, and since this was an Internet league and don't know any of the other owners in real life, there really was no other option than ESPN's autopilot mode.

I went with the tiered strategy, which worked well in early to mid rounds, but had a rather negative impact in the later rounds.

I ended up getting the 2nd overall pick, which was a pretty easy one to make, but after that, in looking at the 1st eight rounds, my draft went almost exactly as I had planned. To elaborate, see my strategy below:

1. I wanted RBs in at least the first 2 rounds, if not 3, unless there was a top tier WR or QB available at my 2nd or 3rd pick. When I say top tier in reference to WR or QB. it pretty much means a Manning/Palmer or Harrison/Holt type player, with only 3-4 players at each position landing in the top tier. For RBs, on the other hand, I had about 17 in my top tier, and I ranked all higher than the top tier players at any other position. The thought process was, in a 10 team league, with 17 RBs ranked in the top 20, I was pretty much guaranteed of getting 2 solid RBs, or 1 top 10 RB and one of my top 2 ranked WRs or QBs.

Result: As I said, I pulled the 2nd overall pick, which ended up being Stephen Jackson (big surprise) and Jones-Drew in the 1st and 2nd rounds. And, almost exactly as I had predicted in setting up the number of RBs in my top tier, 16 went in round 1 and 2, with Manning, Palmer, Steve Smith and Harrison being the only non-RBs picked.

2. Hoping I would fulfill my RB1 and RB2 needs in the 1st 2 rounds, I then shifted my focus to WR, since like you, as it sounds, I was happy to wait until mid to late rounds to pick up my starting QB. That being said, I ranked my tier 2 WRs after tier 1 RBs, QBs and WRs, which was about 24 total players. Tier 2 WRs were about 17 in number, so I figured I would likely get 2 solid WRs in rounds 3 and 4.

Result: Largely as a result of picking 2nd in Round 3, I picked up Portis rather than a WR in the 3rd, then Roy Williams and Larry Fitzgerald, in the 4th and 5th. I had built my tiers estimated a mid 1st round pick, so drawing the 2nd overall meant one of my last tier one RBs was still on the board at 22nd overall. Because of his perceived issues with durability and the Betts factor, and most importantly, he has the same bye week as MJD, I probably would have taken a different RB for my flex, but still, with having these guys filling out 5 of my starting spots, I can't complain too much.

Also, I picked up depth at WR in rounds 6 and 7, picking up Santana Moss and Reggie Brown. Here's my only real complaint with my autopilot and rankings in the 1st 7 rounds. If I had been drafting in person, I would have picked up a 4th RB in the 6th, favoring depth at RB over depth at WR, not to mention the fact there were few serviceable RBs left at this point and still allot of serviceable WRs left. In hindsight, I probably underestimated how quickly RBs would go, figuring a run of QBs and TEs, and maybe even starting to see some D/ST taken around the 6th (1st D went inthe 7th).

3. Here's where my tier strategy started to go off track. Wanting to make sure I got a decent QB, I put 14 QBs into my tier 2 QBs, viewing a large drop-off after this group.

Result: I picked up Romo in the 8th, Kitna, Leinart and Roethlisburger in rounds 9-11. In hindsight, I should have broken my tier 2 QBs into two tiers, since I obviously don't need 3 backup QBs taking up bench spots.

4. My next tier was D, figuring I'd take a chance on getting one of the better defenses at this point, if a run hadn't already happened.

Results: I ended up getting the Pats, Chargers and Jags in the next three rounds. This strategy wasn't all that bad, but since I wasn't drafting live, I wasn't there to react to runs on various positions(see #5).

5. My next tier was TE, which ended up being my 1st AND 2nd tiers in reality, based on my belief that after Gates, there are some WR3s that are just as productive as the next tier of TEs.

Result: I had underestimated the value the other owners in my league placed on TE in earlier rounds, and ALL of my tier 1 and 2 TEs were gone, resulting in picking up the Chargers and Jags D's in the next 2 rounds. Again, no need for 2 defenses to be taking up bench spots, given I could just as easily play the matchup game and pick up a FA D when the Pats had bad matchups or their bye.

6. Next tier was tier 1 kickers.

Result: Got one in round 15, Shayne Graham, which all things considered, is a pretty good pick this late. Kind of surprised a run on kickers didn't start a little earlier. Probably not a bad idea either, as all 10 round 15 picks were kickers. Then, with only one round left, ESPN picked Jerramy Stevens, filling my last roster spot, and my only empty position. Not too exciting, but not much left at TE.


The autopilot tier strategy can work well in early to mid-rounds, as you can somewhat easily predict where your tiers' "sweet spots" fall in the draft based on common draft strategies. The problem comes in mid to late rounds, when owners start shifting focus to filling needs, building depth and/or taking best player available, taking personal favorite/home team players, or gambles. The strategy also suffers more in late rounds from runs on a certain position, as it's hard to predict when a run will start. It may only take on player taking a TE or D a little ahead of schedule for an early run to take place, or it could be a late run if owners in your league are disciplined and stick to their strategies allot longer.

My lesson learned, if I ever have to go autopilot again, I'll stick to my tier strategy in early to mid rounds, but likely will make my tiers that I target in mid to late rounds ALLOT smaller in the number of players in each tier to decrease the likelihood of drafting 4 QBs in a row, 3 defenses in a row, etc.

For now, I have to live with this draft. If everyone remains healthy, I feel I have a pretty strong team. I have a RB issue with Portis, who even if he stays healthy, has the same bye as MJD, and I have no RBs on my bench. If I find one somehow (likely by trade, unless I can snag this year's MJD off waivers), I can start another WR in the flex that week, but it still doesn't give me any insurance if Portis does continue to have durability issues and/or Betts assumes a larger role in Washington. The good news is, at least I have depth at QB and WR to work a deal!

I want to thank the many folks who wrote in (some with quite detailed explanations of their approaches). I’ve left out many great (and potentially helpful) responses simply because there wasn’t room to include everything. Nevertheless, I hope the responses I have included will be helpful to those who face this problem next year.

For now, I want to move from the longest response I received (the one from Perfect360) to the shortest (from Reno Rhino):

The answer is simple. Have Greg Petty draft for you.

That’s funny stuff, Reno. Thanks, but I don’t know whether the objections to that would be louder from me or from the other folks in the league.

This Week’s Question

The question for this week comes from Rudi, who writes:

Do you have a sense of what kinds of trophies other leagues use to honor their champs? I think ours is pretty standard. We have a football trophy that the winner gets to keep for a year, but at the next draft he has to hand it over to the new winner. The league pays for the inscription of the winner (team name, date, score of the championship game, you know the drill), but it seems a bit lame that the winners from years past don’t have anything to hold onto once they pass the trophy on. What do other leagues do?

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

Trap Game: Philadelphia over Washington
The Eagles let one get away last week with a number of turnovers, and Andy Reid has intimated that Brian Westbrook may return kicks to offset the turnovers. Unfortunately, that may not matter against a division rival who is better on offense than most think. Lito Sheppard is out for the season, and Santana Moss is salivating at the prospect of going deep against the Eagles secondary. Don’t be surprised if the Redskins get up early in this game and the Birds have to fight back to just win the game let alone cover the spread. This one is going to be close unless Donovan and company open it up early.

#3: Pittsburgh over Buffalo (1 – 0):
The Bills are reeling after a number of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, and their hearts are heavy thinking about Kevin Everett recovering from his injuries. This team will have a lot to overcome not only this Sunday but for the remainder of the season, so to ask them to go to Pittsburgh and beat a team that now seems to have a “high powered” offense that is combined with a tough defense is almost impossible. The Steelers won’t be overconfident against the Bills, so look for a blowout at home.

#2: Chicago over Kansas City (0 – 1):
Larry Johnson and company are going to have a hard time going to Chicago and running against one of the top defenses in the NFL. The combination of this being Larry’s third “pre-season” game and the fact that Damon Huard has not shown any consistency this year make this a very difficult game for the Chiefs in the windy city. On top of that, the Chiefs’ defense hasn’t improved very much from last year. Rex Grossman could have a big day throwing to Bernard Berrian and Greg Olsen (should he be healthy)—while the Bear defense could end up with two (not one) defensive scores.

#1: Jacksonville over Atlanta (1 – 0):
Let the trend begin. The Falcons are not going to lose every game, but they are sure going to come close. Put them together with the Raiders and you have the makings of some very winnable Survival Pool picks on a weekly basis by picking whomever these two teams are playing that week. Atlanta only put up 3 points against a team that they should have been able to pass against, but Joey Harrington is not much better than when he was in Detroit. Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood are going to be going up against a stacked line until Harrington can soften the defense up with some consistent passing. This will be extremely tough against a Jaguars team that is built to go against Peyton Manning twice a year, so the chances of Harrington having success are extremely slim.

For responses to this week's fantasy question or to share your LMS picks, please email me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football season.

Readers who want to have their fantasy questions answered live, on the air, by Mike Davis are invited to tune into FFEXradio on Friday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. EST. Archived programs are also available.