The draft is the backbone for most, if not all, great NFL teams.
In the fantasy world, one can question if that is really the case.
Certainly, the majority of fantasy teams' building blocks come via
the draft, but rare is the time when owners are able to take essentially
the same team they drafted into their league's championship week.
I played in a total of 11 leagues this season, including three
experts' leagues (one dynasty, two redraft) and eight money leagues
(six with Real Time Sports, a.k.a. The Fantasy Championship, and
two with Fuzzy's Fantasy Football). I'll be the first to admit
Wednesdays were pretty chaotic for me this season - all 11 leagues
process waivers late that night or early Thursday morning - and
the overall chore of managing so many teams is not an easy task,
especially when you consider the different rules and different
types of owners in each league.
For the few owners who are able to avoid injuries and unfavorable
depth-chart changes, their path to the playoffs is usually pretty
easy. But for every team in a 12-team league that has fortune
shine favorably on it, there are usually 10 or 11 others that
spend most of the season churning over their roster(s) in an effort
to play catch-up. With the exception of our
staff league in which my 12-1 team was relatively untouched
by injury after Danny Woodhead's season-ender in Week 2, all my
other teams were continuous works-in-progress.
The point is what (and who) we start our journey with is rarely
what (or who) we end it with. To this end, I decided to devote
the final Blitz of the season to real-life examples with my eight
money-league teams of this beginning-to-end transformation, if
you will. Along the way, I will try to walk that fine line between
being helpful and remembering the only person who cares about
their fantasy team is the owner. While I'm not going to walk readers
through each of my transactions or the rationale behind them,
I'd like to think this kind of analysis can be helpful to all
of us as we put a wrap on this fantasy regular season and look
forward to the next one.
Before we get started on the abomination that some of my teams
became, I feel it necessary to point out that if 2015 could have
been considered the winter of my discontent, then 2016 has been
the summer of my redemption. While I was still able to manage
to keep my streak of winning at least one fantasy championship
every season alive last year (I believe I started this fine hobby
back in 1998), it was one of my least successful seasons overall.
This year has easily been one of my best. One of my Fuzzy's teams
is playing for a rather sizeable chunk of change in the league
championship, while the other is playing for a substantial amount
in the third-place game. (And after you see the work I had to
do with both, you might be surprised either one made the playoffs.)
I have already claimed one title in a RTS league and two of my
RTS are faring very well in the actual three-week championship
drive. FFToday is also in the title game of The
Huddle Expert Auction for fifth time in the last seven seasons.
The venerable Steve Schwarz rode the Drew Brees-Brandin Cooks
stack past my aforementioned top-seeded team in our staff league,
or otherwise I would have one more team playing for something
notable in Week 16 as well.
At any rate, let's take a look at the before-and-after snapshots
of my eight money-league teams and see what we can learn. I
have bolded the players that I drafted and stayed on my team all
season, underlined players I traded for along the way and italicized
waiver-wire adds. (There are no trades in RTS leagues and no transactions
of any kind after Week 12.) Below each chart, I will
post the "retention rate" for each team (players that
stayed on the team all season) and briefly discuss what went right
and what went wrong with each team. At the end, I'll do my best
to share with you any overriding lessons we can use in the upcoming
While some might see this as a look-at-my-fancy-teams piece,
I think it helps everyone to see even analysts who do this for
on a far more serious level than most are far from perfect. One
of the main reasons for this exercise is to encourage you to do
the same analysis (what went right/wrong) with your teams sometime
over the next few days or weeks and use it as a learning experience.
Bold = Players drafted Underlined = Players traded for Italics - Players acquired via waiver wire
Fuzzy's 1 - Draft
Retention rate: 33 percent
What went right: Prior to the draft,
the owner of the sixth pick offered a swap for the 12th pick -
a move that carries over to every round thereafter (in this case,
you are trading actual draft positions throughout the draft, not
just for one spot). I wanted no part of the 12th pick in both
of my most important leagues, so I gladly took the offer. As far
as the actual execution of the draft, I was thrilled to come away
with four options at running back and receiver I trusted and believed
had a fair amount of upside. The previous Carr owner in my league
needed a tight end early in October, so I was happy to give up
Witten - my third tight end at the time - to get him. Rivers and
Rawls were surprising drops in such a high-dollar league with
18-man rosters, while late-season indifference (it happens, even
in the highest of high-stakes leagues) allowed me to basically
overhaul my entire starting receiving corps and remain competitive
at that position (Garcon, Gabriel and Anderson). C.J. Fiedorowicz
became a weekly starter for me for a while once it became obvious
Bennett and Dennis Pitta weren't going to fill the bill, although
I was forced to cut him prior to Week 15 after he suffered a concussion
the week before.
What went wrong: In what will be
a reoccurring theme, where do I start? Manning never came close
to performing like a QB1 over the first half of the season and
was subsequently dropped for Rivers. Forte was a huge disappointment
after being the workhorse for the first two weeks and was traded
midseason. Bernard was eventually traded before his season-ending
injury, Sims got hurt, Lewis didn't make his first impact until
last week, my top four receivers all fell off a cliff after serviceable
first halves and Bennett was never healthy enough to realize his
sidekick role with Rob Gronkowski (or take advantage of Gronk's
second injury). J.J. Watt's back injury removed a lot of luster
from the Texans' defense and the Patriots' defense ended up doing
virtually none of the things necessary (outside of keeping opponents
out of the end zone) to make much noise over the first half of
Fuzzy's 2 - Draft
Retention rate: 56 percent
What went right: I was willing to burn a sixth-rounder on DeAngelo Williams in order to ride out Bell's season-opening three-game
suspension. Good move on my part. I couldn’t find a single
taker for Murray or West (believe me, I tried), which turned out
well for me when I needed West to step up big for me in Week 6
and Murray to be the back most of us expected him to be after
he returned from his toe injury. Britt became a bit of a stabilizing
force for me after losing Decker, while C.J. Fiedorowicz did the
same at tight end. The Broncos' defense was certainly worth a
14th-round pick and, despite last week's dud, picking up Watkins
along the way helped address my receiver deficiencies. But the
big one I got right was taking the "risk" that came
along with Bell. Along with some nice breaks along the way, this
team is an example of how much power one fantasy stud can have
on an entire team, so long as the rest of the roster is at least
holding their weight and/or meeting expectations. "Good scheduling"
was also in my favor as well; I had the second-lowest points against
total in the league. In the six or seven years I have played on
this site, I can remember only one other time in which my team
didn't rank in the top half of points allowed, so this was a rare
What went wrong: I might be in
a really good spot to win the championship in this league this
weekend, but let's be clear about something: this team could have
been so much better. In Marshall, Decker, Woodhead and Williams,
I have received virtually nothing from my second-, fourth-, fifth-
or sixth-round picks since the end of September. Williams' uselessness
was expected, but this team is a shining example of why owners
must be vigilant about pounding the waiver wire every week. Mariota
was a drop for me after his rough two-game stretch for me in Weeks
3-4, in part because I wanted to only carry one quarterback on
as many rosters as possible this year. Of course, Mariota ripped
it up as soon as he left my team. Henry didn't emerge as the committee
partner I hoped he would (although we are starting to see some
of that now), while Hogan never got to take advantage of the Julian Edelman/Danny Amendola injury we've come to expect. Fuller disappointed
for obvious reasons after September and my hopes for Gates remaining
a prominent touchdown scorer have fallen off drastically since
the team's Week 11 bye.
RTS1 - Draft Spot
Retention rate: 50 percent
What went right: Strong quarterback play, steady consistent play
from Gore, an unusually high success rate at getting serviceable
running back options off waivers and Montgomery. That's it, that's
What went wrong: This was my first
money-league draft of the season and it showed. I stated on a
number of occasions that Zero-RB is actually a good strategy in
the RTS leagues, although it always helps to pick the right ones.
(That did not happen here.) I knew running back was going to be
an issue from the start and particularly after I lost Woodhead,
but it actually turned out to be a much stronger position than
receiver, as we all know what has happened to Robinson, Marshall
and Cobb. Thomas was awful for most of the season and got a pink
slip from me around midseason. Quite honestly, I could go on and
on about what went wrong with this team. The truth of the matter
is that even great waiver-wire adds probably aren't going to save
a team that gets virtually nothing from its first four picks.
RTS2 - Draft Spot
Retention rate: 55 percent
What went right: Gore and Wallace with a dash of Moncrief, when
he was healthy. Somehow, this team finished in a four-way tie
for first at 8-4. Somehow, despite finishing in a four-way tie
for first place, my team failed to qualify for the four-team playoffs
due to RTS tiebreaking rules. Other than possibly disproving the
notion that nice guys don't finish first, I'm not sure anything
else good came out of this team.
What went wrong: If it wasn't clear already, I can pretty much
be blamed for the disappointing offenses in New York. The degree
to which Giants and Jets' player sunk the fantasy fortunes of
some of my teams was rather amazing, although I certainly didn't
feel like I went out of my way to draft any of them, except for
maybe Shepard. (Imagine how much better some of these teams would
have been with Mike Evans or T.Y. Hilton instead of Marshall,
for example, as both players were strong considerations with my
second-round picks multiple times.) On a team in which I devoted
so much draft capital to receiver early, Wallace should not have
been my No. 1 for parts of the season. Forte-Woodhead-Gore-Hill
was the kind of foursome I was hoping for with my receiver-heavy
approach, but Gore was the only one of the bunch that repeatedly
saw the kind of workload most would have expected entering the
season. It's hard to be overly critical about my tight end choices
given how bad the position was as a whole this season, but Gates
and Bennett should have given me much more of an advantage on
a weekly basis than they did.
RTS3 - Draft Spot
Retention rate: 50 percent
What went right: Now we've arrived at the team that might lead
to my banishment from the fantasy community. Miller stayed healthy
enough to be a lineup staple for me, Crowell (my RB5) essentially
served as my RB1/RB2 for the first part of the season as all my
other running backs began to fall by the wayside and Diggs did
a serviceable job of filling in my WR1 role once Decker went down.
Yet again, Wallace saved my bacon as a solid WR2/3 option for
the first half of the season. The two biggest contributors to
my team's early success - it started 5-4 - were Olsen being fantasy's
best tight end and the Vikings being fantasy's top defense.
What went wrong: Injuries, injuries and more injuries. (Try losing
four of your top five picks early, get less than you expect from
the fifth guy and see if you can make the playoffs.) I was going
to need some good health and good fortune in order for this team
to maximize its potential given how much I loaded up at running
back; it's safe to say that did not happen. My first-round pick
(Miller) disappointed, my second- (Peterson), third- (Lacy), fourth-
(Decker), and fifth-round (Woodhead) picks all were lost to injury
fairly early on, and it didn't help that Diggs got hurt after
starting to catch fire either. The late-season demises of Olsen
and the Vikings removed whatever little sliver of hope this team
had of limping into the postseason.
RTS4 - Draft Spot
Retention rate: 55 percent
What went right: The addition of Cousins in Week 9 was going
to be the cure to the last ill this team had, that is, before
I lost Green two weeks later. Once again, Gore carried the mail
for this team at running back, while White held his own as my
RB2 more often than not. Green, Olsen and the Vikings' defense
gave me a trio of players/units that led their positions in scoring
for the better part of the season. Tucker fell into my lap around
midseason, giving me yet another best-at-his-position option.
What went wrong: By now, you can probably see trusting Eli as
often as I did was a bad idea, although I never felt I went out
of my way to get him. While I typically played the right Jets'
running back, the team's overall inability to remain competitive
in games often led to a situation in which neither back was overly
productive. Green's strong play covered up what was an otherwise
shallow and underperforming receiver corps, so when he got hurt
early in Week 11, it cost me a pair of close games over the final
two weeks of the fantasy regular season that would have otherwise
led me to an 8-4 finish and a playoff berth. Watkins getting hurt
early obviously led to the shallow depth I had at the position,
while Davante Adams' emergence made Cobb almost useless in the
second half of the season. Eifert was a good draft pick for where
I got him (11th round), but it took too long for him to make an
impact on my team.
RTS5 - Draft Spot
Retention rate: 40 percent
What went right: This is an example of a team that I felt I did
a great job of "winning the wire" and it didn't make
a difference, as this team finished 4-8 but is very much in the
running to win a cash prize in the consolation playoffs (payouts
go to the top 10 teams in the consolation playoffs across all
the RTS leagues). Prescott saved me from the Manning nightmare
I got myself into in this league, although I scooped him up far
too late. Johnson was amazing, Kelley helped me recover from Michael's
sudden fall from grace and Kelce was obviously a godsend over
the second half of the season. I got one week of joy pairing Cobb
and Montgomery together before Green Bay decided to ruin my fun
by minimizing both players' roles in the offense.
What went wrong: Yet along Manning-led
team and the second team in which I dropped Mariota in order to
maximize roster space. I wanted to make sure I had Langford on
at least one team in an effort to diversify my portfolio and potentially
land a low-end feature back, but that move quickly backfired.
Sims' Week 4 injury basically left me without any decent flex
options for a few games and left my running back situation in
dire straits when Michael began to decline. Once again, my top
three receivers (Marshall, Cobb and Decker) didn't come close
to living up to their draft position and the Cardinals' defense
didn't come close to matching my expectations despite adding the
one thing it needed the most in the offseason (a pass rusher)
when it traded for Chandler Jones.
RTS6 - Draft Spot
Retention rate: 55 percent
What went right: Now we're talking! The biggest mystery for this
team is how any roster with Elliott AND Bell on it could go 7-5.
With those two workhorses leading the way, I only needed the rest
of my team to maintain a relatively modest level of consistency
in order to make the postseason and win the title, which it did.
Beyond that, I got much-needed lifts from Rodgers, Kelley and
Ebron at important points throughout the season, and another one
when the Seahawks' defense was dropped during Seattle's bye week.
The trio of Landry, Tate and Baldwin rarely overwhelmed the opposition,
but each player typically stepped up to fill the WR1, WR2 and
WR3 roles on my team each week, even if I didn't know which one
was going to do what job in a given week. Once again, Wallace
was a valuable flex play for me. The biggest key to my championship
win? My opponent apparently didn't plan for the Week 12 cutoff
in transactions, so he was forced to play Jeremy Langford in Week
13 while DeMarco Murray was on his bye.
What went wrong: Anything I say here would probably sound like
complaining, but I'll try to find something. I dropped West right
before his huge Week 6 performance and Brown never realized his
potential for obvious reasons, but this team was a pleasure to
own for the bulk of the season.
So why did I put you through all this? We should all be able
to learn from every season and, more often than not, every team
we draft. Even in a year where I will likely make more money from
this hobby than I ever have, I think it is pretty clear from the
teams listed above that I have much room for improvement. Here
are a few of the lessons I intend to take into next year's drafts:
1. Diversify your portfolio!!!
I know I've said it time and again in this space and observed
it when I've drafted in previous years, but I obviously didn't
do good enough job of doing it this year. Using the examples I
cited above, do you think I would have done better this year if
I had owned even only one share of Mike Evans and/or T.Y. Hilton
as opposed to all of the Brandon Marshall stock I had? How about
more Philip Rivers or Matt Ryan instead of Eli Manning?
2. Outside of the elite running backs who
have rock-solid job security, draft backfields - i.e. options
1A and 1B - with significant upside.
There are a few parts to this one. I endorse handcuffing elite
running backs when there is a clear No. 2 option behind him, but
that isn't what I'm talking about here. The best example of what
I'm trying to illustrate is Tennessee, which looked very much
like a RBBC heading into Week 1. (Atlanta is another good example.)
Most folks had a good sense the Titans were going to be able to
run the ball in 2016, but most (myself included) felt Derrick Henry would overtake DeMarco Murray sooner than later. My mistake:
if I believed Tennessee had the potential to be fantasy goldmine,
then why did I only draft Henry? Trying to predict what coaches
will do with their depth chart during the course of the season
in August is a losing proposition most of the time.
If we have reason to believe in a particular backfield during
the summer, invest in it. If that means "burning" a
fourth- and seventh-round pick in Murray and Henry to get it done,
so be it. Sometimes that means you're going to wind up with a
true RBBC all season and that is unfortunately the chance you
take if you choose to go this route. The upside and payoff, however,
is obvious: if one of the two players gets hurt or simply loses
his job to the other, then you already have the new stud and his
handcuff. There's no reason to play the waiting game if you don't
have to (i.e. either hoping you land the backfield partner on
waivers or can pull off a trade with the owner of that other "partner").
One of the reasons I cited "roster retention" above
was to illustrate the likelihood that half of the team you drafted
in August probably isn't going to be on it in December. While
there might be some pundits that will say what I'm suggesting
is poor use of draft capital, I would counter by saying you are
simply reducing your risk at a volatile position. Think of it
as cheap(er) handcuffing.
3. Consistently try to turn your fast-starting
mid-rounders into superstars via trade.
Easier said than done, I know. In some leagues, the deals you
don't accept are the ones you regret the most. Following Week
3 in the first league I cited earlier, the Julio Jones owner offered
me Julio and Rashad Jennings for Matt Forte and Marvin Jones.
I declined. Now I'll be the first to admit Julio hasn't exactly
been Mr. Consistency this year, but it was a rejection I remember
thinking I hoped I wouldn't regret in a week because I was close
to accepting it. My main reason for declining was I know how hard
it is to get multiple featured backs on the same fantasy team
and I thought I had it at the time with Elliott and Forte. But
there was a reason Forte was typically available in the fourth
round and Marvin Jones in the fifth round only three weeks earlier,
while Julio was usually gone by the third overall pick. One month
later, Forte was getting traded and Marvin Jones was getting benched.
It ultimately did not cost me much in the end as Julio wouldn't
have been available to me in either of my first two playoff games,
but it is fair to wonder how much different my season would have
been (first-round bye perhaps?). Although there are certainly
exceptions to the rule, fantasy football is usually won by the
team with the most studs. Being able to pair the league's leading
rusher (Zeke) with the league's leading receiver (Julio) would
have been a treat. Seeing as how I landed Jacquizz Rodgers, Bilal
Powell and Rawls in the weeks after declining the trade, I could
have easily filled the RB2 void Forte's departure would have created.
4. When in doubt, go with receivers that
have time-tested connections with their quarterbacks over up-and-comers
at the position.
This sounds rather obvious, but we too often get distracted by
the shiny new object at receiver. Blake Bortles has never been
a 60-percent passer in the NFL and Ryan Fitzpatrick has rarely
ever been a league-average quarterback, at least not for an extended
amount of time. Brock Osweiler had a grand total of seven career
starts prior to signing with Houston. Trevor Siemian hasn't been
all that bad, but most of us knew there would be a fairly low
ceiling with his wideouts, especially early.
While I'm pretty sure I had DeAndre Hopkins ranked lower than
just about anybody else in the industry and feel like I did a
good job projecting Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, I overlooked
my negative feelings toward Bortles due to the talent of Allen Robinson. And while I tend to believe most of Brandon Marshall's
problems this season came as a result of his own injuries, Fitzpatrick
had a high percentage of passes that should have been intercepted
in 2015 that were not. In 2016, especially without the services
of Eric Decker, many of those passes were picked off.
The time-tested connections can fail too. Randall Cobb somehow
became an invisible man in the red zone after being one of the
best inside the 20 over the first few years of his career and
Jarvis Landry's targets dried up as Jay Ajayi got rolling. The
difference is all the players in the preceding paragraph were
late first- and early second-round picks, whereas Cobb and Allen
were typically available two rounds later.
If you find yourself in a position where you're forced to decide
between a potentially great receiver with a quarterback you don't
trust and a good receiver with a quarterback you do trust, let
somebody else deal with the stress that comes along with the first
option and take the "bankable" production. For the most
part, rolling with the likes of Jordy Nelson because he is attached
to Aaron Rodgers or T.Y. Hilton because he is attached to Andrew Luck is going to lead to more success than the risk that comes
with players mentioned two paragraphs earlier.
5. Non-injury absences that can be prepared
for shouldn't result in a huge drop in draft position so long
as we are dealing with a known quantity who has proven himself.
We rarely ever see a situation like the one we did this summer
in which a surefire fantasy first-rounder like Le'Veon Bell opens
the season with a suspension. There's obvious risk that comes
along with not having your first-round pick available to you for
nearly a quarter of the fantasy season. But ask yourself something:
all things being equal, who do I want carrying my team at the
end? From that perspective, Bell should have been a clear pick
after David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott even with his suspension.
I don't regret ranking Lamar Miller high because I thought the
Texans were going to use him in the passing game like they did
Arian Foster. They did not, but even Foster-lite isn't a match
for what Bell can do. As easy as it is to say now, Todd Gurley
had way too much working against him to be consistently good.
And so on…
Outside of his suspension, there was really no reason to move
Bell down draft boards (his injury risk consists roughly of two
poor tackles made while playing against the Cincinnati Bengals).
The inconvenience that comes along with waiting three games for
your first-round pick to play is minor when it comes attached
to someone with Bell's talent and his fit inside the Pittsburgh
Steelers' offense. The risk is further minimized when an owner
can easily use a mid-round pick to grab a handcuff like DeAngelo
Williams that has also proved he can perform just like the starter
when called upon.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.