Fantasy Football Strategy - Drafting 2011|
Drafting Is Only One Step: Maintaining and Improving Your Team
By William Del Pilar
As I write this I realize I’m a dinosaur in the Fantasy sports industry. As the man behind the team that built KFFL.com from a handful of commissioner-style Fantasy leagues in 1996 into a full-fledged Fantasy sports site, I see how this hobby has evolved. I turned KFFL into one of the premier Fantasy Football sites on the Internet, specializing in content, player news and even league management with some of the oldest leagues in existence. Starting with a website relaunch in 1997 we revolutionized the industry by setting the standard for player news and updates.
I built our reputation on quality, quality and quality. My goal has always been the same: to educate and inform so you can make the tough decisions on who to start, bench, pick up, trade or trade for. Just realize it's your job to take this information, analyze it yourself and make the tough decisions for your Fantasy team.
It's much more fun to play in a competitive league where owners are active and knowledgeable. Sure it's fun to take candy from a baby when a “newbie” enters the league but the nectar of success is so much sweeter when you know you’ve beaten informed, experienced owners. Most of us are competitive and strive to be the best. We play this hobby for ego, so why not put in the necessary time. It's part of the fun. Winning at this hobby is not rocket science but there are some basic strategies to follow:
• Know your scoring rules.
• Know the latest injury updates.
• Know the latest position battles and depth chart movement.
• Create cheat sheets per your scoring rules.
• Build depth at the QB, RB and WR positions.
• Never fall in love with one player but have a tier of players for every pick.
• Do not be a homer and draft players from your favorite team merely to have one.
• My personal belief: Value-based drafting is not a strategy by itself; it's part of your overall game plan.
Once draft day is complete, your team, in a perfect world, would be ready to go the entire season. WRONG! We know this, so the question is, “What do you do once the draft is over?”
As the season wears on, it's your ability to maintain and strengthen your roster that decides if you’re the league champion. That means you need to make sure you do the following items weekly:
• Be an active participant in your waiver wire.
• Block out time to crunch numbers.
• Stay on top of the latest news including injuries and depth chart movement.
• Properly prepare for bye weeks.
Too many times owners wait until the last minute or think too casually about their team. That allows for missed waiver deadlines or laziness pursuing a trade. HEY! I’m just being honest and stating what happens. It's an ugly truth because nothing irritates owners more than an owner that allows himself to be taken advantage of except an inactive owner.
I also believe you will find matchups almost every week for the following positions if you simply pay attention:
• No. 3 Fantasy wideout
• Team Defense / Special Teams
• Place Kickers
• Tight Ends
Weekly Waiver Wire
Weekly waiver wire pickups will be your best friend once the season starts. Your approach should be twofold; you have to play to win now and to build a playoff-ready team (i.e. enough depth to handle the final few weeks without access to a waiver wire). Owners of Fantasy studs such as Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts), Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings), Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints) and many more have seen their teams drop like flies once the playoffs begin because they’ve counted too heavily on a few players to carry them.
We know the NFL doesn’t follow Fantasy and teams will rest players once they’ve maximized their playoff seeding. We know most Fantasy owners consistently ignore building quality depth for the long run; they forget waiver wire deadlines or just ignore them because they’re too lazy to make moves and view trading as too difficult.
It's frustrating dealing with an owner who can’t understand why you won’t take Randy Moss (free agent) and Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens) for Aaron Rogers (Green Bay Packers). Yes, sarcasm, but it seems too many owners overinflate the value they put on their players. That is why the waiver wire is your best friend – it makes it easier to manage and upgrade your team.
Trading: The Toss-In Player
Working a fair trade can be difficult but when possible, never forget about seeking a “toss-in” player: a player an owner believes they can afford to lose – someone that can build quality depth for your roster.
If you make a trade for a top-tier player it's still okay to ask for a toss-in player. All the owner can say is no but odds are he will eventually trade his kicker or defense to consummate the trade. That kicker or defense may be top-10 statistically at his position - and most owners will think twice - but they’ll pull the trigger believing the waiver wire will have a viable replacement.
You may think, ‘why bother’ since I said you can find solid matchups weekly with a kicker or defense on the waiver wire. Kickers and defenses that are consistent weekly will be on someone’s roster instead of the waiver wire more often than not. Just because there’s a quality matchup for one week does not mean that player is a consistent one. It’s a matter of doing your research to determine if the toss-in player would be at or near the top of the waiver wire at their position.
The tight end position is much tougher because it has greater value with today’s scoring rules than years past. Some interesting history for you newbies: Early in the industry, the position was usually part of the wide receiver corps and most leagues weren’t point-per-reception leagues. During those times commissioners had to use calculators, pencil and paper to determine scores but technology has automated the process. This, along with the NFL evolving the position by making it a more consistent scoring threat has made it its own position.
Any Fantasy owner worth his stock will now think twice about that position. It's much more difficult to snag a tight end as a toss-in player today unlike when this old dinosaur helped commercialize the industry years ago. Use common sense and never forget you may have enough depth to toss-in a secondary player you can afford to lose. This could be done to gain greater quality depth at another position. Common sense? Yes, but we’ve all seen that one salivating owner; eyeing the new team addition while losing focus on the big picture. We play this hobby to have fun but to win, so make sure to review a trade from all angles.
Is there ever a time you don’t worry about depth? Barring leagues where you draft your team and you’re not required to do anything else, NEVER! Injuries, resting players toward the end of the season, depth chart changes, suspensions, and anything else that can keep a player from playing, makes depth crucial.
Some leagues do allow weekly pickups all season, and you’ll always be able to field a body regardless of the quality. The positions I have seen most affected by this are your second place kicker and defense because you can play the matchups the whole season. Remember, once playoffs begin, teams eliminated will not be working the waiver wire and their players become unavailable. Having fewer players to work with could mean you’re playing with fire. Trust me; any quality Fantasy player will tell you they’ve been caught in that predicament. Whether by accident or choice we have all gone through this with regrets more often than not.
The goal for a playoff run is quality depth to limit the points you will lose if one of your studs goes down to a bad game, benching or injury. In a nutshell, you don’t want one position or player to cost you a game. Most owners doom themselves because they cannot overcome an opponent who has someone unexpectedly have a great Fantasy day. A well-balanced team will counter that. Your statistical goal will be to have average production in any worst-case scenario at every position. Do that and you’ll be competitive every week, including the playoffs, with a good chance to win.
Weekly Waiver Wire: Position Breakdown
You want to try to grab two solid quarterbacks during the draft. It's difficult to find consistency on the waiver wire barring injury. Remember, most NFL No. 2 quarterbacks are backups for a reason. Having a quality No. 1 quarterback as your No. 2 Fantasy backup can help if you need to restock a position once the season begins.
Do not think you can find a quality Fantasy starter on the waiver wire if yours goes down and your backup is not good enough. There are only 32 starting quarterbacks and a Fantasy league of 12 will typically have 24 quarterbacks on rosters throughout your league. That only leaves eight NFL starters on the waiver wire.
Generally speaking, you’ll find players like or similar to Ryan Fitzpatrick (Buffalo Bills), Alex Smith (San Francisco 49ers), Chad Henne (Miami Dolphins), Mark Sanchez (New York Jets) and Derek Anderson (Arizona Cardinals). Make sure you plan for this position properly on draft day.
One word of advice: Don’t reach for your No. 2 quarterback at the cost of a position of need. I’ve done this twice and it has cost me my season - both times in high-stakes leagues! On a positive note, I remember playing this hobby in 1991 and looking at San Francisco’s Steve Young as my dark horse, a legitimate sleeper. I was correct with my research and assessment that Joe Montana would not return from his elbow injury. Remember, this was before the Internet, which makes the draft pick even sweeter when I look back. I can’t remember who my starter was but I do remember my gamble paid off as Young was in my lineup every week until injury took him out. Luckily it was a total points league.
Typically, this is the most coveted position in drafts for the following reasons:
• It's a high injury position.
• The running back by committee (RBBC) has diminished Fantasy production.
• The waiver wire, outside injury, will rarely have players that can help a roster.
There are fewer and fewer teams that use a feature back, making those that fill that role priceless. Running backs vary in their strengths and weaknesses; just build quality depth for bye week, injury and trade alternatives with backs suited to your scoring rules.
I stock up with a combination of depth with NFL starters, players in favorable timeshare positions and specific backups for certain players. Once again, I’ll stress this: Know your rules as this position requires knowing the style of running back you draft. Some leagues create greater value at the position if it counts points-per-reception and how many you can to start. Be ready to pounce on any quality running backs on the waiver wire because they also make great trade bait.
I usually take an extra running back at the cost of a No. 2 kicker or defense with the intent of eventually picking up depth before the playoffs begin. The first year of the World Championship of Fantasy Football (WCOFF) I selected seven backs and drafted most of them in the early to mid-rounds and went on to a top-10 finish. Now the rules played a heavy hand in this strategy because points-per-reception was still rather new on a commercial level. I don’t recommend that any more, but I made sure I did not need to use the waiver wire for that position if I suffered crucial injuries. I did with the Carolina Panthers’ DeShaun Foster. He went down in the preseason with a knee injury and never came back. Draft day depth saved me.
Like running backs, I stock up on wideouts during the draft. Every year more rookie wideouts are making an impact, and with points-per-reception leagues growing, this creates greater strategy on draft day. Obviously, owners covet the top-tier players but I usually avoid receivers in the first round. I’ve seen strategies built around the position with teams taking two in the first few rounds. These have had mixed results, largely because the position is dependent on a quality quarterback.
Despite all this you will see wideouts available on the waiver wire. They suffer injuries, bad matchups and chemistry issues if a new quarterback comes in. As I’ve said, it's not rocket science, and I believe in matchups. I view wideouts and tight ends as the easiest skill positions to discover statistical matchups. You can build up your receivers through the waiver wire but you have to act quickly – like any other position – sleepers come out within the first few weeks. After years of disappointment and never making an impact, how many of you let Brandon Lloyd (Denver Broncos) go undrafted last year? Barring leagues with rosters of 18 or more, most, if not all of you, so be ready to pounce on them.
Just remember, you have approximately 96 receivers to choose from on draft day and every week you will have at least a handful of players with solid matchups to exploit. Referring to the inaugural WCOFF season again, I was high on Laveranues Coles (New York Jets) as an undervalued player and drafted him. I was also able to use the waiver wire and pick up the emerging Chad Johnson (Cincinnati Bengals), now known as Ochocinco. Coles (89-1,264-5) and Ochocinco (69-1,166-5) were a big reason I had a top-10 finish, but Ochocinco shows you can find emerging and quality talent from the waiver wire that will immediately make an impact on your roster. Note: The WCOFF is a bidding system but the point is still relevant when you search for hidden gems or short-term matchups.
I love the tight end position. It's the easiest skill position to find that great matchup. When teams can’t cover the position, they pay. Finding those matchups on the waiver wire is not difficult, especially if you lose your starter because of injury or bad play. Too many owners wait once the top tight ends are gone, but proper planning allows you to grab a high-tier player or if you wait, to draft your undervalued target or sleeper. However, don’t second-guess yourself; draft a quality No. 1 but don’t wait too long into the season to grab a quality No. 2 when available. Bottom line, make sure you plan the position out strategically so you don’t reach for potential when you should be grabbing the better than average point producer.
I remember the 1996 season when I saw the Green Bay tight ends differently than most. Keith Jackson’s stat line that year was incredible - 40-505-10 - specifically his touchdowns. The expected tight end to produce instead of Jackson was Mark Chmura, who finished with a 28-370-0 stat line. I was mocked as reaching that day but I had simply made a determination to snag him with a later pick versus waiting for the waiver wire. I was that sure of him, but I was also the only one who had any interest in him. I believe he would have gone undrafted but either way, one of my sleepers panned out nicely during an era that did not have many high-producing players at the position. I had decided to pick him up off the waiver wire if I did not draft him but after some of my other options went, I took him.
Let’s be honest with kickers: Most owners don’t even look at them unless they’re performing so badly it has to be addressed. Weekly matchups probably make up one-third of my kicker moves every year. However, I want to make sure I have two solid ones by the end of waiver or trade deadlines.
I believe in the draft strategy of waiting because unlike the early days of the commercialized industry, many owners now only draft one kicker. In an era of high-scoring offenses or mismatches every week, finding a kicker on the waiver wire is not a problem. However, don’t think you can go through the playoffs without a second kicker.
The last few years have seen injuries to the position. Nothing major, but enough to make me realize not to assume a kicker will make it unscathed through a season. Though statistically high your kicker won’t suffer an injury, if you have the spot available going into the playoffs, use it. More importantly it gives you an alternative in case your No. 1 kicker has a tough matchup.
Strategy does not always mean having one position stocked at the expense of another but it's fine at the end of draft day to only have one kicker. During the 2009 season in one of my many leagues, I was caught off guard when Neil Rackers didn’t play in Weeks 15 and 16. Whether traveling, or whatever the reason, it was stupid and there’s no excuse. Since I don’t remember anything magical about that league that year, I would imagine I made a quick exit from the playoffs.
Scoring rules are important with defenses because some leagues have a combination special teams and team defense rule. Top-tier special teams make a defense much stronger with their ability to turn returns or kickoffs into six points. However, defenses with great special teams return men don’t tend to be on the waiver wire.
Like kickers, I believe in waiting toward the later rounds to pick up a solid defense, yet one that is upper tier, and that’s it. I also watch the draft, and if strategically feasible, will go with a run to make sure I grab a great one. I forgo a second defense because I’ll play the weekly matchups if one sticks out.
The reason I wait until the later rounds for a defense; some of the more coveted ones may not perform. Usually, when a high-ranked team struggles for Fantasy owners it’s because they can’t generate sacks. Sacks lead to turnovers and injuries can quickly decimate a defense with the loss of even one pass rusher. You don’t grow those players on trees.
I remember when the Baltimore Ravens had a few down seasons – 2002, 2005 and 2007 – from a Fantasy perspective despite their reputation as a feared NFL defense. I remember because I paid the price when I experimented with grabbing a defense in the late middle rounds. Eventually I realized I could play this position with one strong defense for most of the season but would look at the waiver wire every week for a quality matchup.
The waiver wire gave me great success one year when I played in an expert league and the prize was a 32-inch television. I took the Houston Texans as my second defense and the right matchups were there and I rode it to a championship. It’s a great feeling when your defense not only makes an impact helping you win, but was someone you scooped up right before playoff play. It's the stuff of Fantasy legends. Winning creates huge egos, and I’ve been accused of having a head so big it can’t fit through doorways some Fantasy Sundays. Now that’s a big head!
I would be remiss without mentioning bye weeks. One question I see owners trying to answer is how to handle it? I’ve seen owners let a bye week dictate which player to draft, leaving them with a player of lesser value over a higher rated one. Don’t ever do that! Once the season starts then look at bye weeks and how they relate to your roster and schedule. Obviously, you can’t have most of your starters off one week but injuries will force you to change your roster before bye weeks even begin. Be aware and make the proper changes you need without giving up a quality player to the waiver wire. It’s not worth it simply to find a body for a roster slot.
Gaining an Edge: Consistency
To compete you are going to have to put a few hours in every week to manage your team. Even if you subscribe to a service, don’t just look at their weekly rankings and nothing else. Avoid that trap and you’ll gain an edge that puts you in the yearly playoff hunt because ALL your positions will be more consistent.
Whatever the reason, once draft day is over some owners just don’t care enough to manage their teams. By reviewing the numbers and staying up on the latest news, you will always find hidden gems every week. The real problem is if you have the roster spot to add them? Who do you drop? It's a weekly question only you can answer at that point in time. Here are some examples of what types of moves find you hidden gems and bring you consistency:
No. 3 Wideout / Tight End
There are teams that struggle to cover a No. 3 wideout or tight end giving you short-term value and opportunities based on matchups.
• First do your research to find teams that are not very good statistically against the position.
• Then, research the players that defense will face to make sure they have solid enough hands and have had some success, albeit limited.
Let’s face it - it doesn’t help to have a pure blocking tight end in your lineup regardless of the matchup.
Team Defense / Special Teams
A team defense facing an offense that gives up sacks and/or turnovers are your top options. Generally speaking, regardless of the defense if a team can’t protect their quarterback or are known for turnovers they may be worth a flier based on whom you already own. This also includes teams with poor special teams, and while I won’t recommend putting too much stock in that category, it’s worth a look if everything else is equal.
A kicker facing a defense that gives up points is the easiest statistic to look at. However, eventually weather always plays a factor toward the end of the season, specifically the playoffs. Make sure you know what the weather outlook is as many owners don’t and lose points to the position because they refuse to take the time to monitor and improve it. Another category to consider is players who play in a dome, for obvious reasons.
The in-season process is always dynamic based on scoring rules, player availability, roster depth, and whatever else can happen to a squad. This is a yearly process that continually evolves. Basic principles like this helped me establish KFFL as a site that produced quality insight backed up by sound fundamental analysis.
Just remember, on draft day, grab at least two above-average Fantasy quarterbacks, a top-tier tight end and a quality No. 2 if one drops. However, focus on extra running backs and wide receivers you’re high on who may still be available late in the draft. Kickers and defenses - you only need one at the end of draft day. Inseason, I usually wait until the final three weeks before the playoffs start, to begin securing the final pieces to my team. If done properly, you could capture a few players best Fantasy production of the year. Good luck this season and don’t overreach or overanalyze during the season.
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