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Fantasy Football Dynasty 101: Transitioning from Redraft to the One True Format
By Alex McCarthy
If you’re reading this, you’re not completely new to fantasy football. You’ve played the classic, traditional format also known as redraft, and you enjoyed it enough that you’ve decided to try out a more complex, involved, and (in my opinion) infinitely more entertaining format- dynasty. You’ve also managed to stumble across your new favorite dynasty writer, conveniently here to guide you through the hazards and pitfalls of changing formats.
You aren’t ready for dynasty, of course- at least, not yet. It requires a very different approach than redraft, and jumping right in without any preparation is an easy way to become the league Taco (and in dynasty, you’re not just the Taco for that season- you’re the Taco forever). Luckily for you, you’ve come to the right place. Dynasty 101 will teach you the basic ways in which dynasty differs from redraft, how those changes affect player values both inter- and intra-positionally, and how to approach the all-important startup draft.
First things first- you’re going to have to forget a fair amount of what you think you know. Most importantly, you abandon the assumption that only this season matters. What makes dynasty different from redraft is that you keep your team forever- once you acquire a player they’re yours forever, till death, trade, or retirement do you part. This means that what a player can do for you in the future becomes just as if not more important than what they can do for you right now.
When trying to determine what one can expect from a player a few years down the road, it helps to take into account that different positions have different career trajectories. While different variations of statistical analysis will provide subtly different results, the careers of the relevant fantasy positions tend to play out roughly as follows:
Quarterbacks: breakout around 25, peak from around 25-35, major decline around 36
Running Backs: breakout around 23, peak from around 24-26, major decline around 28
Wide Receivers: breakout around 24, peak from around 25-28, major decline around 32
Tight Ends: breakout around 25, peak from around 28-30, major decline around 31
It is important to be familiar with these career trajectories because they can give you an idea of where a player is relative to their likely prime, which is important to consider when assessing player values in dynasty. Some examples of fantasy-relevant players who have their value affected by a transition to dynasty include:
Quarterbacks: Derek Carr (+), Russell Wilson (+), Marcus Mariota (+), Drew Brees (-), Tom Brady (-), Ben Roethlisberger (-)
Running Backs: Ezekiel Elliott (+), Derrick Henry (+), Leonard Fournette (+), LeSean McCoy (-), DeMarco Murray (-), Matt Forte (-)
Wide Receivers: Sammy Watkins (+), Keenan Allen (+), Stefon Diggs (+), Julio Jones (-), Demaryius Thomas (-), Brandon Marshall (-)
Tight Ends: Tyler Eifert (+), Hunter Henry (+), OJ Howard (+), Delanie Walker (-), Greg Olsen (-), Antonio Gates (-)
Obviously, age and positional career trajectory are important in determining how well a player will hold their value in a dynasty format. They are not, however, the only factors that matter. Two other things play a major role in how well a player maintains value: pedigree and situation.
Pedigree refers to where a player was selected in the NFL draft, and the fact that players in whom a team invests an early pick are typically given more chances to prove themselves than later draft picks or undrafted free agents. Situation refers to the long-term stability of the offense around a given player- if they are surrounded by a young supporting cast that is on the rise (think Oakland), their value is likely to hold or increase in the immediate future. If, conversely, a player has a supporting cast that is in flux either due to offseason moves or key players retiring soon (think New Orleans), their value is in danger of taking a hit.
A perfect mixture of age, positional career trajectory, pedigree, and situation is someone like Amari Cooper- he is 23, plays wide receiver, was the 4th overall draft pick, and plays in the Oakland offense with one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. This is why he will be selected in the top eight of virtually all startup drafts this season, despite having yet to produce at a truly elite level.
I understand that this is a lot of information to digest. It usually takes a season or so to fully grasp the implications of the change to a dynasty format, which is inconvenient considering that the most important event in any dynasty league (the startup draft) is also the first event. Luckily, I’m here to provide a guide to startup drafting in the form of what I call The Ten Draft Commandments (I fancy them my version of Biggie’s Ten Crack Commandments).
The Ten Dynasty Draft Commandments
- Thou Shalt Draft BPA (Best Player Available). While it is tempting to draft to fill positional needs, it is wiser to simply always draft the best player on the board. A savvy dynasty manager can take that value and use the trade market to turn it into the players they need to win (and considering your impeccable choice in research materials, that savvy manager is you).
- Thou Shalt Pick a Winning Window. Once your team is drafted, take a look at your core players and identify a rough time period in which their projected primes line up. This is your “winning window”, and from that point on all roster moves should be evaluated based on whether they will make your team better during that period. If BPA panned out so that player ages on your squad don’t line up favorably, you may have to be fairly active in the trade market to create a window for yourself. To be clear, though, under no circumstances should a winning window interfere with drafting BPA.
- Thou Shalt Not Project More Than Three Years Ahead. While it may seem like a foregone conclusion that someone like Mike Evans or Ezekiel Elliott will still be an elite asset in four years, the dependence of any given player on the eleven guys around them (as well as the sheer violence of the game of football) makes projecting that far into the future a fool’s errand. I personally project three years down the road at the absolute most, and limit it to two whenever possible. Just think of it like a modern marriage (although a fantasy football team is generally more reliable and Gronk would definitely put out more).
- Thou Shalt Buy Low. This advice is most often applied to the trade market after the draft, but it also applies to the draft itself. Players who are coming off of an elite season are always going to cost a premium, but every year there are studs coming off of injuries or down years who can be had at a relative discount. Do your research, decide which ones you believe in, and target them. A few of my personal favorites this year are Russell Wilson, DeAndre Hopkins, and Lamar Miller.
- Thou Shalt Know Thy League Rules. Dynasty leagues often have more esoteric rules than redraft leagues, and small changes to scoring can have major repercussions. Even the relatively minor adjustments of making passing TDs worth six points or adding points for return yards have major implications for player values, and many dynasty leagues have scoring systems that are far more unique than that. Be absolutely certain that you are intimately familiar with the scoring rules of your league.
- Thou Shalt Know Thy League Trade Market. Fantasy football is a lot like poker- knowing your opponents is almost as important as knowing the game itself. Pay attention during the draft to what positions specific managers seem to value as well as what the league values as a whole (potential/youth as opposed to proven veterans, RBs as opposed to WRs, etc etc). Understanding how your leaguemates perceive value will allow you to make effective use of the trade market and turn your team into a contender.
- Thou Shalt Hold Thy Cards Close to the Vest. This is related to my sixth commandment- while you are reading your leaguemates for preferences and tendencies, the smarter ones are doing the same to you. Don’t make public knowledge of your plans or strategies or the players you covet, as all of these can be used against you.
- Thou Shalt Draft for Talent, Not Situation. To put it simply, situations change and talent does not. I don’t necessarily mean just physical gifts or pedigree either- the history of the NFL is littered with physically gifted freaks and high draft picks who didn’t pan out, as well as average athletes who dominated for years. I define talent as the ability to produce at a high level in the NFL when all else is equal, and you should be drafting players who have given you reason to believe they have that innate ability (rather than players who are in a good but ultimately temporary situation).
- Thou Shalt Do Thy Research. Dynasty rosters are typically a lot deeper than redraft rosters, which means that your startup draft will likely have more rounds than you are used to. Most new dynasty players simply make their later picks based on ADP, but in doing so they are giving up the opportunity to pick their own sleepers. Championships are won in the later rounds, and knowing players outside of the top 120 makes you better able to take advantage of the rounds that other managers foolishly ignore.
- Thou Shalt Not Get Cute. This commandment applies to redrafts as well as startup drafts, but the consequences in the latter are more severe. It’s extremely easy to see a player you like and worry that they’ll be picked before it comes back around to you, then decide to ease your mind and get a little endorphin rush by taking them a few rounds earlier than necessary. Best case scenario, the player outperforms their draft stock and you got them for market value. Worst case scenario, you wasted a perfectly good pick due to poor impulse control and the loss of value haunts your team for years. Take it from someone who’s made this mistake before- don’t get cute with it.
Players I’m High On (Brought to You this Week by Josh Gordon)
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, you find out that every column from yours truly comes with bonus content! Every article I post includes a brief discussion of one player who I’m especially high on at the moment and would recommend that all my readers target in their leagues. Without further ado, the first player that makes me higher than Josh Gordon on 4/20 is…
Sammy Watkins: The 2014 class of wide receivers may go down as the greatest in the history of the NFL. Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks, Allen Robinson, DaVante Adams, Jarvis Landry… a truly staggering list, but one is missing. Selected ahead of all of those world-class talents in the NFL draft was the physical phenomenon, rehab specialist, and chestnut Adonis known as Sammy Watkins.
Now, I could tell you about his NFL.com draft grade (7.3, highest in the league outside of Julio Jones). I could tell you about his track star speed (his 40 yard dash has been clocked between 4.34 and 4.43). I could tell you how he averaged 1100 yards and 9 touchdowns over three seasons at Clemson, or about his near 1500 yards in his junior campaign alone… but stats don’t tell the whole story. To see the man play is to love him. To bask in the glory of his dreadlocks blowing gloriously in the wind as he explodes effortlessly in and out of breaks… I defy you not to fall for Sammy as I have.
Yes, he’s had his problems with injuries. But he is also a twenty-four year old genetic freak who is in absolute peak physical condition and has access to the greatest medical care on the planet- unless you believe he will literally never get healthy, his emergence as an elite NFL receiver is only a matter of time. He is the closest thing in the league to a young Julio Jones, and at his current late first/early second round price I strongly encourage all of you, my newly rabid readers, to do your best to acquire him.