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The Upside of Danger

You got your sleeper list? Good. Got your Draft Dominator tuned and tweaked? Awesome. Got your chicken wings and a couple beers on ice, ready for the draft? Excellent work, my friend. Got your stomach?


Yes. Because you're going to need it, and not just for the aforementioned wings and beer.

The fact of the matter is that you can build a strong team with a good chance to win using solid projections and strategy. However, put me in the category that doesn't want a strong team with a good chance to win. I want to build a team that makes the rest of my league shudder. I want people to see me on the schedule and count it as a loss. I want to build a team that makes the rest of the league realize the best they'll do is second place. You've no doubt already sighed and said, "well, duh. That's what we all want." As my retort, I'll ask you a serious question: Really?

If you want to build a strong team with a good chance to win, quit reading, because I'm only going to frustrate you. If you want to build a team that has a chance to step on the throats of everyone else in your league, let's get down to business.

Truth is, just like individual players, a high-reward team (which is what we're wanting to build) is often first a high-risk team. In the last few years of drafting, I've had many rosters that looked downright dreadful between draft day and opening day. Take, for example, one league I participate in…

  • Three years ago, I selected Clinton Portis (then a rookie and 3rd on the depth chart) in the early part of round 4. My leaguemates laughed for the next month before all but losing interest in the leagues last few weeks since my team was crushing them. I'm sure some of you did the same thing and received the same response.

  • Two years ago, I selected Chad Johnson ahead of Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens.

  • Last year, I didn't make many bold decisions and as a result, my division winning team was no better then a coin flip to advance in the playoffs. I was eliminated in the round of 4.

Now, this isn't supposed to be a study in how I personally have drafted. Its also not supposed to be encouragement for you to make silly decisions and reach for players "just because." Like most fantasy players, I've hit some out of the park and I've missed on some (like Robert Ferguson). However, regardless of format, the teams I've had that have led to the greatest success are NOT the teams that are built to be solid, but the team's that are built to absolutely and completely maximize point potential.

Below are four players that strike me as being players that can maximize point potential. Whether you agree with my assessments or not, at least try to see the logic I'm using and apply it to the players you are considering as well. Some of these guys may strike you as obvious value plays, while others look insane. Fair enough; I'm just trying to get you thinking about how to stock a roster full of guys that can blow up in the absolute best way rather then a roster of guys that don't have much room to improve.

Priest Holmes

Holmes has been debated to death in most circles. The arguments can be summed up as follows: When healthy, Holmes is the best player in fantasy football. However, can he be counted on to stay healthy and is it worth spending a 4th round selection on his talented backup? My view is that anytime you can select "the best player in fantasy football" as late as 3rd, 4th or even 5th overall, you'd be a fool to pass him up. Regardless of risk, and there is some, Holmes is the only running back in fantasy football capable of outscoring your opponent's team on his own in any given week. Yes, there are other super-talented runners out there, but none has matched Priest's production. When evaluating a player like Holmes (and Larry Johnson), I think of it this way: If I wake up in December for my championship game, do I want to be the guy with the Chief's running game starting for me, or the guy facing the Chiefs running game? Case closed.

Tatum Bell

Another oft-debated player. Chances are that Bell will be drafted in the first 50 picks of your draft. That's a high selection for a guy who hasn't done much in the NFL and hasn't been named the starter yet. My view is that he's worth a selection much higher then that. Consider the following:

  • Since the 1998 season, 5 different players have led the Broncos in carries.

  • These 5 players finished at an average rank of 10.8 in year end fantasy rankings.

  • Among them, they averaged 16 fantasy points per game.

  • The worst fantasy season by a Broncos runner was when Mike Anderson finished 34th, with Terrell Davis only a couple spots behind him.

If you think Tatum Bell isn't a quality player or that he'll not win/keep the job, then so be it. However, in my view he has a great chance to be the season-long starter on a team that routinely sends fantasy players to the top 5. Not top-10, top FIVE. Getting him outside of the first round equals value. However, more than that, can you honestly look at any Average Draft Position list and tell me that any other third rounder (aside from perhaps Ahman Green) has a better chance to end up in the top-5 then Tatum Bell? I think not.

Brian Griese

Let's put to rest the rumors that Griese isn't going to be Jon Gruden's starter as long as he's healthy. Now, let's look at some of the fantasy numbers of Jon Gruden's quarterbacks since he's been a head coach.

  • Gruden's quarterbacks have never finished outside of the top half of the league in touchdowns. More to the point, the average finishing rank in passing touchdowns for Gruden's quarterbacks is 9th.

  • Gruden's quarterbacks have also never finished outside of the top half of the league in yards. More to the point, the average finishing rank in passing yards for Gruden's quarterbacks is 12th.

  • Gruden's quarterbacks average finishing rank among all quarterbacks is 11th. This does not take in to account Rich Gannon's MVP season running Jon Gruden's system with a different coach.

  • Gruden's quarterbacks have finished in the top 9 in fantasy points 4 times in 7 seasons.

No, Brian Griese isn't likely to make anyone forget Peyton Manning. However, I would rather select a career 63% passer with history on his side over a player like David Carr or Carson Palmer, neither of whom has ever finished in the top-10 and neither of whom are playing in a system that has shown top-10 passing numbers.

Travis Taylor

If I didn't have your attention before, I'm bound to have it now, if only for the wrong reasons. I'm not a moron. I know that Travis Taylor has been an eternal disappointment and some people never saw why he was drafted so high in the first place. That doesn't change the fact that Taylor's numbers in his 3 full seasons in Baltimore were just fine, except for the fact that he didn't get nearly enough receptions. He averaged 14.5 yards per reception and a touchdown every 12 catches. Prorate that to a 70 catch season…That's more then 1000 yards and 6 touchdowns. Taylor isn't likely to finish in the top ten, but a guy posting those ratios on a run-first team can easily be expected to improve in a pass-first team. If Taylor could produce at the aforementioned ratios, you're looking at a solid WR2 (those numbers would have been good for WR24 last year) in the latest rounds of your draft.

As I said, I'm not interested in simply offering even more analysis of concepts like "value" or "sleeper." I AM interested in encouraging you to analyze the good and bad of players and use your stomach to make selections that might not be conventional or popular. There are lots of players this year that might overachieve to the point of bringing the championship trophy to your team. Who are they? Well, identifying them is up to you. The suggestion that I would give you is that once you have your sites set on a player, go ahead and follow your gut on draft day. Make the off-kilter or out of line decision and select the guy that you think is due for really big things.

In other words, don't simply look at what you expect a player to produce, but also at what you think a player COULD produce given optimum conditions. You'll quickly find that some players have obvious limited upside, and some players have hidden, yet valid, potential to blow up.

With a little luck, by October the rest of your league might realize they are only playing for second place.

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