For someone who writes about fantasy football, I'm typically not on top of my game this early in the year. Usually, I like to spend my June and July working on broad research projects before pivoting towards the upcoming season in August and September. So when a friend who I hadn't seen since before the pandemic invited me to join him for a live draft over the 4th of July weekend, I told him I had no real interest in participating, but I'd be happy to come along, hang out, drink a few beers, and heckle him ruthlessly after every pick he made.
I woke up Saturday morning prepared to do just that. But when I checked my text messages I learned that someone had tested positive for Covid and wouldn't be able to make it. The league ran through its list of alternates but still found itself one GM shy of a full set and I was told if I couldn't draft, they wouldn't have enough participants to proceed. So I agreed.
The problem? Not only was I wildly unprepared to draft in any league, but the league in question was the Scott Fish Bowl.
What is the Scott Fish Bowl?
Established in 2010 by the eponymous Scott Fish, the Scott Fish Bowl has grown into one of the largest and most-anticipated fantasy events of the year. It grows every year, with the 2022 field expected to reach 2400-3000 participants split evenly between people who work in the fantasy football industry and unaffiliated fans, making it the largest "pro-am" fantasy football competition in the world. It also raises tens of thousands of dollars every year for Fantasy Cares, a charitable organization devoted to encouraging fantasy football players to donate a portion of their league's annual proceeds.
The exact rules and scoring system is a closely-guarded secret that changes every year to ensure that everyone has to start over from scratch. You can read this year's version here, but the high-level summary is: it's a relatively standard yardage and touchdown scoring (1 point per 10 rushing/receiving, 1 point per 25 passing, 6 points for all touchdowns) with a 4-point penalty for interceptions, a 0.5 point bonus for completions and a -1 point penalty for incompletions (rewarding completion percentages over 66.6% and punishing those below), and a half-point per reception and a half-point for first down for all positions except tight ends, who get a full point per reception and a full point per first down. You know, the basics.
As far as the starting lineup is concerned, participants will start 1 quarterback, 2 running backs, 3 wide receivers, 1 tight end, and 0 kickers, plus one Superflex spot and three regular flex spots, any of which can additionally be used on kickers unless you're drafting on Sleeper instead of MyFantasyLeague, in which case you will start 1 kicker and have two regular flex spots, none of which can be used on additional kickers.
The league drafts in early July before average draft position is set and almost all leagues begin drafting at the same time, so participants are unable to cheat off of anyone else's hard work. As a new wrinkle, the Scott Fish Bowl added live drafts this year starting a week before the main contest, which means participants would have even less time to strategize while on the clock and fewer other leagues to refer to for guidance. Are quarterbacks generally going early or falling until late this year? No one will know for another couple of weeks.
In short, the live drafts are engineered to be the most challenging version of the most difficult and exacting fantasy football contest on the planet. And I suddenly found myself in one with about three hours to get ready.
The First Five Minutes of Prep
The biggest key to winning in fantasy football is acquiring players who are more valuable than the players acquired by your competitors. The theory is incredibly simple (if not at all easy). But value is a function of two things: how a player produces, and what that production is worth in the context of your specific league. GMs in leagues that start one quarterback and GMs in leagues that start two quarterbacks can agree on how a specific quarterback is likely to produce, but they'll disagree substantially about how much that production is worth given their league's particulars.
Fortunately for me, I've been a Footballguys subscriber for two decades, so I knew the drill. Most sites excel at estimating how players will produce, but from day one Footballguys' main mission has been adapting those expectations to put them in the context of your specific league.
I logged into the Draft Dominator-- included in every subscription and available at draft.footballguys.com. I created a new league and entered the scoring and lineup requirements, and I loaded up a new draft. (A note: if your league is on any of the most common league hosts, the Draft Dominator can import this information automatically. But I was given such little notice that I didn't even have a link to the league yet to import, and I didn't have time to wait around until I got one. Besides, in leagues as complicated as this one, it never hurts to double-check the scoring settings by hand as some of the more unusual ones don't always translate perfectly.)
The Draft Dominator contains 2022 projections from all six of the projectors on staff (Bob Henry, Jason Wood, Maurile Tremblay, Sigmund Bloom, Anthony Amico, and Justin Freeman). But most importantly, it contains algorithms for adjusting those projections to the specific context of your league. Again, most Scott Fish Bowl participants aren't going to disagree too much on questions like "how much is Jonathan Taylor going to produce this year?" (Probably a lot.) The biggest point of disagreement is going to be on "given these particular league settings, how much is that production worth relative to top quarterbacks, receivers, or tight ends?"
Because the Draft Dominator handles all the hard calculations, I could stop there and still wind up with a competitive team. My dad doesn't even follow football, but he plays in an annual fantasy football league because it's the big social event in his office every fall. It's a complicated, 14-team affair with both team defenses and individual defensive players. He downloads the Draft Dominator and League Dominator, syncs them to his league, and merely does what they tell him to do. He's a perennial playoff team who took home the championship in 2019.
But since I still had nearly three hours to burn, I went a little bit more in-depth.
The Next Twenty-Five Minutes of Prep
The Draft Dominator is designed to work well out of the box, but if you're familiar with it there are deeper customization options to allow you to tweak it to better suit your preferences. These options can be found under "Settings" > "Rankings Profile Settings".
The first option on this tab is how optimistic you want your projections to be. The Draft Dominator carries with it two sets of projections, both the baseline expectations and a set of upside projections meant to simulate the 90th percentile in a player's range of outcomes. By default the Draft Dominator will automatically blend these two sets while making suggestions, focusing more on actual expectations early in the draft (where you're trying to avoid busts) before pivoting more and more strongly to best-case-scenario projections in the later rounds (where all if a player performs to expectations he'll be virtually useless for fantasy, so smart GMs begin to prioritize upside). I love this automatic adjustment, so I leave this on "Auto".
Next, you can set a broad strategy for the Draft Dominator to follow. There are three main strategic goals you can aim for when on the clock. The first is maximizing VBD (how much a given player is expected to outscore a replacement-level player). The second is focusing on positional needs, bumping recommendations based on where your roster is weakest (whether that's filling out a lineup or covering for bye weeks). Finally, you can have the Draft Dominator focus on positional dropoffs, boosting recommendations to try to get you ahead of big positional runs so you don't miss out on a positional tier. (To do this, the Draft Dominator uses ADP, but in the spirit of tailoring everything based on context, it estimates what ADP will actually look like given the specifics of your league.)
If you set this to "auto" the algorithm will naturally update throughout the draft to continue making the recommendations that best satisfy the blend of those three concerns. Because the algorithms here are pretty strong and because I often do my own optimizations when on the clock anyway, I always leave this setting on "auto" as well.
At the bottom of this panel, you can overwrite individual player projections (if you perhaps think we're too low on Patrick Mahomes II, say) or apply broad positional adjustments (for example, downweighting quarterbacks if the Draft Dominator is recommending them higher than you feel comfortable). I believe the projectors on staff are better at this than I am and the Draft Dominator's algorithms are really, really good, so I leave these two untouched as well.
Even if you don't want to overwrite individual projections, you can adjust the blend of the six projection sets that you use. If you're a big fan of Maurile Tremblay or Sigmund Bloom, say, you could tell the Dominator to give extra weight to their projections. (If you wanted, you could even drop every other projector from the mix and just draft off of a single set.) I've been drafting using Bob Henry's projections for twenty years now, so I always add extra weight to his just for continuity's sake. (Bob Henry and Justin Freeman also handle rest-of-year projections once the season starts, so adding extra weight to their projections before the season will help avoid big shifts in player rankings after Week 1, while the other four projectors do weekly projections, so adding extra weight will cause your draft to better match the start/sit recommendations.)
Finally-- and most importantly-- there's the "Weekly Weights" tab. This is where you tell the Draft Dominator how important each individual week is when it makes player recommendations. There are two default profiles you can use, one of which prioritizes making the playoffs (great in leagues where you get your entry fee back if you reach the postseason), while the other overweights the playoff weeks to maximize your chances of winning the title.
I like the "overweight playoff weeks" approach, but in this case, I had to manually adjust given the unique nature of the Scott Fish Bowl playoffs (which, among other things, start in Week 12). The league uses an 11-week regular season, after which half of the field advances to an eliminator-style playoff. Every week you get your season-to-date average score plus your score from that week, with the lowest scorers getting eliminated. It's an interesting format because your regular-season performance matters all the way to the end, but still, the most important thing will be big scores in weeks 12-17.
As a result, I set the sliders for weeks 1-11 to 50% and the sliders for weeks 12-17 to 200% to make sure I'm focusing on drafting players who can carry me through the crowded playoff field to glory. The biggest impact of this shift is going to be a noticeable downgrade for any player with a bye in Week 12 or later.
And that's pretty much it; within about 30 minutes of checking my text messages, I had the Draft Dominator perfectly tailored to give me the most actionable advice to carry me through the craziness that is the Scott Fish Bowl.
The Last Two Hours and Thirty Minutes of Prep
That didn't mean my work was done, though. This was going to be my first draft of the season, which meant my skills were a bit rusty, so this left me with just enough time to practice my table talk for a bit before heading out.
Good table talk should be reactive to the situation at hand, but that doesn't mean you can't prepare a few stock jokes to fall back on in lulls in the action. My favorite go-to is waiting until a surprising player is taken and then loudly but clearly saying "Wait! Stop the draft!" Then after pausing a moment for dramatic effect, I add "I'm going to need a minute to find that last guy on my cheat sheet". Then I make a show of exaggeratedly scrolling for 30 seconds or so before announcing that I'm all good and the draft can resume.
But mostly it's important to find your own personal style. You can go for arrogant and swaggering or self-deprecating, complimentary, or teasing. I keep hammering on the importance of understanding context and that's true here, too-- you don't want to hurt any feelings or make anyone else uncomfortable. Get a good read on the room. In this case, given the setting (a bar) and the participants (major fantasy die-hards) and the atmosphere (for most, the unofficial kickoff to the fantasy football season), I was anticipating a boisterous experience.
But fantasy football is first and foremost supposed to be fun, and for most leagues, the draft is the biggest social event of the year, so I wanted to be prepared to keep things light and lively. The Draft Dominator actually helped a lot here, too, letting me start up a mock draft and practice reacting to the autopicks in real time to knock the rust off of my trash talk game. "Surely you didn't mean to pick another running back here. You do realize we have to start three wide receivers every week, right? Would you like me to ask the commissioner to back the draft up for you?"
Managing The Draft
Once all your prep is done all that's left to do is draft. As I mentioned, you can simply take whoever the Draft Dominator recommends with every pick and it's optimized to ensure you walk out with a strong contender. But if you've been drafting for a while and have a good feel for the ebb and flow, you can switch to using the Draft Dominator more as a tool to track and manage your draft. I mentioned that the Draft Dominator does its best to guess what ADP will look like in your league (given generic ADP and your particular settings), but sometimes its best guess will be wrong, especially in unusual leagues like this one. Maybe the Draft Dominator thinks it's best to focus on quarterbacks early but your leaguemates disagree so quarterbacks start to fall.
In situations like that, the "Rosters" tab is an invaluable tool for making educated guesses as to who will come off the board, automatically tallying how many players each team has at each position. If I'm picking in the 8th spot and I need a second quarterback but I notice that every GM in the 9th through 12th spot already has two quarterbacks, I might grab someone from another position instead and gamble that everyone will make it back to me in the next round.
You can also pull up a list of players by position, guess how many players at that position will be drafted before your next pick, and see how far off the position will fall as a result. This is a great way to stay ahead of the draft and make sure you don't get locked out of specific tiers of players. Sometimes you'll even be able to estimate when you can grab someone at the top of a tier, trigger a run, and then grab someone at the bottom of the same tier on the way back around. "Managing the flow of the draft" is a difficult skill that you'll develop over time as you get more and more practice drafting, but the great thing about the Draft Dominator is how it seamlessly transitions to remain useful no matter your skill level and style.
Ultimately, whether you're the type who wants the Draft Dominator to tell you exactly what to do or if you'd rather rely on your own intuitions and use it as a supplement to inform your opinions, it's the perfect tool for any league, from an out-of-the-box ESPN league with all settings left untouched to something as bizarre and esoteric as the Scott Fish Bowl.