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I have spent more years playing fantasy football than acquiring a formal education. This fact dawned on me Sunday night when I sat down to write this column. Considering that I accumulated 375 credit hours over seven years to earn my bachelor's degree and fantasy football still has a year on school came as a surprise.
My experience with the hobby conveniently splits into two decades: one as a player and the other as a working professional, writer, and businessman. Childhood, adolescence, and adulthood parallel my 20 years of experience in the fantasy football industry.
My involvement in the game began purely as an interest in play and innocent fun. I loved football and the hobby was a way to stay connected to the NFL season and learn more about the professional sport.
As I entered the industry as a writer, competition and status took center stage--sometimes to the detriment of the pure joy that I derived from the hobby. The happiness I got from the game was equally split between competition and achieving recognition in this growing industry.
Now that I'm finishing my10th season as a professional football analyst with equal involvement in fantasy football and the NFL Draft, my motivations for participating in leagues aren't remotely the same as they once were. When I began this hobby I spent more time on my teams than my work. Now that football is an indispensable part of my career, I spend more time on my work than my teams.
I still love competing, but I find that my teams serve more as laboratories for my columns and my work interferes with my time to maintain a rigorous in-season maintenance schedule for my teams. I've become more attracted to taking risks with team building.
What if I don't draft running backs until the fifth round or later?
What if I blow my entire waiver wire budget on one player?
How long will it take for me to rebuild a dynasty team if I blow it up?
Can I remain competitive in a dynasty league without a couple of years of draft picks?
Can I contend in an IDP-heavy, equal-scoring-across-positions, expert league without drafting stud defensive ends?
What if I move up and down the rookie draft board by giving up future picks? Can I find a way to acquire picks next year and do the same thing again?
Can I manage a re-draft roster to a winning record while streaming RBs, WRs, and/or TEs each week?
These are some of the questions that I've been exploring in recent years. While I'm learning a lot and it gives me ideas for this column, I have a feeling that I only have, at best, a few more years of interest in playing Mr. Wizard with my fantasy teams and it will be time for me to participate in only 3-4 leagues moving forward.
LIke I said earlier, my work as an analyst feels more like its own form of fantasy competition than the actual hobby. I'm not sure what I think about this development. My focus on rookies is as fun as ever, but I miss having a local league and the industry continues to evolve in directions that may change the landscape of how we all regard this hobby.
Reflection is the pervasive theme of this week's column and it's time to look at the eight teams I fielded in 2014. These leagues offer a mix of traditional and less common facets that you can find with the hobby:
- Game Breakers - A large roster, full IDP, 14-team dynasty league with 8 of the teams owned by Footballguys staff.
- IOP - A large roster, full IDP, 12-team dynasty league with scoring that gives the best players at every position the potential for similar value.
- RSO Writers League - This 14-team league has a salary cap/contract format built by a former cap expert with the Eagles, an annual free agent auction draft, a traditional rookie draft, and a keeper format. I'm the comissioner with writers from sites that you're familliar with.
- Footballguys Staff IDP Dynasty League - A large roster full IDP 12-team dynasty league with IOP scoring.
- Hot Route - 16-team dynasty with large rosters and full IDP, featuring 6 Footballguys staffers.
- HyperActive 2 - 12-team (or 24-team if you count both divisions) dynasty league with multiple flex options that include the potential to start 1-5 RBs, WRs, or TEs. Lots of creativity available to build rosters here.
- Phenomz Dynasty - 14-team dynasty league with a college player keeper that's filed with Footballguys Shark Pool regulars and the owner of Fantasy Throwdown.
- FESL OMEGA - 14-team re-draft of Footballguys staffers with a lot of flex, flexibility.
Sadly only one of my leagues offers an auction element, which is by far my favorite (and in my opinion, one of the styles where I excel). I'll share the roster of each team, my record, points standing, playoff standing, and based on that last point whether the lessons we've gained come from the exploration of living anatomy or the post-mortem of an autopsy. This week, I'm sharing those squads that are still alive.
- Format: Dynasty Full IDP
- Scoring Highlights: Distance scoring bonuses, Yardage bonuses, Turnover penalties, and PPR w/1.5 PPR for TEs.
- Lineups: 1 QB, 0-2 RB, 3-5 WR, 1-3 TE, 1 PK, 1-2 DT, 2 DE, 3-4 LB, 2 CB, 2-3 S
- 2014 Record: 8-5, second place in division after loss to Heath Cummings this weekend, wild card sewn up.
- 2014 Points: 3rd-highest season total.
- 2013 Record: 10-5, first-week bye in playoffs, and third place overall.
Quick History: I took over this team as a rebuild in 2010. I traded for Manning during his year off from neck surgery, drafted Russell Wilson, Ryan Mathews, A.J. Green, Michael Crabtree, Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills, Travis Kelce, and Greg Hardy. Existing players included Ray Rice, Frank Gore, and Lawrence Timmons.
Recent Deal: After a contending in 2013, I made a draft-day trade for Adrian Peterson and DeMeco Ryans hoping that I'd land a superstar at RB and add depth to my linebacker corps. Peterson, Rice, and Hardy confirm that at my worst, that I am an unintentional magnet for off-field malcontents.
Rookie Classes: 2010's team had Alex Smith at quarterback and little else, so I wasn't surprised that I earned the first pick in 2011, but those two years of drafts, a couple of deals, and free agency helped turn things around fast. You'll see below an even mix of big hits, decent value, and big misses.
2013: Travis Kelce (1.10), Dion Jordan (2.10), Da'Rick Rodgers (3.10), Marquess Wilson (3.11), Kenny Stills (4.10), Quanterus Smith (4.12), Tavarres King (4.14), Charles Johnson (5.01), Luke Willson (6.01)
2010: Ryan Mathews (1.01), Montario Hardesty (2.01), Jimmy Graham (3.01), Brandon Graham (3.10), Tony Moeaki (3.11), Anthony Dixon (4.01), Nate Allen (5.01), Jason Worilds (5.11), Corey Wootton (6.01), Kerry Meier (7.01), Dedrick Epps (8.01)
I gave up on Charles Johnson too early in hindsight and I whiffed on Gabbert and Hardesty. I'm also concerned about Dion Jordan. However, I traded away Jordan Cameron and Tannehill for solid pieces and I have reaped pretty good value from the four rookie drafts where I have at least two years to see how my picks have developed.
One area I need to improve with my selections in IDP leagues is defensive end. Brandon Graham, Jason Worilds, Melvin Ingram III, and Dion Jordon were all players I drafted as DEs, but they were turned into 3-4 OLBs. My only sound pick at DE based on purely on talent and fit has been Hardy as a UDFA.
Best 2014 UDFA: Allen Hurns, a player I wrote about in September 2013 and liked his chances of making the Jaguars roster. I didn't expect the heights he'd reach and I rarely started him this year.
Roster Needs: Defensive end is weak. I lack a single player in the top 32 at the position. Linebacker is better--6 in the top 64, and 3 in the top 34, including the No.13 LB Lawrence Timmons--but my corps is aging fast.
Basic Ownership Strategy/Philosophy: This league is closest to my true ownership style. I like to have a stud quarterback, a stud tight end, and an emphasis on collecting as many receivers and linebackers as I can lay my hands on. The linebacker part hasn't worked out yet, but when Jene Bramel tells you that he's impressed with your bargain shopping of this position off the waiver wire, then you're holding your own.
2015 Outlook: Running back is very difficult to trade away at decent value in this league, but with Frank Gore nearing the end and Ryan Mathews a free agent, I'm counting on Peterson and possibly Rice to rebound next year and keep my window of contention open for another year while I continue addressing other needs.
- Format: Re-draft Full IDP
- Scoring Highlights: You need to see why J.J. Watt, Justin Houston, and Deandre Levy, are three of the top-15 players overall in this league.
- Lineups: 1 QB, 1-2 RB, 2-3 WR, 1-2 TE, 1-2 DT, 2 DE, 3-4 LB, 2-3 CB, 2-3 S
- 2014 Record: 9-5, second place in division by points tiebreaker behind Jene Bramel and third seed in the playoffs.
- 2014 Points: 6th-highest season total.
- 2013 Record: 12-4 with 3rd-highest point total. Lost to the season points leader and eventual champion in the playoffs.
Draft and Free Agent Additions
Note: Leodis McKelvin is in italics because I recently dropped him after his season-ending injury. Prior to getting hurt he was a top-5 performer at cornerback.
Draft and In-Season Management Strategy: This is one of my favorite leagues despite the fact that one of my colleagues believes this format is more luck-based than skill-based. I don't buy what he's selling. The past two years, I've used a similar strategy with strong results. First, I focus on getting three stud starters at receiver. I thought those three would be Thomas, Green, and Harvin, but it turned out that Steve Smith has been an able substitute for Harvin. Fantasy football owners, especially writers, are inherently ageist and if you pick your spots with when to play against this tendency, you can reap the benefits. I thought about taking Smith every round after the 16th, but I didn't think I needed to, which made his fall to 26th all the sweeter.
I didn't intend to take a running back within the first 5-7 rounds. I don't believe I picked a back in the opening 5 rounds last year, but when Bell fell to 3.10, there was no way I could pass him up when he was a top-10 back on my board. Getting a top-10 overall player in the third round has paid off nicely and it's a great lesson that if you identify great value on your board that disrupts your intended strategy, adjust by taking the value.
I tend to draw parallels between RBs and DEs and WRs and LBs in IDP leagues. If you have a stud like J.J. Watt or Levon Bell, one of them is enough to bolster your team as long as you don't have duds at other positions. A pair of studs at each of these positions can make your squad dominant. However, there's a fair bit of turnover with both positions and I prefer prioritizing my targets with receivers and linebackers, which constitute a higher volume of players in your starting lineup. I've learned that there's good upside down thinking for IDP.
My mid-round DE targets were a veteran and a reclamation project. Justin Tuck was been inconsistent, but he's supplied me good weeks in a pinch. However, Jerry Hughes was the player I was my main middle-round target--my upside down DE du jour. Hughes joined a Bills defense where he was given the shot to be a pass rusher first and foremost opposite a stud in Mario Williams and a strong interior that would make life additionally plush for the young Hughes. Only J.J. Watt has been better.
I want depth at both LB and WR positions and I make it an early-season priority to stockpile this position during the draft and on the waiver wire. Linebacker injuries hit my roster hard this season. Stephen Tulloch and Karlos Dansby were studs before injuries hit, but because I was fortunate to acquire two top-24 LBs, one top-30 player, and one top-45 option in their place of the waiver wire, I've still managed my way through the bye weeks to duke it out with Jene Bramel for the top spot in our division.
Speaking of stockpiling depth, notice that Josh Gordon was my 20th-round pick and I held onto him all season. When you have a deep draft with large lineups, you have to expect a fair bit of roster turnover, but if you want to save a player or two, these formats can be accommodating without hurting your chances to contend.
I dropped 15 of the 34 players that I drafted. The total seems high, but 9 of the 19 players that I kept are top-10 performers at their positions. Players like Tulloch, Ingram, Stills, and Robinson all suffered injuries that hampered their play.
Another position I resist drafting early is defensive back. Charles Woodson is another example of me going against the ageist tendencies of my colleagues. I had Woodson last year and he was a stud. He was my DB version of Steve Smith and I waited as long as I could to take him. Getting a top-12 safety in the 27th round was expected, but that option performing in the top-5 at his position was a bonus.
I also prefer building a strong offense in the draft and improving my defense via free agency. If you only have one side of the ball as an in-season focus then your free agency plan won't be spread too thin. It will increase your chances of winning bids on players you need.
To boil it down to its essence, here's my shorthand for these ideas:
- I think of DEs as IDP versions of RBs and LBs and IDP versions of WRs. If you use the upside down strategy or factor it in somewhat to your approach then you'll stockpile WR and LB.
- Safety and cornerback can wait until the end of your draft, but if you are going to take one in the middle rounds, choose a safety.
- Great value at a pivotal position during the opening 5-7 rounds is worth deviating from a strategic plan in a deep draft.
- Lock up pivotal offensive positions in you draft and use the majority of your waiver wire resources on defensive players. Otherwise you'll spread yourself too thin in free agency.
Reality Sports Online
- Format: Contract salary cap league with annual fee agent auction and non-serpentine rookie draft.
- Scoring Highlights: PPR, yardage bonuses, penalties for turnovers.
- Lineups: 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3-4 WR, 1-2 TE, 1 PK, 1 DEF
- 2014 Record: 8-5, third place in division and fourth seed in playoffs.
- 2014 Points: 3rd-highest total.
- 2013 Record: 7-6 and led league in points scored. Lost in first round of playoffs.
2014 Rookie Draft: Teddy Bridgeater (1.12 via trade), Isaiah Corwell (2.09), Charles Sims (3.05 via trade), Marion Grice (3.09), Kevin Norwood (4.09), Albert Wilson (4.12 via trade), Jeremy Gallon (4.13 via trade)
Strategy: 2013 was the inaugural season for the RSO Writers League and my plan was to stockpile receiver talent and acquire at least two decent running backs. Arian Foster and Steven Jackson were those two players last year and signing Ben Tate to a long-term deal looked promising at the time. Heading into this season, Tate worried me as an injury about to happen on a team that might have issues running the ball with Josh Gordon's season in limbo. As a result Matt Forte was my sole aim in the free agent auction and I got him for $2 million less than I budgeted.
However, I had to sign him to a contract that was two years longer than I desired. This was an easy decision despite the risk of having a potentially expensive lame duck 2-3 years from now, because by that time much of my roster will be turned over. My window began last year and likely continues through the end of 2015.
If I'm being realistic, this is my year because quarterbacks are stockpiled in this league and all I have is a franchise-tagged Jay Cutler and Teddy Bridgewater. We only have on player we can franchise each year and Cutler was the most reasonable choice (I'm still regretting that I didn't continue fighting for Russell Wilson last year). Calvin Johnson and Arian Foster's deals expire and I'll have to consider franchising one of them to stay competitive, but unless I have a ton of faith that Bridgewater will make the leap in 2015 (and my faith level only weighs in at half a ton) I'll have to consider cap room if I want to acquire a good free agent quarterback.
Want to see how I created my auction board for his league, which is easily convertible to more common auction formats? Check out this link.
Next Week: Autopsies and lessons learned.