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"FBG is the best fantasy football advisory service anywhere."
Nigel Eccles, Co-Founder, FanDuel
Why I Do this Every year
I don't talk much about my fantasy leagues. Most of us veterans of fantasy football writing don't. No one really cares unless the discussion of your league has a quick, clear point related to a topic of discussion.
I share what's happening in my leagues once or twice a year because I have enough readers that want to know about the type of leagues I'm in, the strategies I employ, the personnel I choose, and the decisions I'm facing. That's what I'm doing this week.
I'm in eight leagues:
- 5 dynasty leagues
- 3 large-roster PPR, IDP formats with 1.5 PPR TE premium scoring
- 2 non-IDP formats
- 2 keeper leagues—1 of them a Reality Sports Online salary cap, auction draft format
- 1 re-draft league with super-flex lineups.
I've cut back in recent years so I can devote more time to studying and writing about football—fantasy and non-fantasy alike. The formats I miss the most are re-draft and auction. These are places where I have a history of excelling as a fantasy owner. I also turned $25 into $800 in DFS formats last year, but the time-suck of the format isn't worth an investment this year.
For the sake of space and time, I'm not profiling every league, but I'll pick at least one from each category above.
My only re-draft league is a Footballguys Staff League. It's a PPR format with premium scoring for tight ends. This year, our commissioner added a Super-Flex format, giving us these lineup options when fielding 11 starters:
- 1-2 QBs
- 2-4 RBs
- 3-5 WRs
- 1-3 TEs
- 1 K
- 1 DEF
I have never played in a Super-Flex format and I have no problem sharing that I didn't like the change. When too much flexibility is infused into starting lineup options, I believe it decreases the skill factor of the league. It's like playing poker with too many wildcards. I'm open to listening to a counterargument but until I hear a good one, I don't like these formats.
With that said, some of you are expecting that I must be struggling in this league. But I'm 8-1, I'm a half-point behind the No.3 point-scoring team, I have a three-game lead over the next-best team in my division, and a two-game lead over the next-best team in the league.
The table on the left is the team I drafted, the table on the right is the team after Week 9.
Draft Strategy/Results: One of the things I love about competing with my colleagues is that they are so well-versed in strategies and ADP that you're forced to consider bold moves that you might not otherwise make in settings with predictable owners. Because of my experience competing with these guys for several years and having no idea how quarterbacks would be valued in his format and with these owners, I didn't go into this draft with a specific strategy in mind.
It helped that my assigned draft spot was the back-end turn. This, by the way, is my absolute favorite spot to draft. You don't want me drafting at this spot if you can help it. For whatever reason, I see drafts unfolding with greater clarity at this turn and I have reacted to them well over the years.
If you've followed my preseason columns, you'll see that when it comes to valuing players I like more than the consensus, my actions match my analysis. I invested early in the Jaguars' and Cardinals passing games, Adrian Peterson, and the safety of Philip Rivers' skill at elevating his surrounding talent.
Because 9 quarterbacks left the board between the 10th and 31st picks and Eli Manning was the 31st pick, I knew I had to go with back-to-back QBs at the turn.
I also took a calculated gamble on Josh Gordon, who was coming off a big preseason performance against the Buccaneers.
I wrote a lot about ranking Michael Thomas as the best rookie receiver to own in re-draft leagues and I took an equally aggressive stance to grab him. After that, I went heavy on discount starters at running back that scared some conventional drafters. I especially liked Crowell and Blount and they were options that fell to my projected ADP.
Players I Wanted But Missed: Ezekiel Elliott was my hopeful first option, but Jeff Haseley took him with the ninth pick and I figured my chances weren't strong that he'd fall to me at the turn. I seriously considered Keenan Allen over Allen Robinson, but this league has a big-play scoring component. Although Robinson has been a disappointment, he's still a fantasy starter in this league and picking an Allen-Peterson combo would have been even harder to manage around.
I really wanted Spencer Ware and if there was one pick I truly regret, it's taking Julius Thomas at 9.12 when I could have gone Ware-Crowell at this turn. I reacted too much to the TE premium rules and the run of Coby Fleener, Martellus Bennett, Gary Barnidge, Jason Witten, and Tyler Eifert leaving the board in the 8th and 9th rounds.
Key Additions: Bloom dropped Jay Ajayi before the Thursday night matchup with the Bengals and I pounced on him, thinking he was doing the right things on the field despite lacking strong production. I hoped he'd work his way out of Adam Gase's doghouse and I not only did I make a good guess, the improvement of the Dolphins' line created a perfect storm of production potential that came to fruition.
Davante Adams was a free agent in this league and I added him after his 5-85-1 performance against the Giants in Week 5. I didn't start him against the Cowboys or benefit from his 41-point outburst against the Bears, but he has generated 33.5 points for my starting lineup for the past 2 weeks.
Lessons Worth Sharing: The most important one I can impart is the one I've stressed for years, the draft is only one leg in constructing a strong fantasy table. My draft is a great testimonial for this point. Robinson is underachieving, Peterson underachieved and got hurt, the Gordon gamble failed miserably, and John Brown's concussion derailed any potential for a strong start.
If you're keeping score, that's four of my first seven picks with limited production, at best, yet I'm 8-1. It only takes 1-3 good waiver wire additions to help a team. Although the Ajayi and Adams pickups have been great additions, I've only started Ajayi three times during the five weeks he's been on my roster and he sat on my bench during his 42-point outing against the Steelers. Adams has only seen my lineup during the past two weeks.
It underscores the next point: Drafts aren't won and lost on the sole merit of your early-round picks. The middle and late phases of a draft can compensate for an underwhelming early phase. This is the biggest reason my team is performing well. Imagine if I took Ware instead of Thomas and rolled with a starting lineup of Crowell, Blount, Ajayi, and Ware during most weeks and only using Michael as a bye-week option?
My decision to select Thomas is the third lesson: Tight end is one of the easiest positions to acquire early from the waiver wire during the season—even in premium leagues. While everyone is hunting for running backs and wide receivers early on, valuable tight ends were available: PItta, Jack Doyle, Cameron Brate, and Lance Kendricks are all top-150 performers in this format that were free agents for at least 2-3 weeks.
It leads to the fourth lesson: Stockpile running backs and wide receivers during the draft. There will be a great demand for these positions on the waiver wire early on. Build depth with the hope of creating strengths at these positions so any major hole in your lineup is a position with lesser demand on the waiver wire.
Even if everyone is trying to do the same thing, there's a good chance that some of your competition will lose patience early with RB and WR depth and go after a one-week, free agent wonders. At the same time, they'll be forsaking promising options at TE and rationalizing that they need to stay patient with their current options.
The Dirty Dozen Expert's League is the first league I've joined in three years. It's a long-standing writer's league that I always wanted to be a part of because it was one of the first I had seen when I began writing about fantasy football. It was a pleasant surprise to earn an invitation, although the commissioner seemed bewildered that I wanted to be in this league for a long time.
This is a PPR league with 20 roster spots, 2 IR spots, and 9 starting lineup spots of 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 PK, and 1 DEF. Each team earns a maximum of three keepers at the cost of a draft pick based on the previous year's selection spot.
My keepers and the price (round forfeited in the 2016 draft) are below:
Draft Strategy/Results: When I kept Johnson and Anderson, I knew I'd be going Upside Down. I loved getting Brown, but I wasn't thrilled about Thomas. I hoped for T.Y. Hilton or Sammy Watkins. Fortunately, Thomas has performed above my expectation of him as a WR3 that I had to take as a WR2.
I thought Marvin Jones would be my WR2, but his production has cratered after an elite WR1 beginning. I was hoping I'd land Jones and Larry Fitzgerald at the 4-5 turn but Fitzgerald went at 4.01, so I opted for Brown.
As you can see with Brown, I'm consistent about grabbing players I liked: Isaiah Crowell and Spencer Ware fit the bill here. I've often started Ware over Anderson with success and I'm hoping Ware will return to action this weekend so I can remain in the thick of the division race.
Two players that I wanted in a most desperate way at the 8-9 turn were Michael Thomas and Stefon Diggs. If both were available, I would have never taken Funchess and Dixon. Funchess was the most uncharacteristic selection I made all summer. I've never been a fan of his skills and I took a chance on him based on summer reports from beat writers.
Losing Teddy Bridgewater and Robert Griffin before the second week of September and saddled with a hobbled Russell Wilson has been rough and I'm surprised I'm 5-4. Another 8 points from Wilson against the Bills and I'd be 6-3, so I'm optimistic that Wilson, Ware, a healthy Roethlisberger back for Brown, and Johnson are the core for a strong stretch run.
In this case, I hit more on my early picks than middle and late-round options. The only mid- and late-round options that have been beneficial are Ware and Kyle Rudolph, although I'm feeling hopeful about Kenneth Dixon—even if I currently don't need him in my lineup.
Key Losses: I abandoned Austin Hooper early and while I have some pangs of regret, I doubt I would have kept him next year if I didn't drop him. Johnson, Ware, Wilson, Jones, and Dixon are my early keeper candidates for 2017.
Lessons: I'm in no way saying that I'm a flawless evaluator of young talent. But when you've been writing a publication about rookies for 11 years and you've had lots of hits, you should trust your strengths.
Selecting Funchess went against that trust. In hindsight, LeGarrette Blount, Matt Stafford, and Martellus Bennett were more in line with my summer wishlist. Taking the Carolina receiver eliminated these three options. Examining my losses, only Bennett would have been a difference in one of them, but stockpiling talent you trust provides options for trading from a strength rather than drafting for need with players you don't trust.
My other keeper league is a Reality Sports Online league with a lot of industry guys, including Bloom, Jason Wood, Jeff Tefertiller, Matt Harmon, Matt Franciscovich, and Bob Harris. Because of the complexities of the contracts and auction format, it's not the best league to share lessons learned unless I devote an entire feature to it.
For the sake of transparency, I'll note that I'm in a three-way tie for first place in my division at 6-3 with a team that's 8th in scoring among 14 teams. There are 5 teams in my division within a game of first place. Harmon is 9-0 with a three-game lead in his division.
HyperActive leagues are a mainstay in the dynasty circuit. For the past four years, I've sold my draft picks and relied on trades and free agency. My team was once a receiver-heavy squad with few quality runners. Last year, I built an up-and-comer on the strength of free agent running backs. After a 5-2 start, I've lost two in-a-row, including a squeaker by less than a point two weeks ago.
This is a PPR league with premium TE scoring and 9-player starting lineups consistent of 1QB, 1-5 RBs, 1-5 WRs, 1-5 TEs, 1 DEF. Once again, this is one of those leagues that values wildcard options. It's essentially a Super-Flex League that doesn't include multiple QBs.
Strategy: This is one of these teams where I opted to experiment. I usually stockpile QBs and WRs and make a top TE a priority. Then I focus on RBs in the draft. I made a ton of bad moves in this league, beginning with a trade of Rob Gronkowski for Aaron Hernandez.
As my team declined from high-scorer and playoff contender to high-scoring, but inconsistent bottom-dweller, I took the opportunity to experiment. One thing I'm putting an end to is trading draft picks. They aren't as valuable in this league as other dynasty formats, but abandoning my strength as a fantasy owner is senseless.
Recent Key Additions-Losses: Sometimes these moves fit both categories at once. I traded Ladarius Green my 2017 first-round pick and my 2016 4.10 to Matt Williamson for Gordon. So far, and likely long-term, the risk backfired but it was a move that could have put me over the top in a league where I'm fourth in points scored without him.
I also dropped Steve Smith for Tyrell Williams in early August. I wish I dropped a different player and kept Smith. The same could be said for saying goodbye to Rishard Matthews for Jalen Richard in June.
Lessons Learned: When you're on the wrong side of transactions, keep plugging away. Don't let it discourage you from making more. You learn far more from staying through bad experiences than giving up and moving on. I learned that in this league, I could build a competitive team with castoffs and free agents at running back: Ryan Mathews, Spencer Ware, Isaiah Crowell, Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Thomas Rawls were all in this category during my roster building.
I'm in three of these leagues and all three are PPR/TE Premium formats. I've profiled two of them multiple times in the past. One of them, I'm currently 3-6 and sixth in points.
I've lost four games in a row while Adrian Peterson is on IR and, my only quarterback, Russell Wilson has limped through the past 6-8 weeks. I had four "Coulda Won" games with a bench that is outscoring all but two teams in the league. With Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce, A.J. Green, Michael Crabtree, Tyrell Williams, and Steve Smith, I'm optimistic that I can find the right defensive combinations for my lineup to turn my season around.
The other is a league where blew up the team too early and traded away Peyton Manning, Marshawn Lynch, Antonio Gates, and Von Miller and my transactions didn't earn the return on investment I hoped. This team is also 3-6, but it's 5th in scoring in this 16-team league and only 4 teams have had opponents score more against them.
With Brandon Graham freed to be a 4-3 DE, Vontaze Burfict and Russell Wilson healthy, and Michael Thomas replacement the loss of Martavis Bryant to suspension, I also have hopes of making a run. I think this roster is a year away from contending again.
The team I'll profile is 6-3, 3rd in points scored, and 3rd in points scored against in this league.
Strategy-Lessons: I try to find parallels between offensive and defensive positions so I can develop a consistent draft strategy. Based on the lineup and scoring rules of this league (high-performance IDP that's on even footing with offensive players), the two most valuable positions are WR and LB. I want to be deep and productive at these positions.
TE and DE are also anchor positions where I'd like to have a pair of studs at each position to anchor my unit, especially with the insanity of 1.5 PPR rules and the general length of production that top tight ends have during the span of a career. In this league, I preferred TE to DE and figured I could focus on DE in free agency with reasonable success. Williams and Ngakoue are successful additions this year.
I also look at QBs as long-term anchors. It's why I originally drafted Wilson and Brady. Safeties make a huge difference, the only position that's easier to find top-tier free agent options early in the season and ride them all year is cornerback.
It chafes the veteran IDP writers that it's this way, but safeties and quarterbacks can be better when earning a second shot with a new team. It takes awhile for both positions to learn the pro game. Plus, fantasy owners tend to give up on players at both positions 3-5 years before their production takes a true nosedive.
Stashes of Note
Brandon Wilds: The Falcons reached an injury settlement with the notably productive preseason performer and the Jets stashed him on its practice squad. Knile Davis and Tremayne Pope have both come and gone in a hurry. I'm hopeful that Wilds will compete for a spot on the active roster, if not a committee role, as early as 2017. Wilds is strong, agile, and versatile. If he stayed healthy in Atlanta, I would have been shocked if he didn't beat Terron Ward handily for the No.3 job. He's a better between the tackles runner than Tevin Coleman right now.
Robby Anderson: I profiled him in Week 9's Top 10.
Josh Gordon: I drafted him and I'm not getting rid of him until it's obvious that he has moved on with his life. I know people in the NFL who have been asked to research Gordon's trade value in case he's reinstated in the next 6 months to a year.
Paul Richardson Jr: It's a lot slower progress than I hoped, but if you ignore the news blurb editorials on players that can sometimes make sweeping, simplistic statements that discourage a patient, measured approach, you'd notice that Richardson has done positive things. Although the sample size is small, there are noticeable milestones: winning against tight coverage on a deep fade, getting wide-open on go routes, catches in traffic and hard hits on slants and dig routes, and yards after the catch that display agility and burst. The fact that Richardson is on the field earning targets almost every week is an indication that he's at least worth monitoring and the Seahawks like his progress.
Eddie Goldman: I liked what I read about the second-year Chicago DT this summer and he had a good first week before getting hurt and missing the rest of the season thus far. I've held onto him and rotated free agents with the hope that he'd get healthy and resume his strong start.
Preston Smith: He hasn't taken the next step many expected after impressive moments as a rookie, but I expect him to come around late this year or early next. He's a fine athlete with edge-bending capability.
Kyle Van Noy: I had to ditch Van Noy this week, but there's something to be said about the Patriots trading for this former second-round pick who impressed his former team with his conditioning while he was recovering from an injury last year. I valued Van Noy's creativity and football intelligence as an edge player at BYU. He disappointed in Detroit, but I'm hopeful he can be a productive fit in New England.
Most of these lessons are common sense, but the supporting examples I gave hopefully add more context to the maxims.
- The draft is only one leg in constructing a strong fantasy table.
- Drafts aren't won and lost on the sole merit of your early-round picks.
- Tight end is one of the easiest positions to acquire early from the waiver wire in re-draft leagues.
- Stockpile running backs and wide receivers in re-draft formats.
- Whether it's choice of draft spot, making trades, spotting free agents, lineup decisions with a productive roster of options that would drive others man, or identifying mid-to-late round talent, trust your strengths and develop strategies that require you to lean on them. Otherwise, you're not maximizing your talent as a fantasy manager.
- When you're on the wrong side of transactions, keep plugging away.
- Try to find parallels between offensive and defensive positions in IDP based on lineup and scoring rules to form a team-building and management strategy.
I hope what I shared is more than a self-indulgent profile of my fantasy season thus far.