Thursday, June 13, 2013

How to draft a no-worry, no-regret team

As a parent, I have little time to read up on every free agent that is available on the waiver wire during the fantasy season.  Thus, I invest most of my energy into the draft.

Fantasy draft day provides the same feeling of giddiness that Christmas morning did for me as a child.  There is anticipation, discussion about what gifts/players you received after the fact, and instead of toys, you get beer, and instead of getting toy-drunk, you get beer-drunk.  (Toy-drunk is totally legit; everyone has had toy-goggles for a particular gift, thinking it was awesome and really wanting it, only to realize it was kinda lame and lost its luster by February of the next year.  I was definitely toy drunk over acquiring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures of Rat King and Panda Khan.  I was ecstatic over getting these figures, and I slowly realized that Rat King just appeared to be a homeless man who was mad that the Turtles were living in his designated sewer dwelling, and Panda Khan is ...well actually, Panda Khan is a harbinger of the appeal of pandas with martial arts training (here's looking at you Kung Fu Panda).  So actually, that was a pretty cool gift, but alas, I digress.

Anyhow, I think most fantasy players can agree that draft day is quite possibly the best part of being in a fantasy league.  For parents, it's an excuse to get together with friends, and the more leagues you do, the more drafts you get to attend (any situation in which you can have a conversation with adults is highly worthwhile).  As mentioned previously, I devote much of my attention to the draft because I know I will not be able to keep up with free agency to the extent that some of my childless peers can. 

So, what's with the 'no-worry, no-regret' tagline?  Well, simply put, regret is the single most stressful aspect of fantasy sports.  Nothing is more ulcer-inducing than watching a player on your bench outscore half of your opponents roster.  There are ways to avoid this during the season, which will be discussed in a later post.  But in regards to drafting, there are several things you can do to set yourself up for a high-success/low-stress season, and draft players with a low 'regretability index.' (yes, that term was invented right here, right now, and is now 'officially' trademarked!)  Anyhow, here goes!

Davey Dave's Rules for Draft Success and Lack of Stress
1.  You need a top 10 QB.  Period.  This seems incredibly obvious, but you will occasionally read from a fantasy 'expert' that QB is a deep position with decent talent available beyond the Obvious Ones (Brees, Brady, Rodgers, etc.).  Well, unless you're in a keeper league and do not have the opportunity to draft a great QB, or if your league isn't super QB heavy (TD's for QB's in my leagues have always been 6 points, making them highly valuable), then you could argue with my theory.  So, what criteria do you follow when considering someone Top 10?  You'll have to read my next post to find out! 

2.  You need a top 10 TE.  As I argued under Rule 1, many experts will discuss how TE has become a deeper position since more teams are utilizing TE's as pass catchers than ever before.  However, you need one of the best, because the best TE's in the league are essentially on par with WR in productivity.  And the drop off in TE talent from the 10th best to even the 15th best is drastic (same with QB).  This is not necessarily the case with other positions, like WR. 

3.  SPOILER ALERT:  My next post will be about how yards are the single most important indicator of fantasy success, not TD's.  That's right, the way to avoid regret is to draft players who consistently put up large yardage numbers.  I will get into this in detail later, but seriously, don't get duped by someone's TD totals from the previous season, there are so many variables that go into a player scoring as opposed to just accumulating yards.

On that note, when drafting WR, you can gauge a player's consistency more effectively by examining their reception and yardage totals.  These tend to gravitate near each other from season to season (for the best WRs) more so than TDs.

4.  RB still rule the roost.  I am actually going against the philosophy I used two years ago to win a fantasy championship with this one, but hear me out.  Two years ago, I decided that there were so many RB by committee situations in the NFL that I would not even worry about drafting a RB.  The league was pass-oriented, and I wanted the best QB, TE and WR I could get.  I would rely on two RB's who split time (unless I could get a decent #1 RB) and troll the free agent ranks during the season (only had 1 kid at the time, thus more time to troll).

Well, this philosophy was not necessarily proven true by my win, and here is why:  I drafted Aaron Rodgers with the first overall pick, and proceeded to draft the following players in order:  Rashard Mendenhall (yeah, I did that), Hakeen Nicks (injured but effective when needed), Felix Jones (injured often), Dallas Clark (injured very often), Austin Collie (concussed and never really played), Kenny Britt (good when not arrested/injured), Matthew Stafford (sat on bench whole year due to Rodgers), Reggie Bush (gambled on him because I thought he would split time with Daniel Thomas, ended up being a major force), but the real steal of this draft was Darren Sproles in the 15th round (had a monster season, and this league also counted return yards - Sproles was in the top 5 for overall points by season's end). 

So, I attempted to get QB's and pass catchers, left RB to chance, and luckily had two gems come out of the later rounds (and had the good fortune to pick up Antonio Brown as a free agent). 

So, why are RB's important again?  Well, my philosophy was true: the league is more pass heavy than ever before and the number of teams with true single backs are far fewer than the number of teams with quality QBs (at least in my opinion).  While I originally felt you could just ditch RB as a position of importance, the scarcity of quality, #1 RBs has made them that much more valuable.  The team who I was chasing the entire year had Matt Forte, Fred Jackson (again, two years ago), LeSean McCoy (see Jackson, Fred) and DeMarco Murray was a late season pick up (ditto on that two years ago thing).  That team was so solid he didn't even have to worry about half of his line-up because those guys produced so consistently.  Since much of this blog is about not having to stress about your lineup, nothing provides mental assurance like a stud RB (just ask AP and Arian Foster owners for the past couple of years).

5.  DO NOT REACH ON DEFENSE (unless you are a weirdo like me and make defense incredibly valuable in your leagues).  I have always been burned attempting to be cute and draft the first defense of the draft (hey Ravens of 2007, I am still mad at you).  Yes, you have your obvious strong defenses like the 49ers, but honestly, every year there is a team who you'd least expect would be decent who goes undrafted that can be picked up off waivers.  Also, a lot of times you can survive a few weeks in fantasy by picking up defenses based on match-ups (I call this the "Hey, who's playing Jacksonville this week' rule - no offense Jacksonville, I expect you to be much improved this year), but you get the idea. 

One thing I will say about defense:  fantasy is generous to team's that generate turnovers, not teams that have low points against totals.  Points against is a terrible barometer of how well your team defense will be because the quantifiers are often set as 0-6 points, 7-13, etc.  So, if a team holds another team to one TD, but that team makes 1 extra point, you will earn potentially 3 less points.  Focus on teams with high INT and SACK totals, as those can lead to turnovers and scores.  I won a different league one year using the Saints defense (the last days of Gregg Williams, so perhaps my players had some added incentive to make plays - HEY OH) but that Saints team gave up points often, yet also generated tons of turnovers, thus making them valuable in a fantasy sense, but not in an actual sense.

6.  Kickers don't suck as much as you think.  They always lead the actual NFL in points scored, yet never do so in fantasy.  There are two philosophies when it comes to selecting a kicker:  Do I draft the guy on the team that scores the most points (and thus, earns the most extra points), or do I draft the guy on the mediocre offense that can't score enough TDs, and thus must settle for field goals.  There is no perfect way to answer this because kickers vary in fantasy consistency so much (hence why everyone hates them).  In regards to ACTUAL NFL points, the kicker on the high scoring team benefits because every kick he makes is worth three points, and every extra point 1.  However, in fantasy leagues (at least in mine), making a 50-yarder is more valuable and worth more points than making a chip shot from 19 yards out.  So, it is often beneficial to have a guy whose offense isn't so great, and has to boot kicks from 40+ yards on a regular basis.

So, who to draft?  Honestly, if you're looking for low-stress, just draft a guy who doesn't miss that often or kicks for your favorite team to cheer for.  I always select someone who kicks indoors or plays most of their games in nice weather.  Or, pick the 2nd year kickers for Minnesota and St. Louis because both of those guys can boot the ball 60+ yards and will probably want to break the record for longest field goal ever as soon as possible.  But no matter what, don't be that person who drafts a kicker before the last round.  Even if kickers go on a run in the 14th round of a 16 round draft, I promise you that a good kicker will still be available in the last round.  Waiting on a kicker is how you get Darren Sproles in the second to last round instead of Josh Scobee.

7.  This has been an overriding message throughout this post, but you really need to know your league.  Are passing TD's worth 6 points?  Than QB is the most valuable position.  Do you give out tons of points to defenses for shutouts or turnovers?  Maybe consider drafting a powerhouse defense that has been consistent for several years.  Points per reception?  This can greatly impact which RB's you draft.  Return yards (as all of my leagues have included) a part of your scoring?  Then you should definitely consider someone like Josh Cribbs (who has finished in the top 10 in scoring at least two times in my leagues). 

8.  Do not have a pre-draft expectation of drafting certain positions in certain rounds.  The best way to practice having to adjust your drafting gameplan on the fly is with mock drafts.  You can read all the rankings in the world, but the human element will always make the draft unpredictable.  If you find yourself in a situation in which everyone in your league starts to draft a ton of defenses in a row, then by all means, draft one.  I always adhere by the philosophy that you can't have a preconceived notion of WHEN you will draft a particular position.  If you didn't think you'd need to draft a TE until the 7th round, and five straight get drafted in the 5th round, than you must adapt. 

9.  If your ideal pick is not available, draft for value.  I see so many people fail at this aspect of drafting.  They mentally lock in on the fact that they need a TE for instance, because there was a run on TE's in the previous round.  Well, if that run has resulted in a mix of mediocrity at the bottom of the barrel at that position, don't just flip a coin and pick one of them.  Draft a different position with more value, and try to swing a trade.  I guarantee that whatever is left of the bottom rung of TE will still be there a few rounds later.

10.  Pay attention to who is being drafted by your peers.  That sounds obvious, but one thing I learned from reading Matthew Berry is that he always has a sheet with him at drafts in which he can write down which positions are being drafted by the others teams.  This allows you to see not just which players are being drafted, but more importantly, helps you predict what position your peers may be considering drafting in the next round.

11.  Have fun!  Seriously, if you can't laugh a little, trash talk, have a few beers, eat greasy food which will undoubtedly give you stomach issues the following morning and leave the draft feeling like you drafted the greatest team ever (or regret all of your picks, those seems to be the only two emotions I feel post-draft), then you are taking this way too seriously.

Tune in next time as I discuss more about the regretability index of various players, as well as the importance of yards over TD's.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Parents rejoice! You can still play fantasy football and not embarrass yourselves.

There are many things I love in life, but two that are at the top of my list are my family and my fantasy football credentials.  That last part may have been the saddest thought ever committed to writing, but it's true.  Among my friends, the one true symbol of one's intelligence and sports-savvy is their success at fantasy football.  I know I'm not alone in this, and I know I'm not alone in my frustration at trying to keep up this status while simultaneously raising children.  There's something about checking for free agents at 3am after an epic search in the dark for your child's pacifier has left you wide awake that seems to make fantasy football a little less relevant in one's life. 

This past year, after playing fantasy football in multiple leagues for 14 consecutive years, I hung up my fantasy-cleats in an attempt to ease the stress of my life.  Although I didn't miss the stress of reading every box score and article I could find during lunch at work, nor regretting my line-up decisions by 3pm on Sunday, I did miss something far more important: the camaraderie of my friends.  Or maybe I was just mad that my beloved Bears were squandering their playoff chances near the end of the season, and I didn't have my fantasy team to cheer for and cheer me up.  Either way, even though it was incredibly difficult to manage a fake team (or 4) while also managing two real-life children, I missed having a stake in every game on the NFL schedule and having an excuse to get together with my friends. 

So, after being called the 'Favre' of my league for the past three years after debating my fantasy retirement so many times, I am truly living up to the moniker by returning to the league this year (I have also promised them I will not text any inappropriate pics...sorry, Bears fan, had to throw that in there).  However, I am too competitive to simply exist in the league.  I want to win.  And I'm sure you do too.  Hell, you've kept reading for this long, you must have some investment in your league!

That's where this blog comes in.  I, like you (fellow parent), do not have time to read fantasy blogs, articles, box scores, etc.  I, like you, probably only have 20 minutes of free time per day, and that is usually spent scrolling through the DVR, starting a show with my wife, and then passing out on the couch ten minutes into said show.  So how is it possible to find a competitive edge in the fantasy world while still maintaining a healthy dedication to your family and other commitments?  THIS BLOG OBVIOUSLY!

Leading up to the 2013-2014 NFL season, I will be posting about different strategies and theories that I feel could give you a competitive edge.  What are my credentials you ask?  Well, I am a parent of two children, so that covers the parent part.  As for fantasy football, according to my fantasy profile on Yahoo, I have had 5 first place finishes, 6 second place finishes, and 3 third place finishes over the course of 19 fantasy football leagues.  That's really not that great, but hey, I guarantee you will maintain respectability in your league, I never guaranteed you would actually win it.