2015 Fantasy Football Draft Strategy
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes a cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” – Bruce Lee
The explosion of fantasy football over the years has created a level of consciousness that can fully appreciate the Zen-like words of Master Bruce Lee.
The Evolution of Fantasy Football
In the beginning, Wilfred Winkenbach and friends created the GOPPPL (Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League) in 1962. A TD-only scoring league to which we must all pay homage to.
Then came the Internet in the late ’90s. CBS is credited with the first publicly available free fantasy football website in 1997. Since then, we have seen the game morph and branch out into the behemoth that it is now. TD-only, PPR, FLEX, two-QB, three WR, IDP, 10-team, 16-team, head-to-head, redraft, auction, dynasty, DFS, etc. The variety of leagues is impressive and provides something for everyone.
In the early days of fantasy football, the running back position was king. Possessing a bell cow running back was essential for success. The top running backs scored the most points and, outside of quarterbacks, touched the football the most. If you had Barry Sanders in 1997, he scored a whopping 131 points more than the No. 10 RB, Jamal Anderson. Sanders scored 32 points more than the No. 1 QB, Brett Favre, and 111 points more than the No. 1 WR, Rob Moore. Adding in the supply and demand aspect only heightened the importance of ascertaining running backs. The strategy was simple: pray for a high draft slot and hoard and accumulate as many running backs as possible.
PPR and the Proliferation of the Passing Game
One way to mitigate that strategy was to introduce PPR (point-per-reception). This increased the value of pass catchers and diversified drafting strategy. It became viable to eschew the running back hoarding and build a fantasy team around wide receivers. As time went on, the proliferation of passing games increased.
A significant reason for this was the NFL realizing that “chicks dig the long ball.” Major League Baseball was at its height when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were belting home runs every night. Ratings were up and overall interest was high. Scoring and offense are exciting and FAN-tastic. As Coach Winters so eloquently said in the movie The Program, “Yeah, but when was the last time 80,000 people showed up to watch a kid do a damn chemistry experiment?” As a result, significant rule changes were instituted and enforced for the first time.
- 2001 – Roughing the QB penalty would be enforced.
- 2002 – NFL banned helmet-to-helmet contact with a QB.
- 2004 – Enforcement of illegal contact, pass interference and defensive holding commenced. That was instituted after the New England Patriots stymied and bullied Indianapolis Colts in the playoffs.
- 2009 – NFL banned hits to the quarterback below the knees, two years after Tom Brady was lost for the season from a hit on his legs the first game of the season.
- 2009 – Contact to the head of a defenseless receiver was prohibited.
The NFL was not going to be a spectacle of judo matches on the outside between receiver and defensive back. They were also going to protect their marquee players, the quarterbacks. The league wanted touchdowns, so the teams happily complied. Prior to 2008, only one quarterback threw for 5,000 yards in a season. Since then, seven quarterbacks have accomplished the feat with five others throwing for more than 4,900 yards.
Those who were able to notice the shifting landscape profited handsomely in the fantasy football game. Drafting two elite wide receivers in the first two rounds became a viable option. Imagine if you drafted Randy Moss and Torry Holt in 2003: Moss caught 111 balls for 1,632 yards and 17 touchdowns while Holt caught 117 balls for 1,696 yards and 12 touchdowns. In that same year, though, LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 1,645 yards with 13 touchdowns and caught 100 balls for 725 yards and four touchdowns. Jamal Lewis ran for 2,066 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. The elite running back was still king, but at least there were options if you weren’t fortunate to have lucked into a high-draft slot.
Over time, though, the running back position has steadily been devalued by both real and fantasy teams alike. As players got bigger, stronger and faster, the risk of injury increased, especially when constantly being pummeled by hoards of 250- to 300-pound men. What do you want from your first-round pick? Production, safety, and a high floor. On average, close to fifty percent of the first-round running backs drafted do not perform like RB1s.
There are a few bell cow running backs left, but they are few and far between now. Many teams are now employing RBBC (running back by committee). This devalues many of them and also increases the supply of viable options. This makes drafting a wide receiver a more enticing option to many now.
Fantasy Football Strategy: Be Flexible on Draft Day
Fantasy football is an ever-evolving blob. It’s constantly shifting and morphing when new players, information or strategies appear. The beauty of it is that everyone perceives it a different way, which makes the dance that much more entertaining. Some zig, while others zag. Competition is the mother of all creation. With every losing experience, one conjures up new and inventive ways to hoist the trophy. This cycle has been playing out since 1962 in Oakland, California. It has brought us to the here and now, where players have reached a level of sophistication that one must never forget the foundation.
With that said, my draft strategy for 2015 is to be flexible and adaptable. I want to see and hear everything that the blob is emanating. Antonio Brown with the No. 1 pick? I’ve seen and read it from different sources. Rob Gronkowski in the first round? It’s out there. Is Allen Robinson this year’s sleeper wide receiver? Many sites are spewing it.
I don’t want to go into the draft with a set plan. What I want is a bunch of contingencies. If I get the No. 12 pick in a 12 team PPR draft, what am I doing? It depends on how the first 11 picks go. I am not going to automatically say I’m drafting two wide receivers no matter what. What if Brown does go No. 1 and a run of wide receivers ensues?
To help me formulate the contingencies, I like to tier positions. Where do the elites end? When is there a huge drop off? Gronkowski probably provides the biggest advantage at any position this year, therefore the possible first round selection. How big is the drop off to the next tier and how many players are situated in that tier? Who do I like best in that tier? If a run happens, who would I feel comfortable drafting? If I miss that tier, what’s my fallback? Is there value at any other position now? Contingencies.
I think it’s a good idea to go into the draft with teams and players that you like. If you want a certain player, for whatever reason, draft him. Always be congnizant of ADP though. That is why mock drafting and looking at ADP movement is very beneficial. It gives you a sense of how others value certain players.
Be like water. Navigate the terrain by being aware of your surroundings. Everyone drafted a stud wide receiver? There could be a running back sitting there. Is Aaron Rodgers there in the fourth round? Remember, we are not drafting with robots. People consume alcohol. People get distracted. People are driven by preconceived notions. Some people pay millions for a painting while others would use it as toilet paper. You just never know what’s going to transpire.
The best draft strategy is to be as informed about teams and players as you can be. Have an idea about how you want to address certain scenarios, then just go with the flow and take what the draft gives you. Think about all those times in life where you missed an opportunity that was staring you right in the face because you were so consumed with something else. Don’t go into the draft with the notion that you are going to employ the “Zero RB” strategy. Open your eyes and see what the landscape is showing you.