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Dynasty Orphan Takeover Strategy (Fantasy Football)

by Raju Byfield | @FantasyContext | Featured Writer
Feb 11, 2020

Dynasty leagues continue to explode in popularity. They have surpassed simple keeper leagues in participation and are the most engaging form of year-round fantasy football. However, finding a good dynasty league with active league members and a fair commissioner can be challenging. Due to this, many seek or agree to join existing dynasty leagues. When a dynasty league loses an owner for whatever reason, he creates an opening in the league. The available team is called an orphan.

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What is an Orphan?

In dynasty league terms, an orphan is a team that has been abandoned by its previous manager and requires a new owner. When a dynasty league manager abandons their team, they create an orphan. Not all orphans are created equal. There should be a screening process before agreeing to take over an abandoned team. Many teams were abandoned for a reason, and there is no point in taking over a team that will take multiple years to rebuild when the league in question may not even survive long enough to see your turnaround come to fruition. 

Identify a Good Target Team to Take Over 

It is rarely recommended to take over a truly decrepit fantasy roster barren of any current or future assets. As such, identifying a good target to take over is crucial to an enjoyable takeover experience. 

How to Identify

Core players
When deciding which dynasty orphan to adopt (or whether to adopt at all), the first thing anyone will want to investigate is the strength of the core players on the team. At least one first-round caliber player, a second-round caliber player, or three second-round caliber players is recommended. The number and round value of the core players will be dependent on things like league size, scoring settings, and roster settings.

All Draft Picks Remaining
Ascertaining whether the orphan in question still owns all of its future draft picks should be one of the first things one looks at before taking over a team. Taking over a team that has traded away future draft picks often increases the time it will take to turn a team into a legitimate contender. The absence of early-round picks could extend the time it takes by one or more seasons. 

League Trade History
If possible, looking into your league’s trade history is suggested before taking over an orphan. Ascertaining whether or not the previous owner gutted his team or otherwise divested off all of his top assets can make the decision an easier one. There is no point in taking over a team that traded all of its superstars for waiver-wire caliber players. There are too many orphan options to be cornered into taking over a bad team, especially in leagues with a yearly buy-in.

Competitive Balance
Once you have gone through the steps above, you will want to investigate your rival teams’ rosters. Competitive balance is necessary, and if all of the top dynasty assets are concentrated on two or three teams, you may have a tough time making trades and improving your roster in a reasonable time-frame. 

Familiar Orphan vs. Random Orphan
If you are a dynasty league manager looking to take over an orphan, you should be aware that there are alternatives to joining a league with a horrendous orphan opening. SafeLeagues (run by Scott Fish and Ryan McDowell) offers orphan options all year round and makes for a terrific fall-back plan if the orphans being offered by friends or colleagues do not meet your standards. Choosing the right orphan is essential to a satisfying dynasty league orphan takeover experience.

Evaluate Dispersal Pool (if applicable)
In some cases, leagues may see two or more managers leave the league at once. The league may decide to hold a dispersal draft instead of offering the rosters as currently constructed when this happens. Dispersal drafts can help entice potential owners to take over teams that may not be appealing in their original states. Dispersal drafts put the owned players and picks from all orphaned teams into a draft pool for the new orphan general managers to select.

Manager Turnover
Manager turnover is important to evaluate. Unless you are joining a SafeLeague, it is important to note how many original owners remain. The more original owners that drop out of a dynasty league, the less likely the commissioner may be to keep the league going. This takes on added importance in leagues with a buy-in. There is no point in paying two years of league fees just for your league to fold when you have finally made your roster competitive. Speaking to prospective league-mates may give you a more accurate depiction of the state of the league. Ascertaining why previous managers left the league may help determine whether or not the commissioner may be the issue. 

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Introduce Yourself to League-mates
The first thing you will want to do after agreeing to take over a dynasty league team is introducing yourself to your league-mates. You can start by posting a message on the message board or league chat. Once you have done that, it is a good idea to message your new league-mates individually. Before moving to trade talks, you can start by complimenting them on their roster construction. Asking which of their players may be on the trade block will promote conversation and serve as an icebreaker for future discussions. 

Decide on Team Path

Once you have decided to adopt an orphan, you will need to evaluate your roster. If you followed our suggestions above, you should be able to avoid a complete rebuild and retool or try to compete immediately instead.

Rebuilding can sometimes be the most enjoyable process of taking over a dynasty orphan. A rebuild allows you to destroy and rebuild the team you adopted. Rebuilding is not always as practical as buy-in, and the average dynasty league shelf life has to be considered. If you have a core of two or more superstars, you may be safe to move on to the retooling process. However, if you have only one superstar, or agreed to take on a team with zero superstar talent whatsoever, then the rebuild path may be your best bet. As mentioned above, rebuilding involves divesting the majority of your team’s assets in favor of younger high upside assets and/or draft picks. Aging stars or superstars should be put on the trade block. The older your assets get, the lower the return you will get for them, so moving on from these types of players is key. 

You will also want to sell high on players you think are playing at a higher level than they would if an injury did not strike or if there was an addition to the depth chart. The waiver wire will be an important part of your rebuild effort, so if you can trade FAAB in your league, you may want to consider adding FAAB coming your way to every offer you make. Successful speculative adds can later be swapped for FAAB if you do not believe in that particular player’s dynasty prospects.  

Acquiring rookie draft picks is an essential step to any true rebuild effort. The waiver wire and trade market will aid in your rebuild efforts, but it is the rookie draft that will determine how quickly you can turn your team around. First and second-round picks are the most valuable, but you would be surprised how often a potential star gets overlooked and falls to the third or fourth round. While many will suggest tanking your first season, outright and blatant taking may get you removed from your league. Instead, try what NBA teams do — depth tanking. Your team will naturally enter punt mode if you are judicious about selling off all of your depreciating assets for upside players or picks. There is no reason to ‘forget’ to set your roster or make obvious tanking-focused lineup decisions hoping that no one notices. 

A retool differs from a rebuild in that instead of selling off all of your top assets, you are holding onto two or more pieces you have identified as your core. Of course, this does not prohibit you from trading up and upgrading on your core, but it means that you have a core and will not be undergoing a complete rebuild like teams that have zero core players may be forced into. When retooling, you will still want to aim to acquire rookie draft picks. While picks at the top end of the first round are ideal, late firsts or seconds may be more readily available. They may come at a relatively-cheap value to those picks held by teams that may be undergoing their own rebuilding or retooling efforts. 

Of course, the waiver wire will present some strong upgrade opportunities, so you will want to be just as vigilant and aggressive in making free-agent additions. Trading unwanted pieces straight up for FAAB dollars should not be ruled out, as these types of trades will have the added benefit of opening up a roster spot which can be used to add talent from the waiver wire. Upgrading your core pieces should be one of your main focuses when adopting an orphan and deciding to retool instead of rebuilding. Package deals are your best friend. Two-for-ones or other multi-player trades where you may give up more overall value to land a stud or upgrade an existing stud should be prioritized. If you are retooling, you should rarely make a deal where you do not land the best dynasty asset in the trade.

Compete Immediately
Count yourself lucky if you can find an orphan that is ready to compete immediately with only a couple of minor tweaks. If this is the scenario you find yourself in, strengthening your starters should be your immediate goal. Spend the off-season trying to land upgrades at every starting position. Unlike retooling, you will not be chasing only superstar talents but star players as well. Sell your depth and replenish through the rookie draft and free agency in an attempt to field the best starting lineup possible. Depth is key in fantasy football, but in competitive leagues, your bench depth (aside from your top three backups) should be treated as assets and not core pieces that you refuse to move. 

When it comes to future rookie draft picks, you should be willing to listen to offers. You should be willing to deal if the right offer comes along, and as such, the recommendation is to keep your future rookie draft picks until there is a deal too good to pass up. This may occur during your initial rookie draft if one of your targets slips to a point where you can trade a future draft pick to acquire his services. This may also occur during the season if a rival team decides to start a complete rebuild. The trade deadline will offer some opportunities as one can try to dangle a second or third in a package to acquire the last piece to your championship puzzle. For the right player, surrendering your future first-round pick should be entertained. 

Some subscribe to the school of thought that trading rookie picks for productive veterans is preferable because you can land a player that can contribute immediately. The impetus behind this type of move is that proven commodities do not carry the risk of being an unknown quantity due to their ability to be productive on an NFL team and depth chart. This strategy is not without its merits, as some rookie draft picks invariably miss every season. This is something to keep in mind if you enter trade talks with an orphan that you have deemed ready to compete immediately.

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Raju Byfield is a featured writer for FantasyPros. For more from Raju, check out his archive and follow him @FantasyContext.

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