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Dynasty Orphan Take-Over Strategy (2021 Fantasy Football)

Feb 16, 2021

We’re entering the golden age of start-up dynasty leagues. Now that the NFL season is over, there is little fantasy football left until next season. Whether you’re looking to join a new dynasty league to add to your bevy of others or this is your first time embarking on a dynasty league, may I suggest taking over an orphan team.

Now, I know. It’s much more fun to start with a clean slate and pick all the guys you want. However, it can be extremely rewarding to take over a bad team and turn it into a contender with some TLC.

Take my orphan dynasty team, for example. I adopted the below team about one year ago. As you can see, it had very few assets and really looked like it would be a stinker for years to come.

However, with some key pick-ups and a lot of trading, I was able to turn it into this beautiful team you see here, going from last place to third place in one year’s time.

So, how can it be done? Well, there are a few key strategy points by which I abide when adopting a poor roster.

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Expectations

First off, you have to expect the worst when taking over an orphan team. Most of the time, an orphan team was run by a disorganized manager who didn’t know how to play the game and sent away most of their valuable assets in a series of bad deals.

Orphan dynasty teams are much like the Houston Texans when Bill O’Brien was at the helm. They sent away two years of rookie draft picks and a top-five wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins for an expensive left tackle, a 30-year-old running back, and an oft-injured wide receiver of much less caliber than Hopkins.

Unfortunately, some managers don’t want to put in the hard work to bring a poor roster back to contention. We call these people “jerks.” Nonetheless, you’re doing a favor to the other league-mates by not putting all of their hard work in vain.

The Roster

When you adopt an orphan roster, you can often put the players into three categories:

1. The long-term assets
These are the actual, worthwhile assets on your team that the other manager did not sell. For example, think of Deshaun Watson. He is currently the Houston Texans’ one remaining asset of any significant value. Most orphan teams will have one-to-three of these guys.

You need to make a difficult choice when it comes to these assets. Either you sell them for a truckload, or you hold onto them. If your roster is really bad, sometimes your only choice is to sell them for maximum value.

2. The short-term assets
Think of these players as one-to-two year guys that have very little long-term value. These are often veterans who are up there in age, like Chris Carson or Marvin Jones. They are still very productive right now, but they don’t have much left in the tank.

These players can also be backups that fell into a role last year due to injury or a weak depth chart. Think of players like Miles Gaskin or J.D. McKissic. When free agency or the draft approaches, there’s a high likelihood that these players will be supplanted by new additions and lose all value.

3. The garbage
There’s no nice way to put this. Approximately one-third of any orphan roster is typically garbage. The players that belong in this category have legitimately zero value; maybe the last manager picked them up off the waiver wire for a spot play, but no one would waste a roster spot on them right now.

Players that belong in this category are extremely old veterans like Danny Amendola and Frank Gore; maybe they provided one or two useful weeks last season, but they might not even be in the NFL next season.

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Trading, your greatest ally

The good news about adopting an orphan dynasty team is you’ll trade much more than you would have if you hand-picked your players in a start-up draft. Trading is one of the most exciting things to do during the off-season, and you should be doing a lot of it.

Let’s start with how you should trade each of the assets mentioned above:

1. Long-term assets: Big decisions
Most of the time, I am selling my cornerstone assets for a haul. You need to turn around your roster, and two or three players are not going to carry a team that is starting Frank Gore as their RB2.

Preferably, I prefer to trade any high-priced running back and any receiver past Year 3. Running backs in Years 1 to 4 and receivers in Years 1 to 6 have the highest value in dynasty leagues. Fallibly, many managers overestimate the factor of age and will overpay for a young player. However, as an orphan team, it is smart to factor age, as you’re not in win-now mode.

Realistically, it’s rare to compete in your first year when taking over an orphan team. That’s why you need to sell your non-rookie running backs, like Christian McCaffery, Dalvin Cook, or Derrick Henry. By the time you’re ready to compete, these guys could no longer have starting jobs, as they’re all entering the last two prime years of their career.

I would say to do the same thing with older wide receivers, like Davante Adams or Stefon Diggs. Receivers do not drop off as drastically as running backs, but their value will tank in dynasty leagues because they are “older.” Ask any dynasty manager who has Julio Jones, Mike Evans, or Odell Beckham Jr. currently on the roster; they can tell you that it is nearly impossible to sell them for an appropriate compensation package due to their age.

The only asset that I strongly recommend keeping are young quarterbacks in SuperFlex leagues. Guys like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, and Lamar Jackson are going to be just as valuable five years from now as they are currently. Aaron Rodgers, who is 36 years old, just put up a top-three season at quarterback; young quarterbacks are the greatest commodity in SuperFlex leagues because of their sustained longevity. It’s extremely hard to replace these quarterbacks, so you can afford to let them stay on your roster until you’re ready to compete.

2. The short-term players: Fire sale
With short-term players, you’ve got to sell them for whatever you can. Trade them before their value disappears entirely because, by the time you are ready to make a playoff push, they’ll have no value whatsoever.

You should sell these players for draft picks, such as late seconds or early thirds; try to build up enough capital so you can hopefully grab a promising young rookie. Don’t forget, players like Chase Claypool, Gabriel Davis, and James Robinson were going no earlier than the third round in last year’s rookie drafts. Draft picks are a gold mine, and you should be willing to sell players that have any uncertainty for a younger lottery pick.

3. The garbage: Take out the trash
Unfortunately, with these garbage players, no one else is going to want them. If you can manage to get a fourth-round pick in 2023, you should be thrilled.

In most cases, you need to just take out the trash. Don’t waste a roster spot on players that have zero upside potential; Frank Gore giving you a top-24 finish three weeks out of the year does nothing to help you improve your roster. Send him to the waiver wire and pick up a young player that could have a role expansion in 2021, like Marquez Callaway or Quez Watkins.

Pick up players whose value can increase during the off-season. Nick Foles might be on your waiver wire in SuperFlex leagues; he doesn’t have a starting job now, but he’s gotten one four times in his career. If he somehow becomes a starter again, you could flip him to a quarterback-needy team for a draft pick during the 2021 season despite how badly he may play.

Lottery

It seems obvious, but you have to acquire draft capital if you’re an orphan dynasty manager. It’s the best way for you to get a top-12 player at a fraction of the cost. Trading for already established assets won’t help you improve in the long-run. You need to take chances on low-cost, high-upside players.

For example, regarding my roster I displayed at the beginning of the article, I traded away Michael Thomas, who was the consensus No. 1 dynasty wideout at the time, for George Kittle and two late first-round picks. Those first-rounders turned into Justin Jefferson and Jerry Jeudy. I sent away Anthony Miller for the pick that became Tee Higgins.

It’s difficult at first to let go of the few good assets you have, but dynasty leagues always favor youth. Those cheap third-round picks often become more valuable once you draft a player. You have to play the long game when taking over a decrepit roster, but it is oh-so-satisfying when your trash team becomes the best team in the league.

Other savvy tips

1. Waiver wire hunting
I mentioned this earlier, but even in deep dynasty leagues, there’s always some value to be had on the waiver wire. Watch the news carefully and try to anticipate if a player could see a spike in value.

2. Don’t tank
People often associate adopting an orphan team with tanking. Tanking doesn’t make any sense because only *your* draft picks can be slotted earlier in the draft order. If you are really trying to build for the future, you should be going after other bad teams’ draft picks and make your roster good enough to beat them.

By not setting an optimal lineup, you only help your draft position a maximum of four times (assuming four rounds of the draft). However, most of the draft capital you own should come from the 11 other teams in your league, and you want to ensure their picks are more valuable by not letting them beat you.

3. Don’t abandon it
Once you adopt an orphan team, don’t do the same thing the last manager did. If you don’t feel confident in your abilities as a fantasy football player to stick out a rebuild, don’t undertake one. However, if you think you can, give it some time so you can brag about it for years to come.

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Dan Ambrosino is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Dan, check out his archive and follow him @AmbrosinoNFL.

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