Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fantasy Football Preview

I don't know how this guy got his job, but I'd like to sign up.
$800 million per year. $800 million! That's approximately how much the fantasy football industry makes per year. That's more than the GDP of more than a few countries! $800 million a year so 24 million over-obsessive losers can pretend they know something about football and derive endless amounts of self satisfaction from beating Steve from Accounts Payable. Is this the biggest waste of time in the history of man? Perhaps. Do I feel a single shred of remorse over a single second of my life I've spent on fantasy football? Not a chance.

If being obsessed with fantasy sports makes you a loser, then consider me the chief of all losers. Not only do I take part in several fantasy football leagues (some for money), I am the commish of one (don't worry, our CBA is taken care of), and have taken it so far as to turn it into a heavily involved keeper league with an elaborate salary/contract system to more closely replicate the NFL. Oh yeah, and I also do the same thing for the NBA. And don't even get me started on the way-too-complicated college basketball league I started last year! In case you were wondering, the league didn't make it. It now resides next to the USFL and XFL...but I'm sure you probably weren't wondering.

With so much interest in fantasy football, both from me and others, it's only appropriate that I preview the upcoming fantasy season. Some drafts have already occurred, so this will be mostly useless, but there are many drafts left to come. Not that my preview would be useful anyways...just saying.

My first draft was last night. A 14 team money league with ESPN standard scoring. Believe me, it was wild. And, in case you were wondering, I'll avoid talking about my team as much as possible. No need to worry! What I will do, though, is talk about some players I like and some strategies that seem to always serve me well. After you've read it, I'd love to get some feedback on some players and strategies that you feel strongly about. But enough chit-chat...let's preview!

(Note: This won't be a giant Matthew Berry-like preview. I'll keep it brief and leave out most obvious things, such as "Adrian Peterson is a stud." No kidding! You don't need me to tell you that...)

(Another Note: This preview is based on ESPN standard scoring and snake draft format. I will make comments regarding PPR leagues and auction drafts, because that is what I normally do. Just keep this in mind as you read.)


1. Avoid risk in the first round - This could fall under the auspices of my "Don't say obvious things" rule, but it seems more applicable this year. Why? Michael Vick. Last night, he went #1 in my draft. Look, Vick is a stud, but there are definite questions surrounding him. The biggest such question is injury. He's had a history of getting hurt, and the last thing you need from your top 5 pick is missed games. You only get one first round pick, and it's nearly impossible to recover from a mistake that early.

2. Wait on QB's - Unless Vick is still sitting there at the very tail end of the first round, I would suggest ignoring QB's till several rounds later. Sure, Rodgers, Brady, Manning, and Brees are all studs; but at only 4 points per touchdown, it's not worth it to take them so early. Instead, you should focus on filling the RB/WR positions. Trust me, there's always a good QB available later on. Last night, I waited till the 6th round and got Sam Bradford...and then got Stafford 4 rounds later!

3. Get value, not position - This has long been my favorite strategy. So many people get caught up in "I need a RB!" or, "I need a WR!" If the value isn't there, then the value isn't there. Take the best player available and worry about it later. Last night, I picked 11th. All the top RB's were gone, so I decided to load up on WR early, landing Andre Johnson in the 1st and Calvin Johnson in the 2nd. A couple rounds later, Anquan Boldin was still I took him. I'm slightly top heavy at WR, but at least I know I'm loaded up somewhere. Now, it doesn't hurt when other people are dumb and you also land Stephen Jackson and LeGarrette  Blount...but that's not the point. ALWAYS pick the best player on the board...don't forget, you can always swing trades!

4. If you don't get Gates, then ignore TE - Antonio Gates is literally the ONLY TE to make an impact worthy of being picked in the first 5 rounds. Other guys either don't get enough targets or don't get enough TD's. Past Gates (maybe Witten too), nearly every other TE is exactly the same. They all catch a similar amount of passes, gain a similar amount of yards, and score a similar amount of TD's. Don't spend an 8th round pick on Vernon Davis when you can get Dustin Keller, Jermaine Gresham, Chris Cooley, Aaron Hernandez, etc. at the very tail end of the draft.

5. Take RB often in the later rounds - It's perennially the hardest position to get consistent production from. Injuries and committee approaches severely limit the amount of top tier RB's available, so you need to increase your odds by grabbing as many good prospects as you can. For me, that meant investing mid round picks on Mike Tolbert and Ryan Williams. While they might be backups today, the distance between Matthews/Tolbertng as many good prospects as you can. For me, that meant investing mid round picks on Mike Tolbert and Ryan Williams. While they might be backups today, the distance between Matthews/Tolbert and Beanie/Williams is razor thin. Likewise, there are several other potential steals out there. You won't be able to hit on them, but at least give yourself a chance to hit on one. Remember, even if EVERYTHING works out for you at RB, you will still have some amazing trade chips.

Note: The strategies are no different for auction drafts. Spend your big money on RB's if you can. If you get priced out, lock down some WR's and get value later. Again, you can always get a QB/TE cheap, so don't go crazy. I focused mainly on snake draft with those strategies, mainly because they are the most prevalent draft format. If you want a real draft experience though, you have to do auction. I'll switch over and talk mostly about auction format from here on out. (All numbers in parentheses are ESPN average auction value)

Stock Up/Stock Down

QB Stock Up

Philip Rivers ($22) - A little bit of a no-brainer, but somewhat of a bargain at $22. Rodgers, Brees, and Brady all cost $30 or more, but provide roughly the equivalent of Rivers. He put up monster stats with Legadugjakgsdg Nan3eoihgo (the spelling is close enough) and company last year, so I expect at least the same this season. Do yourself a favor and save $10 in your auction draft or let everyone else use 2nd round picks on Brees/Rodgers/Brady/Manning while you land another stud RB in your snake draft.

Tony Romo ($17) - Romo has had an interesting career pattern so far, as he's been good literally every other year. Given the early struggles and the injury, last year was clearly the bad. This year, I expect the good...especially with a real coach in place and Dez Bryant ready to break out. Same philosophy as Rivers...get similar value at a lesser cost.

Sam Bradford ($4) - I landed Bradford in the 6th round last night, so that tells you how small of an investment he really is. For an auction draft, $4 is pretty much nothing. I know I'm not alone in thinking Bradford is going to go crazy in his 2nd year, so I'm confused at the low price. After throwing for 3500+YDS and 18TD's in his rookie year, it wouldn't be a stretch to think he jumps to 3800YDS and 25TD's.

Matthew Stafford ($4) - I'm not the biggest real life fan, but I have no doubt he will put up numbers if he can stay on the field. He's clearly a risky play as your starter, but as a backup, he could provide immense trade value down the line.

QB Stock Down

Michael Vick ($45) - It's not that I don't like Vick, it's that I wouldn't be willing to put down $45 for him -- or use a top 5 pick on him. He comes with significant injury risk, and with a touch of hype-machine shine. He certainly had an incredible season last year, but keep in mind that he did set career highs in passing TD's and rushing TD's. That certainly isn't a bad thing, but it does likely mean at least a slight regression towards the mean.

Peyton Manning ($27) - Don't kill me Nate! I'm sorry! Look, I'm not betting against Manning...I'm just not voluntarily throwing down almost $30 for a 35 year, banged up QB. Not when I could have Rivers or Romo for much cheaper. In a real game, I'd take Manning...but this is just fantasy. Just so you don't think I'm being biased though...

Tom Brady ($30) - Brady had a career year in 2010, but it's kinda hard to believe a 34 year old is just now hitting the peak of his career. I expect him to be one of the top fantasy QB's, but 25-28 TD's is a much more reasonable expectation. And as I said with Manning, give me Rivers or Romo at a significantly smaller price.

RB Stock Up

LeGarrette Blount ($16) - Blount's 1007YDS and 6TDS don't seem terribly impressive on the surface...until you consider that he didn't receive double digit carries in a game until Week 6. Blount posted an incredible 977YDS and 6TDS in the last 11 games of the season, a number that averages out to 1400+YDS and 8+TDS over the course of a full 16 game campaign. And that was his rookie season! Not bad for $16...

Felix Jones ($14) - How dare you accuse me of being a Cowboys homer! Jones has been quite the enigma for Cowboys fans. He was every bit the elusive, big play threat we hoped for in his first two season, but injury consistently hampered his ability to stay on the field. Last year, not so much. Despite approaching 200 carries, Jones averaged a career low 4.3Y/A and scored a measly 1TD. So why am I optimistic? No Marion Barber! Barber stole valuable goal line carries from Jones, and the addition of those is more than enough to increase his value. Also, reports say Jones looks like the sleek, fast Felix again. This bodes well for his owners. Don't say I didn't warn you...and if he sucks, I'll be in my basement crying.

Shonn Greene ($10) - Greene was supposed to assert himself last year, but the addition of LT threw a bit of a wrench in those plans. Tomlinson was good last year, but he clearly wore down towards the end of the season. I think he's washed up, which is why I'm so high on Greene. At only $10, it's well worth the gamble. Even as the 2nd wheel in a timeshare, Greene put up 766YDS rushing last season.

Rashad Jennings ($0) - He posted 459YDS, 4TD, and 5.5Y/A as Jones-Drew's primary backup last season. Rumor is, Jacksonville wants to decrease MJD's workload, which means good things for Jennings. Beyond that, there are serious questions about MJD's knee. It may be nothing, but Jennings could find himself with all the carries he can handle.

RB Stock Down

Chris Johnson ($56) - Nothing about his performance, just be wary of his holdout. It's awful risky to put $56 down or spend a top 3 pick on a guy who might sit out.

Maurice Jones-Drew ($52) - As I stated above, Jones-Drew has an ongoing knee issue that has a lot of people questioning his ability to produce this season. If I had to bet, I'd say Jones-Drew plays and puts up solid numbers. Am I willing to bet $52 on that? No way. If you do end up with him, make sure to lock down Jennings as his handcuff.

Frank Gore ($41) - While he's always been a bit injury prone, last year was his most troublesome year yet. A major injury to his right hip forced Gore to miss a career high 5 games, and prevented him from reaching 1000YDS for the first time since 2005. At 28 and with over 1300 career carries, it wouldn't be at all surprising if the trend worsened.

Peyton Hillis ($26) - Madden Curse

WR Stock Up

Calvin Johnson ($34) - Hard to be more stock up than $34, but I think he's still a bargain at that price. Megatron (what an amazing nickname!) posted a huge season last year, despite working with 2nd and 3rd string QB's. If Stafford can stay on the field for more than one drive, he and Johnson could form one of the most potent QB-WR combos in the league. 1200YDS and 12-14TD's for $34? Yes, please!

Lary Fitzgerald ($27) - It's almost hard to remember Fitzy was easily the best receiver in football only a couple seasons ago. Then again, we should never underestimate how much devastation Derek Anderson can unleash. Now that he's with a real life QB who isn't Derek Anderson or John Skelton, Fitzgerald should catapult back to his double digit TD ways.

Anquan Boldin ($10) - $10 seems silly cheap for a guy who routinely cracks 1000YDS and 7TD's. He had a rough transition to Baltimore's system last year -- aka Joe Flacco kept checking down too often, because that's what Joe Flacco does -- but his 2nd year should be smoother sailing. Now that Derrick Mason and Todd Heap are finally gone after 47 years with the team, Flacco will be forced to develop a rapport with Boldin. Also, having Lee Evans on the other side of the field definitely helps. Evans doesn't actually ever catch any passes, but still, other teams insist on putting someone on him.

Michael Crabtree ($2) - Casey is going to hate me for bringing him up, but I'd gladly put down $2 on this moron. He may be the stupidest person in San Francisco, but he's wildly talented. A lot of receivers hit their stride in year 3, so taking a cheap gamble on Crabtree is a smart move.

WR Stock Down

Greg Jennings ($40) - Jennings has caught 80 passes only once in his career. His TD totals have been pretty consistent, but his total targets haven't really approached 1st or 2nd round level in the past couple of seasons. Green Bay has a lot of terrific receiving threats, and getting Jermichael Finley back only clouds things up further. Jennings will be the recipient of 100-125 targets, but he's going to be tough to peg from game to game and I fully expect his TD totals to drop.

Jeremy Maclin ($17) - His mysterious medical issues scare the crap out of me. If the price drops enough, then it's worth the shot, but definitely not at full price. Stay away!

Brandon Lloyd ($16) - After catching 36 balls his previous three seasons combined, Lloyd goes crazy with 77REC, 1448YDS, and 11TDS. At 29. Riiiiiiiight. Let's go ahead and assume he falls back to earth, OK?

Rookie Receivers - They perform poorly enough under normal circumstances, but with only a couple weeks of camp to prepare them, I'm calling an all out 'Stay Away.' That means you, A.J. Green and Julio Jones!

TE Stock Up

Greg Olsen ($3) - I'm putting him here because of Cam Newton. Newton's tendency to get happy feet under pressure means he'll likely be looking at his check down quite often. That means plenty of targets for the criminally under-utilized Olsen. He should be available pretty late, so keep an eye on him towards the end of your draft.

Jermaine Gresham ($0) - I'll make the same argument for Gresham, who should see a ton of targets from rookie Andy Dalton. Gresham has a lot of natural receiving talent, and I think he can be a decent force after the catch as well.

TE Stock Down

Dallas Clark ($14) - Hard to believe Clark is already 32 years old, but it's true. He spent a good portion of last season on IR, so there's a big question mark already. When healthy, he catches plenty of passes and, as of the last few seasons, is a major red zone threat. The question is, should you invest big money on a 32 year old TE coming off a major injury. With guys like Olsen and Gresham available for far less, I'd say no. Expect Clark's production to drop below his former standard.

Any TE $5 or over not named Antonio Gates - Don't waste your money! Spend $1 or $2 on Olsen, Gresham, Jimmy Graham, Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Gonzalez, Zach Miller, or Dustin Keller! Go spend your money on some more RB's!

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