Saturday, August 18, 2007

Of Bush, Clinton & Gore...

No, I'm not going to be talking politics here today... rather, I'm readying you for football season!!! Yes, it's only three weeks away, believe it or not!!! Reggie Bush, Clinton Portis, and Frank Gore are just a few amongst the many highly sought-after running backs in fantasy leagues. Today, I'll give you all a little primer and some tips that have been instrumental to my success in fantasy football the past few years.

Most fantasy sites will tell you that you should ALWAYS take running backs with your first two picks in your draft. But is this truly a sound strategy? The truth of the matter is that this is rarely a good strategy. Running backs are actually a lot more prone to injury than either wide receivers or tight ends. Over the years I've had an astounding amount of success in fantasy football leagues by being a contrarian and NOT taking a lot of running backs early. Last year I participated in seven leagues with either 10 or 12 members in each, winning three of them!

Here are the dynamics of a typical starting fantasy football league roster where you have eight guys playing and eight guys on the bench with one disabled list slot. The typical fantasy league will have a 16 round draft in which the drafting order is reversed each round (i.e: the person who drafts first in round one, goes last in round 2, etc):

1 Quarterback (QB)
2 Running Backs (RB)
2 Wide Receivers (WR)
1 Flex (either RB or WR)
1 Tight End (TE)
1 Kicker (K)
1 Defense/Special Teams (D/ST)
8 Bench slots (BE) - can be any position player
1 Disabled List slot (DL)

My fantasy football draft philosophy is actually very similar to what I use in fantasy baseball - draft the best player available early, while targeting a lot of sleepers in the later rounds. Although I don't advocate drafting based on the so-called "positional scarcity" argument in baseball as you're typically filling 22 active roster slots, I do advocate it in football as you usually only have eight active roster spots. In layman's terms, one baseball player only comprises 4.5% of your active roster while one football player makes up 12.5% of your active roster. Yes, that's a HUGE difference!!! Every position (with the exception of K and D/ST) is crucial!!! And it's why I advocate taking Antonio Gates of the Chargers at TE so much. Owning Gates is really just like owning another wide receiver - he's THAT productive, and it's a HUGE step down to the next TE - usually someone like Tony Gonzalez of the Chiefs. With that, let me give you a few of my rules to fantasy football success and drafting a winning team...

Rule #1: Do not take two running backs with your first two picks unless they are the best players available. I don't know how many leagues I saw where Edgerrin James, Ronnie Brown, Carnell Williams and Lamont Jordan were taken ahead of a certain Peyton Manning in round one of last year's drafts. BIG mistake as we know. With your round one pick, it's CRUCIAL that you pick someone you know is going to be reliable and get your fantasy team points. The Arizona offensive line last year (as the previous year) was not good at opening holes for their running backs. Most people and fantasy insiders just assumed the all-pro James would have no problem adjusting to his new surroundings from the paradise of Indianapolis. Not me... He was my #1 "avoid" guy last year in round one of drafts. Actually, given the poor recent history of the Arizona offensive line, I wouldn't have even taken him in round two! The Raiders had all kinds of problems offensively last year and in their recent history, so taking Jordan in round one was also real gamble... So no, it's not a stretch in a 12-team league to grab a WR like Steve Smith with your #12 pick - it's much better to take him there than a RB that has a high chance of not producing!

This year, without a doubt, the consensus top three picks are LaDainian Tomlinson, Stephen Jackson and Larry Johnson. So, who is #4 in 2007? Some will tell you Shaun Alexander or Frank Gore, and still others will say Joseph Addai. The wise thing to do with that pick is to go with someone with a little more certainty and take the aforementioned Manning. Manning averaged 23 fantasy points a game last year (#2 overall to Tomlinson) - almost three points more than Drew Brees and 4.4 points more than both Carson Palmer and Marc Bulger. Yes, you can make a STRONG case for taking him #2 overall. I liken drafting Manning to taking Johan Santana in baseball - you have the best guy in the game at the position, and he's the best by quite a large margin! If you look at LaDainian Tomlinson (26.4 PPG), he had quite an advantage (about 6.5 PPG) over the #2 RB, Stephen Jackson and the #3 RB, Larry Johnson. It's then another large (over 4 points) dropoff to the next guys - Frank Gore and Willie Parker. At only 15.5 points or so a game, is it really wise to take one of these guys (who averaged 7.5 fewer PPG) so early and over Manning??? Not really. I liken the "en masse" drafting of running backs early to the infamous "closer runs" in fantasy baseball leagues. It's not a wise move to get caught up in either of them!

Rule #2: Don't draft based on a "name." I see it every year in both fantasy baseball and football. People will just blindly take Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez or Barry Zito way earlier than they should in my baseball drafts just because they know the name and assume they are good players without looking at the recent downward trends in their stats. The same holds true for football. Isaac Bruce's career as a Ram is winding down. Marvin Harrison is still a great option for the Colts, but Reggie Wayne someday soon is going to be Peyton's #1 option there. Tom Brady may be a great QB, but is he really worthy of a second or third round pick in fantasy? No! Give me Marc Bulger or Drew Brees any day of the week over the Super Bowl MVP!!! Look at the trends and value your players accordingly before you draft them! Draft based on talent, roles and projected stats!

Rule #3: With your first four picks, try to take 1 QB, 1 RB, 1 WR and 1 TE if possible and also at the same time, try and pick players from "high powered" offenses. In other words, especially try to take frontline guys from the Colts, Rams, Chargers, Saints and Bengals... One of the most common fallicies you will hear fantasy sites tell you is that WR are not as reliable as RB's. This is actually pretty far from the truth. Not only that, but WR are much less injury prone than RB's. Given his advantage over the rest of the TE's, I also strongly advocate getting Antonio Gates at that position. He was the #1 TE last year, and would have been #1 by a much wider margin if the aforementioned Tomlinson hadn't been setting all of those TD records last year. Expect Gates to get more red zone looks in 2007. A typical team, drafted wisely with your first four picks should look something like this:

1. Peyton Manning
2. Reggie Bush
3. Torry Holt
4. Antonio Gates

or this:

1. Stephen Jackson
2. Chad Johnson
3. Antonio Gates
4. Marc Bulger

Rule #4: Draft WR's in rounds 5 and 6, and use them (not RB's) in your flex position... Once again, being a contrarian is a good thing. People don't seem to realize that there is a lot less turnover in the WR position during a regular season than there is at RB. In other words, you're not going to be finding a lot of Marques Colston types during the regular season unless one of the big guys gets hurt.

Rule #5: Back up your stud RB's. This goes without saying. If your main guy gets hurt, you need his backup because he WILL get lots of touches! If you're drafting Maurice Jones-Drew, it would also be wise to get Fred Taylor. You Reggie Bush owners must get his Saints mate Deuce McAllister. Remember what happened to Clinton Portis last year??? If you had LaDell Betts sitting on your bench, you probably didn't skip a beat! Two years ago, the Kansas City Chiefs had one of the league's most dominant backs in Priest Holmes. Holmes got hurt and his backup - a certain Larry Johnson - filled in and became arguably even more dominant than his predecessor.

Rule #6: Load up on running backs in the later rounds. Rounds 9 thru 16 are where you typically unearth your hidden gems - the Maurice Jones-Drews, Lawrence Maroneys, and the like. Take as many talented youngsters as you can in these late rounds. Also, try to be a "vulture" - if you see a star player's backup just sitting there (especially if he's had some prior NFL success), it's almost always a wise use of a late draft pick to take him. DeAngelo Williams may be the #1 guy in Carolina, but we all know how talented DeShaun Foster is and what he can do. With the propensity of running backs to get injured, your chances are very good that one of your cheap investments will pay off handsomely. Not only that, but you will also have gotten into the head of said owner of the #1 guy that was planning on applying rule #5!!!


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