The question that I get asked most often is, “how can I turn my mediocre team into a contender NOW?” Truth is, there’s no easy answer or foolproof method. I’ve had some powerhouse teams over the years and also had a few mediocre rosters I couldn’t quickly re-tool. I do know one system can be effective if you’re willing to take some risks – it’s the “Moneyball” strategy.
The name “Moneyball” is a new term for an old idea. In fact, I didn’t even have a name for it until I saw the Brad Pitt movie (never thought I’d ever include Brad Pitt in a fantasy football article) recently, but the title and theme fit the strategy.
I warn you. This method takes guts, conviction and a gamblers mentality to pull off. The old saying of “no guts, no glory” definitely applies. The way I look at, you have nothing to lose. I hate the feeling of finishing just outside the big dance. I hate losing more than I like winning. As such, I will always be aggressive in my pursuit of a championship. If you’re willing to take up the same mindset then you can go from pretender to contender in a hurry.
So what is this Moneyball strategy I’m referring to? It’s really simple. You fill your roster with as many second tier players as you can find. I’m referring to older players, players who are number 2 or 3 targets, or players on the bench who are one injury away from getting the nod. I’m not referring strictly to stats.
The key here is player perception. You’re looking for guys that are not at the top of the radar by most owners in your league. You also want guys that you can buy for a reasonable price. Some owners are even going to thank you for taking these players off their hands. Step one is to target enough of these guys by trade or whatever methods are available to you. Step two is to hit on your rookie pick(s). And boom, you’ll land yourself a formidable roster. It’s risky, yes, because you could be wrong. But if you do your homework, you can come out on top with most of your transactions.
The goal is to commit to winning your league championship that year, while not selling your team’s future. So with that in mind I’ve made a sample list of guys I foresee to have a perceived lower value than what they will actually produce. In other words, I’ve done some of your homework for you to get you started. Another good way to gauge perception of value is to track the ADP of where guys are going in mock drafts, just like the recent DLF Mock draft I participated in. Keep in mind the goal is to get two or three of these guys along with a solid rookie pick for this to work.
David Nelson, WR BUF
I’ve labeled 2012 as David Nelson’s breakout year. He’s got all of the makings to be a number 2 level PPR wide receiver. Will it happen in 2012? I don’t know, but I’m betting it is likely to happen. I traded for him early last year because of my belief he’s a budding solid fantasy start.
Brandon Lloyd, WR FA
Lloyd seems to be the receiver no fantasy owner seems to want – at least that’s the perception I get in my leagues. Despite a horrible quarterback situation and being traded last year, he still finished in the top 25 in PPR leagues. Most people bail on Lloyd because the perception is he’s a one year wonder and is getting old. He’s 30 and is still solid. He’s treated like he’s bench fodder or washed up. For me, I will look to grab in leagues if I can get a proper deal negotiated (you never know what the owner is thinking).
Marques Colston, WR FA
This one is self explanatory. Everyone is afraid of Colston’s microfracture procedure last offseason. I’m not afraid of it though. I give the guy two more years of high production before his knee quits. Many dynasty owners are afraid because they tend to look too far into the future. For those owners, take a shot at landing him for your 2012 run. Personally, I traded him last offseason, but that’s because I got what I perceived to be proper value (David Nelson, Fred Davis and two second round picks).
Laurent Robinson, WR FA
I’ve seen Robinson undervalued because of the other big named receivers in the Cowboys’ offense. Because of that perception, he’ll slip in drafts, and also could be had for a lot less than the numbers he’ll put up. Given he’ll likely be a third wide receiver on your team, he can be a difference maker for your team on his big weeks. Think of him as a wild card, especially if he’s back in Dallas.
Michael Turner, RB ATL
The talk of the Falcons becoming a more passing oriented offense has seen the steady Michael Turner’s value decline. Turner ended the year as the eighth ranked running back in PPR leagues. I personally don’t believe he’ll be phased out that quickly, but many fantasy owners are ready to dump him because they fear his numbers will take a sudden nose dive. I don’t believe Turner’s 2012 value will drop as far as many perceive it to be. In the DLF Mock Draft, Turner wasn’t drafted until the ninth round, well after many backs he’ll outproduce in 2012.
Pierre Thomas RB, NO
Pierre Thomas is one of the most underrated running backs in the NFL. In fact, he’s perceived to be the third best running back on his own team. Don’t give away his starting position to Mark Ingram so quickly. Thomas finished last season as the 21st ranked running back in PPR leagues. Ingram is far from having proven himself and Thomas is under contract for several more years. He will have something to say about his role in this offense. I’ll bet on a repeat performance of 2011 and which makes him a very strong flex play.
Charles Clay RB/TE MIA
Clay is one of my sleeper players for 2012. He may have been drafted as a fullback, but his main position for the Dolphins is as an H-Back. Clay is very raw, but I saw him flash on many plays and he really got my attention. With a Green Bay type offense now headed down to South Beach, I see loads of unrealized potential in Clay. He’ll be a cheap get with loads of upside.
This is my list of “Moneyball” candidates. There are many more that could fit this strategy. Who are your candidates?
Paymon Shokoohi can be found on Twitter @setmyroster. Paymon also blogs at setmyroster.com. Be sure to catch him there as well.