I’ve noticed we’ve acquired quite a few new members in the forums lately and that’s terrific. Many of them are asking questions about how to approach their dynasty start-ups. I thought I’d take time to do a quick article for the newer folks on some basic strategies that will hopefully provide an edge. (Note: This article assumes non-IDP and WCOFF scoring/line-up.)
Recommendation One: Know Your Format
Seems obvious, but people don’t always take the time to make sure they understand the lineup, scoring rules and any special waiver wire limitations. Just make sure you understand the format going into your draft. Enough said on this one.
Recommendation Two: Wait to Draft
If you are starting a new league (or joining an existing one) and can influence the timing of the draft, I’d recommend pushing it as close to redraft season as possible. I know there’s a lot of excitement right now and many start-ups are already taking place. However, much is still in flux right now with free agency just getting underway. I know it’s tempting to do the draft now because it’s fun, but if the league has a mix of experienced and novice dynasty players, doing it early is going to provide even more of an advantage to the veteran players. They understand better how to predict the impacts of free agency, probably know more about player situations and likely impacts of the NFL draft, etc. Give the new guys a break – it will make your leagues more competitive.
Recommendation Three: Draft Using ADP (Average Draft Position) rather than Rank Lists
After years of playing dynasty and participating in many start-ups and even more “expert” mocks, I’ve come to believe that drafting using ADP rather than rank lists is the way to go.
Sites that host dynasty leagues (e.g. MyFantasyLeague) make available the results of all of the start-up drafts. Fantasy analysts like our friends at ProFootballFocus.com crank through this data and produce rankings based on average draft position and provide commentary on where they think the value lies. While the commentary is enjoyable, the real value from my perspective lies in the ADPs themselves.
There are several reasons why ADP is my preferred approach:
- There’s the notion of “Wisdom of the Crowd.” Studies in a wide range of fields have shown the predictive value an individual “expert” is generally no better, and often worse, than the collective opinion of a large group of people. This is especially applicable when the problem involves predicting outcomes based on large amounts of generally available information – which is certainly the case in a start-up draft.
- As I’ve written about in prior articles, my focus in building a dynasty team is to amass a collection of the most valuable player assets. ADP is the clearest indicator of player value that we have. Nothing gives us a more pure assessment of the relative value of one player vs. another as does the data provided by aggregation of a sufficient number of start-up drafts. If Dez Bryant is being drafted a round ahead of Jeremy Maclin, then he has more trade value (at least for now). It doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s going to outperform Maclin, but it certainly means that the collective body of dynasty players puts more value on Dez. Individual owners may differ on the relative values and that’s where trade opportunities arise.
- Balance the ADP against position selections. For example, if you already have two solid WRs but haven’t drafted a QB, it might be time to reach a little. If there is a QB close to the top ADP who you like, it’s okay to take him rather than blindly following the list. The ADP is just a guide – you need to build the team that you want. It’s going to be yours for a long, long time.
- ADP is a powerful tool for assessing trade offers both during and after your draft. I’ll get in to this a bit more in a minute.
Recommendation Four: Accumulate Picks in the First Five Rounds
This recommendation could almost be called a rule. Trust me when I say the experienced players in your new league will be looking to accumulate picks in the top-60 (first five rounds in a 12-team league).
The top-60 players are all being drafted as week in and week out no brainer starters for fantasy. So if you are able to acquire extra players in this tier, you have a leg up. Plus, as you begin to review ADP lists, you’ll likely notice the perceived value of the players around pick #60-#70 does drop off. In round four, players like Miles Austin, Stevie Johnson and Aaron Hernandez are going off the board. While in round six it’s players like Michael Crabtree, Roy Helu and tier two quarterbacks like Matt Ryan and Tony Romo. Clearly the players in round six have value, but it’s a far cry from the talent in round four.
So, what does this mean from a strategy perspective?
If you are new to dynasty, you need to be very careful in analyzing any offer to trade picks, but especially offers to trade up in the early rounds. Here’s a typical shark move: I’m sitting at 1.05 and you are at 1.11. I offer to swap firsts with you selling you on the fact that you are now guaranteed to get one of Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Calvin Johnson or Aaron Rodgers. And “all” I ask for in return is your 4.02 for my 7.05. You, the newbie, get very excited about getting an “elite” talent and don’t adequately contemplate what just happened in the second part of that trade – which is the more important part to me. I’m totally fine getting the likes of AJ Green, Julio Jones or Matt Forte at 1.11. And instead of a guy like Pierre Garcon or LeGarrette Blount in the seventh round, I’m getting another every week lead pipe lock starter with your fourth.
Use your ADP list to analyze the offers to trade picks. It really helps to put names to faces by looking at who is going right around all the picks being discussed in a potential trade.
Recommendation Five: Know the Value of Future Rookie Picks
At the risk of making the sharks in the forums angry with me, I’m going to let you in on another secret. We test to see if owners in our start-ups overvalue future picks. Frankly, it’s much harder to gauge the value of a future rookie pick than a mid-round start up pick. At least with the start-up pick you have your trusty ADP list. There’s even less clarity about the future rookie picks.
When you get a trade offer involving a future rookie pick, you need to go through the same type of analysis as described above. Of course you can’t put a name to the rookie pick and that’s what makes it more uncertain. The very best approach is to use an ADP list that includes rookie picks. Many early start-ups will draft rookie picks along with veteran players. Of course those are this year’s picks, but that’s as good an ADP as you are going to get. If by chance you don’t have access to an ADP list with rookie slots mixed in, then my rule of thumb is a next year’s first is worth about a seventh or eighth round veteran selection. And a second is more like a fourteenth or fifteenth rounder.
Recommendation Six: Give the Edge to Youth
Most people joining the ranks of dynasty players are making the leap from simple redraft leagues. As much as we all know that dynasty is about the long haul, it’s hard for those with deep redraft experience to divorce themselves from drafting for immediate production – but they need to.
I don’t play much redraft and obviously there is little to no ADP data out there for 2012, but I’m guessing guys like Frank Gore and Michael Turner will still go as RB#2s in the fourth round or so. These guys need to still be on the board into the seventh, eighth or ninth rounds in dynasty. Gore’s dynasty ADP will (correctly) put him several rounds behind guys like Beanie Wells and Mark Ingram, but it’s relatively likely that he’ll outscore those guys. You can draft Gore at the right time, but you need to view him as a one or two year “rental” that has similar trade value to guys in his ADP range. Gore might well help you win a championship year one, but he’s going to quickly wither on your bench.
On the flip side, as the draft gets later and later (and you already have your core group), taking shots on guys who are falling too far is absolutely fine. I was in an expert’s start-up last year and was able to get Fred Jackson with the 10.01, Steve Smith (CAR) with the 10.06 and Tony Gonzalez with the 12.01. Because I already had a core of youth, I took some shots in the mid-rounds that really paid off. Just watch the flow of the draft and when in doubt take the younger player.
Editor’s Note: Tim Stafford can be found @dynastytim on twitter and in the forums as tstafford.