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Really?

It’s the same dance every year.

Rookies shoot up draft boards.  Aging veterans are often completely forgotten or discarded in fantasy drafts.  Young players with a clear opportunity aren’t given the value they deserve.   And my personal favorite, every fantasy coach morphs into a current day version of Nostradamus.  It’s not the predictions that interest me, we all do it.  Instead, it’s the passion, intensity and absoluteness of  the statements or predictions that really pique my interest. Given the energy behind some views I’ve heard, it has, on occasion, given me pause as to the possibility that I may have written off  the existence of time travel a bit too soon.  Perhaps these individuals ARE from the future here to selectively steer us fantasy owners away from making a catastrophic mistake in 2012?

For the rest of us, it’s called guessing.

I was having a conversation with my sister not long ago about fantasy football, trying to explain the addiction it is for so many and the money available to coaches who do it well.  After a long introduction to the topic, she simply stated “oh, gambling.”  I politely corrected her and went on to deconstruct her assessment through an elaborate description of the tactics in play, the differing strategies possible based on the individual goal or team make-up and being the first to capitalize on an opportunity that presents an advantage.  She, of course, responded with “Right, gambling.”

She’s right of course.

I’ve long since known and understood the similarities between gambling and fantasy sports, especially football.  That alone is why I don’t play a lot of redraft leagues and why I believe that the dynasty format is for the true fantasy super-fan.  It removes, at least to some degree, the luck factor.  I’ve always been the type of player who, in any game, believes sound strategy and attention to detail provide the best chance of winning.  Apply that to the dynasty format, where each player only exists on a single team, and you have the  underpinnings of a game where an advantage can actually be had.  Heck, DLF was founded and exists today because all of you are searching for the same thing.  Searching for that single piece of information that gives you an advantage.  The quick and the dead.

In the absence of strategy, there is luck.  But let’s face it, even with the existence of strategy, sound or not, luck plays a huge role in the results.  Somewhere between strategy and luck is the place we all must exist in our quest to carve out our place in the fantasyverse.  Whether you call it gambling, guessing or educated opinion, the strategy you use to build your team over the years will ultimately define you as a coach.

As we enter prime drafting season, a few trends are starting to take shape for 2012 that are, to me at least, noteworthy.  Be it players who are over-drafted or under-appreciated, rookies reaching cult-like status before playing a single snap or ridiculous rankings – group think can often lead to situations you can use to your advantage when draft-day arrives.  Allowing other coaches to over-draft in front of you pushes more valuable players down.  Rookie hype can lead to attractive trades after round four of your new start-up draft and out-of-favor players make attractive targets after round six or so.

Let’s take a look at some of the situations that I’m tracking this year that have made me exclaim, “really?”

1.  Donald Brown – DLF Ranking:  RB40

Really?

I get it, I really do.  Brown has been a huge disappointment since coming into the league.  He hasn’t been able to stay healthy, couldn’t pick up a blitz to save his soul and lost goal line touches to Javarris James  (now in Arizona) of all players.  But at 25 years of age, with no other significant names on the depth chart and many new faces on offense, this is Donald Brown’s make or break year.  He’s the unquestioned starter leading into camp and highly favored to start the season as the RB1.  There are no guarantees, of course, that he holds onto his position, but what if he can stay healthy?  Brown is far more dynamic than any other Colts running back and remember the hype surrounding the completely one dimensional runner that is Delone Carter in 2011?  Brown only had one 100 yard game in 2011 and averaged just below 13 carries per game down the stretch, but it’s no secret in Indy that Brown will be given every chance to carry the load in 2012.  What if?

Brown has far more of an opportunity than his current RB40 status.  For the record, I have him ranked as the RB24.

2.  James Starks – DLF Ranking:  RB34

Really?

Much like Donald Brown above, I get it.  What I also get is that Starks is only 26, doesn’t have a significant number of carries on his body and, again like Brown, is the unquestioned starter heading into the season.  Say what you will about injury history, Alex Green, Brandon Saine or rumors about Cedric Benson, Starks has enormous upside.

What many don’t know about Starks is just how driven he is and how good his hands are.  Neither have had much time to show themselves in Green Bay.  A nasty hamstring injury severely limited his production during his rookie year and a time share with Ryan Grant limited his production in 2011.   At 6’2″ and 218 pounds, he’s a big runner with surprising agility and the strength to break tackles.  I’ve always liked him as a mini-AP (Adrian Peterson) type of back.  In his 162 career rushing attempts, Starks has averaged 4.2 ypc.   Over his career, in games in which he had more than 12 carries, he’s averaged nearly 4.6 ypc.  In 2011, in games with over 12 carries, he averaged 5.4 ypc.  He gets better with more carries during a game and he’s getting better with age.

We all know that Green Bay is a pass-first offense.  Green Bay’s coaching staff realizes this as well and also is aware that they’ve been exposed as a somewhat single dimensional team.  With more of a focus on the running game in 2012 to balance their offensive attack, the lead back is going to see more carries and have an enormous opportunity.  What hurt Starks in 2011, could very well reward him in 2012.  Aaron Rodgers and the prolific offense he commands, with opposing defenses keyed on defending the pass, should find Starks’ contribution beneficial.

As long as James Starks can remain healthy, it’s his job to lose and I don’t see any other back on the roster as a viable threat.  His upside is enormous given his RB34 ranking.

3.  Ronnie Hillman – Drafted as highly as 1.03

Really?

No, no and no again.  Don’t get me wrong, I love bold moves.  I love bold predictions.  And I love a bold barbecue sauce, especially Pappy’s White Lightnin’ (give it a try and let me know).  But Ronnie Hillman at 1.03 in a rookie draft is too bold for me.  He’s undersized, not strong in the lower body and has ball security issues.  Furthermore, he put up his gaudy numbers against extremely suspect defenses while playing at San Diego State.  I understand that Marshall Faulk likes him and everyone has stars in their eyes following a move to lighter and faster backs in the mold of Chris Johnson, but Hillman is being vastly over-drafted in my humble opinion.

Let’s not forget, too, that head coach John Fox, loves his running backs.  To me, Hillman is destined to be a third down specialist in Fox’s offense … eventually.  I do see the chance that he could take over the reins as an every-down starter, but that is a wager I wouldn’t be making with money I didn’t have to lose.  He’s got the speed to get to the outside and is agile enough in space, but he doesn’t have the strength to run between the tackles, at least until he proves otherwise.

I’ve seen Hillman go in the first round of nearly every recent rookie draft.  I’m on board with a late first round grade in fantasy, but there’s no way I would be be selecting him above the two backs mentioned above.  Running backs bust far too often in the NFL coming out of college, and many with greater bodies and numbers than Hillman. We covered this situation more in-depth earlier this week.

Just for reference, he’s DLF’s RB33.  I’m okay with that ranking overall.

4.  Josh Gordon – Supplemental Draft Gold

I’ll admit it.  I, myself, took a flyer on Gordon in one supplemental rookie draft, bidding a 2013 second rounder for the ability to add Gordon this year.  In my line of thinking, I love his size, hands and how he plays on the limited amount of tape I’ve seen.  But he’s a supplemental draft pick, he’s a three time drug offender and he hasn’t played in 18 months.  Big Mike Williams anyone?

I know, I know.  Gordon is different.  His story is different.  He’s perhaps the best receiver NOW on a team in dire need for receiver talent.  Many who have entered the supplemental draft have far better stories with more promise than does Gordon.  I’m as intrigued as anyone about the possibilities but there isn’t exactly a history of success from the supplemental draft.  Care to take a gander at that history?  Here you go:

Year Name Pos Rd.
1977 Al Hunter RB 4
1978 Johnnie Dirden WR 10
1978 Rod Connors RB 12
1979 Rod Stewart RB 6
1980 Matthew Teague DE 7
1980 Billy Mullins WR 9
1981 Dave Wilson QB 1
1981 Chy Davidson WR 11
1982 Kevin Robinson DB 9
1985 Bernie Kosar QB 1
1985 Roosevelt Snipes RB 8
1986 Charles Crawford RB 7
1987 Brian Bosworth LB 1
1987 Dan Sileo DT 3
1987 Cris Carter WR 4
1988 Ryan Bethea WR 5
1989 Steve Walsh QB 1
1989 Timm Rosenbach QB 1
1989 Bobby Humphrey RB 1
1989 Brett Young DB 8
1989 Mike Lowman RB 12
1990 Rob Moore WR 1
1990 Willie Williams TE 9
1992 Dave Brown QB 1
1992 Darren Mickell DE 2
1994 Tito Wooten DB 4
1994 John Davis TE 5
1995 Darren Benson DT 3
1998 Mike Wahle OT 2
1998 Jamal Williams DT 2
1999 J’Juan Cherry DB 4
2002 Milford Brown OL 6
2003 Tony Hollings RB 2
2005 Manuel Wright DT 5
2006 Ahmad Brooks[88] LB 3
2007 Paul Oliver S 4
2007 Jared Gaither[90] OT 5
2009 Jeremy Jarmon DE 3
2010 Harvey Unga[93] RB 7
2010 Josh Brent[93] NT 7
2011 Terrelle Pryor QB 3
2012 Josh Gordon WR 2

Again, even I’m intrigued here and willing to “limp in” just in case, but let’s not go overboard.  History is screaming at us here.

5.  Tight Ends – Extinction Level Event for Wide Receivers

Really?

When is a tight end a receiver?  Always.  It’s not the position that matters, it’s the fantasy relevance of the player within the position that matters.  Be they a wide receiver, tight end or H-back by role, it’s largely unimportant in the big picture.  Yes Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez had a great year in 2011 and are flying off the board in the early rounds of start-up drafts.  Yes, there is a movement underway of establishing two tight ends in many systems, but unless your format awards 1.5 points for tight end receptions, this movement doesn’t materially change your focus or the value of the receivers.  In fact, I’d argue that this trend lifts the value of many receivers while pushing back the value of receivers that you don’t want to be pressed into playing anyway.

You should always know the value of tight ends in your scoring format.  Know where they slot compared to the top ten or twenty receivers.  Much like other positions, after a certain number of them are off the board, it makes little sense to over-draft a tight end in the third tier because the point disparity between them is negligible and doesn’t constitute a material advantage week over week.  Know thy top six and wait on the rest.

One year does not a trend make.  I’d offer that the continuing de-emphasis of the primary running back in favor of a committee approach and the migration to more pass oriented schemes are the greater trends to follow.  Art imitates life and in this case, could the Arena League be art?

We’ll have much more on the trends of tight ends vs. wide receivers in our premium section shortly as well.

6.  Ignoring Top Quarterbacks

There’s a big difference between “ignoring” and “not getting” a top quarterback.  This issue isn’t just about securing a top quarterback in a start-up.  It’s also related to keeper leagues when tough choices need to be made.  Recently, I’ve been hearing case after case, and suggestion after suggestion in keeper leagues to ditch a top quarterback  in favor of an injury-prone RB12 or worse.  It’s true that only one starts per team each week, but it’s also true that there’s a huge difference between QB1 and QB10 –  try 160 points.

One of the first things that was very obvious to me about building a dynasty, or even a competitive team in the early days is that it requires a top quarterback.  It is very difficult to win, let alone repeatedly win, without one of your league’s top quarterbacks taking the field for you every Sunday.  A top quarterback can not only lead you to a championship, but also keep a sub-par team competitive.  Few positions can create the point disparity, week over week, that a quarterback can.  Top quarterbacks also tend to be very consistent.  It’s not uncommon to have upwards of a 20 point advantage in quarterback play on any given week when going up against a fellow coach that isn’t so, well, endowed.

In the format I usually play, the top four overall point producers were, in order:  1)  Aaron Rodgers 2) Drew Brees 3) Cam Newton and 4) Tom Brady.  A couple of spots below number four and you’re realizing 100 fantasy points less for the year.  Combine that with the fact that young quarterbacks have longer careers, are less injury prone, trend toward greater production as they age and, perhaps most importantly, aren’t being slowly de-emphasized in the new-look NFL and you have a position that should be anything other than ignored.  This is not to say that you should ever over-draft a mediocre quarterback, but if you are in possession of a top quarterback, think twice before releasing him back to the pool if you are faced with a difficult decision in your keeper league.  In a new start-up, don’t under-estimate the power that an elite quarterback can bring early in the second round, or even late in the first.

Case in point:  I’ve heard many reasons why Cam Newton is going to under-perform in 2012.  It’s not a difficult a prediction given his gross number of rushing touchdowns and overall QB3 fantasy production status.  The second half of his 2011 was little like his first half and it’s obvious that defenses began understanding how to minimize Newton’s effectiveness.  But regardless, I tend to focus on the “what is” when it comes to quarterbacks.  Good young quarterbacks usually get better.  Dynamic young quarterbacks generally stay dynamic.  I have every belief that Newton will approach last year’s production in some form, or another.  Eclipsing it is a tall order in his sophomore year, but if he matures as a passer, he’ll stay dynamic as a runner.

The point here is, don’t be so quick to discard your top producing quarterbacks when confronted with a difficult decision.  Monitor the potential point disparity present between that quarterback and that the other position player in question before blindly selecting.   If you get left out of a quarterback run, so be it, don’t over-draft.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of incredulity.  Let me hear about some of those things that leave you saying really?

Jeff Haverlack
Latest posts by Jeff Haverlack (see all)
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kcDemonSlayer
9 years ago

I agree with a top tier QB but I would put Stafford over Newton slightly. Now teams have film on Newton and Newton will soon try to prove he can be a pocket qb which will dip into his production a bit. Stafford just got better and better last year fantasy wise and the Lions are a foot on throat team like the Giants and Patriots. They never stop throwing no matter how much they are up by. My top 6 qb’s would be as listed above but Stafford #4, Newton #5, and Eli #6.

Chad
Reply to  Jeff Haverlack
9 years ago

But your okay with one year of production from Cam when defenses had no idea what to expect from him..? You can’t forget that the lockout pretty much weakened every defense in the league- which is evident in the ridiculous offensive stat lines that teams put up last year. I would like to see another year of healthy play from Stafford, but I’d also like to see another year of productive play from Cam before I solidify his place as a tier 1 QB.

Rog
Reply to  Chad
9 years ago

You can’t separate the defenses argument and apply it only to Cam; Stafford’s career year happened in the same year after the same lockout (your implication to weaker d’s, etc). I am along with you in that there is some skepticism on both, but I’m with Jeff having Cam higher on my sheet than Stafford. I think I’d rather take my chances on a guy whose downside is maybe that he’s slow to learn opposing defenses, rather than the downside of not being on the field at all.

Greg G.
Reply to  Rog
9 years ago

I’m going to side with Chad on this one. I believe Stafford should be ranked higher than Newton. I think the injury argument is far overplayed. He withstood the test last season and proved to everyone he could not only stay healthy, but be one of the best in the game. Newton, in my opinion, has more to prove. Im not ready to call him elite just yet. Another year is needed.

Chris
Reply to  Jeff Haverlack
9 years ago

I’m not sure cam is going to go away from his biggest asset…his legs.

He gets 80% of the five yards or closer goal line touches.

9 years ago

This is an excellent piece, Jeff. I was looking into writing a Battle VS Luck Factor piece and you covered one of the major factors, which is play dynasty format. Enjoyed the article.

sean mcguigan
9 years ago

I agree would put romo at 6 over Eli though …..dude puts up numbers

Belfast express
9 years ago

Great article! And i am glad to see u agree with me about newton. I recently took him as the 2nd qb off the board in our start up draft and have heard nothing but mocking over my pick since. Crazy how guys get it in there head that his rookie year was a fluke? I have a couple guys claiming he wasnt in there top 5 qb,s and were glad i wasted my pick on cam?

Chris R.
9 years ago

Sorry but I’m failing to see your point by showing the supplemental draft results since it started.

We are going to make some type of correlation from 7 WR’s that were drafted before him? I see this argument made too much and no offense but it’s a lazy argument and has no merit. You would have a better point if there were a ton of WR’s coming of the supplemental draft year in and out that were bust.

You would also have a point there if a ton of talented prospects at WR were coming out of that draft and ending up a bust. Your listing of those other 7 WR’s who came out of the supplemental draft only includes 1 guy who was worth a damn, so how about we focus on him and not guys that were drafted in rounds 10th, 9th, 11th, 4th, and 5th.

Those are all flier type of picks, so I don’t see any correlation there. Moore was seen as the guy with the best tools and most expectations out of the group as he was drafted with a 1st round pick, played 12 years and had nearly 10k receiving yards in his career. Then even if you throw in Cris Carter and you have a much better ratio.

So again, don’t see where you were going there. You can make it look like some huge odds are stacked against him because he was a supplemental draft pick but that’s not the case. He is getting overhyped, but in response it’s making another crowd want to under value him and tell everybody to calm down. He has a bunch of things to focus on that may cause people to doubt him and rightfully so, but the history of that draft isn’t one.

StevieMo
9 years ago

Not related but love your dynasty QB/RB rankings with the consensus of nine opinions. Are you guys planning to do WR and TE soon?

Admin
Reply to  StevieMo
9 years ago

Yes, we are getting there. WR’s will be done in the next few days.

robertdhenley
9 years ago

the things i like about gordon; size, speed, situation

now if he can stay away from being the next dez or britt, i think he has a chance to be something. did you see the rediculious amount of targets going little’s way last yr.

the difference between him and some of those wr whom were previously in the supplemental draft is the fact the nfl is a different game. the closets wr to go in the supplemental draft was 1990. the game is different now.

gordon is going on a team that will in all likelihood, be losing most of their games, meaning they will be playing catch-up, so he will get targets and the lack of wrs on the browns with talent, means he will see his fair shair of those targets. so ill go with opportunity and talent over previous supplemental draft comparisions, which are pretty irrelivant if you ask me

i did recently take gordon in my rookie draft at 2.7

Al
9 years ago

I like that you took a flyer on Josh Gordon then showed how the odds maybe stacked up against him succesding. Proving your sister is correct, lol.

Solid informative article. Thank you!

Admin
Reply to  Jeff Haverlack
9 years ago

How about Sinorce? 🙂

Mike D
9 years ago

Good stuff, as usual. A lot of what’s in this article touched on my keeper decisions in my 12-team salary cap keeper league. After my must-keep players, I had to decide between keeping Reggie Bush OR keeping Vick and Donald Brown. Obviously, I kept the latter because of the top QB potential over the RB as stated in this article, and the open-door situation for Brown.

Joe
9 years ago

Really great article… It lays bare all the hype and baseless prognosticating so prevelant on the web these days. People should remember that the ff sites HAVE to fill content to get eyeballs and clicks otherwise their web relevance and ad revenue go WAAAAYY down. Ff football web sites and “experts” are a dime a dozen. Great insight from an author who always does his research! Kudos! Keep up the good work.

sixshooter
9 years ago

Sorry but don’t really appreciate the re-draft comparison. I love all fantasy football and honestly believe that the only difference is…..if you don’t know what you are doing…..then the only difference is a slow death instead versus instant death. It is really all the same! Especially if you are in a startup league but, if not, then you are really taking a gamble moreso than you would be in a re-draft league where you “could” get instant gratification instead of taking a couple years to build your team and “hope” that you made the right moves. Either way…..as long as you are in a competitive league…..it is all a gamble!

jerryskids
9 years ago

white lightning bbq sauce is money

Joe
9 years ago

Lol my public education is showing…I meant to say pontificating but was to fired up to think clearly!

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