I began this new series with a look at my strategy and philosophy regarding running backs in a startup draft. Today, I want to share some of the results of the two startup drafts I referenced in that article. Many of these individual strategies I am referencing go hand in hand, so it is a challenge to isolate them and discuss them on their own merit. If you read the first article in the series, Punting Running Backs, then you have already seen the examples of a startup draft where I nearly completely ignored the running back position in the early rounds of the drafts. Whether you think this strategy is insane or if it mirrors your startup plans, you have to be wondering how I could compete early on while bypassing running back after running back. This is where today’s strategy comes into play.
Entering a new dynasty startup draft, not only do I understand that some of my strategies will likely eliminate my chances of competing for a title in year one, I embrace it. I know many of you could not start a league with the intention of losing in year one, and I don’t blame you. I’ve seen the arguments that a championship in year one is just as valuable as a championship in years two, three, four and so on. I get that, but I’m not looking for one championship, I am attempting to build a dynasty that can compete for a title every year. Just like in the NFL and other major sports, dynasty leagues are filled with teams who are selling out to make a push for a title. Whether a championship is ultimately attained or not, the team is often left with little hope of future success. With my teams, I am attempting to be the New England Patriots or San Antonio Spurs of my dynasty leagues, not the Arizona Cardinals or Orlando Magic, who make a random title game and then fall off the map.
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For years, I referred to this plan as subtle tanking, though I was never comfortable with that term. On a weekly basis, I was not trying to lose, as the term tanking would suggest. I continue to submit my best lineup and try to win every game. It was just a matter of that optimal lineup, on most weeks, not being good enough to win the game. This is due, in large part, to the fact that I punted the running back position in my startup draft. While my wide receivers are usually very strong and I have solid young prospects at quarterback and tight end, my deficiency at running back keeps me out of the running for a playoff spot, and I’m okay with that. Back to the subtle tanking term…not only did I not intentionally lose from week to week, but I also would not make moves to intentionally affect my chances of making the playoffs. This statement is two-fold. In year one, I am very unlikely to make a trade for a veteran that might help me sneak into the playoffs, especially if it costs me one of the young players I drafted just a few months earlier. On the other hand, I also will not trade away players I am relying on as starters to ensure I continue to lose. Fortunately, in most cases, I don’t have many players who would be valuable for a team making a playoff push, so I am rarely presented with that choice.
With the understanding that I was not actually tanking, or losing weekly games on purpose, I have been searching for a new term to represent this strategy I put in place, and I found it in the unlikeliest of places. As you may or may not know, I spend my day job educating third grade students. Soon after the most recent school year ended, I attended a math training. The presenter was discussing the merits of allowing students figure out how to solve a math problem on their own, rather than stepping in and offering so much guidance that the student didn’t learn anything. She termed this the Productive Struggle. While all of my colleagues in the room failed to even bat an eye as they stared at their phone or pretended to take notes on the presentation, my mind immediately turned to dynasty football. I knew this term was a much better representation of my strategy than the tanking term.
The Ideas Behind Productive Struggle
As I mentioned earlier, many of these dynasty strategies that will be outlined in my Blueprint series go hand in hand. Punting the running back position in the startup draft leads to the Productive Struggle in year one. The productive struggle only works well if you’ve stocked your team with young building blocks, especially at wide receiver.
So, you’ve basically given up on year one before it begins and you’ve filled your team with top wide receivers and your favorite young prospects at quarterback and tight end. What comes of the Productive Struggle and what exactly makes it? If all goes according to plan, you will land a top rookie pick, hopefully the 1.01, to land another young impact player on your team. In past years, this could have been AJ Green, Dez Bryant or Giovani Bernard for example. Considering that top rookies are often selected in the second or third round of a startup draft, as we are seeing with Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans this year, earning this top pick is essentially adding another top 40 player to your team one year after the startup draft.
One thing to avoid, and I’ll cover this in greater detail in a later Blueprint article, is feeling the need to take a running back with that early rookie draft pick simply because you ignored the position in the startup. I always advise drafting the best player available, especially with early picks. That could be a rookie running back, like Bernard a year ago, but in many recent cases, it’s been a wide receiver. With a top rookie added, hopefully your team is in prime position to compete entering the second year of your dynasty league.
Examples of Productive Struggle
In the first article of the Blueprint series, I shared a pair of examples of startup drafts in which I’ve tried these strategies in recent years. While you’ve already seen the results of the startup draft, I want to go a bit deeper now and share how the Productive Struggle has aided my bid to build a dynasty.
The first league I shared with you in the Punting Running Backs article was from the HyperActive 4 startup draft. As a reminder, here are the results of the draft:
1.01 Calvin Johnson, WR
2.12 Eddie Royal, WR
3.01 Wes Welker, WR
4.12 Jay Cutler, QB
5.01 Ronnie Brown, RB
6.12 Kenny Britt, WR
7.01 Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR
8.12 Jamaal Charles, RB
9.01 Matt Cassel, QB
10.12 Jerious Norwood, RB
11.01 Jordy Nelson, WR
12.12 Tashard Choice, RB
13.01 Josh Freeman, QB
14.12 Shawn Nelson, TE
15.01 Juaquin Iglesias, WR
16.12 James Hardy, WR
17.01 Bernard Scott, RB
18.12 Earnest Graham, RB
19.01 Martellus Bennett, TE
20.12 Ricky Williams, RB
21.01 Ladell Betts, RB
22.12 Michael Vick, QB
23.01 Muhsin Muhammad, WR
24.12 Stevie Johnson, WR
25.01 Kolby Smith, RB
26.12 Dominique Edison, WR
The inaugural season of 2009 saw me manage to win just one game, easily earning the 1.01 pick for the 2010 rookie draft. Now comes one of the biggest keys of the Productive Struggle plan; quality drafting during rookie drafts. This is not something that can be taught really. It’s important to be active, do your research and know who to trust as resources. It’s also prudent to understand you won’t hit on every pick. In the 2010 rookie draft, I had eight picks and consider five of them “hits.” Among my picks were Dez Bryant (1.01), Emmanuel Sanders (2.03), Aaron Hernandez (2.09), Mike Williams (3.02) and Jimmy Graham (3.05).
With the immediate impact of Hernandez and Williams in 2010, my team showed some improvement, but still managed just four wins. Currently, I expect only year one to be my Productive Struggle season, with my teams ready to contend in year two. This was clearly not the case with this team, so I was in for another year of struggling toward an end goal of building my competitive dynasty team. Looking back, I think this poor second season was likely due to poor execution in the startup draft. This was my first attempt with this strategy and it was not refined by any means. With a chance to change things, I would undo the Ronnie Brown picks for sure, which may or may not have had an impact on my success in year two.
The four win season in 2010 led me to the 1.03 pick in a three man draft. With Mark Ingram and AJ Green off the board, I made the easy selection of Julio Jones. I also had four other picks in the 2011 draft and landed Randall Cobb (1.13) and Shane Vereen (2.03).
Finally, the Productive Struggle worked and I finished the 2011 season 10-2, winning my division. In the three seasons since the two Productive Struggle years, I am 27-9, winning 75% of my games.
Just for reference, here is my current team, now entering our sixth season.
QB- Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel
RB- Montee Ball, Trent Richardson, Bernard Pierce, Tre Mason, Terrance West, Charles Sims, Ka’Deem Carey, Isaiah Crowell, Darren Sproles, Latavius Murray
WR- AJ Green, Julio Jones, Randall Cobb, Keenan Allen, Kendall Wright, Wes Welker, Rueben Randle, Aaron Dobson, Kenny Britt
TE- Jimmy Graham, Tyler Eifert
I am very happy with my current team and with my balance of young veterans, prospects and future draft picks, I feel that I am in position to contend for the enxt several years.
Next, here’s a look at the other league featured in Punting Running Backs. As you might recall, the other league was HyperActive 5, a startup filled with dynasty experts, all active on Twitter. Here’s what my initial draft brought me.
1.01 Calvin Johnson, WR
1.10 AJ Green, WR
4.03 Aaron Hernandez, TE
5.10 Andrew Luck, QB
6.03 Michael Floyd, WR
7.10 Randall Cobb, WR
9.09 Kendall Hunter, RB
9.10 LaMichael James, RB
10.12 Andy Dalton, QB
11.10 Jon Baldwin, WR
12.03 Ryan Williams, RB
13.10 Mohamed Sanu, WR
14.03 LeGarrette Blount, RB
16.03 Tim Tebow, QB
17.10 Martellus Bennett, TE
18.03 Montario Hardesty, RB
19.10 TJ Graham, WR
20.12 Mark Sanchez, QB
21.10 Chris Ivory, RB
22.03 Tommy Streeter, WR
23.10 Bryce Brown, RB
24.03 Michael Egnew, TE
25.10 Taylor Thompson, TE
26.03 Brian Hoyer, QB
26.12 Keshawn Martin, WR
In year one of this dynasty league, which was 2012, my team won four games and, like HyperActive 4, earned the top overall pick. With no clear favorite to be the top pick in 2013 dynasty rookie drafts, I altered my strategy with a move I now regret. I dealt the 1.01 for wide receiver Justin Blackmon. I was left with six draft picks. With those picks, I added Zac Stacy (1.13), Christine Michael (2.04), Latavius Murray (3.04), Jordan Reed (3.06) and Knile Davis (3.11). The quick success of Stacy and Reed, along with a trade for Josh Gordon, helped me improve by five wins in one year and make the playoffs in the 2013 season. Fortunately, this Productive Struggle lasted just one season and I now have some pieces that should help me again contend for the next three years, at least.
My current team includes:
QB- Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick, Zach Mettenberger, Brock Osweiler
RB- Zac Stacy, Christine Michael, Tre Mason, Chris Ivory, Fred Jackson, Andre Williams, Latavius Murray
WR- Calvin Johnson, AJ Green, Josh Gordon, Randall Cobb, Jordan Matthews, Allen Robinson, Reggie Wayne, Justin Blackmon, Stephen Hill, Rod Streater, TJ Jones
TE- Jordan Reed, Ladarius Green, AC Leonard
I continue to employ this combined strategy, which starts with punting running backs, and continues with a Productive Struggle in year one, hopefully leading to years of consistent contending teams.