Thursday, August 20, 2015

Jeremy's Fabulous, Free Fantasy Football Feature

This is LeSean McCoy's "I'm not on the Eagles anymore, so you probably shouldn't draft me" face.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

Here’s a shocker - I’m a 26-year old male sports fan, and I love fantasy football.

The last two weeks of August every year involve me registering anywhere from 8-10 teams (most of them just to prepare for the 3 leagues that I actually care about) and three times as many mock drafts and auctions. I can’t get enough. There was a year I actually had to register new email accounts in order to register new accounts in order to register more than 10 fantasy teams.

But it’s infuriating. I love fantasy football, but I hate it. Or maybe I love to hate it. Or maybe I hate how much I love it. One way or the other, nothing causes me as much hair-splitting, teeth-mashing frustration on a weekly basis than fantasy football. For years I thought Amani Toomer had a personal vendetta against me - he had an uncanny ability to score meaningless touchdowns in Week 12-14 to hose me out of a playoff spot. I think he did it in three straight seasons (including one even after he retired, somehow). In five of the last 10 seasons, I’ve had a first-round pick in one of the two or three “serious” leagues suffer a season-ending injury or incident in the first half of the season or totally fall off a cliff for reasons unexplained (Daunte Culpepper, Tom Brady, Maurice Jones-Drew, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson) and totally ruin my season. But I keep coming back. And so here I am.

What follows are some random, unorganized ramblings about the upcoming fantasy football season. I probably shouldn’t write these down publicly as most of the people who read my content are people that I participate in fantasy football leagues with, but that would involve me caring. Besides, my strategies aren’t exactly secret to these people to begin with.

I Hate All The Running Backs

Look at all the running backs in the top 10. We’ve got one guy suspended for the first two games (Le’Veon Bell). We’ve got another guy that was suspended for all of last season (Adrian Peterson). We’ve got a guy we’re predicting a huge leap for in Year 3 despite him not improving at all from Year 1 to Year 2 (Eddie Lacy). We’ve got a guy that had exactly six above-average games in an offense known to make pedestrian running backs good for short stretches before never being heard from again (C.J. Anderson). We’ve got one guy who was overworked last year and now switched teams to an offense that might overwork him again (DeMarco Murray). We’ve got another guy who was overworked on that last guy’s new team and is now switching teams to an offense that might be a train wreck (LeSean McCoy). And we’ve got two guys that have been solid guys for so long that you have to worry that this is the year that it all falls apart inexplicably (Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch). I’m not exactly gung-ho to invest a first-round pick or 25 percent of my auction budget on any of those guys.

After that, you’ve got guys with only one good year to their name (Jeremy Hill, Lamar Miller, Justin Forsett), rookies or new starters with no track record of being an NFL feature back (Carlos Hyde, Joseph Randle, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley), guys on terrible teams (Chris Ivory, Isaiah Crowell), or rookies or new starters on terrible teams with no track record of being an NFL feature back (T.J. Yeldon, Latavius Murray). Then you’ve got guys who have missed 20 games in the last three years (Jonathan Stewart) and guys who have been around so long there’s no way they’ll keep it up (Frank Gore).

Seriously, who are the safe bets? Do you want to role with Mark Ingram, who had three mediocre years before an outlier last year? Or Alfred Morris, who has declined in each of his three years in the league? Or Joique Bell, who is already banged up and averaged less than four yards per carry in each of the last two seasons? Or the already-injured Arian Foster? Or his replacement Alfred Blue? Before you know it, I’ve just named the top 20 (and 25 of the top 30) running backs according to ESPN. Invest at your own risk.

Stock Up On Cheap Running Backs

Here’s the counter-point to hating all the top guys. If you’re in an auction league, just grab a bunch of under-$10 guys. For those of you in snake drafts, it’s the equivalent of using four straight picks in rounds 7-10 on seemingly mediocre running backs.

Here’s a list of running backs that are either valued at $8 or less or have an average draft position of No. 60 or lower:

62. LeGarrette Blount ($8)
64. Isaiah Crowell ($7)
66. Chris Ivory ($7)
67. Ryan Mathews ($7)
74. Shane Vereen ($5)
79. Doug Martin ($4)
91. Bishop Sankey ($3)
92. Arian Foster ($3)

All of those guys are either definitive Week 1 starters (Blount, Crowell, Ivory, Martin, Sankey), expected to play large roles in the offense (Mathews, Vereen), or will be healthy by the second half of the season and potentially be a huge game-changer for a playoff push (Foster).

Now, I’m not recommending relying on these guys alone as your starting running backs, although you certainly can do it. If you’re committed enough to the idea, you can take four receivers, a quarterback, and a tight end with your first six picks. Here’s a mock draft I just had, where I picked sixth:

1(6): Antonio Brown
2(15): Rob Gronkowski
3(26): T.Y. Hilton
4(35): Russell Wilson
5(46): Jordan Matthews
6(55): Amari Cooper
7(66): Isaiah Crowell
8(75): Ryan Mathews
9(86): Doug Martin
10(95): Arian Foster

Like, it actually kind of works (especially if your league has two flex spots). But in reality, you should probably try to nab one “safe” running back, either with your first pick or in that 3rd-4th round range (Mark Ingram, Alfred Morris, Lamar Miller, Carlos Hyde) and stock up on receivers. The old axiom of fantasy football was running backs early, running backs in the middle, and running backs late. But as the league becomes more passing-oriented, it’s simply a safer bet to invest $40 (or a second-round pick) on a receiver than a running back. My league has two flex spots (so I could start four receivers if I want to), and there’s no scenario that exists in which I don’t end up with four starting-caliber receivers (either four of my first six picks, or four guys worth $20 or more)

Nominate Kickers and Defenses Early

If you’re in an auction league, nominate a kicker or defense in the first round. All it will do is annoy the rest of your league - if they want the guy you nominate, they’ll have to pay $2 for him. And it’s not like you’re missing out on other guys. Just because you want Aaron Rodgers doesn’t mean you have to nominate him. You can just wait for someone else to nominate him. In fact…

Nominate Players You DON’T Want

Think about it this way: It’s your turn to nominate and the end of the first “round.” The top of the RB thicket has already been claimed. You have your pick of any WR to nominate. Everyone in the league except you and one other guy has already made a big splash purchase. You *REALLY* want Demaryius Thomas - you love his consistency. You don’t want Antonio Brown - you think he’s going to regress back towards the mean.

What do you do? You nominate Antonio Brown. More likely than not, the other guy who hasn’t bid on anyone yet will feel some pressure to do so (especially when it’s the No. 1 ranked WR and he missed out on all the top running backs). He’ll end up taking Brown even if he doesn’t totally want to, leaving the path clear for you to swoop in for Demaryius.

Or, think about it this way: the draft is winding down and you want to grab one more wide receiver for your bench. You’ve keyed in on Jeremy Maclin or Jarvis Landry because you want guys who will be the No. 1 WR for their team (as opposed to Golden Tate or Eric Decker or Martavis Bryant, who are in the same value neighborhood). On your turn, you should toss out someone like Decker or Bryant, hoping that someone else will (a) spend money on them, but also (b) eat up a roster spot, making them less likely/available to bid on one of the guys you want.

Even better - in the middle of the draft, if you’ve already nabbed a top quarterback (Rodgers, Luck), or plan on waiting towards the end for the more cost-effective options (Matt Ryan, Tony Romo), nominate a bunch of quarterbacks (Wilson, Manning, Brees). If you already have a quarterback, it will get your opponents to spend $20 before they might be ready to (meaning you might be able to steal a $20 guy like Melvin Gordon or Brandin Cooks for a few dollars cheaper), or if you’re going to wait, it gets them to fill their starting QB spot, meaning you’ll have less competition later when you go to bid for yours.

The only time you should really nominate guys you want is at the very end of the draft when rosters are almost full. You don’t want to run the risk of nominating Bishop Sankey and having nobody else bid on him, which means that you’re stuck with him, regardless if he’s the seventh running back on your roster or not.

Real-Life No. 1 Receivers Are Liquid Gold

Okay, so let’s say you ignored everything that I’ve said and invested $140 of your $200 budget (or, your first four or five picks) on running backs and QBs. You came away with (for the sake of argument) DeMarco Murray, Jeremy Hill, Alfred Morris, and Peyton Manning. You’re in dire need of some wide receiver help. The only guys you should even remotely be interested are No. 1 options. Completely disregard guys like Andre Johnson, Vincent Jackson, Golden Tate, and Martavis Bryant. There’s just too much week-to-week volatility for No. 2 receivers, regardless of how good the offense is. The Colts led the league in passing yards last year, but their No. 2 receiver (Reggie Wayne) mustered just 779 yards and two touchdowns and only scored 8 or more fantasy points in consecutive weeks once.

Meanwhile, the Jets were dead last in passing yards. Like, DEAD last. The Colts had 4894 total passing yards. The Jets had 2946. Barely over 60 percent of Indianapolis. But Eric Decker was still able to produce 962 yards and five scores (and they came in five different games). Check out this comparison of No. 2 receivers (strictly speaking, the wide receiver with the second-most fantasy points) from top-10 passing offenses, compared to No. 1 receivers from the bottom half of the league.

No. 2 Guys
Roddy White (921 yards, 7 touchdowns)
Jordan Matthews (872 yards, 8 touchdowns)
Reuben Randle (938 yards, 3 touchdowns)
Kenny Stills (931 yards, 3 touchdowns)
Martavis Bryant (549 yards, 8 touchdowns)
Reggie Wayne (779 yards, 2 touchdowns)

No. 1 Guys
Mike Evans (1051 yards, 12 touchdowns)
DeAndre Hopkins (1210 yards, 6 touchdowns)
Mike Wallace (862 yards, 10 touchdowns)
Anquan Boldin (1062 yards, 5 touchdowns)
Eric Decker (962 yards, 5 touchdowns)
Allen Hurns (677 yards, 6 touchdowns)

Are these guys cherry-picked? Sure, a little bit. Some elite passing offenses certainly have viable second receivers (Randall Cobb, Emmanuel Sanders and Golden Tate being the obvious names), and some bad passing offenses are such barren wastelands that they have no playable receivers at all (last year’s Raiders, Rams, Chiefs, and Browns, for example). And some “bad” passing offenses have singular talents at the top of their WR depth chart (Evans and Hopkins are decent examples, but A.J. Green would also qualify). But the point is this - for the lists I just provided, the No. 1 guy on a bad offense scored more fantasy points than the corresponding No. 2 guy on a good offense.

That means, the guys to keep your eyes on this year would be DeSean Jackson (WAS), Amari Cooper (OAK), Mike Wallace (MIN), Jeremy Maclin (KC), Allen Robinson (JAC), Kendall Wright (TEN). I’d avoid situations like the Jets (Brandon Marshall/Eric Decker), 49ers (Torrey Smith/Anquan Boldin), Cardinals (Michael Floyd/Larry Fitzgerald), and Ravens (Breshad Perriman, Steve Smith) where they aren’t exactly top-flight passing attacks to begin with and it’s unclear who the top tog is going to end up being. You don’t want to make the mistake of betting on the wrong one, unless you’re desperate (or in an exceptionally deep league).

Use Your Bench Wisely

Finally, no matter how deep of a league you’re in, there’s no reason to draft three quarterbacks (unless you have a specific plan to hoard a bunch and then flip them later). Also, never, ever, EVER take backup kickers or defenses. Just don’t do it. The standard bench size is seven. That means one backup quarterback, and then six flex backups. Only take a second tight end if you plan on starting him as a flex (like if you take Gronkowski early, but then have an opportunity to grab Greg Olsen or Travis Kelce later) or you’re in a league with some ridiculous number of bench spots (I’ve seen as many as 12, which is just unnecessary).

Generally speaking, take a backup quarterback, and then three receivers and three running backs. In my double-flex league, there are eight bench spots. If I take four receivers early (likely), I’ll load my bench with running backs.

Remember, fantasy football is (usually) won by (a) nailing your two biggest investments on draft day, (b) one good waiver-wire pickup, and (c) some random dude you pick in the 14th round that randomly has a huge game at the right time. As such, focus on upside - either guys that will get a ton of opportunities, or guys that will explode if they get enough opportunities. Is Brandon LaFell going to save your season? Highly unlikely. But if Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb get injured, Davante Adams could suddenly become a top-10 fantasy wide receiver. Same for Cody Latimer if anything happens to Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders. Those are the chances you want to take with your deep bench. You can’t lose your league with your 14th round pick. But you might actually be able to win it. You just don’t know it yet.

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