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Monday 24th Jul 2017

The last two weeks we have looked at the draft strategies and particulars of an NFFC and an FFWC frontrunner.  They eschewed tight ends and quarterbacks in the first sven rounds, focusing on building depth in their running back and wide receiver stables.  That’s a very small sample size.  Maybe I cherry picked the data to prove my point.  Do we see this approach across larger cross section of leagues?  I grabbed data from the twenty live NFFC Primetime Drafts that took place the first two weekends in Las Vegas, New York, and Chicago.  Interestingly no particular draft slot demonstrated any advantage, with no more than 3 first place teams (ranked by total points) coming from any particular ddraft slot.  Every draft position was represented at least once.

1.1 - 2
1.2 - 1
1.3 - 2
1.4 - 1
1.5 - 2
1.6 - 1
1.7 - 3
1.8 - 1
1.9 - 3
1.10 - 2
1.11 - 1
1.12 - 1

The general trend of focusing on running backs and wide receivers was evident throughout with a couple of exceptions.  Five of the twenty teams drafted only RB’s or WR’s with all of their first six picks.  Sixteen teams took RB’s or WR’s with six of their first seven picks.  Noteworthy is that seven teams took a quarterback (Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, or Tom Brady) in the first round, but four of those teams took RB’s and WR’s with their next six picks.  Only four teams took a tight end within their first three picks (Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham).  Gronkowski lasted until the third round twice, and was even drafted at 3.11.  Why don’t things like that happen in my drafts?  I play in an insane number of leagues and that didn’t come close to happening once!  Note that none of these QB’s or TE’s were busts.  You can dance outside the box, but if you do the margin for error is exceedingly small.

Let’s look at the four teams that strayed off the reservations and took ‘only’ five RB/WR’s in the first 7 picks:

Team One: RB, TE, WR, WR, WR, RB, QB

Team Two: QB, WR, WR, TE, WR, WR,RB

Team Three: QB, WR, WR, WR, TE, RB, WR

Team Four: QB, TE, RB, RB, WR, WR, WR

Team One hit on both of their ‘strays’ with Jimmy Graham and Peyton Manning.  They still took two RB’s and three WR’s in their first six so they didn’t deviate that much from the mold.  Team Two on the other hand scoffed at the box, waiting until the seventh round to draft their first running back:

Team Two: Aaron Rodgers, Roddy White, Victor Cruz, Antonio Gates, Mike Wallace, Vincent Jackson, Shonn Greene.

Antonio Gates has been a monumental bust and Shonn Greene was their first RB.  How does this team have the most total points in their league?  By brilliantly picking C.J. Spiller in the eighth round and Alfred Morris in the tenth.  They are one of the weaker first place teams, but if they had hit on a tight end they would have been more dominant.

Team Three waited until the fifth round to take a back, but once again snatching C.J. Spiller in the eighth bailed them out.  Drafting a solid RB1 that late will cover a multitude of drafting sins.

Team Four in particular really kicked against the goals by going QB-TE out of the gate. Let’s at their first seven picks:

Team Four: Drew Brees, Rob Gronkowski, Adrian Peterson, Ahmad Bradshaw, Mike Wallace, Santonio Holmes, Lance Moore.  He also added Tony Gonzalez as a nice flex option in the ninth round and James Jones in the fourteenth.

Let’s get right to work this week and look at the draft strategy, and more specifically the roster construction of another front-runner.  Turning our eyes to the NFFC Primetime Main Event, we get a dose of déjà vu.  The total points leader in my league is Ulisses Lopez. He had the third overall pick:

1.3 – RB LeSean McCoy
2.10 – WR Brandon Marshall
3.10 – WR Miles Austin
4.3 – WR Antonio Brown
5.10 – RB Peyton Hillis
6.3 – QB Peyton Manning
7.10 – WR Lance Moore
8.3 – RB Mikel Leshoure
9.10 – RB Pierre Thomas
10.3 – TE Tony Gonzalez
11.10 – WR Santana Moss
12.3 – TE Martellus Bennett
13.10 – QB Matt Schaub
14.3 – WR David Nelson
15.10 – DST Baltimore
16.3 – DST Chicago
17.10 – RB Danny Woodhead
18.3 – K Matt Bryant
19.10 – WR Lestar Jean
20.3 – RB LaMichael James

Stop me if you think that you’ve haven’t heard this one before: the first five picks and eight of the first nine are either a running back or a wide receiver.  Peyton Hillis was a swing and a miss, but Mikel LeShoure in the 8th round made up for it.  The one exception to the early RB/WR mantra was Peyton Manning, whose 27.1 points per game ranks 5th in the NFFC scoring format. Tony Gonzalez in the 10th round was a grand slam.  Old man bias kept his price ridiculously low.  The only reason I didn’t pounce was that I already had drafted Antonio Gates, who supposedly was in the greatest shape of his life; another example of pre-season hype being just noise.  Gonzalez on the other hand has never showed any signs of slowing down.  On the contrary Julio Jones and Roddy White drawing attention of opposing defenses has led a #2 ranking among tight ends.  Staying healthy is a skill and the 36-year-old future hall of famer has excelled at it while younger bucks such as Antonio Gates, Rob Gronkowski, and Jimmy Graham have all failed to stay away from the trainer’s table.  There’s not much to see in picks 11-20, but that’s pretty common.  He grabbed a defense earlier than I like, but you certainly can’t argue with the results of taking Lovie Smith’s crew in the 16th.  The waiver wire hasn’t produced much fruit for Ulisses, producing Jeremy Kerley and little else, but his draft was strong enough to carry the day.

Michael Duewel leads the NFFC Primetime Overall Field.  Let’s look glance at his draft:

1.8 – RB Arian Foster
2.5 – WR Roddy White
3.5 – RB Doug Martin
4.8 – QB Matt Ryan
5.5 – WR Reggie Wayne
6.8 – WR Pierre Garcon
7.5 – RB Ryan Williams
8.8 – WR Greg Little
9.5 – RB Mikel Leshoure
10.8 – TE Tony Gonzalez
11.5 – RB Ronnie Brown
12.8 – RB Alex Green
13.5 – RB LeGarrette Blount
14.8 – TE Jared Cook
15.5 – WR Brian Quick
16.8 – DST Detroit
17.5 – WR Michael Floyd
18.8 – QB Carson Palmer
19.5 – K Matt Prater
20.8 – RB Knowshon Moreno

The first 9 picks: 4 running backs, 4 wide receivers, and 1 QB.  Tony Gonzalez in the 10th and then mostly darts in rounds 11 thru 20.  The 11th best scoring QB in the 18th round as your backup is not a bad pull.  Notice also that he wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger on players with negative or ‘cold’ press during the time of the draft.  Arian Foster was supposedly battling an injury, which was a false alarm.  Roddy White’s stock was falling due to the Julio Jones hype, but Roddy kept doing what he’s always done, put up elite numbers.  Injuries to Tampa’s offensive line had led to Martin slipping slightly down the board, but apparently, Michael correctly read all the camp talk as noise and drafted an elite foundation in the first 3 rounds.  With this strategy you don’t have to hit on every early pick.  Garcon, Williams and Little have all been busts, but you have a decent margin for error with this approach.

Marcel Reece may have the best hands on the Oakland Raiders offense. It’s a good thing because the offensive line consistently failed to open up any holes. Reece was deliberate when receiving carries as an impenetrable mesh was in front of him at every turn. Don’t mistake such ‘sluggishness’ for slowness as he has excellent speed and he will utilize it if he ever gets out in space. He was able to squeeze out 48 yards on 13 carries, which is actually mildly impressive under the circumstances. He also tallied 7 catches on 56 yards, giving him 15 receptions in the last two weeks. He bailed Carson Palmer out on tosses that were off the mark, reaching what most back would fail to reel in. I’m sticking with the Huskie WR next week as a high end RB2 with RB1 upside against the New Orleans Saints. For those looking ahead to the fantasy playoffs, Oakland gets Kansas City week 15 and Carolina week 16.

Frank Gore looks like he’s slowed down a little, but he’s made up for that by displaying more strength and power in his runs than he did in his prime. He also seems to be taking a lot of punishment. He’s earning his yards and taking lots of hits. Speaking of hits, the one delivered to Alex Smith has put Colin Kaepernick on the FAAB radar. The guy is a playmaker, particularly with his legs. Kaepernick doesn’t look like it but he is a threat to score anywhere on the field, with said legs. The jury is still out on Kaepernick’s decision-making skills and ability to make reads, but he’s worth a spot play if the matchups right due to his athleticism if Alex Smith’s concussion symptoms linger and he gets the starting nod.

Nick Foles is fairly accurate and knows how to use LeSean McCoy as a safety net, something Michael Vick often fails to do. At times he looks experienced, with eyes in the back of his head, able to sense pressure from the sides in his peripheral vision and from the rear without even looking. He can then calmly step up in the pocket keeping his eyes focused downfield and deliver strikes to his wide outs.On the other hand, occasionally he’s skittish, and he’s clearly not used to the speed of first string NFL cornerbacks, repeatedly grossly underestimating their closing ability. He also hasn’t developed chemistry with his receivers yet. Expect growing pains with a mix of turnovers, but with a dream schedule over the next six weeks he’s worth a consideration as a gamble for those scrambling at QB after losing Vick and/or Alex Smith. The Eagles face the Redskins twice, the Buccaneers, and the Bengals making Foles a QB committee candidate in the coming weeks for those willing to roll the dice.

Laurent Robinson received 15 targets on Sunday…… yes, 15. That’s gives him 24 the last two weeks. He’s available in every single league I’m in except the one I need a wide receiver.

Brian Quick beat San Francisco corner Chris Culliver in press coverage for an early score against the 49ers. It was a nice play but Culliver lost his footing and the safety didn’t have time to help out setting up an easy pitch and catch for Sam Bradford. It was Quick’s only target on the day. His time will come but there’s nothing to see here in redraft leagues.

With Percy Harvin out, Jerome Simpson still only received 4 targets. It’s time to admit that he’s a bust, probably passed time.

Bryce Brown will need to improve his pass protection if he ever wants to earn 3-5 carries a game.

Jake Locker is athletic and is a playmaker. On Sunday he was also inaccurate, frequently missing wide-open receivers. Kendall Wright owners may be hoping that he re-injures his shoulder after a career low 3 targets and only one catch on Sunday. The return of Matt Hasselbeck might be needed to preserve the fantasy value of all the Titan WR’s unless the rookie gets his act together.

My only team in the FFWC is currently tied for 1st place.  The odds of me keeping that status after losing Michael Vick and Rob Gronkowski are about as good as seeing Elvis Presley returning to earth commandeering a flying saucer that crashes directly into the Loch Ness monster.  Even before the recent injuries, it was hardly the best team in the league.  That honor belongs to, of course, the namesake of Chad Schroeder, "Cocktails and Dreams."  How does he do it?  The master of roster construction is currently ranked second in total points but has in my estimation the strongest lineup hands down.  Back in September with the 4th overall pick Chad left the draft table with this lineup:

1.4 Darren McFadden
2.9 Doug Martin
3.4 Roddy White
4.9 Percy Harvin
5.4 Marques Colston
6.9 Miles Austin
7.4 Vernon Davis
8.9 Eli Manning
9.4 C.J. Spiller
10.9 Philip Rivers
11.4 David Wilson
12.9 Austin Collie
13.4 Evan Royster
14.9 Rod Streater
15.4 Devery Henderson
16.9 Baltimore Ravens
17.4 Lance Kendricks
18.9 Braylon Edwards
19.4 Dan Bailey
20.9 Mike Goodson

There are a number of interesting things here.  Almost every pick from rounds 1-9 he hit out of the park with the possible exception of Darren McFadden, but even he performed like an average RB2 when healthy.  Equally interesting is that picks 11-20 have all been non-assets.  In the end, his team has led the way by dominating RB 1-2, WR 1-3, and flex (WR4). Spiller and Martin give him two RB1’s and Chad has three receivers in the top 10, plus Austin in the top 20. 

Chad has shown that there’s plenty of success to be had by ignoring QB’s until the later rounds.  In fact, this is a consistent trend in his drafts.  It seems like year after year, as much as I would prefer sheep in my high stakes leagues, I’m plagued with sharks, and none more common than Chad.  The denominator thread I’ve identified is that he hammers RB’s and WR’s in the first seven rounds, period.  There are occasional exceptions, but those are few.  If an extreme value slips, Chad might grab one tight end or--less likely--one quarterback (but never both) during the first 7 rounds, but it’s always an exception to the rule. 

 This makes a lot of sense.  Scoring for TE’s and QB’s are very volatile from year to year.  The relative ‘stability’ of some of the elite QB’s we saw last year seems to be more fluke than new trend.  The biggest support for this strategy is the opportunity cost of eschewing proven RB’s and WR’s.   The top 20 wide-outs this year were ALL drafted in the first 6 rounds. Of the top 20 tailbacks, only two(C.J. Spiller and Alfred Morris) were selected after the first 7 rounds.  Now listen to this, 5 of the top 10 fantasy quarterbacks were drafted in the 8th round or later:  (Peyton Manning – 8th, Robert Griffin 10th, Andrew Luck 12th, Carson Palmer 12th, and Andy Dalton 12th).  In one NFFC league I drafted Cam Newton, to my own dismay as I also drafted Carson Palmer as my ‘backup’ in the 20th round.  I had it backwards as Newton has underperformed the rejuvenated Raider and playing Cam over Carson has cost me roughly 2 points on average per week!

Chad is always ahead of the waiver wire curve, often snatching up assets a week before they become a hot commodity.  His exploits with this team include Cecil Shorts, Josh Gordon, Chris Givens, and Isaac Redman.

Looking ahead, we’ll examine other frontrunners and their strategies.

It took longer than expected, but the inevitable has finally been foisted upon Darren McFadden owners.  Run DMC sprained hi ankle in the 2nd quarter of the Oakland Raiders loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Moving to his right, Tampa cornerback EJ Biggers came in low to hit #20 below the waist and delivered a glancing blow that took his feet out from under him, putting extra torque on his left foot as he planted.  It did not look bad at all.  McFadden got up exhibiting no noticeable limp and even stayed in for one more play before heading to the sidelines.  It’s being dubbed a high ankle sprain, but it did not look serious.  It must be noted that McFadden’s “mild foot sprain” that morphed from one thing to another before being called a Lisfranc last year looked even more innocuous, yet pragmatically ended his season in 2011. Mike Goodson is next in line.  The former Panther decided he wanted to “be like Mike” and suffered a high ankle sprain of his own. Neither back has been ruled out for this Sunday’s matchup against the Baltimore Ravens. Goodson, Taiwan Jones and Marcel Reese are all in play as speculative buys. Jones is fragile and Goodson is quickly earning a reputation as being far from durable.  The upside play here is Reese.  We mentioned him in this space a few weeks ago as having monster upside.   The only problem is the Raiders don’t know what they have here or we would have seen a LOT more of him even last year.  They like to move him around a lot at wide out and fullback but need to line him up at tailback and give him the rock.  He is 6’3”, weighs 240, and runs a 4.42 40.  There is a very high fantasy ceiling here.  The problem is that has always been the case and yet the Raider brass has been allergic to giving him more than just a couple of touches here and there.  Against the Bucs he did not receive a carry, but hauled in 8 catches for 95 yards.  If you only knew that he’d get 15+ carries every game the rest of the way then he’d be worth as much as 90% of your remaining FAAB (depending on your needs), but that just seems unlikely.

If you are desperate for a wide receiver with upside and are almost completely out of FAAB dollars, then Danario Alexander is your Huckleberry.  Accept that there is an 85% chance that he’ll get injured within the next three games and you won’t be disappointed.  From that point anything you get is gravy.

I’m thinking of starting my own ‘pay-per-view’ column where I simply list the players that I have recently dropped.  This year it seems to be the mother lode of predicting short term fantasy gold on the waiver wire.  When I finally lose patience, that’s when it happens.  Sigh.  In the mean time I’ll just tell you that I dropped Justin Blackmon a couple of weeks ago, which should be all you need to know about what was behind 5 catches and a touchdown.  You could do worse as a WR4 during these final byes.   T.Y. Hilton was another of my ‘casualties’ that got the memo.  Thanks to Donnie Avery’s hip injury, the rookie burner (4.34 40) saw a season high 11 targets on his way to 6 catches for 102.  The Colts have a quick turnaround before facing the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday night making Avery’s status precarious.  Hilton would be a serviceable WR3 with upside if Avery were inactive.

Keep an eye on Laurent Robinson (9 targets), Josh Morgan (12 targets), Rod Streater (10 targets), and Rob Housler (9 targets).

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