It wasn’t that long ago that I wanted nothing to do with fantasy football.
Looking back, I hardly remember what it was I didn’t like about it. I think I felt that there was too much luck in it. In short, everybody drafts the same guys and generally chooses the same starting lineups, then the lucky man wins. Why not just roll some dice and save yourself the time?
But in five years of serious playing, I have come to appreciate and understand what it is to be good at fantasy football.
- Diligence on the waiver wire, with an understanding of the difference between a player primed to get a real opportunity and one coming off a fluky hot week.
- Knowing which players’ trade values are peaking, and then being willing to sell high.
- Understanding your fellow competitors and their feelings about trades, and learning how to get from them what you want.
- Never getting married to any player.
Over that time, I’ve gotten my name out to several of the industry’s leading voices, and recently I’ve been lucky to be included in some of their action. Last year, I was invited to play in the Scott Fish Bowl, and I wrote about my draft this year here. Mike Dempsey of Football Diehards has me in his 32-team, 50-round full-IDP (individual defensive player) draft. (You may have heard Monday about my trade mishap from this draft.)
Now, coming up in the next two weeks, I’ll be participating in Fantasy Football Players Championship’s (FFPC) “Pros vs. Joes” contest, as well as the DraftSharks Invitational. Two guests from past shows, Mike Tagliere of FantasyPros and Davis Mattek of SportsGrid, happen to be in my division of both drafts.
So here’s the thing: I don’t expect to beat the likes of Mike Tagliere and Davis Mattek in fantasy football — not to mention the other experts in both leagues. FFPC tweeted about the Pros vs. Joes group I’m in that the “Joes”, a group of high-limit players from outside the industry, have won a collective $1 million playing fantasy football on that website alone. Yikes!
I feel like I won a ticket to sit at the World Series of Poker, and while I can play the game I’ve never had to do so against the very best competition.
So to get to the exercise, while I have some idea about what good looks like in fantasy, I want to know what bad looks like too. Maybe I’m about to look bad. What does a bad draft look like?
I think most people walk away from their fantasy draft feeling one of two ways: either you’re super-psyched about the players you picked, or you’re just ok. But is there really such a thing as a bad draft? I mean, who are you going to pick over, say, 16 rounds, that won’t look like a good team on paper?
Put another way, how do you screw this up?
I want to find out.
Right now, I’m setting up a 12-team, 16-round mock draft, hoping to blow it. Not in a “draft Colin Kaepernick No. 1 overall” sort of way, but in a realistic one. Let’s see how bad a team drafted that way will look.
I’m drafting in the less-than-desirable No. 7 spot in Pros vs. Joes, and the No. 8 spot in DraftSharks. I’ll use No. 7 for this exercise. Also, there are no kickers or defenses in Pros vs. Joes; drafting two of each of those and not in the very last rounds is a recipe for failure, but that’s not even an option here.
The usual top picks are gone (McCaffrey, Barkley, Elliott, Michael Thomas, Kamara and Dalvin Cook). Davante Adams went seventh. Who’s realistic here to choose with the goal of having a bad draft in mind? Debatable, of course. I’ll go with Julio Jones, which is funny for two reasons. One is that he’s FBG’s recommended choice by its Draft Dominator app. And I’m saying he’s the “wrong” pick? Also, he’s JULIO JONES. Anyway, no player you take here is going to look like a bad pick on the surface.
I could, again, not take a running back, which then would perhaps qualify as a strategy: Zero RB. But having a strategy, I believe, is in conflict with having a bad draft. Right? So I guess I want a running back. How do you choose one that might be most likely to bust? I’ll take Aaron Jones of Green Bay. Jones benefited from an insane 2019 touchdown-wise; that should regress, and the Packers did draft a running back in Round 2 (A.J. Dillon). If Dillon gets the goal-line work Jones’ touchdown rate could nose-dive.
I’m using the Draft Dominator app, as I said, and before starting I gave every player in the group a 9 or 9.5 for “Draft Skill”. I want to simulate an expert league. Well, through 31 picks, no quarterbacks have been taken. It’s conventional wisdom in fantasy to wait on quarterback — even if it’s Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson, the last two NFL MVPs. Seems like to have a bad draft, being first to pick a quarterback makes sense. I’ll take Mahomes.
OK! I’ve “escaped” most of the top running backs and receivers, and here with the sixth pick of Round 4 most if not all of my options are players with some questions worth asking. For instance at running back, can James Connor stay healthy? Can Chris Carson get healthy, and then stop fumbling? Is David Johnson washed up? The top recommendation on FBG is Tyler Lockett. Steady and fine. Instead, I’m going with Courtland Sutton, a great talent but on a Denver offense with both a suspect quarterback (Drew Lock) and potentially compromised target volume (rookies Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler).
I think one mistake you can make in fantasy drafts is to rely too heavily in the beginning on filling out your starting lineup. In this case, “Hey I filled my starting receiver spots but have one running back spot open”. This ignores the fact that players at different positions can have different values. By extension, if this league had kickers and defenses I’d be drafting them before bench spots. No thank you! For this exercise I will willingly make this mistake and draft a running back. According to FantasyPros, Raheem Mostert has an average draft position of 61, so this is where he’s going in drafts. I’m not keen on relying on a 49ers running back, with the dexterity Kyle Shanahan has shown using different players at that position. Hoping this looks like a bad pick!
I’ll double-down on the “starting lineup” point, grabbing my tight end here in Tyler Higbee. He’s the seventh tight end off the board. Higbee might be fine, or he might be a huge pain — just like at least a dozen other comparable mid-round, tight end options in drafts. Plus I’m grabbing him in Round 6 so I’m that much more likely to make the mistake of sticking with him through mediocrity, as opposed to picking my tight end later (like I should do) and in turn being more likely to give up on him before he wrecks my season.
What do you do with a guy who’s got tons of hype around him despite being (at best) his team’s second option with a 38-year-old quarterback, and hardly much of a track record of being good? You pounce, baby! Yes, I took Diontae Johnson in Fish Bowl, drafting for upside in a later round with a deeper roster. “Upside” picks are great and even necessary to win tournaments. In an expert league of 12, relying on “upside” seems akin to building wealth through scratch-off lottery tickets.
Seems like to have a bad draft you’re allowed at least one lapse in judgment. I’ve forgotten that I drafted Sutton in Round 4 when I take Jerry Jeudy in Round 8. Two receivers from the same team? Whoops!
Half way home…
Can’t get silly here. The clear top recommendation by FBG is Tarik Cohen. I can do that. Cohen is valuable for his receiving skills; he’s rushed for a mere five touchdowns in his three-year career. Is it worthwhile to own Cohen? I don’t think I ever have. Do you ever start him? Are you happy when you do?
Like I did with Diontae Johnson, I’m drafting someone here that I have in Fish Bowl: Curtis Samuel. Like Cohen, he’s the top name on the Draft Dominator board. Samuel appears to be a fine player, but with a new quarterback and coaching staff, plus the addition of Robby Anderson from the Jets, there is a reasonable chance that Samuel will see an un-startable amount of volume.
OK am I trying too hard here if I pick Matthew Stafford? Picking a quarterback in Round 11 to back up PATRICK MAHOMES … that’s bad drafting. But also the kind of thing you see! You talk to the guy at the draft that does this and he mutters something about how he’ll need Stafford during Mahomes’ bye week. Oh, and Mahomes got hurt last year. Then you lift your bottom lip over your top, then nod approvingly. Best not to speak.
I’m piling up 5-foot-6 running backs by adding Boston Scott to the fold. Scott is Miles Sanders’ complement in Philadelphia. Did OK last year in that role. Am I ever starting him? Doubt it. How do you avoid drafting players in Round 12 (or earlier) that you don’t expect to start? In this case, in my opinion, it’s by drafting one or two more running backs early. Do your homework and figure out how to avoid having to make late mid-round throwaway picks. To win you need good or great production all across your lineup, which means you can’t have guys going for 40 total yards in secondary roles. Scott might work out, if Sanders goes down early, or if the Eagles sport the best offense in the league. Probably though within the first three weeks of your season you’re cutting him in a waivers gambit.
WHO STARTS TYRELL WILLIAMS?! This guy, maybe. Williams has been a source of fantasy frustration, sure. But the Raiders’ upgrades in the passing game are all rookies. Could Williams lead them in receiving, with or without including Darren Waller? Sure. I guess.
Time for a handcuff! Hey, if Aaron Jones goes down I’d best nab A.J. Dillon for insurance. There’s an argument for handcuffs. I don’t like them though, at least in most cases. Again, you’ll likely need to cut someone from the bottom of your roster early in the season for a waiver pickup. If Jones doesn‘t get hurt, I’m carrying his backup all season just in case? I’d like to do more with the roster spot.
Gotta have a backup tight end! (Narrator: You don’t gotta have a backup tight end.) I’ll go with Blake Jarwin of Dallas here.
Last pick. Everyone’s a little weary by this point, setting it up for a real dart throw. He was a high draft pick and they have a new quarterback so hey, why not John Ross?
QB – Mahomes, Stafford
RB – A. Jones, Mostert, Cohen, Scott, Dillon
WR – J. Jones, Sutton, D. Johnson, Jeudy, Samuel, T. Williams, Ross
TE – Higbee, Jarwin
I guarantee you that if this were a real draft that the guy choosing this team falls into one of those two categories from before we started: He either likes it or loves it. I’ve made here what I consider to some extent a bad pick in each round, and I have a team that looks… I don’t know, fine?
So in the end, can you really have a bad draft?
I still don’t know.