Friday, August 27, 2010

Before you draft... Five Fantasy Football Commandments for 2010

Thanks to my league starting late this year (stupid people with their Labor Day dreams of actual vacations), I haven't been as prolific in the actual fantasy knowledge as in past years. There is also the fact that my league mates routinely check out FTT, so I'm blowing my draft prep here for the sake of being a helpful blogger. But so be it. Having been to the mountaintop of forty days and forty nights pondering the vagaries of the fake game, here's what I decree will change for 2010.

1) Know, and fear, Wide Receiver By Committee.

Take a look at some of the teams with a very pronounced #1 WR. Specifically, Detroit with Calvin Johnson, Atlanta with Roddy White, Arizona with Larry Fitzgerald, Houston with Andre Johnson, and Miami with Brandon Marshall. Notice a pattern here? With the exception of Johnson, all of these guys are on teams with middling passing attacks, or with QBs that aren't cracking the top six on the board.

The simple fact of the matter is that when you are building a team, you don't want all of your eggs in a star WR basket. The guy can flake out, a la Marshall in Denver. Or he can get hurt, the way Johnson did in Detroit last year. Or he's working with a meh QB, a la Fitzy in Arizona this year (and meh might be charitable, given the recent resume of Mssrs. Anderson and Leinart). You are much better off with a roster where the #2 is credible, the #3 is pressing the #2 for star power, and there's a RB or TE adding value as well.

So what's happening more or less reflects what's been going on in the RB game for years now -- a democratization of the star system. So your #1 in a committee (DeSean Jackson in Philly, Greg Jennings in Green Bay, Randy Moss in New England, Marques Colston in New Orleans, Miles Austin in Dallas if Dez Bryant breaks out) really might not be a #1 anymore. Which leads to...

2) Honor thy QB.

The rule of thumb about QBs in fantasy is that, unless you get the breakout guy, you are better off with two tolerable starters, and just surf the matchups. But is that really the case? Especially in 6-point touchdown leagues or situations where bonus metrics come into play, it's hard to see how you were going to win last year without Drew Brees or similar, even if you had a stud RB situation.

Of course, knowing who the stud QB is prior to play starting? That's the tricky part.

3) Covet not thy neighbor's tight end (hey now).

Assuming that San Diego doesn't go into the tank and that Peyton Manning remains upright, your best two TEs in the league will be Antonio Gates and Dallas Clark. (What, no Vernon Davis? No, because TEs do not have back to back years with double-digit TDs, and the league will take that throw away from QB Alex Smith this year, and make him win on throws to the wide out. But I digress.)

But after that? Good grief. Davis, Jermichael Finley, Brent Celek, Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez... half of a standard league is going to have a reasonable shot at an every-week play at TE. Add in reasonable gambles like Zach Miller, John Carlson, Dustin Keller, Vincente Schiancoe and Heath Miller, and it's clear... this is no longer a problem position to staff. Outside of QB, it might be the deepest, since you only have to take one...

4) Thou Shalt Not Handcuff.

Handcuff players, for those who aren't up on all of the nerd jargon, are where you draft the star player's backup, in case of injury. I always hated handcuffs; they tie up roster spots and have all of the buying pleasure of a life insurance policy. But in the age of relentless timeshares, they become indefensible. Let's say you draft Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, with the clear Toby Gerhart handcuff. But when it comes time to make that move, and you've got a choice of the only use in case of emergency player or a much more intriguing gamble like Tashard Choice of Dallas?

Well, Choice is actually the best RB in Dallas. He just doesn't have Felix Jones' 1st round pedigree, or Marion Barber's past history of pancake goodness. But if either of those guys go down -- and chances are very good that one or both will -- Choice is going to be the feature back in a high scoring situation. It's really not hard for me to see Choice being a quality #1 RB by the end of the year, giving you incredible value and potency. Whereas Gerhart will be your go-to move when the year is more or less shot to hell, since there's no way the Vikes will use him the way they use AP. Give me Choice, every time.

5) Thou Shalt Grind, And Grind Well.

Last year, Tom Brady was the only QB in the NFL to face Darelle Revis twice, assuming you don't count Matt Sanchez crying in practice. He also lived with a malingering Randy Moss, surprisingly tough pass defenses in Buffalo, a third WR situation that frequently involved the dessicated remains of Joey Galloway or the special teams worthy Sam Hurd. In the first year since a knee injury, in bad weather. You might expect better from him this year. I certainly do. According to the geek numbers, he faced one of the hardest pass defense schedules in recent years.

And you know who also got jobbed by the schedule? Matt Ryan of the Falcons. Who works all of his games in a dome, in a division where the other teams are either putrid (Tampa), rebuilding (Carolina), or shootout-y (New Orleans). He's also in his third year, healthy again, and gets back a RB (Michael Turner) that makes every play-action fake credible. He killed you last year, and it's a run-first offense, so expecting monster numbers is silly... but all in all, I like his chances better than, say, Alex Smith, Matthew Stafford, and maybe even Donovan McNabb. (Heresy! But D-Mac's line sucks, his backs are ancient, and his best targets are TEs. Also, he was walking in a protective boot last week, and plays in a brutal division. But I digress.)

Here's the point: if the only thing you are doing is looking at last year's numbers and tweaking up and down based on age and gut feeling, you aren't doing enough due diligence. Schedules matter, especially in playoff weeks for head to head matchups; you don't particularly want a #1 WR going against Revis, assuming he signs, in those weeks, or a RB facing the Vikings. Indoor QBs matter, especially with the season starting later this year. So does the likelihood of injury and/or limited use, because owning the RB on a club that's always behind is a sure way to low points. It all matters.

And when your draft prep reflects all of those factors? Well, you probably still wind up losing to Barbara from Accounting, because she picked this year's Miles Austin on the Cute Factor pick, and the game is increasingly about random chance. But your bad beat story will be better. I think.

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