Monday, August 28, 2017

NFL Fantasy Picks: Who's In My Wallet

Tradition! Along with losing.
I've drafted twice this week and don't love my team after either experience, but that doesn't negate the homework or thought process. Here's the handful of guys that I'm ranking ahead of their average draft position at each major position because that's where these things are won and (in my case, usually) lost.

Quarterbacks

> Marcus Mariota, Tennessee. He's got actual WRs from the start of the season this time, a kitten-soft division, and is just coming into his own. Assuming health, he'll still have wheels, and maybe a little bit less of a fetish running game from his slow to turn coach. Put it all together, and there are very real chances of a top 6 finish here.

> Russell Wilson, Seattle. I love QBs who give me a floor with a running game, and Wilson's health brings back the element that was missing in the first half of 2016. The Seahawk line is still worrisome, and his division gets after the QB, but the WRs are secretly good, and the defense isn't as fearsome as before. He'll do more this year, has more to do it with, and is in his prime.

> Jay Cutler, Miami. Yes, I know, Smoking Jay is a punchline of failed potential, but all of that means that you can get him for next to nothing, and he's got a bunch of games this year where the matchup is downright tasty. The line has a bunch of tackle level talents, the high volume RB isn't as good as people think, and the WRs are nearly world class. Finally, the HC trusts him and runs a system he's had success with in the past, and the talent has always been there. Many people will do worse.

> Matthew Stafford, Detroit. No one's idea of sexy, but the floor is 4K yards, 25 TDs, a division where no defense scares you, and a ton of indoor pinball games. Stafford is kind of the living definition of why you can, and should, wait at QB this year.

> Andy Dalton, Cincinnati. I don't love WR Jon Ross for what he'll do on the field by himself, but the influence that he's going to have on AJ Green is nice, and while the Bengal line has never been great, Dalton's managed with worse. Remember, you aren't drafting his terrible playoff performance and inevitable loss, and I think he stays healthy this year, mostly because the NFL rules have been all about keeping QBs healthy. Especially the slow veteran white ones.

Running Backs

> Ty Montgomery, Green Bay. There's concern that he won't hold up under the pounding, but it's not as if he's old, small, or has a track record of getting beaten down. Green Bay RB1 is a role that won't ever give you a ton of short yardage touchdowns -- QB Aaron Rodgers likes to keep it in his own hands down there, for good reasons -- but for consistent 100-yard days, you can do worse.

> Ameer Abdullah, Detroit. Yes, I know, he's never stayed healthy, but he's still young, and he's also the only thing that's close to a 3-down back on the roster. He's also actually good, and NFL history is filled with guys who were seen as injury-prone until they just shake it. (See Gore, Frank.)

> Paul Perkins, New York. I'm not in love with his line, and there are a ton of targets to feed in the passing game... but if you play the Giants this year, you are never putting eight in the box to stop the run, and QB Eli Manning is more than happy to check it down. Perkins will do fine here.

> Derrick Henry, Tennessee. He's already a better back than RB1 DeMarco Murray, and nothing in the starter's bounce-back 2016 keeps us from noting he's a 29-year-old RB who has been ridden hard. I'm in love with Henry's talent; if and when he gets a shot at this job, he's not giving it back.

> Kenneth Dixon, Baltimore. You have to put up with a suspension in September, and starter Terrance West isn't a bad football player, but Dixon is a lot better and more versatile. Stash him late and enjoy RB1 production down the stretch, because the Ravens are going to want to run it, and Dixon's not coming to come off the field the way West will.

Wide Receivers

> Pierre Garcon, San Francisco. He's 29, the closest thing the offense has to a capable WR, and will play for a sneaky bad team that will (a) throw a lot because they'll be behind, but (b) not have jailbreak pass protection, because the line isn't awful and (c) neither is QB Brian Hoyer. Add in his familiarity with a Kyle Shanahan offense, and you've got a 1200 yard / 10 TD candidate. The fact that little of it will be meaningful isn't your problem.

> Corey Coleman, Cleveland. Consider this one a lack of confidence pick in WR Kenny Britt, who is cashing a check and might lose motivation having done so. Coleman was showing sparks last year before the injury, won't get CB1 attention, and might benefit from heavy targets levels in an offense that will throw it a lot. Cleveland has lots of signs of not being awful this year, by the way.

> Willie Snead, New Orleans. He's going to be the #2 in a Drew Brees offense, and their WR depth just isn't as good as it used to be. I like Snead to slide all over the place and become the move the chains guy, because TE Cody Fleener just isn't that good, and the RBs just aren't at Darren Sproles levels of target hoggery.

> DeAndre Hopkins, Houston. Yes, last year stunk and it seemed like the bloom was off the rose for a guy that was immune to bad QB play in the past, but this sorely overstates just how bad Brock Osweiler was. I think he bounces back all the way to top 6 WR status this year, if for no other reason than his division is a dumpster fire, and the Texan QB production *has* to be better this year.

> Marvin Jones, Detroit. He faded in 2016 after a strong start, but I think that had more to do with injuries than the league catching up to him. Anquan Boldin's absence also helps, along with the fact that Kenny Goladay isn't ready yet, and Golden Tate is getting a little long in the tooth.

Tight Ends

> Travis Kelce, Kansas City. With the Chiefs running game in flux, red zone work to the TE will get even more pronounced this year, and there's even an outside chance that he winds up as TE1 this year. If only because Rob Gronkowski is going to spend lots of fourth quarters watching the ends of blowouts in a ball cap.

> Evan Engram, New York Giants. Eli is, actually, a bad QB in good QB's pedigree, and bad QBs work the tight end like a speed bag, because the throw is shorter and safer. Engram is the first competent target at TE that Manning has had in years, and he's also bad at blocking. Which is kind of what you want, honestly.

> Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers. Antonio Gates will get force fed a record in September, but then the Chargers will go with the guy who actually still runs like a football player, rather than a Canton bust. It also helps that the Charger WR corps has such a terrible injury history, which means Henry will get more and more targets over the course of the season.

> Dwayne Allen, New England. He won't provide every-week value, but he'll have plenty of good matchups to take advantage of, and if Gronk misses time (he usually does), he'll go to first-class TE1 status overnight. Allen's a very good football player, QB Tom Brady is 40 and likes to hide his relative lack of arm strength with short and middle throws, and the Patriots are going to score 40 points a game this year. You want to have cheap options in this offense.

> Zach Ertz, Philadelphia. Historically, Ertz has done his best work late in the year with the Eagles out of the playoff picture, and has also come up short in the red zone. He's also had to work with circus animals at WR, which means he's gotten more attention than a TE should. Expect fewer targets this year but more effectiveness, and a little more luck in the red zone than previous. Not a true breakout year, but stasis in a better offense.

* * * * *

Here's the roster for the auction league. Asterisks were keepers.

  Player TM 2017 2018
QB Matthew Stafford * DET 13 16
RB1 LeGarrette Blount * PHL 23 27
RB2 Isaiah Crowell * CLE 15 19
WR1 T.Y. Hilton * IND 45 50
WR2 Willie Snead * NO 8 11
WR3 Stefon Diggs * MIN 21 25
FX Ameer Abdullah DET 38 43
TE Evan Engram NYG 6 9
DEF Carolina CAR 1 4
PK Matt Prater DET 3 6
B1 Ezekiel Elliott DAL 65 70
B2 Pierre Garcon SF 16 20
B3 Robby Anderson NYJ 4 7
B4 Marvin Jones DET 6 9
B5 Kenneth Dixon BAL 28 33
B6 Carson Wentz PHL 1 4
  TOTAL   293 353

This team might be OK, but it's hard to feel very good about it, for two reasons. First, I got caught price protecting Elliott. At $65, it's still a defensible price, especially if the suspension is reduced in any amount because a $70 protection for what might be the best RB in the league is acceptable. Second, I got gun-shy on pricing after that and wound up letting Travis Kelce go for $31 when I had last action on him. Having an extra $30 at the end of the draft allowed me to swoop on Dixon and price out the team that nominated him, but I'd rather have had Kelce with those dollars.

My biggest hope for both real and fantasy football this year is that Wentz becomes a star, and I have QB locked up for the next decade for cheap. There are lesser possibilities. I'm also pleased with the back up WRs, who might get enough targets to be of significant value, and provide protection for Blount continuing to fail to impress in Eagles training camp.

Here are the results from the snake speed draft. As you can see, I'm double invested in Abdullah, Garcon and Engram.

1. (11) A.J. Green (Cin - WR)
2. (14) Jordan Howard (Chi - RB)
3. (35) DeAndre Hopkins (Hou - WR)
4. (38) Ty Montgomery (GB - RB)
5. (59) Ameer Abdullah (Det - RB)
6. (62) Martellus Bennett (GB - TE)
7. (83) Ben Roethlisberger (Pit - QB)
8. (86) Jameis Winston (TB - QB)
9. (107) Pierre Garcon (SF - WR)
10. (110) Derrick Henry (Ten - RB)
11. (131) Samaje Perine (Was - RB)
12. (134) Evan Engram (NYG - TE)
13. (155) Carolina (Car - DEF)
14. (158) Brandon McManus (Den - K)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Five Lessons From A Fantasy League Commissioner

Cross-posted from the business blog. Enjoy, or not.

* * * * *

Twice in the next week, I'll participate in fantasy football drafts; once in the office, the other in a basement that's 3,000 miles away from where I currently live. When these drafts happen, I will act as Commissioner, because this is a thing that I do, and herd the cats who are in the leagues to all come together and do a transparently dumb thing as a single group. I've performed this role for (gulp) over thirty years, in a wide range of leagues, ranging from dear friends and relatives to near total strangers.

Here's what I've learned, over the many years and situations, that have helped to inform the person that I am when working as a marketing and advertising pro. You might find it helpful. (But not as helpful as when to draft Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry, perhaps the best handcuff in the league this year. That's clearly a state secret.)

1) Your worst client will always take up the majority of your time.

Whether it's someone who can't get their protections on time, struggles with the tech, needs an inordinate amount of follow-up requests to pay the dues, takes way more time to make their picks than everyone else, or just finds some other way to throw a wrench in the works... well, this has made for *wonderful* training on dealing with particular clients. Keeping your composure when all you really want to do is spit fire at someone for making things difficult is an incredibly valuable life skill, but it's also kind of like getting to the gym every day for maintenance work. You might need to figure out ways to self-motivate.

2) People are going to make fun of you for the very reasons why you have the gig.

In the league that I run out of the basement, there will be giant labels, several kinds of Sharpies, clipboards and pens and assigned seating, and an inordinate amount of getting things Just So. Owners are appreciative, but they also will make jokes about this, re-arrange things just to see if they can get my goat, and so on.

The point is that if you are a good commish, you have to sweat the details, and sweating the details is just an irresistible softball in the search for humor. I (honestly) don't really mind, because this is just how I'm wired. Making fun of me for this stuff is kind of like making fun of my height or hair color; have at it. I didn't choose it, so I'll probably join in.

3) Bad ideas are like weeds, or zombies; they always return.

If you have an owner or two that wants to change a rule, and it gets voted down or rejected, rest assured that it will return at some point, with as much force and vigor as previous. There is a strong intersection of math, engineering and problem solving in the mindset of fantasy sports, and people like to think they are right about things, otherwise they wouldn't say it.

So the owner in your league that hates kickers, and wants to ban them... will always hate kickers, and will always want to ban them. They might even be right. And they'll ask until they get their way, or the sun burns out. Best to just shrug and move on.

4) Balancing the interests of the league against the interests of your team is tough.

Running my basement league, for me, is a mix of conducting an auction while also trying to make picks for my own club, which leads to mistakes for both sides. It's also my built-in excuse for not having a particularly good team, but what's more likely is that I just don't do as well in football as other leagues. Finally, if you are in a league with especially competitive people, rule changes or innovations that you propose will be regarded with suspicion, because they'll seem like they are in the interest of your team first, and the league second. The only way to overcome this is by building up goodwill and precedent as an honorable dealer. There are no shortcuts to that status.

5) This is all part of your personal brand.

I've had job interviews where the conversation went to personal habits, and I've always felt that this was a competitive advantage for me, because my hobbies... well, speak to my professional attributes. It's one thing to say that I sweat the details; it's quite another to rattle off the particulars of my various leagues. People like to hire folks with good references, because retaining clients is a critical skill in business. I have clients in these leagues that have spent the majority of their lives with me. Innovating in small spaces, learning from outside sources, caring about the happiness of your partners, self-awareness and self-deprecation for when you are nerding out with abandon...

Well, I'm putting data and precedent to these claims, rather than just saying them.

Good luck with your drafts!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Fields Of Privilege

I spend about a quarter of my life driving now. This includes my entire life, so if we want to pull sleep out of the equation, it's probably more like a third.

Driving to work. Driving to the gym. Driving to do laundry, get groceries, get gas. Driving for strangers in my side hustle, because that's what the math tells me to do right now, and arguing with math is rarely a good idea.

Sports? Well, I listen to the A's games on the radio, and I read newsletters that might help me not be quite so terrible and unqualified in my leagues. But I don't have cable (hell, I don't even have a TV), don't go to games, and don't spend nearly the same amount of time and energy thinking about it.

That stuff has been replaced by the day job and podcasts and political concerns, and if I have time left over, maybe playing a guitar or getting on a stage and trying my hand at stand up. Or sitting at a poker table, because sometimes that works out for the math, too. Eventually, I might add in a shift as a security guard, because that money will happen without more miles hitting my car.

Sports has, effectively, been priced out of my market. At least for now.

Not so much on the actual cost, but the time one. I have 126 hours or so of waking life every week to make money, and I pretty much spend about 100 of them doing that.

This condition isn't permanent, because nothing in life is, and you don't have to really follow sports to have opinions about them. (Short take this week: the fact that Colin Kaepernick isn't one of the best 96 quarterbacks in the world is plainly ridiculous on its face, but ridiculous is what the NFL does best, and every day he isn't on a field is a day where that fact gets a little less ridiculous. Because playing football is an insane way to try to make money, and a blood bargain that its fans have to hold their nose to more every day. It's all ridiculous. But since we don't have to currently rank Kaepernick on our fantasy rankings, out of sight, out of mind. Try not to think about what this means to political discourse, or the chilling of speech towards people of color.)

So if simply watching or following sports is a privilege, and one that far too many people pay for whether they do it or not, assuming we don't cord-cut and stop the de facto national subsidy in our cable bills...

Well, that's just the thing, isn't it? It feels like they didn't use to be. It feels like you used to be able to just put on a game without quite such a dent in your actual or mental checkbook, escape the real world for a few hours, think about nothing but what went on between the lines.

I'm not sure I can do that anymore.

But hey, things change, right?

Sometimes for the better?

Monday, August 7, 2017

Jerry Jones Got An Ugly New Jacket Because, Well, Money

Nip, Tuck, Die
In alphabetical order, the list of front office personnel who have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Note that I'm not listing coaches, and plenty of these guys held that role in addition to being a GM or an owner. But you get the gist.)

George Allen
Bert Bell
Charles Bidwill
Paul Brown
Joseph Carr
Al Davis
Eddie DeBartolo
Weeb Ewbank
Jim Finks
Sid Gillman
George Halas
Lamar Hunt
Jerry Jones
Curly Lambeau
Vince Lombardi
Tim Mara
Wellington Mara
George Preston Marshall
Bill Polian
Dan Reeves
Art Rooney
Dan Rooney
Pete Rozelle
Tex Schramm
Jim Thorpe
Ralph Wilson
Ron Wolf

More than you might have thought, right? Well, that's football for you: the rich guys who got richer for exploiting the talent are awfully good at congratulating themselves for that. But let's dig into this a bit.

George Allen won with middling talent. Bert Bell founded the league. Bill Bidwill... well, whatever, the Bidwills suck and have always sucked, but maybe ol' Bill had blackmail material. Paul Brown was a genius. Joseph Carr got in because the NFL always inducts their commissioners. Al Davis was a genius, and probably would have sued if he wasn't in. Eddie DaBartolo won a lot, and was beloved even when he cheated, mostly because he cheated in ways that actually put money in player's pockets.

Weeb Ewbank won in New York; that always gets you in a Hall of Fame, regardless of league. Jim Finks ran three middling franchises and probably collected a lot of incriminating photographs. Sid Gillman invented the modern passing game. George Halas damn near invented the league.

Lamar Hunt was critical to founding the AFL. Curly Lambeau was a legend; Vince Lombardi is *the* legend. The Maras and Rooneys get in because the NFL has always had hard-ons for the Giants and Steelers. George Preston Marshall moved a team to DC and had an on-again, off-again affair with Louise Brooks, and I can only carry so much hate for a man who bedded Brooks. Bill Polian built contenders in three cities, and kept the Patriots from utterly dominating the 21st century.

Dan Reeves got the league to the West Coast. Rozelle made it profitable with the use of TV. Schramm built the borderline dominant Cowboy teams, Jim Thorpe made the game mean something at the dawn of football, Ralph Wilson introduced football to Buffalo, and Ron Wolf won in Green Bay, which is almost as good as winning in New York or Pittsburgh.

And now we come to the newest member of this caste cast, one Jerry Jones. Who won Super Bowls when he just wrote the checks, and has barely won any games of consequence ever since. Sure, Dallas occasionally rattles off a deceptively big year, just like every other franchise in the NFC LEast over the last couple of decades, but they inevitably fall apart in a favored playoff game, then fall off a cliff the year after that, mostly because Jones can't help himself from overdosing on bad character dudes who can't keep their noses clean for very long. He's responsible for some of the biggest reprobates drawing a paycheck in our lifetimes, and he's also responsible for treating a Hall of Fame coach (Tom Landry) like he was Willy Loman. If your idea of a Hall of Fame owner is a paper tiger team fronted by a grinning death mask of plastic surgery, Jones is your guy.

But that isn't why he's in the Hall of Fame, and everyone knows it. Jones got in because he showed everyone else the way to even greater riches: build a pleasure palace for the worst and richest men in America, stick local tax paying rubes with the bill, and treat it as the greatest possible tribute to yourself. The fact that the stadiums are never necessary doesn't matter. Then watch as the nation's sports media fawns over it, all because the NFL is staffed by guys who think subtle should be spelled without the b, because you don't really hear it. No new stadium has ever been described as less than the greatest invention since the blow job, and no owner who has ever gotten one failed to, well, get one from the media for years afterward. Even when the stadium clearly stinks on ice.

Jerry Jones is to football ownership as Donald Trump is to the Oval Office; a new and precedent-crushing low, where a clown and an asshat masquerades as the Emperor, and no one drawing a significant paycheck notes the nudity. The fact that it's all a facade, and actual Cowboy fans (there are some, honest, pushed below decks every time the team wins more games than it loses by the bandwagoneers) dream of the day where Jones dies, so that actual competent GM work will take over, but even that is a hollow hope, considering that he's got his cracker spawn all over the place as well... well, none of that matters, because NFL owners don't really love NFL owners who win games.

They do, however, love the ones that make them more money. Preferably by showing them that silly little notions like class, human decency, or even a trace amount of self-awareness and humility is for the rubes who can no longer afford tickets to games.

So yes, Jerry Jones is now enshrined in Pro Football's Hall of Fame, with a bronze likeness of his douchebag face and skull to reside for all eternity, or however long it is that humans care about football and draw breath.

Oh, and if you want to feel just a teeny tiny bit better about that, and maybe even still want to visit the place?

Well, it's in the same room as OJ Simpson's.

Fitting company, yes?

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