Jul 27,2010

The Times They Are A-Changing: A Draft Guide to the 2010-11 Fantasy Football Season

Available at www.zazzle.com for $23.95

I don’t know about you, but I always hate this time of year. There’s nothing going on except weddings and arena football. Blah. Sure, there’s the MLB, but come on, who’s really paying attention before September? And, yes, I suppose if you’re under 18 any day between June 1st and September 1st is awesome. But for the rest of us… it’s a slow and monotonous countdown to September – which is when you underage sh*ts go back to school and we’re reminded of just why we spent so much money on a television set.

That’s right… it’s almost football season baby! Only six more weeks of waiting before the brat grilling, beer guzzling, and smack talking action begins. Between now and September 9th, however, it’s time to hit the stat sheets and brush up on a little something called Draft Strategy.

In previous years, the most widely accepted and agreed upon strategy was to, without a doubt, draft the best starting running backs available on the board as early as possible. Because many teams relied on a singular workhorse to advance their running game, these particular players also earned a ton of points for their respective fantasy teams. This ensured that nearly any RB worth his cleats would get picked up in the first and second rounds of most fantasy drafts. Well, that was then and this now.

I’m pretty sure Bob Dylan wasn’t talking about Fantasy Football when he penned “The Times They are A-Changing,” but man was he spot on. More and more teams are employing a Running Back By Committee (RBBC) style offense in which two backs share the workload. In fact, according to espn.com, last year seventeen teams had two RBs that both carried the ball at least 100 times each. Compare that to ten years prior in 2000, where only seven teams got the same stats using the time share rule. Obviously, when the number of touches a player gets is reduced by as much 50% then the number of points he can score for your fantasy team is also decreased. In short, it’s bad news for people who have a less than stellar draft number.

Adrian Peterson doing what he does and earning his keep

As of right now, there are only 11 teams that have a lone dynamo at RB: the Bengals, Chargers, Falcons, Jaguars, Packers, Rams, Ravens, Steelers, Titans, Vikings, and the 49ers. A standard FF league consists of 10 teams. Most of those teams play two RBs plus a possible Flex player each week. That means there are 20-30 slots available for only 11 stud RBs. So what’s a fantasy owner to do? Remember that your objective is to always get the best player for the best value and adjust accordingly.

In my opinion, there are six must-picks. Here they are ranked in order of most to least valuable: Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Chris Johnson, Frank Gore, Rashard Mendenhall, and Ray Rice. I plan to explain my analysis and also rank the remaining 5 workhorses in a later post, but for now I want to simply focus on draft strategy. That being said, if one of the above is available while you’re drafting then you should absolutely scoop him up. If, however, you’re the eighth pick of your draft and the top six RBs are off the board then I don’t recommend reaching for one of the remaining five. Instead, grab an elite WR like Andre Johnson or Randy Moss and know that you got the best player for the value at the time. I understand that it’s scary to watch everyone else load up RBs, but remember it’s better to have a team that wins than one that looks good on paper.

To that end, most standard fantasy teams have 16 draftable positions and play nine of those slots (QB, WR, WR, RB, RB, TE, WR/RB/TE, DEF, K) while the bench (BN) is comprised of the remaining 7 players. In past seasons, FF analysts have advised using these bench spots to draft back-ups for your QBs… and maybe an extra TE for your bye week. While that reasoning seems sound, I’m going to strongly recommend that you use those spots to load up on RBs and WRs. There is such depth at TE that after the top three – Dallas Clark, Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates – it’s really a wash. Have faith that if your TE goes down or you need someone on a bye, the waiver wire will have plenty of decent options. Additionally, if you’re lucky enough to get one of the elite QBs – Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning – then don’t bother backing him up. It’s very likely that in the case of either a bye week or (G*d forbid) an injury either Joe Flacco, Kevin Kolb, or Mark Sanchez will be an available and viable substitute.

After nine seasons as a Bolt, LT will start the 2010 season as a Jet

While customizing your draft day cheat sheet, keep in mind that there are some really excellent RBs playing on two back committees. After all, the whole reason NFL teams began embracing the RBBC offense was so that they could preserve their investments and keep their players off of the IR. You need to do the same thing. It’s very likely that one of the two RBs on any of the top committees – DeAngelo Williams / Jonathan Stewart (Carolina Panthers), Beanie Wells / Tim Hightower (Arizona Cardinals), Shonn Greene / LaDainian Tomlinson (New York Jets), Ronnie Brown / Ricky Williams (Miami Dolphins), Jamaal Charles / Thomas Jones (Kansas City Chiefs) – will get hurt and thus create a surprise stud out of nowhere. Furthermore, owning as many decent RBs as possible only limits your opponents’ options. While this strategy may not have you on top at the beginning of the season, I guarantee it’ll be working by week 9. I also wouldn’t be stunned if, around that same time, you start receiving a litany of trade proposals.

All of that being said, have a good time and remember that this is supposed to be fun! If you’re a die-hard Bengals fan and want to draft Cedric Benson in the first round then do it. Don’t blame me when you lose, but know that you’ll be able to watch each game without having compromised your commitment to Cincinnati.

The next six weeks are going to fly by so be sure to stay tuned for more FF strategies!