We have a slogan at DLF – there is no off-season. Indeed, with year-round trading and waiver acquisitions, rookie scouting and perpetual roster management, you become less a month-to-month coach and more a perennial general manager. Given this multitude of duties, what’s perceived to be a down time for re-draft leagues becomes arguably the most important period in dynasty fantasy football.
As such, it’s not uncommon for the inception of new dynasty leagues to occur in the late Spring or early Summer. Due to the enduring nature of this format, annual training camp battles and potential injuries function as figurative blips on the radar, rarely precluding us from what would otherwise be perceived as a premature start. Keeping with this perspective and having recently partaken in a May startup (immediately following the 2014 NFL Draft), I wanted to share the results of what will hopefully become my newest budding dynasty.
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What follows is the outcome of a 12-team draft, with the discussion centering on a pick-by-pick analysis, as well as some general strategies and observed trends. The league in question observes a standard PPR format, with 20-man rosters and a starting lineup featuring one quarterback, one running back, two wide receivers, one tight end and three FLEX positions. The inaugural, serpentine draft order was generated randomly, and my team was slotted with the 11th and 2nd selections in each subsequent duo of rounds.
Let’s see how it turned out:
1.11 – Keenan Allen, WR, SD. The main disadvantage of picking at the end of the first round is the unlikelihood of obtaining a top-tier receiver, running back or tight end. With that said, Allen had only the third 1,000-yard season by a rookie receiver this millennium, and given the longevity of the position, he should function as a near-elite asset for 8-10 years.
2.02 – Antonio Brown, WR, PIT. What was a detriment in the first round becomes an advantage in round two, as only three picks later I was able to snag another top-10 PPR receiver in Brown. This is why, in general, I prefer to pick at the end of the first round in serpentine drafts. Should you desire, the early second round is also a great place to snag a young running back like Giovani Bernard, Le’Veon Bell or Eddie Lacy.
3.11 – Josh Gordon, WR, CLE. We’ve already reached the point in the draft where there are no slam-dunks, and I needed to go with my gut. With a looming suspension, Gordon won’t help me this year. However, with 18 receivers already selected, I determined there wasn’t anyone remaining on the board with his upside.
To the larger point, a bad third round selection won’t kill your team – it’s acceptable to be bold here.
4.02 – C.J. Spiller, RB, BUF. Spiller’s “down year” still brought with it 4.6 yards-per-carry, and he makes for a strong draft-low candidate. This also goes to show running back bargains can be had as the draft moves towards its adolescence.
5.11/6.02 – Ben Tate, RB, CLE and Reggie Bush, RB, DET. At this point in the draft, no player is without warts. Be it due to injury (Tate) or age (Bush), proven production can be found more cheaply as this time of the year brings with it the allure of the unknown.
7.11 – Dennis Pitta, TE, BAL. With many dynasty owners clamoring for the next Jimmy Graham, unproven size/speed projects receive a hefty bump during the off-season while veterans like Pitta fall. As the eighth tight end off the board, I believe Pitta’s four-plus years of top-five potential at the position represent a bargain.
8.02 – Tavon Austin, WR, STL. While rookies like Allen above proved their mettle in year one, it generally takes longer for pass catchers to develop. The consensus top rookie selection of 2013, Austin suffered mainly due to his offensive constraints and can now be had for 75 cents on the dollar.
9.11 – Cecil Shorts, WR, JAX. Similar to Austin, Shorts’ down year in 2013 has caused a dramatic decrease in value. With better quarterback play, expect Shorts to bounce back and look for a nice free agent payday in 2015.
10.02/11.11 – Tony Romo, QB, DAL and Philip Rivers, QB, SD. Between Romo and Rivers, I believe I’ve locked up QB1-level output for the next four-to-five years. In smaller league formats such as this, it pays to wait on your signal callers.
With the draft more than halfway over and all my starting positions filled, it’s at this point where building the backend of your roster becomes critical. As you’ll see below, I believe this is the best time to select players coming off poor performances and undervalued youngsters. I’ll break the last nine rounds down on a positional basis.
Running backs – Stevan Ridley, NE (12.02), Khiry Robinson, NO (14.02), Stepfan Taylor, ARI (18.02) and Kendall Hunter, SF (20.02). Ridley was a 290-carry workhorse and PPR RB2 as recently as 2012, and along with Hunter, will likely be finding a better home come 2015. Robinson and Taylor, meanwhile, could be sharing committee back duties (or more) as soon as this season.
Wide receivers – Danny Amendola, NE (15.11) and Rod Streater, OAK (16.02). Similar to Austin and Shorts above, Amendola’s mediocre 2013 resulted in a precipitous drop in value. He makes for a great arbitrage play and fine bargain. Streater quietly led Oakland in receiving, finishing as a PPR WR3 despite a poor supporting cast.
Tight ends – Charles Clay, MIA (13.11), Jermichael Finley, FA (17.11) and Vance McDonald, SF (19.11). Despite his TE1 status last year, it’s clear many still don’t believe in Clay, but in the late 13th round, he’s a cost-effective backup. If medically cleared, Finley stands primed to return to the TE1 ranks and has more upside than any other tight ends remaining on the board. McDonald, a rookie in 2013, is 90% the athlete of his positional cohorts at 10% of the price.
While the above recap serves as a bit of a primer for my dynasty worldview, the total landscape is definitively formed by the entirety of the league. As such, several trends emerged during the course of the draft, helping shape my strategy and the efficacy of my selections. Below is a sampling of the tendencies I noted.
“Rookie Fever” is very real
Fifteen of the draft’s first 85 selections (17.6%) were players who have yet to step between the lines in a professional setting. While there’s nothing wrong with buying into these freshmen, the cost is high given the absence of proven production. A downstream effect of this phenomenon is the devaluation of veterans, who now represent bargain plays in startup drafts. Though I’m not saying you should avoid rookies as I did (this was due to draft flow, not a designed strategy), many times they’ll become cheaper in year two much like Austin, Taylor and McDonald were.
Tight end and quarterback represent the deepest positions
Unless I have a shot at Graham or Rob Gronkowski, I’ll gladly wait out the tight end position. In my opinion, there are upwards of 15-20 more players who have the ability to perform at a TE1-level in a 12-team league, and I was able to snag three of them (Pitta, Clay and Finley) at a reduced cost. Similarly, moving beyond Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, there exist a plethora of QB1 options. Though Romo and Rivers are aging, they’ll provide production long enough for me to find a more youthful option in the future.
Middle-tier running backs are devalued
If you choose not to spend a high pick on a workhorse ball carrier, fear not – there remain bargains to be had. Between Spiller, Tate, Bush and Ridley, I firmly believe I can cobble together enough production on a weekly basis and I didn’t need to spend a premium to do it. Moreover, combining the yearly upheaval we see at the position with its shorter NFL life span, running back remains the best position to figuratively throw players at the wall and see who sticks.
Familiarize yourself with contract situations
Four of the players I was able to snag in the middle to late rounds (Spiller, Shorts, Ridley and Hunter) are in the final years of their contracts, and it could be reasonably argued a new locale would represent an upgrade in 2015. Two others (Pitta and Romo) recently signed new contracts, locking them into their current positions. Robinson could benefit not because of his contract, but because backfield mates Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas could be shipped out of town next year. Knowledge of these potential scenarios can better help identify how your squad will look in the future, gaming the system a year in advance.
We live in a “what have you done for me lately?” world
I mentioned numerous players in the draft snapshot above who suffered down years last season. Unless you firmly believe there’s no chance of them bouncing back, these are types you should target in the mid-to-late rounds. Oftentimes owners crave immediate production, forgetting the permanence of the dynasty format – adhering to the “buy low” methodology of this metaphorical stock market, the potential dividends greatly outweigh the cost.
Talent trumps situation in the later rounds
Streater and McDonald are undoubtedly stuck in poor situations, playing for the perpetually disappointing Raiders and loaded 49ers, respectively. Finley is similarly residing in football limbo due to injury. Once again, however, these statuses are subject to change over the course of the next few years. The end of your bench is the perfect spot for these kinds of players as they stand to gain value (as well as an uptick in production) upon a change of scenery.
Be a dynasty chameleon
Nobody can predict the future, and it’s folly to believe otherwise. Given that, it makes no sense to draft based on what your team could look like in 2020. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t have a strategy, but rather you should adapt as necessary – be a dynasty chameleon, if you will. Forcing your picks into some inflexible matrix is the quickest way to ensure a rebuilding effort sooner rather than later. Let the draft come to you.
The draft is just one step in an extensive journey
A good dynasty league will last as long as you desire it to. Given this theoretically unending duration, the initial draft represents nothing more than your league’s infancy. There are still many trades to make, waivers to scour and rookies to select as your team continually evolves. I believe the above will help you take that first step, but always remember – there are still many more to come.