Wednesday, August 26, 2015

An Invitation to Remember

In today's world of Draft Kings and Fan Duel, sites that feature these ludicrous "one week seasons," promises of big money prizes and "no season-long commitment" (has our collective attention span really become that momentary?), much of the fun and camaraderie of fantasy football is becoming lost, caught up in the immediate gratification of a winning team this week.

I've got news for you: that's not how fantasy football is supposed to be played. Fantasy football is about drafting and managing a team for a season, for better or worse. Period. It's about building rivalries among fantasy teams and friendships among fantasy owners.

Fantasy football is a commitment, not a one night stand.

Speaking of commitment, I am in several fantasy football leagues, but the grand daddy of the all is the More Beer Fantasy Football League. This is our 24th consecutive season together; we started in 1992 after I told my good friend Brian about this new thing called "fantasy football" which I had played the previous season with a group of co-workers. I'd suggested we give it a try.

Well, Brian (a fellow football nut) immediately took action and quickly organized a group of friends into what became known as the More Beer Fantasy Football League. He's been the commissioner from day one, back when being commissioner of a league was far more than just recruiting fantasy players and clicking a button to start a draft.

Indeed, the job of commissioner was not for the faint of heart.

Brian and I came up with the initial rules (printed out and distributed to all owners at the draft), but it was up to him to interpret those rules when an issue came to light; there was no fantasy football talk show call for advice, there was no web site to help (hell, there was no such thing as internet!).

Brian put in countless hours tallying boxscores from the newspaper and converting them into fantasy points back when there was no such thing as live scoring and immediate updates. He sent those scores via snail mail and the league received them by Friday (can you imagine not knowing whether you won or lost your fantasy game until the following Friday? These "one week season" pretty boys have absolutely no idea what true fantasy football is about!)

Brian tracked our annual draft with Sharpies and tag board (our drafts were live, in-person... always have been, always will be).

He took phone calls for trades and drop/adds at all times of the day and night.

Yes, being commissioner of a league was nearly a full time job back then. It certainly was not a "one week season."


Since 1992, Brian has put together a fantasy football draft invitation which the entire league looks forward to. It is always entertaining and humorous -- and occasionally a little embarrassing for unsuspecting league-mates; but it has become a tradition. Every season he outdoes the previous season's invitation... but this year, well, I don't think he can possibly top himself.

This is the best in 24 years... this, folks, is how the big leagues send out invitations!

So here is the 2015 More Beer Fantasy Football League draft invitation, featuring the Honorable Commish (co-starring with himself), our fearless leader for the past 24 seasons.

(A bit of background to the video: in this league, the last place teams in both divisions play each other in the "Toilet Bowl" at the end of the season. The loser of the Toilet Bowl must buy the 16-gallon keg of beer for the next year's draft party and must sit on a toilet seat for the first round of the draft. 

For the first time ever, the Honorable Commish lost the Toilet Bowl.)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Thoughts on ADP Desirability Rankings

The folks who get paid to write about fantasy football are always coming up with new stuff to... well... write about. Often it is interesting material and every now and then someone comes up with something I hadn't thought of before which makes for a really good read.

Other times, someone will introduce a (supposedly) new concept which I've been using for years.

There is a "new" school of thought in some fantasy football circles called the "ADP Desirability Rankings." (A quick lesson for those who do not know what ADP stands for: Average Draft Position. Essentially it is a compilation of a few (or many) mock drafts, in which players are ranked in the average position they are drafted. Years ago, arranging an ADP was not for the faint of heart. Now it's available with the click of a mouse).

A word of caution: every ADP is different. Sites like, ESPN, CBS, FOX Sports, ect., strictly use their mock drafts as the primary source of information. Plus, you must know the scoring system of your league and be sure the mock draft(s) you are looking at reflect your scoring system.

Ultimately, the best way to assemble a true ADP is take each of these individual sources, using the correct the scoring system, and compile your own rankings. But that requires considerable independent research and, quite frankly, most people frown on such abstract, radical concepts as "time" and "effort" these days.

But I digress.

The idea behind ADP Desirability Rankings is to assemble players according to their ADP, then re-rank them based on the desirability of drafting them at their ADP. Perhaps another way of saying this is you rank players on a "confidence factor" relative to their ADP. In other words, you are taking hard statistical data and mixing it with your gut feeling and a particular player's history/potential.

Hold on, this is new? I've been doing this for more than two decades. I just never had a name for it!!

Fast forward to the here and now:

According to, Julius Thomas has an ADP of #5 overall tight end. That's the hard, statistical data based on their mock draft results. In other words, Thomas is, on average, the fifth tight end selected on mock drafts.

My take:

Based on the indisputable fact that Thomas has had just one decent season and he's now in Jacksonville's offense rather than Denver's powerhouse, I've knocked him down considerably in my rankings. He has an extremely low desirability ranking as the #5 overall tight end.

Conversely, Jason Witten's ADP is the #11 tight end (again, according to Considering Witten's past performance and his role in the Cowboys' offense, there's no reason to suspect he will tank this season -- I don't care how old he is (I've found age is the biggest knock on Witten). I would love to grab Witten as the 11th tight end off the board. As a result, Witten has a very, very high desirability ranking (as the #11 overall tight end).

Put another way, Witten has a strong confidence factor at #11. Thomas has an extremely low confidence factor at #5. As a result, I would adjust my rankings accordingly.

Of course, this is my own "Desirability Ranking." Everyone's will be different and that's exactly how it should be.

But why should this be so complicated? I don't need consensus ADPs of seven different sources to conclude what I already know. I am ranking (and drafting!) Jason Witten over Julius Thomas. Nothing, other than a catastrophic pre-season injury, would change my mind.

Here's another surprise for you: my gut feeling isn't always right!

Back in 2008, I looked for Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown to explode after an injury-shortened 2007 season. As a result, I ranked him much higher than his ADP (which is to say he had a high Desirability Ranking). He ended up with a good season, but not great. The ADP was right. I was wrong.

But you know what? That is the fun (and frustration) of fantasy football.

Making a decision as a fantasy football GM should always be a mixture of analyzing statistical data, evaluating players' past performance/potential and old-fashioned gut feeling. The "revolutionary" idea of Desirability Rankings has been around since fantasy football was invented; it just hadn't been given a name.

The most important thing to remember as the fantasy football season approaches and fantasy drafts kick into high gear is this: gather all the information you can, digest it, toss it around... then
make it your own.

That's why I love fantasy football.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Thoughts on Zero Running Back Theory

It's amazing how this hobby has evolved since I dipped my toe in the fresh, fantasy waters back in 1991. Back then (as I've said before on this site), if you didn't draft two running backs in the first two rounds, you might as well not even try. It was called the Stud Running Back Theory and it was the only way to draft. Running backs figuratively grew on trees.

But the running back tree has been infested. It doesn't produce the fruit it once did. Actually, it's not even close.

A new drafting philosophy is taking the fantasy community by storm. It's called the Zero Running Back Theory. The general premise is this: you do not select a running back in the first four rounds or so of your fantasy draft. The rationale is running backs are easy come, easy go. They are a high injury risk and you are much safer going with top wide receivers and/or tight ends in the first few rounds.

I admit I am an old school fantasy player. I started playing long before the advent of the internet, before live scoring and immediate drop/adds. But it's important for grumpy old men like me to roll with the changes. In fact, it's imperative to survival in the fantasy football universe.

Grumpy old men in fantasy football become grumpy old losers. You've got to adapt.

But because I'm old school, I smirked at the Zero Running Back Theory at first. Drafting no running backs before the fourth round? Preposterous!

But the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became.

It is true that running backs are a higher injury risk. Good grief, we haven't even gotten through the first half of the preseason and Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Duke Johnson, Darren McFadden, Knile Davis, C.J. Spiller and Stevan Ridley (among others) are either banged up, have gone under the knife or are in some other way incapacitated.

It is also true that the NFL is a passing league now. We don't see running backs carry the ball 300 times a season nearly as often as we did 20 years ago. In 1995, nine different backs had at least 300 rushing attempts. Compare that to 2013 and 2014 when just two running backs each season carried 300+ times.

The logic is obvious: more rushing attempts equals more potential for fantasy points. Fewer rushing attempts equals less potential for fantasy points.

Finally, it has been proven, year after year, that ranking the running back position is far less consistent and predictable than any other fantasy position. Each year, there is a chasm between the top running back finishers and their preseason rankings. Just last year alone, DeMarco Murray (who led the NFL in rushing yards last season) had a preseason ranking of #7 (according to ESPN). Le'Veon Bell, who finished second in rushing yards, was ranked 12th in the preseason.

Justin Forsett, a top eight finisher last year, wasn't even ranked.

Last year I was burned by Adrian Peterson, who I drafted in the first round. Yes, his was a special circumstance last season, but that "special circumstance" didn't make a darn bit of difference to my stinking last place finish in that particular league! I haven't finished last in a league in a long time.

Does this mean I would not draft Peterson this season if given the chance? Of course I would. There is so much potential there, the reward far outweighs the risk, at least in my mind.

I feel the same way about Jamaal Charles, Le'Veon Bell and Matt Forte. But then the lines start to blur.

At what point does the risk outweigh the reward? Would I draft Marshawn Lynch over Calvin Johnson? Would I risk DeMarco Murray in a new system, sharing the backfield, over Antonio Brown? Am I taking an already-gimpy LeSean McCoy over Dez Bryant?

These questions are why fantasy football isn't easy.

This is a different NFL world and in order to be a successful fantasy owner you can't be a stubborn old man (or woman), sitting on the back porch in your rocking chair, stuck in your old school fantasy football ways. You must roll with the changes in fantasy football or you'll end up the perennial welcome mat in your league.

And who wants that?

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Dark Horse Collection: Tight Ends, Part I

After a bit of a delay (thanks for those pesky real life events) the hunt for my next fantasy football championship begins today.

DISCLOSURE TO THE READER: I firmly believe the worst thing a fantasy owner can do is fall victim to pack mentality. You, my friend, are not a lemming (even though they are cute little furry things). 
If you are looking for the same old fantasy stuff, stop reading and go to a run-of-the-mill site. I am often alone in my ideas and I have a tendency to go the opposite direction the crowd is going; after all, that's why the site is called The Lone Pylon.  My philosophy has always been to keep an open mind and digest other ideas, no matter how "off the grid" they may seem. Many times the guy who was called nuts in August ends up hoisting the fantasy trophy in December.

Rather than posting the usual list of "top 10" or "top 20," which you can find anywhere, I am going to do something different here. For the next few weeks, I will be firing off my dark horse collection of players at each position -- players you might not be thinking about right now, but should really keep an eye on.

Before we even get started, remember these are dark horses -- defined as players who will out-perform their draft position; these are decent players who will be available in later rounds when everyone else is sleeping -- some will even be available via free agency as the season progresses. These are names you need to be familiar with (some you may not be) because no matter how well you draft, you will end up needing the dark horses when it matters most. That's just the nature of fantasy football.

Indeed, these are the players who can turn a disaster into a celebration.

I am going to start with the position which was once an afterthought in this hobby, but has now become essential -- yes, essential -- to winning it all: TIGHT END.

Not so long ago it was laughable to even think about drafting a tight end until after the seventh round or so. But the league has changed. Prior to 2000, unless you had Shannon Sharpe, who consistently posted wide receiver-like numbers, tight ends came a dime a dozen.

But then Tony Gonzalez stormed onto the scene. Soon after, Antonio Gates appeared out of nowhere. Then Jason Witten exploded. Over the course of a few years, a new breed of player -- the pass-catching Mack truck with Trans-Am speed -- evolved and drafting one went from afterthought to priority.

In today's fantasy football, possession of an elite tight end is imperative to winning a fantasy title.

Like every off-season, this one has morphed the fantasy landscape, and several leading tight ends have played musical chairs; some will flourish at their new addresses (specifically, Jimmy Graham and Jordan Cameron) while others will struggle (like Julius Thomas) albeit with a very fat wallet.

So without further ado, I present Part 1 of The Lone Pylon's Dark Horse fantasy football tight ends...

 Virgil Green - Denver Broncos
If you haven't heard of Green it is because he's not done much thus far in his career. What's that? You're laughing at me already? That's okay, but let's think about this. Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme have upstaged Green for the last two seasons, but they've now disappeared in the mist, leaving Green front and center with Peyton Manning slinging the ball. While resident senior citizen Owen Daniels has been ranked very highly by some experts, he's not the tight end he once was. Green has earned this spot. This is his fifth year in Denver, he knows the system as well as anyone not named Peyton Manning, and he has been called the "glue guy" by none other than John Elway himself. That's high praise, indeed, and it will pay off big time this fall; keep your eye on him.

 Zach Ertz - Philadelphia Eagles
Maybe Ertz isn't exactly a dark horse, but he seems to be flying under the radar.  After a solid rookie campaign in 2013, Ertz followed up with a good sophomore season last year, finishing with 89 targets, 702 yards receiving and three touchdowns. In addition, Ertz helped win plenty of fantasy championships with his huge week 15 game vs. Washington (15 receptions for 115 yards). The big question this year is how will HC Chip Kelly's gun-slinger off-season moves effect Philly's offense? Who will be under center: Bradford, Sanchez, Barkley or Tebow? Will the purging of Jeremy Maclin hurt or actually improve Ertz's stats? Ertz has the potential to be a top five tight end, but plenty of fantasy owners may give Ertz the cold shoulder because of what appears to be an unsettled situation in Philadelphia.

 Larry Donnell - New York Giants
Every season two or three players come out of nowhere to make a fantasy impact. Waiver wires go berserk and unreasonable trade offers fly in to get that guy. Last year, after a three touchdown performance on a Thursday night, Donnell was that guy. He ended his first season as a starter with 92 targets, 623 yards receiving and six touchdowns, which is not bad considering nobody knew who the heck he was in the beginning of September. Eli Manning has got plenty of weapons in New York, which might make Donnell a little undervalued, but I believe he will be gainfully employed in 2015, quietly putting up comfortable numbers.

Charles Clay - Buffalo Bills
Few experts are showing Clay any respect and I'm not sure why: this is precisely why I'm putting him in the dark horse category. He was given the transition tag by the Dolphins in the off-season and Rex Ryan knew a good thing when he saw it. In Clay's last two seasons in Miami, he had totaled 186 targets, well over 1,300 yards receiving and nine touchdowns. He's now on a team with an offensive roster oozing with potential, including LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin, and Sammy Watkins. Greg Roman is the new OC in Buffalo and he loved exploiting Vernon Davis' talents during his four years with San Francisco. This could be Clay's best year as a pro and many experts are brushing him off.

Maxx Williams - Baltimore Ravens
I love this guy. Sure he's a rookie and I'm biased since he played at my alma mater, but let's digest the facts here. The Ravens love involving their tight end in the passing game, but they've been utilizing aging veterans or players held together by duct tape and popsicle sticks for the past few seasons. Imagine what a young, healthy machine like Williams will do. After the catch, Mad Maxx is a stinkin' maniac, he is that pass-catching Mack truck. He has star written all over him and Ravens fans are going to fall in love (as will fantasy football owners). Draft him and watch the fun. Don't say I didn't tell you so. Rookie of the year potential right here, folks. (Yes, I know he's a tight end.)

Jordan Reed - Washington Redskins 
My only concern about Reed is his head. No, not his intelligence. His history of concussions is a concerning issue. Knee and hamstring problems have also plagued his short career; in fact, he underwent what is being called a "stem cell treatment" to his bothersome left knee if June. Yes, that's a major red flag. That being said, keep Reed in your back pocket. If you are a fantasy owner who pays attention only to last season, you won't even blink at Reed's name. Yet he's got the talent to give defensive coordinators nightmares. If he isn't drafted in your league, put him on your watch list. He's young and talented. If he can stay healthy he will be a heist off the waiver wire.

  Jermaine Gresham - Arizona Cardinals 
Mike Ditka, Keith Jackson and Jermaine Gresham are the only three tight ends in NFL history to have at least 50 catches in their first three seasons. But the Bengals opted to pass on re-signing him and he recently found a landing spot in Arizona. The former first round pick is only 27 years old (although he seems much older); he had 79 targets and five touchdowns last season in a reduced role. His best season was 2012 with 94 targets and 737 yards receiving; Gresham can put up impressive numbers. While the Cardinals did not incorporate their tight end in the game plan much last year, they didn't have much to work with. Gresham could flourish in the desert and no one is even talking about him.

Stay tuned, more dark horse tight ends to come...