Friday, August 22, 2014

The Most Overlooked Fantasy Fundamental

You took Peyton Manning in round two of your draft.  For the first three weeks of the season you've reaped the benefits of his laser-rocket arm and his ridiculous arsenal of receivers.

Then during the Broncos bye week, while taking an online class "Geography of Nebraska 101," Manning spontaneously combusts when he finds out Omaha is not the capital of the Cornhusker state.

Who is your back-up?  Is your fantasy team prepared to move on without a toasted Manning?  Or is your season toast?

Your heart starts palpitating like a Buddy Rich drum solo.   Your mouth becomes the Gobi desert.  You get a nauseous, gurgling feeling in the pit of your stomach.  You know the truth... and you can't handle the truth.  

Yep.  Your season is screwed.


If, in the above scenario, you took Manning in round two, I'll bet you a case of Liftbridge Hopdish that you waited until late in your draft to select a back-up.  I mean, you were gravy at quarterback, right?  Manning was plug and play, set it and forget it.  You had the best in the league manning your fantasy team and you had noooo worries.

And that, friends, would've been a critical mistake.

Yet many fantasy owners make the same mistake year after year.

Perhaps THE most overlooked fundamental in fantasy football is engineering roster depth.  Anyone (well, almost anyone) can draft a great starting fantasy team; but if this hobby was that easy, well... sites like this would not exist and fantasy football would not be the cottage industry it is today.

Simply put, we all know it's not that easy.  In fact, managing your fantasy roster is a maddening and wonderfully frustrating challenge, every single doggone week.

And that's what makes it so doggone fun.

Here's the truth... Roster depth can make or break your team.  Even though this statement seems self-evident, many fantasy gurus prefer to push the subject aside to talk about more interesting things, such as Le'Veon Bell's "Dave's not here" routine or Johnny Manziel's third digit.  But roster depth is paramount in fantasy football.

And you don't realize how important it is until you don't have it.

You want it?  You gotta go deep.

Time for a little self-evaluation: How many fantasy seasons have left you pulling out your hair because you failed to draft for depth or did not have a reliable back-up in a key position?  (Maybe a better question is do you have any hair left?)... don't worry, I'm as guilty as anyone.

While it can happen at almost any position, quarterback seems to be the floundering point in fantasy football, probably because most leagues require just one starter and a high-scoring QB can put a fantasy team over the top.

And losing one can stop a fantasy team dead in its tracks.

From the deck of Captain Obvious: Don't put yourself in a spot in which you must rely on Geno Smith or Matt Cassel for remainder of the season.  Even though no sane owner would knowingly put themselves in that position, it happens.  A lot.  It is akin to painting oneself in a corner.  You certainly don't intend to, but failing to plan ahead has its consequences.

In order to avoid this unpleasant prospect, you simply need a slight change in draft strategy.

But to do so, you must fight complacency.  After drafting an elite quarterback (such as Eli Peyton Manning), it seems to make sense to wait to draft a back-up.  The natural inclination is to think you are set at that position and priority needs to focus on filling other roster vacancies.

And this all sounds great until you lose said quarterback for a significant time.

This doesn't mean you should draft your starting quarterback in the second round and your back-up in the third round; however, it also doesn't mean you should wait until you've drafted a defense, a back-up tight end and a kicker before taking your second quarterback, either.


Before I go any further, it is worth mentioning that there is no such thing as the perfect strategy in fantasy football.  A compelling aspect of this little hobby is that everyone has a theory, but there is no single right way of doing things... although there is surely a wrong way (like drafting a kicker in the first round, which actually happened in my very first fantasy draft in 1991 - an owner took Chip Lohmiller in the first round.  Yes, this is true.  And no, it wasn't me).

I've said this before, although I don't think it is revolutionary at all: In my draft, I either want to be one of the first owners to take a starting quarterback or I want to be the last.  There is a strategy behind this.

Strategy A: The Early Bird 
By selecting an elite quarterback early, you are ensuring one of the top scoring players in fantasy football.  This season, The Lone Pylon's short list of elite quarterbacks consists of Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.  That's it.  No other quarterbacks are worth reaching for.

Strategy B: Better Late Than Never 
If you cannot land (or elect not to draft) one of the above Elite Three, wait until later in the draft (e.g. round 6 or 7) to make your selection,  The rationale is simple: There is not a massive chasm between the fourth-ranked Matthew Stafford and the twelfth-ranked Colin Kaepernick (according to The Lone Pylon's rankings); there is no reason to recklessly grasp for a quarterback after the Elite Three are off the board.

However, in either of the above strategies, I strongly recommend taking a back-up quarterback no later than round 10.  Here's why:

In Strategy A, you already have an elite player at quarterback (for example, Aaron Rodgers),  but by drafting his back-up sooner rather than later, you've assured yourself a reliable, strong back-up (such as Carson Palmer).  If Rodgers goes down, you won't be tempted to hit the panic button.  You can win with Palmer.  [editor's note: considering Rodgers missed a significant portion of 2013 due to injury, this is not on unrealistic scenario]

In Strategy B, you've waited to get your starter (let's say, Nick Foles); by taking a back-up early (such as Ryan Tannehill), you have an excellent insurance policy -- you have the advantage of not only excellent depth, but also the possibility that Tannehill could even be the better starting option as the season progresses.

Some fantasy experts might charge me with hyperbole, but I believe this to be true: Your fantasy team is only as good as your reserves.  This is especially true at quarterback.

You are in control of your fantasy draft and your fantasy team.  You can't win many fantasy championships by putting all your eggs in one proverbial basket, yet I see fantasy owners do it every season.

Put yourself in the best possible position to succeed.  Be good to yourself.  Draft your back-up quarterback sooner rather than later.

Or see your doctor for a prescription of these...

And if that fails...

Because you're gonna need it.