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The Weekly Gut Check Vol. 158 - The Shortcut Technique

  Posted 7/1 by Matt Waldman, Exclusive for Footballguys.com

The Weekly Gut Check examines the players, strategies and guidelines fantasy football owners use to make personnel decisions.


Part II of a series devoted to incorporating risk into your draft.

WARNING: If you are looking for the safest way to win a league, this month-long series is not the answer. However, the ideas, trends, and players mentioned here should help you with your individual approach in leagues where your peers also have a strong knowledge base. The key is how much you want to "break the rules." If "high-risk" in your daily life means taking a different way to work, and the word "reach" makes you cringe, then keep your GPS switched on, check out David Dodds' annual piece "The Perfect Draft." His well-conceived strategy should give you a good shot at a contender through by-the-book picks and depth. Consider these articles as a creative place where you see how "pushing the envelope" could work out for you and incorporate what you like/dislike accordingly.

Average Draft Position

Average draft position (ADP) is the fantasy football equivalent to "the word on the street." I can wear a sandwich board with a Ronnie Brown action photo plastered on each side and proclaim him as a top fantasy option in 2009, but if Brown's street value is end of round two / early round three then you aren't likely to make a move on him unless you have a late second / early third round pick or Brown drops further than expected in you draft. We call this "understanding player value" and we're encouraged to have the patience to wait for value to fall so we can theoretically come out ahead with a roster packed with strong players and good values form top to bottom. The great thing about drafting for value is you aren't coveting specific players.

However, let me be the guy on your shoulder in the banging red suit and "hay pitcher". Tell me some of you didn't secretly covet Calvin Johnson:

  1. How many of you knew the Lions WR would be an absolute stud?
  2. How many of you with a pick well-below Johnson's ADP watched Johnson fall to you well past his ADP?
  3. How many of you wish you listened to that voice urging you to draft Johnson a round earlier?

You know you did. How can you not like a player nicknamed "Megatron"? He's the trophy wife of wide receivers because he makes even bad QBs look decent. Christy Brinkley, Marla Maples, and Melania Krauss (sorry Donald) have nothing on Calvin Johnson's skills.

I bet a fair share of you had flashbacks to your drafts when I bring up Megatron. If you are still making weekly visits to the therapist's couch, my apologies for reminding you about question three - it haunts us all at some point. If you know you want, and can get, Megatron then why are you going to wait and settle for Underdog? There are some who believe that drafting isn't like waiting for the butcher to call your number so you can lumber up to the counter and choose what's left.

Is this na´ve thinking? Maybe.

However, I've seen enough drafts in competitive leagues where an owner takes a radical approach to his draft strategy and capitalizes on the groupthink mentality that can happen with ADP guidelines. One of the methods is to draft players primarily by skill sets, playing style, and/or physical dimensions. Almost like drafting players as if you were an NFL GM: you factor in stats but it's not the first priority for evaluation.

What would this look like if we tailored this philosophy to a fantasy draft?

Disaster.

Well, that's what I know some of you are thinking. However, we're considering what could happen if we embrace high-risk from an angle that could seem like a disaster, but result in dominance.

That leads us back to Calvin Johnson. What makes Calvin Johnson a great fantasy receiver? He's taller than most at his position. He's faster than most at his position. He jumps higher than most at his position. He has Velcro hands. He can snatch the ball away from double coverage like he's a high school sophomore playing in backyard game with a bunch of third graders. He has the body control of a Cirque du Soleil performer.

You won't find 18 Megatrons to fill your roster, but you can select players who meet prerequisites for your team that might help you gain an advantage over those standing too close to the ADP train. Let's begin with wide receivers. What if you decided a minimum requirement for your draft board was a height of at least 6-foot-3? Using the Footballguys ADP list, you would have narrowed the list from 82 players to 24. Using height as your sole filter for wide receivers in your pool is a far too simplistic and radical a method, but it's a great example of how dramatically you can alter the landscape of your draft board.

If I were to create prerequisites for my individual draft list I would probably use 2-3 per position and use all the players that qualify for any of the 2-3 filters. This insures I have a large enough pool of players although I have significantly narrowed (or "focused") my player pool. This is an effective "shortcut" to doing projections.

Suggested Prerequisites by Position

There are good reasons to choose prerequisites for each position. You may disagree with some the players I selected to meet these prerequisites, but for the sake of just viewing the concept as whole don't get too caught up in whether or not Terrell Owens is a good enough route runner to qualify for your list. I'm not going to explain every prerequisite I think the right kind of skills are in players who maximize their potential fantasy output when they get an opportunity. Although surrounding talent certain has a factor, the better talents (QB excluded) perform well enough to become fantasy starters despite the quality of the team around them.

It's common sense to say QBs with higher accuracy should naturally earn more opportunities to throw the ball. Using a prerequisite such as height or weight really doesn't have an impact on fantasy performance. On the other hand, a quality such as elusiveness something that a runner of most dimensions can possess and it is a skill that a great majority of the great runners with longevity possessed: Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin, Eric Dickerson and Tony Dorsett all had these skills. Even Jim Brown and Jerome Bettis had great feet and could make the first defender miss. In fantasy drafts, most of the backs I prefer can run by you but aren't afraid to run over you. Bulldozing backs can be lethal choices (Larry Johnson, Eddie George, Jamal Lewis, and Brandon Jacobs), but I personally believe compared to more elusive backs, they are less productive year after year even when they manage to have long careers. I also believe they are more susceptible to injury, although I cannot prove it beyond anecdotal evidence to those of you whose geek meters beeped spasmodically as you read that statement.

There are a number of prerequisites you could use with receivers, but I think route running is one of the best. Great route runners remain productive even when they lose their speed and acceleration (Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Isaac Bruce, Art Monk, and Cris Carter area all good examples). They keep younger, faster, and stronger defenders guessing and they run the routes so fluidly, they can still do enough damage to be reliable. When they come into the league, they also tend to earn time on the field earlier in their career than their peers. A strong route runner also is more likely to become a trusted target of his quarterback from the beginning.

There's really no mystery to tight ends, they're just as boring to discuss from this strategic angle of fantasy football compared to more traditional method: the current hybrid players are generally the most productive fantasy performers. If an NFL team can split a tight end wide of the formation and have success, he's a hybrid. Certainly there are in-line players who experience success, but they tend to be more confined to the red zone. As a fantasy owner, I'd rather invest in a tight end whose primary method of fantasy points is receiving yards.

As I mentioned earlier, if you decide to use positional skills as a method of narrowing your draft pool I would suggest combining two or three skills per position. You can use height and weight cutoffs if you wish, but I'm not including them here. Another point I cannot overstate is that you need to be very flexible with your draft plan when you narrow your group of players. When you see the example draft list I create, you'll see why this is key.

If I were to create prerequisites to use for a draft, the italicized skills are what I would first consider to combine into pairs or trios of qualifications. Note I didn't say filter. If you filter then you are only picking players who possess all of the qualities and this will make your list too small to use in a draft. If you combine, then you'll have players who qualify because of at least one of these skill sets:

Quarterbacks

  • Arm strength to thread the needle on intermediate routes while on the move.
  • 62% accuracy last season or history of great accuracy.
  • A big-play threat on the ground.
  • Moves well in the pocket to find passing lanes.
  • Excellent play action skills.
  • Good deep ball thrower.
  • Handles punishment well.
  • Good improviser.

Running Backs

  • Elusive enough to avoid defenders penetrating into the backfield or can string moves together.
  • Gains yards after contact and can wear down a defense.
  • Breakaway threat.
  • Strong receiver.
  • Good goal line back or the team uses the RB at the goal line.
  • Good first step/short-range acceleration.

Wide Receivers

  • Deep threat.
  • Gains yards after contact.
  • Gains yards after the catch.
  • Strong route runners.
  • Good hands (can catch the ball with his hands away from his body).
  • Elusive.
  • Primary red zone target.
  • Good leaper.
  • Makes tough catches after contact in the intermediate area.

Tight Ends

  • Effective when split away from the line of scrimmage.
  • Can threaten the deep seam.
  • Primary red zone target.
  • Gains yards after the catch.
  • Gains yards after contact.
  • Good hands (can catch the ball with his hands away from his body).
  • Good leaper.
  • Makes tough catches after contact in the intermediate area.

Just to keep things simple for now, let's create a draft board of players with one prerequisite/filter for each position:

  • Wide receivers: Tacticians (Quality route runners)
  • Running backs: Elusive (Skilled at making defenders miss)
  • Quarterbacks: Sharp Shooters (Great touch and downfield accuracy or over a 62% completion pct.)
  • Tight ends: Hybrids (Used as a receiver split away from the line)

I included the positional ADP for each player and a number that shows how many draft slots each player moves up within his position as a result. The color-coding is an ADP range for the player according to recent mocks at Fantasyfootballcalculator.com:

ADP
Tacticians
Chg
 
ADP
Elusive
Chg
WR1
Larry Fitzgerald
0
 
RB1
Adrian Peterson
0
WR2
Andre Johnson
0
 
RB3
Maurice Jones-Drew
1
WR4
Randy Moss
1
 
RB5
Chris Johnson
2
WR5
Reggie Wayne
1
 
RB6
DeAngelo Williams
2
WR6
Greg Jennings
1
 
RB9
Brian Westbrook
4
WR7
Steve Smith
1
 
RB10
LaDainian Tomlinson
4
WR12
Brandon Marshall
5
 
RB11
Steve Slaton
4
WR14
Terrell Owens
6
 
RB14
Clinton Portis
6
WR15
T.J. Houshmandzadeh
6
 
RB15
Kevin Smith
6
WR19
Antonio Bryant
9
 
RB16
Ronnie Brown
6
WR20
Chad Ochocinco
9
 
RB20
Reggie Bush
9
WR22
Eddie Royal
10
 
RB24
Knowshon Moreno
12
WR23
DeSean Jackson
10
 
RB28
Willie Parker
15
WR28
Anthony Gonzalez
14
 
RB32
Donald Brown
18
WR29
Jerricho Cotchery
14
 
RB33
Felix Jones
18
WR30
Lance Moore
14
 
RB35
Darren Sproles
19
WR33
Michael Crabtree
16
 
RB38
Julius Jones
21
WR36
Donald Driver
18
 
RB42
Ray Rice
24
WR37
Torry Holt
18
 
RB43
Ahmad Bradshaw
24
WR39
Derrick Mason
19
 
RB44
Leon Washington
24
WR49
Kevin Curtis
28
 
RB47
Jerious Norwood
26
WR50
Steve Smith
28
 
RB48
LeSean McCoy
26
WR51
Hakeem Nicks
28
 
RB49
Fred Taylor
26
WR52
Muhsin Muhammad
28
 
RB50
Jamaal Charles
26
WR54
Nate Burleson
29
 
RB54
Laurence Maroney
29
WR57
Isaac Bruce
31
 
RB60
Jerome Harrison
34
WR60
Bobby Engram
33
 
RB62
Maurice Morris
36
WR62
Brian Robiskie
34
 
RB63
Mewelde Moore
36
WR69
Plaxico Burress
40
 
RB64
Kevin Faulk
36
WR73
Mike Walker
43
 
RB70
Kevin Jones
42
WR78
James Jones
47
ADP
Sharp Shooters
Chg
WR81
Jason Hill
49
QB1
Drew Brees
0
WR82
Harry Douglas
49
QB2
Tom Brady
0
ADP
Hybrids
Chg
QB3
Peyton Manning
0
TE1
Jason Witten
0
QB4
Aaron Rodgers
0
TE2
Antonio Gates
0
QB5
Philip Rivers
0
TE3
Tony Gonzalez
0
QB6
Kurt Warner
0
TE4
Dallas Clark
0
QB8
Donovan McNabb
1
TE5
Kellen Winslow
0
QB9
Matt Ryan
1
TE6
Chris Cooley
0
QB10
Jay Cutler
1
TE7
Greg Olsen
0
QB11
Matt Schaub
1
TE8
Owen Daniels
0
QB12
Carson Palmer
1
TE10
Dustin Keller
1
QB14
Matt Cassel
2
TE13
Jeremy Shockey
2
QB18
Trent Edwards
5
TE18
Vernon Davis
7
QB19
David Garrard
5
TE22
Todd Heap
10
QB22
Jason Campbell
7
UR
Jared Cook
n/a
QB23
Chad Pennington
7
UR
Shawn Nelson
n/a
QB26
Sage Rosenfels
9
UR
Travis Beckum
n/a
UR
Brett Favre
n/a
UR
Cornelius Ingram
n/a
UR
Jeff Garcia
n/a
UR
Chase Coffman
n/a
UR
Shaun Hill
n/a
UR
James Casey
n/a

If drafting in a 12-team, 18-round league with the popular, 1 QB/2RB/3WR/1TE lineup it doesn't appear like a very large pool to choose from, which means the risk of using this technique (especially to this extreme) is that you're removing a lot of value off your list. This is especially the case at RB and WR. QB and TE remained pretty full. This means RB and WR would be at a premium early for an owner. However, depending on the prerequisites used, there should be some quality available mid-to-late in the draft. This is where I believe you benefit the most by focusing your pool. If you choose the right qualifiers, it helps you reduce the "noise" of players crowding your cheat sheet with equal starting value, but less upside.
Let's see what happens in 12-team mocks drafting from the top, middle, or bottom.

Drafting From the Top

Rnd
Team 1
Team 2
Team 3
Team 4
Team 5
Team 6
1
A. Peterson
M. Turner
MJD
M. Forte
Ch. Johnson
D. Williams
2
S. Smith
G. Jennings
T. Brady
A. Johnson
R. Wayne
A. Johnson
3
R. Brown
P. Manning
A. Boldin
K. Smith
M. Colston
R. Grant
4
E. Royal
A. Gates
J. Witten
A. Bryant
K. Warner
C. Ochocinco
5
D. Jackson
K. Moreno
R. Bush
T. Gonzalez
L. Johnson
J. Stewart
6
K. Winslow
J. Addai
L. Coles
A. Gonzalez
J. Cotchery
D. McNabb
7
C. Palmer
T. Holt
M. Crabtree
D. Driver
L. White
C. Cooley
8
R. Rice
T. Ginn
J. Lewis
W. McGahee
D. Hester
D. Avery
9
H. Nicks
C. Chambers
P. Harvin
Steelers D
D. Keller
S. Breaston
10
C. Taylor
J. Norwood
M. Clayton
D. Garrard
Vikings D
F. Taylor
11
Eagles D
K. Curtis
F. Jackson
J. Charles
Ri Williams
Titans D
12
M. Walker
Chargers D
Patriots D
I. Bruce
T. Edwards
L. Maroney
Rnd
Team 7
Team 8
Team 9
Team 10
Team 11
Team 12
1
S. Jackson
L. Fitzgerald
F. Gore
B. Westbrook
L. Tomlinson
S. Slaton
2
C. Portis
B. Jacobs
M. Barber
D. Brees
R. Moss
Ca. Johnson
3
D. Bowe
T. Owens
B. Marshall
T.J. Housh
A. Rodgers
R. Williams
4
V. Jackson
P. Rivers
B. Edwards
P. Thomas
M. Lynch
W. Welker
5
S. Holmes
D. McFadden
S. Moss
L. Moore
L. Evans
T. Romo
6
D. Clark
T. Jones
F. Jones
B. Berrian
H. Ward
D. Ward
7
C. Wells
K. Walter
G. Olsen
L. McCoy
W. Parker
M. Ryan
8
M. Cassel
J. Carlson
M. Schaub
D. Mason
O. Daniels
D. Brown
9
D. Branch
L. Washington
D. Hixon
T. Scheffler
D. Sproles
J. Gage
10
J. Jones
J. Maclin
Roethlisberger
A. Bradshaw
Ravens D
Giants D
11
S. Greene
M. Bush
S. Smith (NY)
Jets D
E. Bennett
J. Shockey
12
E. Manning
N. Burleson
Bears D
B. Robiskie
M. Muhammad
P. Crayton

With the first pick in this draft, I had a variety of nice options even with this technique where I significantly narrowed my draft pool. Adrian Peterson, Steve Smith, and Ronnie Brown are as good of a trio of producers I could imagine to get in the opening rounds. However, if you're not as high on Ronnie Brown as I am and believe you would be equally served (or better) with a back like Reggie Bush, Knowshon Moreno, Larry Johnson, or Thomas Jones, then you could easily take a second high-end receiver like Brandon Marshall, Terrell Owens, or T.J. Houshmandzadeh or a quarterback like Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Phillip Rivers, or Kurt Warner. If you went with a receiver or quarterback in round three, you could still land some low-end, RB starters with strong potential to bounce back or break out. There are still a lot of options for a limited draft pool.

Drafting From the Middle

Rnd
Team 1
Team 2
Team 3
Team 4
Team 5
Team 6
1
A. Peterson
M. Turner
MJD
M. Forte
Ch. Johnson
D. Williams
2
R. White
S. Smith
T. Brady
R. Wayne
G. Jennings
D. Brees
3
P. Manning
A. Boldin
M. Colston
D. Bowe
K. Smith
R. Brown
4
T. Jones
M. Lynch
R. Bush
T. Gonzalez
K. Warner
V. Jackson
5
A. Bryant
D. McFadden
C Ochocinco
P. Thomas
D. Jackson
J. Stewart
6
C. Benson
L. Coles
H. Ward
B. Berrian
L. White
L. Evans
7
K. Winslow
J. Cutler
C. Cooley
M. Schaub
J. Cotchery
D. Driver
8
T. Ginn
J. Jones
P. Harvin
W. McGahee
O. Daniels
J. Lewis
9
C. Chambers
J. Carlson
Steelers D
R. Rice
S. Breaston
D. Keller
10
C. Taylor
M. Bush
K. Curtis
Roethlisberger
T. Scheffler
M. Clayton
11
Vikings D
F. Jackson
J. Charles
Eagles D
Titans D
E. Bennett
12
S. Greene
I. Bruce
M. Walker
J. Morgan
T. Edwards
M. Hasselbeck
Rnd
Team 7
Team 8
Team 9
Team 10
Team 11
Team 12
1
L. Tomlinson
S. Jackson
F. Gore
B. Westbrook
L. Fitzgerald
S. Slaton
2
R. Moss
Ca. Johnson
C. Portis
B. Jacobs
M. Barber
A. Johnson
3
T. Owens
B. Marshall
W. Welker
T.J. Housh
A. Rodgers
R. Grant
4
K. Moreno
P. Rivers
A. Gates
J. Witten
B. Edwards
R. Williams
5
D. McNabb
S. Holmes
L. Moore
T. Romo
J. Addai
L. Johnson
6
D. Clark
C. Wells
D. Ward
S. Moss
F. Jones
E. Royal
7
T. Holt
G. Olsen
M. Ryan
L. McCoy
K. Walter
W. Parker
8
D. Sproles
M. Crabtree
D. Avery
D. Mason
D. Brown
C. Palmer
9
F. Taylor
L. Washington
J. Gage
J. Maclin
Giants D
Z. Miller
10
S. Smith (NY)
J. Norwood
D. Hixon
A. Bradshaw
J. Maclin
Ravens D
11
H. Nicks
T. Hightower
L. Maroney
D. Garrard
J. Shockey
S. Morris
12
Bears D
E. Manning
Patriots D
Jets D
N. Burleson
Muhammad

Depending on your perspective, Team 7 is either a formidable mix of topnotch veterans and key youth or it's way too high-risk for an owner's liking. Personally, I'd enjoy LT and Moreno as my starters because if LT returns to the form he had in the Sunday night game versus Denver (before he got hurt again), I think this team will be dangerous. As I mentioned in last week's column, Fred Taylor is one of my favorite sleepers in '09. This team should contend and with the potential for LT, Moss, or Owens (or all of them) to have a big season(s), dominance isn't out of the question. Since LT and Owens are old for their profession and probably two seasons removed from what they once were, I doubt it likely for them to rebound to the same level. However, they are in decent situations to be quality starters.

I considered taking Kurt Warner over Moreno and if I were creating a draft list with more than one prerequisite per position, I probably would have found Larry Johnson on my board. At that point I would have gladly picked him in round five and still got one of Donald Driver, Torry Holt, or Derrick Mason as my No. 3 WR in round seven. I found I still had a lot of options on my draft board when picking from the middle, but finding RBs in rounds 1-3 was more problematic here than from the top.

Drafting From the Bottom

Rnd
Team 1
Team 2
Team 3
Team 4
Team 5
Team 6
1
A. Peterson
M. Turner
MJD
M. Forte
Ch. Johnson
D. Williams
2
R. White
S. Smith
T. Brady
G. Jennings
R. Wayne
C. Portis
3
P. Manning
A. Boldin
M. Colston
K. Smith
R. Brown
D. Bowe
4
K. Moreno
D. McFadden
R. Bush
V. Jackson
K. Warner
B. Edwards
5
A. Gates
T. Gonzalez
A. Bryant
P. Rivers
S. Holmes
J. Stewart
6
J. Lewis
C. Wells
L. Coles
A. Gonzalez
L. White
J. Cotchery
7
D. Avery
T. Romo
C. Cooley
M. Ryan
D. Driver
D. McNabb
8
D. Mason
J. Norwood
E. Graham
K. Walter
D. Hester
G. Olsen
9
C. Taylor
S. Breaston
T. Ginn
C. Chambers
Steelers D
P. Harvin
10
Ravens D
M. Bush
S. Greene
T. Hightower
M. Schaub
Giants D
11
J. Maclin
M. Clayton
Vikings D
Eagles D
RI Williams
J. Charles
12
K. Orton
T. Edwards
E. Manning
P. Crayton
N. Burleson
I. Bruce
Rnd
Team 7
Team 8
Team 9
Team 10
Team 11
Team 12
1
S. Jackson
L. Fitzgerald
F. Gore
B. Westbrook
A. Johnson
D. Brees
2
B. Jacobs
M. Barber
Ca. Johnson
R. Moss
S. Slaton
L. Tomlinson
3
B. Marshall
R. Grant
M. Lynch
T. Owens
W. Welker
T.J. Housh
4
J. Witten
T. Jones
R. Williams
P. Thomas
A. Rodgers
C. Ochocinco
5
D. Jackson
E. Royal
J. Addai
L. Johnson
D. Clark
W. Parker
6
H. Ward
B. Berrian
L. Moore
S. Moss
C. Benson
K. Winslow
7
J. Cutler
F. Jones
D. Brown
L. McCoy
J. Jones
D. Sproles
8
W. McGahee
K. Walter
C. Palmer
O. Daniels
T. Holt
R. Mendenhall
9
M. Crabtree
L. Washington
F. Jackson
D. Branch
R. Rice
S. Smith (NY)
10
A. Bradshaw
J. Gage
D. Keller
D. Hixon
K. Curtis
F. Taylor
11
Titans D
D. Garrard
Muhammad
Titans D
L. Maroney
E. Bennett
12
M. Hasselbeck
T. Scheffler
Z. Miller
H. Nicks
P. Burress
M. Walker

I thought about drafting LaDainian Tomlinson and Steve Slaton back to back, but I think an elite QB who threw for 5,000 yards without a 1,000-yard receiver in the mix indicates what a safe pick Brees should be. I could have opted for a QB-WR opening, and gone the high-risk route of Brees, Moss, Houshmandzadeh, and either Ochocinco or Roy Williams. I still could have opted for Parker and then went backs during the block of rounds six through nine.

Overall this team looks like I got the most prolific QB today in the NFL, two receivers who will be the focal points of pass-first offenses, a TE who could wind up the primary receiver with the Bucs, and the backfields of two strong ground attacks. I cheated a bit on this team in round eight with the selection of Mendenhall as a handcuff. If I stuck to my draft board, Ray Rice would have been the pick. It still might prove to be the better option.

Steve Smith, Earl Bennett, and Mike Walker are three of my favorite players at this stage of the draft. They each can get open deep if needed, but what they do best is work the intermediate range and they flashed skill handling contested throws. Considering they are offenses with an unproven receiving corps, but strong ground games and good quarterback play, I expect all three to outplay their draft position and crack the top 36 easily.

Why It Is Called the "Shortcut Technique?"

As you can see, the risk with this strategy is narrowing your pool to the point that you forego too much value and you can't approach this strategy if you aren't flexible. The reward is you separate the quality from the bulk and subtly reinvent a "street value"/ADP that works best for you to acquire them. Another excellent benefit to this strategy is you can create this draft list quickly if you find yourself in a situation where your normal research, stats-based work, and draft day tools aren't available to you. Although I would prefer a current ADP list to do this, you can take any cheat sheet and modify it by crossing out the players that don't meet your prerequisites to at least have a pool of players you feel confident using without hesitation.