The Imperfect Draft - Gut Check #228
By Matt Waldman
August 18th, 2011

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

The Imperfect Draft: What to do When it all Goes Wrong on Draft Day

I like to push the envelope. There are reasons behind it that I'm sure I could explore within the confines of psychotherapy. However, I don't think discussing fantasy football on a doctor's couch is high on my list.

But one of the long-running themes of my Gut Check column is risk. I write about a lot of players or strategies that are higher risk choices. Although the stats or a trend behind the thinking is generally sound, I think it is important to explore what happens when you push the envelope too far.

What do you do when it all goes wrong on draft day?

You have to prepare for this possibility in any draft, not just one where you're employing a specific approach. In order to do so, you have to remember that there are three ways to build a quality fantasy team: the draft, the waiver wire, and trades.

If you forget the importance that all three methods can have then you can unintentionally limit your choices - especially in a draft where players aren't falling at the optimal points to build strength across positions or you're not adjusting to the flow of the draft. Do you try to shore up a weakness or do you accept it and build on your strengths?

In essence, how do you adjust in a draft where your calculated risks don't work and you're drafting with smart, savvy fantasy owners who are on to you?

This is what happened to me in the Footballguys.com Staff League on Tuesday night. I drafted from the 11th spot in this snake draft. I consider it an optimal spot to use the Upside Down approach. However there were some greater risks involved with using this approach in the FESL Alpha league.

First, the rules allow owners to field three-RB lineups with a minimum of two RBs required. Second, the Footballguys staff hoards running backs like your grandfather used to store canned goods in his backyard bomb shelter fifty years ago. And third, once 6-8 of these owners saw that I was sans running backs by round five, they continued to go back to the well.

So I'm going to break down what I consider an extreme example of Upside Down drafting in a league with savvy owners who are exploiting what you're doing for their apparent benefit. There are three things I'm going to explain.

  • My desired choices.
  • The logic behind my actual choices.
  • Any choices I would have made in hindsight.
  • I entered this draft with about 8-10 key players in mind and when those paths were closed between rounds 4-6 I had to make some philosophical choices. Let's examine this draft section by section.

    Rounds 1-3

    Pick
    OA
    Staff Member
    Player
    1.01
    1
    Marc Levin
    Peterson, Adrian MIN RB
    1.02
    2
    Bob Henry
    Rice, Ray BAL RB
    1.03
    3
    Will Grant
    Charles, Jamaal KCC RB
    1.04
    4
    Sigmund Bloom
    Foster, Arian HOU RB
    1.05
    5
    Jene Bramel
    Johnson, Andre HOU WR
    1.06
    6
    David Yudkin
    Johnson, Chris TEN RB
    1.07
    7
    Andrew Garda
    Jones-Drew, Maurice JAC RB
    1.08
    8
    Clayton Gray
    McCoy, LeSean PHI RB
    1.09
    9
    Jeff Haseley
    Mendenhall, Rashard PIT RB
    1.10
    10
    Jeff Pasquino
    Johnson, Calvin DET WR
    1.11
    11
    Matt Waldman
    White, Roddy ATL WR
    1.12
    12
    Bruce Henderson
    McFadden, Darren OAK RB
    2.01
    13
    Bruce Henderson
    Jackson, Steven STL RB
    2.02
    14
    Matt Waldman
    Nicks, Hakeem NYG WR
    2.03
    15
    Jeff Pasquino
    Gore, Frank SFO RB
    2.04
    16
    Jeff Haseley
    Jackson, Vincent SDC WR
    2.05
    17
    Clayton Gray
    Fitzgerald, Larry ARI WR
    2.06
    18
    Andrew Garda
    Jennings, Greg GBP WR
    2.07
    19
    David Yudkin
    Wallace, Mike PIT WR
    2.08
    20
    Jene Bramel
    Rodgers, Aaron GBP QB
    2.09
    21
    Sigmund Bloom
    Vick, Michael PHI QB
    2.10
    22
    Will Grant
    Forte, Matt CHI RB
    2.11
    23
    Bob Henry
    Wayne, Reggie IND WR
    2.12
    24
    Marc Levin
    Bowe, Dwayne KCC WR
    3.01
    25
    Marc Levin
    Hillis, Peyton CLE RB
    3.02
    26
    Bob Henry
    Ingram, Mark NOS RB
    3.03
    27
    Will Grant
    Jackson, DeSean PHI WR
    3.04
    28
    Sigmund Bloom
    Austin, Miles DAL WR
    3.05
    29
    Jene Bramel
    Bradshaw, Ahmad NYG RB
    3.06
    30
    David Yudkin
    Best, Jahvid DET RB
    3.07
    31
    Andrew Garda
    Turner, Michael ATL RB
    3.08
    32
    Clayton Gray
    Brady, Tom NEP QB
    3.09
    33
    Jeff Haseley
    Brees, Drew NOS QB
    3.10
    34
    Jeff Pasquino
    Greene, Shonn NYJ RB
    3.11
    35
    Matt Waldman
    Williams, Mike TBB WR

    In the opening rounds I had three different strategies in mind. The first was to take two receivers and either Mark Ingram or Jahvid Best if they made it to the end of the third round. I believe Ingram will have double-digit touchdowns and Best will have 60-plus receptions and approach double-digit touchdowns. In a PPR league that starts 2-3 RBs, the most sensible approach is to consider an RB in rounds 3-5 and get that third receiver a little later.

    The second consideration was to take Tom Brady at the end of the third round. What he did last year without a player like Chad Ochocinco on the outside and two rookie tight ends convinced me that Brady offers both safety and great upside to take him early. Brady nearly fell to me, too.

    When Clayton Gray opted for Brady, my third consideration was another receiver. I opted for Mike Williams over Dez Bryant because I believe there is still a little higher potential for Williams' targets without a player the caliber of Miles Austin who is opposite Bryant. It was a close call, both where in the same tier within my rankings. I'm very happy with this start to my draft.

    But the next three rounds are where I make choices that are important to consider in a draft where you're eschewing running backs in the opening rounds of a league with three-RB maximums in a lineup. These rounds often determine how you're going to proceed with the remaining rounds of your draft. Are you going to be drafting for talent or drafting for need?

    I decided to push the limits to see which players would drop to me. If you're a person who drafts for need then my decisions were mistakes. If I weren't going to push the limits, I would have made different choices.

    However, I decided to take a riskier track. If you're a person who drafts for talent, then you'll realize I'm adding to my strengths and not allowing drafting for need as the only way to build a winning team. I'm setting my team up for success for free agency and trades.

    Rounds 4-6

    Pick
    OA
    Staff Member
    Player
    3.12
    36
    Bruce Henderson
    Marshall, Brandon MIA WR
    4.01
    37
    Bruce Henderson
    Bryant, Dez DAL WR
    4.02
    38
    Matt Waldman
    Finley, Jermichael GBP TE
    4.03
    39
    Jeff Pasquino
    Gates, Antonio SDC TE
    4.04
    40
    Jeff Haseley
    Williams, DeAngelo CAR RB
    4.05
    41
    Clayton Gray
    Witten, Jason DAL TE
    4.06
    42
    Andrew Garda
    Lloyd, Brandon DEN WR
    4.07
    43
    David Yudkin
    Welker, Wes NEP WR
    4.08
    44
    Jene Bramel
    Holmes, Santonio NYJ WR
    4.09
    45
    Sigmund Bloom
    Blount, LeGarrette TBB RB
    4.10
    46
    Will Grant
    Harvin, Percy MIN WR
    4.11
    47
    Bob Henry
    Manningham, Mario NYG WR
    4.12
    48
    Marc Levin
    Boldin, Anquan BAL WR
    5.01
    49
    Marc Levin
    Manning, Peyton IND QB
    5.02
    50
    Bob Henry
    Romo, Tony DAL QB
    5.03
    51
    Will Grant
    Rivers, Philip SDC QB
    5.04
    52
    Sigmund Bloom
    Clark, Dallas IND TE
    5.05
    53
    Jene Bramel
    Jones, Felix DAL RB
    5.06
    54
    David Yudkin
    Mathews, Ryan SDC RB
    5.07
    55
    Andrew Garda
    Roethlisberger, Ben PIT QB
    5.08
    56
    Clayton Gray
    Collie, Austin IND WR
    5.09
    57
    Jeff Haseley
    Johnson, Steve BUF WR
    5.10
    58
    Jeff Pasquino
    Grant, Ryan GBP RB
    5.11
    59
    Matt Waldman
    Ryan, Matt ATL QB
    5.12
    60
    Bruce Henderson
    Colston, Marques NOS WR
    6.01
    61
    Bruce Henderson
    Moreno, Knowshon DEN RB
    6.02
    62
    Matt Waldman
    Ochocinco, Chad NEP WR
    6.03
    63
    Jeff Pasquino
    Jones, Julio ATL WR
    6.04
    64
    Jeff Haseley
    Davis, Vernon SFO TE
    6.05
    65
    Clayton Gray
    Lynch, Marshawn SEA RB
    6.06
    66
    Andrew Garda
    Jackson, Fred BUF RB
    6.07
    67
    David Yudkin
    Britt, Kenny TEN WR
    6.08
    68
    Jene Bramel
    Daniels, Owen HOU TE
    6.09
    69
    Sigmund Bloom
    Moss, Santana WAS WR
    6.10
    70
    Will Grant
    Addai, Joseph IND RB
    6.11
    71
    Bob Henry
    Maclin, Jeremy PHI WR
    6.12
    72
    Marc Levin
    Benson, Cedric CIN RB
    7.01
    73
    Marc Levin
    Thomas, Mike JAC WR

    After taking Mike Williams as my third receiver, I opt for Jermichael Finley as my first tight end off the board because I like his blend of upside and safety. Gates' foot still concerns me based on Jene Bramel's take of the injury. Bramel said it might not bother him this year, but the odds are against it.

    What I hoped would happen next is Felix Jones or Ryan Grant falling to me at the end of round five. Grant came close and in hindsight this was the time to recognize that with a three-RB league backs are coming off the board about a round earlier than a two-RB league.

    If I'm drafting to fill a need, I still have Knowshon Moreno, Marshawn Lynch, and Joseph Addai available to me. I like all three as potential values and if I'm not pushing it here, I'm getting two of these three backs and I'll take a quarterback and wide receiver in rounds 7 and 8. If I were advising an owner on a draft of this type, I would recommend that path. Even Jonathan Stewart was still on the board and I like his prospects despite the timeshare with DeAngelo Williams.

    But I wanted to see how far at least one of these three backs would fall. None of them did. While Chad Ochocinco as my WR4 gives me arguably the best receiver corps in this league - especially if Jermichael Finley produces like a WR2, then I have five offensive starters in a line up of eight (I'm excluding kicker and team defense) that should be consistent and highly productive matchup advantages. I also considered Austin Collie if Grant or Jones didn't fall.

    Add Matt Ryan to this team. Some of you will recall that I listed Ryan as a dangerous play. He hasn't thrown an accurate deep ball on a consistent basis, and I'm not convinced Atlanta is about to become the next greatest show on turf in 2011. Yet, in a league with scoring system that penalizes for interceptions and a draft where I will be targeting running backs where a player like Matt Stafford is likely to go, I opted for the safety of Ryan, whose offense should provide me consistent play at the position. In hindsight, if I were drafting to fill the RB need earlier then I should have opted for Lynch, Addai, and/or Moreno and take Stafford, Freeman, or Eli Manning in the seventh round.

    This is a point where even I'm feeling uneasy with what's left for me at running back. But as odd as it sounds, I also continued to think about waiting longer at the position. At this point why not? Running back will be my weak position on paper and the only choice isn't to begin taking runners. If I'm truly accepting the idea that the draft is just the first part of building a team then I don't have to limit myself to the position.

    Rounds 7-9

    Pick
    OA
    Staff Member
    Player
    7.02
    74
    Bob Henry
    Green, A.J. CIN WR
    7.03
    75
    Will Grant
    Gronkowski, Rob NEP TE
    7.04
    76
    Sigmund Bloom
    Smith, Steve CAR WR
    7.05
    77
    Jene Bramel
    Stewart, Jonathan CAR RB
    7.06
    78
    David Yudkin
    Schaub, Matt HOU QB
    7.07
    79
    Andrew Garda
    Rice, Sidney SEA WR
    7.08
    80
    Clayton Gray
    Garcon, Pierre IND WR
    7.09
    81
    Jeff Haseley
    Moore, Lance NOS WR
    7.10
    82
    Jeff Pasquino
    Stafford, Matthew DET QB
    7.11
    83
    Matt Waldman
    Wells, Chris ARI RB
    7.12
    84
    Bruce Henderson
    Freeman, Josh TBB QB
    8.01
    85
    Bruce Henderson
    Thomas, Daniel MIA RB
    8.02
    86
    Matt Waldman
    Williams, Ryan ARI RB
    8.03
    87
    Jeff Pasquino
    Ford, Jacoby OAK WR
    8.04
    88
    Jeff Haseley
    Graham, Jimmy NOS TE
    8.05
    89
    Clayton Gray
    Spiller, C.J. BUF RB
    8.06
    90
    Andrew Garda
    Tolbert, Mike SDC RB
    8.07
    91
    David Yudkin
    Winslow, Kellen TBB TE
    8.08
    92
    Jene Bramel
    Meachem, Robert NOS WR
    8.09
    93
    Sigmund Bloom
    Amendola, Danny STL WR
    8.10
    94
    Will Grant
    Little, Greg CLE WR
    8.11
    95
    Bob Henry
    Gonzalez, Tony ATL TE
    8.12
    96
    Marc Levin
    Williams, Roy CHI WR
    9.01
    97
    Marc Levin
    Lewis, Marcedes JAC TE
    9.02
    98
    Bob Henry
    Hightower, Tim WAS RB
    9.03
    99
    Will Grant
    Jacobs, Brandon NYG RB
    9.04
    100
    Sigmund Bloom
    Evans, Lee BAL WR
    9.05
    101
    Jene Bramel
    Cook, Jared TEN TE
    9.06
    102
    David Yudkin
    Bush, Reggie MIA RB
    9.07
    103
    Andrew Garda
    Crabtree, Michael SFO WR
    9.08
    104
    Clayton Gray
    Tomlinson, LaDainian NYJ RB
    9.09
    105
    Jeff Haseley
    Green-Ellis, BenJarvus NEP RB
    9.10
    106
    Jeff Pasquino
    Jennings, Rashad JAC RB
    9.11
    107
    Matt Waldman
    Bush, Michael OAK RB
    9.12
    108
    Bruce Henderson
    Manning, Eli NYG QB

    What's especially good to point out in this range of the draft is the number of runners who continue to elude me. If I adjusted to the rate of the backs coming off the board about a round earlier than I've seen in recent drafts then I'd have my hands on a Stewart, Lynch, Addai, and/or Moreno and walk away reasonably happy with the RB corps in an Upside Down draft mode.

    Waiting as long as the end of round seven to take a runner yields some quality insights. First is the type of runners available. Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Brandon Jacobs, Reggie Bush, LaDainian Tomlinson, and BenJarvus Green Ellis are all the second banana or likely second banana in a committee. They become more valuable if injuries strike, but essentially interchangeable.

    This is why I took the Cardinals committee. Both backs are really talented and it's a poor man's version of the Carolina Panthers. Wells will have to be great to hold onto his job. If he does, I win. If not, it's a win-win because Ryan Williams is the type of runner with his agility, vision, toughness, and receiving skill to make an offensive line look good.

    The rest of the backs I mentioned are players I will always be able to acquire in a trade or on the waiver wire during the first 4-5 weeks of the year. When you have the realization that these backs after round eight are generally guys you can acquire with a deal because you're stockpiling other positions, you stop worrying too much about the lack of quality or depth at the running back position. Especially when you build a team with four receivers and a tight end that are potentially matchup-beaters to the opposition. This thought process applies to really any draft day strategy where you go heavy on one of the two primary positions in a lineup.

    Final Half Of My Draft

    Pick
    OA
    Staff Member
    10.02
    110
    Starks, James GBP RB
    11.11
    131
    Burleson, Nate DET WR
    12.02
    134
    Hernandez, Aaron NEP TE
    13.11
    155
    McNabb, Donovan MIN QB
    14.02
    158
    Barber, Marion CHI RB
    15.11
    179
    Williams, Ricky BAL RB
    16.02
    182
    Hill, Jason JAC WR
    17.11
    203
    Moeaki, Tony KCC TE
    18.02
    206
    Crosby, Mason GBP PK
    19.11
    227
    Green, Alex GBP RB
    20.02
    230
    Cobb, Randall GBP WR
    21.11
    251
    Chiefs, Kansas City KCC Def
    22.02
    254
    Cooper, Riley PHI WR

    All of my runners are players I like as between the tackles contributors with short-yardage/goal line upside if needed. Starks and Barber have looked strong in camp. Williams is a great veteran and the fact that Ravens wanted has Ray Rice's back up is a testament to his skill. Alex Green is a swing for the fences, but he also potentially fits this mold.

    Burleson, Hill, Cobb, and Cooper are all potential starters or heavy contributors. It's not out of the possibility that I will be packaging two of these players for a running back from rounds 7-10 that I missed. Or better yet, I'll be packaging one of my top receivers for runner from rounds 3-6 and using one of these four players to replace that receiver's production without missing a beat.

    My Imperfect Team

    Pick
    Pos
    Player
    Team
    Bye
    13.11
    QB
    Donovan McNabb
    MIN
    9
    5.11
    QB
    Matt Ryan
    ATL
    8
    14.02
    RB
    Marion Barber
    CHI
    8
    9.11
    RB
    Michael Bush
    OAK
    8
    19.11
    RB
    Alex Green
    GBP
    8
    10.02
    RB
    James Starks
    GBP
    8
    7.11
    RB
    Chris Wells
    ARI
    6
    15.11
    RB
    Ricky Williams
    BAL
    5
    8.02
    RB
    Ryan Williams
    ARI
    6
    11.11
    WR
    Nate Burleson
    DET
    9
    20.02
    WR
    Randall Cobb
    GBP
    8
    22.02
    WR
    Riley Cooper
    PHI
    7
    16.02
    WR
    Jason Hill
    JAC
    9
    2.02
    WR
    Hakeem Nicks
    NYG
    7
    6.02
    WR
    Chad Ochocinco
    NEP
    7
    1.11
    WR
    Roddy White
    ATL
    8
    3.11
    WR
    Mike Williams
    TBB
    8
    4.02
    TE
    Jermichael Finley
    GBP
    8
    12.02
    TE
    Aaron Hernandez
    NEP
    7
    17.11
    TE
    Tony Moeaki
    KCC
    6
    18.02
    PK
    Mason Crosby
    GBP
    8
    21.11
    Def
    Kansas City Chiefs
    KCC
    6

    This definitely isn't the perfect draft. If anything, this is the exact opposite - a most imperfect draft. Yet, reviewing my entire roster I have strengths with just one area requiring singular focus. It should be easier for me to acquire one position rather than wheel and deal to shore up 2-3 weak spots.

    Take-home Lessons

  • A draft strategy is a guideline not a law. If you follow a draft strategy like it's an immutable law then you miss opportunities to make the most of your draft.

  • Anticipate how your lineup and scoring rules will impact the rate of positions coming off the board. Mock drafts are a great help.

  • If you're going to "miss" on a position make sure you're at least stockpiling strong talent at RB or WR so you can negotiate trades from an equal or greater strength. Better to miss at QB or TE, but if you're going to miss at a major position RB makes more sense in a PPR league where you can start receivers to backs at a 2:1 ratio.
  • Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to waldman@footballguys.com.

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