The Gut Check No. 255 - Developing an Effective Draft-day Counterpunch
By Matt Waldman
August 10th, 2012

What's the biggest thing most people need to learn about fantasy football?

How much failure you're willing to live with.

That's the way I see it. Know what you can live with when the results don't match your aspirations. That's one of the most important parts of taking a risk.

For near-perfect projections and fantasy team that has a high-percentage likelihood of making the playoffs read David Dodds' work. If you can't live with the idea of fielding a team that drops below .500, then Dodds' annual Perfect Draft Strategy is a good fit. The odds are high that you'll draft a team with a strong chance of not embarrassing you among your competition.

For a Gertrude Stein-like pulse of what's happening in the present, interspersed with trendy picks, analysis, and adaptations of strategic maneuvers read Sigmund Bloom. You'll get the ego-stroke that you need on draft day while still taking enough risks that can place your team in position to make the playoffs and with only minimal to moderate adjustments in-season.

For a sound method of creating a draft board, read Jene Bramel. His approach will give you the freedom to control your comfort with risk according to your style. Bramel's tiers-based approach is not a strategy as much as it is a structure. I often use tiers within my own draft process, but that's for another column.

If you don't give a rat's ass about losing, you're reading the right column.

Yes, I said losing. If you want to win big, and I mean win on a legendary scale that has your competition talking about your feat years from now, you have to be willing to lose big (Check out next week's article for achieving legendary status). That has been my approach with fantasy football strategy in recent years. Otherwise, I'm writing much of the same stuff that can be found at dozens of fantasy football sites - just without my rapier wit and effervescent charm.

My style is not for lemmings.

My risk-friendly approach in recent years has been the Upside Down Strategy. The gist of the strategy is to draft non-running back selections in the opening 4-5 rounds, taking nothing but running backs for the next 4-6 rounds, and then alternate between running back and other depth positions of need for the rest of the draft. This approach played against the conventional wisdom of taking running backs early because during the past five years leading to 2011, there was significant turnover among the top 10-12 running backs from one year to the next. Many of the backs replacing the previous years' top runners were found in the mid-to-late rounds.

I believe last year marked a beginning of a new trend that will last 2-3 years. That trend is a lower turnover among top-tier runners from the previous year. The last 4-5 seasons have seen an influx of good runners acquiring and maintaining starting jobs and I think enough of them are in their prime that the turnover will be just low enough compared to the recent entry of young talent at wide receiver that the Upside Down Strategy be more difficult to execute in many drafts than it was from 2006-2010.

However, I still believe the strategy can be successful. In fact, at the end of this piece, I have updates for RB Targets. Still, I think it is wise to also seek other viable paths that might complement Upside Down drafting. Perhaps your league's lineups or scoring system is less conducive for the Upside Down Strategy or, something occurs within your draft that make it wise to capitalize on an opportunity you did not foresee.

The Basic Upside Down Template

In order to understand how the counterpunch works, it's important to begin with a basic plan of attack and learn where to an opportunity to veer away from it makes the most sense. Here are the league basics for this example:

  • 12 teams
  • 20-round draft
  • 4 points per passing touchdown
  • 6 points per rushing/receiving touchdown
  • 0.1 point per 10 yards rushing/receiving
  • 0.05 points per 10 yards passing
  • Starting lineup:
  • 1 QB
  • 2 RBs
  • 3 WRs
  • 1 TE
  • 1 DEF
  • 1 PK
  • PPR/No PPR critically important in this case
  • I'll provide three, upside down drafts using these parameters based on the current Average Draft Position from Fantasy Football Calculator data on August 6. The first two will have a similar non-running back pattern in the early rounds. The third draft will incorporate the early-round exception of taking a running back.

    After each draft, I'll provide a counter punch strategy for the position. Think of Draft A as the early (picks 1-4) template, Draft B as the middle (picks 5-7) template and Draft C as the late (picks 8-12) template.

    Draft A (From the 12th Spot)

    Rnd
    Pick
    Pos
    Player
    Commentary
    1.12
    12
    TE
    Jimmy Graham
    Fewer weapons to spread the ball around in NO than NE makes Graham top TE.
    2.01
    13
    WR
    Andre Johnson
    As long as he's healthy, he's worth a slight reach over the likes of Larry Fitzgerald. A bargain. 
    3.12
    36
    WR
    Hakeem Nicks
    See above. Also plays hurt and a multi-dimensional threat.
    4.01
    37
    WR
    Jordy Nelson
    Really? I so love these "regression to the mean" drafters.
    5.12
    60
    QB
    Peyton Manning
    I considered Matthew Stafford with the 2.01, but opted for Johnson with Manning here.
    6.01
    61
    RB
    Stevan Ridley
    I'm not enamored with the Patriots situation, but when picking in blocks of RBs, talent matters a little more. 
    7.12
    84
    RB
    Jonathan Stewart
    See above.
    8.01
    86
    RB
    Mark Ingram
    See above.
    9.12
    108
    RB
    LaGarrette Blount
    Martin is the favorite, but if he gets hurt Blount can be a strong RB2.
    10.01
    109
    RB
    Jacquizz Rodgers
    Swing for the fences with a talented young runner. 
    11.12
    132
    QB
    Andrew Luck
    Luck will throw 20-25 touchdowns as a rookie. Book it.
    12.01
    133
    RB
    Isaiah Pead
    Jeff Fisher + running back = fantasy value. If Steven Jackson gets hurt, Pead is an RB2.
    13.12
    156
    WR
    Austin Collie
    If Collie starts or works the slot, he could easily earn 50 catches.
    14.01
    157
    RB
    Shane Vereen
    Might as well handcuff. 
    15.12
    180
    RB
    Bilal Powell
    If his value continues to rise, I anticipate drafting Powell somewhere between rounds 8-12.
    16.01
    181
    TE
    Dallas Clark
    Clark, Kellen Davis, Dwayne Allen, or best yet, James Casey all work here.
    17.12
    204
    WR
    Steve Smith (STL)
    Potential steal as the common sense starter outside for Sam Bradford if healthy enough.
    18.01
    205
    K
    Best player available. 
    19.12
    228
    DEF
    See above.
    20.01
    229
    RB
    Bryce Brown
    Swing for the fences. Insert Alex Green or another back of your choice.

    If I can land Jordy Nelson as my third wide receiver and Peyton Manning as my starting quarterback, why wouldn't I take Jimmy Graham with my first-round pick? Although my running back situation appears scary to those uninitiated to Upside Down Drafting, I think all five of these mid-round picks have starter skill and just an injury away from earning a feature back spot. Even if they don't, Stewart, Ingram, Ridley, and Rodgers should earn enough touches to provide RB2 production on a consistent basis. And Pead, Vereen, and Powell are starter talents much loser to starting that it might appear to the casual fan.

    Counterpunch: When I look at this draft with the current value of running backs, I can't imagine passing up DeMarco Murray, Matt Forte, or perhaps Trent Richardson. I think Andre Johnson, Hakeem Nicks, and Jordy Nelson all have similar value. I also think Matt Ryan and Eli Manning are also solid picks and going after Peyton Manning. Barring injury, I doubt that the Average Draft Position of the players that I mentioned will change dramatically this month.

    This relative stability with positional ADP in the early rounds gives me flexibility if running backs are flying off the board as shown. Here are the adjustments (in bold) I'd consider making given this trend:

    Rnd
    Pick
    Pos
    Player
    Commentary
    1.12
    12
    RB
    DeMarco Murray
    I think he has top-five ability and a pretty sure bet as a Top-10 player.
    2.01
    13
    TE
    Jimmy Graham
    With Nicks and Nelson still close to Andre Johnson's value and available later, I'll stick with the top tight end. 
    3.12
    36
    WR
    Hakeem Nicks
    Nicks, Nelson, Dez Bryant, and Steve Smith are all available here.
    4.01
    37
    WR
    Jordy Nelson
    If I can get Nelson or Smith as my WR2, I'm pleased. 
    5.12
    60
    QB
    Peyton Manning
    I considered Matthew Stafford with the 2.01, but opted for Johnson with Manning here.
    6.01
    61
    RB
    Stevan Ridley
    I'm not enamored with the Patriots situation, but when picking in blocks of RBs, talent matters a little more. 
    7.12
    84
    RB
    Jonathan Stewart
    See above.
    8.01
    86
    WR
    Titus Young
    Or would you prefer Randy Moss? Both are available here.
    9.12
    108
    RB
    LaGarrette Blount
    Martin is the favorite, but if he gets hurt Blount can be a strong RB2.
    10.01
    109
    RB
    Jacquizz Rodgers
    Swing for the fences with a talented young runner. 
    11.12
    132
    QB
    Andrew Luck
    Luck will throw 20-25 touchdowns as a rookie. Book it.
    12.01
    133
    RB
    Isaiah Pead
    Jeff Fisher + running back = fantasy value. If Steven Jackson gets hurt, Pead is an RB2.
    13.12
    156
    WR
    Austin Collie
    If Collie starts or works the slot, he could easily earn 50 catches.
    14.01
    157
    RB
    Shane Vereen
    Might as well handcuff. 
    15.12
    180
    RB
    Bilal Powell
    If his value continues to rise, I anticipate drafting Powell somewhere between rounds 8-12.
    16.01
    181
    TE
    Dallas Clark
    Clark, Kellen Davis, Dwayne Allen, or best yet, James Casey all work here.
    17.12
    204
    WR
    Steve Smith (STL)
    Potential steal as the common sense starter outside for Sam Bradford if healthy enough.
    18.01
    205
    K
    Best player available. 
    19.12
    228
    DEF
    See above.
    20.01
    229
    RB
    Bryce Brown
    Swing for the fences. Insert Alex Green or another back of your choice.

    I only changed three picks and essentially traded Andre Johnson and Mark Ingram for DeMarco Murray and Titus Young/Randy Moss whichever player you prefer. Both offer big-play skill and what I consider potential WR2 production. In fact, I think the counter punch for Draft A offers more upside this year. It's essentially an Upside Down Draft with an early-round exception pulled off in the late section of the round.

    Draft B (From the 6th Spot)

    Rnd
    Pick
    Pos
    Player
    Commentary
    1.06
    6
    QB
    Tom Brady
    Calvin Johnson also makes a lot of sense but I agree with Bloom - Brady has record-breaking potential. 
    2.07
    19
    TE
    Rob Gronkowski
    I'm not counting on dominant production in 2012, but still a safe, high-end TE1.
    3.06
    30
    WR
    A.J. Green
    Technically, his ADP is 3.05 but he'll fall here in my drafts.
    4.07
    43
    WR
    Steve Smith (CAR)
    Technically, his ADP is 4.06, but see above. 
    5.06
    54
    WR
    Antonio Brown
    ADP of 5.07 and between him, DeSean Jackson, and Eric Decker, there's great pickings here.
    6.07
    67
    RB
    Peyton Hillis
    The goal is 500 carries for the Chiefs backs. I'll reach a little for Hillis over the likes of Roy Helu. 
    7.06
    78
    RB
    Ben Tate
    Talent to be a top-12 starter if Arian Foster gets hurt.
    8.07
    91
    RB
    Kevin Smith
    Smith is likely to begin the season as the Lions starter and he has low-end RB1 talent.
    9.06
    102
    RB
    David Wilson
    I could handcuff Smith with Leshoure, but if Wilson makes progress in August, I'd go this route.
    10.07
    115
    RB
    Ronnie Hillman
    Jacquizz Rodgers might be the more sensible play, see how Hillman progresses.
    11.06
    126
    WR
    Chad Johnson
    Jonathan Baldwin is maybe even a better choice, but I expect his ADP to climb.
    12.07
    139
    RB
    Isaiah Pead
    Jeff Fisher + running back = fantasy value. If Steven Jackson gets hurt, Pead is an RB2.
    13.06
    150
    WR
    Doug Baldwin
    Danny Amendola also a sensible pick, but I think Baldwin is more dynamic.
    14.07
    163
    RB
    Bilal Powell
    As mentioned earlier, he'll be somewhere between rounds 8-12 by the end of August at this rate. 
    15.06
    174
    QB
    Jake Locker
    Upside play.
    15.07
    187
    TE
    Dallas Clark
    Clark, Kellen Davis, Dwayne Allen, or best yet, James Casey all work here.
    17.06
    198
    WR
    Steve Smith (STL)
    Potential steal as the common sense starter outside for Sam Bradford if healthy enough.
    18.07
    211
    K
    Best player available. 
    19.06
    222
    DEF
    See above.
    20.07
    235
    RB
    Bryce Brown
    Swing for the fences. Insert Alex Green or another back of your choice.

    Counterpunch: The opportunity to land Chris Johnson, Ryan Mathews, or Matt Forte seems like a smart move if you believe Matt Stafford and Cam Newton can offer production that rivals Brady. Personally I don't think that's the case, but I do think Rob Gronkowski is overvalued when considering that a healthy Aaron Hernandez and the addition of Brandon Lloyd will likely limit Gronkowski's upside from last year. I think Antonio Gates and Aaron Hernandez won't be far behind Gronkowski in fantasy production.

    Rnd
    Pick
    Pos
    Player
    Commentary
    1.06
    6
    QB
    Tom Brady
    Calvin Johnson also makes a lot of sense but I agree with Bloom - Brady has record-breaking potential. 
    2.07
    19
    RB
    Steven Jackson
    Jackson or Marshawn Lynch are to players I'd take a chance on here and wait on the tight end. 
    3.06
    30
    WR
    A.J. Green
    Technically, his ADP is 3.05 but he'll fall here in my drafts. If not, Wes Welker or Victor Cruz.
    4.07
    43
    TE
    Antonio Gates
    I could wait until 5.06 and hope Aaron Hernandez falls. If Gates doesn't fall here (ADP 5.03) I'll take Steve Smith. 
    5.06
    54
    WR
    Antonio Brown
    ADP of 5.07 and between him, DeSean Jackson, and Eric Decker, there's great pickings here.
    6.07
    67
    RB
    Peyton Hillis
    The goal is 500 carries for the Chiefs backs. I'll reach a little for Hillis over the likes of Roy Helu. 
    7.06
    78
    WR
    Reggie Wayne
    If Wayne isn't available (7.04), Denarius Moore is a nice upside target.
    8.07
    91
    RB
    Kevin Smith
    Smith is likely to begin the season as the Lions starter and he has low-end RB1 talent.
    9.06
    102
    RB
    David Wilson
    I could handcuff Smith with Leshoure, but if Wilson makes progress in August, I'd go this route.
    10.07
    115
    RB
    Ronnie Hillman
    Jacquizz Rodgers might be the more sensible play, see how Hillman progresses.
    11.06
    126
    WR
    Chad Johnson
    Jonathan Baldwin is maybe even a better choice, but I expect his ADP to climb.
    12.07
    139
    RB
    Isaiah Pead
    Jeff Fisher + running back = fantasy value. If Steven Jackson gets hurt, Pead is an RB2.
    13.06
    150
    WR
    Doug Baldwin
    Danny Amendola also a sensible pick, but I think Baldwin is more dynamic.
    14.07
    163
    RB
    Bilal Powell
    As mentioned earlier, he'll be somewhere between rounds 8-12 by the end of August at this rate. 
    15.06
    174
    QB
    Jake Locker
    Upside play.
    15.07
    187
    TE
    Dallas Clark
    Clark, Kellen Davis, Dwayne Allen, or best yet, James Casey all work here.
    17.06
    198
    WR
    Steve Smith (STL)
    Potential steal as the common sense starter outside for Sam Bradford if healthy enough.
    18.07
    211
    K
    Best player available. 
    19.06
    222
    DEF
    See above.
    20.07
    235
    RB
    Bryce Brown
    Swing for the fences. Insert Alex Green or another back of your choice.

    Once again, the stability of ADP in the early rounds offers some flexibility for a counter punch with at least 2-3 options for bolded pick. Jackson or Marshawn Lynch at 2.07 over Rob Gronkowski provides this team a true bell-cow back in a run-first offense while still having the potential to land a top tight end in rounds four (Gates), five (Hernandez), or six (Vernon Davis or Jermichael Finley). Reggie Wayne and Denarius Moore offer great upside as No. 3 receivers because both are starters. I'd prefer Wayne, but I wouldn't turn my nose up at either player.

    Draft C (From the 2nd Spot)

    Rnd
    Pick
    Pos
    Player
    Commentary
    1.02
    2
    RB
    Ray Rice
    LeSean McCoy works here, too. I'm just a Ray Rice fan.
    2.11
    23
    WR
    Greg Jennings
    If gone, Andre Johnson or Brandon Marshall works here, too.
    3.02
    26
    WR
    Brandon Marshall
    A.J. Green also works.
    4.11
    47
    TE
    Antonio Gates
    Would prefer Brandon Lloyd at 4.10, but Gates at 5.03 is really nice.
    5.02
    50
    WR
    Percy Harvin
    Jeremy Maclin, Antonio Brown, DeSean Jackson, and Eric Decker all look good here, too.
    6.11
    71
    QB
    Matt Ryan
    This is a safe play with a little upside due to intent of new offense.
    7.02
    74
    RB
    Donald Brown
    If he starts and performs to his talent level, he's a cinch as an RB2.
    8.11
    95
    RB
    Kevin Smith
    Smith is likely to begin the season as the Lions starter and he has low-end RB1 talent.
    9.02
    98
    RB
    DeAngelo Williams
    You know the drill: RB1 talent in an anti-fantasy football situation.
    10.11
    119
    RB
    Jacquizz Rodgers
    Another talent-based pick with a situation where he's not far from earning significant time.
    11.02
    122
    WR
    Santana Moss
    Still the best receiver on the redskins. A veteran Kendall Wright. Or you can get Wright (ADP 11.04).
    12.11
    143
    RB
    Pierre Thomas
    Great value for Thomas, who is a sound, bye-week play at worst.
    13.02
    146
    WR
    Doug Baldwin
    Danny Amendola also a sensible pick, but I think Baldwin is more dynamic.
    14.11
    167
    RB
    Bilal Powell
    As mentioned earlier, he'll be somewhere between rounds 8-12 by the end of August at this rate. 
    15.02
    170
    QB
    Jake Locker
    Upside play.
    16.11
    191
    TE
    Dallas Clark
    Clark, Kellen Davis, Dwayne Allen, or best yet, James Casey all work here.
    17.02
    194
    WR
    Steve Smith (STL)
    Potential steal as the common sense starter outside for Sam Bradford if healthy enough.
    18.11
    225
    K
    Best player available. 
    19.02
    228
    DEF
    See above.
    20.11
    249
    RB
    Bryce Brown
    Swing for the fences. Insert Alex Green or another back of your choice.

    Counterpunch: What if just before your draft you find out that Marshawn Lynch will miss 1-2 games or won't be suspended at all? What if those mid-round receivers continue to look good in camp? What if it begins to look like a traditional, Stud RB approach might be a better fit? Here's a position where you can see how the first two rounds unfold before making up your mind.

    Rnd
    Pick
    Pos
    Player
    Commentary
    1.02
    2
    RB
    Ray Rice
    LeSean McCoy works here, too. I'm just a Ray Rice fan.
    2.11
    23
    RB
    Marshawn Lynch
    Steven Jackson or Darren Sproles also nice options here.
    3.02
    26
    WR
    A.J. Green
    Or Brandon Marshall
    4.11
    47
    WR
    Brandon Lloyd
    Demaryius Thomas or Percy Harvin also work well as WR2s.
    5.02
    50
    WR
    Jeremy Maclin
    Antonio Brown, DeSean Jackson, and Eric Decker all look good here, too.
    6.11
    71
    TE
    Jason Witten
    This is a safe play with a little upside with Laurent Robinson gone and Miles Austin already hurting. 
    7.02
    74
    RB
    Donald Brown
    If he starts and performs to his talent level, he's a cinch as an RB2.
    8.11
    95
    RB
    Kevin Smith
    Smith is likely to begin the season as the Lions starter and he has low-end RB1 talent.
    9.02
    98
    RB
    DeAngelo Williams
    You know the drill...or take Ben Roethlisberger. 
    10.11
    119
    QB
    Carson Palmer
    If you don't take Roethlisberger, Palmer has nice upside at this value.
    11.02
    122
    WR
    Santana Moss
    Still the best receiver on the redskins. A veteran Kendall Wright. Or you can get Wright (ADP 11.04).
    12.11
    143
    RB
    Pierre Thomas
    Great value for Thomas, who is a sound, bye-week play at worst.
    13.02
    146
    WR
    Doug Baldwin
    Danny Amendola also a sensible pick, but I think Baldwin is more dynamic.
    14.11
    167
    RB
    Bilal Powell
    As mentioned earlier, he'll be somewhere between rounds 8-12 by the end of August at this rate. 
    15.02
    170
    QB
    Jake Locker
    Upside play.
    16.11
    191
    TE
    Dallas Clark
    Clark, Kellen Davis, Dwayne Allen, or best yet, James Casey all work here.
    17.02
    194
    WR
    Steve Smith (STL)
    Potential steal as the common sense starter outside for Sam Bradford if healthy enough.
    18.11
    225
    K
    Best player available. 
    19.02
    228
    DEF
    See above.
    20.11
    249
    RB
    Bryce Brown
    Swing for the fences. Insert Alex Green or another back of your choice.

    Mid- and Late-Round RB Target Updates

    Stock Rising

  • Kevin Smith, Lions: The news that Jahvid Best has weeks of time on the PUP rather than days elevates Smith's stock. It also helps that Mikel Leshoure is still rounding into shape and dealing with the typical injuries that might be compensatory in nature due to his Achilles rehab. Smith has remained healthy and has had a full offseason and training camp with the team to work into the game shape it was doubtful he was in when acquired as a street free agent. Smith was in great shape last year, but the lack of training camp could have been a difference maker with the assortment of injuries he dealt with. I'll gladly take a chance on Smith as a mid-round pick.

  • Bilal Powell, Jets: What a difference a training camp makes. Reports say that Powell looks like the do-it-all back that I saw at Louisville when I rated him as my No. 3 runner in the 2011 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. He's a better fit than Joe McKnight for the role backing up Shonn Greene. In my opinion, he's a better fit than Greene for the starter's job. Don't be surprised if he earns that job by midseason. He's the fast-riser that could be had at Round 15 or later, but could jump to the middle rounds by the end of August think Arian Foster and Ray Rice in the recent past.

  • Jonathan Dwyer, Steelers: The former Georgia Tech runner figured out that he wasn't auditioning for Man v. Food, but the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's every bit the talent of Isaac Redman and I won't be shocked if he earns significant time during the season. If he does, he could bump Redman back to his normal role while Rashard Mendenhall is rehabbing. Dwyer is a physical back with good burst and as a former fullback in a triple option offense, used to hitting holes hard without hesitation. With rookie wunderkind David DeCastro at right guard, I'll take a chance on any healthy Steelers back as late as Dwyer is going.

  • Taiwan Jones, Raiders: Mike Goodson is a talent, but he's dinged up and behind in camp. Jones is working with the second-team offense and he's a big play waiting to happen. His agile style is not much different than Titans runner Chris Johnson. Can he stay healthy as the No. 1 runner if Darren McFadden gets hurt? I don't have the answer to that one, but he's worth a late-round investment to find out.

  • Bobby Rainey, Ravens: If you read the RSP you know about Rainey. Baltimore offensive coordinator Cam Cameron described Rainey as "very smart," and a "physical back... a lot like Ray [Rice]." Moreover he said that he wouldn't be surprised if Rainey had a very good preseason. Jim Harbaugh said Rainey "opened a lot of eyes," in training camp. Meanwhile Bernard Pierce has faltered since mini camp. I'll take Rainey with a late-round flier.
  • As always, feel free to provide comments or suggestions to waldman@footballguys.com.

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