The Gut Check No. 256 - Going for Legendary Status: The Evel Knievel
By Matt Waldman
August 10th, 2012

In the last column, I wrote that daring to win big means one has to risk big. By the time I finished the article, I realized that the strategy and counter punches I outlined would help a fantasy owner build a competitive team, but there weren't enough risks taken to achieve legendary status.

I'm not just talking about winning a fantasy league. I'm talking about dominating it by earning what is considered The Triple Crown of most leagues: championship, best record, and most points scored. That's a great season, but it's still a step away from being a legend in your league.

That next step is doing something so ballsy that your competition tells the story with reverence for years to come. I came close twice. Most recently, was my first season at this site in 2009 when I went 13-0 in Footballguys' Staff IDP league, scoring the most points this league has ever seen during a regular season. However, I lost in the playoffs to eventual champ Aaron Rudnicki and it cost me a shot at going undefeated in my first competition with my peers. That might have qualified as legendary.

The other came in 2000 in my first league. I was the first team to ever win the Triple Crown after drafting rookie Edgerrin James in the first round of a 12-team draft. It was talked about for 10 years. At the time, taking James that early was a risky move. In hindsight it was a great season, but not a legendary one.

So it's time to up the ante, dare to be great, and [insert any other useless cliché about striving for excellence that I often hear corporatized human beings say that makes me want to show them my Joe Frazier] take a risk of epic proportions. If you pull it off, your competition will make it an annual story of draft lore. If you don't, it might take 10 years for your opponents to transition from ridicule to reverence for your guts for trying it. I'm calling it "The Evel Knievel."

I think this strategy can be pulled off in a PPR or non-PPR draft that starts 2-3 running backs, 3-4 receivers, and 1-2 tight ends. However, you're going to have to be willing to work at building your team after the draft. If you approach fantasy football with the mindset that you do all your work up front to build a team and then play it out after the draft then this strategy is not for you.

I think this mentality is a big reason why so many fantasy owners don't consistently make the playoffs in competitive leagues. The draft is your "initial draft" of a team. Your job throughout the season is to continue refining it until you have a polished product. Owners that have this mentality compete deep into the postseason. I can't think of one team I've had in the past seven years in competitive leagues where I drafted the team, kicked back, and watched it dominate. Even with great drafts, I made moves that benefited my season.

The Evel Knievel will force you to be an active owner beyond setting your lineup. If you see the opportunity that exists within the philosophy of this strategy, it could be a great match for your talents. Otherwise its appeal will be limited to a drunken parlor trick.

Crazy Stunt or Savvy Strategy?

It might seem like a crazy stunt for many fantasy owners because the approach goes to extremes that most fantasy owners don't want to consider. The reason is human nature. People want the easiest path to success. The odds of the Evel Knievel being the easiest path are small.

The possible outcomes of the Evel Knievel reminds me of what college coaching legend Woody Hayes' said about his rushing offense, "Three things can happen when you pass and two of them are bad." Of course, you could say the same thing about air travel a century ago. Still, it's important to know the possible outcomes of a plan:

  1. You hit on your late picks, acquire insane depth with your early picks, and compete for every possible prize your fantasy league offers.

  2. You miss on your late picks, but acquire insane depth to trade for serviceable starters that helps you contend for a championship.

  3. You crash into the proverbial Snake River, shatter your ego and pride, and require months – perhaps years – of to rehab your psyche. The recovery process will make Greg Childs' dual patellar tendon tears look like a calf bruise.

Two of these outcomes will require a lot of in-season work to create a champion. The Evel Knievel is for those with the mentality of ice road truckers, fishermen of Alaskan king crab, oilrig workers, radio tower climbers, or Jene Bramel. Forget Jack Youngblood. He merely played with a broken leg? Bramel once talked shop on the Thursday Night Audible while passing a kidney stone.

Legendary.

If you don't like bad weather, you're scared of the open water, don't like getting your hands dirty, afraid of heights, or afraid enduring a little pain, don't go any further. If you have the frontier spirit, enjoy risk, can sell ice to an Eskimo, or the Dos Equis' Most Interesting Man in the World is less appealing than Ben Stein when you walk into the room, the Evel Knievel is for you. Of course, if you know you have these qualities, you're not likely reading this piece. However, many of you have it in you and you're just not willing to take it out for a spin.

Here's your chance.

A High-Risk Complement for the Wheeler-Dealer

If you're skilled at pulling off trades, this strategy has excellent potential because you'll be stockpiling depth at key positions that you should be able to turn into players you want. Dominating your draft doesn't mean you'll dominate your league. It just gives you the tools to do so. If your best skill is wheeling and dealing, then draft a team where you can build to your strength.

Think about it. Why try to get good players at every position? Quality kickers and defenses can be had on most waiver wires and they are two positions that don't need to be selected until the end of the draft. In my experience running back and quarterback are the two positions in the greatest demand. Because of the nature of the position and structure of fantasy leagues, stockpiling tried-and-true running back talent is the most difficult approach.

Wide receiver tends to be the easiest currency for exchange in fantasy trades. Quarterback and tight end are next on that list but it will likely take a receiver paired with either of these players to grease the wheels of a deal in exchange for a top runner. The Evel Knievel is designed to make that job easier.

The purpose is to stockpile 2-3 of these non-running backs positions in the early and middle rounds and waiting until the late rounds on running backs. If you hit on some late-round runners, you'll have the makings of a dominant team. If you don't, you should have the depth to trade for backs that will make your starting lineup a contender.

Trade Advice

If I were to "go Evel" on my opponents, I would most likely approach trades from the perspective of placing my name brand studs at receiver or quarterback on the trading block. I wouldn't limit the terms to a name brand stud at running back. In fact, I'd be open to listening to deals for multiple players in exchange for my one player. If you go this route, you have to be sure that you're not accepting a bunch of glittery fantasy trash in exchange for your treasured piece of the puzzle.

Opt for players that are earning significant time to play and will do so for the foreseeable future, barring injury. This means it's okay to make a deal for Jonathan Dwyer and a mediocre performing Reggie Wayne early in the season in exchange for one of your name-brand studs if Dwyer is named the starter and no other Steelers back is in his way to fantasy glory six weeks from now (as long as Dwyer performs to expectation). If Dwyer works and Wayne falters, you still have depth at wide receiver to call this deal a success. If Dwyer falters and Wayne rebounds, then you have more depth at receiver to make another deal.

On the other hand, if Ahmad Bradshaw breaks his wrist and is out for the year and David Wilson has a strained hamstring that has him on the bench for two weeks, taking Da'Rel Scott as part of package deal with Reggie Wayne is most likely glittery fantasy trash. Scott glitters because he has a noticeable skill or talent like blazing speed. You'll hear a respected analyst like Cecil Lammey talking about his talents and you could be prone to focusing on the talent and possibilities than the likely shelf life of that player. If Wilson is due to return to the field, Scott will be in the fantasy waste bin after his fantasy appeal rots in short order.

These are the risks you have to consider when you want to be ahead of the curve.

Here are three drafts using the Evel Knievel approach and what kind of talent is available to stockpile. These teams are based on ADP values from Fantasy Football Calculator during the first week of August.

The overall trend here is that you're drafting players with flash at wide receiver because of big-play ability in passing offenses and then backing them up with substantive middle and late-round pass catchers that can either take the starting role or serve as attractive throw-ins with deals. The same is true of the late-round backs. All are talent, all are a step away from significant time, and at least half of them will see enough time to earn fantasy points most weeks. These picks afford you flexibility to compete while entertaining offers for your stockpiled positions.

Evel Knievel Draft A From the 12th Spot

Rnd
Pick
Pos
Player
Commentary
1.12
12
TE
Jimmy Graham
Finding a worthwhile starter at tight end late in the draft is relatively easy, so stockpiling two stud tight ends can be beneficial even in non-PPR leagues.
2.01
13
WR
A.J. Green
Green has a ton of trade appeal. He'll be an easy player to begin negotiations for a running back. If Cruz, Lloyd, and any of the big-play options stockpiled later work out, you won't miss him as much as you might think.
3.12
36
WR
Victor Cruz
Big-play receivers attract the eye of fantasy owners in search of a deal. In a sense, you're shark fish and you need to chum the waters.
4.01
37
WR
Brandon Lloyd
Another flashy player capable of helping your team dominate due to his upside or dangle as trade bait.
5.12
60
TE
Aaron Hernandez
Graham will probably have more trade appeal, but Hernandez might have more upside. Multiple options to wheel and deal allows you to be happy with whichever tight end you keep.
6.01
61
WR
Reggie Wayne
A classic example of a player that most owners will treat on draft day as a player that has lost his skills, but really only lost a quarterback. Now that he has one, he'll be a big reason you can deal one of the three receivers listed above.
7.12
84
WR
Randy Moss
Moss is a risky version of Wayne. I can see how Titus Young might have more appeal as a player that could outplay his draft status and serve as depth if or when you deal away one of your top receivers for a quality back.
8.01
86
QB
Robert Griffin
I think this position of the draft makes it easier to stockpile tight end and receiver, although you could opt for quarterback over tight end and take Aaron Rodgers in the first round and opt for Peyton Manning or Tony Romo in the fifth. If that's the case, taking Griffin or Luck somewhere between rounds 8-12 will give you
great depth at the position and leverage to make a deal.
9.12
108
WR
Greg Little
Ability and upside make him my favorite receiver at this area of the draft.
10.01
109
WR
Randle Cobb
Cobb is just an injury away from becoming a starter on an elite offense. He'll probably see enough time with the starters to make him a borderline WR3 in many leagues.
11.12
132
QB
Andrew Luck
In this situation, Luck is necessary depth with Griffin, but if I stockpiled QBs instead of tight ends, he'd be my fourth quarterback. Imagine what you could get for Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo while keeping a better-than-expected rookie like Luck?
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
Mario Manningham
Or Austin Collie.
14.01
157
RB
Shane Vereen
Still competing for the top spot in New England. He'll see more opportunities this year. Good play will dictate the day here.
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. I like Clark the most and think he has the situation to see starter upside.
17.12
204
WR
Steve Smith
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
James Casey
If considered an RB in PPR league, he'll could surprise as an all-around weapon and be a surprise, stopgap option. If he's considered a TE, all the better.

Evel Knievel Draft B From the 6th Spot

Rnd
Pick
Pos
Player
Commentary
1.06
6
QB
Tom Brady
Here's another good place to stockpile quarterbacks. Although it seems like every other year Sigmund Bloom is saying that Brady could have a record season, I agree with him. The potential has been there.
2.07
19
QB
Cam Newton
Regression to the mean? Rookie luck? Sophomore slump? Knock yourself out. I'm taking him. Trade one or both and you'll get a top-dollar player.
3.06
30
WR
A.J. Green
Flashy receivers always interest people.
4.07
43
WR
Brandon Lloyd
See above.
5.06
54
TE
Aaron Hernandez
See above.
6.07
67
WR
Reggie Wayne
I have little doubt Wayne will at least be a WR3 this year.
7.06
78
WR
Randy Moss
Moss or Titus Young for the reasons I stated in the last strategy table.
8.07
91
QB
Robert Griffin
You will get good returns on two of these quarterbacks if they are healthy. Trade Newton for a stud RB and still have a surplus at the position.
9.06
102
WR
Randall Cobb
Cobb also gives you an up-and-coming talent to throw-in if you need a little extra to grease the wheels of a deal.
10.07
115
RB
Jacquizz Rodgers
Rodgers will see enough time that he'll be serviceable while trying to add a better starter. If Turner gets hurt, you're good to go.
11.06
126
RB
Rashad Jennings
Not as good as the scenario above but apply Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jaguars to the scenario and its worth an investment.
12.07
139
RB
Isaiah Pead
See above.
13.06
150
WR
Doug Baldwin
Danny Amendola is also a sensible pick, but I think Baldwin is more dynamic. Also an up-and-coming throw-in with a deal or a guy that could start if needed.
14.07
163
RB
Bilal Powell
You know I believe in him as the best talent in the Jets backfield.
15.06
174
RB
Alex Green
Upside play and like these other RBs, good throw-ins when making deals for more established backs.
15.07
187
TE
Dallas Clark
If Clark hits, great. If not, easy a player to drop.
17.06
198
WR
Steve Smith (STL)
Another common sense pick with little investment and easy to drop.
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.

Evel Knievel Draft C From the 2nd Spot

Rnd
Pick
Pos
Player
Commentary
1.02
2
QB
Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers becomes that ultimate player to dangle as trade bait if you pick a consistent starter with upside at the position later on.
2.11
23
WR
Greg Jennings
If gone, Andre Johnson or Brandon Marshall works here, too. Again, big-play, high-reception weapons bring all the deals to the inbox.
3.02
26
WR
A.J. Green
See a pattern?
4.11
47
WR
Brandon Lloyd
You better see a pattern.
5.02
50
TE
Antonio Gates
I think Gates is a value here. That's saying a lot this early.
6.11
71
WR
Reggie Wayne
Getting a WR3 as your WR4. Perfect stockpiling target.
7.02
74
QB
Matt Ryan
The new Falcons offense gives him higher upside if they execute it. I have my doubts, but not enough to look Ryan as a safe reach a round or two early so I can stockpile talent at the position.
8.11
95
QB
Ben Roethlisberger
I can see the logic of opting for a receiver here if Robert Griffin doesn't fall this far. But Todd Haley does good things with his passing game and I think the Steelers have the material to make Roethlisberger worthwhile in this strategy.
9.02
98
WR
Randall Cobb
Future starter or up-and-coming trade bait.
10.11
119
RB
Jacquizz Rodgers
He can start for you in a pinch while you're looking for a deal.
11.02
122
RB
Daniel Thomas
See above.
12.11
143
RB
Pierre Thomas
See above.
13.02
146
WR
Doug Baldwin
Value.
14.11
167
RB
Bilal Powell
Reminded me a little of Terrell Davis when I watched him at Louisville.
15.02
170
RB
Alex Green
Reminded me of Jamal Anderson when I watched him at Hawaii.
16.11
191
TE
Dallas Clark
Clark, Kellen Davis, Dwayne Allen, or best yet, James Casey all work here.
17.02
194
RB
Jonathan Dwyer
Potential steal as the common sense starter outside for Sam Bradford if healthy enough. James Casey and his RB/TE flexibility also good here.
18.11
225
K
Best player available.
19.02
228
DEF
See above.
20.11
249
RB
Bryce Brown
Would have been the No.2-No.3 rookie RB in this draft if he played three years and performed like he did as a freshman.

As always, feel free to provide comments or suggestions to waldman@footballguys.com.

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