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Discussing Safe Decisions

Footballguys staff members discuss safe decisions you can make in your draft

Welcome to the 2015 Footballguys Discussion series, where we get a few staff members and toss them an open-ended question. Check out their answers.

We've discussed fantasy mistakes, what are some decisions that - more often than not - work out? Is it worth making these decisions, or will doing so make you more likely to produce a merely average fantasy roster?

Jason Wood: An interesting question, and one we rarely discuss. One thing immediately comes to mind, in the majority of leagues it's safe to wait until the last rounds to draft your kicker and defense. EVERY YEAR I'm in leagues where something thinks they're being smart and taking the top consensus defense in the middle of the draft, or their kicker with three or four rounds left. That makes no sense.

It's also safe to reach for pure lottery tickets with the last few picks of your draft. Let's say Greg Jennings is ranked 50th on your receiver rankings and Phillip Dorsett ranks 51st. It makes no sense to draft Jennings as your 5th or 6th receiver, you should draft Dorsett. Why is that safe? Because history tells us that we turn over a good chunk of our roster during the season. A guy like Jennings is never going to produce enough to displace a top pick in your starting lineup. But he's also not going to do poorly enough for you to feel like he's an easy drop. Dorsett? He won't do much if/until Hilton or Johnson get hurt, but then he could be an every week difference maker. And if he doesn't pan out? You can drop him for the hot waiver choice without hesitation.

Daniel Simpkins: Sigmund is fond of saying this and so am I: Trust your gut. Consider the voices of those analysts you respect, but don’t be afraid to depart from their counsel when it doesn’t feel right. This may be harder advice for those who are inexperienced players to follow. However, if you’ve been playing for a while and growing in your knowledge, it’s time to take the training wheels off. If you are wrong, you can live with it and learn from it. If you follow someone else’s advice and it turns out to be wrong, you will kick yourself a lot harder for not trusting in your own evaluation.

Jeff Pasquino: I like what Jason is selling so far. Understanding that there are three phases to most of your draft and planning accordingly is the number one mistake I see made. The first third is building your core, and the middle of the draft is to round out the roster and add depth. The final third of your draft is for lottery tickets that you hope become starter-worthy or trade bait. If not, they are going to be on the waiver wire by the time bye weeks roll around, so take a shot on a guy with major upside. Understand that your WR5/6/7 and RB4/5/6 are not meant to be true depth - those guys are likely on the waiver wire. What you want to secure here is the shot at the next Odell Beckham Jr. or Anquan Boldin. The only other considerations you should have for late in your draft is a key handcuff to your RB1 and a kicker or defense - but this leads to my other point. Know your league rules and roster deadlines for Week 1. If you do not have to draft a kicker or a defense, use that draft pick on a lottery ticket and hope that they start to emerge before Week 1. There's always going to be a kicker or defense you can grab before Week 1, so take advantage of that often overlooked stratagem.

Chad Parsons: I am a fan of the phrase "any strategy works when you pick the right players." Pick the busts or the future injuries of the early rounds and any draft plan turns into an uphill battle. One strategy I promote which has already been mentioned is going high-upside in the late rounds. Hitting the waiver wire in the early weeks will come at the expense of those final selections. Analyze their chances of hitting to such an extent (or loving their potential later in the year) you will hold them over more productive players drafted higher. It might be a primary backup handcuff with RB1 potential if injury strikes the starter. It may be a rookie needing repetitions and some playing time to emerge into your lineup. If the story for that player is too complicated or unlikely, why select them at all? Go with high-upside choices who can hit early or hit big by mid-season.

Secondly, I have become a huge supporter of going late-round quarterback. In typical leagues there are starting options on the waiver wire. Plus many non-Week 1 starters at the position emerge into QB1-level performers even for one week in-season. Playing quarterback chicken during the draft becomes its own game versus fellow owners. Outside of an Andrew Luck or Aaron Rodgers falling well below their ADP, avoiding the top-10 or more quarterbacks in a draft is an easy decision. Then, once most or all of the other owners have their starting options, it hinders their overall draft by selecting a backup more than hurts your chances by losing them as a potential starter. Finally, by selecting a committee (or just one) lower-level option with an optimistic Week 1 matchup, you are more flexible to mine the waiver wire aggressively. The quarterback position in typical redrat leagues has far less competition than running back or wide receiver as well. The lower capital spent in the draft at quarterback makes exploring better matchups or longer-term options an easy decision.

Andy Hicks: Every year there is a high turnover at mainly the running back position, trying to figure out the most likely to bust is where you can avoid unnecessary risk.

Let's look at the key running backs that failed to repeat from 2013 to 2014 and also at those that had an ADP in the top 24 backs for 2014 and didn't live up to that expectation.

  • Knowshon Moreno - 5th in 2013. 
  • Adrian Peterson - 6th in 2013
  • Chris Johnson - 9th in 2013
  • Reggie Bush - 10th in 2013
  • Fred Jackson - 11th in 2013
  • Ryan Mathews - 12th in 2013
  • Joique Bell - 17th in 2013
  • Zac Stacy - 18th in 2013
  • Danny Woodhead - 19th in 2013
  • Maurice Jones-Drew - 20th in 2013
  • DeAngelo Williams - 21st in 2013
  • Rashad Jennings - 22nd in 2013
  • Pierre Thomas - 23rd in 2013
  • Montee Ball - ADP of 7th in 2014
  • Doug Martin - ADP of 10th in 2014
  • Arian Foster - ADP of 11th in 2014
  • Andre Ellington - ADP of 15th in 2014
  • C.J. Spiller - ADP of 17th in 2014
  • Shane Vereen - ADP of 18th in 2014
  • Toby Gerhart - ADP of 20th in 2014
  • Ray Rice - ADP of 23rd in 2014
  • Ben Tate - ADP of 24th in 2014

Of the top 24 running backs from 2013, Rashard Mendenhall retired and 10 others returned to the top 24 in 2014. That leaves 13.

We know the Adrian Peterson situation, that leaves 12.

Eight guys weren't expected to return to the top 24 according to the ADP in the next year. Only 1 of these guys bucked the predictions in Joique Bell.

That leaves 4 that were top 24 in 2013 and expected to return according to ADP.

Reggie Bush, Ryan Mathews, Zac Stacy and Rashad Jennings didn't.

Bush, Mathews and Jennings all had length injury histories and were coming off rare seasons where they avoided the injury bug.

Zac Stacy was an unexpected starter and averaged less than 4 yards a carry in his debut season.

Of the 9 players that were expected to break into the top 24, only Arian Foster and Andre Ellington were successful.

  • We know the Ray Rice situation so that leaves 6.
  • Montee Ball was expected to assume the lead running back duties.
  • Doug Martin was coming off an injury riddled year, but was poor before the injury
  • C.J. Spiller was coming off a disappointing year and expected to rebound.
  • Shane Vereen was expected to make a leap. He did well, but not well enough to justify his ADP
  • Ben Tate & Toby Gerhart were on new teams and expected to be fantasy starters.

Now, let's look at last years top 24, check the top 24 on ADP for this year and do the same analysis.

Again 8 guys are not expected to return to the top 24 for various reasons. We can discount them.

Of the 8 guys expected to join our 16 remaining we have 3 rookies, 2 guys expected to return who have been there before and 3 guys expected to make the leap.

Of these 24 remaining we are looking for guys with injury histories, those who have moved teams, unexpected starters and guys expected to make the leap as risk factors.

  • That gives us DeMarco Murray, LeSean McCoy & Frank Gore who have moved teams 
  • Justin Forsett was an unexpected starter
  • Andre Ellington, C.J. Spiller, Mark Ingram and Jonathan Stewart have injury histories
  • Carlos Hyde, Latavius Murray and Joseph Randle are expected to make the leap
  • Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon are rookies

That gives us 14 in the top 24 who are bigger risks than the other 10.

Draft from Le'Veon Bell, Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles, Lamar Miller, Jeremy Hill, C.J. Anderson and Alfred Morris and you'll have less risk associated to your running backs.

As a footnote, taking a 1 year sample is a dangerous exercise and every year is different, but the general point is that with hindsight we see why guys fail every year and continue to make the same mistakes in year X+1. To get a true picture of where mistakes are made and repeated you need maybe 10 years worth of data. That is a lot of work.

You have to look at history and learn from it and while some consider it safe to reduce your draft pool, busts at the top of your draft are often killers. Take your risky players later on.

James Brimacombe: ADP is the one tool that we can use to gage who is a safe play and who is not. The problem with that is that you are going to always draft a boring team and a team that you don't truly believe in by the end of the draft. ADP is a great tool to predict how others will draft in your league but you don't have to just follow ADP blindly. You want to draft a team that you are proud of and full of players you like and belief have a high upside and can give you an edge over your opponent week to week. Drafting a team that is safe and ADP friendly will almost always give you an average team at best.