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Draft Strategy: Good-Byes

Using bye weeks to your advantage

I'll share a little something about myself today. I'm not exactly a conventional thinker. That's sometimes good, often times bad, but there are enough "Aha" moments where you have a revelation that might be just enough to say that all the oddball ideas that pop in your head are worth it if you can have one of those thoughts that pays off. Whether this is one of those moments is yet to be decided, but I think there is some hope.

First off, I'll set the stage for the discussion. When the NFL announced their 2017 season, we all poured over it and looked for fantasy implications. The first thing that jumped off the page was the bye weeks, as usual. Most Keeper League and Dynasty League players love to check that first so as to see if they have bye week issues in store for the coming season. That's when it dawned on myself and several others that the NFL hates us at times - no really, they do. Trust me. Otherwise, how could they not understand that these weeks where six teams have a bye week just wreak havoc with our fantasy teams?

The six teams off in one week started the first year of NBC's flex scheduling (2006), as the NFL wanted to adjust the bye weeks so that they would be done and gone by Week 11 and also so as to not have a team with a week off before Week 4. The net result of that simple math was that instead of eight weeks with four teams on a bye, the NFL would have two weeks where six teams took time off. In 2009 it got even worse as in Weeks 7, 8 and 9 six teams had a bye week (and as a result only two were off in Week 10). I guess you can consider it to be good news that “only” Weeks 8 and 9 in 2010 had six teams on a bye.  As for 2012, only Week 7 had six teams off, but byes ran from Week 4 to Week 11 (with just two teams on a bye in Week 4).  For 2013, it only got more complicated as the byes extended to Week 12, with four weeks of just two teams on a bye (Weeks 4, 6, 7 and 11), three weeks with four teams on a bye (Weeks 5, 10 and 12) and still two other weeks with six teams off (Weeks 8 and 9).  Three seasons ago the bye weeks extend once again to Week 12, leading to some weeks where just two teams are on a bye week (Weeks 5, 6, 7, 8 and 12), another with four teams off (Week 11), and three treacherous weeks (Weeks 4, 9 and 10) with six teams taking a rest. In 2014 the bye weeks spanned Weeks 4 through 11, with all of those weeks having four teams off except for Week 4 (two teams, Tennessee and New England) and Week 9 (six teams - Houston, Seattle, Arizona, Baltimore, Detroit and Kansas City).  Finally, last year the byes extended from Week 4 to Week 13, the first time bye weeks have gone past Week 12 since there were only 31 teams in 1999-2001.  

Enough history - what about this season?  This year's bye weeks are back in the smaller range, spanning Week 4 to Week 11.  With only seven weeks to give teams a rest, that means at least two weeks would have more than four teams not on the schedule.  As it turned out, the NFL gave only two teams Week 7 off (Houston and Detroit), but six teams are on a bye in Weeks 8, 9 and 11.   

All those byes made me think about the common question we have every year about bye weeks. Does it make good sense to collect players with the same bye weeks so as to have your team at full strength all the other games rather than patching your team for seven weeks during the year?

At first I didn't like the idea, since you are basically writing off a week on your schedule. Walking into a 13-game schedule at 0-1 already is not a great idea in my book. It gets even worse if you are in a league with fewer games or that punishes exceptionally bad performance weeks (such as the "All Play" format where you play everyone every week). All that aside, I thought I would at least see if I could come up with a recipe to do just the thing that people asked for - draft a team with all the same bye weeks.

I decided I would use three rules:

  1. Focus on a complete starting lineup (1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR and a TE)
  2. The lineup had to be complete by Round 10 (Pick 120)
  3. No reach picks

By Rule #3 I mean that if you wanted to accomplish #1 and #2 but you had to draft a player in Round 5 that normally is still available in Rounds 6 or 7, that's off the table. We're not going to blow up our entire draft board just to get this together.

Next I decided to list all of the Top 120 picks based on recent ADP and sort them by Bye Weeks. Rather than listing them all (ADPs can always be found here), here is a table that breaks down each week by total number of players and by position:

Week Players QBs RBs WRs TEs DEF
5 19 3 7 7 1 1
6 13 2 5 4 2 0
7 7 1 3 2 1 0
8 23 3 7 11 2 0
9 24 3 8 10 3 0
10 14 1 6 5 2 0
11 20 3 8 8 1 0

Table 1: Bye Weeks vs. Positions

After reviewing Table 2 I decided to eliminate Week 5 for the reasons I mentioned earlier - just two teams are on a bye (Houston, Detroit), so there are not enough options.  After that week was eliminated I noticed that it does seem possible to pull this off in many of the other weeks if everything goes correctly, but much will depend on what draft pick you have to start and also how things start to shake out in the draft. Weeks 6 and 7 are still pretty thin, but I will go over it just in case you like this idea and see your draft heading towards selecting 5-6 of these players.  

First, let’s start with Week 5.   There are 19 players to select from, so that's a reasonable pool of players (about 15% of the Top 120).  Atlanta, Denver, New Orleans and Washington can all have solid offensive players (note that the Denver defense is in this mix, so really we are looking at 18 players), so even with just 18 choices this is one of the better options for this possible plan.  The players are spread across several rounds (See Table 3), and it looks like having a middle of the round pick is the best option to get a well-rounded lineup, but the key to the Week 5 plan will come down to if you really like Jordan Reed this season.  He is the only tight end in the Top 120 with a Week 5 bye, so if you have no interest in grabbing him in Round 4, just pass on this plan.  If you do like him, and if you are fortunate enough to either get Demaryius Thomas in Round 3 or Julio Jones with your first pick, you could be well on your way.  Round 6 looks like the best place to pick up a running back, while wide receiver is the focus of Round 7.  Adrian Peterson could be a strong option in Round 8, but securing Kirk Cousins is a much better way to round out the full Week 5 bye week approach.  If your draft finds you with Jordan Reed and either Julio Jones or Demaryius Thomas after four rounds, strongly think about going RB/WR/Cousins to have five of your Top 7 picks with Week 5 off.  Here is the chart of these players in a round-by-round breakdown by position (RB in red, WR in green, QB in blue, TE in purple):

Rnd Player Player Player Player
1   Julio Jones Devonta Freeman Michael Thomas
2        
3   Demaryius Thomas    
4 Jordan Reed   Terrelle Pryor Drew Brees
5 Matt Ryan Mark Ingram Tevin Coleman C.J. Anderson
6 Jamison Crowder Willie Snead Emmanuel Sanders  
7 Adrian Peterson      
8       Kirk Cousins
9   Samaje Perine    
10 Denver D/ST   Rob Kelley  

Table 2: Players with Week 5 Byes

Now let’s look at Week 6 players.  Round three looks barren, but there is an approach to collect Week 6 bye week players that does make sense.  If you have a latter half of Round 1 pick, starting with LeSean McCoy and then Dez Bryant is a strong beginning to your draft.  Round three is likely best served for your top WR2 choice, but Round 4 could become Joe Mixon.  Rounds 5 and 6 could put a bow on this plan by going Jimmy Graham / Russell Wilson, completing a run of five of your Top 6 choices with a Week 6 bye.  Not only that, but your team has a player from each skill spot and you also have a RB2.  Eddie Lacy in Round 7 could complete the plan with a third option (flex?) to align the bye weeks, as could Jordan Matthews in Round 10.  Be sure to keep Table 3 ready if you have a draft going like this: 

Rnd Player Player Player Player
1   A.J. Green LeSean McCoy  
2 Doug Baldwin Dez Bryant   Ezekiel Elliott
3        
4   Joe Mixon    
5       Jimmy Graham
6 Tyler Eifert     Russell Wilson
7   Eddie Lacy    
8        
9   C.J. Prosise   Dak Prescott
10     Jordan Matthews  

Table 4: Players with Week 6 Byes

Now let's take a look at the first of three weeks with six teams on a bye, Week 8:

Rnd Player Player Player Player
1 David Johnson Odell Beckham Jr   Jordy Nelson
2 Todd Gurley Aaron Rodgers DeMarco Murray  
Leonard Fournette      
3       Allen Robinson
4     Sammy Watkins Ty Montgomery
    Davante Adams  
5     Larry Fitzgerald  
6   Brandon Marshall    
7 Paul Perkins   Delanie Walker Marcus Mariota
8 Martellus Bennett   Randall Cobb Derrick Henry
9 Eric Decker      
10 Eli Manning   Corey Davis John Brown

Table 4: Players with Week 8 Byes

Despite having 23 players to select from, this is not an easy plan to put together.  The best option I see is if you start with Odell Beckham Jr., and then take either Todd Gurley or Leonard Fournette as your RB1 in Round 2.  Round 3 could be a small reach to Allen Robinson, but if Sammy Watkins or Davante Adams gets back to you in Round 4, you have four strong picks early that all take Week 8 off.  Even if you do not get a wide receiver in Round 4 with a Week 8 bye, Larry Fitzgerald (Round 5) and Brandon Marshall (Round 6) all are realistic picks to push the Week 8 bye week agenda.  Rounds 8 and 9 are keys to grab a tight end, either with Delanie Walker (Round 8) or Martellus Bennett (Round 9).  Eli Manning solves the quarterback concern in Round 10, completing a very strong Week 8 bye week team.

Now let's take a look at Week 9, with another group of six teams with the week off.  Here is Table 5: 

Rnd Player Player Player Player
1 Le'Veon Bell   Melvin Gordon  
Antonio Brown      
2   Rob Gronkowski   Jordan Howard
3 Brandin Cooks Tom Brady Isaiah Crowell  
    Keenan Allen  
4 Julian Edelman      
5 Dalvin Cook   Martavis Bryant Stefon Diggs
6   Mike Gillislee    
7 Kyle Rudolph      
8       Ben Roethlisberger
9 Hunter Henry Philip Rivers   Tyrell Williams
  Cameron Meredith    
10 Adam Thielen Corey Coleman James White Duke Johnson

Table 5: Players with Week 9 Byes

There are several viable plans here, but once again we have to look at the scarce positions to make a decision.  Do you want to take Rob Gronkowski in Round 2, or are you happy with either Kyle Rudolph or Hunter Henry as your starting tight end?  If none of those appeal to you, skip this option and keep on going.  If you are intrigued, consider the plans as two types - Gronkowski or later tight end.  With the Gronksowski Plan, you take either Antonio Brown or LeVeon Bell in Round 1 and hope Gronkowski comes back to you.  If he does, go all in on New England and take Tom Brady and Julian Edelman with your next two selections.  That's a very risky (but possibly rewarding) plan, but I would actually prefer to skip Brady and take a wide receiver like Brandin Cooks and take a quarterback later.  Looking at Table 5, it is clear that if you want Week 9 bye wide receivers, Rounds 3-5 are the targets to get two or more.  If you start with Antonio Brown and get your WR2 and WR3 before the end of Round 5, you may be on to a strong Week 9 punt team.  All the plans I really like hinge on getting Gronkowski in Round 2.  

Moving on to Week 10:

Rnd Player Player Player Player
1        
2     Amari Cooper  
3   Travis Kelce   Marshawn Lynch
4 Tyreek Hill Michael Crabtree   Alshon Jeffery
5   Spencer Ware    
6       Danny Woodhead
7     Derek Carr  
8 Jeremy Maclin LeGarrette Blount   Zach Ertz
9   Terrance West Kareem Hunt  
10        

Table 6: Players with Week 10 Byes

Unless you love the Raiders, I would probably skip the Good-Bye plan for Week 10.  Amari Cooper is the only Top 24 option, so you have to get him.  You are also forced into Derek Carr as your quarterback in Round 7, and either Travis Kelce (Round 3) or Zach Ertz (Round 8) at tight end.  With just five wide receivers in the Top 120, this is not a strong group.

Let's close with our final six team week, Week 11:

Rnd Player Player Player Player
1   Mike Evans    
2     T.Y. Hilton Jay Ajayi
3     Jarvis Landry Christian McCaffrey
4 Carlos Hyde Greg Olsen    
5     Andrew Luck  
6   Bilal Powell Kelvin Benjamin  
7   Cam Newton Doug Martin  
  Jameis Winston Donte Moncrief  
8   Pierre Garcon DeVante Parker  
  DeSean Jackson Frank Gore  
9       Matt Forte
10   Jonathan Stewart    

Table 7: Players with Week 11 Byes

It is clear on the chart that a middle of the round pick serves best for this plan.  Starting with Mike Evans and then Jay Ajayi and Jarvis Landry follows the script well, and Greg Olsen is a top notch tight end available in Round 4.  Andrew Luck and Bilal Powell would round out this team perfectly in a rare 6-for-6 event, getting all of your first six selections with a Week 11 bye, and the positional mix (one tight end, one quarterback and a pair of both running backs and wide receivers) is ideal.  A middle pick in Round 1 could lend itself to a very strong Good-Bye Week 11 plan.  If things do not go perfectly, strong options exist in every round for a viable Week 11 bye player. This may be my favorite option of the bunch for this season.    

So there you have it - the "Good-Bye" view for 2017.  If your draft goes a certain way and you start to collect players with the same bye week, do not freak out.  Just remember this article and think about compounding the "problem" by building a team that will be 100% full when other teams have bye weeks affecting their lineups.  There are a number of ways to try this out and make it a successful draft, but remember my earlier warnings about planning for a loss in your fantasy season. Good luck.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com.