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Faceoff: Discussing Dynasty Strategy

August 28th

Clayton Gray: Let's discuss building a dynasty roster. Do you target specific positions? Do you eschew older players? What is your basic strategy in a dynasty league?

Matt Waldman: I love dynasty leagues, especially inheriting reclamation projects. Here are some basic guidelines to think about when playing in a dynasty league.

The Basics

Think About Personnel in Three-Year Windows: The career lifespan of the average NFL player is in the three-year range. Even if a player has a 12-year, 8-time Pro Bowl career, viewing players in three-year increments is a good rule of thumb to gauge a player's development, peak, and decline. This will help you determine whether your team is competitive or in rebuilding mode. It will also help you draft a roster balanced with players that can help you now and prospects that will pay off later. That said, it's still good to counter balance this point with understanding that certain positions have a longer shelf life than others once they hit their stride. This leads to my second point.

Research and Buy "Anchors": I believe certain positions can be the anchors of a consistent and competitive dynasty roster with a broad window to contend for a title.

  • An elite quarterback is tops on my list. These players have long and productive careers that are often 2-4 times longer than the careers of starting running backs and receivers. Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, and Joseph Addai were good, if not great fantasy running backs, but Peyton Manning has played with all three and he's still competing and a viable QB1. Brett Favre had Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens, Ahman Green, and Ryan Grant. I'm sure I left a few out. Even Tom Brady has played with Corey Dillon, Antowain Smith, Laurence Maroney, and several other high-round picks. You get the point. With an elite QB, you can set him and forget him for the next decade while stockpiling other positions.
  • Tight end is another good anchor position. Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, and Jason Witten are good examples of elite tight ends with longevity. They are usually the best all-around athletes on the field and offenses that feature tight ends don't veer away from the strategy enough to see these players go from starter to non-starter. This is another set it and forget it position and a position that can compensate for depth issues at receiver or a flex position depending on the league.
  • "No.1 receivers" Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Brandon Marshall, Reggie Wayne, and Andre Johnson are all great examples of receivers that provided strong production for years. Even if they have an "off-year," that off-year is still likely earning starter production. Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, and Hakeem Nicks are all good examples of No.1 receivers likely to still be strong fantasy starters after players like Ray Rice, Maurice Jones Drew, Chris Johnson, and Arian Foster are gone from the league.
  • Middle Linebackers: Think about how long London Fletcher has been a productive fantasy player. Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, too. Patrick Willis will have a good shot as well. Think of linebackers as the fantasy running backs of defense but with tight end longevity.

Stockpile These Positions: Running back, Wide Receiver, and Defensive End: There's great depth of talent at all three positions in the NFL. These positions also suffer enough injuries that you want to carry enough players for three reasons: talent development, injury depth, and trade currency. If you have strong depth at these positions, you will have a lot of leverage to make deals.

Try to Avoid Trading Offensive Players for Defensive Players: This is just a general rule. If you can get Jason Pierre Paul for Kevin Kolb, I high recommend you pull the trigger. However I think it's wise in most leagues to make fewer trades for defensive players with the use of offensive prospects. Most leagues have competitors that don't know the defensive side of the ball as well as the offensive side. Therefore, you'll have better opportunities to select quality defensive starters off the waiver wire. League scoring systems also tend to favor offense. Making trades for defensive players in this environment can be a waste in the long run.

Don't Avoid Older Players: Steven Jackson, Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, and Antonio Gates can be great players to own in dynasty leagues. The key is if you can honestly say that you're team's time "is now." If you have the horses to compete for a title this year, these players are good enough to help you get there. I prefer to only have a handful of one-year-at-time players like these as my starters, but avoiding them can delay your window of opportunity to get over the top. Sometimes if you wait for the Lee Evans, Laurence Mauroneys, and Knowshon Morenos to put it all together while bypassing an offer for a guy like Steven Jackson or Frank Gore, you may still be waiting for that window to open.

Dave Larkin: There's nothing quite like a dynasty league and they are by far my favourite format to play. I've been involved in my main dynasty leagues for at least four years, and I've learned a few tidbits in that time:

1. Always look forward

It is an obvious thing to note, but you always have to be thinking about the full range of possibilities for the future. Will my tailback be able to get over this knee injury and return to his former self? Can I rely on this young player who, in flashes, has shown himself to be a stud, or am I putting too much stock in youth? How much longer can I wait for this player to show me something before cutting ties?

All of this feeds into one overriding issue - competitiveness. You have to remain on top of the news and be savvy with pick-ups. While your leaguemates are sunning themselves in mid-June, you'll be keeping on top of the dynasty talk and acquiring players who, even if they don't work out, can be valuable commodities to trade. If you get into good habits like this, you'll stay a competitive team from one year to the next. After all, as enjoyable as it may be to turn a pretender into a contender, the ultimate goal is to win and win consistently.

2. Don't be afraid to go old

Dynasty owners love to stockpile draft picks and get young players on their roster. Often, these players are unproven and are nothing more than projects. Meanwhile, there are a constellation of veteran players out there ready to contribute. Don't be afraid to make offers for players with only one or two productive years left - but make sure to acquire them at a discount, which brings me to my next point...

3. Don't be too attached to draft picks

Some very savvy owners I play with in my dynasty leagues are very attached to their draft picks, often asking for a throw-in 3rd round pick for the future. On one hand, I can see the strategy here: the more picks you have, the better chance you have of hitting on them. Even so, the chances of that - for mid-round selections - is slim. If you feel like you are going to compete for a championship in the season to come and you think you are one or two players away, by all means trade your draft picks for talent for now. Sometimes, even while keeping one eye on the future, the other eye must be transfixed on the here and now.

4. Believe what you see

In any given week, there are so many storylines to keep abreast of in the NFL. If you see a player flash some skill that you think jives with what that position needs to do to be successful, then pick that player up. The eye test is often the best way to judge players. Who knows, you may have just picked up the next Wes Welker or Justin Tuck.

The basic strategy is to treat this team as if you are the GM for the next three years, and you have to produce a winner in that time or you'll be selling burgers at McDonald's. Well, maybe not to that extent, but along those lines. Play to win and enjoy it; it is the best form of fantasy football.

Sigmund Bloom: You start out with players still in their prime in the first three rounds. After you build your "core", you should switch into redraft mode. Players like Tom Brady, Andre Johnson, Roddy White, Antonio Gates, and Fred Jackson should be targets as you are attempting to win a title this year. You have your later picks and future rookie drafts to build for the future. Spending too many early picks on "delayed gratification" players can put you on the treadmill, never catching up to the elite teams because of their superior depth and production right out of the gate.

Jeff Pasquino: The basic strategy is to load up on talent, regardless of how you do it - and if you two players to pick between, go with the one with either more upside or more gas left in his tank. Typically in startup Dynasty leagues older players (RBs over 28, WRs over 30) slip to much later positions in drafts. That's often a mistake - just like going too hard after rookies or one-year players can cost you in overpaying for less than proven talent. Balance is the key. If you can identify great pairings (like an old/new QB duo like Hasselbeck / Locker) you can get great value for cheap. Taking risks can pay off big, but they can also backfire. Depth everywhere matters as you are in it for the long haul. Just remember that running backs change over quickly, but tight ends last longer, and wide receivers even longer, with stud quarterbacks seeming to last forever. Draft and plan accordingly.

Will Grant: Matt has laid it all out very well. Here are a couple other tidbits:

  1. You have to overpay a bit for young talent in a trade. Some guys love to stockpile draft picks and love the thrill of being able to select three rookie studs. However, I have seen plenty of teams trade away their top draft picks year after year to stockpile younger guys who have started to show their worth. Having 3 draft picks to try to land the next Ryan Matthews might thrill some, but you could also get a RB who turns into a career backup. Guys who give up a player and a 1st round pick for Matthews THIS year are better off because Matthews is a proven talent. The injury knocks him down a peg this very minute, but dynasty is long term. Having a proven guy like Matthews is better off than having a draft pick next year who may or may not be better.
  2. Know your scoring system and stockpile positions that can carry a team. We've talked in multiple faceoffs about PPR leagues that give 1.5 PPR for a TE. In a dynasty league with that format, especially if you have a flex, you need to stockpile young TE talent. Spend your 3rd or 4th round pick on a flyer TE and see what happens. If you land a guy who breaks out in a year or even two years, you'll be better off in the long run.