Roundtable Week 17 - Footballguys

Our Footballguys panelists share their thoughts on lessons learned, play a game of "time machine," predict significant improvements for 2019 and rehash their first fantasy football experience. 

This week, our panel discusses lessons learned, considers what they might do differently if they had a fantasy time machine, predicts who will make a significant statistical leap in 2019, and rehashes their first fantasy football league experience.

Let's roll...

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2018 Lessons Learned

Matt Waldman: What have you learned this year about football — be it something strategic, technical, analytical, or tangential to fantasy football or the NFL — that you believe will make you a better fantasy writer in the future?

Justin Howe: That nagging and long-term injuries can drain upside, rob seasons, and turn good draft value bad. Missed games are only the tip of the iceberg, and missed practices and lost conditioning cause them to pile up.

Entering the season, I was exceptionally bullish on Dalvin Cook and Doug Baldwin, among others. I tried to factor their injuries in, reasoning that their best-case scenarios over 14-15 games were still pretty excellent. In general, that panned out — Cook and Baldwin have both produced quite well once fully over the injury hump.

But along the way, they muddled through quite a bit of negativity. Cook missed the offseason program, then spent the first half of the year battling cramps and hamstring woes as he rounded into game shape. Baldwin let out preseason hints that his knee simply wasn't right, then came out with an MCL tear just after Week 1.

Had I considered the peripheral factors to these injuries, I could've prepared better for their downsides and scooped an extra round of value from each, on the aggregate. (Over 135 DRAFTs, I wound up with about 50 combined shares of the two.)

I'm not sure how actionable this realization is. Different players have different bodies, and Dalvin Cook's timetable has no direct bearing on the next guy's. But whiffing so badly on these two values has certainly jolted me back into following the (medical) experts' expectations. Jene Bramel's Monday injury rounds are not to be taken for granted.

B.J. VanderWoude: This year I took it upon myself to learn more about the offenses for the two teams I am tasked with recapping each week: the Chiefs and the Packers. I am as spoiled as a recapper gets, as I get to watch Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes II make ridiculously hard throws look easy, routinely, while throwing to All-Pro studs like Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce. Add the breakout season of Aaron Jones, as well as Kareem Hunt’s rise, and subsequent fall from stardom, and it was about as much fun as I’ve ever had to research something I was passionate about.

The Chiefs use misdirection, motion, and play-action better than any team I’ve covered in depth. It looks like window dressing while you are watching live and in full speed, but when you slow it down and key in on how the defense reacts, you start to see the “game within the game”. The Chiefs do an excellent job of spreading out opposing defenses and then attacking the weak points, and when you have the speed and athleticism of the Chiefs skill position players, that is a battle opposing defenses are not going to win.

The Packers were on the opposite side of the spectrum. In fact, after watching the Chiefs offense so closely, it began to dawn on me that the Packers offense was successful not because of their scheme, but rather in spite of it. They seldom used presnap motion to clear out one side of the field while the defense was in man coverage, and despite having an athletic quarterback who can throw on the run as well as Rodgers can, he was rarely used in a way that took advantage of his mobility.

We now know that there had been some acrimony with respect to how Rodgers was running the offense, often in defiance of the Packers play callers, and this was apparent in Rodgers having one of his worst statistical seasons since becoming the Packers starter.

Waldman: I spent a lot of time on the Chiefs as well, B.J. and I enjoyed not only the shifts they use but also the way they used a variety of formation types to spread or compressed the field. I also appreciated that they often used trickery to set up additional trickery.

Mark Wimer: One lesson that I had learned in previous years was from Bob Harris - "Don't draft last year's fantasy studs, look for and draft this year's fantasy studs!" This has been a guiding principle for me over the last 15 years or so (ever since I heard that gold nugget from Harris).

I have been re-learning this lesson in a new way during 2018-2019, but on a more granular level by paying close attention to Steve Buzzard's excellent analysis of the percentage owned in Daily Fantasy Sports contests. While this mostly applies to Daily Fantasy Sports contests, the time and work I've put in on that aspect of fantasy sports have helped me to "churn" up better, and cheaper, short-term free agent prospects when I suffer a short-term injury or suspension to a starter on my season-long fantasy teams.

It's allowed me to be more efficient with my free agent $ because I'm bidding for guys who aren't the crowds' "fantasy darling of the week". After all, I am going for a guy who may only be started 1-2 weeks for my season-long squad before being jettisoned (WR3 or Flex-type players), so why pay top dollar for that week's "darling" free agent?

Jason Wood: This may sound like blasphemy, and it's not (yet) tested as it's something I'm going to look at during the offseason, but my hot take from this season is that we've taken advanced metrics too far. While I'm sure they're useful for bettors or DFS enthusiasts, I believe we've now drilled so far down into the weeds in slicing and dicing player statistics, matchup data, and related metrics that it's no longer helpful in winning your leagues. The NFL has become a war of attrition, and while it's nice to say "Player X has a better matchup than Player Y" ultimately most teams are facing desperate options in a few lineup spots almost every week once the bye week gauntlet combines with injuries.

In a corollary, using weekly strength-of-schedule for defensive matchups is largely a fool's errand. It provides ample stuff to talk about, but with the league's enforcement of pass interference, roughing the passer, low hits, etc...strongly favoring offensive production, there aren't many times when betting against a superior player because of a defensive matchup pays off. To put it another way, I don't see anything in the data (yet) to say it pays off more than a coin toss would.

Will Grant: Not sure if it will make me a better writer, but I definitely have re-discovered my love of the subtle parts of the game through the eyes of my son. He's 22 now and until recently, has never really been interested in football. However, this year he's become more engaged, watching games, asking questions, genuinely interested in learning about things.

In discussing things with him, and pointing out how plays develop, I'm bringing to mind many of the things that I often took for granted — how a quarterback works through his progressions or locks onto one guy before making a throw. How a running back who is patient can follow his blockers, find the hole and then explode through it vs a guy who just runs full tilt into the pile because that's where the play was designed to go. Seeing how receivers and defensive backs use their body to shield their opponent in an attempt to make a play on the ball.

And my absolute favorite thing — how a well designed and executed set of plays can be literally unstoppable. I find my self pausing the game and commenting — how could you possibly defend against that pass? Trying to teach my son just how tactical and precise any particular play can be. It's reminded me of how awesome football can be. In a lot of ways, I'm the kid again. That's been the best part of this season for me.

Waldman: That's awesome, Will. My lesson is one that I've been learning over the course of 6-7 years in a specific dynasty league where I blew up the guts of the squad way too early — stockpile talent.

All too often, we try to address every need with our dynasty rosters during a draft or on the waiver wire. It often leads to us making investments in players we don't believe in because they are "the next-best" option on our lists.

The root lesson is what many successful organizations do when developing employees: maximize their strengths to overcome their weaknesses. Since applying that maxim to a championship dynasty squad, I am seeing the benefits.

I already have four starting receivers in a start-three league but the player I like the most on the board is another receiver? I'm taking him. I already have three quality starting quarterbacks but the quarterback I gave the best grade in at least five years is available for a first-round pick? I'm taking him.

So what if I don't have a good depth chart of running backs. There weren't any to be had where I was picking. If I hit on the depth I took at receiver and/or quarterback, I can give a known commodity for a known commodity in return at the position of need.

And if I stockpile at a position successfully that creates a scenario where I have four of the top 12 quarterbacks in the league and that remains the case for the near future, I'll have more power to dictate terms.

This worked out for me this year with a rebuild that won the points title and the championship in a dynasty IDP league with 43-man rosters. I'm beginning to think it might be fun to experiment with stockpiling a position in specific re-draft formats to see what I might be able to craft from it.

Phil Alexander: I've always believed the best players can overcome poor coaching schemes and a lack of surrounding talent, except at the margins. This season, David Johnson served as a strong reminder of exactly what defines those margins.

I didn't have Johnson ranked ahead of Todd Gurley but when the rubber met the road, and I drew the first pick in my most important league, it was Johnson's sticker I slapped on the draft board. This isn't the place to rehash why I thought it was the right decision at the time, but needless to say, the result was a lesson learned the hard way.

Maybe Johnson could have overcome what was projected to be (and went on to become) one of the worst offensive lines in the league. He also could have survived the departure of a quarterback — Carson Palmer — who can challenge defenses downfield. There was even a chance he might have been fine without the head coach who consistently put him in the best possible positions to succeed (Bruce Arians).

But assuming Johnson would shrug off all three dilemmas and replicate his 2016 numbers was more than wishful thinking. It was dumb. The conditions weren't there for an overall RB1 season from Johnson and it was obvious in retrospect no matter what I thought of the player. Moving forward, Johnson's 2018 will serve as a reminder to put personal biases aside, consider each player's outlook more objectively, and not ignore piles of logical, compelling evidence that don't fit the narrative I've crafted in my mind.

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2018 Time Machine

Waldman: If you could take what you know now and apply it to your 2018 fantasy drafts, what would you do differently?

Alexander: Draft Patrick Mahomes II ahead of ADP? Like most of the fantasy football community, I was enamored with Mahomes' potential after watching him in the preseason the last two years. But I'm calling bull on anyone who says they drafted him thinking he would lead the league in fantasy scoring by a 20 percent margin over the next closest player.

I haven't seen any statistics yet on which players appeared on the highest percentage of championship rosters this season, but it would be shocking if Mahomes doesn't top the list. Drafting Mahomes at his QB16 preseason price tag meant you were getting the best player in the entire pool in the ninth or tenth round, while your league mates were picking through scraps (looking at you, DeVante Parker).

As a late(ish) round quarterback advocate, I was fortunate enough to land Mahomes on a few (winning) best ball teams but didn't come up with any shares in my traditional season-long leagues. Heading into 2019 drafts, I'm not sure I would spend a first-round pick on Mahomes, but I'd guess someone in every league is going to, and I won't be looking down on those people for doing it.

Grant: I completely agree with Phil on Patrick Mahomes II. I was absolutely convinced that this was the year to wait as long as possible for a quarterback and then take two and go with a quarterback by committee approach. I did that in every league that I was in and did very well with it. But the guys who take Mahomes all did better than I did in total PF for the season and all made the playoffs in the leagues that I played in.

In the final pre-season rankings, there were less than two points per game difference between the No.1 and the No.6 projected quarterbacks. After 15 games, Mahomes is the No.1 fantasy quarterback averaging almost FIVE points per game more than the No.2 fantasy quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger). Think about that for a second...if you started Mahomes as your quarterback, you automatically had at least a five-point lead on your opponent, no matter who they started at quarterback. That's a huge advantage.

As for next year, I think his success makes Mahomes an early candidate to be over-valued. It will not surprise me to see Mahomes going somewhere in the 15-20 overall range next year.

VanderWoude: The popular answers relate to Patrick Mahomes II and mine is no different. Having watched every Chiefs offensive snap over the previous four years, I often remarked that Alex Smith ran the KC offense with surgical precision, but his lack of arm talent, especially deep down the field, had held the Chiefs back from reaching its full potential. I had competing thoughts. First was that Mahomes had a huge arm and the athleticism to do many of the things that Smith did well, with the upside to do them at a higher level. The flip side was that Smith was a veteran who had spent five years in the Chiefs offense before really mastering it, and he is regarded as one of the most intelligent players in the league.

Where I failed was putting too much stock in the things that could prevent Mahomes from being successful. Looking back, the Chiefs have incredible talent at the skill positions, and at the very least, Mahomes would be able to play the role of distributor and put his receivers in advantageous situations. At best, he would become the playmaker himself, throwing guys open and using his arm talent to complete throws other quarterbacks only dream of.

His baseline or fantasy floor in the Chiefs offense was higher than 22-25 starting quarterbacks, which made him one of the best values on the board. This is a lesson I’m going to take with me going forward.

Wood: It's hard not to echo my colleagues and mention Mahomes. Matt deserves credit for being the highest Mahomes supporter on staff, but even he wasn't arguing for an MVP-caliber season.

Waldman: Thanks, but yeah, why be that specific when you could get Mahomes in the 9th or 10th round in traditional leagues. I drafted him in the fourth or fifth in our two-quarterback league because I needed to be aggressive against the likes of you guys. Telling people for two years that Mahomes was the best quarterback I graded in at least five years was enough to send the message that has the chance to be great. Even so, I hoped for a 4,000-yard passing output and 30-touchdown season. Mahomes surpassed my expectations as a first-year starter.

Wood: What's ironic is this was the year when waiting on quarterback became the default strategy for "experts" and regular enthusiasts alike. And I would still argue that's a lazy strategy. It only works if you get it right. Mahomes' otherworldly success will bastardize the idea of waiting on a quarterback even more. Yes, if you waited and took Mahomes, you probably made your playoffs. But there were a ton of other quarterbacks you waited on that put you at a decided strategic disadvantage. Like every other position in football, the key is to roster value. Get later round picks right, at any position, and it's a boon.

Since we're aligned on Mahomes, I'll offer a second thought. I would go back to be more aggressive with my strongest conviction calls. No fantasy analyst gets everything right. We're winning if we get 60 percent of our calls right. But we have levels of conviction. This year, I felt strongly that David Johnson was risky, had Alvin Kamara in my top four, bought into Christian McCaffrey's Norv-Turner-led hype, yet somehow my rosters didn't reflect that reality as much as I intended.

The final thing I would do, and it's a doozy, take the Le'Veon Bell situation more seriously. I bet on Bell throughout the draft season and even traded for him in a few leagues once the season got underway, and I paid dearly for my optimism.

Waldman: I'll agree with Wood on the points about Le'Veon Bell and David Johnson. Both share a common factor from opposite sides of the same coin and that's offensive line play. Most running backs require at least decent offensive line play unless they are force-fed and/or used as receivers in space like Saquon Barkley. We knew Bell had an excellent offensive line and that should have influenced us to caution people about the Steelers intractability with Bell's holdout.

We also knew that the Cardinals lacked a strong offensive line, had a new offensive coordinator, and a rookie quarterback. That trio of information should be enough to diminish any runner's appeal.

Then again, Barkley had a weak offensive line, a new offensive coordinator, and a struggling quarterback and he delivered what was expected of Johnson. Regardless of the reasons why the results unfolded as they did, no one knew in August if the Giants or Cardinals would get it right with their running back.

We could argue that Mike McCoy would overcomplicate things or that he'd learn from his past mistakes or that Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula wouldn't gel. Many argued that Mahomes wouldn't learn the complete Andy Reid playbook and perform with great recklessness.

Since we have to make educated guesses with these scenarios, the best course is to bet on good offensive lines. Mahomes has one but the other two players in the discussion were bigger gambles.

It leads to my answer: I would stay away from high ADP players lacking capable offensive lines.

Howe: I wouldn't have shied away from projecting high reception totals for running backs, that's for sure. My model kept turning up wild catch numbers, and like a good football purist but an undisciplined metric man, I depressed them until they pushed way below their reasonable floors.

I knew Christian McCaffrey was good enough to be Carolina's lynchpin, but I hedged my bets and sometimes passed on him for Devonta Freeman or LeSean McCoy. I believed Matt Nagy that he saw Tarik Cohen as a Tyreek Hill-type weapon, but I braced for the worst case and hardly targeted him over 135 DRAFT drafts.

Change-of-pace guys like Cohen, James White, and Austin Ekeler paid huge dividends for fantasy players who (a) recognize the NFL's trend into a thoroughly pass-dominant league, and (b) had the guts to act on it now, rather than later.

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Making the Leap: 2019

Waldman: Name a player that you think will take a significant statistical leap forward in 2019.

Wood: Since it's our last roundtable of the year, I'll give you one at every position:

  • Sam Darnold (QB-NYJ): Darnold was awful this year. As were fellow rookies Josh Allen and Josh Rosen. The trio finished 31st, 32nd, and 33rd in adjusted yards per attempt and the on-field performances matched the statistical disappointment. But if you watch Darnold's game film, he flashed moments of elite play. And he was hamstrung by a subpar roster and bad coaching. The Jets are going to try to make a splash with a big coaching hire in the coming months, and have an insane amount of money to spend in free agency. If they're smart (a big if), the Jets are going to give Darnold as big an upgrade to his supporting cast as we've seen in years.
  • Royce Freeman (RB-DEN): Freeman's season was derailed by Phillip Lindsay's shocking emergence. Lindsay is arguably the smallest player (on a relative basis) to achieve this level of success in our lifetimes, and it was rational for the coaches to trust Lindsay over Freeman based on the early-season returns. Yet, the stars are aligned for Freeman in 2019. One, Freeman wasn't bad when given an opportunity. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns on 113 carries. Two, Lindsay suffered a serious wrist injury in Week 16 and it's unclear if he'll be back to full strength for the start of next preseason. Three, the Broncos are going to make wholesale changes to the coaching staff, and the offensive scheme. It's hard for me to believe a new coaching staff is going to look at Lindsay and Freeman, and not at least give Freeman a chance to re-assert himself in the preseason as the focal point.
  • Dante Pettis (WR-SF): Pettis got off to a slow start in his rookie season but asserted himself down the stretch. The 49ers were decimated by injuries, but Pettis produced with Nick Mullens throwing the ball, and veterans like Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin unnecessarily muddying up the depth chart. Next year, Jimmy Garoppolo will be healthy, and the 49ers will jettison Garcon and/or Goodwin.
  • Hunter Henry (TE-LAC): Okay, maybe this is cheating, but the tight end position is a mess outside of a few elite options. Henry is, of course, part of that elite tier but his absence this year will provide a small window early in the preseason to draft him far below fair value. By the time most leagues are drafting, and Henry has been healthy during the preseason, his ADP will return to fair levels as an early-rounder. But if you draft in June or July -- as many of us do -- Henry is going to come cheaper than he should.

These are four players I'll definitely be considering in 2019 drafts

Grant: The guy that I can't wait to see next season is Baker Mayfield. The Browns finally have built some momentum after so many consecutive years of losing. When he took over in the Jets game in Week 3 and led his team to their first victory in forever, you could see this guy was going to be something special. Since then the Browns have taken huge strides and have moved into a downright dangerous place for the rest of their division — a team that does not fear anyone.

Coming into this season, the Browns had just one win in two years. Under Mayfield — they are 7-7-1 and are on a three-game winning streak going into the final game of the season. That's in no small part to the progression of Mayfield who has 710 passing yards, six passing touchdowns and 1 interception over that same three games. With another offseason, a mountain of young talent and draft picks and a team (and a city) that actually believes that they can win — is it so far out of the question that Mayfield is a legitimate fantasy quarterback next season? .

Wimer: Marquez Valdes-Scantling started the year off slowly as a rookie wide receiver in Green Bay, but started to gain momentum in Week Five. While he has been inconsistent in production this year, he got a lot of time/reps in "real" regular season pro football games, and the depth chart in front of him is likely changing (I think Randall Cobb moves on in 2019-2020 opening up a starting wide receiver slot for Valdes-Scantling).

Among the Packers' rookie wide receivers, I think Valdes-Scantling has the best shot to complement Davante Adams as the Packers' starting wide receivers next season. Valdes-Scantling saw nine targets for 5/75/0 receiving during Aaron Rodgers' big game in Week 16 (at NYJ) so that is a hopeful sign for his future potential.

VanderWoude: Sony Michel. He’s had his problems with injuries in his rookie season, but when he’s been healthy, he’s shown glimpses of being a stud workhorse back. The Patriots old guard is starting to look, well, old. Rob Gronkowski looks like a shell of himself and he can no longer be the focal point of the offense.

The Josh Gordon experiment is over, and as good as Julian Edelman is, he performs much better as a complementary receiver who is not subjected to a massive amount of hits every game, because he is on the smaller side. James White is a great secondary option, but he’s not built to carry the ball 250+ times in a season as it takes away from his effectiveness as a receiver.

Tom Brady is starting to slow down as a passer, but the Patriots can still maximize his ability and remaining years by balancing the offense and becoming more of a running team. Michel is the answer to that problem, as he can carry a full workload, and make dynamic plays as a runner while still being versatile enough to play on third downs either on his own or in concert with White.

He’s also shown to be a tough runner in the red zone, which gives him a high ceiling in an offense that will always be able to scheme their opponents and score efficiently.

I like Michel’s chances of being a No.1-B running back next year, despite the fact that he will be drafted as a No.2, and potentially even in the rounds where #3 running backs are drafted.

Howe: I'm eager to see what will become of D.J. Moore in 2019. I'm going to assume two things at this point: 1) Cam Newton's shoulder will benefit from a long, bitter offseason, and 2) that Devin Funchess is on his way out of Carolina. The Panthers are building a high-octane offense that's rooted in quickness, burst, and versatility.

Soon, with both Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin gone, Newton won't be tasked with hitting on jump balls and tight-window routes 18 yards down the field. He'll be presented with a bevy of dynamic, across-the-field options in Moore, Christian McCaffrey, and Curtis Samuel, which suits much better to the option-style game he's such a weapon in.

Moore should be the biggest beneficiary. McCaffrey can't get much higher in terms of receiving production —I mean, 120 catches? 130? — and Moore will likely be asked to fill a vacuum next season.

Waldman: I dunno, Justin, you just lamented that you didn't maintain that discipline for data and here you go again with capping what's "reasonable."

Howe: Ha! Touchè...

Moore has struggled with consistency and misplayed a few catches, but he's still caught 69 percent of his rookie targets. Moore has won both downfield and underneath, and is a prototypical weapon for Newton going forward. I won't start projecting numbers until at least May, but based on the volume and distribution I've come to expect from the Panthers, I'm anticipating a line around 70-1,100-9 for Moore's second year.

Waldman: Deshaun Watson. He performed without Will Fuller V for much of the year and even when Keke Coutee was on the field, he was never healthy enough to be a factor in the vertical game like he was at Texas Tech. With Fuller and Hopkins in their primes and Coutee, Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas, and DeAndre Carter talents capable of emerging in this offense, Watson has excellent young weapons.

He also made strides this year with the rhythm passing game so he didn't always have to rely on scrambling or quick passes without a drop back. In other words, he's progressing beyond what Carson Wentz is and into a well-round pro passer. If his weapons stay healthy in 2019 and they add immediate value in the NFL Draft, Watson could have a career year.

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OUr First Fantasy Leagues

Waldman: Tell us about your first fantasy football league.

Wood: 1996, fresh out of college. A co-worker introduced the concept to me and asked me to attend a draft he was putting together. We met in a conference room of our company and I was provided a printed list of the league leaders from the prior year. They weren't sorted by fantasy points, but by yardage. And there were no forward-looking projections.

I got the first pick through random selection and took Brett Favre. When the draft came back to me, I took Ben Coates. If you look at how those players did in 1996, you might think I dominated. I didn't. Because from there the picks went off the rails.

The lesson? League leaders in Year N are unlikely to look like the leaders in Year N+1. We take that bit of analysis for granted now, but it was something I learned in real time over the final months of the 1996 season.

My failures that the first year was also born out of other common mistakes. I didn't watch enough football. Basically, I went to every Eagles home game but paid little attention to other games outside of checking box scores in USA Today.

I also was terrible at the waiver system. It just didn't click with me for most of the year, and so I rarely gained players on waivers that helped me. Third, I didn't accept or offer a single trade. It seemed too complex to pay attention to other team's needs and rosters.

The following year, that same co-worker (now a personal friend) invited me into his local league to replace a departing player. It was an 8-man league that started two quarterbacks. It's strange 20+ years later to see 2QB and Superflex gaining popularity when I've been using that roster configuration from the earliest days of the hobby.

Wimer: I still have a franchise in my first fantasy football league, the Heartland Football League, which started in 1989. Back then, USA Today newspaper (for people under 30, you used to get the news actually physically printed on paper and delivered to your home's doorstep in the morning, before the dawn of the Internet) was the only source for full box scores (our local paper only printed summaries). So we scored the league manually on an Excel spreadsheet using the USA Today box scores.

Back then only "nerds" and "geeks" played fantasy football — now 100's of millions of people do. It's been exciting to be a part of that growth since I started with way back in 1999.

And the best part is that we just keep breaking new ground with our Fantasy Football analysis and tools — there are exciting, new, products coming in the pipeline, too! So thanks to all the Footballguys customers out there for taking us along on the ride with you through your fantasy football seasons!

Howe: A friend of our family invited me into a high-stakes league at 14. I'd never played, but had devoured Fantasy Football Index and a handful of other prominent sources and felt ready to jump in. It was a blast — lineups were called or emailed to the commissioner (via Hotmail) by Saturday morning, and on Sunday he'd hand-deliver printouts to each of us.

We tabulated our own points on the honor system. Three of us pooled the entry fee ($150), which immediately put too many cooks into the kitchen and led to heated weekly debates. Ultimately, our project went off the rails, and it was all my fault.

Desperate to add a startable receiver — and to extract some trade value from what looked like an awesome bench — I dealt rookie Fred Taylor for Rob Moore, straight up. There was no excuse: we were deep at running back, but when Taylor broke out, I jumped on the first offer and thought we were walking away with big value. We weren't. I'd been had.

That league wound up just about as shady and unpleasant as you could imagine. With real money on the line, grown men engaged in sweetheart deals, obvious collusion, player rentals, and even cheap timing tricks to "disallow" lineups. I once called in my lineup 10 minutes before the Saturday deadline, but my opponent literally called the commissioner to "chat" and tie up the line!

I'd never seen anything like it and still, haven't. It wasn't fun. But it taught me how to run a league. Seeing what not to do made me a strong commissioner several years down the road.

Waldman: I was invited to play in an office league with co-workers and friends in 1995 after participating in office pools with them a few times the year before. The league tallied the results from the newspaper box scores at a local bar during Monday night football.

I forgot about the invitation and no-showed for the draft -- something I couldn't imagine doing today. However, they invited me again in 1996.

Talking with one of my friends in the league before the draft I asked him for advice and he said, that it's often a good idea if you're picking later in the round to switch up from running back and take a wide receiver.

I think I had a pick in the middle of the round and still opted to follow his advice, taking Jerry Rice. I followed up with Rick Watters in the second round and Terrell Davis in the third. Somewhere in the early mix, I took Irving Fryar and Michael Jackson and took Derrick Alexander late in the draft. I wound up with the No.1, No.4, No.5, and No.12 receivers in my starting lineup along with the No.2 and No.3 runners.

It didn't matter that my I was rolling with quarterbacks Ty Detmer (who wound up the 12th best fantasy QB ahead of Troy Aikman) and Jim Harbaugh, I won money for the best record and most points. If we didn't have a Week 17 playoff, I would have won the league, too. I remember Stephen Davis was one of my rookie picks and "Whoa Nellie..." Keith Jackson was my tight end.

By the end of the year, I was hooked. I was in that league for 14-15 years and it was the only local league experience that I had -- which makes it the most fun fantasy league I've been a part of.

I miss local leagues.

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