This Week in Dynasty: Week 4

A dynasty take on current NFL developments for the week of 9/23/13

Hey guys and gals, welcome to This Week in Dynasty. This is a new feature this year where we're going to discuss relevant developments from around the league with a dynasty slant. Everything is fair game, from high-level strategy to nitty-gritty player evals. If you have an suggestions for topics you'd like to see covered in this space, or if you'd just like to join the conversation, feel free to let me know on Twitter at @AdamHarstad.

The Big Takeaway

I don't think I'll be blowing any minds when I say that the key to being successful in dynasty is identifying and acquiring valuable players for a fraction of their worth. That seems pretty intuitive- trade bad players to get good players and you'll win a bunch of games. As a consequence, so much of the discourse in dynasty centers around the specific value of individual players as the community attempts to identify which players are worth more than they cost and which cost more than they're worth. What we don't see as often is a discussion on the very concepts of "worth" and "value". What is "value"? How do we decide how much that value is "worth"? How do we best communicate these concepts? While it's still early in the season, I wanted to take a week to address these issues. A lot of this will seem very basic and commonsense, but the basics are important, too. Vince Lombardi famously opened his camps by holding up a football and saying "Gentlemen, this is a football". Sometimes, it's important to review the fundamentals rather than simply taking them for granted.

At its most basic level, value is simply a measure of how much a player helps us accomplish our goals. For most owners, their goal is either "winning the most games possible", "winning the most championships possible", or "winning the most money possible". These three goals are similar but not the same, and in certain situations will result in a player having different values. Winning games favors reliable performers, winning championships favors high-variance players, and winning money is going to fall somewhere in between based on your league's payout structure. While these are the three most common goals, they are not by any means the only possible goals. Some owners like to own players from their favorite NFL team to simplify rooting interests. Some owners like to draft rookies and roster them for their entire careers. These aren't "wrong" or "bad" goals- for most, fantasy football is something they play for fun; don't lose sight of that when constructing your team. The goals you have are going to determine how you value rookie picks compared to veterans, or how you value future seasons compared to the current season, so it's important to be very explicit with yourself about what your goals are. When making moves, be sure to ask yourself how those moves help you accomplish your goals.

In terms of the "big 3" goals (winning games, championships, and money), players help us achieve them by scoring points. In the broadest sense possible, then, you can say that a player's value is a function of the points he scores. That's not quite right, though- if Joe Bryant has taught us just one thing, it's that it's not how many points a player scores, it's by how many points he outscores his peers. In a more specific sense, then, player value becomes a function of points over the baseline. That's VBD 101.

At the risk of sounding blasphemous in these hallowed halls, I believe that VBD was revolutionary when Joe Bryant first wrote about it in 1996, but I also believe it's showing signs of age. VBD was an improvement over the existing systems because it factored opportunity cost into player worth- suddenly players weren't worth how many points they score, they were worth how many points they score minus how many points you could have gotten from someone else, instead. That's a huge deal, because opportunity costs are real costs. I like to say that fantasy football in general, and dynasty leagues in particular, are really just a game of resources. Every owner is given a limited amount of resources- draft picks, starting spots, roster spots, waiver priorities or blind bid bucks- and they must use those resources efficiently to maximize their points scored. That's where VBD comes in handy. It compares a player's points scored against the points scored by a certain arbitrary baseline at the same position in order to determine the opportunity cost of the draft pick.

The problem with VBD is that, while it accounts for the opportunity cost of the draft pick, it fails to account for the opportunity cost of the starting spot or the opportunity cost of the roster spot. In a league that starts 3 WRs, every owner gets 48 total player-starts at the WR position over the course of the year (3 WRs per week * 16 weeks). Every time you start a WR, that number diminishes by one. To use an example from the 2012 season, in standard scoring leagues Andre Roberts outscored Danario Alexander 109 points to 108. Simple VBD suggests that Andre Roberts was more valuable; however, in order to benefit from all 109 of Roberts' points, you would have had to start him 15 times (leaving just 33 more starts at the WR position), while you could have gotten Alexander's points by starting him just 9 times (leaving 39 more starts at the WR position). Clearly, the opportunity cost of Alexander's 108 points was much lower than Roberts' 109 points, meaning Danario Alexander was more valuable despite scoring one fewer point. Similarly, Percy Harvin was more valuable than Nate Washington despite both scoring 99 points, and LeSean McCoy was more valuable than BenJarvus Green-Ellis despite being outscored by 7 points. So, to amend the concept of VBD slightly, a player's value is not just his points above baseline over a full season, it's his points above baseline per game multiplied by his games played. It's better to have a stud for half a season than a baseline player for the full season.

Dynasty leaguers also have another opportunity cost to deal with owing to the fact that player careers are all different lengths. In redraft, almost every player you roster is expected to take up a roster spot for the remainder of the season, no more and no less. In dynasty, a receiver could take up a roster spot for the rest of the season, or he could take up a roster spot for the next decade. Every week he ties up a roster spot incurs an opportunity cost, because that's a week where you can't be using that roster spot to scoop up a player off of the waiver wire. The opportunity cost of tying up a roster spot is going to vary based on how deep the league is- if the best player on waivers is Reuben Randle, the opportunity cost is much higher than if the best player on waivers is Jerricho Cotchery. Regardless, no matter how deep the league is, the opportunity cost is present. Because of this, not all players who have 200 remaining VBD are created equally. Imagine one player will score 200 VBD this season and then retire, while another player will score 20 VBD a year for the next decade. The second player gives you 200 VBD, but the first player gives you an identical 200 VBD *PLUS* an extra nine years worth of use out of that roster spot. Based on opportunity cost, clearly the first player is more valuable.

Accounting for these three main opportunity costs, we come up with the basic rules of player value in dynasty leagues. 1) The more points you score relative to your peers, the more valuable you are. 2) The fewer games required to score those points, the more valuable you are. 3) The less time you will spend tying up a roster spot, the more valuable you are. A player's "actual value" is a function of these three rules.

A lot of this is pretty intuitive for most experienced dynasty owners. They know that at the top of their startup drafts, they should be looking for rare players, which is why Jimmy Graham was drafted, on average, a full round before Aaron Rodgers in startup drafts this offseason. Rodgers is incredible, but there are a whole lot more quarterbacks who'll score huge point totals than there are tight ends. They know that players who put up huge point totals in a small number of games played are more valuable than players who are always healthy but rarely productive, which is why Danny Amendola and Danario Alexander were being drafted, on average, as the 70th and 90th players off the board while Mike Williams and Miles Austin were drafted 92nd and 95th despite a much more productive history. Finally, they know that the sooner we can find out information about a player, the more valuable he is, which is why after being drafted behind Gavin Escobar all offseason long, Zach Sudfeld was drafted 6 rounds earlier than Escobar in August. At that point, Sudfeld would be the immediate starter for New England, while Escobar was still stuck behind Witten for the foreseeable future. Most agreed that Escobar was a better talent, but we'd find out who Sudfeld really was a lot sooner than we'd find out about Escobar. This is a concept I like to call "urgency"- the sooner we will find out more information about a player, the more valuable that player is.

In addition to "actual value", players carry with them a "perceived value", or trade value. Perceived value is very different than actual value- perceived value will never put points on the scoreboard, marks in the win column, or trophies on the mantle. People once thought Charles Rodgers would be one of the greatest WRs in history, meaning his perceived value was sky high, but he didn't help his owners accomplish any of their goals, so his actual value was basically nil. Perceived value is never a bad thing, but at the end of the day, it only matters as much as your ability to convert it to actual value. If you had traded Charles Rodgers when his perceived value was high, you likely could have brought in players who would have actually contributed to you reaching your goals, but "perceived value" is not real value unless and until you actually trade the player in question.

In fact, all trades come down to an interplay between actual value and perceived value. If you believe that a player's perceived value is higher than his actual value, you should trade him. If you believe that a player's actual value is higher than his perceived value, you should hold him. Perceived value is a tool that you can use to acquire actual value, but at the end of the day, actual value is the only thing that determines how successful you are at achieving your goals. Perceived value is a parachute that allows you to soften the landing if a player crashes, but like a parachute, it only works if you actually pull the ripcord before hitting the ground.

So, to sum it all up- player value is a measure of how much that player will help you achieve your goals, and the value is therefore a function of what your goals may be. To determine value, production must always be adjusted for opportunity cost, and the more opportunity costs you can account for, the more accurate the value will be. Perceived value is a measure of how much actual value a player can bring in trade. Ultimately, perceived value is not real value unless and until it is converted to actual value.

Hopefully that summation makes something else exceedingly clear: there's no such thing as "universal value". Value will vary from owner to owner depending on what their goals are. Value will vary from league to league depending on scoring system (which determines how many points a player scores), starting lineup (which determines the weekly baselines), and roster depth (which determines the value of an extra marginal roster spot). Perceived value is even more volatile. It's one thing to say you should get more for Player X in trade than just Player Y, but if everyone in your league hates Player X there's only so much you can do. As a result, outside opinions can prove very valuable for helping you determine a player's true value, but at the end of the day, no two situations are ever exactly the same and a player's true value might fall anywhere within a relatively broad range. In one league, the biggest mistake I ever made was drafting a defense in the 20th round of the startup; rosters were shallow, the perceived value of defenses was low, and I wound up cutting that defense within a couple of weeks for another unit on the street with a better matchup. In another league, the biggest mistake I ever made was not drafting a defense until the 20th round of a startup; rosters were deep, the perceived value of defenses was high, and I was left starting a terrible unit every week with no options on the street to allow me to play match ups. It's easy to give one-size-fits-all advice like "wait on defense and don't roster more than one", but unfortunately, fantasy football is not a one-size-fits-all hobby. That's why it's important to understand the basics of value well enough to determine it for yourself whenever possible.

Heard Around the Water Cooler

The LeRoy Hoard of QBs RT @Aaron_Nagler: If you need 3 yards, Alex Smith with get you 4. If you need 10 yards, Alex Smith will get you 4
-Chris Brown (@SmartFootball)

Alex Smith already helped one kicker set the NFL record for most FGs in a season. He wants to do it again.
Some QBs always talk about getting the ball into the hands of their playmakers. Alex Smith includes the kicker in his list of playmakers.
-Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar)

The second half should just be LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles doing the American Ninja Warrior course
-Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI)

Eagles called pass on 63%, 64%, 65%, 63%, 66% of their offensive plays over the last 5 years. Chiefs at 63% thru 3 games. #ReidCoastOffense
Jamaal Charles has seen 24% of Alex Smith's targets, which easily leads all backs. Next closest on Chiefs is Bowe/Avery (16%)
-Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL)

Fun Fact - Alex Henery is the second most accurate kicker in NFL history (Dan Bailey) #eagles
-Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL)

(You might wonder if I can let a week go by without taking shots at kickers. I cannot.)

Bowe is 64th in ff WR scoring. It won't be this bad all year, but I'd probably set his projection right around Crabtree's 2011: 72/874/4.
-Evan Silva (@evansilva)

Just heard NFL Films' @gregcosell on @Fantasy_Guru Podcast compare Dwayne Bowe to a slow-moving tight end. Worst he's looked in years.
-Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling)

(It's a good think Kansas City spent all that money on a big extension for him this offseason. I don't know where they'd be without him.)

Just to put fine point on it, combined #2 WR facing #eagles this year (Hankerson-Royal-Avery) would be #1 WR in fantasy football right now
-Sigmund Bloom (@SigmundBloom)

KC fans like to ironically Favorite/Retweet me every time I say this, but while top guys are as good as anyone, depth of talent isn't there.
What happens if KC suffers an injury? 20% of the guys currently on KC's defense were cut by other teams in the last month.
A single injury at CB means KC is covering one of Denver's WRs on a full-time basis with a guy who got cut by the 49ers or Seahawks.
KC's defensive starters are as good as any in the league- seriously, they're amazing!- but at some point, depth always becomes an issue.
-Adam Harstad (@AdamHarstad)

Just needs TDs RT @jjones9: #Panthers DeAngelo Williams is third in the NFL in RYDs with 291. Only McCoy (395) & Doug Martin (297) have more
-Jeff Haseley (@JeffHaseley)

(This is why you should never get too excited about young players with low upside. Veterans like DeAngelo are always available for a song in dynasty leagues.)

The 2010-2011 49ers went 363 days without allowing a rushing touchdown. San Francisco has allowed a league-leading 6 RTDs this year.
-Chase Stuart (@fbgchase)

17 targets over the last two games for Danny Woodhead. #PPR
-Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL)

Small sample still, but Arian Foster avging 3.88 YPC. Would be YPC drop for 3rd straight season. Seahawks D next. Ben Tate avging 6.81 YPC.
-Evan Silva (@evansilva)

In first two weeks, Cleveland called 32 runs, and Richardson got all of them. In game 3, Cleveland called 16 runs for 5 different players.
-Adam Harstad (@AdamHarstad)

On the issue of Richardson's real world football value, it's likely marginal. On fantasy value it's tied to attempts.
Our thesis re: Richardson over the summer was that he's a young/big RB involved in multiple parts of the game and that's valuable.
If his trade to the Colts changes that (like if he just got early down and goal line work) then the thesis would be blown up I think.
-Fantasy Douche (@FantasyDouche)

73% of Giants carries went to David Wilson this week. That's a big number and way up from 54% and 37% in Weeks 1-2. Good news.
-Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL)

No surprise DWilson looked good carrying the ball last week. @evansilva said he was their best player. I agree. One more fumble and then...
-Football Robert (@FootballRobert)

New Orleans has called 18 passes vs. 3 runs. Remember how Peyton's return was going to make this offense more balanced?
New Orleans: 22 passes for 176 yards, 3 rushes for -5 yards. Balance!
-Adam Harstad (@AdamHarstad)

Montee Ball fumbled twice in 923 carries in college. He's fumbled twice in 49 carries in the NFL.
-Adam Harstad (@AdamHarstad)

I'm nearly done updating to iOS7, which should be measured not in minutes but in Byron Leftwich throwing motions.
-Chase Stuart (@fbgchase)

(Okay, so it's not relevant to anything, really. I'm just a sucker for a good slam.)

RE: Kaepernick. Watch out, NFL. I'll leave it at that.
-Evan Silva (@evansilva)

The Oakland #Raiders active roster counts $66.8M against their 2013 salary cap. Their dead money counts $50.3M:
The #Raiders 2nd highest cap figure is their kicker ($4.96M). The 3rd highest is their backup quarterback ($3.875M). (@spotrac)

Pretty sure Peyton Manning could run this offense with precision even if @InternLyle was playing left tackle. #NFLATL
-Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling)

My new DFS strategy...#allbroncosallthetime
-Ryan McDowell (@RyanMc23)

Right now the likelihood that Peyton Manning plays week 16 is probably close to 50% That also spells FF problems for 83 88 87 & 80
-Jeff Haseley (@JeffHaseley)

Emmanuel Sanders a bit underrated because he hasn't scored a TD yet. 29 targets leads the Steelers. #BuyLow
-Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL)

Patriots averaged 3.4, 3.5, 3.6 offensive TDs-per-game over the last three years. At 1.7 with zero rush TDs so far in 2013.
-Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL)

(Regression, thy name is Stevan Ridley)

111:28 Pass:Run ratio for the Rams over their last two games.
-Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL)

(A lot of effort went into debating between Richardson, Pead, and Stacy this offseason. At this pace, it's looking like the right answer might have been "none of the above".)

Did you know ... Cam Newton scored more fantasy points than the entire New York Giants team in Week. 3.
-Michael Fabiano (@Michael_Fabiano)

Broncos run defense has allowed 1.9 YPC to opposing RBs this season -- without Von Miller, the NFL's best LB against the run in 2012.
-Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling)

Huge news for Steelers, team is now planning to play RB Le'Veon Bell this week.
-Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer)

Jordan Cameron has staying power because his speed creates mismatches downfield. Good body control and catch radius #dynasty
-Bryan Fontaine (@Bryan_Fontaine)

last year after week 3 there were 32 players on track for 1,000+ yards...Hawkins, Celek, Ogletree, Harvin, Holmes were among them.
-Robert Marino (@rmarino85)

Finally, this week's HAtWC gets a special section devoted solely to the Freemanocalypse:
Bucs have made the move: Benching Josh Freeman for Mike Glennon, per league source.
-Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter)

Had to. Freeman not getting it done.
Hope now for Williams/Jackson owners is Glennon will rely heavily on these 2 guys like Freeman did. Chance he dumps it off more is concern.
-Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL)

Bucs are two plays away from being 2-1. Freeman is slumping but a much more talented player than Glennon. Very risky move by Schiano.
To me, it's sell sell sell on everything Tampa Bay. Glennon is now the worst starting QB in the NFC.
Of the 30 comparable non-first round QBs to Mike Glennon, only 2 were above-average passers as rookies
-Chase Stuart (@fbgchase)

I bet #Bucs do a lot more things to help Glennon than they were doing for Freeman. Have an investment in MG. Shouldve dealt JF in offseason.
-Evan Silva (@evansilva)

Freeman benched for Glennon. The problem is that Glennon and Freeman are pretty much the same player, except MG is a rookie w/ less arm
The Bucs might get a spark from Glennon but I don't think he's an NFL QB, and certainly don't think h'es ready to play yet.
-Joe Bussell (@NFLosophy)

Bucs play design and play calling truly makes me angry.
Bucs in a 3 WR bunch on left side. Spikes lined up in press vs. Tim Wright. Mike Williams is the inside WR off LOS.
99% of teams would run Mike Williams to the sideline. He's off LOS so it makes it hard for the 2 DBs playing deep to close space & tackle
The front WR being pressed usually runs a deep route or blocks to keep pressure off this. It typically turns into a WR screen or smoke route
Nah, Tampa runs Wright down the LOS of then other 2 WRs right into the DBs waiting for them.
-Joe Bussell (@NFLosophy)

Second Thoughts

What does Josh Freeman's benching  mean to Tampa's offense? It's uncertain, but it's hard for me to see this working out as a positive. What does it mean for Josh Freeman? Well, for starters, I wouldn't be burying him in Blaine Gabbert territory in my fantasy rankings. Freeman has shown some positive play in the past, and all it will take is one coach this offseason believing he's the guy who can fix Freeman to make him valuable again. Mike Shanahan did it with Jake Plummer. Jim Harbaugh did it with Alex Smith. If I'm putting money down, I'm betting Josh Freeman is a starting quarterback in 2013. Of course, "starting quarterback" isn't saying much for fantasy purposes unless you're in a 2QB league, but I certainly feel more confident that Freeman will have a starting job than I do that Brandon Weeden or Blaine Gabbert will.

It's not often that you'll hear Josh Freeman and Peyton Manning mentioned in the same sentence without the words "is no" in between, but how about this one: through three games, Peyton Manning leads the league in percentage of passes that have been dropped with 10.66%. Josh Freeman is second with 10.64%.

That last stat is a perfect example of the dangers of statistics. If we remove spikes and throwaways from the numbers (because it's hard for a receiver to drop a pass that was never intended to be thrown to a receiver), Peyton's drop rate rises to 10.74%, while Freeman's rises to 10.99%. If we go a step further and ignore all passes that never actually hit a receiver's hands (because it's hard for a receiver to drop a pass he never got his hands on), Peyton's drop rate rises to 12.75%, while Freeman's jumps all the way up to 18.87%, nearly half again as high as Manning's!

The first takeaway is that statistics are hard, and if you're not careful it's easy to use one that measures something you didn't intend to measure. If you wanted to look at whose receivers are letting their QB down, drops per pass attempt isn't the best way to do it. Quarterbacks who throw a ton of accurate passes will always wind up higher in that statistic, because such a high percentage of their passes are capable of being dropped. Digging a little deeper reveals the truth- Josh Freeman has had a bad season, but his receivers haven't exactly been helping his case. It's impossible to know how much blame for those drops falls on Freeman and how much falls on his receivers, but it's clear that, for a team that twice lost on the final play of the game, had the receivers just held on a little bit better Freeman might still be starting.

The second takeaway is that, holy hell, if this is what Peyton Manning is doing when his receivers are dropping nearly 13% of his catchable passes...

One of the nice parts about fantasy football is that it gives us plenty of opportunities to reflect and even, on occasion, change our mind entirely. I'd like to take advantage of that right now. Last week, I wrote about how I viewed the Trent Richardson trade as a minor negative but not anything to knock him from his perch as my #1 dynasty RB. Upon further reflection, I think that's a bit too optimistic. Granted, trading a player for a future first round pick hardly counts as "giving up" on him, but Cleveland's willingness to move on from the #3 overall pick after a single season signals some disturbing possibilities. Remember, this is the team that knew Richardson the best. Maybe they were just taking the franchise in a different direction, but there's a very real chance that the Browns, who knew more about the player than anyone else, were hoping to get what they could before the bottom fell out on his value. I still think that Richardson will be a strong fantasy asset for years to come, if for no other reason than that he should get a huge workload as Indy attempts to justify the trade, but I have to acknowledge that we now know about risks regarding Richardson that we were unaware of two weeks ago. It's important that we properly price those risks into Richardson's value. At this point, I've moved Trent Richardson behind the reliable Doug Martin (who Tampa certainly would not trade for a future 1st round pick), as well as the supremely productive Lesean McCoy and Jamaal Charles (who are both still youngish backs and who, in my opinion, would be the slam dunk top 2 picks in redraft if we were drafting today).

We're coming up on week 4, which marks the quarter-pole of the fantasy season. At this point, players off to slow starts are beginning to have their owners in a panic. Through four weeks last year, Peyton Manning was QB11, Tony Romo was QB19, Andrew Luck was QB21, and Russell Wilson was QB32 (yes, dead last in the NFL). Adrian Peterson was RB13, Doug Martin was RB24, Matt Forte was RB26, and Steven Jackson was RB38. Dez Bryant was WR45, Randall Cobb was WR58, and Danario Alexander wasn't even on an NFL roster. Jason Witten ranked 15th among fantasy TEs. I'm not saying that you should ignore all slow starts, I'm saying that even four weeks into the season, it's easy to read too much into things and assume that the way things have gone is the way they will continue to go. Highly regarded players like Stevan Ridley, C.J. Spiller, David Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Larry Fitzgerald, and Tony Gonzalez are performing well below expectations to this point, but that is description, not destiny. While it's fun to look at the guys off to blazing starts (Jordan Cameron! Peyton Manning! DeAndre Hopkins!) and imagine what could be, the truth is that there's not much value to be gained in trading for players who are already playing well. It's possible to come out ahead, but for the most part, the perceived value already outpaces the actual value as people forget just how cruel of a mistress regression really is.

If, in the coming weeks, these young stars (David Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Stevan Ridley) continue performing well below expectations, the case for acquiring them becomes even stronger. The middle of the season is the hardest time to make moves with an eye towards the future, as immediate needs seem so pressing and important. Still, by making future-conscious decisions at a time when you're in a roster crunch, you can hopefully avoid future situations where you find yourself in a roster crunch. One trick I like to use to make it easier to make deals that hurt me in the short term is imagining I could have a conversation with myself from a year or two in the future. Would my future self be angry at the present me for sacrificing the short term, or would he thank me for having the foresight to grab him some extra weapons on the cheap? It seems like a simple exercise, but it's surprisingly effective at shaking me from my myopia and opening my eyes to intriguing long-term possibilities.

Best of luck to everyone in their Week 4 games. I'll see you back here next week with plenty of NFL action to break down and plenty of dynasty implications to discuss!

More articles from Adam Harstad

See all