The Gut Check No.376: Insights For Cramming

Last-minute cramming? Unprepared? Waldman's insights from a re-draft exercise without any picks until round seven will help you have a game plan without getting overwhelmed. 

Your draft is approaching and you don't have much time. You also don't want to rely on someone else's list. You have enough time to do some preparation but you don't want to get bogged down and overwhelmed with your resources.

I get it. Today's Gut Check features two exercises that I think will help you prepare for your draft if you're a veteran fantasy owner with some decent knowledge about the game. It doesn't involve box score stats or average fantasy points. It's common sense info rooted from game observation that are good indicators for production.  

If you research mid-round players between rounds 7-14 with the help of these bullet points, you'll have a strong understanding of value during the most important rounds of your draft that differentiate good fantasy owners who understand the depth of the draft from fantasy owners who only focus on the top picks. If you use these criteria for your early picks, you'll also have a better chance of avoiding minefields. 

Below isn't a comprehensive list of all players who fit the listed criteria, but it should help you think about players in categories that can help you make more strategic choices with football-savvy backing:

  • Quarterbacks like Blake Bortles, Matt Stafford, Phillip Rivers, Drew Brees, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Robert Griffin III, Teddy Bridgewater, and Carson Palmer have at least four of these five resources:
  • Even mid-to-late-round Running backs like Crowell, Blount, Powell, Ware, and Brown have at least 7 of these 8 qualities that early-round backs usually possess:
    • Carry run for power.
    • Make decisions that, at worst, generate small gains instead of big losses.
    • Catch the ball.
    • Pass protect.
    • Produce in the red zone.
    • Agility and burst to bounce a play outside or make the first man miss.
    • A healthy offensive line (only one player missing and a decent backup)
  • Qualities I seek from wide receivers (bold items preferred for your starter but not musts for backups):
    • Skills to run well-defined timing routes that are difficult to defend.
    • Speed or size-leaping ability to win consistently on targets beyond 30 yards. 
    • Quickness, power, or agility to earn yards after the catch.
    • Catches the ball versus tight coverage and collisions (within reason).
    • At least one excellent receiving option at the other receiver or tight end position.
    • A quarterback with 3-4 years of good (low-end QB1) production and in the same system.
  • Qualities I seek from tight ends (bold items preferred)
    • At least one excellent receiving option at the other receiver or tight end position.
    • A quarterback with 3-4 years of good (low-end QB1) production and in the same system.
    • Skill to find the open zones in the middle of the field.
    • Skill to win one-on-one in tight coverage against contact in the red zone.

List the players who fit these categories at each position Begin with the middle and late rounds first and check Jene Bramel's training camp updates for injury info. Ignore the training camp chatter from the media until you have a good working list and you're ready to make minor tweaks. Once you finish the middle and the bottom range of the draft, you'll have a far better feel for how you want to begin your draft. 

A great way to test your list of mid-and-late picks is to create your own Handicap Match Draft before you focus on the early picks.  

The Handicap Match Draft  

I was a professional wrestling fan when I was younger—not the WWE with Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, or Ted DiBiase dressed like an evil Richie Rich, but all the promotions from the Mid-Atlantic, the South, Texas, Missouri, and the West Coast during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

A time when Andre the Giant traveled through every promotion and he was still healthy enough to do amazing work in his 7'4" frame. One of my favorite match ideas was the handicap match. It was usually a 2-on-1 or 3-on-1 format. It often involved a big man but not always.

While thinking about players I'd assemble for a pre-season All-Gut Check Fantasy Team, the idea of a handicap draft came to mind. Imagine this idea: 

You're in a 12-team league with a 20-round draft. It's a league with quality owners. As a twist, the league has agreed to draw straws. The owner with the short straw loses his first 6 rounds of picks but he gets two consecutive picks between rounds 7-14. The rest of the league gets the normal one pick per round. 

Sounds like a punishment. But if you're confident in your team-building or like a real test, it's a fun challenge. Especially if you have an incentive. The way I'd structure winnings would make it worthwhile: if the guy drawing the short straw and forfeiting the first six rounds of picks makes the playoffs he wins double the allotted funds reserved for qualifying. The same holds true if he reaches the championship game.

What this means is that if the owner working with a handicap during the draft qualifies for prizes, it will also come at the expense of the other qualifying owners. I call it "the insult." If you're able to insult your league by contending or reaching the final game, the have to forfeit a big percentage of their winnings to pay for your achievement. If you win the league, you win the whole pot and whatever side bet you guys thought up before the draft.

I would love to participate in a league format as the guy who drew the short straw just to see how I'd do. Regardless of this ever happening, it's a great exercise to highlight the mid-round options I value most when the front-runners of the first six rounds are gone. 

I love this exercise because it helps divert your focus from the big names of the early rounds. There's usually too much early-round thinking with fantasy owners. Develop a better understanding of the talent that often comprises the foundation of most rosters. Win here and you soon realize that the early rounds don't matter nearly as much as the emphasize on them.

 The Gut check's Handicap DRaft-Match team

There are variations of this team that I love but this is the one that has the best blend of upside that can own your competition in any give week and consistent production so the bottom doesn't drop out (12-team, PPR, 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB/WR/TE Flex, 1 DEF, 1 K). 

RoundPlayer 1Player 2 
7 Marvin Jones Jr Blake Bortles  
8 Josh Gordon DeSean Jackson  
9 Stefon Diggs Antonio Gates  
10 Travis Benjamin Isaiah Crowell  
11 LeGarrette Blount Bilal Powell  
12 Devin Funchess Christine Michael  
13 Dorial Green-Beckham Kenneth Dixon  
14 Spencer Ware Steve Hasuchka  
15 Charles Clay  
16 Tajae Sharpe  
17 Robert Griffin III  
18 Bills DEF  
19 Dwayne Washington  
20 Malcolm Brown  

Quarterbacks: In any competition, you have to do what your opponent doesn't expect. In fantasy football, it means taking calculated risks based on analysis that goes against convention. The conventional thought on Blake Bortles is that his production will experience a regression because of the past history of quarterbacks who posted seasons with strong production one year and their output dropped the next. 

There are a lot of variables embedded into this data that may or may not be considered, depending on the analyst: 

  • Did significant injuries strike the receiving corps and/or offensive line the following year? 
  • Was the quarterback a reserve with a strong year one only to be game planned successfully in year two? 
  • Did the quarterback lose significant contributors to retirement in year two?
  • Did the quarterback lose significant contributors to free agency in year two? 
  • Did the offense experience a change in offensive scheme or coaching in year two? 
  • Was the quarterback performing with an injury in year two?

Bortles hasn't lost anything from last year. What he's gained is a healthy Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas. His line should be at least marginally better, too.

The additions to the defense and the addition of Chris Ivory are two over-emphasized points. Myles Jack, Jalen Ramsey, Malik Jackson, Donte Fowler, and Telvin Smith Sr, are excellent athletes and individual defenders. But the defense will not rid garbage time from Jacksonville's offense. It will take at least a year for this unit to see significant returns. They may start off great but by October, NFL scouts will have good intel on the unit and don't be surprised if there's a drop in production. 

Bortles is aggressive, often to a fault, but he puts his teammates in position to be great athletes and there are a lot of quarterbacks in the NFL who lack the demeanor for this style of play. As my buddy Eric Stoner of the Choppin' Wood podcast says, Bortles and this offense is still growing and we don't have a history of what its peak is. 

I'm not expecting record-breaking production but I believe Bortles and company are more likely to come close to last year's output, if not exceed it slightly, than suffer a significant downturn. 

If you want to play it safe, Philip Rivers, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Matt Stafford are all worthwhile considerations but Robert Griffin III III has an opportunity to revive Al Davis' favorite style of football in Cleveland—power running, potentially dominant vertical threats outside. Griffin is the fantasy option that your league mates will scoff about in August but if he plays as he's capable, they'll grumble by November that they knew they should have picked him.

Running Backs: You know what I think of Crowell, Michael, and Blount. If I get RB2 production from two of these three backs, I'm happy. Michael, Ware, and Powell should give me points every week, even if they don't earn a starter's share. They also have fantasy starter upside if thrust into the feature role due to injury.

Dwayne Washington is a flyer on fantasy greatness. He's exceeding my early expectations and if he continues to play mistake-free football and exhibit sound decisions between the tackles, Zach Zenner could wind up at the bottom of the depth chart and Washington could earn more red zone and short-yardage looks. When Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk are looking forward to watching Malcolm Brown in a preseason game because they admire him as a "heavy runner", that's a good thing. The fact that Brown didn't disappoint against the Chiefs, is another. Benny Cunningham is the safer pick but I believe Brown is that bomb you throw, hoping it hits the receiver in stride.  

Wide Receivers:  I have two general types I'm seeking and ideally, want one player to intersect both ranges—technician and big-play threat. Marvin Jones Jr, Josh Gordon, Stefon Diggs, and (looking more likely) Tajae Sharpe qualify in both areas. DeSean Jackson, Travis Benjamin, Devin Funchess, and Dorial Green-Beckham are classic, big-play threats and I'd even say Jackson and Benjamin are closer to Diggs than I've characterized. I would not fear my receiving corps if I had my first six picks and still wound up with these guys as my starters.

Tight Ends: Gates has what my buddy Eric Stoner calls "old-man game." You know what I mean if you played rec basketball in your teens and twenties and the assignment you drew was a 45-55-year-old dude with a beer cut, a shiny dome, and he shuffles when he runs. He looks like the guy you could take every day of the week but once the old man posts up, you experience the realization that you're in for a long afternoon. 

When he's not backing you down the lane and tossing unstoppable hook shots into the hoop, he's spearheading the offense with pinpoint passes to open guys running the rest of your teammates ragged. Gates has that old-man game in the open zones. I'll let the rest of my fantasy competition believe they can find better every day of the week while Gates posts up week after week until he breaks Tony Gonzalez's TD record. 

Charles Clay gives me top-7 upside now that the staff has worked with Tyrod Taylor to help him recognize spots where he was missing the wide-open tight end in 2015. 

Work from the middle to the end and then from the top and within a few hours, you'll feel far more confident about draft day—even if you couldn't pour over data. 

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