StrategySeptember 6, 2010

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Finding an Edge (Part I: Dynasty Leagues) - 6 comments

By Scott Rozmus

Owners hoping to win their leagues need an edge (no, not Edgerrin James, at least in this decade of fantasy). Almost all fantasy players have access to the same data, injury reports, and projections. Data is everywhere. If success in fantasy football historically has flowed part from art and part from science, recently the “science” element has become almost a nullity among prepared competitors. Owners no longer can show up for the draft confident that they alone understand league depth charts, training camp developments, trades, and injuries. All such information is available on the Internet, nicely formatted and easily digestible, by even the laziest of fantasy owners. Hence, the need for an edge.  

This article is the first of a two-part series that highlights techniques owners can use to apply “art” to the ubiquitous “science” and, in turn, gain an edge over their competitors. Not only will the articles in this series identify concepts, they also will apply them to the 2010 season. Of course, once knowledge of the articles and their concepts becomes widespread, the “edge” they provide will diminish. Accordingly, savvy owners should act quickly.

This article focuses upon dynasty leagues. Dynasty formats continue to offer creative, hardworking owners a competitive advantage over their peers. Benefits of a successful strategy may last years. At the same time, participants in dynasty leagues tend to be more committed to and focused upon fantasy football. Especially in larger leagues, true data parity exists–everyone knows almost everything about the latest results, injuries, trades, etc. Finding some way to gain a strategic edge on other dynasty leaguers is critical.   

One strategy that can help dynasty leaguers create and maintain their competitive edge involves a concept I call “the replicator.” Fans of Star Trek: Next Generation might recall the replicator–a machine that folks could program to change energy into matter, most often food like tea, hot fudge sundaes, and so on. Applied to dynasty fantasy football leagues, “the replicator” strategy involves studying successful past and present fantasy players and identifying combinations of talent, systems, and opportunity that will give rise to the dominant fantasy player(s) of the future.

For example, among the elite fantasy QBs today are Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. Studying Manning’s success would have helped predict Rodgers’ as well, and understanding them both helps identify the likely stud fantasy QB of the future among the league’s current middle-of-the pack. Both Manning and Rodgers attended major college programs, gained significant experience there, enjoyed success, and emerged as a first-round draft choice. Manning and Rodgers were blessed with strong arms and, most importantly, quick releases. Each joined a team with top 10 offensive weapons at wide receiver and running back. Each offense was pass oriented and each defense was opportunistic, generating turnovers on the opponent’s side of the field that could be cashed in for an easy score. Manning’s success in such an environment could have projected Rodgers’ success to savvy fantasy owners willing to take a risk—Rodgers was following in Brett Favre’s footsteps and, therefore, needed to overcome psychological challenges Manning did not face. However, dynasty leaguers who bet on Rodgers look poised to enjoy lucrative returns for years.

Past quarterback successes such as John Elway and Dan Marino fit this same mode–products of top college programs, experience prior to the NFL, strong arms, quick releases, and products of offenses that were pass oriented yet possessing solid, even explosive running games. Studying Elway and Marino could have helped dynasty leaguers apply “the replicator” to find Manning and Rodgers.     

What present day quarterback fits this mold? Matthew Stafford. I would grab Stafford in all dynasty leagues and stash him away because “the replicator” suggests he appears poised for fantasy greatness. Stafford emerged from the SEC as the first pick in the draft last year. He already is surrounded by a host of offensive weapons in Calvin Johnson, Jahvid Best, Nate Burleson, and the underrated Tony Scheffler. The Lions’ selection of Best may be the most significant development in terms of Stafford’s projection, as Detroit now possesses a home run threat out of the backfield a la James in Manning’s early days. When dump-offs and check downs become seventy-yard touchdowns because of the running back’s elusiveness, the quarterback starts to look darn good. Indeed, the Lions’ weapons force opposing defenses to choose their poison; a hole will be open somewhere.     

Obviously, no potential benefit is without risk. In Stafford’s case, a suspect offensive line coupled with a history of injuries in college (as well as last year) suggests that Stafford may never reach his full potential. However, fantasy owners must assume that, after investing millions in Stafford, Best, and Calvin Johnson, the Lions next will upgrade the offensive line. Again, we are talking dynasty leagues. Given the upside as suggested by “the replicator,” Stafford seems a most worthy dynasty league bet.

Scott Rozmus is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Scott in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Goose.
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6 Responses to “Finding an Edge (Part I: Dynasty Leagues)”

  1. StuNala618 says:

    Then what happen to Matt Lienhart?

    Came from a very big college program. Gained a lot of experience and enjoyed a ton of success. Drafted to a team with arguably the best WR duo in the league, yet he couldn’t produce any kind of relevant fantasy numbers, let alone wins. Now he is backing up a QB in Houston who is poised to have a huge season with the best WR in league as his main target.

    Nice post, regardless :D

  2. Goose says:

    Leinart neither had a strong arm nor a quick release. He therefore did not fit “the replicator” as far as Marino/Elway/Manning/etc. So, Leinart is not an example of the predictive ability of “the replicator” breaking down.

    However, no system is a perfect predictor in any event. There are examples like Brett Favre, who did not hail from a big-time college program yet had all the tools and in fact did succeed. Kurt Warner may be an even better example—he went from bagging groceries and playing in the Arena League to what was likely a hall of fame career. Joe Montana and his “replicator” Drew Brees had success at big programs, but lacked big arms. They did/do get rid of the ball though (like Warner and Favre), so I believe a quick release is more important than a big arm. If you watched Leinart in the NFL, he really had trouble making decisions and essentially held onto the ball too long.

    Perhaps most significantly in Leinart’s case, he lacked a key intangible–leadership–during his tenure at Arizona. Maybe some maturity and some time with Gary Kubiak will help Matt in this regard. However, regardless of skill set, a quarterback who lacks leadership ability will not succeed in the NFL and therefore will produce little to no fantasy value, e.g., Ryan Leaf. Fantasy owners should keep this point in mind when evaluating quarterbacks, especially in dynasty and keeper leagues. I appreciate your comment as it prompted some further thought. I hope this response was helpful and also thank you for reading the article.

  3. StuNala618 says:

    I missed the arm quality part. That does make sense.

    Mark Sanchez fit your role any?

    The only thing he lacks is the experience. Only started one full season at QB for USC. And then last season with the Jets. I think New York has some good talent on offense with Holmes, Cotchery, and Edwards at WR and Keller at TE. He has a RB in Shonn Greene who showed signs in 2009 that he can be a force running the ball. His defense will keep his team in the game no matter which offense they face.

  4. Goose says:

    I am spooked on Sanchez because I lack information. He had a brief career as a starter at USC, so despite his success questions remain. Was it aberrant? He looked fine last year and I place little stake in the pre-season quite frankly, so I certainly would recommend him to keeper or dyanasty league owners looking for upside. However, with that said, Sanchez may project out to be a serviceable fantasy player, e.g., Kyle Orton, versus a long-time franchise player. So, please temper expectations. Sanchez could end up managing a winning organization yet never rise to fantasy greatness, just as Troy Aikman did. For the same reason, I am very interested to follow the career of Chad Henne. Henne has significant physical tools and a strong pedigree. His offensive weapons are blossoming, so I expect him to have a much-improved year. Henne too would be worth a dynasty or keeper slot depending on the make-up of the rest of an owner’s team and league. There is upside.

  5. Goose says:

    One final thought–the character/leadership issue. For Sanchez fans, watch how he handles the pressure that will come in New York if the Jets start out slow. If Sanchez responds with leadership, I would elevate his long-term prospects. In Miami. I believe the leadership piece is in place with Henne. Focusing on my original projection, Matthew Stafford, note that last year he was knocked out of a game, returned with a busted shoulder, and ended up throwing 5 TDs. Perhaps that ends up being his career performance in the NFL; only time will tell. However, I am unconcerned after observing that performance about Stafford’s ability to lead the team and command their respect, ala Peyton Manning, John Elway, etc.

  6. Goose says:

    Prophetic. Stafford is tough yet brittle and yet another significant injury certainly will set back his development. Stafford’s dynasty and keeper values have taken a hit as his shoulder injury will prevent him from developing chemistry with the remainder of Detroit’s relatively formidable offensive skill position players. Look for Detroit to beef up their offensive line in next year’s draft and free agency periods as Stafford’s propensity for injury necessitates further investment in protecting him.


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