The following article is a guest post by Frank DuPont, author of Game Plan: A Radical Approach to Decision Making in the NFL. You can also follow Frank on Twitter.
Playoff Waiver Wire Defenses
If you regularly stream defenses, the playoffs offer a unique opportunity to plan a little in advance and make sure that you have your defense on your roster a week ahead of time. At this point in the season you probably have at least one or two guys on your bench that are essentially collecting dust. Maybe it’s an injured running back you’ve been holding out hope for and you just never got around to dropping. Maybe it’s a WR3 type player that you won’t ever start in a playoff game. If you have players like that on your bench, you can drop them and make sure that you lock up a defense that has a good playoff matchup by planning ahead. Here are some defenses that are worth thinking about in the playoffs:
DET, Week 15 vs. ARI
SD, Week 16 vs. NYJ
TB, Week 14 vs. PHI
CLE, Week 14 vs. KC
If you’re trying to decide whether a guy on your bench can be dropped to pick up a waiver wire defense a week in advance, I think the decision comes down to the likelihood that you would start that guy, compared to the likelihood that you would start the defense you’re picking up (in the following week). You’re also going to want to consider whether the guy you’re dropping might somehow help out one of your competitors. That should be less likely as most teams will be operating at full strength through the playoffs.
Keeper League Thoughts
If you’re in a keeper league that offers outsized benefits for keeping guys picked up off the waiver wire, there may be some guys that you could pick up late in the season that would offer cheap options for next year. Some keeper leagues assign the cost of a 7th round pick (or similar) for guys kept who were originally plucked from the waiver wire. I’m in a league that lets us keep guys from the waiver wire as last round picks. That creates a pretty big incentive to keep an eye on the waiver wire for anything that might approach a cheap option for next year. For instance, if David Wilson is currently on your waiver wire, he’s a player that makes sense to pick up just to see what happens next year. Ahmad Bradshaw has perpetually bad feet so it’s possible that Wilson could be in a time share next year either with Andre Brown or Bradshaw. It’s too early to tell, but Wilson makes sense as a stash just to see what happens. My preferences for keeping players in a keeper format are ordered as follows:
- Stud player that costs a late round pick
- Stud player that costs a middle round pick
- Every week starter that costs a late round pick
- Stud player that costs an early round pick
Because of the way that I weight my preferences for keeping players, there are often guys on the waiver wire at the end of the season that make sense to pick up and stash. Young running backs like Wilson, and veteran running backs in contract years tend to make the most sense as cheap fliers. In 2007 for instance, you could have probably pulled Michael Turner off your waiver wire and then had a cheap option on him to see where he went in free agency. Unfortunately, I don’t see any bargains like that this year. However, Rashard Mendenhall will very likely be out of Pittsburgh next year, probably wasn’t drafted highly in your league, and might make some sense to pick up and see where he lands next year.
I tend not to like keeping wide receivers unless I am getting a really screaming deal to keep them. For instance, I have Vincent Jackson on a team right now, I drafted him in the middle rounds, and I consider it really unlikely that I’ll keep him next year. My logic in throwing Jackson back into the pool for next year is mostly related to the same kind of supply and demand that impacts re-draft leagues from a positional scarcity standpoint. I approach my keepers as if I’m trying to extract the maximum value from them, so I want the best possible players at the lowest possible draft cost. Most of the time I try to keep as many starting running backs as I can, for the cheapest possible draft cost.
There will be more time to revisit keepers as the season approaches again in August, but it is important to think about these things late in the season as well so that you can make whatever moves you can with whatever roster flexibility your league allows.
Reflections on the Season Coming to an End
The value of player projections that I have been offering in this space will be limited going forward. At this point in the season you should have your strongest lineup whittled down. You should have traded away most of your depth as the impact of bye weeks became lessened each week. So telling you who has good matchups, or whose matchups look good going forward isn’t really going to help you. But I did think this might be a good time to reflect on what we learned from this season while it’s still fresh in our minds.
I think the primary trend that emerged this year is that the league’s move toward becoming a pass heavy league trickled down to a degree that made quarterback as expendable of a fantasy position as it used to be five or six years ago. Actually, the explosion of passing yards is only half the story. The continuing emergence of quarterbacks who can run is the other part of the story. Next year we’ll have three young quarterbacks who will start for their teams and can also rack up 40 yards rushing per game in Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, and Colin Kaepernick. We’ve seen that even in down weeks, that kind of player can put up serviceable fantasy numbers. When you then add in the “elite” passing quarterbacks, you’re going to see that quarterback will have become such a deep position that there will be little to no scarcity involved. The benefit of having the very best quarterback won’t be as outsized as it was in 2011, when the top quarterbacks essentially lapped the field.
Before the season started, there was much discussion about what to expect out of rookie running backs. All of Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and the Giants had used first round draft picks on running backs. Some prominent fantasy analysts said to essentially stay away from the rookie running backs because they were being overdrafted if history was any indication. I think the way that I’ve started to think about rookie running backs is that it makes little sense to go back and compare them to rookie running backs of the past as a group. Instead, it probably makes more sense to look at them in terms of the usage that they might expect. It was clear that Tampa Bay fell in love with Doug Martin pretty quickly, and even if he hadn’t turned out as good as he did, that he would have been a decent value. Trent Richardson’s situation was more complicated because while they had moved up in the draft to take him, so you knew they were eager to fix their run game, Richardson’s injury made him a question mark on draft day. We knew Cleveland wanted to use Richardson, we just didn’t know if he would be available. The really interesting case is, I think, David Wilson. Could we have known anything about Wilson’s season by examining the information we had on the day we drafted out fantasy teams? In one important regard, we didn’t have enough information on draft day because we didn’t know that Wilson would fumble in the first game of the season and see the field very rarely after that. But Wilson wasn’t drafted highly, so even while he disappointed, he did not cost fantasy owners very much. It may not be very satisfying, because in some cases there is no predictability, but I do think that the framework to evaluate future rookie running backs as fantasy values is by asking whether the team they are on wants to use them. If the team is intent on using them, and if there is little competition for playing time from other running backs, then I think we can essentially ignore whether or not they are rookies.