Mike Clay

Going Deep

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Deepen Your Starting Lineup

Thursday, February 21, 2013


“Two score and eleven years ago our fantasy football fathers brought forth on this planet a new game, conceived in boredom, and dedicated to the proposition that running backs and quarterbacks are not created equal…”

That, of course, is a clip from the infamous Fantasy Football Address, which is a historical speech that I just made up in order to grab your attention.

Now that I have it, I’ll remind you that the game of fantasy football was invented in 1962 (proof that I know how long a ‘score’ is).

The first reported league had scoring and bylaws that would make children of the pass-heavy 21st Century cringe: Touchdown-only scoring and a starting lineup that included two quarterbacks, four halfbacks, two fullbacks, four offensive ends, two kick/punt returners, two kickers, two defensive back/linebackers, and two defensive linemen.

Fantasy football rules have evolved over the years (much to Vonta Leach’s chagrin), but as the Address is quick to point out, some positions are (and remain) discriminated against.

Today, I’ll be introducing a new format with the goal of erasing this positional prejudice.

The GoingDeep league format is based on the premise that fantasy football starting lineups need to be deeper and scoring needs to be adjusted to help balance the four key offensive positions. Here are the highlights:

  • Starting Lineup: 12 - 1 Quarterback, 3 Running Backs, 5 Wide Receivers, 2 Tight Ends, 1 QB/RB/WR/TE Flex
  • Scoring: Passing (4 pt/TD, -2 pt/INT, 1 pt/33 yards). Rushing/Receiving (1pt/10 yards, 6 pt/TD, 1pt PPR for RB/WR, 1.5 PPR for TE). Fumbles (-1pt each). Kick/Punt Return TD (6 pts each). Two-point conversion (2 pts).


Other than those two key features, the rest of the league format is flexible; although I do suggest 18-20 roster spots.

The GoingDeep format shouldn’t seem overly bizarre, but there are clear irregularities from conventional leagues. I assure you that I didn’t just threw a few numbers at the wall to see what would happen. To prove it, here is a bit of an explanation as to exactly how I came up with each aspect of the format:

Tm

QB

QB/FLEX

RB

RB

RB

WR

WR

WR

WR

WR

TE

TE

1

31

16

33

17

11

37

22

17

13

11

32

14

2

27

15

29

17

11

32

20

17

13

11

26

13

3

24

14

26

16

11

32

20

17

13

11

23

13

4

24

14

24

15

11

31

19

16

13

10

22

13

5

21

13

24

15

9

25

19

16

12

10

19

12

6

20

12

23

15

9

24

19

15

12

10

19

11

7

19

12

22

14

9

24

19

14

12

10

18

11

8

18

10

20

14

9

23

18

14

11

9

17

11

9

17

9

20

14

9

23

18

14

11

9

17

11

10

17

9

19

14

9

23

17

14

11

9

16

9

11

17

8

18

13

9

23

17

14

11

8

15

9

12

16

8

17

13

8

23

17

13

11

8

14

8



The chart you see here is not Morse code. It’s a test I ran in order to figure out the best way to balance out each position. The numbers are the average points scored by the player ranked in the slot shown at each position. For example, ‘33’ is the average point total (using GoingDeep scoring) of the top-scoring running back during each week of the 2012 season. Because we’re assuming (1) a 12-team league and (2) that each Flex spot will be a quarterback (more on that shortly), point totals for the top-36 running backs are shown. If we work our way through the three running back columns, we see that the No. 36 running back averaged eight fantasy points per game. The same test was run on each of the other three positions.

Before I go any deeper, it’s important that I explain why I’m assuming most teams will fill the second flex spot with a quarterback. This is technically a two-quarterback league. The second quarterback slot is designed as a flex so as to avoid handcuffing owners during bye weeks or when dealing with injuries. Upwards of six teams can be on a bye in a given week, which leaves only 26 starting quarterbacks. If we force each team to start two quarterbacks in a 12-team league, that doesn’t leave much wiggle room. You’re basically forcing owners to handcuff their quarterbacks in a league with six-to-eight bench spots. That’s not reasonable.

Instead, we make that second quarterback slot a superflex. You can see from our earlier chart that it makes logical sense for owners to use a quarterback here, but at least they can throw the 37th best running back, 61st best wide receiver, or 17th best tight end (essentially the equivalent of the 24th best quarterback) in the flex in a pinch. If you draft well, you can do even better than that.

Speaking of replacement-level players at each position, notice that I bolded the last “starter” at each of the four positions. Not coincidentally, the final “expected” starter at each position averages eight fantasy points in our scoring model.

I ran the same test during a six-team bye week and the results remained relatively strong. The No. 25 quarterback scored roughly five points. The No. 37 running back was at seven points. The No. 61 wide receiver scored six points. Finally, the No. 25 tight end scored five points. The point here is that we’re not going too deep to the point that you’re starting players who won’t score any points. There’s enough depth, even on bye weeks, to support a starting lineup this deep.

One of the chief complaints I get when speaking with fantasy football gamers is the unfortunate amount of luck that is involved in winning a league title. The goal of this league format was to eliminate some of the luck by forcing owners to have a deeper knowledge of each key offensive position. You’ll notice that kicker and team defense – the two positions criticized most often as random and annoying to deal with – aren’t included. Instead, you’re able to focus your attention on an extra player or two at each of the primary positions.

In an attempt to be as thorough as possible in investigating this format, I invited 11 well-respected industry experts to partake in a GoingDeep trial league.

Draft Results

I’ll admit that I was very pleased with how the draft went. Despite the fact that you’re able to start two quarterbacks, the first one didn’t come off the board until Jim Day took the Aaron Rodgers plunge with the No. 26 overall pick. Additionally, despite five wide receiver slots (not to mention the ability to put a sixth in the flex), the first 10 players off the board were running backs. The next three picks were tight ends. The industry experts showed a strong understanding of the balanced rosters and scoring, focusing not on filling the deepest roster slots, but instead on the shallowest positions.

Considering that Salvatore Stefanile already did a great job examining the trial league draft at length, I won’t spend much time on it. I do, however, have a few observations related to strategies we saw in action.

My gameplan, as always, was to attack running back early and focus on maximizing value the rest of the way (which I realize is inherently redundant these days). I selected a pair of backs (Charles, Johnson), before snagging a pair of PPR studs at wideout (Harvin, Welker). I grabbed my two quarterbacks in each of the next two rounds (Manning Bros.) and didn’t address tight end until late (Gresham – 8th, Gates -9th). The depth of the league came into play in the final couple of rounds. I filled out my bench with the likes of Jacob Tamme, A.J. Jenkins, and Jason Snelling.

There were a variety of strategies in place for this draft, some clearer to see than others. One interesting strategy was that of Sigmund Bloom. He didn’t select his fourth, fifth, and sixth wide receivers until the final three rounds and avoided a second quarterback all together. A lack of wide receiver depth could be costly, but a decent No. 3 tight end makes for a better flex than a middle-of-the-back No. 2 quarterback, according to our earlier chart. Of course, if Wilson gets hurt, finding a competent replacement will be near impossible in a league where 31 quarterbacks are owned.

Evan Silva, meanwhile, started off with three consecutive running backs before ignoring the position until a streak of four backs in a row in rounds 13-to-16. Scott Spratt took five consecutive wide receivers from rounds five-to-nine.

To wrap up, I wanted to share a few thoughts from the industry experts who participated in the trial league.

Silva: “I feel like it requires more strategy than a standard draft. You need to know where the field of fantasy players is strong and weak, by position.”

Spratt: “My prep estimated the top value player at each position was in a 60-point fantasy range, which is very tight. In addition, I had the 36th RB, 60th WR, and 24th TE within 10 expected fantasy points of each other. In my mind, that is as balanced as it gets. Plus, the depth was just right for a 12-man league, where every team was stuck with scarcity in at least one position but with a true flex that allows for some real strategy.”

Alex Miglio: “I really liked the format. It was interesting how disparate the values were between the different owners. Quarterback didn't seem devalued enough for me (and others) to not take two with high picks, but others thought otherwise.”

Day and Bloom added that they’d prefer rosters to be even deeper.

At the end of the day, the GoingDeep format was well received with a majority of the feedback positive. It may take some work to convince your fellow league members to install a deeper starting lineup, but it’s the responsibility of each of us to make our leagues as competitive as possible…and, of course, to instill the values brought before us by the Fantasy Football Address.

“…Fantasy Football league bylaws shall have a new birth of freedom—and government of fantasy owners, by fantasy owners, for fantasy owners, shall not perish from this earth.”



Mike Clay is a football writer for Rotoworld.com and the Founder/Managing Editor of Pro Football Focus Fantasy. He can be found on Twitter @MikeClayNFL.
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