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J.J. Watt Should Go No. 1: Why You Target the Truly Rare

J.J. Watt

Yesterday I started drafting for the Iron Throne Dynasty League, a startup run by PFF’s Ross Miles. Just from the league moniker, you can probably infer that Ross is a pretty cool dude. Because Ross is a pretty cool dude, you might rightly guess that the league starts 20 players, 10 of whom are defenders. The format is 0.5 PPR – a scoring system to which the RotoViz apps cater – and rewards splash plays on both sides of the ball.

We’re obsessed here at RotoViz with finding value for you in drafts, but a couple of days ago I channeled my inner Herm Edwards offering a little ‘now don’t get it twisted’ of my own. (Don’t worry. I don’t really have an inner Herm Edwards, and I’ve never once uttered that phrase.)

Just because we believe in value doesn’t mean cheaper is always better. At the top of the draft, you want to target rare players.

The two top players in competitive dynasty startups are Calvin Johnson and Doug Martin. Drafters may be forgetting about Martin’s rookie season when they make the top pick in redraft, but those memories flood back in a hurry when they’re setting teams up for the long haul. I had the No. 2 pick in this particular draft, so you can bet I just took the guy who dropped.

I selected J.J. Watt.

You Can Both Win and Lose in the First Round

People often say you can’t win a fantasy title in the first round but you can lose it. I’m not sure I agree. If you subscribe to RotoViz, read the articles, use the apps, you’ll be very prepared for rounds 3-16 of your fantasy draft. If you then use the various in-season apps to maximize start/sit decisions and make waiver selections one week ahead of the crowd, you’ll gap most of your opponents.

Unfortunately, there will still be a small handful of guys who are putting in the same work/play and are staying with you. You’ll have a deep team that blows through the byes and remains resilient in the face of injury. But will your starters be able to outscore the other top teams during the playoffs?

Of course, fantasy playoffs are the danse macabre of Small Sample Size Theater. You can’t control your own destiny, but you can skew the fates in your favor. This is how. Field the team with the most demi-god like stars.

The first couple of rounds are exactly where you win.

What Position Do I Choose?

This isn’t an easy question. I’ve argued in favor of RB-RB, and I’ve examined how you can lose a draft by misjudging the positions and players to attack. Later in the fall, I have a series planned that more fully examines the strengths and weaknesses of value-based drafting. But we can all agree that correctly assessing player value is important.

Simply looking at last year’s scoreboard is both a failure of imagination and a failure of logic, but even before you experience those failures, it’s possible to look at the scoreboard and fail to understand what’s right before your eyes.

Every league is a little different and IDP adds another twist. To make sure I understood what players were worth a year ago, I did a quick study of value for the Iron Throne scoring system.

Rk Player Team Position Points Over Average
1 Watt J.J. HOU DE 230
2 Peterson Adrian MIN RB 170
3 Johnson Calvin DET WR 127
4 Martin Doug TBB RB 104
5 Marshall Brandon CHI WR 101
6 Miller Von DEN LB 92
7 Foster Arian HOU RB 91
8 Bryant Dez DAL WR 78
9 Johnson Andre HOU WR 76
10 Atkins Geno CIN DT 75
11 Green A.J. CIN WR 74
12 Thomas Demaryius DEN WR 71
13 Gonzalez Tony ATL TE 63
14 Witten Jason DAL TE 63
15 Graham Jimmy NOS TE 62
16 Lynch Marshawn SEA RB 60
17 Morris Alfred WAS RB 60
18 Rice Ray BAL RB 56
19 Jackson Vincent TBB WR 55
20 Wayne Reggie IND WR 49

J.J. Watt’s 2013 was possibly the greatest defensive season in NFL history. He notched 20.5 sacks, 43 tackles for loss, and 16 passes defensed. He did it despite facing constant double teams and while dealing with multiple torn ligaments in his elbow. Down the stretch last season, I explained why he clearly deserved to be the NFL MVP.

J.J. Watt might be the rarest player in the NFL. He was also easily the most valuable player in this scoring format. Even with his totals likely to prove unsustainable, he was far and away the top player on my board.

Von Miller isn’t quite as rare. But he recorded 19 sacks and a ridiculous 52 quarterback hurries last season. The next closest 4-3 outside linebacker finished with 7 sacks. A couple of different players tied with 14 hurries. After trading up one spot to select the also ultra-rare Rob Gronkowski at 2.10 – tight ends get the generous bonus of a full point per catch – I selected Von Miller at 3.01.

Following a series of pre-draft trades, I had one final early pick at 3.03. Going into it, I was still the only participant to have selected a defensive player. Typically, IDPs will start going in Round 5, and defensive tackles go much, much later. DTs are the kickers of IDP. They score relatively few points and score randomly.

Geno Atkins is an entirely different animal. Last season he recorded 16 sacks and 49 hurries. To put that in context, the belligerent, mauling Ndamukong Suh lit up the stat sheet to the tune of 9 and 29.

Will the three IDP monsters struggle with regression effects? The answer is almost certainly yes. But so will many of the offensive players in the Top 10. Watt, Miller, and Atkins have created a bigger separation from their peers at their respective positions than any of the running backs or receivers have at theirs. (You’ll notice no quarterbacks are in the Top 20 in this system.) The Big 3 defenders are exactly the types of players you want to acquire in any league.

Although I’ve argued for a return to a traditional draft approach this offseason, I often try to draft against trends in my own leagues. Taking the elite defenders early is my version of upside-down drafting in this format. If you do decide to take a contrarian approach, make sure you’re all the way in. Not committing fully is a sure ticket to last place. On the other hand, following the same approach as everyone else usually returns a 1 in 12 chance of victory.

(Unless you subscribe to RotoViz, then you’ll be more like 1 in 4. Of course, subscribing to RotoViz is its own contrarian strategy.)

Also check out why Ross Miles believes Watt should be the top IDP pick even in more LB-heavy leagues.

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