This article is continuing a two-part monthly series called Dynasty Stock Market that discusses which players I am buying or selling on my Dynasty rosters. The April buy piece about investing in unpopular running backs can be found here. The March installments can be found here (buys) and here (sells). The February installments can be found here (buys) and here (sells). The January installments can he found here (buys) and here (sells).
THE DRAFT IS HERE
I’m a bit of a weirdo.
If you follow me on Twitter (first of all, I’m sorry) you may have seen me recently suggest ignoring the idea of identifying which players are “good.” Or disregard the dynasty maxim, “ignore situation, focus on talent.” My strategy is far more focused on situation, and trying to predict likely opportunity, than it is trying to assess who is “good” at football. I keep putting “good” in quotes for a reason — being valuable in fantasy football is not the same thing as being good at playing football. Obviously there is a ton of overlap to being good and getting opportunity, or being in advantageous situations, but there’s a bit more to our game than that.
One example is any discussion about which running backs are good “in the receiving game” based on the amount of receptions and receiving yards they generate. But it’s quite a bit trickier than that. For running backs (and wide receivers), Rich Hribar talks about the importance of a concept called “Game Flow“; for quarterbacks, Hribar talks about how Game Flow, volume, and opposing defense all factor in to fantasy success. To put it another way, I don’t think you’d find too many people that claim Blake Bortles, Kirk Cousins, and Ryan Fitzpatrick are among the eleven best quarterbacks in football, yet they all finished at least that high in overall fantasy points last season.
This isn’t obvious to all of your league mates, but there’s a lot more going on here than who is good at the game of football. Using strategy and game theory to your advantage is critical to success, and is just as important as an ability to evaluate football players’ talent.
Beyond player assessment, there is another crucial aspect of game theory involved with dynasty fantasy football that revolves around the draft: roster management. Whether you are holding a lot of rookie picks or none at all, you should be looking at the other teams in your league, their rosters, and the number of picks they hold. You’re not playing this game alone, and you’re not trying to be perfect. You’re playing with a finite number of other people, and you only have to be better than they are. The value of draft picks reaches its apex as your league’s draft gets closer, and people will sell the veterans on their rosters at a discount in order to create the space needed to use their picks.
I want to illustrate some of the ideas I have for ways to either create roster space, or take advantage of teams that have none.
THE ART OF PACKAGING UP
I see a lot of trades posted to Twitter, and people talking about who won and lost them with such confidence and absolutism that you would think they were running for the Republican presidential nomination. There’s just one problem: they usually have no context. The rest of the teams’ rosters, the size of the league’s player pool,1 the number of starting players or positions, and the league’s scoring rules, are all immediately assumed and normalized in the head of the ever prudent and rational Twitter trade judge. All of these things need to be carefully considered in every trade you make.
The larger the player pool, the less valuable an empty roster spot is, because the best player on waivers is increasingly worse as the player pool gets bigger. The fewer number of starting positions, the less valuable depth is, and the superstars’ ability to be difference makers is magnified, making them more valuable. In best ball scoring, depth and high variance players are significantly more valuable; whereas in head-to-head scoring, top heavy rosters and low variance are more valuable.
Again, keep your roster, as well as your league’s rules or format in mind — always — when crafting and considering trades. Also consider the roster of the team you are negotiating with, and try to take advantage of the situation they are in. A team with a loaded roster, and several later round rookie picks, is going to value them much differently than a team with a terrible roster, holding fewer rookie picks. Always be mindful of offering trades that makes sense for BOTH of you.
In a head-to-head league with a shallow(er) player pool, which I would say is anything under 25 roster spots in a 12 team league (roughly 288 offensive, non-defense or kicker player pool), you want to package your depth either for a superstar or draft picks. If you are holding rookie picks that you have no way to use, you’ll need to decide if the rookie you want is worth more than the veteran you need to cut or trade in order to create the necessary roster spot.
If it seems like you are dropping a player whose value is too high to be on waivers, consider trading multiple later picks/players to move up in the current draft; or, trading out of the current draft for future picks. If your roster has the space, draft picks in the current year have the most actionable and exploitable price volatility, and a way to take advantage of this is trading picks far out into the future for picks in the current year. If you have a full roster, with few or no expendable pieces, again, future picks are a good way to move your assets into what is essentially liquid currency, that has very stable value and does not count against your roster limits.
If you have a team in a format like this which is very top-heavy (has only one or two great players), dealing them can be a fruitful way to diversify into a basket of assets that have a much lower chance of rapid, sudden depreciation, and a greater chance of broad, dramatic appreciation. You need the other team to overpay, however, and overpay badly, in order to execute this strategy effectively. Be mindful when trading for future picks that if you are giving them players likely to make their team better in the current year, the future picks you are acquiring are immediately worth less, and should be valued as such in negotiations.
As an example, here’s a trade that involves selling a player I’ve said is overvalued for several players I think are undervalued. While the initial trade looks like a blowout on our calculator, consider the difference when rookie picks 3.01, 3.07, and 4.01 are added in. The value of the roster spots created in order to use those picks is not be as high as the picks themselves, but it’s far closer to that value than it is to zero. As Ty Miller discussed, you want to amass and use as many picks in that range as possible, but be smart about it. There are better ways of creating that roster space than just straight dropping veteran players that are far from worthless. Meanwhile, the team getting more veteran players has used their empty roster spots on a variety of solid, young players who have a great chance of dramatically appreciating in value, as well as an arbitrage on the one overvalued asset they are giving up:
SELL YOUR SHOWHORSES AT WORKHORSE PRICING
There are a lot of ways you can manipulate your current roster to create roster space other than trading several depth players for a superstar. Another is selling a group of players I think are overvalued right now.
As I did when I advocated buying Shane Vereen and Bilal Powell in this month’s buy column, comparing average draft position to group leader Giovani Bernard helps illustrate just how overvalued or undervalued these kinds of running backs are. While Ben Gretch has talked about the changing landscape of play calling, and how running backs with fewer than one hundred carries accounted for sixfold the number of top thirty scorers at the position in 2012-2015, compared to 2006-2011, they are still making up a very small portion. It only makes sense to bet on these guys at levels a whole lot cheaper than the going rate for these four running backs that are never likely to be workhorses:
With team rushing shares of 35.3, 34.1, and 33.0 percent in his three years so far in Cincinnati, Bernard doesn’t seem like a candidate that can ever realistically be expected to get 200 carries in a season. Even if you look at his career high 207-carry, 16-game pace in 2014, you see he was badly outperformed by a 22-year-old rookie, and ceded 70 carries that season to the dynamic duo of Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead. Unsurprisingly, he saw his rushes per game drop significantly from that 12.9 in 2014, to only 9.6 in 2015. While his career rushing fantasy points over expectation is a respectable 0.12, when compared to Jeremy Hill‘s 0.19, it seems wholly replaceable. Several people expect the offense to change with the departure of offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, but I doubt head coach Marvin Lewis, and new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese, who has been on the Bengals’ staff since Lewis took over in 2003, will take a dramatically different approach.
It’s more of a concern to me that the Bengals are rock solid on defense, and Bernard wasn’t in his team’s top five touchdown scorers last season. His two rushing touchdowns were one fewer than Andy Dalton had, and the same number Mohammed Sanu had, who only had ten attempts on the whole season. While his 66 targets last year (in line with career average of 65) are lovely for a running back, he was one of only three players to have that many targets and not score a receiving touchdown.2 Bernard was also one of only three players to have two hundred touches and fewer than three total touchdowns.3
I must be missing something here. McKinnon had 52 rushing attempts and 29 targets last season over a full 16 games, which is an abysmally irrelevant three rushes and 1.8 targets per game. If people are paying late first round picks (the trade calculator says McKinnon is worth slightly more than 2016 rookie pick 1.12) just on the premise that he would be tremendously valuable should Adrian Peterson exit the picture, they probably don’t remember 2014.
In Peterson’s 15-game absence for
being a huge piece of shit child abuse, McKinnon still only saw 4.1 targets and 11.2 rushes, which he couldn’t even turn into ten fantasy points, per game. Matt Asiata, who they just re-signed, not only saw far more rushing work, he had more receiving work as well. What’s worse, he’s bested McKinnon over the last two seasons in catch rate (74.1 percent to 68.6 percent), and yards per target (5.22 to 4.40). It’s fair to point out that McKinnon was a 22-year-old rookie in 2014 (with no college experience playing traditional running back), but he also is only under contract with Minnesota through 2017, the same as Peterson, and only one year longer than Asiata. There is no evidence the Vikings see him as an heir to Peterson, or as anything more than a “third down, change of pace back.” I understand if you believe that he can be a primary running back and thrive in this league, but paying for him like that with nothing to suggest that is the case seems overly risky.
It’s also not like Mike Zimmer’s team is going to be down and throwing with a pass-catching running back on the field frequently, any time soon. The Vikings were 20th in points, and 27th in yards in 2014, followed by 16th in points, and 29th in yards in 2015. Worse still, they were 22nd in pass attempts in 2014, and were dead last in 2015, throwing the fewest pass attempts in the league. I would take any 2017 second round pick for McKinnon, whether I needed a roster spot or not, and I’d start by approaching the team that holds Peterson.
We really like Zach Zenner. We also really like Ameer Abdullah. No longer rookies, RotoViz’s favorite version of thunder and lightning seem primed to complement each other’s ascendancy. Currently on the last year of his rookie deal, it seems 2013 sixth round pick Theo Riddick doesn’t have a ton of opportunity now or in the future on this Lions team.
While he danced his way to the overall RB18 last year on a dreamy 99 targets (compared to 68 combined for Abdullah, Zenner, and exiled Joique Bell), it’s hard to envision a scenario where that comes close to repeating. I’d be absolutely shocked if Riddick outsnapped Abdullah, the 54th overall pick in last year’s draft, the way he did last year (470 snaps for Riddick, 355 for Abdullah). While newly acquired Marvin Jones may not come close to sniffing Calvin Johnson‘s departing 149 targets, I think it’s fair to expect Jones, Golden Tate, and Eric Ebron to have a similar number of combined targets to Johnson, Tate, and Ebron’s 347 from last season.
Even if Riddick continues to best Abdullah for the receiving work, and absorbs an as large or larger team target market share, is there any even remotely likely scenario where he’s beating the RB18 performance from last season? I think it’s likelier he’s off this team in a year after a mostly irrelevant season than it is that he hits low-end RB2 numbers again. Valued only slightly less than McKinnon, I would also be happy to deal away Riddick for any 2017 second, and I’d start by approaching Abdullah’s owner.
What a weird year for San Diego, and I’m not even talking about likely losing their team to another city (sorry, John Solis). Injuries to Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson, and Malcolm Floyd, in addition to one of the most disappointing rookie running back campaigns in recent memory for Melvin Gordon, all added up to a perfect storm for the overall RB3, grit-master Danny Woodhead. What’s really impressive is that he didn’t even outperform himself all that much, with his 15.3 fantasy points per game not all that far from the 12.6 per game in his two Charger years prior. That 12.6 over a full season still would’ve been RB13 last year, and with no competition brought in through free agency, there’s not a lot of reason to believe that pace won’t be somewhat sustainable even if Gordon is given the reigns, as the Contrarian is prophesizing. Even if you go so far as to think Gordon will continue to lose significant work to Woodhead, you have to be mindful of the fact that this team traded two mid-round picks to move up only two draft spots for him, and he was an incredible prospect. You also have to be mindful of the fact that Woodhead just turned 31, and he would be among only a handful of running backs to be that old, weigh that little, and still produce even 150 fantasy points in a season.
If you are holding any of these running backs, I strongly advise packaging up into Gordon or Duke Johnson, or just turning them into future draft picks. The trade calculator thinks you could get a random first round pick for Bernard, or you could package a draft pick or lesser player with him, and get back Johnson or Gordon. It also thinks you could net a future second round pick for Woodhead, McKinnon, or Riddick, or a third round pick, plus either Powell or Vereen.
Play for the future. Don’t chase the past.
As the offseason rolls on, be sure to check the Dynasty ADP App, including the Trade Calculator tab, in order to help gauge the current market value of players. If you are in a Dynasty league on MyFantasyLeague.com, please make sure the word DYNASTY in in your league name so that it is counted in our data. Be sure to keep up with our super scout Jon Moore (@TheCFX), The Oracle (@MattFTheOracle), and the rest of the RotoViz prospect and scouting team to learn about all the rookies before your leaguemates. If you are participating in a Startup draft for a new Dynasty League, this primer by high stakes Dynasty player Jacob Rickrode (@ClutchFantasy) is fantastic. If you have specific Dynasty trades, or questions about strategy/player values, always feel free to reach out to your favorite Rotoviz writer at any time, either through the site, or on Twitter. If you are looking for contract information, we use and recommend Rotoworld.com and overthecap.com.