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Are User-Defined Positions the Future of Fantasy Football?

I fully realize many of you reading this have either never played in an Individual Defensive Player (IDP) fantasy football format or have played it but just weren’t a fan. With that in mind, I want to reassure you that while what I propose in this article would greatly benefit IDP leagues, it would also open up many new ways to play offensive only fantasy football as well.

So, bear with me through many of my examples if you aren’t an IDP fan, the payoff will become clear at the end of this article.

If you’re still with me then let me first thank you. What I’m about to propose will require a great deal of work for fantasy providers to implement. However, some smaller fantasy providers could see a really nice angle here and would be wise to implement this proposal. This would likely create a trickle up effect where bigger fantasy providers would need to integrate a similar offering to prevent leagues from leaving their site.

User Defined Positions

So, what is this amazing idea that I appear to be selling as the greatest thing since sliced bread? Three words, User Defined Positions (UDP). What exactly does that mean? Well, if you’ve ever played in an IDP league then it’s quite likely that you’ve run into the problem that this solution aims to alleviate.

Have you ever drafted a premier defensive end only to have him re-designated as an outside linebacker at some random point through the season? It is, to say the least, an extremely upsetting turn of events which has, and will, negatively impact countless teams. For the non-IDP readers out there, imagine if Rob Gronkowski were suddenly labeled as a wide receiver in a tight end premium league. He’d instantly go from positional difference-maker to just another guy. The analogy isn’t perfect but it’s close enough to send a shiver down your spine. Obviously, no one wants that to happen to one of their premier point scorers.

Some fantasy providers have accounted for this, to a certain degree, by allowing either the commissioner or, if the commissioner approves it, individual owners, to retain or reassign players to position designations of their choosing. This usually solves the problem but the solution is only half implemented and should go further.

My proposal is that league hosting sites provide the ability for commissioners to create positions that best fit the style of play that their individual leagues wish to play. Instead of a defensive end being reclassified as an outside linebacker, allow the commissioner to create an “Edge” position designation or even a “DE/OLB” position, complete with its own set of scoring rules. ESPN added an Edge position to their IDP offering this offseason, a huge step in the right direction, but a step that still requires the hosting site to create the position and doesn’t provide the flexibility I’m describing with this proposal.

UDP in action

This proposal works because each player’s statistics are fed to a fantasy hosting site which then converts those statistics into fantasy points based on the settings of the league. The system determines the position of each player and applies the league’s scoring rules for that position to the player’s statistics. For the concept of UDP to work, fantasy hosting sites would need to insert an intermediate step between this reconciliation. The logic behind this new step would serve as something of a translator. The fantasy site would determine if the league has identified each player as a UDP. If the player has retained his original position then everything would continue as normal. However, if the player is a UDP the system would look up the scoring rules for his new position and would apply those scoring rules to the player’s stats.

Once a UDP has been created, the league can now incorporate that position into its starting lineup requirements. For instance, a league creates a position called “outside linebacker” or “OLB.” Currently, fantasy leagues only provide the ability for leagues to start a catch-all “linebacker” “LB” position, thus relegating vast swaths of players to fantasy irrelevance despite being key contributors for their NFL team. This OLB position could then be a starting position and manned by players who actually play the position, rather than being clumped into a general and nebulous position designation.

This could fundamentally change how we look the fantasy game itself. Players could play the position in fantasy that they do on Sundays, starting lineups could reflect a myriad of new possibilities, and both leagues and owners would be free to play the game the way they want to play it.

Offensive UDP

For those readers interested only in offensive players, I promised something for you as well. Right now, we can all agree, the fantasy game isn’t as realistic as we pretend it is. Teams start line-ups that have no basis in reality. Owners can roll out a Julio Jones right next to a Dez Bryant, a pairing that just wouldn’t happen in real life. However, what if we could more closely mirror the professional game? With UDP you can, and this, too, would completely change how we look at the fantasy game.

There are different wide receiver roles, just as there are different running back and even tight end roles as well. For the wide receiver position we have Split Ends (X), Slot Receivers (Y) and Flankers (Z). Each wide receiver can usually play any of these roles on any given play but traditionally each player has a base position he lines up in and is most comfortable and effective playing at. However, in fantasy football, that same Julio Jones and Dez Bryant lineup would amount to playing two players of the same position.

Using UDP we could force the starting of X, Y and Z receivers, requiring owners to have a deeper understanding of the game while simultaneously making many wide receivers currently viewed as WR4 or WR5 players, starting options due to the base position they play. An added effect is that waiver wires would become much more interesting and would provide much more diverse options.

UDP would not only provide an incredible amount of flexibility for owners, it would necessitate a much deeper understanding of the game and how it is played as opposed to today’s version of the game. This would be a huge boon to fantasy football content sites as they would be called upon to provide much greater insight with much more frequency as well.

Conclusion

The concept of UDP is one whose time has come. This proposal comes at the intersection of IDP player frustration and the need to move all formats to a new, exciting and informed level of play. I implore fantasy providers to consider this proposal for future upgrades to their platform. UDP is a natural and logical progression in the evolution of the fantasy football game and could provide countless hours of enjoyment for both current and future fans.

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