This is the fifth article in a multi-part series on how to attack the high-stakes Main Event, the flagship contest of the Fantasy Football Players Championship that pits up to 2,400 teams against each other in a race for the $500,000 grand prize. In the FFPC Strategy Sessions, we learn from one of the best, the 2017 regular season Main Event points champion, Monty Phan.
In our 2017 FFPC Main Event draft, the team I run with three other friends faced a choice at the third overall pick: Take Ezekiel Elliott, who one day earlier had won an injunction that put an indefinite hold on his six-game suspension, or pick Kareem Hunt, who two days earlier had dropped nearly 250 total yards, 5 catches and three total touchdowns on the Patriots in the Thursday night season opener.
Such choices are common occurrences when drafting a Main Event team. The FFPC has drafts scheduled until the day before the opening Sunday, because, for many, the school of thought is that if you’re going to spend that much on a fantasy football team, you don’t want to be surprised by a sudden Andrew Luck retirement or Lamar Miller season-ending injury right after you’ve drafted. But because the Thursday night opener is played before many teams have drafted, the rules allow owners to start those players despite already knowing how many points they’ve scored that week. Hence, our dilemma that year: Take the theoretical top-three RB in Elliott or gamble that the week-winning rookie RB Hunt could maintain even a fraction of his debut game’s production each week for the rest of the season.
As I’ve written here before, we chose Elliott, but despite the season-long drama his legal woes provided, we managed to finish the regular season with the most total points in the 1,440-team Main Event. Even in hindsight, though, it wasn’t an easy choice. It’s important to note that the consensus when we drafted Elliott was that he was likely to play the whole season. He didn’t, of course, but his per-game average was higher than Hunt’s, evidence that had Elliott stayed healthy and suspension-free, he would’ve scored more than Hunt over the course of the season.
This does, however, provide an interesting exercise with next week’s upcoming season opener between the Bears and Packers: What if David Montgomery, who, like Hunt, is a promising rookie on an ascendant offense that’s headed by a protégé of the coach who drafted Hunt, lights it up against Green Bay? Surely it would vault Montgomery from his current fourth-round ADP, roughly 20 picks behind where Hunt was going in 2017 before the Thursday opener. But if faced with the choice, should you take him?
WHAT TO CONSIDER
Knowing how many points the players from two teams have scored before having drafted them makes for some interesting considerations:
- It’s unlikely anyone scores more than 40 FFPC points, roughly two solid games worth. In his debut, Hunt scored 47.6 points, which, according to the RotoViz Screener, is not only the most any RB has scored in a Thursday opener, but the most in Week 1, period, this century. The only player to outscore him in a Week 1 game since 2000 was Peyton Manning, who threw for 462 yards and 7 TDs against Baltimore in 2013 for 50.9 FFPC points (coincidentally, was also a Thursday night opener).1 Since the NFL started the Thursday night “NFL Kickoff Game” series in 2002, only nine players have scored 30-plus points in FFPC, and all occurred in 2011 or after. I don’t have access to ADP from the below years, but it’s likely that Manning, Rob Gronkowski, Drew Brees, Demaryius Thomas and Tom Brady were drafted at or within a few spots of their positional finish. Hunt, Alex Smith and Julius Thomas were reaches that paid off, while Kevin Ogletree was a wasted pick.
- The Main Event regular season is 11 games, one versus each of the other teams in the league. You can earn a berth in the big-money championship round by finishing with the best record, so any advantage in securing a Week 1 win – such as plugging a guy into your lineup who you know just scored 30-plus points – should be considered.
- You can also qualify for the championship round with the most points in the league, and the margin of error can often come down to one 20-point swing in one start/bench decision in any one week during the season. Is it worth drafting a Thursday-night star if it takes some of the guesswork out of deciding your Week 1 starters?
- In the first week, the team with the first pick plays the one with the second pick, Team 3 plays Team 4, and so on. Something we failed to consider in our Elliott/Hunt dilemma two years ago was that, in choosing Elliott, we allowed our Week 1 opponent to take Hunt and the points, which he did, putting us at a huge disadvantage in our season-opening game.2
- Drafting after the Thursday game carries another advantage: Getting discounts. Just as recency bias is likely to increase the odds someone reaches for a player if he performs well his first game, it also could lead to a player dropping if he does poorly. You can exploit that perception as well.
We already mentioned Montgomery, so let’s start there. He is currently being drafted in the fourth as the RB22, which, from the past three years of FFPC scoring data, translates to 10-11 points per game. However, RotoViz rankers have him as RB33, which puts him at around 8 points per game and, coincidentally, matches this projection.
If he were to score 40 points, and then average, say, 10 points per game the rest of the season, it would put him on the cusp of RB1/RB2 production, making him worth a second-round pick. You could contrast that with Hunt in 2017, who was being valued in the late-second/early-third, then leaped into the top five following his spectacular debut. Simply put, a massive game from Montgomery would probably tempt at least one team in every league to grab him in the first, but it would be hard for me to justify.
Aaron Jones, on the other hand, is being taken around the 30th pick, just a few spots later than Hunt in 2017. Already a breakout candidate, a huge showing against arguably 2018’s toughest defense could push Jones into the first. A 35-point game (or more) could force some to consider him in the top five.3
According to the Range of Outcomes App, seven of 20 RBs with seasons comparable to Jones’s 2018 produced in the range of 10-12 points per game the following season, but three scored in the 15 PPG range. At 12 points per game, Jones is in line with where he’s being drafted. A huge opening game of 30-plus points, which he accomplished once last season, plus an optimistic 15 PPG the rest of the season would put him in the top eight RBs and make him a possible first-rounder. So, like Hunt, you’re faced with this dilemma: Is a great Week 1 performance indicative that the player will vastly outperform his expectations the rest of the season, or did his best outing of 2019 just happen to occur in his first game?
Tarik Cohen is a tough one. I’m not that high on him in the first place. His sixth-round ADP falls in the range where I’m much more likely to take a WR, and his profile is already that of a boom/bust player. Big weeks are almost expected. He’s a guy I hope does well enough that someone else reaches for him and pushes value down to me.
First, the obvious: A massive game by Davante Adams, already a solid first-rounder, would likely push him into top-three consideration. Whether to take him there would depend on how confident you are that his head start would provide more value to your team than Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey or Alvin Kamara, currently the top three guys in ADP and all capable of scoring 30-plus points in their first games. Something to consider: Adams had only one game of more than 30 points last season, finishing as the overall WR4. If you’re drafting toward the end of the first and are hoping for Adams, a score of under 15 points – he never scored fewer than 16 last year – could be enough to push him down to you.
Like his teammate Cohen, Allen Robinson is another tricky one. A huge game could mean he starts going in the range of Chris Godwin, Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods. Again, I’m more likely to let someone else reach for him.
An eye-opening performance by one of the ancillary WRs could remind many of the Cowboys’ Ogletree. He notched 8 catches for 114 yards and 2 TDs, was taken as high as the sixth round, and then disappeared the rest of the season.
Trey Burton and Jimmy Graham have been going off the board as backup TEs. With the FFPC’s TE-premium scoring, we’ve seen big games push names up the board, but when Gronkowski scored about 35 points in 2015, he was already a first-rounder.
A more relevant example to this year’s Thursday night special was in Manning’s 7-TD opener in 2013. Julius Thomas caught 5 passes for 110 yards and 2 TDs for 30.5 points and was taken in the first five rounds. This was a huge leap considering that, in the pile of pre-printed stickers that the FFPC uses in live drafts to track the player selections, Thomas was such an unknown that his name wasn’t included. The people in charge of putting the players’ stickers on the giant draft board had to write his name in.
If Burton or Graham have a similar Thursday output, I’d expect a corresponding jump in ADP to around TE6, especially if some drafters latch onto Burton as this year’s George Kittle.
I’m not sure any QB is worth a first-round pick no matter how many points he scores, but in 2013 I was part of three Main Event drafts in which Manning’s 7-TD outing convinced teams to take him fourth, 12th, and 12th overall. Of course, he was already in consideration as a top QB, and he threw 55 TDs that year, so there’s a good argument it was worth it. I don’t think a 30-point game from Aaron Rodgers would affect his ADP much – he did so three times last year – but if he were to play poorly, that could be advantageous. Case in point: Matt Ryan had 251 scoreless yards and an interception in last year’s opener, causing many to pass on him, yet he finished as the overall QB2 in FFPC scoring, rewarding those who ignored his poor initial outing.
As for Mitchell Trubisky, who’s currently QB17 in ADP, a decent barometer might be Alex Smith. He threw for 368 yards and 4 TDs in 2017. In a high-stakes FFPC draft we did before that game, Smith was the 24th and last QB off the board in the 18th round. When we drafted again after the Thursday game, he was QB7. He finished the season as the overall QB2.