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Monday 23rd Oct 2017

It seems like just yesterday we were at our fantasy football draft tables or at our computer drafting online. And in the big picture that is true. If you drafted in early September, it was just three months ago.

But this week is the first week of the playoffs for many leagues or in some of the national contests the first week of the “dash for cash” where teams start with their regular season weekly average and add on their scores in weeks 14/15/16 to get the overall champions.

In mid-September, I wrote about a team that Greg Morgan and I drafted to try and “grab the FF brass ring” – one of 7,000 teams drafted in the Football Guys Players Championship, so I thought as we enter those critical final weeks, we should take a look at how that team fared.

Here is the team we drafted online on September 3:

QB – D. Brees

RB – D. Murray, M. Jones-Drew, D. McFadden, D. McCluster, B. Cunningham, I. Crowell, J. Grimes, D. Archer

WR – A. Johnson, M. Floyd, M. Colston, E. Decker, A. Boldin, A. Dobson, J. Jones

TE – J. Graham, T. Wright

K – J. Tucker

DST – Houston Texans

Eleven of those players remain on our championship bracket roster which now looks like:

QB – Brees and Bridgewater

RB – Murray, Crowell, D. Robinson, L. Murray, B. Oliver

WR – Johnson, Floyd, Boldin, Decker, Ch. Johnson, M. Bryant

TE – Graham and Wright

K – Tucker and Sturgis

DST – Texans, Cardinals, Rams

We went 10-1 in the 11-week regular season in this contest to get the number one seed for the league playoffs and get into the championship bracket. We had added running backs throughout the season and were early on Oliver (when he was playing), Murray, who had his career game on our bench, and fortunately Bryant as he became the number two receiver for the Steelers. At the end of the season, we needed a sub for the Texans and Tucker and the Cardinals were excellent for that game and Sturgis was adequate for his one week. Going into the playoffs, we needed to add a quarterback – yeah I know we are playing Brees every week but what would happen if we had two really good scores in Weeks 14 and 15 and then Brees was sitting in the last game? So in the last week of free agent pickups (Week 13 for the four teams in the league playoffs), we wanted to get a backup passer. I also wanted to get the Rams defense and Greg wanted to get Charles Johnson, hoping his role would continue to grow in Minnesota. We were fortunate to have $117 of FAAB remaining and our LCG opponent had $105 so we bid $106 on the Rams D, $10 on Johnson and Stedmon Bailey, and then one dollar each on Bridgewater, Mettenberger and McCown. Giant success – our opponent bid a lot (but not max) on STL and we got all three of our first choices. That was huge because in the Week 13 game for first place in the league, while Jimmy Graham got zero targets, the Rams scored a monstrous 34 points as we won by about eight points.

Now on to the three-week lottery for the BIG money – yes we are 30 points back of the leader but three really good weeks can propel any team to the winner’s circle and $300K.

Another look at last Friday’s 2015 XFL auction draft but through a different prism.

If you took a lot of English classes or were involved with speech or debate programs or even some writing courses, you no doubt learned the different meanings of the same sentence by emphasizing one word over the others – the classic years ago was “How many can we squeeze in here?”

Let’s look at the XFL draft noting using my title:

WHY did you bid on him? – what was the reason

Why DID you bid on him? – similar but slightly different question

Why did YOU bid on him? – personal question, perhaps why did YOU need/want him?

Why did you BID on him? – as opposed to draft or trade to acquire

Why did you bid on HIM? – in particular why THAT player?

Pre-auction background for my team heading into this 15-team mixed keeper league that uses OBP instead of AVG: I kept 11 players and four minor leaguers (max 15 keepers). The hitters were:

C – Evan Gattis, $7 (also qualifies at OF)

1B – Mark Trumbo, $13 (also qualifies at OF)

3B – Trevor Plouffe, $6

MI – Dee Gordon $6 (qualifies at both 2B and SS)

OF – Starling Marte, $10

So yes, I needed to buy a lot of hitters and some very good ones to supplement a cheap base which probably has 100-plus stolen bases.

I froze the following pitchers – Doug Fister ($12), Mike Fiers ($10), Wily Peralta ($6), Jesse Hahn ($4), Aaron Sanchez ($4) and Neftali Feliz ($10). My plan for three pitchers was a Tier 1 starting pitcher and a second closer, and the last pitcher could be a closer, high strikeout reliever who might inherit a job or a starter as long as it was for a very low cost. I entered the auction with 172 available dollars, not the most, but I was one of three teams that had more than $170.

So, Why Did I Bid on Him? [players, position, team, amount paid, and rationale]

Rusney Castillo, OF, Boston, $21 – Castillo is still a somewhat unknown commodity since we saw only a month of minor league numbers and four games in the majors. I think others in this “expert” (I prefer the term “industry”) league may have been wanted their first look at him last week but he had injured his hand and was no longer on his AFL team. I think Castillo, like fellow Cuban Yasiel Puig, has a very high ceiling of both power and speed although I expect his first year in Boston will approach a 20 HR/20 SB season. He does not have as much power as Puig and may not be as fast but appears to be more athletic. Don Drooker and I had a pre-conference side bet on Castillo’s auction price in this league, Don thinking it would be $27 while I thought closer to $21 so I won a diet coke in addition to the player.

Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis, $19 – I wanted one of the two top catchers available (Molina and Russell Martin being far more valuable than the next tier available in Wilin Rosario and Dioner Navarro) and thought this was a very reasonable price for Molina.

Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas, $44 – yes I know it is a lot but I thought the top power hitters available (Beltre as well as Miguel Cabrera and Troy Tulowitzki) could all go for close to fifty dollars (Cabrera went for $60 and Tulo for $45) and Beltre again put up very good numbers at the hot corner in 2014 even though the team’s struggles depressed his R/RBI numbers (387 OBA, 19 HR, 79 R, 77 RBI).

Jordan Zimmermann, SP, Washington, $25 – JZimm, Cole Hamels, and Zack Greinke all went for relatively the same amount – 25/26/27 respectively, and I was happy to land Zimmermann – and yes have my second Nationals starter.

Ian Kinsler, 2B, Detroit, $28 – the market price for the best middle infielder below Tulowitzki and Robinson Cano in my opinion – and I still had the money left despite the previous $109 spent.

Russell Martin, C, FA, $18 – yes I already had two good catchers but no matter where Martin lands next season if the Pirates can’t resign him I expect him to have a great on base percentage and good contributions in all the other categories. I felt both Molina and Martin should have gone for $20-25 and I would rather move Gattis to an outfield slot and have the luxury of a good third backstop (they do get hurt back there) than have Martin in a competitor’s lineup at $17. I doubt I would have bid again but really don’t know.

I now had $17 for my last six players. But as I remarked to Gene McCaffrey who was seated to my immediate right, most of us were now in trouble because three players still had north of seventy dollars, more than the other twelve combined. So we would have to hope they found players they liked quickly, whether they fought over a Jayson Werth to a $37 price or just filled a roster spot for a few dollars – if we really wanted a player it was hard to bring them up just to feed the big dog$.

I likely pushed nominating another catcher since several teams still needed one or two a little too far because I got crickets after nominating Baltimore’s likely opening day catcher Caleb Joseph for $1. Personally I don’t think Matt Wieters catches a lot next season coming off the injury with the Orioles who are likely to lose Nelson Cruz to free agency and having seen Joseph’s nine home runs in just more than two hundred at bats with very good play behind the plate. Still as my utility player I can easily replace him in our March supplemental draft and have another catcher in reserve (although yes, his OBP is well below my other options).

It was awhile before there was another player I wanted to bid a significant part of my sixteen dollars on, but as the prices got lower Andrelton Simmons was I thought the best available middle infielder and I landed him for $7. From there on I rostered the following end game players:

Michael Morse, OF, San Francisco, $1 – very surprised to hear crickets on Morse as he had the most power of end game hitters. But I was very happy to land him for that dollar regardless of where he plays.

Adam Lind, 1B, Toronto on draft night, since traded to Milwaukee, $1 – Obviously I thought Lind might still be in Toronto and thus fighting for at bats at 1B and DH. In Milwaukee he will lose the DH opportunities (aside from inter league games in AL parks) but should have at least all the LH at bats at first base and frankly I am fine if they platoon him as he doesn’t do well against LHP. Still a 380 OBP plays just fine and the Brewers’ yard will see plenty of his fly balls clear the fences and send Bernie Brewer down the chute.

Now down to seven dollars for my final two players I was forced to nominate my cheap save play, so

LaTroy Hawkins, CL, Colorado, $2 – Knowing the Rockies had picked up his $2.5 million option; I nominated Hawkins at two and was delighted to get crickets. He is not a closer who will manicure ratios or strike out a lot of batters but I only paid two dollars and will be very happy with another twenty three saves for that investment.

Now with five dollars left for my last pitcher I was happy to roster:

Jarred Cosart, SP, Miami, $1 – I doubt my league mates would look only at Cosart’s 2014 ERA of 3.693 and WHIP of 1.364, but perhaps some of them are not in NL only leagues or weren’t looking hard for pitchers in September when Cosart was pitching in Miami instead of Houston. In his ten NL starts in August and September, Cosart had (rough) numbers of 2.42 ERA and 1.19 WHIP and six of his ten starts for the Marlins were PQS of 4 or 5 with none at 0 or 1. So YES I was very happy to land him for just a dollar which with another good season in the NL would make him a keeper for 2016 at $6.

Hopefully I answered all the different questions contained in my title. I will update this team after I add thirteen players in our serpentine supplemental draft next March when I will start with one pick in each of the first two rounds and three picks in the third round.

My team in the Tout Wars Mixed draft league feels much like Jimmy Buffet’s lyric – the points are there for me to get but will I be able to do it?

Here are the current standings with less than two weeks left to play:


Tim McLeod 13 10.5 13 10 7 6.5 8 15 14 13 110 0.5
Perry Van Hook 14 14.5 15 15 15 9.5 5 9 11 1 109 2.5
Brent Hershey 12 13 14 1 14 6.5 3 13 13 10 99.5 -7.5
Ray Murphy 8 14.5 8 7.5 9 15 10 4 6 12 94 1.5
Adam Ronis 5 3 11 7.5 8 12 11 11 9 11 88.5 -3
Anthony Perri 6.5 12 9 14 5 9.5 15 7 3 3 84 -3.5
Tom Kessenich 11 5 3 13 10 13.5 3 6 7 9 80.5 0
Charlie Wiegert 10 2 7 12 6 11 6.5 5 4 14 77.5 3
Paul Greco 9 9 10 9 3 2.5 9 10 10 6 77.5 3
Scott Engel 1 1 1 4 2 13.5 12 12 15 15 76.5 -0.5
Grey Albright 3 7.5 5 2 1 6.5 14 14 12 4 69 7
Paul Sporer 2 4 2 5 13 6.5 13 8 5 8 66.5 0.5
Nicholas Minnix 15 6 6 11 12 2.5 3 2 1 7 65.5 1.5
Greg Ambrosius 6.5 10.5 12 3 11 4 1 1 2 5 56 -1.5
Eno Sarris 4 7.5 4 6 4 1 6.5 3 8 2 46 -3.5

I can easily pick up that last half point in home runs – I had 12 dingers last week while Ray Murphy had nine. The point in Runs is a little iffy – I have 950 and Nick Minnix has 959 but I did have eight more than he did last week. And sure I have to maintain in RBI and OBP but I have a huge lead in steals.

The categories where I will likely get the points to overtake my Canuck friend Tim McLeod are Wins and Saves. I am not sure why so many writers tell you not to chase wins – invariably that single category leads to more wins or losses than any other. Today I have 86 wins, tied for sixth for 9.5 points, so there is the easy half point and there is an 87 above me. I will send Jered Weaver, Doug Fister, Jarred Cosart (two starts), Danny Duffy and two new recruits for this week, Cory Rasmus (two starts) and Brad Peacock (was scheduled for two starts but now looks like just one assuming his back is okay) to try and get the Wins.

In the Saves category, I have 55 for five points but there are two teams with 56, each of whom had just one save last week while I had two, with Casey Janssen, Neftali Feliz and LaTroy Hawkins in my bullpen.

And I need nine more strikeouts to overtake Eno Sarris and add another point.

It would be great to bring this title home to Mastersball, so if my hurlers aren’t costing you money in your league, I could always use a few extra cheers.

Heading into the last meaningful week for free agent bidding, there are two groups of players for fantasy players to add for the final full week of the season (maybe they will help in the short week 26 as well).

First, if you are contending, you need to plug any/every hole in your lineup. If not contending and in a keeper league, you should be looking to add players who might make your team out of spring training next year (assuming that is legal/affordable).

This is certainly not meant to be all-inclusive but there are a few names that stood out to me when looking at my AL and NL keeper leagues yesterday.

In the American League, don’t be afraid to look to the improving Houston Astros for some pitching help. Scott Feldman has been better lately - only seven earned runs in his last four starts and Saturday he was dominant against Oakland with a shutout through eight innings. Sadly, they put him out for the ninth inning and then Chad Qualls allowed both his runners to score – still a solid effort. Feldman has a home start against the Mariners next week, scheduled to be against Felix Hernandez (but that could change depending on where Seattle is in the wild card race).

His teammate Brad Peacock has given up only four earned runs in his last four starts and was very good in his five shutout innings on Saturday in Seattle. Next week, Peacock is slated for two home starts, first against Cleveland and then he will face Seattle again late in the week.

Speaking of Cleveland, watch the Indians box scores this week to see if former Angel J.B. Shuck, acquired in a trade for cash this week, is playing enough because if Shuck gets the at-bats, he can help in the offensive categories.

I am not as bullish on Chris Young, the former Diamondback and Met who the Yankees signed a few weeks ago after the Metropolitans dropped him. The Yankees have now called him up and if Brett Gardner continues to be unable to play, Young represents some HR and SB potential – yes, along with a terrible batting average.

Keeper league players should look at the Red Sox. Matt Barnes, Boston’s first round pick in the 2011 draft who for some strange reason was just recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket, is likely to pitch out of the bullpen. But Barnes is a good bet to be a starter in the future for the Bosox and if possible, I would grab him now and see what happens next spring. I said strange because the Pawtucket team is now in the International League Triple-A playoffs, so you would think he would be trying to help that club.

And just promoted again by Boston from Double-A Portland was Cuban import Rusney Castillo. Castillo, who has double-digit HR and SB potential, will play in the Triple-A playoffs this week and then likely head to Boston next week. In a league where he is keepable, I would spend whatever I had left to roster him.

If you are looking for some stolen bases and Mariners outfielder James Jones is not available, then Terrance Gore, now up with Kansas City, would be a good target.

I don’t see as many clear choices in the NL (at least in my league) but there are a few very interesting players in the NL East. The Mets recalled SP Rafael Montero and while previous results did not reflect his long term ability, Montero is scheduled to get a home start against the Rockies next Wednesday. Also joining the Metropolitans after the Las Vegas B51s finished their playoffs (losing to Reno in the Pacific Coast League championships) is Gonzalez Germen, who might get a save chance or two in the final weeks.

And I am sure you know that the Dodgers number one prospect outfielder Joc Pederson was recalled last week. Pederson, who had a 30-30 season at Triple-A Albuquerque, hasn’t played much but that could change next week if the Dodgers have clinched the NL West. Pederson is the best centerfielder in the Dodgers organization, including the big league team.

In addition to the several very good high stakes fantasy football contests, there is the equivalent of the FF Lotto – the Football Guys Players Championship has the largest grand prize carrot with a first prize of $300,000.

The attraction for the six thousand plus entrants to this contest is not only the huge payout but the fact you might win that life changing prize on one $350 entry. Yes, several people will buy a three-pack for a thousand dollars and yes, every year there is some fanatic who buys 40 or 50 entries thinking that he will have a better chance of grabbing that elusive brass ring.

But the contest – run by FFPC and using their unique rule set which includes 1.5 points per reception for tight ends and a double flex for RB/WR/TE as well as “action” scoring (so your wide receiver would receive six points if he is a punt or kickoff returner and scores a touchdown on a runback) – does produce a very interesting draft. As you would guess, the top tier of tight ends will go off the board in the first or second round. And the rest of the highly projected tight ends will join them in the first five or six rounds. You could of course eschew the run but you better be very right or get very lucky with a later tight end selection, and of course you likely won’t have the option of flexing a tight end.

But again, that carrot beckons, so Greg Morgan and I set out to draft a “Captain Morgan” entry on Monday night, and if you are drafting in that contest today or tomorrow or in the FFPC main event this coming weekend, perhaps a review of our draft can help you in yours.

We drew the eight hole and immediately thought our targets would be 1) Jimmy Graham or 2) Eddie Lacy, or failing that one of the premium wide receivers. In actual practice, here was the start of our draft:

1.01  – LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI

1.02  – Jamaal Charles, RB, KC

1.03  – Matt Forte, RB, CHI

1.04  – Adrian Peterson, RB, MIN

1.05  – Calvin Johnson, WR, DET – nothing unusual so far...

1.06  – A.J. Green, WR, CIN

1.07  – Demaryius Thomas, WR, DEN

So we took Jimmy Graham, getting not only the best tight end in the game but giving us peace in not having to reach for a tight end and missing a more valuable RB or WR, and not having to jump to roster two or three maybes.

Eddie Lacy, Giovani Bernard, Montee Ball and Dez Bryant finished the first round in our league and the second round started with Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones, Marshawn Lynch and fortunately, Antonio Brown. Fortunate because while Brown is a very fine receiver, it left us DeMarco Murray for our second round pick and first running back and a very good one, which was much better for roster construction going forward.

At 3.08 our plan was just to take the best wide receiver available and we were fine with Andre Johnson, undervalued this year. Trust me, Ryan Fitzpatrick will get him the ball. Peyton Manning was the only quarterback taken so far (3.04 to the Julius Thomas 2.09 owner) so we thought it would be very interesting if Drew Brees was still available when we picked in the fourth round. Mind you, for the most part we are late quarterback drafters in most contests this year. But pairing Brees with Graham would allow us to try for the big scores in the playoff weeks needed to win a fantasy lottery like this. And make no mistake that is what this contest is – it only pays first and second place in each league whereas in the high stakes contests you can make a nice profit by winning your league and get into a much smaller field in the Championship round. So we think we are pretty well set with those first four picks – Brees at QB, Murray at RB1, Johnson at WR1 and Graham at TE. We would try and maximize the rest of our starting lineup and add as much depth and upside as we could after that.

So here is our entire roster, with bye weeks:

QB – Brees (6)

RB – Murray (11), M. Jones-Drew (5), D. McFadden (5), D. McCluster (9), B. Cunningham (4), I. Crowell (4), J. Grimes (10), D. Archer (12)

WR – Johnson (10), Michael Floyd (4), M. Colston (6), E. Decker (11), A. Boldin (8), A. Dobson (10), J. Jones (5)

TE – Graham (6), T. Wright (10)

K – J. Tucker (11)

DST – Houston Texans (10)

And a few notes about our strategy and the draft.

When you have a top tier quarterback, there is really no reason to draft a backup. You are only going to play that quarterback in your bye week and have plenty of time to decide who to drop and get one from the free agent pile. Those roster spots to gain both depth and upside with RB, WR and TE if needed are invaluable.

Because this contest pushes the better tight ends up – Graham 1.08, J. Thomas 2.09, Gronkowski 2.12, J. Cameron 3.10, Z. Ertz 5.11, J. Reed 5.12, J. Witten 6.04, K. Rudolph 6.06, Dennis Pitta 7.01, Vernon Davis 7.02 and Greg Olsen 7.03 – it pushes quarterbacks down. In this draft, Manning went at 3.04, Brees at 4.05, Aaron Rodgers 4.07, Matthew Stafford 5.05, and then Nick Foles 7.06 before the floodgates opened in the 9th and 10th rounds.

But again, if you draft a top tier quarterback and decide you absolutely need a backup, it shouldn’t be in the first ten rounds when you need to flesh out your starting lineup.

Hopefully, that will help you if you are drafting in this format later this week. If you have any specific player questions, you can post them below or in the forums.

Good Luck at your drafts and in Week 1.

This weekend and next week, many of us will be drafting our high stakes fantasy football teams. Right now, you really need to finalize your draft plans.

First and most important, you want to be sure your positional rankings and cheat sheets are specific to the league. You can’t use ESPN rankings, for instance, unless you are doing a 10-team league, and even then I think their leagues are non PPR, so if you are in a PPR, you must use rankings that include projected receptions.

Sounds basic, I know. But I am surprised how often people grab a magazine or print out rankings that are not exactly based on league rules – even in high stakes leagues. Especially in Las Vegas. Yeah, I know it's Vegas but did you spend all that money to draft a good team or is it just a party weekend? If it is the latter – thanks, we appreciate the dead money.

Secondly, scrub your rankings to account for recent news. To me, this means lowering Cam Newton (who I think people had too high anyway) and his receivers in Carolina at least a little as there is real concern about him playing in Week 1 if the ankle problems persist. I would also move former Tampa Bay TE Tim Wright up at least 5-10 spots with news that he has been traded to New England. Belichick and Brady have proved they can use multiple tight ends and while Wright is a poor run blocker, he is almost a Hernandez clone size wise and has very good hands. Jay Feely lost the kicking job in Arizona to rookie Chandler Catanzaro and the Lions settled on Nate Freese to kick for them.

In sales, we had a saying – Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan. It is just as important in drafting your team. You should have already decided (at least roughly) where you will take your starting quarterback (I suggest you wait at least eight or nine rounds) or your tight end if that is required in your league. There is excellent depth at both positions this year, so unless you feel it is necessary to draft Manning, Brees or Rodgers, you should wait at quarterback. Go through some mock drafts and get used to your draft plan because you don’t want to be surprised by Rodgers dropping to the fourth round and confusing your draft board. If you think there is a point at which you would “have to” take him, then you should have two draft plans – either wait on QB or take one in X round and then.

If you already know the answer to questions like these, you will be much calmer in your draft and you will have a much better chance for an optimum draft.

I also like to have a separate listing of true sleepers, maybe blocked off in an unused spot on one of my sheets. Speaking of cheat sheets or draft sheets or whatever you want to call them, you really should try and get them down to as few sheets as possible. You don’t want to be shuffling ten sheets of paper or flipping back and forth to pages in a binder. The best idea is to put them in an excel file so you have separate columns for each position. Depending on how much information you want on each player, you could for example put all the QB, RB, WR and TE on one page using a vertical layout. But if you want bye weeks and team or any other ranking or projected points, you probably want to use a horizontal view and now you would have two sheets for the skill positions (all the QB and TE and top 35-40 RB and WR on page one and all the extra RB and WR on page two). In either case, you would have just one more page for K and DST and perhaps some extra notes.

Really, the best way is to modify whatever rankings you use to suit your own feelings about the players. I generally approach that with a simple “Who would I take next?” approach for each position. So Peyton Manning is QB1, then Brees and Rodgers. In my world, Andrew Luck would be next because I just don’t see Matthew Stafford with a more conservative (read run oriented) offensive coordinator this year throwing as much as he has been in prior years.

What you start with is up to you. All the pay fantasy football websites have their rankings in some form. One of the advantages to footballguys.com is that they have already done the heavy lifting and customized cheat sheets for many popular league settings and scoring with extra ones for all the high stakes leagues so you can just pull that up, copy into excel and then tweak their rankings to your taste.

You should also look at ADP to get a better sense of where players are really being drafted. But one of my strongest suggestions is that average draft position must be specific to the league you are going to use it for. That is why many of the high stakes players do cheaper satellite or Draftmaster format leagues run by the contest(s) they are prepping for. This is imperative to give you a sense of which players are being overvalued or undervalued – at least in early drafts. Remember that at the big money contests, either your home league or in the national contests, ADP from those early drafts goes out the window when people sit down with that much money on the line. Especially in Las Vegas.

Good luck in your drafts and if you are in Vegas for the Fantasy Football World Championship leagues at the Mirage Hotel, stop by and say hello.

If major league teams expand their rosters in September, why shouldn’t fantasy teams? Well, in some leagues – especially my almost 30 year old AL-only league, they do.

On whatever the first Monday of September is, teams can pay $50 real money to add a 24th player. That player can be either a tenth pitcher or a second UT (which they can vary with weekly lineups). The extra player can come from teams' three-man reserve squad, be a new free agent addition from that weekend, or perhaps one of their own FARM players who was called up (although unless in a dash for cash they likely wouldn’t want to start the clock for a minor league player).

Usually it is only the four or five teams fighting for the top spots that spend the 50 dollars. But a team fighting for the $260 second half prize or 5th place, which is the first pick in next spring’s minor league draft, might also be tempted.

This is a great way to add a few extra dollars to your league’s prize pool and also adds to the strategy and fun for the last month of the season. Being in a tight race for 3rd place (currently tied with another team just a half point back), I will add a player, although unless one of my DL hitters gets a new lease on at-bats, I will have to add a pitcher. But I do have pitchers who can help try for an extra point in strikeouts or the tightly bunched wins category.

Our AL league also does two other things in September you might want your league to adopt. First, while free agents throughout the year carry a 10F14 salary designation, meaning they can be kept next year for ten dollars, we give all players added in September a designation of 25S14, making it very unlikely they will be kept next year. A large part of this is to prevent our salary structure on minor leaguers from being undermined by someone adding a player called up in September who would have been a very early draft pick next April – Rusney Castillo, I am looking at you.

The other changes we make in September are related to DL players. With 40 roster spots, major league teams often won’t bother to put a player on the DL even if they won’t play for the balance of the season. Once players are declared out for the year, we allow teams to DL them – of course should there be a miraculous cure, they aren’t allowed to come off the DL, but it does help with roster management.

We also relax the requirement of players coming off the DL or players recalled from the minor leagues to be transacted in a timely manner to aid in September roster management.

These things really help mono keeper leagues and you might want to consider suggesting them to your league mates.

At the end of this week, we will have six scoring periods left in the 2014 baseball season. Getting enough at-bats will be a big key to how high your team can finish this year which is hopefully rewarded with cash or perhaps the consolation of a better minor league draft pick next April.

I say at-bats because it is much harder to find those in September than pitchers to throw out there. I suggest reading the stories filed on each team’s website by the MLB.com writer for some clues as to who the manager (or team) may want to take a look at in September. You need to differentiate between minor leaguers who are just being given a chance to sit on the major league bench in September versus those who are really being given a tryout with the big league team.

Players to get before or during September

Joc Pederson, OF, LAD – With any other group of outfielders on a MLB team, Pederson, who is on pace for a 30-30 season at Triple-A Albuquerque, would already be playing in the Majors. But with an outfield of Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, there is too much money committed and not enough at-bats for them or Scott Van Slyke, who murders lefties. Pederson is currently the 18th best minor league prospect according to MLB.com and will be in Los Angeles when rosters expand on September 1. He is also the only true centerfielder amongst Dodger fly chasers.

Alex Guerrero, SS/2B, LAD – The Dodgers have also said they will bring up Guerrero in September. It is not as clear how much he will play given his fielding deficiencies, but the former Cuban star has a lot of pop in his bat and he could easily outproduce weak MI slots in NL- only leagues.

Carlos Rodon, LHP, CWS – Rodon, who was the third overall pick in the June draft, has just been promoted to Triple-A and with a few starts there could easily get bumped up another level to pitch in U.S. Cellular Field in September. He would be a very good starting pitcher for those in AL-only leagues or deep mixed leagues who need a fresh arm for the final month of the season.

Kris Bryant, 3B, CHC – The power hitting third baseman leads the minor leagues in home runs with 40 for Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa and should be in Wrigley in September.

Other teams to watch for September callups are:

The Chicago White Sox, who are going nowhere fast and might want to see what 2B Micah Johnson can do. Johnson has been injured this year, thus the “only” 22 stolen bases in 2014. But remember he stole 84 bags in the Minors in 2013 and Gordon Beckham is not the long term answer at second base.

The Baltimore Orioles haven’t ruled it out and I think we see the debut of RHP Dylan Bundy in September, especially if the Orioles have a chance at a postseason berth. Bundy did say his elbow still feels good following his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Bundy started nine games between two Class A stops, posting a 3.27 ERA with 37 strikeouts and 16 walks in 41 1/3 innings of work.

The Arizona Diamondbacks would at least like a terrible year to end without the worst record in baseball (likely) and finish 3rd in the NL West if they can overtake the San Diego Padres (much less likely). One way to do both would be to upgrade their rotation internally and that could mean the long awaited big league debut of Archie Bradley. But with his injuries and ineffectiveness, it is very possible that Arizona might call up their best minor league pitcher this year and promote Aaron Blair, another big (6’5”, 230 lb.) righty who in 143 innings across three minor league stops this year has struck out 160 batters with a WHIP of 1.14. Blair, the #4 Diamondbacks prospect, has pitched better than Bradley or Braden Shipley, who were both ahead of him at the beginning of this year.

(I would also suggest reading Rob Leibowitz's columns for more players to watch for)

One of the best things about keeper or dynasty fantasy football leagues is the draft of the new kids on the block – last year’s college football stars who were drafted in May.

ADP from mock drafts is largely irrelevant in my opinion, so I thought I would give you the results of one from this week. Now I know that many of you who play in these leagues have already done yours. But I also know that several people have drafts coming up.

This is a 12-team, PPR league with starting lineups of QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, WR, TE, Flex, K, and DST.

1.01 Sammy Watkins, WR, Buffalo
1.02 Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay
1.03 Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans
1.04 Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco
1.05 Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina
1.06 Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee
1.07 Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia
1.08 Terrance West, RB, Cleveland
1.09 Odell Beckham, WR, New York Giants
1.10 Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta
1.11 Tre Mason, RB, St. Louis
1.12 Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit
2.01 Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay
2.02 Cody Latimer, WR, Denver
2.03 Marqise Lee, WR, Jacksonville
2.04 Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Minnesota
2.05 Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati
2.06 Johnny Manziel, QB, Cleveland
2.07 Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville
2.08 Andre Williams, RB, New York Giants
2.09 Donte Moncrief, WR, Indianapolis
2.10 Charles Sims, RB, Tampa Bay
2.11 Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Tampa Bay
2.12 Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville
3.01 Jace Amaro, TE, New York Jets
3.02 Khiry Robinson, RB, New Orleans (free agents included)
3.03 Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City
3.04 James White, New England
3.05 Troy Niklas, TE, Arizona
3.06 John Brown, WR, Arizona
3.07 Jerick McKinnon, RB, Minnesota
3.08 Lache Seastrunk, RB, Washington
3.09 Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland
3.10 Paul Richardson, WR, Seattle
3.11 Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh
3.12 Dexter McCluster, RB, Tennessee

At least in AL and NL-only leagues, trade deadlines either should have come or gone or perhaps have one more week before they are done.

Not only does that parallel the MLB non-waiver trade deadline but it gets us to the final third of the season on a level playing field – you won’t have a competitor able to make another deal to surprise you. On the other hand, you won’t be able to surprise them. Everyone can duke it out with the rosters they have now and the few free agents that might be available.

And that is the way it should be, having most of two months without outside influences. Those leagues that have an August 31 or September 1 trade deadline should really rethink this and move it back a month.

Now we are down to the pennant races.

Or if you aren’t competing to win the league, you are hopefully finishing in the money.

August, even with some tired players, at least continues with pretty much the same players we have seen all year. Yes, the Cubs just called up Javier Baez, who will likely man second base with Starlin Castro having a good year. This will push Arismendy Alcantara to the outfield – likely centerfield – but both should be in the Chicago lineup every day…and if you are lucky, in yours.

As the month goes on, you need to be very careful to see which teams are conducting “tryouts.” All well and good for their organization but not good for your fantasy teams if you are counting on those players being in the lineup in September.

Roster expansion in the major leagues on September 1 can be a land mine for your existing warriors, but it can also provide some players to help if you have lost some at-bats.

Most pitchers coming up in September won’t affect rotations. Rather, they will be extra arms in the bullpen. Whether long or short assignments, they shouldn’t affect your closers or good starters. But be very careful to watch each pitcher’s team so you aren’t surprised.

Many fantasy baseball leagues have September Roster Expansion, where teams who are competing pay $50 into the league prize pool and can add a 24th player, usually by just activating one of their reserves, but of course it could be a free agent pickup. This could be a tenth pitcher or a second UT as a 15th hitter, and teams can vary that in their weekly lineup. This is particularly helpful in leagues with a salary cap (which all auction leagues should have), as that extra player won’t count against the cap.

My AL-only league, like many mono leagues, has some rules in place to prevent teams in the second division from sneaking minor league players onto their rosters when they really should be in the minor league draft next March. While normal free agents have a 10F14 contract, we change that in September to 25F14 so that we maintain the integrity of the minor league pricing structure.

Maybe something your league should look at.

Drafting before training camps are into their second week and before any pre-season games is not exactly going off half-cocked, but you are without a lot of information you want in your head or on paper before your high stakes draft.

While mock drafts can be very helpful for introductory prep, they are worthless for high stakes players unless you have a dedicated group of like-minded players, have exactly the right number, and can do it pretty much in real time or perhaps by e-mail with commentary. That is hard to find. I did it for baseball and it was excellent but there is a much smaller number of quality fantasy football drafters and they are harder to corral and less likely to willingly share. Far more important for the better players are the affordable leagues with real opponents where you have the opportunity to hone your draft strategy and learn what others are thinking at the same time.

I have done and seen a number of these but most of the observations I am sharing today are coming from a current Rotobowl slow draft league. This contest has a reasonably low entry ($279) with a very high grand prize lure ($50,000). Sort of like the FBGPC in football or the Rotowire Online Championship in both baseball and football. The key would be that it is a 12-team league that is using the exact same lineup and scoring parameters as the Fantasy Football World Championships (FFWC) which Greg Morgan and I will be in Las Vegas to compete in the first week of the NFL season.

So we decided to do a “slow” Rotobowl league online so we could discuss players and draft strategy in a real context with plenty of time. The slow drafts in most contests are an eight hour clock. Most of these drafts finish within two weeks, although this group is already in Round 12 and we started on Saturday, July 26.

I am not going to go through every draft pick (I can if you want – leave a comment and I can set it up in the FF Forum) as the point of this column is just to give you my observations for you to incorporate into your draft prep. But here is the first round:

1.01 LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI

1.02 Jamaal Charles, RB, KC

1.03 Calvin Johnson, WR, DET

1.04 Matt Forte, RB, CHI

1.05 Adrian Peterson, RB, MIN

1.06 Eddie Lacy, RB, GB

1.07 Dez Bryant, WR, DAL

1.08 Demaryius Thomas, WR, DEN

1.09 Brandon Marshall, WR, CHI

1.10 A.J. Green, WR, CIN

1.11 Jimmy Graham, TE, NO

1.12 Montee Ball, RB, DEN

The first five picks in some order are pretty much standard in current drafts and will be the first five in high stakes leagues in September absent injury.  The six hole is where drafts diverge, and I wouldn’t argue with any of the basic draft strategies:

6a – Take the best RB

6b – Take Jimmy Graham

6c – Take the best WR (usually Thomas but that is why they have 31 flavors)

Greg and I, while loving the edge at TE of Graham, who helped us win our FFWC league last year, opted to start with Lacy to get a strong RB1 for better roster construction.

So here are five observations from this live money draft and several others I have seen and done (note – you can see the first six rounds of early NFFC drafts on their message boards, both 12-team DM and 10-team Cutline leagues but don’t forget the third round reversal when trying to see who teams got).

FIRST – There is no right or wrong in the second half of the first round. It is a personal preference (sometimes based on who you think you can pair that pick with in the second round). In fact, Ball was paired with Julio Jones, Graham with Jordy Nelson and Green, who is normally a second round pick, with Arian Foster.

SECOND – I think TEs 2 and 3, Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas, are being drafted slightly higher than their true value given the huge questions – Gronk with health and Orange Julius with an inflated 2013 value based on the TDs.

THIRD – There is in the high stakes community a strong tendency to wait on drafting your first quarterback unless you think there is tremendous value in where Rodgers or Brees fall in a draft full of “waiters.” Anecdotally, I can tell you that in the early WCOFF days, I was already convinced that was the best way to build a roster and many times I did not have a quarterback on my team when they took the first break after ten rounds. As a shout out to some legendary former competitors, both Lou Tranquilli (3INTboy and BFD FF) and Ian Millman (FF Champs) were often in a stare down or comparison with me to see who took a quarterback first.

In this Rotobowl draft, Peyton Manning went at a normal 3.02. Rodgers was the next off the board at 3.09 (obviously we passed on him in the third, not wanting to be the Captain Morgan Packers). We would have had to really think hard about Drew Brees at 4.07 but ultimately didn’t have the choice as he went two picks before us. Only four QBs were drafted in the next six rounds – Matthew Stafford (5.03), Robert Griffin (6.05), Andrew Luck (8.02) and then Nick Foles (10.03) before most of the field broke down and tried to grab their guys of the remainders after the Top 7 projected quarterbacks. Good drafting by the five teams that waited and I have no problem with the other drafters if they felt they got value with their guy.

FOURTH - However, some of the early quarterback drafters fell from grace when the Manning, Rodgers and Stafford owners drafted a second quarterback in Round 11. If you draft a stud, when are you going to play your second quarterback other than in a bye week? And they missed the opportunity to strengthen their teams with available RB/WR/TE. Frankly, in 12-team leagues like the FFWC, NFFC, FFPC or WCOFF, if I had a strong quarterback (no matter what round I drafted him in), I would leave the draft with just that QB on my roster. The other draft picks are far too valuable even if they happen to be the player you drop for your bye week QB. And there are still several playable quarterbacks in the free agent pile. Those waiting to draft their quarterbacks may obviously be looking at going QBBC (quarterback by committee) or having a pair based on schedule matchups.

FIFTH – Even high stakes drafters are still drafting their DST too early. Yes, I know you love the Seahawks, and yes, I know they were good last year and still have strong units. But almost every year, half the teams that were among the Top 10 scoring DSTs from one year are not in the following year’s Top 10. And your two points per game or whatever you actually get are not worth the opportunity cost to get more bullets – chances at finding a running back or wide receiver who quickly becomes a flex play or starter. Take more of those, and if they don’t work out, you can easily replace them. Every year, there are some key players not drafted who go for hundreds of FAAB bucks who you could have rostered on draft day.

More later. I have to go work on our QBBC.

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