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18 Oct 2017

Scramble for the Ball: Fantasy Points

by Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter

Bryan: Welcome back to Scramble for the Ball! Andrew, I have some bad news. Up there, in the header, it specifically says this column is about "fantasy football, the Loser League, and general goofiness." We've covered the latter two in spades, but we've been neglecting the world of fantasy.

Andrew: If your fantasy team's draft went anything like mine did this year, you would be trying to forget fantasy football exists too.

Bryan: I would have thought your long-standing hatred of making predictions would keep you from doing much fantasy football. After all, what is a fantasy football draft but a series of predictions?

Andrew: To that, I say three things:

  • I. A plague o' both your houses.
  • II. Now that I've withdrawn myself from Loser League, I play in one sixteen-team ESPN IDP keeper league. I've participated in this league every year since 2004, across three separate platforms. I'm way more attached to the league and the people I play with than the actual activity itself.
  • III. I do actually, in all seriousness, find fantasy football a reasonably handy way to keep tabs on what's happening around the league, even with teams I don't otherwise follow too closely. That's probably my main reason for sticking with it, even though I generally find fantasy news dumbs down a lot of the wider discourse around the game.

Bryan: Yeah. That's why I like it when someone like Martellus Bennett or LeGarrette Blount goes off on fantasy football players -- the more rabid fantasy fans seem to feel that these players owe them points and touchdowns and the like. They have slightly more pressing concerns than if BryKno's Rhynos are winning their matchup against DeVante's Inferno.

Andrew: Those had better be actual team names from your league.

Bryan: The Rhynos are one I've used since I had to come up with a non-in-jokey name for a public league, back when I was first cutting my teeth as a sportswriter in the far-off past of 2013. Most of the names in my auction league are, sadly, not fit for publication.

Andrew: I do get frustrated with fandom in general when I see players get abuse on the Internet because they were injured, or when somebody's first reaction from watching a player have his leg ruined in real time is to worry about the impact on his fantasy team.

Of course, the biggest takeaway from over a decade of fantasy football for me has been the sheer randomness of the sport from week to week. I'm not just talking about scores or injuries either, though of course things like losing Allen Robinson and Julian Edelman before the end of Week 1 will have a major impact on any fantasy season. (Sob.)

Even usage patterns can be just impossible to foreknow. Which Patriots running back will be in vogue against the Jets and their can't-cover linebackers? Will it be Super Bowl hero James White? Pounder Mike Gillislee? No, it will be Dion Lewis, whose previous season-high was nine touches. At least I wasn't against the Saints defense/special teams the one week they outscore every other player or unit in fantasy, with three defensive touchdowns off five turnovers.

Bryan: This is one of the reasons I have started doing more weekly fantasy games; when I inevitably pick a terrible, terrible roster, I can punt it all and start from scratch. A bad draft in a yearly league, however, can leave its stench on your roster all year long. No amount of waiver-wire scouring or wheeling and dealing can really save you from a terrible draft-day disaster.

Andrew: It's not just a terrible draft either, a lot of the outcomes are just plain bad luck. Drafted David Johnson first overall? Sorry, but...

Oh, your quarterback was Aaron Rodgers too? At least you'll have a high pick next year.

Bryan: And that's only if you're in a league with continuity; if you start from scratch each season, you don't even get the benefit of the pick of the litter the next year. You just get to watch all your planning and research go up in flames. Hopefully, the schadenfreude soothes some of the burns.

I mean, just take a look at this. Based on average draft position, this would have been a perfectly cromulent draft-day haul. It's not at all unreasonable to assume that someone out there ended up with this exact haul.

Round 1: David Johnson, RB, Arizona -- out with a dislocated wrist until at least Thanksgiving.
Round 2: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay -- broken collarbone.
Round 3: Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland -- struggling on a historic level
Round 4: Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota -- torn ACL.
Round 5: Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville -- torn ACL.
Round 6: Spencer Ware, RB, Kansas City -- torn PCL and MCL, just for variety.
Round 7: Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati -- season-ending back surgery.
Round 8: Martellus Bennett, TE, Green Bay -- just 22 receptions on the year, and his quarterback's now gone.
Round 9: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis -- rumored to be alive, still, though reports are sketchy.
Round 10: Danny Woodhead, RB, Baltimore -- on IR with a hamstring injury.
Round 11: Cameron Meredith, WR, Chicago -- torn ACL and MCL.
Round 12: Darren McFadden, RB, Dallas -- still waiting for that Ezekiel Elliott suspension to begin...
Round 13: Sam Bradford, QB, Minnesota -- knee is literally made of glass.
Round 14: Tennessee DEF -- already given up 164 points; only eight sacks and four interceptions to boot.
Round 15: Caleb Sturgis, K, Philadelphia -- injured quad; outperformed significantly by Jake Elliott.

Andrew: As somebody who drafted both Allen Robinson and Caleb Sturgis, this list is a little too close to my actual fantasy roster for comfort. I, like most people, would have been delighted with that outcome from my draft. Oh, how little we knew.

That isn't even a comprehensive list either: it doesn't include Odell Beckham, Greg Olsen, Julian Edelman if you drafted slightly early, Corey Coleman, and maybe the New England D/ST. Bradford in particular looked set to take the league by storm in Week 1. Olsen has been one of the most reliable mid-tier tight ends for half a decade. Edelman was a minor deity in PPR. And a lot of people had a very high opinion of the Patriots defense until the actual games started.

Bryan: I've been locked in the Andrew Luck vortex for weeks now, desperately grasping on to every bit of news I can find. He's currently being reported as having "no timetable," which is precisely what you want to hear out of your star quarterback, right? I mean, I did prepare for his absence by drafting extra quarterbacks, which means in Week 5, my options were Luck (out), Marcus Mariota (out) and Kirk Cousins (bye week). Fantastic.

Andrew: My quarterback options were Mariota and Ben Roethlisberger, which I freely admit was a mistake entirely of my own making. You can tell, just from this article, how my season is going (very, very badly indeed).

Bryan: But you know what? It's OK. It's fine. We can take solace in the fact that our processes were good, even if the outcomes ended up disastrous. It happens. Just have to be zen about it and move on to the next thing. That's not aggravating.

No, it's the fantasy players who have no idea at all what they're doing and yet somehow draft the unstoppable juggernauts that make me tear my hair out and rend my flesh. The ones who draft people they've heard of once, or who went to their college, take everyone at least three rounds too early, never touch the waiver wire or respond to trade requests, and cruise to victory. It's not fair, I tells ya!

Andrew: I've stopped believing that's luck. There's one guy in my league who manages that every single year. Always has a perfect roster, always makes exactly the right lineup choices, never comes up against somebody having an uncannily good week, and gets the top seed in the playoffs every season at something like 13-1 (we play all 17 weeks, because we're hardcore). We even made him swap teams with the worst guy, so he lost all four of his carefully curated keepers, and it made literally zero difference whatsoever.

Bryan: This being fantasy football, perhaps he has some sort of psionic ability; a clairsentience that allows him to learn secrets long forgotten and peer into the mysterious football-filled voids of the immediate future. The power to know the unknowable.

Andrew: I think it's not impossible at this point that he just picked up a really obscure sports almanac somewhere. His first name does begin with B.

Bryan: Here's the invoice of that first draft. By average draft position, all of these players were drafted a good three rounds, minimum, before they "should" have been taken. And yet, it's almost certainly crushing your fantasy team:

Round 1: Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco -- Fourth-round ADP, your RB7 on the year.
Round 2: Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City -- Fifth-round, RB1
Round 3: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona -- Sixth-round, WR7
Round 4: Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia -- Ninth-round, TE2
Round 5: Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota -- Tenth-round, WR6
Round 6: Chris Hogan, WR, New England -- 11th-round, WR8
Round 7: Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City -- 12th-round, QB2
Round 8: Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston -- 12th-round, QB1
Round 9: Duke Johnson, RB, Cleveland -- 13th-round, RB12
Round 10: Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia -- 13th-round, QB4
Round 11: Cameron Brate, TE, Tampa Bay -- 14th-round, TE3
Round 12: Jacksonville DEF -- 15th-round, DEF1
Round 13: Chris Thompson, RB, Washington -- Undrafted, RB8
Round 14: Buck Allen, RB, Baltimore -- Undrafted, RB17
Round 15: Greg Zuerlein, K, L.A. Rams -- Undrafted, K1

Andrew: Alas, the only one of these players I got is Duke Johnson. There are always guys like these who slip through the cracks -- yes, you get Kareem Hunt as an injury replacement for Spencer Ware, but too many people thought Brate would lose a lot of receptions to O.J. Howard, Tom Savage would keep Deshaun Watson off the field, and Thompson and Allen would be nothing but third-down backs.

I'd also like to give a slightly biased shout out to Alvin Kamara. Javorius Allen has 395 yards from scrimmage, 23 receptions, and two touchdowns, whereas Kamara is at 317 yards, 24 receptions, and two touchdowns. Chris Thompson only has 250 yards and 18 receptions, but has two extra touchdowns. For a guy who was projected to be the third back on his team and a fantasy afterthought, Kamara has made an impressive impact -- enough to kick a (sorely miscast) future Hall-of-Famer off the roster entirely.

Bryan: Your first three picks being a guy who was rumored to be on the cutting block during training camp, a third-round rookie behind two veterans on the depth chart, and an aging possession receiver on a team whose offense has been slowly imploding? You'd have your league rivals laughing their butts off at you all day long and plotting on how to best exploit your obvious lack of anything resembling football knowledge. And yet, you're the one laughing all the way to the bank. There is no justice in this world.

Andrew: Not that there are many alternatives. I did once play in a league on Yahoo! in which players weren't exclusive, so every owner could set the same lineup as long as it fit under the salary cap.

Bryan: Yeah, a salary cap league is lots of fun if done properly -- I love trying to squeeze a star quarterback in under a cap and trying to find savings elsewhere.

Andrew: It's a bit ... what's the word, casual? Impersonal, I suppose. I'm not nearly as interested in the how the players are doing when I can just chop and change my lineup however I want every Wednesday. No waivers, no competition for players, no logging on at nine o'clock on Wednesday morning to get first dibs on the players who cleared the waiver process. No real investment in how my team is doing beyond the score total.

Bryan: There are other formats out there, though. Auction drafts remove the annoying bit of the draft where you go "whoops, I'm drafting 10th, guess I can't get Le'Veon Bell this year." It gives everyone equal footing on the ability to draft whoever they want -- and to mess with people. The very first year my group did an auction was 2010, and someone nominated Adrian Peterson. No, not that one. This one. The bidding war -- and slow realization as to what had just happened -- remains my favorite fantasy moment of all time.

Andrew: That's the kind of thing I'd do. The other Steve Smith. The other Mike Thomas. Nominate terrible players ahead of great ones. I've never played an auction league. Do keepers exist, and how are they accounted?

Bryan: You can set them up so they cost something against your initial budget; usually their draft price from the previous year plus some inflation. It depends on how your league would want to set it up. You'd still run into occasional "shoot, I spent a quarter of my budget on a player on injured reserve" situations, but you eliminate the "well, I was going to take Obvious Stud A, but he was taken the spot before me, so I took Guy With No ACL B instead."

Andrew: Clearly the "B" in your hypothetical stands for Bradford, so the "A" must be ... Aaron Rodgers?

Bryan: ALEX, of course.

Andrew: I admit to preferring the Loser League approach, where instead of setting lineups it simply takes the best (or worst, in the case of Loser League) score for each position and adds them into a total. Apart from anything else, that removes the David Johnson effect -- one injury to a feature back utterly destroying your score.

Bryan: It exists! It's called Best Ball. Unfortunately, most Best Ball leagues don't allow you to change your roster at any point, which goes back to your "no Wednesday waiver wire" complaint from before. Still, it's fun to be able to take nothing but flyers and big boom-and-bust players, rather than settling for boring, average competence.

Andrew: So what I really want is a Best Ball league with drafting and roster shuffling, ideally 16-team, with custom scoring and individual defensive players including kickers and punters.

Bryan: And then you get the problem of finding only, like, two other guys hardcore enough to do such a monstrosity of a league. People just want to log on to ESPN and click buttons.

Andrew: Wait, you mean ESPN standard leagues don't award linemen points for pancake blocks? What is this casual madness?

Bryan: Scoff. We only care about the truly important leagues. Like Loser League.

Loser League Update

Quarterback: Oh, Brian Hoyer, we hardly knew ye. It was always unlikely that Hoyer would be the 49ers' starting quarterback next season, but few expected that he'd be yanked quite this early in the year with nothing but a third-round rookie (and a bit of a reach, at that) behind him. Hoyer was 4-for-11 for just 34 yards before being pulled for C.J. Beathard, earning him 1 solitary point and losing his starting job for the foreseeable future.

Running Back: The general idea of a running game is that you hand the ball to a running back, and they move forwards with the ball, gaining you precious yardage. Jonathan Stewart may want to re-read that chapter of his NFL Training Manual, as his eight carries netted him a grand total of -4 yards. That's a hard earned 0 loser league points. It's not just a one-week issue, either; Stewart now has just 17 yards on 26 carries in his last two games.

Wide Receiver: Goose Egg Brigade check in, this time in three delicious flavors. Do you prefer Phillip Dorsett, who didn't catch any of his three targets? Michael Floyd, who caught just one pass for only 5 yards? Or Tyrell Williams, whose fumble wiped out his value? Three great 0-point tastes in one box, part of your balanced breakfast.

Kicker: Ka'imi Fairbairn is having an odd season -- he is perfect on field goals so far, but has already missed two extra points, including one this week. Brandon McManus has not been perfect on field goals so far; he has already missed five, including two this week. Both of them share the honors with 0 points this week.

Check your team's score and the overall leaderboard here!


Keep Choppin' Wood: Clock management in the heat of battle can be challenging, both for players and coaches. For Jordan Howard, however, that equation was considerably simpler than most: on third-and-20 with 31 seconds remaining in a tied game, literally the only thing he had to do was use as much clock as possible ahead of Pat O'Donnell's punt. Anything else -- yardage gained, even a first down -- was an entirely secondary objective. Yet Howard, like Marion Barber before him all those years ago, failed at his one basic objective, stepping out of bounds to allow the opposing team time for one last shot at the win. Fortunately, Joe Flacco is no Tim Tebow (cough); so unlike with Barber, Howard's mistake went unpunished. The Bears eventually won in overtime, but still could have done without giving the Ravens that additional opportunity in regulation.

John Fox Todd Bowles Award for Conservatism: Up 45-10 against a team with no healthy offensive tackles and a hobbled quarterback, most NFL coaches could be forgiven for playing conservatively. For a team in the NFC South, however, this weekend stands as clear evidence that no lead is ever truly safe. After the Lions followed up a Marshon Lattimore pick-six with a 75-yard touchdown drive to make the score 45-17, the Saints turtled up completely. Drew Brees did not attempt another pass more than 10 yards downfield, and the Saints gained only one first down on their next eight offensive drives. Meanwhile, Detroit steadily eroded the lead, eventually pulling the score to 45-38 with a pick-six of their own from defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson on another short Drew Brees pass. Stafford's third turnover-six of the day made the score 52-38 a few plays later, and the Saints were spared the consequences of their own collapse, but seven straight fourth-quarter drives without a single first down -- while conceding both a pick-six and a punt return touchdown -- are as far as it gets from a desirable outcome for what is supposedly one of the league's best offenses.

Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game: One more win in this award, and John Fox gets to keep it. Witness:

That was rookie running back Tarik Cohen with a pinpoint deep ball to tight end Zach Miller in the end zone. Cohen became the third different Bears player to throw his first career touchdown pass in the two games since Mike Glennon was benched, joining rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and veteran punter Pat O'Donnell. Cohen also becomes the shortest player to throw a touchdown pass in the NFL since 1934, per the Pro Football Reference Twitter account. There is life in the Bears season yet, as a coach who looked a certainty to be fired after this season has morphed (most likely temporarily) into one of the more adventurous head coaches in the league.

Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching: It is logical, when trailing by two scores late in the game, to try to speed up your process. If you need both a touchdown and a field goal to win, and you find yourself in an awkward position, it might, at times, make sense to kick the field goal early rather than waste all your clock trying to get the first score. However, that is based somewhat on the idea of being in position to kick a makeable field goal, not the 54-yarder Doug Marrone settled for on second down against the Rams. Kickers are converting a hair under 65 percent of their 50-plus-yard field goals this season; it drops to 58 percent when you move it out to 54 yards. Jason Myers himself has only made 52.6 percent of his field goals from that far out. Maybe get a wee bit closer next time before putting the game on Myers' leg -- or, rather Josh Lambo's leg, as Myers was cut on Tuesday.

"Friend of the Column" Fantasy Player of the Week: He's baaa-aaack! You thought that you'd never hear the name Ryan Fitzpicksix again after his disastrous 2016 campaign in New York, but like a bad penny, he always turns up. He actually played quite serviceably in relief of the injured Jameis Winston, throwing for 290 yards and three touchdowns as the Buccaneers rallied late. It's notable that Winston, Marc Bulger, Jamie Martin, Carson Palmer, Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett, and Geno Smith have all been injured with Fitzpatrick as their backup; rumors of his thriving voodoo doll emporium are, at press time, unfounded.

Blake Bortles Garbage-Time Performer of the Week: Honorable mention to Matthew Stafford, who didn't really show up until the score was 45-10, but he almost brought the Lions back into contention against the Saints. Ditto to Fitzpatrick and the Buccaneers -- it's not really garbage time if you bounce back into contention late in the fourth quarter, is it? So we'll instead will just give it to the Cleveland Browns in general, with Kevin Hogan's touchdown pass to Seth DeValve with a minute left in the game possibly being the least meaningful score of the season to date. This shouldn't come as a surprise; Cleveland's 105 plays while down by at least 17 points lead the league (Tampa Bay's in second with 87). They specialize in garbage-time football.

"Comfort in Sadness" Stat of the Week: First-overall draft pick Myles Garrett has made an immediate impact for the Cleveland Browns after finally making his debut in Week 5. First he had two sacks against the Jets, and then he terrorized the Texans. Though Houston only attempted 29 passes, Garrett picked up a sack and added another four quarterback hits. Thus, Garrett hit Deshaun Watson on one of every six dropbacks -- which even includes scrambles, as Garrett tackled Watson on one of his six rushing attempts. He also added two run tackles for a loss and a pass deflection to his personal stat sheet. In what looks like yet another loss-filled season for the Browns, their top draft pick's performance at least provides a modicum of hope for the future.

Game-Changing Play of the Week: Another week, another crushing loss for Atlanta.

Worth noting here is the fact that the Falcons were in field goal range -- not a chip-shot by any stretch of the imagination, but close enough that you'd trust an NFL kicker to be able to take you to overtime. They had two timeouts, and thus had the entire playbook available to them. Matt Ryan got unlucky here, as Cordrea Tankersley tipped the pass right to Reshad Jones to seal the game, but you have to wonder why he threw the ball into such a tight window in the first place. The Dolphins were 14-point underdogs; the last time an underdog that big won outright was in Week 8 of 2011, when the A.J. Feeley and the St. Louis Rams shocked the Saints for their first win of the season.

Three-Eyed Raven Lock of the Week

All picks are made without reference to FO's Premium picks, while all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing.

Andrew: It turns out that Atlanta's remarkable prowess in blowing leads does surpass the impressive inability of the Dolphins to score points. This week, I'm looking West instead of South. The Oakland Raiders added NaVorro Bowman to their defensive roster on Monday, but he will not help their struggling defense as much against the Kansas City Chiefs as he might against the other teams on their schedule. The Chiefs will be looking to make up for their home defeat to the Steelers by securing their position atop the AFC West. I fancy Kansas City (minus-3) over Oakland, wary as I am of a three-point favorite in a divisional road game.

Bryan: I'm going to bet on the public overly panicking about Aaron Rodgers' injury -- and the injuries to the rest of the Packers, for that matter -- and take Green Bay (plus-6) at home against New Orleans. It's ballooned up from a 3.5-point spread when it opened, which means that a bunch of money is coming in on the Saints' side. New Orleans has outright lost nine of the last ten times they've travelled to Green Bay, which can't be discounted. Expect the Packers to go with a simple playbook for Brett Hundley, asking him to keep the game close and not make too many mistakes. With a full week's worth of practice, he should look better than he did last week.

Records to date:
Andrew: 3-2
Bryan: 3-2

Football Outsiders doesn't answer fantasy questions on Twitter, so if you don't have a Premium subscription and access to the 24-hour Fantasy Answering Service, the Scramble mailbag is one way to get a Football Outsiders answer to your fantasy questions! Email us with fantasy questions, award suggestions, crazy videos, outlandish conspiracy theories, obscure fantasy league rulesets, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam at scramble@footballoutsiders.com.

Posted by: Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter on 18 Oct 2017

6 comments, Last at 19 Oct 2017, 10:56am by Raiderjoe


by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 10/18/2017 - 3:13pm

re: example in article- Actually duid draft david Johnson, dalvin cook, a dn allen robinson in first 4 rounds. my other pick in first 4 rounds was M. Mariota.

only league in this season. slots- qb, wr, wr, te, rb, and three flex spots with one jhaving QB option. so most of su start 2 QBs each week.

tremendous setup.

14 roster slots. have personally started 18 differnet plauyers already.

team record is 5 wins and 1 loss

having huigh end players ruined due to injurt but still winnign is nice

by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 10/18/2017 - 3:18pm

yes, some people seem lickier than others. some draft and do little work post-rdaft. not mabny waiver/free agent moves. Owners like that sometimes luck out, bhut usually less-active types do nto have big success. at leats not in playing in leagues weith me.

by roguerouge :: Wed, 10/18/2017 - 6:57pm

Yeah, I have a guy in my keeper league who's been holding on to Aaron Rodgers and David Johnson for a while. It's hard to feel sad for that guy.

by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 10/19/2017 - 10:56am

well neing keeper league, those guys may be worth keepring for 2018 depending upon keeping ruels

also, last I heard david jophnson may return this season. I still have him on ym roster and my league isn't a keeper league

by ammek :: Thu, 10/19/2017 - 9:35am

New Orleans has outright lost nine of the last ten times they've travelled to Green Bay, which can't be discounted.

I'm pretty sure we can discount at least the six of those games that took place before 1990, as I don't expect to see Bobby Douglass or Guido Merkens suiting up for New Orleans. And – pedantry alert – on four of those six occasions the Saints traveled no further north than Milwaukee. (Inept teams like the 1970s Saints generally drew the short straw of playing at County Stadium, during the time the Packers had two homes.)

I have a nasty feeling the New Orleans defense didn't use up its quota of pick-sixes last week. Brave of you to pick the Packers, but I'm shocked the line is as low as +6.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Thu, 10/19/2017 - 10:43am

I actually think that's one of the more interesting games this week, just because the Saints are traditionally much worse outdoors on turf as opposed to at home on their comfy turf, and their defense is awful enough they're not going to pressure Hundley constantly like the Vikings did. You could tell me either team was going to win by 15 points and I'd probably be fine with it. Have no clue.