Roto Arcade: Auto Show

Roto Arcade: Auto Show
By Andy Behrens
August 31, 2007

Andy Behrens
Yahoo Sports

Most of you are familiar with that scene in "The Untouchables" where Sean Connery points the sawed-off shotgun at his knife-wielding attacker and utters this line:

"Isn't that just like a (ethnic slur). Brings a knife to a gun fight."

If you're planning to auto-pick a team in a league full of live drafters, it's the fantasy equivalent of bringing a knife to a gun fight. That's just a terrible plan. Not at all a winning approach. Don't do it. Drafting live is much, much better.

Let's ignore the fact that in "The Untouchables," the dude with the knife escapes, while Connery gets shot approximately 9,000 times, dies a horrible death, and suffers the final indignity of being cradled by Kevin Costner. You'd still prefer a gun to a knife, given the circumstances.

And you'd always prefer to draft live.

But for reasons that would probably appall me, many of you will auto-pick your fantasy teams. There are things you can do to limit the damage that auto-pickery will inflict, so we'll discuss strategy today. Please remember, however, that the first rule of auto-picking is this: Don't auto-pick.

There is no second rule. I really can't stress the first rule enough.

Nonetheless, I've now auto-drafted a few Yahoo! public league teams, and there are things to share. Most of these things will be particularly advantageous to live drafters who happen to find themselves surrounded by auto-drafters – there's really a lot you can accomplish when you know which position and/or player another owner will take next. But there are a few important nuggets for auto-pickers, too. Feedback has taught me that such people read fantasy articles. Seems odd, but they do.

For one thing, if you auto-pick a team in a Yahoo! league, your entire starting lineup will get filled before any of your reserves are taken. In other words, you're only going to draft two running backs in your first nine picks. (Somewhere, a little piece of Brad Evans just died. Hopefully it wasn't the piece that loves Carl Crawford). Clearly, no expert would ever advise you to do such a thing. It's crazy.

However, it's not unreasonable to assume that people who auto-pick their fantasy teams prefer a very low-maintenance ownership experience, and they want name-brands at every starting spot. Here's an example of what they get in the first nine rounds:

1. (9) Joseph Addai RB
2. (12) Rudi Johnson RB
3. (29) Reggie Wayne WR
4. (32) T.J. Houshmandzadeh WR
5. (49) Darrell Jackson WR
6. (52) Vince Young QB
7. (69) Kellen Winslow TE
8. (72) San Diego DEF
9. (89) Jason Hanson K

That team was auto-drafted for me straight from default player ranks a few weeks ago in a live-draft league.

My team really made unusually poor picks at 5, 8, and 9. Darrell Jackson was taken ahead of perhaps a dozen running backs that have greater fantasy value. Grabbing any kicker in the ninth round of a 15-round draft is rather foolish.

The starting lineup above isn't so bad, though. That was obviously too far for Addai to fall. The league contained a mix of live- and auto-picking owners, and none of the live-drafters really made the rest of us pay. They should have totally depleted the RB reserves while the auto-pickers were going TE-DEF-K in Rounds 7 through 9.

Instead, they let Brandon Jacobs fall to the ninth. (And there goes another little piece of Evans. Jacobs is like a horcrux, where Brad has hidden a bit of his soul).

Round 10 then went like this:

1. Santonio Holmes
2. Deuce McAllister (my team)
3. Ahman Green
4. Marion Barber III
5. Denver
6. Jamal Lewis
7. DeAngelo Williams
8. Jerricho Cotchery
9. Fred Taylor
10. Mark Clayton

Basically, the highest-ranking player on every auto-picked team was a running back, and they all went in the tenth. This is why Yahoo! average draft position numbers seem inconsistent with the results of many experts leagues and live drafts. Marshawn Lynch's current average draft round is 7.5, Jerious Norwood's is 9.8, Ladell Betts' is 11.7, et cetera. It's the auto-pick effect. It's not that Yahoo! public league owners don't know who the good players are; it's that many of them are on auto pilot.

Which, just to be clear, is not advisable.

After Round 10, auto-picking will find a new way to burn you. It thinks you want backups at every position, and it tries to find them for you. This is how my draft ended:

11. (109) Brett Favre QB
12. (112) Kevin Curtis WR
13. (129) Ronald Curry WR
14. (132) Randy McMichael TE
15. (149) Arizona DEF

Say what you will about Favre, Curtis and Curry, none of them – not one – should have been taken while Norwood was still on the board. He actually went un-drafted, killing a little piece of me. I later added him from waivers, dropping Arizona … my backup defense.

Auto-picking gave me two defenses.

(Stunned silence)

No one should ever really draft a backup defense in a 10-team league.

In a league that size, where the free agent pool is so loaded, you really don't need backups at kicker, defense, or tight end. You don't necessarily need a backup at QB, either. There's a better case to be made for drafting no defense in a public league – which you can do if you live draft – than there is for taking two.

I've since added J.P. Losman, Julius Jones, and Brandon Marshall (in addition to Norwood) in the league above. And I've experimented further with auto-pickery. I've arranged players by tiers, shuffled and reshuffled, and, at times, ignored kickers and defenses altogether.

Here are the results of the most recent effort, in a PLUS league where every team pre-ranked and auto-picked:

1. (9) Willie Parker RB (6)
2. (12) Travis Henry RB (9)
3. (29) Larry Fitzgerald WR (17)
4. (32) Marques Colston WR (29)
5. (49) Chicago DEF (46)
6. (52) Vince Young QB (52)
7. (69) Joey Galloway WR (63)
8. (72) Greg Olsen TE (137)
9. (89) Josh Brown K (--)
10. (92) Adrian Peterson RB (24)
11. (109) Jay Cutler QB (73)
12. (112) Patrick Crayton WR (106)
13. (129) Jacoby Jones WR (107)
14. (132) Carolina DEF (--)
15. (149) David Martin TE (--)

The first parenthetical number refers to the player's overall draft position; the second is where I had them in my pre-draft rankings.

Again, it's really not a poor starting roster. You'll notice I had the 9/12 picks again. That's my signature draft spot. There are clearly a number of my pet players here: Fitzgerald, Chicago, Olsen, Peterson, Crayton, Jones. This is also the third league in which I've landed Vince Young, but it's not really by design. In a live draft, I would have taken Peterson – my tenth rounder – well ahead of him.

The important thing to notice about the above draft is that I ended up with the Panthers defense and David Martin in the 14th and 15th rounds. I'd pre-ranked the maximum 150 players for this draft, and neither Carolina nor Martin were among them. My kicker wasn't either. But several players who I'd ranked in my top 100 – Ladell Betts (51), Brandon Jackson (69), LaMont Jordan (70), Chester Taylor (95) – went un-drafted and are currently on waivers.

Auto-picking will select backups at basically every position. No matter how you pre-rank, you probably won't like your bench. Or you shouldn't. There won't be enough RBs there.

In the auto-picked PLUS league, Round 10 looked like this:

1. Marshawn Lynch
2. Adrian Peterson
3. Carnell Williams
4. Deuce McAllister
5. Jamal Lewis
6. Jeff Garcia
7. Jerious Norwood
8. Marion Barber III
9. Ahman Green
10. Jason Witten

Eight of the ten players selected were running backs. Then in Round 11, none were taken. Every team auto-picked exactly three RBs. No more, no less.

If you go to the "Autopick Draft Details" section of the fantasy rules, you'll find this paragraph that sums this up nicely:

"It's important to remember that all starting positions are filled before any bench players are chosen. Additionally, keep in mind that the system will determine a maximum number of players to draft per position (starters plus bench) so that no roster ends up with an inordinate number of players at any single position (e.g., five quarterbacks in a league that has a single starting quarterback)."

This is why live-drafters competing alongside auto-pickers should clean up. While the auto-drafters are taking defenses and kickers in Rounds 7-9, and again in Rounds 13-15, live-drafters should snag all the ownable RBs that can be squeezed onto their rosters. If they somehow end up missing the playoffs, then they're either tragically unlucky people, or they simply stink at this fantasy stuff.

If everyone in your Yahoo! draft is auto-picking, however, there are serious advantages to breaking away from the tyranny of RB-RB drafting. I haven't succeeded in actually doing it yet, but I can see the virtues. Here's what I'd suggest: pre-rank no more than a dozen running backs at the top of your list, then pile up 20-25 receivers, down to guys like Laveranues Coles and Calvin Johnson. Mix the top-tier quarterbacks in there, too. And rank Antonio Gates ludicrously high.

These are your top 40 or so players. If you're partial to the Chicago and Baltimore defenses, rank them next. After that, stack the next 20 running backs, beginning with the likes of Ronnie Brown, Jacobs, Cedric Benson and Maurice Jones-Drew. Then another pile of receivers.

That obviously isn't what a normal draft board looks like. Jones-Drew isn't supposed to be your number 50 overall player. In a competitive live draft, he's usually a second round pick. But if everyone is auto-picking in a 10-team Yahoo! league, only 20 running backs will be taken in the first nine rounds. That's it. You can stack your pre-rankings so that your RB2 won't get drafted until Round 7, yet still end up with an excellent player. Then you'll get a very good RB3 in Round 10.

While most teams will take a third-tier RB in the second, you're guaranteed a comparable player several rounds later. As you can see above, they really do fall. Try to improve your chances of getting elite players at other positions. It's not much, but it's something. Auto-picking will select a kicker and a defense for you regardless of your intentions, so don't bother ranking any that you don't feel strongly about.

The most important thing you can do in an exclusively auto-picked league is to hit the waiver wire immediately. There are going to be several useful running backs and receivers that go un-drafted. In that PLUS league, I have claims in on Betts, Jordan, and Jackson at the moment.

If you're in a live draft league and you're not planning to actually attend the draft … well, remember the first rule of auto-picking: Don't auto-pick. It's a gun fight, so bring a gun.

Andy Behrens has written for ESPN.com, the Chicago Sports Review, NBA.com, the Chicago Reader and various other publications. In all likelihood, Andy owns more Artis Gilmore memorabilia than you. Follow him on Twitter. Send Andy a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Friday, Aug 31, 2007 11:44 am, EDT

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