Dissecting a draft: The Fantasy Pros Invitational, 2011

Roto Arcade

In recent years, an unwelcome trend has hit the fantasy industry: accountability. Some of us entered this profession because we wanted to avoid environments in which people checked our work.

Back in the golden age of fantasy analysis (by which I mean, like, 2007) all a writer had to do to was remind readers of the one thing in 30 that they happened to get right: "Like I told you guys last week, Tatum Bell is going to be a monster! Hope you were listening!" That sort of statement was usually sufficient to support one's credibility. Because what fool would actually go to the trouble of comparing the predictions of fantasy experts to actual on-field results?

Well, it turned out these fools had such a plan. Other fools are doing it, too, but the fools at Fantasy Pros have been transparent (and disturbingly detailed) with their fool methods. Their work has been acknowledged by various industry associations and media outlets, so the expert community has no choice but to tolerate them until we find a way to eliminate them and their ilk. You can find their year-by-year accuracy scores right here.

Fortunately, the Yahoo! team has performed reasonably well in these rankings of rankers, so we have no beef with these folks ... yet. We recently hosted the 2011 Fantasy Pros Invitational, an experts draft involving analysts who've placed in the top-10 in either 2009 or 2010 (often both). It's a tough group, composed entirely of writers who've earned top accuracy grades. We've got the guys who beat the field in the 2010 in-season ranks (John Paulsen), the 2010 preseason ranks (Jamey Eisenberg), and the 2009 in-season ranks (ahem). In fact, we have everyone who finished top-three in each season. Again: tough group. Invitations were sent to all experts on a list provided by David Kim, founder of Fantasy Pros.

Before we get to draft results and commentary, we should acknowledge two writers who were invited to participate, but weren't available on draft day: ESPN's Chris Harris and our own Brad Evans. (Links are to Twitter profiles. You should probably follow everyone listed here. These are some badass experts). And, being the gracious host that I am, I'll also acknowledge three folks who were invited, but who totally big-timed me: Rotoworld's Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com's Michael Fabiano, and Football Guys' Sigmund Bloom.

So much for the intro of this murderously long post. (Yeah, I know: "too long; didn't read.") Let's get to the rosters, with explanations from the experts involved. We'll open at the top of the draft...

Rosters: QB, 3 WR, 2 RB, TE, 2 Flex (W/R/T & W/T), DEF, K, 5 bench

Key scoring settings: 0.5 PPR, 6 per passing TD, -2 per INT

David Dodds, Football Guys, @fbg_dodds - I was fortunate enough to get the first pick in the draft and took the top player on my board, Ray Rice. I expect his extra goal line work should push him to be the No. 1 back in fantasy in most formats this year. The scoring system (0.5 points per reception) really favors RBs early so my plan was to stay on them (in rounds 2 and 3) unless a few stud WRs fell into my lap at the turn. The top WRs were gone so I got Steven Jackson and Felix Jones, while the going was good. In full PPR leagues, RBs and WRs get drafted in pretty even numbers by the end of round three. In no-PPR leagues, those first rounds are generally dominated by RBs, since they score more points (and the position has greater scarcity). Although 0.5 PPR is not that common of a scoring system, it favors RBs early and WRs late.

The six points for passing TDs added a slight twist by keeping a premium on the QB position. I knew I wanted a good QB, but my general strategy is to wait pretty long before grabbing one. At the end of Round 4, I pulled the trigger grabbing Tony Romo, as this scoring is too juicy for someone that could end up as the best QB in 2011. I also grabbed Santonio Holmes,which felt borderline criminal at this point. He should be the clear WR1 for the Jets, who look like they want to pass more this season.

When it got back to me at the 6/7 turn, I was hoping enough solid WRs would make it back to me. This league starts three WRs and also two flexes (where only one can be a running back). So once the top RBs got taken, there was a lot of pressure at the WR position in these middle rounds. I locked down Santana Moss and Mike Thomas, both WR1s in their respective systems. Both should be solid contributors this year. Arriving at the 8/9 turn, I wanted to add more WRs. I was shocked to find both Steve Smith and Mike Sims-Walker on the board. Smith is the clear WR1 on a bad team. The Rams situation is a bit of a mess, but Sims-Walker is finally healthy and I expect him to emerge as the WR1 in that system by year's end.

With just 16 rounds, the rest of my draft locked down my starting TE (Marcedes Lewis), my defense (Green Bay), my kicker (Mason Crosby), and my backup QB (Colt McCoy) and some high-potential backups. I think Bernard Scott is a much better fit to be the RB1 in Cincinnati based on what Jay Gruden is trying to do there. I think he overtakes Benson at some point. Mike Williams (Sea) had just two TDs despite a frame that looks more like a TE. Everyone has anointed Sidney Rice as the WR1 in Seattle, but I am not sure it's going to play out like that. I like picks like these because if I am wrong, I can just cut bait and do better on the waiver wire. My biggest gamble is Deji Karim. I suspect that Rashad Jennings is hurt more seriously than the team is letting on right now. Karim could be the backup to MJD (bad knees) should he go down.

(Ed. note: Sure enough, Jennings has been placed on IR. Karim is the clear No. 2).

Andy Behrens (Secret Treasure Loaf), Yahoo! Sports, @andybehrens - I nearly wept when the draft order randomizer gave me the No. 2 overall pick. Excluding mocks, this is the only draft in which I've had a top-three pick this season. Won't lie: it felt pretty awesome. I've been parked in the 11-14 range throughout draft season, shutout on the elite backs, except in rare cases where CJ2K fell beyond the top-10. Peterson was an easy call at No. 2.

As for my second round selection, I'll just say that the Bradshaw-Jacobs job-share isn't a huge issue for me in this format, because we're getting a half-point per reception. Bradshaw gets nearly all of the catches in that backfield (47 last year), because Jacobs has pincers for hands. True fact.

Some of you probably don't like Matt Schaub this year, because you're convinced that Arian Foster's emergence wrecked his value. I'll just point out the fact that Schaub still threw for 4,370 yards in 2010, the fourth-highest total in the NFL, and he attempted only nine fewer passes than he did the prior season. It was never realistic to expect a stat-for-stat repeat of his '09 performance, when he posted one of the largest yardage totals in league history. Schaub remains a high-volume passer, at the controls of an elite offense. Not a bad score in Round 7.

One last note: As you can probably guess, that final pick was a misfire — the fantasy equivalent of a blown coverage. I was doin' work in multiple draft rooms at the time, while also fielding questions in chat about the waiver process in the Fantasy Pros league. My suspicion is that Dodds was intentionally distracting me, but cannot confirm. In any case, I've resolved the two-DEF error via free agent add (Bironas).

Brandon Funston (Team 6), Yahoo! Sports, @1befun - Arian Foster just had to choose the hours leading up to our draft as the time to go public with the MRI on his hammy. It made the No. 3 pick a miserable proposition. I knew by Andy Behrens' rankings (he picked No. 2) that Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson would be gone. So, it was either man-up and take Foster, or take a safer health bet with less upside. I opted for Foster, much to the relief of those picking immediately behind me, and then had to commit to reaching for Ben Tate later in the draft — perhaps not Houston's Week 1 backup, but the guy you want if Foster were to end up missing serious time. (I plucked him off the board at pick No. 75, figuring, with the way backs were flying off the board, that he wouldn't come back around to me when I next picked). Since I knew I had to use an earlier selection on Tate than is generally considered prudent, my strategy became to concentrate solely on RBs and WRs until the two deepest positions, QB and TE, were down to only a couple acceptable players in each pool. That seemed the best way to cover my ass, should Foster's injury situation get uglier.

Josh Moore, 4for4, @4for4football - In a draft like this you can throw ADP out the proverbial window. Outside of the general depth at the TE and QB positions this year, there wasn't much value to be had, as 12 experts combined to guarantee that nobody slipped enough to be considered a great value.

I waited a long time at QB as I almost always do, landing Jay Cutler at 10.09 and Ryan Fitzpatrick at 12.09. The two have nice complementary schedules, and Cutler could take the next step if that offensive line can improve a bit. By waiting so long on QB, I was able to load up on RB/WR/TE with my first 9 picks: Charles, V-Jax, Gates, Stevie, Moreno, Collie, Jacobs, McGahee, Bess. Matt Ryan nearly fell to me in Round 8, which would have been ideal, but our Vick owner decided to grab him. RJ immediately placed Ryan on the trade block, looking for a WR. Thanks a lot!

I did not wait on TE, as I often do, electing to go with Antonio Gates in the third. I have Gates in a tier by himself and wasn't smitten with any of the other options at that point in the draft (Jennings, Wayne, Best). Retrospectively, I should have waited on TE as they stayed on the board a long time. Ideally I would have grabbed Jimmy Graham in the seventh and used my third round pick on Brady or Rivers.

Coming into the draft, I thought I was one of the highest in the world on Tim Hightower ... but not so. Even I didn't feel comfortable selecting him in the fifth round, where he went to Jamey Eisenberg. For defense, I elected to wait until the final round, selecting a mediocre Cardinals squad with a fantastic early season schedule — Panthers, Redskins, Seahawks.

John Paulsen, Fantasy Shrink, @FantasyShrink - This was a tough draft, but that was expected given the quality of the competition. Players that I have been targeting typically went a round or two earlier, so I had to make a couple of painful picks. On the whole, I'm happy with my team outside of a weak WR3 (Pierre Garcon) and a thin bench. Funston did me a favor by taking Arian Foster at 1.03; I was prepared to grudgingly let him slide in favor of a WR at 1.05. My running backs (LeSean McCoy, LeGarrette Blount, Joseph Addai) are solidly above average, and I have a couple of big-play WRs headlining my receiver corps (Mike Wallace, DeSean Jackson). At tight end, it's tough to do better than Jason Witten. I decided to take a backup QB (Josh Freeman) and TE (Rob Gronkowski) earlier than expected because I wanted to buy some Stafford insurance, and felt that Gronk could potentially fill my WR/TE flex spot.

With Stafford, McCoy, Blount, Addai, Wallace, D-Jax and Witten in the starting lineup, I don't think anyone is going to want to play this team. Given the competition, that's about all I can ask for. Now if I can just find a third WR...

Jamey Eisenberg, CBS Sports, @jameyeisenberg - Picking at No. 6, I had a choice to make when Chris Johnson fell to me. We did this draft the night before he signed. I decided to take the No. 1 receiver in Andre Johnson instead, and it could be a risky move if Chris Johnson plays to his optimal level, despite the holdout. I don't love Michael Turner this season, but seeing him there in the middle of Round 2 was too hard to pass up, even with the 0.5-PPR scoring in this format. Getting Drew Brees in Round 4 is a steal, and I feel the same way about Vernon Davis in Round 6. I also like the possibility of starting Greg Olsen in the WR/TE flex spot since he could be a top-eight tight end this season, and better then some No. 4 wide receivers. I like my chances in this competitive league with very talented owners.

Pat Fitzmaurice, Pro Football Weekly, @ProFootballWkly - Behrens set up the league and did all the cat-herding for this, so he got to choose the scoring and lineup configuration.

(Ed. note: These scoring settings were not actually my first choice, but we had a small uprising over the original format. No one, it seems, wants to play anything close to standard settings. Fair enough. I'll play anything).

Based on the setup, I thought it imperative to build strength at receiver, so I hit the WR position early and often. I'm pleased with what I got there — two WRs in my top 10 (C. Johnson, Wayne), another in my top 20 (Britt), another in my top 25 (AJ Green). I tend to be patient on QBs, but Rodgers was impossible to resist in the middle of the second round, especially with TD passes worth 6 points. I'm obviously short-stacked at RB, and I desperately need one of my two young guys (Mathews, D. Thomas) to step up and become a dependable scorer. No doubt I'll be doing some in-season retooling at that position. I see the Cafeholics are already sending up a signal flare for WR help, so we'll probably end up dealing.

With all the analytical prowess assembled for a single fantasy draft, there weren't many screaming bargains or head-scratching overreaches. Funston spared us all a potential dilemma by taking Foster at No. 3, but he wisely covered himself by locking up Ben Tate early. The only time I was truly snaked on a player I wanted was when Eisenberg grabbed Greg Jennings one spot ahead of me in the third round, preventing me from pairing Jennings with Rodgers.

Best draft? I sort of like what Henry did with his team, but maybe that's because he and I seemed to be reading similar playbooks. The Razzballers put together a nice roster, with Peyton Manning as one of the few draft bargains ... but the Razzies had better hope Peyton's neck is OK, because they only have Sanchez behind him.

Weakest draft? I'd be man enough to call one if I saw one, but I don't see any weak links. What's that line from Rounders? "If you can't spot the sucker in your first hour at the table, you're the sucker." Hopefully I'm not the sucker.

Scott Pianowski, Yahoo! Sports, @scott_pianowski - It was interesting to see 21 backs go in the first 36 picks — even with the setting tweaks (six points for TD pass, partial PPR), the room attacked the backfield early. Team Behrens and Team Dodds scare me the most, but pre-season impressions aren't worth much once the bullets are flying. The Cafeholics squad looks like Team Volatility; if people stay healthy, it might crush everyone, but there are some heavy physical risks on that roster (Vick, MJD, Best, Colston. Even Harvin and his migraines). If Peyton Hillis justifies his 2.05 tag (No. 17 overall), I think I've got a contender.

RJ White (Cafeholics), Fantasy Cafe and FanDuel, @rjwhite1 - I generally try to take safe players with high floors early in the draft, but I decided very quickly to throw caution to the wind and go pure upside in the Invitational league. Taking Vick ninth overall set the tone for the rest of my draft, as I landed Jones-Drew, Best, Colston and Crabtree all at great value, but with high risk attached to each. If my team stays healthy (especially Señor Mexico), I'll definitely make the playoffs with this group. As it is, I landed Matt Ryan at a great value in the eighth round, so I have some trade ammunition should something go awry. A couple of flier RBs are obviously getting cut for a kicker and defense, though I was disappointed to see some of my favorite match-up Ds in Week 1 (Cleveland, Arizona) go off the board in the live draft. Speaks to the quality of the competition that I can't get away with my normal shenanigans here.

Chet Gresham, Razzball, @Chetrazzball - As a whole I am happy with my team. My core players of Peyton Manning, Rashard Mendenhall and Roddy White are all nice to start a team with. Yes, Manning is hurting, but he is easily one of the easiest players to take a risk on. He doesn't miss games, and no matter how many injuries his team suffers, he still puts up good numbers. Roddy is the most consistent receiver in the league and Mendenhall is one of the few every-down backs out there.

(Ed. note: There have been a few frightening Manning rumors floating around, none of which were out there at the time of our draft).

After that, I feel very good about my receiving corps. Brandon Marshall has looked healthy this preseason and I see a nice bounce-back from him. Brandon Lloyd is an easy bust candidate, but his bust status has gone a little too far. He has always had the skills, but never could his head screwed on right. The loss of McDaniels hurts him, but keeping Kyle Orton around helps. He's the main aerial threat in Denver, and will get his looks. Ryan Grant and Beanie Wells don't exude greatness, but should start the season in decent positions. Grant, though, is on his way down while James Starks is on his way up. We'll just have to see. My bench is pretty bluh, but I do like Stevan Ridley quite a bit. I have a feeling I'll be dropping most of these guys for other crappy guys who I will in turn drop for even crappier guys.

Jeff Pasquino, Football Guys, @JeffPasquino - Starting from the No. 11 spot put the top RBs out of my reach, but given the scoring I still decided to go RB/RB and grab two right out of the gate. I like both Darren McFadden and Frank Gore to put up top-10 RB numbers, and the 0.5 PPR bonus certainly helps. DeAngelo Williams was a great value pick next, and with the ability to start 3 RBs he was a no-brainer for me. Dez Bryant becomes my WR1, and I like him to find the end zone at least eight times as a breakout starter for the Cowboys. The challenging pick was my fifth, where Reggie Bush fell into my lap and Bob Henry was waiting to take RBs right behind me. With Bush's bye week different than all three of my starting RBs and the bonus of 0.5 PPR (and kick return touchdowns), I had to take him — knowing full well that WRs would dominate the rest of my draft.

Big Ben was not an easy choice over Peyton Manning, but with his ability to throw and run plus health concerns for Peyton, I chose the safer starting quarterback. My next five picks were all WRs and TEs to round out my roster, with nice upside picks in Jacoby Ford, Nate Burleson and Johnny Knox. A second tight end seems like a luxury at first, but with two flex spots I can put both Owen Daniels and Tony Gonzalez in my lineup and hope that the big targets find the end zone. Joe Flacco complements Big Ben as my QB2, and Donald Driver was a solid value as my fifth wide receiver. I still hope that my final pick, Emmanuel Sanders, gets healthy and continues on the path as a breakout wideout for the Steelers.

Overall I like the team, especially having strong RBs where I can start three, and they'll all get receptions. Trading and waiver wire actions will help to round out this team, as it is likely one top-30 WR away from being set for a strong playoff run.

Bob Henry, Football Guys, @bobhenry - Drafting from the 12th slot, I wanted to give the upside-down draft strategy a shot, although I didn't quite execute as I originally intended. I strayed at the fourth pick with the selection of Tom Brady, rather than grabbing Dez Bryant. In hindsight, I should have stuck to my guns there and grabbed Bryant while trusting the depth and upside of QBs likely to still be on the board for my next two picks at the turn (like Roethlisberger, Ryan and Stafford).

Reflecting on my team, my RBs are underwhelming, which is typical for this draft strategy. However, Mark Ingram and Fred Jackson should be serviceable and Pierre Thomas offers a bit of insurance. Beyond that, it doesn't take a scientist to figure out my waiver wire strategy. The low point of my draft was the auto-selection of Sidney Rice. I urge owners to stay far away from the Seahawks passing game. If he would have fallen a couple more rounds, I would have targeted him, but I was seconds late in making my selection and Rice popped up on the board as the highest-rated player remaining. Live and learn.

As is typical in an experts draft, one cannot assume or expect players to fall. That was certainly the case with this draft. Despite having several players targeted in rounds where I felt they would be available, they were gobbled up even more aggressively than anticipated by astute fellow experts like Pianowski, Razzball and Pasquino. Some examples of those players include Beanie Wells, Mike Tolbert, Jimmy Graham, Jacoby Ford, Nate Burleson, Aaron Hernandez, Lee Evans and Lance Moore.

With 16-man rosters and starting lineup requirements of 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE and 2 flex, the waiver wire will be as important and key to winning as the draft itself. There isn't much room to handcuff players or wait on bench players like you would in normal leagues. As such, I opted only to draft one tight end, kicker and defense. Demarco Murray was my late round flier in the event that Felix Jones gets hurt. Murray is a player who could light up the scoring in the Cowboys talented offense.


Photos via US Presswire

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