Fantasy football, like any other vast institution that takes your money and destroys your self-worth, has its dogma. There's a system of shared beliefs in the fantasy community that's basically unchanging.
Most of these beliefs are totally solid, too. Some are maybe truer than others; we'll sift through them here throughout the preseason. But really, if you strictly obey the templatized draft tips and player rankings that you'll find in any fantasy guide, you'll give yourself a chance to be competitive. And you won't get badly mocked in the draft room.
You'll also miss a few things. If you're willing to be ridiculed in draft chat for reaching early on a player or position, you can really construct an excellent team, free of the sort of mid- to late-round veteran detritus – Ahman Green, Isaac Bruce, Joe Horn – that no one really wants to own. Or you might actually do something that deserves ridicule. Either way, you'll have taken a considered risk, which is more than most owners can say.
This brings me, for the second time in two weeks, to the subject of drafting a defense. Fantasy dogma is this: You should draft your defense late. The top teams don't repeat. They're unpredictable. You can play the waiver wire and do well.
There's truth in that. Usually, there are a couple of outliers among the fantasy defenses, and several teams clustered below them. If you look at the top fantasy defenses from 2006, this is exactly what you'll find:
Two teams were significantly better than everyone else, then there were a mess of teams in the neighborhood of 155 points.
This is what 2005 looked like:
Again, two teams were well above league-average and several more were bunched together – and when that happens, rank isn't particularly important. Rank is never as important as measuring distance from the mean. Only three teams repeated as top-ten fantasy defenses in 2006. So it's reasonable to say, in general, that identifying top-ten defenses is fairly difficult.
The specific argument I made two weeks ago, however, dealt only with the Bears in 2007.
Chicago's average Yahoo! draft position at the time was 46.3, which put them squarely in the middle of the fifth round – not where a defense is supposed to go. But if you look at Chicago's strength of schedule (.465 opponents' winning percentage), their personnel, their takeaway-intensive approach, and their recent fantasy past (405 points over two seasons), you'd have a very difficult time concluding that they won't be an elite fantasy defense again in 2007.
Thus, a fifth round pick in a 10-team public league seems totally justified.
I had expected derisive email. Oddly, the only insults came from three Baltimore fans who felt the Ravens had been disrespected (which was never the intent). The rest of the feedback was positive, and it came from owners who had drafted either the Bears or Ravens early in 2006, then made the playoffs.
This was a little disappointing. Disagreement is encouraged.
Thankfully, Fantasy Football Cafe stepped forward. A poster named Crippler started a thread called "Yahoo article: How to lose your league in just 1 step!" He linked to the Bears article and wrote, "Andy Behrens makes me 10 percent dumber for just reading this garbage."
First of all, if you made every contributor at Fantasy Cafe 10 percent dumber, you'd still have a remarkable forum. It's great. And if you made all of the contributors at Fantasy Cafe 95 percent dumber, called them a nation, and made them vote on things, you'd have a leading sports website.
The point is this: I intend no disrespect to Fantasy Cafe. Those guys are savvy. Crippler himself knows his stuff.
But I'm a relatively competitive person, and I can be baited into conflict. And if it's a virtual conflict, lacking any real human interaction, I will (expletive) you up. So not long after wading into the discussion thread, I'd created a PLUS league with public settings, invited Cafe posters to join, and agreed to draft the Chicago defense in the fifth round.
The "Y! How to Lose a League" league drafted last Monday. It was exceedingly fun. I ended up with the ninth pick, which is a good thing if you're determined to take the Bears in the fifth round – that's the 49th overall pick. But really, picking ninth overall isn't ideal.
Here's the squad I ended up with, in the order I drafted them:
And yes, I dropped Irons after the ACL news.
These were the players drafted immediately after I selected Chicago:
50. Marc Bulger
51. Deion Branch
52. DeAngelo Williams (my pick)
53. Plaxico Burress
54. Santana Moss (Crippler's pick)
55. Calvin Johnson
56. Ladell Betts
57. Adrian Peterson (MIN)
58. Jamal Lewis
59. Mark Clayton
60. Jerious Norwood
It's worth noting that the Baltimore defense went three picks later. Because apparently you won't lose a league by drafting a defense in the seventh round.
If I hadn't agreed from the beginning to take Chicago in the fifth, I'd have grabbed Bulger when he slipped to 49. He was really the last of the top-tier quarterbacks and he fell 13 spots beyond his average Yahoo! draft position. It's not as if my quarterback situation is a problem, though. Instead of Bulger, I'll have a 2006 Rose Bowl platoon of Vince Young and Matt Leinart. I'm fine with that. It's a 10-team league, so there's a pile of starting quarterbacks in the free agent pool, including Jake Delhomme, Matt Schaub, Rex Grossman, Alex Smith, Jeff Garcia, and Chad Pennington.
You'll notice that a mini-run on WR2s and WR3s occurred after the Bears pick. I'm willing to bet that the difference between Chicago and a late-round defense will be greater than the difference between, say, Santana Moss (116 fantasy points in 2006) and my WR3 platoon of Henderson (108) and Stallworth (98). Plus there are two things I've been especially good at during my fantasy football career: finding wide receivers in the free agent pool, and selling high on Donte' Stallworth. I expect that to continue.
By the way, the only wide receiver to outperform the Bears in either of the past two seasons in Yahoo! default scoring was Steve Smith in 2005.
Looking again at the sixth round above, I'd have to say that owners in a typical public league won't draft that well. Further evidence that the Cafe posters are sharks. In average Yahoo! drafts, running backs like Brandon Jacobs (ADP 72.5), Marshawn Lynch (72.5), Peterson (86.8), Norwood (94.0), and Williams (103.0) will be available long after the Chicago defense is gone, so there won't be any penalty in terms of RB depth. In this league, if I'd gone Bulger/Chicago in the fifth and sixth, I'd have had to grab Brandon Jackson or Fred Taylor in the seventh. I'm rather pleased to get both pieces of the Carolina running back committee here.
My hope is that a handful of owners in the "How to Lose a League" league will play the waiver wire for defenses throughout the season, looking for matchups against user-friendly offenses. Fantasy dogma tells you this is the thing to do. If anyone tries it, I'll track their performance against Chicago. I'll also try to stream defenses ahead of them, because that's kind of my thing.
Here's where the other nine defenses were selected:
Baltimore, Round 7-1
New England, Round 10-1
Pittsburgh, Round 10-3
San Diego, Round 10-4
Dallas, Round 13-6
Philadelphia, Round 14-6
Jacksonville, Round 14-7
Denver, Round 14-10
Miami, Round 15-2
Note that no one here took two.
My team might very well lose this league, but the Bears won't be the reason. Nor will my quarterback or my third wide receiver. By taking Chicago in the fifth, I accepted marginal downgrades at QB and WR3 in favor of a defense that, in my estimation, projects to be 50 fantasy points better than any available in the final rounds. This, to me, is a reasonable exchange. With Williams and Foster on the bench, I don't lack depth at running back. We're using public settings, so we can only start two RBs.
No, if I've lost this league, it happened when the draft room launched and I didn't get the first or second pick. Or it happened when I selected Maroney ahead of Westbrook and Henry. It's tough to overcome making the wrong call on your first-round running back – ask anyone who drafted LaMont Jordan ahead of Steven Jackson last season.
But anyway, I'm just in this thing to beat Crippler. If this happens, it will have been a success.
On Monday we'll go trolling for Jones-Drews, looking at players buried on team depth charts who might have a serious fantasy impact this season.