The following is the intro from the new Rotoworld fantasy football draft strategy book “Fantasy Football U: Expert Tips on How to Dominate Your Draft”.
Intro from Jonathan Bales
I used to be the commissioner of my home season-long fantasy football league. Some of my career highlights:
– Kicked my best friend out of the league and didn’t speak to him for a year because he started a quarterback on his bye week
– Created dynasty rules so complex and unconventional only I could understand them (massive edge, highly recommend)
– Quit the league twice (for maybe a week total) after losing in the playoffs (despite being total-points championship like seven straight years nbd)
– Traded my eight-year old brother two scrubs for T.O. in his prime by showing him that if you just add up their points per game, the scrubs were far superior
– Broke two chairs and a computer in a period of three hours—three hours that happened to coincide with Kevin Curtis going for 11/221/3; I mean, what on Earth?
The point is this: season-long fantasy football has long been one of the great joys in my life that I’ve leveraged to inflict great pain on others. If you haven’t used a game to wreak serious emotional damage on those closest to you, then you haven’t lived my friend.
My Fantasy Sports for Smart People book series — now focused primarily on daily fantasy sports — began as a simple guide to winning in traditional fantasy football. I love the game, applied “Moneyball” to gain an edge, and thought I had some interesting things to say. Turns out that first book was awful, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, was it? That makes no sense.
My books have been read by people all over the globe, a crowd so diverse it ranges from middle-aged white guys with high disposable income in Pennsylvania to middle-aged white guys with high disposable income in California. It’s really a special feeling to be able to have such a profound and not-at-all inconsequential impact on so many different types of people. Given that I’ve been focusing on DFS the past few years, it’s an amazing opportunity for me to come full circle back to season-long fantasy football, gaining exposure to even more types of old white men.
So that’s why I set up a deal with Rotoworld to publish this book. And also because I think it’s going to rock. Like so many others, I grew up reading Rotoworld and relying on their news and analysis to help win fantasy football leagues. The fact that I’m able to publish this book in conjunction with them is a huge honor for me.
It also means I knew I needed to do something big. To accomplish that, I had to get out of the way and let the big dogs of fantasy football do big dog things, so I assembled the greatest cast of writers known to man. If I could have gotten Jesus Christ himself to use his infinite knowledge to write a chapter for this book, I would have, but he would have been unlucky writer number 13 behind the 12 original fantasy football apostles I’ve rounded up to lead you to the promised land. And also because I heard Jesus is an early-round QB guy and, idk, I’m not doubting J.C. or anything, but just saying … there probably would have been a lot of editing. And not just because his chapter would be written on scrolls.
My real goal in creating this book was to assemble a true Dream Team that consists of the people who’ve influenced me the most over the years. I’m a complete donkey compared to these guys—and truly appreciative of their help in creating a book many have claimed is spectacular. No one has actually said that yet since the book hasn’t been published at the time of me writing this intro, but given the target demographic of readers, I don’t think it’s an enormous stretch.
Check out this list:
Andddddd I’m excited. Each of these legends has contributed a chapter to this book that falls in line with their particular expertise in fantasy football. Or, at least, the subject/position about which they’re the most well-known. I really couldn’t think of a better group of minds, and I’m really thankful to have these guys contribute.
I imagine by the time you finish reading this book, you’ll be so prepared to dominate your draft you might never read another piece of fantasy football analysis ever again, instead leveraging your infinite wisdom to make millions upon millions and, even more important, crush your family members in a fake game. But just in case, check out the Rotoworld Draft Guide.
And if you play DFS, of course take a look at my premium tools/content/analytics platform FantasyLabs.
With that said, I’m going to kick things off with what I’ve learned from my current expertise—daily fantasy sports—and how the intricacies of DFS significantly helped me in season-long fantasy football.
What I’ve Learned from DFS
When I first heard about DFS in 2011, I saw dollar bills. I knew I’d pretty much instantly get rich without putting in much work because, you know, I could beat some dopes in my season-long league. Big shout-out to Uncle Bruce, by the way. See you at the Thanksgiving football game.
Shockingly, I lost money as a DFS player. I got crushed. I stank.
But I wasn’t going to let this opportunity get away. I went all-in on DFS almost immediately, researching literally all day every day until…well…I still kind of do that now. I’m just obsessed, and now I stink a little less.
In a lot of ways, DFS and season-long fantasy football are quite different, but there are also lots of similarities and lessons learned from one that can be applied to the other. The largest strides I made as a season-long player came as a result of trying to win at daily fantasy sports.
Here’s what I learned during my journey.
Season-Long Is a Game of Weekly Matchups
Every year, fantasy football owners project players’ seasons, calculating how many points they’ll score that year given their potential opportunities, offensive coordinator, schedule, and a variety of other factors. But, unless you’re in a league that rewards for cumulative points at the end of the season, you shouldn’t be as concerned with total points as you should with a player’s weekly projections.
Season-long football is a game of weekly matchups, and thus the volatility a player naturally possesses on a weekly basis should matter to you. Jarvis Landry, as someone who sees a ton of short targets, is naturally more stable – with perhaps less upside – on a weekly basis than someone like DeSean Jackson, who sees fewer targets, but farther down the field. You might rank Jackson and Landry the same in terms of projected points at the end of the season, but they’re fundamentally different players who’ll affect the fortunes of your lineup in different ways.
When you think about season-long fantasy football in this way, it can change how you perceive players or your team. One example is with suspended or injured guys who we know will miss some games to start the year. Your views on injury-proneness aside, these types of players almost always offer value in fantasy drafts because owners overestimate how much of their production they’ll “lose” during the player’s absence and underestimate the potential upside (relative to the cost) when they’re back.
In the above example, I’m not claiming that injured or suspended players are inherently valuable. Rather, I’m saying they tend to fall too far in drafts. Just as in DFS, season-long fantasy draft value is a function of production minus cost, and when the cost creeps too high, the value disappears.
When I first began playing fantasy football, I sort of wrote off the importance of weekly projections. “Just start the best players,” I thought.
While “just start the best players” isn’t the worst strategy in the world for some owners, there’s a lot more that goes into weekly projections than I realized before playing DFS. The three most important things I learned: utilize the Vegas lines, weigh opportunity much more than skill, and project players with probabilities, not average point totals.
There are a lot of opinions on the accuracy of Vegas lines to both season-long and DFS owners, but the real value to me comes in efficiency; the spreads and point totals are going to be pretty close overall—especially in NFL—and thus can provide insights that you can plug into your analysis immediately. For the record, I tend to use spreads more than game or team totals as a proxy for possible game flow, which has a tendency to affect certain players in a major way; a non-pass-catching running back on a seven-point underdog, for example, probably has an extremely volatile range of outcomes.
Second, opportunity matters more than anything. As someone who’s been on a mission for the past decade to prove I can analyze player talent better than those inside the NFL, I was slow to react to this concept; the truth is, however, that touches—especially near the goal line—are much more important than talent on a game-to-game basis. Talent matters most for players in new situations, such as a rookie running back stepping in when the starter goes down.
And finally, I learned through DFS to project players probabilistically, which I then applied to season-long projections as well. Heading into a season, we can say that Player X has a median projection of 320 points, but the truth is that on both a weekly and seasonal level, he has a certain probability of finishing in a wide range of areas.
That’s not to say you need to predict the exact probability Drew Brees has to score exactly 348 points this year, but rather that it’s extremely valuable to think in a probabilistic way and the manner in which you balance certain types of players – those with a small window of outcomes, those who are more volatile, and so on – will go a long way in dictating your success.
A Range of Lineup Outcomes
In addition to thinking about player performance in a probabilistic manner, DFS also taught me to do the same on the lineup level. Depending on the type of league in which you’re playing, the way in which you construct your lineup can and should change to alter the potential range of outcomes. Specifically, in head-to-head games, you want a more narrow range than in tournaments (in which there’s an incentive to implement a volatile, Ricky-Bobby-esque first-or-last mentality).
As we think about season-long DFS as a collection of weekly games, it becomes apparent that what we’re really playing is a series of head-to-head matchups, similar to DFS. And so a lot of the same strategies apply.
The most important thing I’ve learned as it relates to lineup variance is that correlations are king. The only time the players in your lineup are completely uncorrelated is when there isn’t a single one in the same game as another, which rarely happens. Even if you don’t play teammates together, any two players who are in the same contest have production that is correlated.
The most well-known correlation is of course a quarterback and his receiver(s). If a top wide receiver has a huge game, chances are his quarterback did as well—and vice versa. Playing teammates together is called ‘stacking’ in DFS, and it significantly changes the point probability distribution for your team (generally making it more volatile, which is good in tournaments).
Some of the notable positive correlations:
– QB/Opp WR
Overall, these pairings tend to score in unison with one another. Pairing your running back with his defense will typically produce a wider range of outcomes because, if the defense does well and the team is leading, the running back will likely get more touches. Quality quarterback play is often linked to success for the other team’s passing game because, in many instances, they need to throw the ball a bunch late in the game to catch up.
So when would you want a more volatile lineup? Any time you think your team is an underdog. Maybe you suffered an early-season injury or maybe you have a bunch of guys on their bye week; utilizing correlations to improve upside can be a great way to make up for the deficit.
Even when you’re a favorite, thinking about your weekly matchups as a head-to-head DFS game can help you consider which players are optimal to start. One advantage of season-long leagues is that, because of static rosters, you can predict with decent certainty which players your opponent might start. If you’re the favorite and his team revolves around a stud quarterback, starting a receiver on the same team as his passer can neutralize the impact of his best player. In that instance, you’re purposely correlating your lineup with his such that, if his team scores enough points to otherwise beat you, you’re in a better spot to keep pace and beat him at your other stronger positions.
As it relates to your draft, I am more willing to stack teams – draft players on the same offense – than some others. For one, I don’t care as much about bye weeks as some. Second, you have to take a stand somewhere, so hedging just for the sake of it isn’t really optimal. But the big reason is because it’s very useful to have the option to create weekly correlated lineups if you need to.
As an example, consider pairing one of your top receivers with their quarterback. In the event you suffer some injuries or have otherwise poor luck, that upside can come in handy down the line. In-season, it’s often fairly easy to work the waiver wire to pair kickers and defenses with the appropriate skill players in your lineup to benefit from positive correlations.
Barbells and Getting Swole, Bruh
We hear a lot about the benefits of balance—life balance, balanced meals, a balanced portfolio, and the list goes on. I think what most people perceive as balance is actually not really a good thing. Balance itself isn’t inherently bad—it can be incredibly valuable—but I believe how most people go about achieving balance (specifically, the timeframe or range over which they’re assessing balance) is out of whack.
One of the concepts I’ve both learned from and applied to DFS is to think of balance, among other things, as a collection of extremes. Let me give a few examples.
– Instead of making sure you eat a meal that properly balances some “ideal” ratio of carbs, protein, and fat, research has shown you should have more extreme days (low/no carbs, cheat days, etc.). You still achieve balance, but over a longer timeframe.
– Work out at either very high intensity (HIIT training, sprints, and so on) or low intensity (walking) to see superior results as compared to moderate intensity workouts, like jogging.
– Perform work with extreme focus and attention-to-detail for extended periods of time, then take breaks during which you do zero work.
These are all examples of what writer/investor Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “barbells.” If you think about a barbell weight, it is extreme at the ends, with little weight in the middle. A barbell-based approach to investing, or fantasy sports, or life, includes seeking out those extremes and avoiding the middle to achieve a superior form of balance.
For investors, a barbell strategy means a combination of extremely safe investments and high-risk/high-reward investments, as opposed to a “balanced” portfolio with a bunch of moderate risks. The central idea is that we know which things are very safe and we know which are super high-upside—assessing the “tails” is fairly easy—whereas everything in the middle is subject to measurement errors (we just don’t know with the same certainty).
As a fantasy football owner, you’re pretty much an investor creating a portfolio. You want that portfolio to be balanced, but that doesn’t mean you should be seeking moderate-risk/moderate-reward players to create that balance.
I learned this lesson in DFS with ownership percentages. Everyone is aware that ownership matters a lot in daily fantasy sports, but typically we assess a player’s tournament value in isolation: what is his range of outcomes and how highly will he be owned? The value of a given player to you, however, depends on how he fits within the context of your entire lineup.
The biggest strides I made in DFS were when I became more barbell-based in regards to ownership, rostering high-owned players alongside a few very low-owned options. There are two reasons I believe this is generally a sharp move. One is that, again, it’s easier to make predictions at the tails; both the super-underpriced, high-owned values and the very low-owned contrarian plays are easy to spot. And second, by being balanced with ownership at the lineup level but not the player level, I can be “contrarian” without the need to fade the obvious values with a high success rate. This is an example of how a shift in mindset about what constitutes ‘balance’ can be successful.
You should think about each draft pick in your season-long league within the context of your overall team, too. The selection of an extremely volatile receiver might be good or it might be bad for your team based on how much you’ve emphasized safety or upside to that point in the draft.
A couple other ways in which you can implement a barbell strategy in your draft:
– Avoid players in their “prime”
This one might seem counterintuitive because in a vacuum, duh, of course you want players who are at the peak of their careers. But, so does everyone else, and thus the cost to acquire those players is typically high, sometimes too high.
In being extreme in your approach to age, drafting primarily rookies/second-year players and (not-too-old) vets coming off a down year, you can simulate the effect of a more balanced approach to age at a reduced cost. The reason for that is because veterans tend to see a larger percentage of their production come early in the season, whereas rookies, especially, progress later in the year. Remember, fantasy football is a weekly game, and thus what we’re really looking for is to create an assortment of players that can be mixed and matched for optimal performance over the course of 16 individual weeks, not necessarily one that’s constructed with total season points being the only consideration.
– Target players with extreme stat profiles
Second, I think viewing your team with a barbell-based mindset increases the value of “extreme” players—those who rely heavily on touchdowns for their fantasy production, for example. In combining these types of volatile players with very safe options—receivers and running backs who see a ton of short targets, perhaps—you can achieve the optimal balance of upside and a high floor without trying (and failing) to do it with each individual selection.
Let’s Get It Going
Okay, I’m going to stop writing and let the titans of fantasy football do their thing. Big thanks to Rotoworld for letting me put this thing together. Please note that if you read this book and don’t win every single one of your fantasy football leagues this year, you can collect a FULL REFUND by scaling Mt. Everest and taking a photo of yourself holding both the book and a photo ID, getting the picture signed by Kesha, then sending it to Rotoworld headquarters via a message in a bottle. They’ll be sure to refund your purchase in a timely manner.
– Jonathan Bales (@BalesFootball)
Source Article from http://rotoworld.com/articles/nfl/73792/528/intro-to-fantasy-football-u