Thursday, August 27, 2009

Your First Fantasy Auction

Most of you have spent your fantasy football careers acquiring players at the outset of the season via the draft system. While there is a great deal of anticipation to drawing crumbled-up pieces of paper out of a hat to decide the draft order, an auction is a much more fun and enveloping ritual. In an auction, psychology and money management must be factored into a successful strategy when fleshing out your roster. In an auction, anyone can own Adrian Peterson, not just the lucky sap who drew a "1" out of the hat during a draft lottery. Throughout my years being involved in fantasy auctions, I have acquired a few nuggets of wisdom (sometimes, the hard way), and will now impart said wisdom to you. In short, a draft is like a game of checkers while an auction is more akin to chess.

KNOW YOUR ENEMIES – If you are in a league with your buddies, coworkers, or acquaintances, knowledge of your league competition is of paramount importance. Before your auction, gather as much intel as possible on your leaguemates’ favorite teams, favorite players, who they picked in previous years, and which university they attended or favor. It is also helpful to know if they’re generally spendthrift or frugal with their money. You’d be surprised how their spending habits in real life will mirror how they shop for their fantasy squad. If you are in a one-on-one bidding war with someone, you’ll know they’ll likely bid a bit over market value on someone from their favorite team, alma mater, or their best player from last season’s fantasy team that had a monster year for them. If you’re bidding on a handcuff RB with someone who owns the starting RB from the same team, then you’ll likely get them to prolong the bidding for a couple more rounds and deplete their funds more quickly.

KNOW THE MARKET – In the case of a fantasy auction, the “market” is defined as the remaining players available in the free agent pool before the auction ends in conjunction with the remaining people who can bid on a player. For example, in many auctions, you are only allowed to bid on your starting lineup first. That means if someone already bought two quarterbacks in a 2-QB league, that team is ineligible to bid on any more QBs. Fewer bidders means fewer people driving up the price, or, as I affectionately call these people, “Price Driver-Uppers,” which typically results in a lower price for a player. Even if an elite asset is still available, they’ll be cheaper if they’re acquired later in the draft (when people have filled up their roster spots and have run out of money) than earlier. Also, it is important to be aware of the remaining elite talent available per position. If someone has merely adequate wide receivers, and the only supreme talent left is, say, Reggie Wayne, then you will be able to gouge that person for extra cash by driving up Wayne’s price before dropping out of the auction (unless you also need Wayne on your squad).

USE THE DRAFT BOARD - Consider this to be “Know the Market: Part 2.” By using the draft board, typically mounted on a wall of the room you are auctioning in, you can see 1) who has glaring holes in the team they are assembling, meaning how much they will (over)pay for a stud to give them a better feeling about how their lineup will shake out come Week 1. Also, you can use the draft board to 2) see the number of people eligible to bid on a certain position by looking at their rosters, and get a feel for how much a particular player might cost. 3) It is important to use the draft board to establish market value - to see how much your leaguemates are paying for talent of all tiers. If Tony Romo went off the board for $30, then you can expect to pay at least as much, if not more, for Drew Brees. If someone paid $37 for Michael Turner, then, unless you have a dearth of talent at RB, you shouldn’t expect to pay more than $28 for, say, Thomas Jones.

KEEP AN EAGLE EYE ON YOUR FINANCES - Nothing feels worse than running low on money early in the auction when there are still a bunch of available players you wish you could bid on, but can’t because you know you’ll get outbid. Be judicious with your spending in the early stages. While you’ll have to pony up for top-tier talent, don’t overpay for someone whose stats can be matched by dozens of other players in the league. For example, don’t bid $24 for Donald Driver when there are 20 other receivers in the league who can also accrue 70 catches, 1000 yards and 6 TDs. Supply and demand is the fundamental lesson from Econ 101 you must take into account in a fantasy auction setting.

DON’T LOSE YOUR HEAD AFTER MAKING A MISTAKE – I remember one year, someone put up mediocre WR Curtis Conway for a dollar. I was sidetracked when I was flipping through my research on another player. Since I went to USC, and Curtis Conway was someone whom I had a favorable impression of from his Trojan days than in the NFL, I blurted out “one-ten” before I even realized what I had said. As soon as I heard myself say “one-ten” in reference to Curtis Conway, I felt a silence overcome the room, the hair on the back of my neck beginning to bristle, and a hot flush feeling on my forehead followed by a single bead of sweat trickling down the side of my face. I then heard the most dreaded sound you can hear at an auction after you realize you just overpaid for a player, “Out.Out.Out.Out.Out.Out.Out.Out.Out." I looked up at the fellow USC alum who started Conway’s bidding at a dollar. Only now, he had a huge grin on his face which made me want to smash his teeth in. He took a calculated risk by putting up Conway for auction, screwed me big time when I took the bait, and we both knew it. For the next hour, not only did I struggle with the ignominy of overpaying for Curtis Conway (his value was closer to a nickel than a dollar), but I saw a ton of quality wideouts go for a fraction of what I paid for Conway. I found myself unable to get over my gaffe, and wasn’t thinking clearly enough to gauge a bargain when it finally came my way towards the end of the draft. “Nah, I’m not paying fifty cents for Chad Johnson.” Sigh….Keep a cool head, everyone makes mistakes, it’s how we learn from those mistakes that defines us as quality fantasy GM’s.

BE ‘THAT GUY’ – At almost every fantasy draft or auction, there’s always one guy who gets under people’s skin. It could be an obnoxious tool who thinks his team in better than everyone else’s, or perhaps someone who criticizes every semi-questionable move made, or it could be someone who announces injuries or other bad news about a recent acquisition (someone who drafts Steve Slaton would elicit the faux-aside comment from ‘That Guy’, “Well, hopefully he’ll still have some value even if he loses goal-line carries to Chris Brown.” Don’t be afraid to be ‘That Guy’. Given the accounting and psychology factors, people are using their heads more in fantasy auctions, and are more susceptible to getting thrown off their game than in a draft setting, where they simply pick names off their cheatsheets. You may piss your league mates off, but given that this only happens once a year, you’ll have a lot of fun in the process. Besides, people love a good villain.

START LOW – If your opening bid is too high for a player whose value is in question, you may hear the above-mentioned “Out” chorus from your competitors. Coming off James Jett’s 11-TD season a few years ago, I thought I might throw out Jett’s name for a dollar in case one of three Raider fans in the room decided they wanted him (basically, me lashing out for the Curtis Conway debacle from a year earlier). As they knew I was a Bronco fan/Raider hater, and that Jett’s 11 TDs were a total fluke since they actually watched the guy play, they decided that I should get to keep him for the inflated price. Nothing bad can come of bidding too low for a player, but you might get stuck overpaying if your competition is wise to your chicanery.

DON’T PUT UP PLAYERS YOU LIKE – If your auction is structured that league members sitting around the room rotate in deciding who goes up for auction, then it is helpful to avoid putting up your favorite players or players you want on your team. If your mates know you’re a Dolphins fan and you put up Pennington, Ronnie Brown and Davone Bess for bidding, they know they’ll be able to milk you for more money by virtue of the fact that you couldn’t wait for someone else to put those Fish up for sale. Rest assured, the studs and your favorite players and sleepers will probably get introduced before the auction is over. If nobody introduces your favorite sleepers until the end, then you can get those players much cheaper when everyone is almost out of money.

MAINTAIN YOUR POKER FACE – During an auction, it’s easy to see when a fantasy owner really wants a particular player – they become the auctioneer. “Okay, Alex just bid $25 for Stephen Jackson. Tony, what about you? $26 for Jackson? Tony?” ThIs is but one of the most common “tells” during a fantasy auction. Instead of running the auction, act calm, cool, and aloof when you’re bidding on a player you like. Almost feign disinterest, and continue to bid, especially if you know someone covets a particular player. “$32 for MJD? Hmm, I dunno, he may not hold up all year as the featured back…aw, what the hell, make it $35.” This will infuriate your bidding competition, causing much delight to everyone else.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fantasy Football Live Online Draft: Five Do's and Don'ts

Draft day is a sacred time in any fantasy football aficionado's life, a time when every member of a fantasy league has a shot at drafting the greatest team in the history of Rotisserie. We all have our pre-draft rituals as well as our idiosyncrasies as far as where we draft and with whom we draft. As we are all different with unique work habits, it is important to be in an environment where you are comfortable and can focus on only the draft at hand:


1. Make sure you have a reliable broadband connection - If you're still stuck in 1996 and have a dial-up Internet connection, either find a public or school library and use one of their machines equipped with broadband to avoid possible interruption of your Internet connection, or go to a friend/family member's house who is not in your league. An empty office at work on Saturday is an ideal environment for Draft Day. Since live drafts are conducted in real time, you want to make sure the machine you're working on is keeping pace with your draft. Business center stores (e.g. Kinko's) also have available computers, but check the prices before you hop on a Kinko's computer for three hours, as you may end up forfeiting all your future winnings on workstation usage fees before the season even starts!

2. Eliminate potential distractions - You may want to catch some baseball on TV between your draft picks or call your girlfriend back. Or, you may want to download a song while you're waiting for your pick to come around. Solution: baseball boxscores are available after the game, so turn off the TV. If your girlfriend can't wait two hours for you to call her back, send her a text message or email before the draft saying you'll talk to her in a couple hours. Itunes isn't going anywhere, so feel free to hold off on your impulsive need to shop for music until after the last round. In fact, close all websites that don't pertain to your draft, and keep no more than 2-3 browser windows open at once (including your draft room). If your computer's reliability is questionable, reboot your computer before your draft so the chance of it freezing / crashing during the draft is minimized. You don't want any problems or distractions during one of the most important three-hour stretches of the year.

3. Mind the Queue - Unfortunately, computer crashes during a live draft are more common than any of us would like to admit. To prevent Murphy's Law from taking effect, make sure you have at least two players you would consider taking at that stage in the draft queued up, and ready to select. If, by some chance, you lose track of time and your clock expires or, worse yet, your computer crashes before you make your pick, at least you have some say as far as who gets selected as opposed to the pre-installed rankings dictating whom you pick. Sometimes, these website-generated pre-rankings fail to take the latest season-ending injuries to a starter into account. Back in 2003, Chad Pennington broke his hand in a pre-season game, and the draft website's pre-draft rankings still had Pennington ranked as if he were healthy. After nine rounds with plenty of healthy QBs to choose from, Pennington was inadvertently selected when someone got accidentally kicked off the online draft room. This occurrence upset the victim so much, that he lost focus and made a slew of questionable picks the rest of the draft due to his lingering rage. Don't be that guy.

4. Pre-ranking your players is overkill - As motivated as we all are in preparing for draft day, it is optimistic to think that we will spend countless hours shuffling players up and down your pre-rankings of 300-400 players. By the time your draft is completed, it won't matter that you moved DeAngelo Williams ahead of Brandon Jacobs because they'll both be gone within the first two rounds, anyway. Instead, find the players you DON'T want under any circumstances, and move whoever is injured, benched, or suspended for the year ALL THE WAY DOWN to the end of your pre-rankings beneath Keary Colbert and Bruce Gradkowski. This way, if your computer freezes or crashes during the live draft, there will be virtually no chance you'll get stuck with a fantasy stiff for a draft pick.

5. Make sure your laptop battery is fully charged
- You should have a power supply plugged into an electrical outlet during your draft. However, if you discover you absolutely must be mobile during your draft, don't run out of battery power. Trust me, you will experience no sympathy from your league mates if this happens.


1. Don't drink near your computer -
Keep your beverages on a separate table from your computer. I'm sure you're the least clumsiest person in the world, but you don't want anything like spilled milk or beer ruining the most important stretch of your football season.

2. Don't just fill out a starting lineup first - This means, don't take your starting kicker before your third RB. As you probably know, kickers should be saved for your last round. If you want a RB3 that will shine on your roster, he should be selected by the sixth or seventh round (sometimes before your WR2 or TE1). If you want a QB3 that's more than just an injury stopgap, you should pick that signal caller by the 12th round. Bye weeks and injuries will test the depth of your entire fantasy football squad, so, in many cases, your backups can be almost as important as your starters.

3. Don't get too chatty online - Yes, there is a chat feature in your draft room, but unless you're posting singular jabs about how someone just used their third-round pick on an imprisoned wideout that shot himself, don't get engaged in extensive conversations during your online draft. First, you'll get distracted by your opponents, which is typically their objective in stirring the pot. Second, you may accidentally reveal some of your strategy. If you're in a league with your friends, they may know you well enough to read between the lines of your chat, and then may upstage you with a pick you had queued. If you haven't spoken to various league mates since last January, wait until after the draft to catch up on old times.

4. Don't bother crossing out players on your personal cheat sheet - Your computer's online draftboard will keep track of which talent has been taken. By the middle rounds, you'll be spending more time cross-referencing who's gone from the board vs who is still available on your manual cheat sheet than deciding who your next pick will be.

5. Don't overwork your computer -
This is in conjunction with #2 on the list of "Do's." Close the Facebook and the Twitter, close your email, even close your online radio/Itunes and turn a boombox or clock/radio on instead if you must have music on during your draft. Any bandwidth taken away from your draft room could cause potential problems for your computer's memory, causing you to get accidentally kicked out of your draft room and autodraft you Tarvaris Jackson, causing four months of spiteful bitterness.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Talent + Time = Draft Value

We all read the same cheat sheets before we acquire our fantasy football teams, and we all discuss the same superstars we’d love to draft in the first three rounds. But just as often as these studs carry our teams throughout the season, it is important to also recognize the benefits of mid-to-late round value picks. Many fantasy football newbies get to the latter stages of their draft, start frantically browsing their lists, and can’t find a name they recognize to fill out their roster. So-called value picks fall into three categories: 1) football players that constitute a value pick were either once-hyped and fell down the depth chart but are now in an improved situation (this situation could be attributed to a change of scenery, changes in surrounding team talent, or a coaching change) , 2) were former studs whose stock dropped after an injury and are now healthy again, or 3) consistent performers tested by the arrival of a new teammate who is competing for their job. In any case, the following is a list of quality NFL footballers whose draft stock is lower during the preseason/draft time than it will be by season’s end:

In most leagues, only the can’t-miss premiere QBs (in this year’s case, Brady and Brees) will get drafted in a typical fantasy league within the first two rounds. Any quarterback besides those two shouldn’t be expected to be taken until at least the third round. It’s not that there is a shortage of QB talent in this year’s pool, but the separation of perceived value in the second tier of QBs is shorter between a Tony Romo and, say, Donovan McNabb. If healthy, Romo and McNabb should put up comparable numbers and have similar value, but McNabb might get snapped up in the fifth round while Romo gets taken in the eighth. My point is, you can probably wait a few rounds on a franchise QB and the value dropoff would be minimal and first concentrate on acquiring a Pro Bowl RB2, WR2, WR3 and TE1.

QB - Carson Palmer (QB – Cin) Although he lost his most productive receiver to free agency, Carson Palmer, who is 100% recovered from elbow trouble after playing only four games last season, is a great candidate for a bounce-back year. Palmer was fantasy royalty a few years ago, but has become an afterthought even though he is still in the prime of his career at age 29. Since the Bengals replaced All-Pro wideout TJ Houshmanzadeh with the very capable Laveraneus Coles, he won’t lose a ton of production given that WR1 Chad Ochocinco looks revitalized. Palmer’s minor ankle sprain should be fine by Week 1, and Palmer has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of cheapie stats in the league the past few years playing for a subpar franchise like the Bengals. You could do a lot worse than use an eighth round pick for what could be a productive 4000-yard season with 20-25 TDs.

QB - Peyton Manning (Ind) - Even as a third-rounder, the elder Manning should be considered a great value pick. When Peyton Manning is your QB1, it’s easier to sleep at night because he never misses a game, and he puts up consistent monster stats. Peyton may not be this year’s trendy, sexy pick that people gush over in the preseason, but statistically speaking, he’s the Alex Rodriguez of fantasy football. Target him as a third-round pick, grab him before he falls to the fourth, and thank me in January.

QB - Matt Schaub (Hou) - While Schaub's ADP has risen in the past month, he will still fly under the radar more so than 2008 postseason heroes Phillip Rivers and Kurt Warner. He had one of the best offensive arsenals from top to bottom, and all 11 members of the Texan offense are returning in 2009. Don't be afraid to reach for Schaub in the fifth round, because he could be the next Drew Brees.

Most fantasy footballers have had the philosophy of drafting RBs early drilled into their heads since they started playing; that unless you’re drafting a Tom Brady or Larry Fitzgerald, you had better pick your RB1 with one of, if not both of your first two picks. If you feel you missed out on truly elite running backs, then target backs who have at least 40 catches, as this mathematically translates to an extra 6-10 TDs, depending on your scoring system. Targeting TJ-Duckett types who may only garner a handful of rushing yards but might score multiple TDs can be a risky proposition if, say, Seattle can’t crack the red zone consistently. Conversely, pass-catching RBs can score points for your team from anywhere on the football field.

RB – Leon Washington (NYJ) – Although the Jets backfield appears crowded with rookie Shonne Greene competing with incumbent starter Thomas Jones, Washington is a unique talent in the vein of Reggie Bush. He is extremely elusive, can return punts and kicks, and finds unusual ways of getting touches. Jets coach Rex Ryan has said that Washington’s role will increase this year, and you can still grab him as a dynamic RB4 in the latter rounds of your draft. If he gets between 200-300 touches and stays healthy, expect Leon’s best statistical season to date. The Jets aren’t paying him a reported $4-5 million per year so he can serve as a decoy, and he’ll be needed as a safety valve for the young Jet QBs when they’re facing a heavy pass rush.

RB - Brandon Jacobs (NYG) - Jacobs has proven he can be a touchdown machine, has shown improved hands in training camp, and the Giants figure to base more of its offensive attack around the run after lost Pro Bowl wideout Plaxico Burress. Ahmad Bradshaw will take most of the load left by Derrick Ward, but he’ll also keep Jacobs fresh. As Jacobs has averaged only 211 carries each of the last two seasons, he still has low miles on the engine. If he duplicates his 15 TD season with more receptions than a year ago, he becomes a mid-first round pick. You can probably get him in the early-to-mid second round this year.

RB - LaDainian Tomlinson (SD) - LaDainian may not quite be at the peak of his prime anymore, but he’s still a first-round pick capable of 1700 combined yards, 14 TD, and 50 catches. This could be a huge year for San Diego, as they are one of the most balanced teams in football. As Phillip Rivers has established himself and the Charger passing game, opposing defenses won’t key on LT like they did earlier in his career. If, for any reason, Tomlinson slips out of the first round, grab him, as he is 100% healthy.

RB - Reggie Bush (NO) - After his reputation took a beating when people realized he wasn’t going to be the same NFL wunderkind that he was in college, many people have written Bush off. When the Saints’ offense isn’t clicking at certain times, QB Drew Brees tends to just dump the ball to Bush, and watch him create yards with his explosive burst and dynamic ability. He won’t get 300 carries like other second round picks, but he can score 10 TDs with 80 catches and over 1000 combined yards if he plays a Westbrook-esque full season (in other words, fully expect him to miss 1-2 games). If Bush is available in the latter stages of the third round, grab him, as he seems to be fully recovered from offseason knee surgery.

Wide receiver is undoubtedly the deepest position of available talent in fantasy football. While there is sometimes only one QB, RB or TE worth targeting on one NFL team, some teams like the Saints, Broncos, Cardinals or Texans have as many as three wideouts one would be proud to have on their roster. If there is one position you can wait on to fill out the rest of your slots at that particular position, it’s wide receiver. You probably couldn’t find a 4000-yard passer or a 1200-yard tailback in the eleventh round of a typical fantasy draft, but you can probably choose from at least a half-dozen 70 reception, 1000-yard receivers at that stage. Don’t get me wrong: the Fitzgeralds, Megatrons and Andre Johnsons will be gone in the first three rounds, but you’d be surprised at the surfeit of talent at wideout that is available towards the end of your draft.

WR - Donnie Avery (StL) – Donnie Football’s ADP stock has taken a hit with a stress-fracture in his left foot. His injury may even keep him out of Week 1, which has rendered him a mere afterthought in many fantasy drafts. Avery has made a speedy recovery, and will likely be Marc Bulger’s #1 target when the Rams begin the regular season. Bulger and Avery were developing a solid rapport last year before Avery hit the proverbial “rookie wall.” Factor in that the Rams are a fairly awful team outside of Stephen Jackson, you can expect a heap of cheapie stats when they’re losing by multiple scores in the second half of most of their games in 2009. If Avery is still available at the end of your draft, he could be a solid WR4 as the season gets underway.

WR - Jerricho Cotchery (NYJ) – With Laveranues Coles gone to Cincinnati, Cotchery becomes the unquestioned top receiving option in the Jets’ passing game. Regardless of who wins the starting QB job for the Jets, Cotchery is a very talented possession receiver with a penchant for acrobatic catches and making clutch plays. His 2008 numbers were down, which can be attributed to newcomer Brett Favre’s learning the Jets’ playbook on the fly. But given that the 2009 starting QB has had more offseason and preseason time to prepare, Cotchery should be properly synced up with his signal caller come Week 1.

WR – Hines Ward (Pit) – Your fellow league mates will probably still have the image of Santonio Holmes’ Super Bowl-winning catch fresh in their minds, and will select Holmes six rounds earlier than Ward. But Hines, who has been a consistent part of the Pittsburgh passing game for most of his entire 10-year career, has declared himself 100% from lingering shoulder and knee injuries headed into this season. He should be happy after signing a $22-million contract, and could be in for another 70-80 catch, 8 TD season as a nice value pick after the tenth or eleventh round.

WR – Donald Driver (GB) – Driver has been a paradigm of consistency in fantasy football the last several years. Since 2002, he has missed only two games, and as he has garnered 1000 receiving yards each year since 2004,he is one of the most reliable possession receivers in the league. Aaron Rogers has proven to be the real deal as Brett Favre’s successor in Titletown, fellow WR Greg Jennings will draw opposing teams’ top cornerback, and Driver should continue to flourish in Green Bay’s West Coast Offense with plenty of short-to-medium passes coming his way. Lastly, you can expect the motivated Driver to play 2009 with a heavy heart as he continues to mourn Alcorn State teammate Steve McNair’s offseason murder.

Tight ends are considered a tertiary concern to most fantasy owners. Tight end is also a position where eighth-round selections can yield production about equal to, if not more than, a “can’t miss” fourth-rounder. If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone who used a third-round pick on Antonio Gates, who accrued a disappointing 60 catches for 704 yards last year. Then look at the number of tight ends who out-performed Gates, in spite of the fact that Gates played all 16 regular season games.

TE – Chris Cooley (Was) – Cooley’s name is rarely mentioned when fans and experts discuss NFL’s elite tight ends. Every fantasy footballer wants a Jason Witten, Antonio Gates, or a Tony Gonzalez as their starting TE, but acquiring a name like one of the aforementioned three will probably cost as much as a third-round pick in some drafts. Coming off a season in which Cooley scored one measly touchdown, Redskins coach Jim Zorn has reportedly promised Cooley that the tight end will find the end zone “at least” six times. The ‘Skins top wideout, Santana Moss is, for the most part, a deep threat, and the lack of a true WR2 in Washington means that Cooley will be QB Jason Campbell’s primary target in the medium-range passing game. Cooley has never missed a game, has shown admirable consistency with flashes of greatness at times during his career, and is still in his prime at 27 years old. Target Cooley around the eighth round after the so-called “elite” TEs are gone.

TE - John Carlson (Sea) – Carlson first appeared on most fantasy radars when he exploded for a 6-catch, 105-yard game on Thanksgiving against the Cowboys. He has demonstrated great catching abilities as well as a profound understanding of the pro game at such a young age, that he can expect more playing time this year, and probably more production. In spite of TJ Houshmanzadeh’s arrival, Seahawk offensive coordinator Greg Knapp runs an offense that heavily involves tight ends, so expect more good things from Carlson in his second season in Seattle.

TE - Zach Miller (Oak) – The Raiders are still, at best, a mediocre team, but given their depth issues at wide receiver coupled with Miller’s productive 56-catch, 778-yard rookie season, expect similar numbers with a few more TDs sprinkled in. The Raider coaching staff could line up Miller in the slot given the lack of available talent at wideout. If Oakland QB1 JaMarcus Russell, who is approaching thin ice in his third year, falters or gets injured, Jeff Garcia would serve as a favorable passer who would benefit Miller and his fantasy owners.

TE – Jeremy Shockey (NO) – Remember him? He’s healthy, he’s established great timing with QB Drew Brees, he’s having a remarkable preseason, he’s out of the Saints’ coaching doghouse, and he’ll have plenty of red zone scoring opportunities in his second season on the offensive juggernaut Saints. Even in an injury-riddled 2008, he still managed 50 catches, and could approach loftier totals akin to his salad days in New York if he can stay off the injury report in 2009.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Avoid Drafting Potential Pitfalls and Landmines

QB – Joe Flacco (Bal) – Not only have the Ravens been fortifying their running game with Willis McGahee’s newfound work ethic and Ray Rice’s explosive preseason, but Joe Flacco has had the Raven coaching staff worried with an inordinate number of interceptions thrown in practice. Although WR1 Derrick Mason came out of retirement to play again in 2009, he’s a year older and slower, although still a formidable fantasy WR4. Mark Clayton tore his hamstring, denying Flacco valuable time to establish timing before the regular season begins. Given that there are about 25-30 starting quarterbacks who would look much better on your roster, you’ll want to avoid a potentially frustrating season by letting someone else draft Flacco as their QB3.

QB – Jay Cutler (Chi)
- If you think Cutler will approach the numbers he put up in Denver, it is important to take three things into account. 1) Da Bears have a defense far superior to the Donkeys, which means Cutler will probably not be playing/passing with his team down as often. 2) The Bears’ receivers do not match up with Denver’s wideouts. Even if Bear TE Greg Olsen has the monster season people are predicting, he and Devin Hester do not hold a candle to Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal for fantasy purposes. 3) Chicago typically runs more of a ball-control offense. While they may open things up this year to allow Cutler’s arm to stretch defenses, you can expect Matt Forte to vulture at least 8-10 TD’s inside the 5 yard-line.

QB – Marc Bulger (StL)
– Torry Holt, the wideout that had been Bulger’s go-to target for many years, is now in Jacksonville. Donnie Avery, the Rams’ new WR1, has been hampered by a broken foot all preseason. That leaves a dearth of receiving talent available for Bulger to pass to. Furthermore, Bulger recently suffered a fractured pinkie on his throwing hand, will probably need extra time to establish timing and chemistry with his new receivers, and may show some rust once he is healthy. The days of the “Greatest Show on Turf” get even smaller in the rear view mirror while RB Stephen Jackson continues to establish himself as the focal point of the Ram offense.

QB - Brett Favre (Min) As soon the news of #4's return broke, I immediately thought of my friend, Bob, who has endured so so much frustration as a Viking fan of 30 years. Although it sounds like a great fit for Favre given that he's familiar with the West Coast offense and has a premiere running game which will keep defenses honest, I am concerned about his surgically-repaired body holding up all year long. Even though Favre is expected to take over the starting QB job in Minnesota, he has been diagnosed with a slightly torn rotator cuff, which isn't supposed to affect his throwing ability. In spite of his status at the Cal Ripken Jr.-esque Ironman of the NFL, I would bet dollars to donuts that, in spite of skyrocketing ticket sales for Sunday afternoons at the Metrodome this fall, Favre doesn't make it through a full 16 game-season. He barely made it through 2008 as a Jet, and wasn't well enough to play last year's Pro Bowl (why he was selected after throwing 22 TD / 22 INT speaks to the credibility of the Pro Bowl selection process). Let someone else in your draft overpay for Favre, and instead take a less-risky QB2 three to four rounds later than Favre with slightly less upside but will put up similar numbers (and fewer INT's) like, say, Trent Edwards, or perhaps Matt Hasselbeck (if Walter Jones is healthy).

RB – Marshawn Lynch (Buf) – Not only is Lynch facing a three-game suspension from offseason criminal activity to start the season, but the Bills will be passing more this season given that they have two elite receivers in Lee Evans and newcomer Terrell Owens. As Buffalo is in a tough AFC East division, they will probably be playing from behind a great deal this season, and Lynch will not be able to rack up games where he gets 25 carries.

RB – Earnest Graham (TB)
– When RB Derrick Ward signed with the Bucs, Graham’s value took an immediate hit. He is, at best, a decent RB3 who is effective at the goal-line if he stays healthy. However, the fact that Tampa Bay lacks a true QB1 leads one to believe that opposing defenses will not respect the Buccaneer passing game. Expect more eight-in-the-box formations than usual against Tampa Bay this season, and a disappointing season for Graham. Lastly, newcomer Kellen Winslow is sure to vulture 5-8 TDs from the running game this year if Winslow can avoid staph infections and testicular maladies.

RB - Thomas Jones (NYJ)
– Jones had an career year during season in his first year on the Jets, but this can be partly attributed to the fact that defenses were kept honest by Brett Favre's presence under center. In 2009, Favre is gone from East Rutherford, but rookie RB Shonn Greene has impressed early in preseason and will surely cut into Jones' workload., Given that Jones isn’t exactly a spring chicken at 31 years old, expect more of a timeshare between Greene and Jones. Also, don't forget about scatback Leon Washington, who is expected to play a bigger role in the offense.

RB – Lendale White (Ten)
The running back formerly known as "LandWhale" lost 30 pounds this offseason after swearing off tequila for six months. Besides the fact that White has been a virtual nonfactor when it comes to receptions, it remains to be seen whether this weight loss will be helpful or harmful to his power style of running. White, without a doubt, will play second fiddle in the Tennessee backfield to speedster Chris Johnson. Also, the Titans are not expected to be as dominant a team this year without defensive mayhem specialist Albert Haynesworth plugging holes in opponents’ blocking lanes. In 2008, White was brought in to games when his team had the lead and was trying to kill the clock, while Johnson was inserted when the Titans needed a big offensive play with the game in question. Since Tennessee won’t be nursing as many leads this year given the gaping hole from the absence of Haynesworth on defense, expect fewer carries for White.

WR – Eddie Royal (Den) – The downgrade at quarterback from Jay Cutler to Kyle Orton will surely dispel any hopes of a repeat 90-catch season for Royal. Factor in that WR1 Brandon Marshall was acquitted of criminal charges, won't get traded this seasonm, and won’t face a suspension. Once "Baby T.O." (a fitting nickname on many levels) learns the new playbook, Royal won’t get many regular season snaps as Denver’s go-to wideout. Historically, very few rookie WR’s have experienced continued success in their second year in the NFL after a monster rookie campaign, and given the switch at QB for Denver, Royal figures to be more of the rule (i.e. Terry Glenn) than the exception (i.e. Randy Moss) in 2009.

WR – Bernard Berrian (Min) – In order for Berrian to have a monster season, three things need to happen: 1) Brett Favre, with all of three weeks to prepare for Week 1, needs to play better than he did for the Jets last year. 2) Berrian, who was seen limping on the sidelines with a tender hamstring after his first preseason game needs to stay healthy the entire season, something he hasn’t done even when he was playing on natural turf in Chicago. 3) Super-hyped rookie Percy Harvin needs to establish himself as a presence in the receiving game without completely cutting into Berrian’s anticipated production. Given these three factors, you should let someone else take a flier on Berrian as their WR3/WR4.

WR – Antonio Bryant (TB)
– Last season’s fantasy football playoff MVP (yep, I traded him in early November thinking Joey Galloway’s impending return would send him back to the Tampa Bay bench, and the team I traded him to won the Super Bowl…sigh) probably couldn’t tell you who his starting QB will be in 2009. While Bryant is a supreme talent, defenses can be expected to key on him more with the departure of Galloway, and while he established a great chemistry with since-departed Jeff Garcia under center last year, it would be optimistic to assume he’ll pick up right where he left off in 2008 given that he'll miss the entire preseason as he recovers from meniscus surgery. Bryant won’t be a bust of a pick, but he may be valued too high given that he probably played over his head in the three most important weeks in the fantasy football season last year.

WR – Torry Holt (Jax)
– “Touchdown” Torry Holt has had a hall-of-fame career, but his best days as a can’t-miss WR1 are long gone. Furthermore, the Jaguars’ offense has traditionally been more of the smash-mouth, ball control variety, and that figures to continue with Maurice Jones-Drew starting at tailback in 2009. As Jacksonville hasn’t boasted a WR stud since Jimmy Smith retired, you should let someone else who rode Holt to the playoffs 3-5 years ago reminisce about the old days when he played with Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk, and take him.

TE – Kellen Winslow (TB) He left Cleveland, a sub-.500 club with constant quarterback controversies, for Tampa Bay, a slightly better squad with an even worse situation at QB. Best case scenario, his starting QB is Byron Leftwich. Hard to blame Winslow for wanting out of Cleveland, but given his extensive (and unusual) injury history and sometimes disruptive presence in the locker room, you should avoid Winslow, and grab someone like Owen Daniels or Dallas Clark with a mid-round pick this year instead.

TE – Tony Scheffler (Den) – One of the bigger teases in fantasy football, Scheffler looks absolutely awesome when he is healthy and productive. His speed, leaping and catching ability make him look more like a beefed-up wideout than a tight end. However, Kyle Orton (or, possibly, Chris Simms) is now taking snaps in Denver, and Scheffler probably won’t be catching the occasional bomb like he did when Cutler was throwing him the pigskin.

TE – Alge Crumpler (Ten)
– Weighing in at 300 pounds, Crumpler will now be a blocking tight-end for the Titans, and now probably has slightly more value than retired TE Carlester Crumpler. Bo Scaife and rookie Jared Cook have established themselves as the playmaking TE's in Tennessee, and unless it’s Chris Johnson we’re discussing, I’d just as well avoid all Titans altogether.

TE – Todd Heap (Bal) – Similarly to Scheffler, Heap has been a bit of a tease showing flashes of acrobatic catches mixed with injury-riddled seasons his entire eight-year career in Baltimore. The Ravens have a three-headed rushing attack with Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and LeRon McClain sharing red zone scoring opportunities, Heap is expected to play a larger role in the newly installed "chip" blocking game. Given that Joe Flacco has not impressed anyone this preseason, it’s better to save yourself a, ahem, heap of frustration by finding a different tight end in 2009.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sexy Hype Machine - 2009 NFL Preseason

As the 2009 NFL preseason gets underway, every football journalist wants to be the first one to break the story on someone who they feel could be the next Adrian Peterson or Jerry Rice. While reading early positive reviews of football players can be encouraging in that they can provide an early read on who to target in your fantasy football draft, it’s important to remember that these guys are facing backups and non-roster invitees while wearing shorts in the sweltering August conditions of training camp. In other words, it’s too early to identify your surprise 1600-yard, 13-TD WR or RB before the first full week of preseason games takes place. However, one of the purposes of this piece is to at least cast a light on these featured players, as well as suggest players you should avoid drafting this year for various reasons. Last but not least, we have a group of players who could provide you with good value in the middle to late rounds of your draft. Some of the players on the latter list are former members of the so-called “Sexy Hype Machine”, but didn’t quite live up to the hype their stellar past pre-seasons helped to create.

As previously mentioned, this is the list of pre-season fantasy darlings. Any of these guys could be 2009’s version of Chris Johnson, but this early into the season, nothing is certain yet. Simply keep an eye on the August performances of these individuals, and the ones that continue to shine into September will be the ones you’ll want to target, and might possibly have to reach a little early for, on draft day.

QB - Matt Ryan (Atl) – Ever since his first NFL pass that turned into a 62-yard touchdown, Ryan made quite a splash in his 2008 rookie campaign. Now that Roddy White is signed and practicing after a holdout that lingered into two-a-day practices, Ryan has two top-tier receiving options in his arsenal that would make most signal callers drool. The Falcons signed future Hall-of-Fame TE Tony Gonzalez this offseason as a free agent. Even at 33 years old, Gonzalez can still deliver premier production, as he is coming off a second consecutive 90-catch, 1000-yard season. Don’t worry too much about the loss of slot receiver Harry Douglas this season, the Falcons recently signed veterans Marty Booker and Robert Ferguson, who can provide extensive depth and experience, if not a 4.3 40-yard-dash time.

QB - Matt Schaub (Hou) – As someone who reaped the benefits of his 400-yard fantasy playoff performance against Green Bay last year, feel free to label me a card-carrying member of the Schaub for President fan club. Regardless of my affinity, Houston has once again become fertile ground for fantasy football players, hearkening back to Warren Moon’s run-and-shoot heyday of the early 1990’s. Not only is all-world WR Andre Johnson the one WR who wouldn’t draw guffaws if he were drafted ahead of Larry Fitzgerald, but RB Steve Slaton has provided enough talent and production to force defenses from playing nickel and dime defenses on first and second down. Furthermore, WR Kevin Walter made great strides in gaining Schaub’s confidence last year, as well as another quality season from undervalued TE Owen Daniels, who you can probably draft a full three rounds after Kellen Winslow. With Sage Rosenfels now in Minnesota and no longer breathing down Schaub’s neck for playing time, 2009 is the year to grab Schaub as a great QB1, or as a member of an unbeatable 2 QB-headed monster.

QB - Trent Edwards (Buf) - Unless you’ve spent the summer in Azerbaijan, you probably heard that Terrell Owens was released from the Cowboys, and as his agent Drew Rosenhaus sought greener pastures for Owens, he found that his only, er, best option was Buffalo. Now that Owens is paired with burner Lee Evans, this tandem could help create the most interesting football season in Buffalo since Thurman Thomas and Jim Kelly retired. With Edwards firmly entrenched as the starting QB coupled with question marks in the running game stemming from Marshawn Lynch’s suspension, this sequence of events could lead to a big year for Edwards. His name may not jump off your roster like a Brady or Brees, but he could be one of the better fantasy QB2s in the NFL this year if T.O. maintains his best behavior, as he traditionally has in his first year with a new team.

RB - Maurice Jones-Drew (Jax) - Finally, Fred Taylor has moved onto New England, and MJD sits atop the running back depth chart in Jacksonville. He has always been the goal line back as well as a force in PPR leagues. Well, reports out of Jaguar camp have now said that the UCLA alum has been occasionally lining up as a wideout in an effort to minimize the eventual pounding he’ll take this year. His speed, power, soft hands, and new role are what make me believe that he, not Adrian Peterson, should be the #1 overall fantasy pick this year.

RB - Knowshon Moreno (Den) - For all the questionable moves that the Broncos made during the tumultuous 2009 offseason, this draft acquisition could make all the pessimism of losing a franchise QB hurt a lot less for Denver fans. Not only has he shot up the depth chart during the preseason to the point where he is expected to start the first exhibition game against the 49ers, but it looks like Moreno will be on track to start at tailback Week 1 as well. He’s young and fast with fresh legs, and he has career backup Correll Buckhalter and Raider castoff Lamont Jordan as his primary competition. Factor in the Broncos’ excellent offensive line, WRs Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal preventing teams from stacking eight in the box, and this could be an incredible rookie season for Moreno. If he’s available in the sixth round and I’m debating between a WR2 or a RB3, rest assured he’s mine.

RB - Ronnie Brown (Mia) - “It’s the sport of kings…better than diamond rings…football.” Nobody in the NFL made greater strides or saw their fantasy value skyrocket from the implementation of the “Wildcat” offense than runnin’ Ronnie (for those of you too young to remember/know, the first line of this post was an excerpt from the song from the movie Wildcats from…1986 – dang, I’m old, but I digress). In addition to being the featured back in Miami, Brown figures to be a bigger part of the Dolphins’ passing game this year. Since backup Ricky Williams is a year older and two steps slower, Brown will be counted on to move the ball both between the tackles as well as those unusual Wildcat sweeps…assuming he stays healthy.

WR - DeSean Jackson (Phi) - Jackson had some memorable highlights and lowlights in his 2008 rookie campaign, but if the amount of praise he has been given from teammates and coaches since training camp began is any indication, he figures to be an extremely valuable asset to fantasy football teams as well as the Eagles. Last season, he was considered a decent WR3 in a 12-team league, but that figures to change. Jackson is the consummate triple-threat as he had multiple rushing attempts in five games last year, and can also return punts. Based on the reports coming from Eagles camp, he should undoubtedly become the #1 passing option for Donovan McNabb, and his explosiveness could lead to DeSean doubling, or possibly tripling his TD output from his first year. Since the hype machine surrounding Jackson is no secret, you may need to spend a 5th or 6th round pick if you want him on your squad this year.

WR - Calvin Johnson (Det) - CalJohn, take me away! Lion fans have hope this year that, in addition to their team actually making it into the win column in 2009, that Calvin Johnson may be the best receiver in football not wearing a Cardinals jersey. Johnson has three things going for him: 1) At a very fast and strong 6’5”, 235, he fits the profile as a prototypical physical receiver who can muscle for the ball even in coverage. 2) He has a new quarterback who, unlike Dan Orlovsky, supposedly doesn’t run out of the back of the end zone. As soon as the coaching staff comes to their senses and begins playing #1 draft pick Matt Stafford, Johnson will flourish. 3) The Lions will be trailing virtually every opponent at some point in every game, so their passing attack will be their primary offense for the majority of every game. You’ll probably need to take CalJohn once Fitz and Andre Johnson are off the board in the late 2nd/early 3rd round.

WR - Percy Harvin (Min) - Harvin’s playmaking ability has drawn rave reviews, and he figures to become a dynamic part of the Viking offense this year. That said, he has three factors working against him. 1) Unretired legend Brett Favre hasn't had sufficient preseason time to get in sync with his receivers 2) Make no mistake: this is Adrian Peterson’s team. Harvin is, at best, the third receiving option behind WRs Bernard Berrian and TE Visanthe Shiancoe (bear in mind this is a run-first offense). Harvin will begin his NFL career as a kick returner and a slot receiver. Even though the hype machine is in full gear for Harvin, don’t get sucked in and take him too early. In fact, let someone else use a mid-round pick on Harvin.

TE - Dallas Clark (Ind) - With Marvin Harrison gone from Indianapolis, Clark becomes Peyton Manning's primary mid-range target, as well as the best receiving option over the middle. Since WR Anthony Gonzalez will replace Harrison at flanker, Clark will line up in the slot in three-receiver formations. As Manning and Clark get reacquainted this preseason, their timing has been described as "downright scary." 80 catches, 900 yards and 8 TDs are very attainable for Dallas in 2009. He should be one of the first four TEs off the board, as he can put up WR2 numbers, and rarely gets shut out of the Colt passing game.

TE - Greg Olson (Chi) - The former Hurricane has turned many a head in the preseason thus far. Slated to be Jay Cutler’s favorite medium-range target, Olson has the hands and ability to excel as a TE1 this season. The Bears’ revised playbook reportedly has a slew of plays which feature Olsen as the top read, and the coaching staff has reported that this third-year player is “read to explode” after a 54-catch, 5 TD campaign in 2008. A gifted quarterback like Cutler can only help Olsen’s value, so don’t be afraid to draft him before, say, Kellen Winslow, Jeremy Shockey, or Owen Daniels.

TE - Jason Witten (Dal) - It’s no secret that Witten and Cowboy QB Tony Romo are best buddies who design plays together after hours. And it’s also no secret that former Cowboy malcontent Terrell Owens has left for, um, greener pastures in Buffalo. But the fact that the Cowboys don’t appear to have a wideout who will step up and take over as the WR1 in that offense leads me to believe that Witten is in for a monster season in 2009. Romo has proven that he will feed Witten the ball as if he were breastfeeding a newborn when the defense allows, so don’t be shocked if Witten matches or exceeds his monster 2007 season of 96-1145-7. Personally, he’s my TE1 this year.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

1993 – A Taste of Success

Before this season began, our league had used a draft system to initially acquire players from the free agent pool. In our fantasy baseball league, we had always auctioned off players. In 1993, everyone in our league was still in high school, none of us had jobs, and we all loved the auction environment; something about being able to own any player you want (as long as you’re willing to pay up) was inspiring. In a draft environment, you have no shot at Thurman Thomas or Sterling Sharpe if you draw poorly in the lottery. Although they take much longer, we decided to do our fantasy football league auction-style. It’s not like any of us had to be at work the next morning or had a wife to check in with!

In spite of my fervent hatred of the 49ers after they embarrassed my Broncos 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV, I was not to be denied having Steve Young as my QB1. I spent 20% of my draft money on the intrepid Young after his stellar 1992 campaign as San Francisco’s full-time QB. Not only was he a great passer with high football IQ and the great Jerry Rice to throw to, but he was also able to make plays with his scrambling ability. This was the first time I resolved to take a player on a team I hated.

Although John Elway had yet to rise to prominence as a fantasy QB, 1993 was the year he was granted a level of autonomy that had yet to pervade the rest of the NFL. This was the first season Elway was allowed to call his own plays in the huddle from a color-coded wristband he wore during games. Nowadays, you see just about every QB wearing this type of gear. Furthermore, the Broncos declared they would open up the offense and pass more. I must have been the only person privy to this info, because I got Elway late in the auction relatively cheap after most other people bought both their QBs, and couldn’t bid on a third passer.

In 1993, having John Elway and Steve Young as my starting quarterbacks brought the same joy as celebrating Christmas morning every Sunday from September through December. Not only did they both have monster years passing for 4000+ yards each, but these athletically gifted athletes were marvelous to watch! Elway bore a cannon-arm that could heave a pass 70 yards downfield at approximately 70 miles per hour, and Young went on to post a passer rating over 100 while orchestrating the indomitable 49ers West Coast Offense, still a new phenomenon in those days.

Aside from my quarterbacks, I felt like I had made all the right personnel moves. I would pick up marginal players like Broncos Glyn Milburn and Derek Russell off the waiver wire and they would score TDs when I had injuries or my starters were on bye. I remember one game I was playing against a team that started the great tight end Shannon Sharpe when Sharpe caught the ball, ran to the 2-yard line, and fumbled the ball into the end zone. Said fumble was recovered by Derek Russell, whom I started on a whim because I had another wideout on bye. I ended up winning that game by less than five points, so that fumble recovery in the end zone essentially won that week for me. I landed Sterling Sharpe in one of those dreaded 4-for-1 trades including an over-the-hill Herschel Walker (who I upsold as a PPR machine after he had an 11-catch performance one game), Curtis Duncan, a team defense, and some bum I can’t remember. The only reason I acquired Sterling was because my trade partner had to hang up the phone, as I could hear his dad yelling at him after a three-hour telephone conversation, and I wouldn’t let him leave to study for next morning’s vocab quiz until we sealed the deal.

After 1993, I thought I had this fantasy football thing all figured out. Little did I know I wouldn’t win another fantasy football title for ten years, when I would be out of college and a full-fledged member of the working world. That I felt I knew so much more about fantasy football than my competitors, yet underperformed in these subsequent seasons is what led me to conclude that fantasy football success is comprised of 60% luck / 40% skill. You can draft a great team, but if you 1st round pick tears his ACL Week 1, there’s not a lot you can do to replace that level of production.

1992 – My First Year in Fantasy Football

Oh, the rookie mistakes I made. Armed with the overall #4 pick, I figured I needed a franchise QB to serve as the backbone of my team. When it was my turn to pick, I chose Mark Rypien, who was fresh off a Super Bowl victory and still had “The Posse”, comprised of Hall-of-Fame WR Art Monk, as well as Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders, at his disposal. Amazingly, I left studs like Dan Marino and Jim Kelly (who would turn into a fantasy football royalty that year) on the board. I knew enough about the NFL to know that Marino and Kelly were supreme talents, but I wanted Rypien badly, as his value appeared higher in my newbie eyes. Needless to say, Rypien did not match his stellar 1991 campaign. In fact, he was, to be generous, mediocre, and would continue to prove that 1991 was the lone season that would shine on Rypien’s resume.

My draft would only go from bad to worse. Although he only garnered 11 carries the year before, I was convinced a monster season was in store as I selected Bobby Humphrey with my second round pick (I just threw up in my mouth a little after typing that). Humphrey was pretty good when he was the starting RB on the Broncos his first couple years in the league, but he got traded to Miami in the offseason. Since this was before the days of Rotoworld and countless other fantasy sports information resources (you were lucky if you or someone you knew had a Prodigy account!), I failed to learn that my future second-round pick wasn’t even the starting running back on the Dolphins (the immortal Mark Higgs owned that honor)! The much-anticipated Week 2 Monday Night game against Cleveland featured Higgs getting 25 carries to Humphrey’s two (although Humphrey was more favorable in PPR leagues with 54 catches that season, he was still hardly second-round material).

In the third round, I was thrilled to have taken RB Neal Anderson, a player I had seen shine for the Bears in previous years. Unfortunately, I failed to realize he was over the hill at this stage in his career. Although Anderson’s 11 TDs helped my team get a handful of wins, I realized after this inaugural season of fantasy football how much I had to learn about real vs. perceived player valuation.

Speaking of over-the-hill football players, I selected Mark Clayton in the fourth round. I remember reading about his 12 TDs scored the season before, and simply assumed that as long as Marino was throwing him the rock, he was due for a repeat season of double-digit TDs. This would be Clayton’s last year as a Dolphin, as he was just awful with fewer catches than, ahem, Bobby Humphrey.

I’ll spare you the painful details of the rest of my draft, but let’s just say I finished 4-10. Regardless of my sub-par performance, I was hooked like a video game junkie who just played Grand Theft Auto for the first time. On Sunday mornings at 10am, not even an earthquake could pry me away from the TV. In fact, I was at my worst when I was forced to travel with my Sunday School classmates to retirement homes to hang out with convalescing octogenarians. As soon as we got to the TV room, I would convince one of my classmates that Florence and Mildred on the back couch wanted someone to change the channel from “Meet the Press” to the Rams/Giants game. I know it sounds dirty, but if you had Rodney Hampton and Henry Ellard in your starting lineup, you might have done the same!

My mom was both amazed and worried at the diligence with which I would spend hours talking trade. She envisioned me as a future Hollywood / Wall Street power broker as she witnessed my repeated attempts to fleece fellow league newbie Mike Winston of Thurman Thomas in exchange for a package of Gaston Green, Mark Duper, and Chip Lohmiller. Mom initially dismissed this fantasy football thing as a phase – little did she know I would spend hours of my future workdays as an adult poring over which defense to start instead of returning sometimes-urgent emails to clients.

I had grown up primarily a baseball fan who only began to delve into NFL action once my sister, who then attended Denver University Law School, sent me one of those triangular pennant flags. Coupled with the fact that I watched John Elway in “The Drive” against Cleveland, I became a Bronco fan. This would result in much derision from my peers, who were either 1) Raider fans, the Bronco's long time arch-rival, or 2) 49er fans (the bane of my existence after Super Bowl XXIV) as I always loathed front-runners.