My Fantasy Football Draft Journey (or HBO’s Hard Knocks, this ain’t)

This past week saw the start of, what best evidence tells us, the 7th season of the RouteOne Fantasy Football League.  It’s been a great catalyst for building social relationships at work, giving co-workers a structure for interactions that don’t involve work topics.  Also, for those of us that are quite (or even overly) competitive, it’s an opportunity to be lauded for our player selecting prowess.

Round 1:  We have started a “Legacy” league, so the order of drafting is based on somewhat reversing the order of last year’s finish, along with the ability to keep up to two players that were selected in later rounds.  Last year, I started out 0-5 but won 7 of the last 8 games to make the playoffs and continue my streak of always making the playoffs.  However, that ended with a first round playoff loss.  So, here I am selecting in the sixth position.  Chris Johnson is a keeper for another team, so that takes him out of the first selection.  The person with the first pick is a new owner in our league, so no one knows how well he will do.  However, that is quickly revealed when he selects Peyton Manning with the first choice.  Manning is a great scorer, but most of us would have selected him around pick 10.  So, now I will get someone I didn’t expect.  The next picks fall well for me as Rice, Peterson, MJD and Brees get taken next, leaving me to quickly snap up Andre Johnson for my first pick.  This feels like a good start to this draft.

I’ve always had a bit of a conflicted relationship with being a sports fan.  Not being blessed with any particular athletic talent, I was part of the nerd culture at my high school.  Unfortunately, coming from a high school as small as mine (my graduating class was 27 students, and this was a public high school), that culture was pretty tiny.  Seeing the disproportionate amount of attention paid to sport-related successes compared to those of us who excelled academically was deflating.

Rounds 2-3: Our league is now a point-per-reception (PPR) league, which adds values to those players that catch a lot of passes.  So, wide receivers are taken earlier than in standard scoring leagues, so it is not a huge surprise when Cedric Benson falls to me in the second round.  This also feels like a good pick as I would have selected Benson ahead of perennial superstars like Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald because of the questions around them (Moss appears to be slowing down and Fitzgerald will be getting passes from Derek Anderson), and indeed they were drafted before Benson.  The person who selected first continues his “surprises” in the second and third rounds (we do a snake draft so the owners at the start and end of the round get two consecutive selections) by taking Vernon David and Reggie Bush.  So, I am stunned to find that my third round pick is Pierre Thomas (plus he played for Illinois in college).  So far, we are solid.

Of course, being gay was also a complicating factor.  Today it is significantly different, but as I was coming of age during the 70’s and 80’s, gay men were not supposed to be interested in sports.  While I did and do have interest in “stereotypical” gay interests (just give up if we are playing musical theater Trivial Pursuit), the ability to name the winning and losing side of every Super Bowl ever played was not of great use in causing men to be attracted to me.

Rounds 4-5: When last year’s season ended, I only had one player that I wanted to “keep” in Dallas Clark.  He was one of my keeper’s last year (in our league, once you draft a player in the sixth round or later, you have the option of keeping him for up to two more seasons) and is still one of the top tight ends.  But, shortly before this draft I traded my fourth round draft pick for Beanie Wells as my second keeper.  Considering that he likely would have been drafted in the second or third round had he returned to the draft pool, this feels like a good trade for me.  Now, in the fifth round, I take what looks like the first bit of a gamble by selecting Jay Cutler.  Cutler has a pretty disastrous season last year, but the Bears now have Mike Martz as their offensive coordinator, so I’m betting on him throwing and completing more this year.

I was always a bit of a contrary child.  For some reason at about age eight, I decided that I wanted my own sports teams to cheer for.  I didn’t want to cheer for the same teams as the rest of my family and neighbors (mostly Chicago or St. Louis based teams).  I heard someone mention Pittsburgh and landed on all of them (Pirates, Steelers and Penguins) as my favorite teams.  As one can imagine, being a Steelers fan has been a rewarding experience, getting to root for one of the best (and probably steroid-fueled) dynasties in the NFL with a valley before the latest two Super Bowl victories. 

Rounds 6-10:  Now some additional strategy comes into play.  Round 6 marks the beginning of players that could be kept.  I must admit that I was a bit torn on this round and finally went for Hakeem Nicks, but without a lot of conviction.  Round 7 is a “keeper” round, so Beanie Wells was my forced pick.  I keep thinking about Roethlisberger.  Should I pick him up?  However, Robert Meachem is still available at my pick in the eighth round and I can’t pass that up.  Dallas Clark is my forced pick in the ninth round for my other keeper.  Then two picks before me in the tenth, Roethlisberger is taken off the board by another owner.  I take a flier on Mike Williams (the rookie from Tampa Bay, not the guy that Detroit selected a few years ago).

Compartmentalizing the bad behavior of pro athletes is a handy skill for the avid sports fan.  If you can hit, run, throw or catch at an elite level, you will be forgiven many things (except being gay).  But this year when it hit MY team with Roethlisberger and Holmes, my compartmentalizing skills were sorely tested. 

Roethlisberger, in particular, caused me some a great deal of mental anguish.  In the 2004 draft, I knew that I wanted the Steelers to select Big Ben.  And, his play for the Steelers has justified that desire.  When he crashed his motorcycle while not wearing a helmet, I wrote that off to the tendency of a strong, successful athlete to view himself as indestructible.  I was sure that he had learned a painful, but valuable, lesson.

When the first woman accused Ben of sexual assault, I am ashamed now to say that I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that the woman had consensual sex with him and then saw a way to profit from it by accusing him.  However, when the details of the charges against him from the Georgia incident, I was disgusted.  This was obviously the behavior of a pompous, misogynous jackass, who thought he was entitled to anything he wanted because of his Super Bowl rings.

When Michael Vick returned to the NFL, the conventional wisdom was that America is the land of the “second chance”.  However, every single one of those commentaries failed to mention that outside of professional sports, “second chances” in America usually involve starting at a reduced station and having to prove yourself worth of the second chance.  But, as I said before, if you can hit, run, throw or catch at an elite level…

The Steelers “punished” Santonio Holmes by trading him to the New York Jets.  He will be suspended to start the season, but will retain his contract and play with a team that is expected to contend for the Super Bowl.  While the Steelers deserve some credit for banishing Holmes, you have to wonder how willing they would have been to do so had Mike Wallace not appeared last year as a viable and cheaper alternative to Holmes.

Roethlisberger has had his suspension reduced to four games.  If the Steelers are 0-4 or 1-3 when he returns and he leads them deep into the playoffs, how will he be received?  Is winning truly the best deodorant?  Not for me, I look forward to this season with no particular joy.

Rounds 11-15:  I fill out my starting lineup by getting the Vikings defense and special teams and Ryan Longwell as my kicker.  Vince Young is my backup quarterback. I finish off with some sleepers in Devin Aromashodu, Greg Olsen and Golden Tate.

The NFL is getting too self-important.  The fact that ESPN has “NFL Live” all year, the NFL Network, moving the draft to prime time and the ridiculous coverage of the “combines” have jumped the shark for me.  This may be sacrilege, but if a lockout cancels the season in 2011, I will not shed a tear.  For me, the main purpose of the NFL right now is to generate data for fantasy football.

Recap: I feel quite good about my draft.  Naturally, there is a great deal of luck involved in all this.  The first year I played fantasy football, my top wide receiver got suspended for violating the substance abuse policy, while my next two wide receivers were both injured in week one.  Nonetheless, things fell well for me, especially in the early rounds.  I waited as long as I could on the Wells trade and got the best deal out that was possible from that.  A couple of the other member of the league have a head start on me with some really super keepers, but I think the draft let me close the distance some.  Now I have to start analyzing the matchups, find the right waiver pickups and get some good trades to scratch and claw my way back into the playoff for a seventh straight year.

Let the games begin!

One thought on “My Fantasy Football Draft Journey (or HBO’s Hard Knocks, this ain’t)

  1. Great post, Mark. I tried fantasy football for a year and found that I just didn’t have the time to devote to it that I felt I needed to do it right. I really enjoy thinking about the strategy behind it, though, and the interleaving you did of vignettes and other thoughts from your life makes this a really standout article. Well done.

    -Spence

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