A Newbie Enters the PFF Fantasy Online Championship
We’ve partnered with ScoutFantasy to bring you the Pro Football Focus Online Championship. Mike Clay did a great job breaking down the details of the format a couple weeks ago, and the unique starting roster allocations and $50,000 grand prize piqued my interest. Rather than generically tell you how I would approach the format, I decided to show you how I drafted my first ever squad, even though the draft didn’t unfold exactly as planned.
I’m drafting out of the 8 spot, under the team name HabitualLineSteppers. (Click on the board to enlarge).
Know The Format
My mission going into the draft was to form a high weekly scoring floor in the most populous position (wide receiver), possibly draft a top-tier tight end, get a late-round quarterback, and then find potential breakout running backs or ones who can step in and be top producers in the event of an injury to their team’s top runner. My strategy is largely in line with the Zero RB strategy popularized by PFF Fantasy’s own Shawn Siegele.
You’ll quickly notice that I basically punted the running back position. I didn’t draft any until the ninth round, and then my third running back selection wasn’t until the 17th. This probably seems crazy to most of you, but the format is the most wide receiver-dominant out there. The starting lineup consists of your typical 1-QB, 2-RB, 3-WR, 1-TE, 1-DEF, 1-PK base, but it also includes two flex spots.
Since this is PPR scoring, your optimal lineup should probably include five wide receivers to get the highest scores out of both flex spots. The more precipitous drop-off in scoring at the running back and tight end positions makes it unlikely that your third running back or even second tight end will outscore a top-50 wide receiver in a PPR league.
Know The Rules
One of the unique wrinkles that I found in the PFF Fantasy Online Championship rules is that you don’t have to fill the defense and kicker positions during the draft. Of course my plan isn’t to take a zero in both spots Week 1. I’ll have the opportunity to pick up a defense and kicker during the first free agent acquisition period, which occurs on the Friday prior to the first NFL Sunday for leagues that complete their drafts before Sept. 3. This wrinkle gives you two additional roster spots to use on highly speculative players that could move up the depth chart during training camp, but also can easily be dropped for a defense and kicker if they don’t.
My strategy was to start off strongly attacking the wide receiver position to fill the two flex spots, and I quickly found out that my league-mates had a similar mentality. Wide receivers were flying off the board early, with 16 drafted in the first two rounds alone. I secured an early combo of Demaryius Thomas and Alshon Jeffery, two of my favorite early-round picks who should both dominate their teams in targets and have a great chance at top-5 finishes.
When my 3.08 pick came around I was in a bit of a quandary. I assumed going into the draft that I would be able to select DeAndre Hopkins, or possibly Jordan Matthews if Hopkins was gone. Both of those guys were off the board before the second round ended, so I was left to either reach at wide receiver, or go for a potential top-10 running back.
For me, C.J. Spiller was the only running back available who was tempting, and I didn’t even consider Jimmy Graham now that he’s part of the low-volume Seahawks passing game. My selection of Amari Cooper made me highly uneasy at the time, but reaching for the top rookie wide receiver who should see a ton of targets immediately worked with my overall plan: Grab five top-30 (by ADP) wide receivers to fill those flex spots.
I added Sammy Watkins and Brandon Marshall to my wide receiver corps in rounds four and five. I think both receivers are undervalued, one because of a strange perception that his nearly 1,000-yard, six-touchdown rookie season was disappointing; the other due to concerns about declining performance, which I believe was more related to injury than age. Both receivers have question marks at the quarterback position, but that doesn’t concern me much since they have that concern discounted into their ADPs. I was surprised to see Travis Kelce still available in the sixth round; I couldn’t pass on his talent at that stage of draft and the opportunity cost of passing at wide receiver severely diminished.
If we had the ability to perfectly predict player performance, there wouldn’t be a need for me to draft more wide receivers this early with five solid ones already on my roster. But some of those five are going to bust or get injured, so I needed to build depth at the position to truly establish a high scoring floor through the season.
Because I already had so many wide receivers, at this point I could skip older, low-upside but safe selections like Steve Smith and Marques Colston and try and hit on potential breakouts like Breshad Perriman and Davante Adams. Perriman probably has the most opportunity of any rookie playing with little competition for targets and a competent quarterback. Adams should have decent but volatile production playing in three-receiver sets with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. That said, Adams presents tremendous contingent value in the event of an injury to Nelson or Cobb, immediately becoming at least a high-end WR2.
Chris Ivory and Bishop Sankey were my first two running back selections and both offer great physical ability and are the presumptive starters on their respective teams. Both have the talent and opportunity to breakout, providing the the high ceiling that you need if you wait to draft the running back position.
I don’t want to go through the rest of the draft in detail, but I can categorize the selections into broad themes. First, I selected more young, talented wide receivers that could have larger-than-expected opportunity (Marvin Jones, Donte Moncrief and Jaelen Strong). Second, I wanted to add more tight ends that can back up Kelce and whose collegiate and draft pedigrees forecast the potential for greatness (Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro).
Third, I was only planning on selecting one quarterback (why grab two if serviceable options like Alex Smith go undrafted), and Marcus Mariota looks similar to other recent draft steals like Cam Newton, Robert Griffin, and Andrew Luck: He’s a highly drafted rookie (No. 2 overall) with great running ability.
Fourth, I gobbled up a couple backup running backs that I believe might be more talented than the players they’re stuck behind and would become solid RB2’s if things fall their way (Khiry Robinson and Mike Davis). Lastly, I passed on selecting a defense or kicker to draft highly speculative running backs that could move up the depth charts before the season begins. Brandon Bolden has emerged as the leader to fill the “Shane Vereen role” for the Patriots’ high-powered offense, and rumbles around the NFL of teams exploring the acquisition of Ray Rice make me think he could be on a roster opening day.
Wrapping It All Up
I wouldn’t say that everything went perfectly for me in the this draft: I had to reach for wide receivers early, a couple mid-round running backs I was targeting were sniped right before my selection, and I’m going to need some luck to have two solid running back starters the first few weeks. But I hope that my extremely strong wide receiver and tight end selections can carry the team if my running backs bust, and then I can hopefully find league-winning running backs on the waiver wire, like Justin Forsett and C.J. Anderson in 2014. However things turn out, this was a fun and exciting draft format for someone like me doing it for the first time.