My son started a fantasy football league this year. I was in a fantasy baseball league about 15 years ago. My co-workers needed an extra team and nominated me for the role. I was clueless about the process and looked at my record more than halfway through the season. As expected, I was in last place and discovered that the manager needs to alter the lineup daily to make sure the players are actually playing that day. I managed to improve a bit but remained in the cellar.
Trying to learn from past experience, I decided to do a little research (very little, about 5 minutes.) Each team drafts players and selects a quarterback, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, a defense and a kicker. There are a few reserve spots as well. When selecting players, especially the reserves, one must account for bye weeks when the actual player’s team is off. We had a draft, scheduled for 9 pm last Thursday. I had slept about four hours the night before and was running on fumes when the draft started.
Players are ranked based on their prior statistics. Highly ranked players are sought after because their statistics (yards gained, passes caught, touchdowns scored, field goals kicked, etc.) are what generate points for your team. About a half hour before the draft, I started reviewing leaders from the 2016 NFL season. I learned that there is a staggering amount of information available and that sophisticated programs mining “big” data create realms of analyses and forecasts. How was I, an analog guy who used a slide rule in high school physics for a semester, going to compete with the high-tech, computer savvy, data mining experts who eat, drink and sleep fantasy football?
I thought for a few minutes and then it came to me in a series of waves, like body surfing at the shore. I considered words of advice from great coaches like Vince Lombardi, Hank Stram and Don Shula, and remembered Joe Namath’s 1968 New York Jets thoughts about facing the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. Lastly, I recalled sage wisdom from “Moneyball” and decided there might be a way for fantasy football underdogs to compete.
- Some people try to find things in this game that don’t exist but football is only two things – blocking and tackling. Vince Lombardi
- Football is a game of recognition. Each team must determine what the other team is doing before it knows how to respond. Hank Stram
- What do you do against a team which is bigger, faster, stronger and more aggressive? You use it against them, you trick them. Don Shula
- (Referring to the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Superbowl III) Why would they change anything? For the Jets? They’re not gonna change anything? Joe Namath (More on Broadway Joe in a future post.)
- People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws. … I believe there is a championship team … because everyone overlooks them like an island of misfit toys. Moneyball
Knowing professional and fantasy football are big business, I decided to treat this as a business, and developed a set of guiding principles for my team.
- Focus on fundamentals
- Do your own research and draw your own conclusions
- Disguise your strengths
- Evaluate players’ stats in context
- Trust your intuition
After getting the “okay” to manage a team, it was time to get to work. Searching for a name, I thought about menacing names like “Genghis Kahn” or “Hammerhead Sharks,” but thought this would not help us keep a low profile. I opted for something a bit personal and disarming, possibly humorous and deceptive. “Rich’s Relics” immediately came to mind. Think about the advertising possibilities. Finally! A team which could attract interests from funeral homes. Our team slogan: “You don’t scare us. We survived decomposition.”
I needed a head coach. With an upstart team, there could be only one person who could fill the role — the late, great Sid Gilman. Gilman was an innovative coach for the Chargers as well as other teams and wore a bow-tie on the sidelines.
Next I wanted a veteran presence on my team, someone who epitomized toughness and coolness under pressure. The ultimate competitor and veteran. A man who could play two positions, quarterback and kicker. After doing a little checking, I signed Hall-of-Fame player George Blanda to a one year minimum contact. Well, he’s actually dead so I signed his remains. Actually, he hasn’t signed it yet but I’m hoping no one will notice and will try to make an “X” with his skeleton holding the pen. He was 48 when he retired so I don’t think anyone will be expecting him to look all that spry in uniform. (Full disclosure: I loved watching George Blanda. He won the MVP trophy in his 40s by winning a bunch of games in the last minute for the Oakland Raiders.)
I thought about our offensive strategy and decided we couldn’t run the modern NFL offense. Nowadays everyone uses the quarterback in the “shotgun” formation (not directly behind the center) for most plays. We could try the “I” formation or even the “Wishbone” — these formations may be vaguely familiar to some of my co-owners. I decided to bring back the “Single Wing” formation introduced by Pop Warner. Although there are a few devotees who still use the system, it went out of style after WWII. As we only play our opponents once per season, they won’t know what hit them.
The first round was ready to start and I had the 5th draft choice. Quickly going over the numerous athletes, one name caught my eye. He wasn’t top ranked but something about his name rang true. Fozzy. Fozzy Whittaker. Who could resist? Fozzy played college ball at Texas and was with Cleveland during his rookie year. He’s been with the Carolina Panthers for the last 3 years. Last year he ran the ball for 265 yards and caught 25 passes for 226 yards. Among all players, Fozzy was 68th in the NFL in total rushing and 186th in receiving yards. However, if you look at his trends, you will see that his productivity has increased in the last two years in Carolina.
Year Rushes Yards Rushing Receptions Yards Receiving
2015 35 108 12 64
2016 57 265 25 226
If he continues to improve at this rate, he should rush for 650 yards and receive 800 yards in 2017. That would put him among the league leaders!
Back to the draft. I looked at some players who had middle-of-the-pack ratings. Rob Gronkowski was among them. Although he’s been injured a few times, when healthy, Gronk is almost unstoppable. Perhaps, just maybe, the computer rankings don’t reflect a player’s true value. Could this be used to identify undervalued players?
In my youth I was a true football fan and was up-to-date on the standings and stats. Now-a-days, I’m a casual fan. I live near Boston and am most familiar with the Patriots. Julian Edelman was lost to the season because of a knee injury and I guessed that Chris Hogan would be getting a lot more action. Hogan was a lacrosse player in college and has become a good wide receiver. He averaged almost 18 yards per catch last year so I thought he would be another sleeper.
After a couple more rounds of surprises, my eyes were almost shut. The computer “selected” the rest of my team and I went to bed.
The next day I received an email of my draft. They gave me a “D” and the experts predict I’ll go 2 and 12. However they did remark: “Not a great draft. Or was it? Maybe you know something no one else does. A true underdog. If so, maybe you’re Toyota Hall of Fame material. Nominate yourself now.”
I deferred nominating myself for the “Hall” but am keeping the option open for later in the season. Now, just a bit more work to do. Find a backup defense and kicker and start begging the Carolina Panthers to give Fozzy the ball!
Football Fan & Guest Blogger Richard Galgano
September 10, 2017