FFWS Midseason Draft Recap

The Fantasy Football World Series is a new contest format where managers draft four different teams throughout the season.

Wednesday night, I participated in the Quarter 2 draft for the Fantasy Football World Series. The guys over at Ship Chasing documented the whole thing on a fun livestream with drinking, discussion, and live reactions. I must admit I write this a bit hungover, because I’m as washed as A.J. Green.

The FFWS is a new contest format and a unique take on fantasy football that I’ve really enjoyed so far. The season is essentially cut into four quarters, with four different drafts that are then played out for four weeks each.

So we had our first draft before the season, and Quarter 1 finished up at the conclusion of Week 4 with a final standings for that quarter. Eventually, an aggregate of those finalized Q1 results and the forthcoming results from Q2, Q3, and Q4 will determine which three teams make the one-week final in Week 17.

Being part of the test drive for this format this year has been a blast, and I really enjoy the structure. In each quarter, the scoring system is the same. But for each, the way we draft our rosters is slightly different. The first quarter was your standard TE Premium league with waivers (but no trades). For Quarter 2, we drafted for a best ball format that won’t have waivers or roster adjustments. All of our picks are now locked for the next four weeks.

In the coming quarters, we’ll do a SuperFlex format and last an auction draft. But now that I’ve explained the whole format, let’s get to the actual results of the Q2 draft, which can be used as a pretty good barometer for current player valuations. A couple of important notes to consider:

  • Because this is only for the next four weeks, players with a bye during Weeks 5-8 will miss one of four weeks. Fourteen teams have currently scheduled bye weeks in this stretch, and the Titans and Bills game this week is in doubt. So basically, half the league’s teams had a significant bye consideration, half didn’t. That had an obvious impact on player values that can be seen in the results below.

  • Also because this is only for the next four weeks, injuries became a pretty significant consideration. If a player might not play for two more weeks, or even those that are a week away then have a bye during this stretch, you could be talking about losing two of the four potential games.

  • The best ball format with TE Premium scoring is going to adjust the relative values of various positions. In best ball, roster construction presents an important potential edge to be gained, because you can’t make changes after the draft. There are several viable constructions; you’ll see below my partner Mike Leone and I drafted what’s called a hyperfragile team where we took three early running backs and then went away from the position entirely to give ourselves as many shots at the high-variance pass-catching positions as possible. That decision and decisions like it from other drafters were driven entirely by the best ball format.

This is useful context to keep in mind because this draft almost certainly looks different than you’d expect. And while the instant reaction to wild picks is often to assume someone is an idiot, my suggestion would be to go the other way and try to understand the process. I found this draft fascinating in that it showed how independent analysts with different processes will adjust player valuations because of specific circumstances.

Much of the fantasy football discourse week to week is quibbling about the relative values of Player A versus Player B. But this structure showed that if we narrow the focus to just the next four weeks, include some of the COVID-19 uncertainty surrounding the Titans specifically, and put some real stakes on the line (this is a $1,000 buy-in contest), the results can be skewed tremendously. This could give you a barometer for normal leagues when you consider the relative value of trade pieces that have already had their bye versus ones that have not, whether to hold players who might miss time because of COVID-19, etc.

But then again, almost everyone was drinking on the livestream, so yes, mistakes were made.


Results

Enough preamble. Let’s get to the draft board.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but I want to start by discussing some specific players who were impacted by the bye week. Alvin Kamara was the first player off the board with a bye week in this stretch, meaning he will play at most three games instead of four like Ezekiel Elliott, Kareem Hunt, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Dalvin Cook and Aaron Jones are two other high-end running backs who fell to the back of the first round as they have byes during this stretch. Mike and I took Miles Sanders at the 10th pick over Jones, but that wasn’t an easy call, and it was made almost solely because Sanders does not have a bye and we knew we wanted to emphasize games played so we could limit the number of RBs we rostered in our team construction.

You can see similar trickle-down effects on some players. The teams with byes over the next four weeks with impacted players are Arizona, Baltimore, Denver, Detroit, Green Bay, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Minnesota, New England, New Orleans, Seattle, and Washington. And then Tennessee and their Week 5 opponent Buffalo may also lose a game.

Here were some more valuations that caught my eye.

  • The uncertainty with the Titans. Derrick Henry falls to 3.03, A.J. Brown to 7.04, and Jonnu Smith to 7.11 (again, TE Premium scoring).

  • Christian McCaffrey at 1.11 and Michael Thomas at 4.08. McCaffrey won’t play in Week 5, but has a shot to get in three games if he’s back by Week 6 given Carolina doesn’t have a bye until later in the season. That would likely make him a steal. Thomas is already practicing, but New Orleans has a Week 6 bye so the room seemed concerned the Saints might hold him out to gain the extra week of rest, which then gives you only two games in the next four weeks.

  • Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf both fell to the fifth round. Chalk that up to bye considerations.

  • Deshaun Watson falling to 9.09 was another one. Joe Burrow, Tom Brady, and Justin Herbert all went higher but keep in mind the best ball scoring, and quarterback being a position where you might only draft two players. In that context, the bye might have been more significant for QBs. Mike and I took only two quarterbacks and both have byes, so we won’t have any best ball effect for two of the four weeks — we’ll essentially be starting Kyler Murray next week on Drew Brees’ Week 6 bye, and Brees in Week 8 on Murray’s bye. It was a risky move.

  • Kenny Golladay in the seventh round was hard to understand, and was one of a few targets Justin Herzig sniped Mike and I on. We were strongly considering David Montgomery at 3.10 because he did not have a bye and is now in a huge role, while Golladay at 7.10 and Watson at 9.10 were the two main picks we were locked into before Justin snagged them.

  • Some RBs with recent value changes — Hunt went 1.02, Joshua Kelley went 4.04, Jerick McKinnon went 7.02, Justin Jackson went 8.05, Damien Harris went 9.03, Devonta Freeman went 11.02, D’Ernest Johnson went 11.06, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn went 11.08. Some of those picks, like Hunt and Kelley, were surely impacted by the four-week nature of this event. And most had the luxury of no bye, with Harris being the only player in this group with a scheduled off week. But you can really see in some of these valuations how heavily the RB market adjusts in-season. This is a key concept I and many others discussed all offseason — there is no such thing as guaranteed touches for RBs. Just a month in, I’d argue that’s the position that experienced the biggest shakeup (though there were of course major adjustments at WR and TE, too).

  • Rookies across the board were very interesting, but I want to highlight rookie WRs. CeeDee Lamb at 3.08, Justin Jefferson at 6.09 (despite a bye), Tee Higgins at 8.10, Laviska Shenault at 9.06 (also has a bye), Jerry Jeudy at 9.10 (bye), and Brandon Aiyuk at 10.02 all went in the first 110 picks. The four-week nature of this would presumably drive down the value of players like, say, Shenault, who is a good bet to go the 2019 A.J. Brown or 2018 D.J. Moore route and play a big role in the second half of the season. But they were all still strong targets and arguably values at these prices. Rookies are often overlooked, and this year they were the key to redraft leagues. You can still buy many of these names, or particularly guys like Henry Ruggs (14.12), Chase Claypool (15.07), Darnell Mooney (15.09), or running backs like Zack Moss (13.09). Several of the other rookie backs lost considerable value, and I think D’Andre Swift (9.12), Cam Akers (10.08), J.K. Dobbins (10.12), or Ke’Shawn Vaughn (13.08) could wind up being steals here given how much turnover we saw at the position in the first four weeks of the season.


Our strategy

There are a lot of ways I could analyze this draft, but probably the easiest thing to speak to is how Mike and I approached it and what some of our biggest decisions were. That doesn’t mean we did this all perfectly, and our competitors certainly had their own considerations that I frankly would love to hear. Some of them can be heard on the earlier linked livestream.

As for how we approached it, the three-RB hyperfragile build was the biggest thing. This is a high-risk, best-ball strategy that has had surprisingly strong results in full-season contests. By locking in three stud RBs and really banking on those workloads to stay solid all year, you can really load up on WRs and TEs, which are high-variance positions where extra depth can really increase your weekly scoring potential.

Obviously, RB injuries can derail this type of build quickly, but we thought this structure made a lot of sense in this four-week contest. A lot of that risk is mitigated, and even if we do get hit with key injuries, our performance in this segment is only one-fourth of our overall score.

Looked at the results, the theory goes like this: so long as Miles Sanders, Joe Mixon, and Jonathan Taylor stay healthy for the next four weeks, we’re likely to get two usable games from that trio each week. On the other end, the 10 WRs we drafted is two more than any other team, and while we might not get anything out of Andy Isabella, Miles Boykin, or John Hightower at the back of our draft, we have a lot of bullets in the chamber to try to fill the three WR openings plus three Flex spots we need to fill each week.

Because we went in with that structure, the Sanders-Mixon start was pretty solid, in that neither has a bye. I’m very optimistic about Sanders going forward, and think he’s going to have a ceiling game here very soon, while Mixon’s route share continues to be a bit stronger than 2019, which we saw pay off with six receptions in Week 4 when his Targets Per Route Run normalized after being well below career rates through three weeks.

But from that point forward, it became clear our goal to avoid bye weeks wasn’t unique. Most of the other drafters also seemed more than aware that giving up 25% of potential games was a pretty significant impact. At the same time, three very strong games in a best ball format will beat four average ones. Ultimately, Mike and I adjusted on the fly and started to lean into the dropping bye week value a bit, particularly at WR where we knew we’d be deep. Eight of our first nine WRs will miss at least one game, and while that works against our depth strategy there, we’re hopeful some of the talent we were able to snag like Chris Godwin at 8.03 — who won’t play tonight but doesn’t have a bye and could still get three games — will win out.

One of the other big strategy deviations we took was at TE. Both the Evan Engram and Rob Gronkowski picks were driven, at least in part, by the lack of depth at the position. As I noted this preseason, the annual phenomenon of TE appearing deep in draft season then not proving deep during the year isn’t really a “mistake” — the position has reasonably high injury/bust rates, solid historical late-round breakout precedents, and often a lot of intriguing upside profiles that make the number of viable candidates to break out in a given year high but shouldn’t necessarily imply that any given year will be historic for TE production.

Once we get into the season, we typically see that effect. Several of the intriguing upside plays aren’t getting the usage we’d hoped for, like Chris Herndon, Ian Thomas, or even Irv Smith. Others have gotten hurt — Blake Jarwin, Dallas Goedert — or otherwise disappointed. That’s the nature of the position.

As this draft went on, we decided to move on a couple guys in Engram and Gronkowski that don’t have byes and could benefit from the TE Premium format. Neither are players we were actively targeting, but they gave us solid flex options and weakened the player pool for some of our competitors who had waited at the position.


Some final thoughts

It occurs to me that the majority of this writeup has centered on strategy specific to this format. Hopefully, considering the ways the results of this draft deviated from actual rest of season values can help you draw more value out of the results themselves. I really liked some things I saw like Stefon Diggs as a bold second-round pick (Davis has a very strong team if Buffalo actually plays this week, but I know he’s sweating that). Justin drafted the team that most seemed to believe was the best of the bunch, and I have to agree. I really liked the value of Myles Gaskin at 5.01, especially considering he doesn’t have a bye. (We strongly considered him over Jonathan Taylor early in the fourth round because of that bye situation and our structure, but the weekly upside for Taylor was too enticing.)

Scotty Miller was a guy I highlighted in this week’s Stealing Signals, and I really hoped we’d be able to snag him a little later than his 9.05 draft slot, which is another way of saying I thought that was a sharp pick. He’s been the clear No. 3 for Tampa and his routes haven’t fluctuated with Godwin in and out of the lineup like Justin Watson’s have, so I expect Miller to continue having a strong route share into the future which gives him a real shot to be a key piece given Tom Brady seems to be a big fan of his.

I can’t recall every other pick I liked or didn’t like, but feel free to hit me up in the comments if you see specific valuations you’d like a thought on. And if you haven’t subscribed to the weekly Stealing Signals recaps yet, be sure to do so! Just $5/month gets you access to full fantasy-focused game recaps for each matchup, each week, plus some useful summary stuff at the end of Part 2 each week. If you’re new around here and unsure what that looks like, Part 1 of Week 1 was outside the paywall and should give you an idea of what to expect.