Stealing Signals, Week 3, Part 2
Thoughts on FAB, plus late Sunday games, SNF, MNF
I wanted to write something about FAB strategy this offseason, in part because I never really have good answers when I get asked early every season about bidding strategy. It didn’t really make sense to commit August resources to it with so much other stuff I wanted to cover, and then it was tough over the first couple weeks to fit it in, so hopefully this info doesn’t come to you too late. There’s at least not been too many major waiver decisions so far.
As I gave this idea more thought over the offseason, a few ideas crystallized. The first is that any recommended bid value — a common element in waiver articles around the industry — is probably wrong. There’s maybe nothing more league- and situation-dependent than these bids. First, you have different atmospheres in different leagues — home leaguers are meaningfully more frugal than high stakes guys, for example. That’s not going to be true in every home league, and I’ve said this refrain to many over the years, but you’re going to have the best feel on the bidding atmosphere of your specific league, assuming you’ve played in it for at least a year.
But the more tangible note about bid values relates to what alternatives are available in your league, and the size of it. And I know there are many in the industry who try to control for that with commentary about the size of the league they are assuming, but from the mailbags I did in August, it was clear there is a ton of variance there. Some of you are playing 10- and even 8-team leagues; some are playing in leagues with 15 roster spots and others with 20; some are playing with shallow or deep starting lineups that also impact how you’d break down the players (in shallow lineup leagues, you need legit impact players; in deep lineup leagues, players that just move the needle some can be more interesting).
If I tell you a player is worth 20% FAB in a 12-team league of a certain depth, the shift to other formats is pretty drastic. In a much deeper league where that player represents a caliber of player that is infrequently available via waivers, and it is quite possible he will the biggest-profile waiver add all season (and likely to be one of the five or so biggest), he should go for over 50%, and you can make a case that a player that is far and above the expected alternatives on waivers — not just in that moment but all season — should go for 80% or more.
Now I say “should” because we get back to your league atmosphere; if you know your leaguemates never go over 30% early in the season, it doesn’t matter that one of the five or so biggest waiver adds of the year should go for more than 50% of one team’s budget (or less than 5% of the league’s total budget), because you have a knowledge advantage that might allow you to get him for 35% or so and then still have enough left to be able to make a similar bid later to get a second of the five or so biggest adds of the season, a prospect any individual manager in a league of any size should be thrilled at.
And that’s another point. Much like how I talk about wanting to get a high number of the best values in any auction, you naturally want to be the team in your league that gets the most impactful players off waivers. But there are two elements here. First is that your bidding strategy relates to the process, not the outcome. It’s often the case that the most impactful players off waivers are not actually the ones who are bid on the highest, but ones who were flying under the radar at the time they were added and then their role got stronger. That’s just the nature of it; some of these out-of-nowhere stars see their fantasy profiles ramp up, like how Cordarrelle Patterson wasn’t even added in a lot of leagues after Week 1 last year, then became a very popular Week 2 add when he backed up his big start with a second good week.
So as to that first piece of context, what you’re trying to do with your FAB strategy is not necessarily guarantee the most impactful players off waivers, but make the best series of bets. You have $100 or $1000 or whatever; that total budget can be thought of as a series of bets. If you spend a great deal of that on one player, you better be pretty sure that player is one of the better bets you’ll get a chance to go after in a league of the size you’re playing in. If it is — if that bet locks up one of the five or so best probabilistic bets that will be available to you in this league all year — it’s worth committing a strong chunk of your overall series of bets to.
That ties into the second piece of context. You have to recognize you’re one of 12 (or 10 or whatever) managers. It’s not a certainty you get anything off waivers, at any point. There is a natural reluctance to spend FAB early in the season, in part because managers often want to save for whatever big splash presents itself. Sometimes, that splash never comes. Even when it does, everyone is going to be bidding. That strategy only really makes sense if you’re very certain to recognize and also be the one that will win that bid when it does come, which could mean saving basically every dollar and being willing to go 90%+. I say go 90%+ because if your whole FAB strategy is predicated on getting that one guy, then you want to make a bid that gives you better than a coinflip shot of getting him, basically.
And that’s a whole different element (as I get into one of my typical Tacit Knowledge ladders) where there are certain players where it makes sense to play them as coinflips to win the bid, meaning you want them but don’t want to overspend, so you bid about where you think the winning bid will be, and if someone goes hard at them you let them have that player. Then there are players where you really only want them if they sneak through — they maybe aren’t guys you’re really on, or are players that fit your build real well, but they still aren’t players you are certain can’t be an asset for your roster, so it’s a humility-based bid where you’re willing to take the chance you’re analyzing the situation inaccurately at the right price. You also don’t want to just give your leaguemates a decent option for cheap.
And then the third category is the players you think are much better bets — or better fits for your roster — than what the market likely is on them. In those instances, I think it’s fair to place an aggressive bid that you think will win you the player something like 75% or 80% of the time, even if that means that in a lot of situations you might overspend the next highest bid by 10% of your budget or more. That’s not a bad outcome, overspending on a guy you identified as one you needed to have.
Again, you get a series of bets for the year. Don’t focus so much on how perfectly efficient you are with that budget as much as whether you think you’re getting enough bang for your buck with the full 100% of your budget you have. If a player is such an important add for your roster that he’s worth maybe half your season’s budget of a series of bets — he’s one of the best plays you can make off the wire all year — but the market only sees him as like a 20% player, then bidding 30%-40% and ultimately winning him over a second-place bid of like 15% is what it is. You still used your own budget efficiently to make the bet you wanted; you couldn’t have known with any certainty whether there was one other leaguemate who was as optimistic as you, and all it takes is one for you to lose the player.
And that gets back to a point I made at the top about being willing to go for 50%+ early in the season. The worst-case scenario for your overall series of bets for the year is to wait so long that you never actually use your FAB to make bets at all. They never come, or when the one big one does come, you don’t win it. At the end of the year, you spend 30% on some random player who isn’t actually worth 30% but you know your time with this money is up.
Conversely, if you do identify a player that is likely to be one of the top five or so best waiver bets — at the time we place these bets, on bidding day, not based on the outcome of their season which is unknown — locking that up with a big bid ensures your overall series of bets for your whole budget won’t be a total loss. It’s like a high floor play for your FAB strategy — you’ll be light on money the rest of the way and what you’re going to be able to do might be limited, but you might still add some other sharp, cheap bets, and even if you don’t you definitely won’t have the worst group of overall FAB bets in your league simply because you had a top-five bet in your portfolio for the season. That fact alone will put you somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of how well you used your money for the year, because in almost every league, every season, there are a handful of people who just don’t make enough bets, or they commit a ton of money to bad bets, like one-week fillers and those types of things.
The key is identifying the bet as being one of the five or so best you’ll see all year, and that is tricky. And again, I can’t answer this question. It’s entirely dependent on your league. I’m in deep dynasty leagues where a guy like Jaylen Warren prior to Week 1 was probably the best bet we were going to get all year, because 30 players are rostered on all of 12 different teams. I spent my full $1000 on Romeo Doubs in a league like that where the rookie draft was before the actual NFL draft and waivers didn’t run until August, so Doubs went undrafted and then by August it was pretty clear he was going to be one of the best options we had available all year. But obviously in a ton of redraft leagues, Warren and Doubs are on waivers this week, and Garrett Wilson was last week, and there will be other youngsters and potential breakouts that come available, because the league is a lot shallower. That means that in those leagues, a guy like Doubs this week is not a guarantee to be one of the top five bets of the year. I’d still want to try to get him, but I’d want to do it at a little more reasonable of a price to where my series of bets in that league might be a flatter distribution where I have five bets that are similar to Doubs throughout the year that are all in the 15%-30% range, depending how I can pull it off. But the idea would be in that series of bets, I don’t have just one big bet and then a bunch of littler ones.
This point about the $1000 bid also adds one more wrinkle where I only spend my full money in leagues where $0 bids are allowed; if you’re in a league where the minimum bid is $1, you do need to leave yourself flexibility to just make cheap switches to your roster. Don’t force yourself into a corner where you can’t even replace injuries. Save at least like $20 no matter what, so you can make 20 $1 bids, at least until the later part of the season where you can start to whittle that down and maybe only leave $5 or whatever if you want to be aggressive. But I never spend every dollar in a league like this; the payoff of making the bid that saps all your money just a few dollars higher isn’t worth the flexibility lost. In a lot of cases, you might make a $1000 bid and you could have won with $980, is what I’m saying. And if you don’t win with $980, that’s how it goes.
I guess that adds even one more dynamic, which is this idea that as a base heuristic, I never make a bid I wouldn’t want to win. Just because a player might seem “worth” a certain amount — or more specifically I might expect him to go for that amount — does not mean I will bid that amount or even some amount less than that. I hear from comanagers who sometimes say things like, “We’re not going to get him for that anyway.” If we think a guy will go for 25% or more, and we’re putting in a 15% bid expecting we won’t get him, I still don’t want to be making that bid if it’s a player I am so out on I still wouldn’t want to get him at 15%. Uncertainty rules this stuff; sometimes you get surprising results.
So in the above example about leagues where you have $1 minimum bids, I wouldn’t want to win a player for $995 for example, even if I think he is clearly the most likely best bet off waivers for the entire season. The reason is that I’ve now limited my series of bets to just five more $1 bets all season, and that series of six bets will probably not be much better than a more normal group of bets I can make with my $1000 that doesn’t include the clear best bet, because as I said before, sometimes the best pickup is just a $1 add a week early. You need that flexibility.
I think I’ve covered most of what I wanted to, though I didn’t organize it real well. The last point I haven’t hit is just the time element, where getting a key add early in the season allows you to realize the benefits if you’re correct for the majority of the year. The further we go along, the less of an impact that free agent add can have simply because you’re closer to the end of the season.
Additionally, as we get more and more information, the likelihood of a glaringly obvious add starts to dwindle — potential high-upside backups start to get stashed, and roles are more known. There are still sometimes those situations where two RBs suffer an injury in the same Week 12 game, and that team’s RB3 becomes a clear guy to target as a late-season hammer. But again, sometimes you have to understand what you’re giving up — when you bid a decent amount early, you’re maybe sacrificing that player, but you’re also ensuring you don’t finish with a series of FAB bets for the year that is among the weakest in the league.
And even if you’ve used say 70%, you might still get that player for around 30% if your leaguemates are sleeping a bit. I can practically hear some of you FAB savers scoffing at that idea — and it’s true that late in the year people tend to open their coffers and go nuts on that type of add, so it would be unlikely to get them for 30% — but that’s just one more piece of evidence that even if you are yourself a FAB saver who is waiting for that perfect moment, you’re going to have competition for that player. In any league where there’s no way you can get that guy for 30% at that time of year, you’re also not a lock to get them by saving your money, because your 95% bid might still be beaten. And then what? Now you’ve realized nothing from your FAB money all year. Again, that’s the worst-case scenario.
The very last point I want to make here is just like with our season-long bets, people don’t deal with uncertainty well in FAB. I’ve played in a lot of league types, and overwhelmingly fantasy football players have a bias toward saving money because they don’t like the idea of a whole season of unknowns and not having money to spend. But an extreme example of this is a daily waivers baseball league I play in where we went to FAB for the first time this year, and I remember bidding like $70 of $1000 after the draft (but still in the preseason) on a rookie who broke camp with the team rather than being sent to the minors, and I remember it got a comment about how big that bid was in the league chat. But it turned out there wasn’t much competition for bids all year in a daily league, and I sort of forced myself to bid over $100 on a few key guys I really wanted (those guys I wanted to be 90% sure to get), and those often went uncontested, because it is a pretty shallow league and there are almost always options. I wound up with a couple hundred left at the end of the year to just burn on absurdly big bids, and my leaguemates overwhelmingly wound up with even more budget until a bunch of late-season $300-type bids that also largely went uncontested on players that weren’t worth $300.
That’s an extreme example from a different sport with daily waivers, and football waivers are far more competitive because of the weekly nature of it. But I wouldn’t have told the example if I didn’t think there was value — I think in a league like that, the surprising rookie from the preseason could have arguably been a 90%-plus bid player, as one of the very few all year that was worth contesting. That dynamic of very few contestable adds won’t exist in football, but it might help to think of it that way for those of you in shallower leagues. If there are always going to be alternatives that are more or less in the same tier as the hot name that week, you don’t lose a whole lot over the season if you make a huge bid early and then just pick up unheralded options each week. And if you don’t have a huge bid you like, I’d probably stick to mostly $1 options in that type of league until I have one. There’s a “stars and scrubs” auction approach that fits FAB in shallow leagues where solid options are almost always available.
So that’s how I think through FAB budgets — a series of bets for the year, and because of that and other factors, I want to have a bias toward action early in the year to lock in some good parts of that series of bets, rather than waiting for some home run swing that may never materialize, and I may still miss on even if it does. Hopefully those thoughts weren’t so unorganized as to be distracting, but maybe my meandering style was perfect for a FAB discussion, because the nuances of it might be why we don’t see a ton of talk about this strategy — it’s a pretty difficult thing to sum up into little bite-sized points.
Let’s get to the rest of the Week 3 breakdown, including the Biggest Signals and Noise of the week, and also my weekly HVT looks. I’ve had some comments about which RBs are worth stashing — this HVT section is typically the type of stuff I’d be looking at. I don’t often hit on a ton of players there, but it’s a great place to start, including the boilerplate notes I have in there every week about how I’m thinking through that data. For this week, I did add a few more specific notes about stashes.
Data for Stealing Signals is typically courtesy of NFL fastR via the awesome Sam Hoppen, but I also pull from RotoViz apps, Pro Football Reference, PFF, RotoGrinders, Add More Funds, and I get my PROE numbers from the great Michael Leone of Establish The Run. Part 1 of Week 1 included a glossary of important statistics to know for Stealing Signals.
Jaguars 38, Chargers 10
RB Snap Notes: James Robinson: 58% (-5 vs. Week 2), Travis Etienne: 43% (+6 vs. W2), Austin Ekeler: 56% (-7 vs. W2), Sony Michel: 23% (-1 vs. previous season high), Joshua Kelley: 21% (-4 vs. previous season low)
WR Snap Notes: DeAndre Carter: 74% (+9 vs. high)
TE Snap Notes: Evan Engram: 76% (+5 vs. high), Gerald Everett: 75% (+8 vs. high)
Key Stat: Trevor Lawrence — 69.4% completion percentage, +3.3 CPOE (2021 — 59.6%, -5.4)
A week ago, the Chargers were one crucial pick-six away from beating the Chiefs in Kansas City and going to 2-0. A week later, they are this:The Chargers: - JC Jackson had preseason ankle injury, played Week 2, then missed Week 3 - Justin Herbert playing through rib cartilage injury - Rashawn Slater out for the year - Joey Bosa left yesterday's game with a groin injury and did not return It's not even Week 4.
Plus Keenan Allen has barely played. I can’t imagine a worse run of injuries for any team in any sport than the Chargers have experienced for the past several years. I’m sure there’s a lot of thought to what strength and conditioning they are doing in the offseason, but this feels more sinister. This is the Spanos Curse cast down from the entire city of San Diego. Only logical explanation.
Jacksonville’s passing game has looked fantastic, and it reinforces how much upward variance there is just by being removed from a really poor situation, which the one-year Urban Meyer era was. Trevor Lawrence looks much better by most metrics, including Completion Percentage Over Expected (CPOE), relative to his rookie season. All three of the main WRs found the end zone in this game, with Zay Jones (11-10-85-1) having the best output, but Christian Kirk (9-6-72-1) also continuing his hot start. Marvin Jones (7-4-33-1) made a really impressive play for his touchdown; though their volume has been fairly similar, I’d rank this receiver corps Kirk then Zay then Marvin.
Evan Engram (3-1-9) had a quiet game, but continues to run a lot of routes, and with the offense looking up, you could make a case he is in line for a value increase at some point, potentially similar to what we saw from David Njoku this week. Engram lost a very close near-TD to review; Gene Steratore thought it should stand as a TD on the broadcast. They might have pieced together multiple shots to determine one of his feet came off the ground before he secured the ball. I’m not sure I’m buying Engram, but if you were inclined to be in on him, there are arguments to try to get him cheaply right now.
James Robinson (17-100-1, 3-3-16) had another long touchdown run on a very well-blocked play, and he stood out when I was looking at the Next Gen Stats this week in that only 26% of his rushes have gone for positive yards relative to expected, which is sixth-worst among 51 qualified runners. That was kind of hard to understand because I had in my notes a whole thing about how maybe I just misunderstand Robinson a bit as a guy who is very efficient with so little wasted movement that he maybe just gets to the hole quicker than most backs. I mean, he does look very good at times! I’ll double down that his long speed wasn’t there again, which is a very stupid point to make the week he rips off his second straight long TD run. My opinion obviously don’t not matter. Travis Etienne (13-45, 3-3-30) for the record is more middle of the pack in that RYOE metric, which is odd because you’d think maybe Robinson would be the more consistent down-to-down rusher but Etienne would be the one ripping off these big plays. Anyway, their usage didn’t shift much this week — Etienne gained back a few snaps, but Robinson still has the clear edge in the passing game with routes on 51% of dropbacks to a season-low 34% for Etienne here. Robinson also got three green zone touches to bring him to six for the year, while Etienne got his first of the season in this game.
The Chargers were bad, man. Mike Williams (6-1-15-1) had another nice contested catch touchdown, but that was his only catch of the game. Josh Palmer (9-6-99) got going a little bit, which was good to see for him. Gerald Everett (6-2-25) was quieter, but his routes ticked up again to a solid season high of 72%. Justin Herbert was obviously battling the rib issue, and they weirdly kept him in to close out this entire game despite the score not really being contested anymore; he should have had another TD on a fourth down right at the very end where DeAndre Carter (4-3-31) caught a pass in the end zone and while his second foot came down out of bounds, I’m pretty sure it was still on the ground from the previous step when he gained control. It was definitely a play that would have been reviewed in a close game but the booth let it go and avoided an extra point and kickoff; the Jaguars kneeled the game out on the very next snap. (I just went back to watch this and it was 100% a TD; if you go back to the play for max pain because you lost a matchup with Herbert by just a couple points, notice that Carter’s right foot is down as he catches it, but even if you think he didn’t catch it cleanly, the overhead angle shows the black rubber pop up as he does drag his right toe on its way out of bounds.)
(Alright, screw it, I’m gonna Zapruder this.)
First pic: Right foot still down when he catches it, but maybe not cleanly.
Second: Rubber from right foot dragging (more visible in video).
Third: Alternate blurry angle that shows ball was controlled when toe dragged.
The big loss for Los Angeles in this game was All-Pro left tackle Rashawn Slater, who is out for the year after a biceps tear. It’s a significant blow to their whole offense.
Austin Ekeler (4-5, 8-8-48) basically had no rushing role in a game where the Chargers only had 10 RB rushes and 12 rush attempts overall. Sony Michel (5-22, 2-1-9) gained work on Joshua Kelley (1-(-3), 2-2-6) in the No. 2 battle, and Kelley’s only rush was a green zone touch where he lost yardage. Ekeler’s receiving role keeps his floor high, which is nice, but we’re still hoping for some more work in near the end zone. Every failed attempt by another back probably moves us that direction. Michel is rosterable at this point as the presumptive No. 2, especially given he’s done more to this point in his career than Kelley.
Signal: Trevor Lawrence — far more comfortable in Doug Pederson’s offense than Urban Meyer’s (may have also just grown, but playing better); Sony Michel — gained on Joshua Kelley in No. 2 battle, seemingly has the edge there, also has done more to this point in his career
Noise: Chargers — 45/12 pass/run ratio (heavy negative script)