August 29, 2008

The Even Geekier Approach to Fantasy Football

You would think with trying to keep the blog regular, working a full-time job, keeping active on all kinds of social networks, and raising two month old twins, I wouldn't need yet another time sink. But, clearly not knowing my own limits, I agreed to return to the world of Fantasy Football after taking a two-year hiatus, re-joining the league where I was active from 2001-2005, even though I haven't been paying attention to the NFL at all, and couldn't tell you the starters on just about any squad. So, why do I think I have a chance taking on a group of couch potatoes who have bye weeks and depth charts memorized? The answer: Because I'll be the biggest nerd in the room.

Here's what I do to keep myself challenging for the league title each year:
(I've won the 12-team league twice in five years and finished second once):

1. I don't pick favorite teams or favorite players.

When I was growing up, the San Francisco 49ers were the team of the decade. They won four Super Bowls, and Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott and Roger Craig were superstars. But in the last decade or so, the team might as well have fallen into the Bay, and I don't really care. As a result, I'm not drafting them too highly or unfairly promoting my hatred of their rival.

2. I only bring a laptop to draft day, not a pile of magazines and highlighters.

While some guys show up with their dog-eared copies of ESPN the Magazine and Sports Illustrated or Football Weekly, and six colored markers, as well as the year's bye week schedule and an up to the minute injury report, I just bring my laptop and have Microsoft Excel ready to go. While they shuffle papers around and debate how their home mock drafts differ from the real deal, I'm ready to sort and click between tabs to find my data.

3. I believe past performance is the best indicator of future performance.

I don't need to see teams play or practice to believe a quarterback and a wide receiver have "chemistry", or need to see if a guy has had a good off-season regimen. Instead, the most important data is how well they performed relative to their peers at the position in previous years, according to the rules of the league you are playing.

My 2004 Data Set With 2003 Results

That said, I use the tools that are available to get the data I want, and it all goes into Excel, including:
  • A worksheet that shows the previous years' league results, sortable by position, name, team, total points, overall points ranking, and average points per week.
  • A worksheet that shows the bye weeks
  • A worksheet that shows the most recent injury report, by team
  • One or more worksheet with the proposed draft order from ESPN or USA Today
I then create two net new tabs, including:
  • A worksheet that will display the team I have drafted.
  • A worksheet that tracks the entire league's draft for the season
Once all the data is in there, I'm ready to go to work, as soon as the draft starts. As picks are made by each other team, I quickly highlight those who are off the board in multiple places - on the tab showing last year's statistics, and on the mock draft boards from ESPN and USA Today. At this point, the draft isn't that much different in Excel as it is on paper, but as time progresses, and the all too typical first few rounds get chewed up by running backs, quarterbacks and the occasional wide receiver, my preparedness has an advantage.

If your fantasy football league was online last year, all you usually have to do is go to last season's end of year report, and do a copy/paste into Excel, which will recognize all the columns and set you up for sorting nirvana. If at first you don't succeed... keep trying until you do. Worst case, save the pages as HTML and you can bring them to the draft day on the laptop.

The 2004 Draft, A Down Year for Me

Where others are deciding whether to take a team defense or their third running back, I can go and use Excel's Sort option to its fullest. I can take the highest players available based on their points per game average from the previous season, or do the same to fill a position I need. I can know whether taking a good quarterback will mean all that much relative to the next highly rated option, or if I should keep filling the backfield.

My 2004 Roster, For Example

And the latest rounds are where I make a killing. At this point, especially as most drafts are on Saturday mornings, and guys are joking around about taking players who are injured, or complaining about how the guy just before them snaked Fred Taylor or Torry Holt, I can sneak in and find players that were rated highly last year or by the major sports publications, yet haven't been drafted.

In 2004, my 10th round pick ended up being Willis McGahee of the Bills. In 2005, I got Larry Johnson of the Chiefs in round 12, who ended up being excellent injury protection for Priest Holmes, scoring 17 touchdowns on 1,549 yards rushing. As the rest of the teams use all the allotted time, often accidentally drafting players that have already been taken, my turn comes around every 12th pick, and I look to my Excel sheets for the answer. Yes, they overlooked my secret weapon, and I'll be setting myself up for the win, again.

This year's draft time is 10 a.m. tomorrow morning, and I've made it a little more fun by getting Drew Olanoff of ReadBurner and Strands to be part of the festivities, as well as two friends from work, all of whom are joining the league for the first time. We'll see who wins the battle of Fantasy Football geeks.