The Gut Check No.272 – Upside Down Strategy Update

Lacy is prime candidate for Upside Down drafts. Photo by Mike Pettigano.
Lacy is a prime candidate for Upside Down drafts. Photo by Mike Pettigano.

The Upside Down Strategy is not my own; it’s simply one of several methods I write about. Still, many of my readers – including two FPPC winners – have credited it for helping them build exceptional rosters in a high-stakes format and even a counter-terrorism expert has told me the basic philosophy that “once something becomes conventional, it’s no longer safe,” is something he relates to with his investigative work as well as his new-found success with fantasy teams. 

At the day job, I interviewed an exec running one of the bigger number-crunching outfits on Madison Avenue. Although his firm didn’t do the work, he heads up a team with the type of skill sets that helped a company like Target eerily predict pregnancy based on shopping habits. We talked about analytics – even touching on the stats movement in football.

This man has extensive training with statistical modeling, but what he told me is that his fellow “quants” often fail to generate insights that make a difference in their respective businesses because of the way they use data. His criticism is that the quants use a lot of binary calculations and the results validate safe decision-making.

Decision-making too safe for running a business where the mission is to win customers’ eyeballs, hearts, and wallets with ad campaigns.

He was speaking my language when he elaborated that playing it safe rarely creates exceptional results. There’s only one winner in fantasy football, but I know owners – whether they know it or not – who draft like their primary goal is to make the playoffs. In fact, I’d argue most of us do.

The primary motivation is to build a team good enough to earn a playoff spot. Then as the playoffs get closer, focus on refining that roster to contend for a championship. I think the underlying thought is to make the playoffs so you don’t look like a bad fantasy football player.

Football fans who play fantasy football absorb the same mentality that NFL teams have: you’re great if you win a championship; you’re very good if you go to the championship; you’re good if you make the playoffs; and you’re not good if you miss the playoffs.

It doesn’t help that most fantasy leagues award money for making the playoffs or scoring the most points. This is an incentive to be good, but not great; play it safe, but don’t go for greatness; and win, but only if you don’t have to risk losing big.

It’s not a popular line of thought, but there’s truth in those words.

In a year where the pervading thought is to take running backs early, acquire a stud tight end, and wait on quarterbacks and wide receivers, the radical approach is to acquire the best non-runners for your starting lineup and use the middle and late rounds to acquire a huge block of runners for your roster. The fundamental reason for this approach’s efficacy is the short career span, high rate of injury, and fairly high turnover within the top-12 and top-24 rankings of running backs from one year to the next. I call this the Upside Down Draft Strategy. You can find details here.

Most of you already get the gist of this strategy. You’re here to find out which middle and late-round runners I’m touting for your drafts this month. I’m writing three articles to profile these backs within the context of walking you through multiple Upside Down Draft plans – the first one at the early turn (1st overall pick); the second with a middle pick (6th spot); and the final strategy at the turn (12th spot) – so you can see how it all fits together.

I think this strategy is best-suited for the following league formats:

  • PPR leagues with lineups of 1QB/2RBs/3WR/1TE.
  • PPR leagues with lineups as above, but with a flex at RB, WR, or TE.
  • Premium PPR leagues with 1.5 points for TE and a flex at RB, WR, or TE.
  • Non-PPR leagues with 1QB/2RB/4WR/1TE and a flex at RB, WR, or TE.

The example below is for a 12-team league.  

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