“Matt Waldman to aisle 11 for a TE dynasty check…Waldman, TE dynasty check, aisle 11.”
Although the majority of my leagues are dynasty-IDP formats I don’t do dynasty rankings. Barring an unforeseen event, I don’t have the time for at least another 2-3 years. But it’s by far one of my favorite realms of this hobby. This week’s column features some of my team-building philosophies and current tiers patterned after my ideas.
Whether you’re in a startup league or you’ve inherited a team, these strategies are common across the dynasty landscape. You can usually identify which method is closest to what you’re doing. There are hybrids of these blueprints as well as other strategies. I’m only naming the ones I use or consider.
The Sell-Off: Stockpiling as many 1st and 2nd-round picks as possible in exchange for your veteran starters or youth that others value more. A variation of this also strategy includes trading players at the later stages of their prime for ascending talents that haven’t broken through. I’ve seen the entire gamut of outcomes with this blueprint. In one league there’s an owner that has compiled a dream team that has outscored us by 200 points thus far. I’m also in a league where an owner has at least 3-4 first-round picks every 2-3 years because he’s either too impatient with his players’ development or he’s made bad picks and going back to the drawing board. Some of the best owners I know do execute this blueprint well. They generally have a few anchor players on the roster to help this turnaround happen within a year or two.
Win Now: The most practical owners I know treat dynasty leagues like re-draft leagues with the exception of a few minor, but important considerations such as the value of rookie draft picks on the open market, the perception of older players on the open market, and finding ways to continually infuse talent onto your roster.
Slow Builds: The most idealistic blueprint. It’s difficult to hit on enough rookie picks that remain injury-free and develop within a 2-4 year period to create a roster solely from a few draft classes where you haven’t stockpiled 6-8 picks within the first two rounds. There used to be a strong appeal to organically grow a great roster mostly from the assigned draft picks and the waiver wire, but it also requires a certain amount of arrogance to do it this way in competitive leagues. Those who try eventually learn it was tragic hubris. Not that there aren’t successful slow builds, but they’re less common in my leagues.
IDEAS, TECHNIQUES, AND PLANS I USE
Three-Year Windows: I view my team in the scope of a three-year window. As each year passes, I’m continually updating whether that player still has a three-year window or less than a three-year window. I no longer view Peyton Manning, Steve Smith or Marshawn Lynch with a three-year window. Manning and Lynch may have 1-2 years left. Smith is done after 2015.
Whenever I assess my team, I look at players from this perspective and it helps me determine the makeup of my team and the type of blueprint I want to use.
Paying a Premium on QBs: Although I have learned a lot as an evaluator of talent over the past 12 years and it includes the quarterback position, I don’t like drafting rookie quarterbacks unless I have a desperate need or a strong belief in his value compared to his draft position. Quarterback selection and development in the NFL is rife with problems. There are too many factors that can ruin a prospect: too much punishment, coaching and scheme changes, and a lack of focused development on core technical and conceptual issues in favor of enabling the player’s limited, but game-changing athletic skills in the present.
Successful starting quarterbacks tend to have the longest careers. I’d rather pay Bentley prices for Tom Brady, Drew Breesand Aaron Rodgers or the tier below that includes the likes of Philip Rivers, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. It’s safe and sensible.
I know what I’m getting. I can also limit my depth chart to 2-3 QBs and save room for the positions that comprise most of a starting lineup. And I’m not using up a high draft pick every 2-3 years that I’d rather reserve for other positions because of the up-and-down nature of passers that haven’t reached the tier of the options above.
Anchor Players: A premium QB is an anchor player. So is a RB1, WR1, elite (top 3) TE, DE1, or ILB/MLB1 (and possibly an elite OLB in sack-heavy leagues). I determine my anchor players and player windows at the end of each season or before the trading window opens for the next. The more anchor players I have, the better. For most scoring rules, here is my order of priority for anchor players (and the amount of players at the position that generally keep on my rosters in parenthesis):
- QB (2-3): As I mentioned above, the fewer I need on my depth chart, the more room I have elsewhere. They also last.
- TE (1-2): For the same reasons as quarterback. If the scoring gives a premium for tight ends then I’ll increase the allotment to 3-4 players.
- MLB/ILB (6-8): As our staff has discovered, scoring of tackles depends on the conservative/liberal nature of the stats keepers covering the team for the seasons. It’s also hard to find tackling machines on the waiver wire and some of the best have careers that last almost as long as QBs and TEs.
- DE (3-6): The optimal depth chart amount is 3-4 for me, but durability and variability rarely allow me to be at the lower range. That said, I find that I can field a contender most years with one DE1 or multiple 2s/3s in a rotation if I’m strong elsewhere.
- WR (6-8): Career length tends to be strong, but it’s a position that’s easiest to acquire through the draft, trades, and free agency.
- RB (4-6): An elite runner is a most-prized commodity, but most leagues I’m in only allow 1-2 starters so 4-6 backs is more than enough to account for a position with high injury rates, shorter careers, and scheme and offensive line changes that render many of them less useful in any given season.
Cyclers: I know that some of my IDP colleagues argue that defensive back isn’t just a position that one can cycle through free agency week-after-week, and year-after-year, but I tend do so with success. The exception is older or established safeties. I like to keep old safeties like Charles Woodson, who, for the past 3-5 years has defied the predictions of fantasy analysts that his reign of production is coming to an end “this year.” I keep 3-4 corners and safeties on my squad at any given time.
About the Tiers: I love tiers because the order of the players within them aren’t concrete. There’s no single answer that fits all scenarios. Some players are better options for owners where they value a swing-for-the-fence mentality. Elite tight ends often hold their starter as long as wide receivers–sometimes longer. Tony Gonzalez was a top-6 TE until he was 37. A 35-year-old Shannon Sharpe ended his career as the No.2 TE during the 2003 fantasy season. Antonio Gates, Greg Olsen,Jason Witten and Delanie Walker are in their 30s and they’re still going strong.
It’s not a big list, but top hybrid tight ends with field-stretching skills and production after the catch during their 20s often mellow into great zone route specialists with reliable hands in traffic. As the vertical game leaves their arsenal, they still earn volume and the red zone work shines–especially if the tight end has spent 4-6 years with the same quarterback or he’s newly paired with a venerable passer known for his ball placement and anticipation.
ON TE SCORING AND MY SUGGESTED TRADE VALUES
Whenever I think about dynasty leagues and tight end play, it’s difficult not to think about the scoring variations that exist across leagues. It’s something that my buddy Steve Volk, a magazine writer in the Philadelphia area and an avid dynasty owner, mentioned to me last week because I got him into some of my dynasty leagues in recent years where the scoring format awards 1.5 PPR to tight ends and while he understands the desire to recognize top players at each position, he believes this type of scoring is too generous.
There’s a worthwhile debate to be had about this subject (and it won’t begin here). I raise the issue because the values of tight ends like Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen and Martellus Bennett change dramatically with standard scoring, PPR, and FFPC (1.5 PPR) formats.
To split the difference my tiers will be based on PPR formats. One of my readers–a hardcore fantasy player and two-time high-stakes winner–mentioned to me last week that there’s no way he’d get some of the players I had in my first two tiers for one pick and a player. In his leagues, it would require as many as three first-round picks or a combination of multiples/players.
I’m in leagues where the values are that high, too. I’ll remind those of you who felt the same way about the trade values when reading the QB, RB, and WR tiers that I’m writing for an audience with a broad range of league types and levels of expertise. I realize many of you will have to adjust the suggested ante. If you’re in one of these leagues where you’ll need at least first-round picks to acquire a Tier 1-A player, I recommend you add two picks and/or player to each suggested value in parenthesis.
If you’re not going to offer a pick and a starter, then you’ll probably need to offer multiple picks of the round I suggested (or higher) to get the players here.
For example, the top tier may require 2-3 first-round picks. The second tier may require a combo of first and second-round picks. the third tier may require a first-round pick or multiple picks outside the first-round.
Win-Now Premium TEs: These players have at least two years left of a three-year window and can afford you to keep a minimal number of passers on your depth chart on a win-now team with a true window of contention.
Tier 1-A (Players I’d pay a mid-to-high first-round rookie pick and a starter to acquire)
- Rob Gronkowski: Medical information is so important to pre-draft analysis. I learned this first-hand with Gronkowski. I was worried about his back holding up long enough to even become a good NFL starter. Now I’m optimistic that Gronkowski can play well into his 30s and have a similar career trajectory as Jason Witten. The biggest question for Gronkowski might be who will be throwing him the ball in the post-Brady era. Estimating that Gronkowski has at least two, three-year windows is fair, but I’d try to sell the idea that post-Brady could be a huge unknown for the tight end. The hope is you don’t have to pay the premium. Most of you will and ability-wise, it’s worth it.
- Greg Olsen: Remember when we had such high expectations for Olsen in Chicago with Jay Cutler? Most weren’t expecting it to happen with Cam Newton. Then again, many people didn’t think Cam Newton would be as good as he is. I believe Olsen has another 3-5 years in the tank, which isn’t as long of a range as 26-year-old Travis Kelce. The difference is Newton. If Kelce had Newton I might be raising an argument why Kelce is worth more to dynasty owners with rebuilds to value him higher than Gronkowski. Short-term, the Panthers have the quarterback, the defense, and the continuity for Olsen to remain a top-three option for the long haul.
Tier 1-B (Players I’d pay a mid-to-low first-round pick and a starter to acquire)