The objective of Money in the Banana Stand is to be the No. 1 fantasy site for contrarian viewpoints. My goal as a fantasy football player is to be the best in the world. To make either of those claims, it’s important to actually go back and grade yourself. Like anyone, I’m wrong on a lot of my individual projections, and I’m also right on some apparently bizarre takes. If you make enough crazy predictions, it’s easy to link back to the few that were correct. The key to providing value is to have a methodology for judging your ideas and strategies in a way that holds up to examination.
Before the season, I explained that the Banana Stand should be your place for fantasy football info because I actually play fantasy football. And not just a little. And not just in recreational leagues, or, for that matter, in ‘expert’ leagues (which might actually be easier than recreational leagues). I’ve played in nearly 200 leagues over the past three seasons, many of which were high stakes. During that time period, I’ve won a lot of titles and finished in the Top 10 of national contests.
At the beginning of this season I wrote about playing in many high stakes leagues again. In fact, on the final preseason weekend, I twice completed three Main Event drafts simultaneously (two on the internet while doing one over the phone). I also participated in PFF’s startup dynasty league with full IDP. (Although this is an expert league, I think its writers are some of the best in the world because they’re actually required to be well-versed in PFF’s advanced stats, not just spin platitudes. Then again, I’m obviously biased.)
Now that the regular season is over, it’s time to look at how the Banana Stand performed in those leagues. If my results in actual leagues are far superior to what is likely to be achieved by luck, then the crazy ideas espoused in this space may have significant value.
The National Fantasty Football Championship
The Banana Stand entered 29 teams in the various NFFC offerings. The goal was to spread around risk, continue to build experience, and create the best chance to win one of the big prizes.
For those who haven’t spent a lot of time analyzing the high stakes space, the National Fantasy Football Championship is less recreational than the FFPC. Unlike most formats, only three of the 12 teams advance to the playoffs in the two Main Events (Classic and Primetime). The Online Championship is even less forgiving with only the top two teams advancing to the playoffs. The NFFC is also more egalitarian. While head-to-head matchups matter, record only determines one of the playoff spots. This means you can finished tied for first and not be one of the qualifiers (which one of our teams accomplished). Teams who split best record and most points have a three week playoff to be crowned league champion.
Due to the format, the chances of making the playoffs across the 29 teams is approximately 20%. This season 15 of our 29 teams qualified and another squad finished 7th in the consolation out of 1,500-plus teams. All five of our teams that were forced to go extras to determine the league championship emerged victorious.*
*Banana Stand owners Shawn and Tyson Siegele have now cashed more than 25 times in the NFFC and count among only a handful of participants to have ever won three or more Main Event league titles.
At the beginning of the season I published my final board. To see how that created dominant teams, the full breakdown follows. (I italicized some of the meaningful contributors who were lost to injuries late but simply removed guys like Ryan Williams who went down early.)
Primetime Main Event
Other Hand of Darkness (Best Record, League Champion)
QB: Andrew Luck
This team began by selecting Jones and Gronkowski in the first two rounds. Although Jones was mildly underwhelming and Gronkowski was lost to injury, it won the league title due to the presence of breakout runners Martin and Spiller. As I wrote in my QB preview for the PFF Draft Guide, late round quarterbacks emerge every season. By the time this year’s preseason was over, I was convinced Andrew Luck would score at least as many points as Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger. He ended up scoring quite a few more.
The Calamity Refrain (Most Points, League Champion)
QB: Matthew Stafford
RB: Spiller, Alfred Morris
For much of the season, The Refrain was hamstrung by wasting a third round pick on Stafford. It was mired far out of playoff contention at 3-6 after nine weeks. However, an average of 180 points per game over the final month rocketed them to the point lead in an evenly balanced league. This squad finished the comeback with a Primetime-leading 213 points in Week 13. While QB and RB are overvalued on draft day, TE tends to be undervalued. Having depth at the position was crucial with Hernandez and Gronkowski each available for big stretches where the other wasn’t. Once again, this squad’s RBs were culled from the breakout ranks.
The Fabled Leviathan (Second Place)
RB: Martin, Spiller, Mikel Leshoure
The Leviathan almost failed in its quest to jump from 4th into the playoffs when Jordy Nelson went out early on the final weekend. Garcon’s big game on Monday night completed the comeback, however, as the team rallied for 175 points. Most fantasy owners do not like to overdraft WRs but depth at the most important position is key. Pierre Garcon missed most of the season, and Kenny Britt was almost worse than worthless. He sucked the life out of his spot every time I plugged him in. Even if you go WR-heavy, you can still end up with good running back depth as you see here. Because this team lacked a true TE1, I rostered an absurd four TEs in hopes that one would emerge.
AKA Duchess (Second Place)
QB: Peyton Manning
TE: Gronkowski, Rudolph
AKA Duchess lost the points lead in the final week of the regular season. The injury to Gronkowski played a crucial role, but it didn’t help that a solid second RB never materialized. Even in that situation, fielding stars at the other positions is usually worth having a void at RB2.
The Swearengen Solution (3rd Place)
RB: Spiller, Leshoure, Morris, Knowshon Moreno
WR: Megatron, Harvin, D. Thomas, Miles Austin, Torrey Smith
TE: Gronkowski, Heath Miller
The Swearengen Solution appeared poised to run away with its division until injuries to Harvin and Gronkowski slowed its performance down the stretch. It lost the battle for H2H supremacy in Week 12 when Miles Austin posted one of his patented zeroes. But injuries are a part of fantasy football. A good draft plan creates redundancy. Despite serious start/sit mismanagement, the Solution put up 180 points in Week 13 to rally back into the playoffs. It then finished in 20th place overall during the Race for $150,000.
Darkhorse Joker (Wild Card)
RB: Ridley, Spiller, Leshoure, Jonathan Stewart
WR: Megatron, Harvin, Decker, Garcon
TE: Gronkowski, Finley
The Joker was leading one of the NFFC’s toughest leagues until Harvin and Gronkowski went down. Garcon’s return and a solid trio of RBs, helped it earn one of only two Wild Cards that were awarded in the entire contest.
The Classic Main Event (14-team format)
5-Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique (3rd Place League – 9th Place Overall)
QB: Locker, Colin Kaepernick
RB: Jamaal Charles, Spiller, Wilson
WR: Megatron, D. Thomas, Austin, Britt, Garcon, Shorts
TE: Rudolph, Brent Celek
This is a 14-team format where depth is much, much harder to come by. While QB scarcity is largely nonexistent in 12-team formats, it becomes a precious commodity when you add two more fiercely competitive teams. Due to the early season injury to Jake Locker, this squad was faced with starting guys like Ryan Tannehill for much of the year. The NFFC is very QB-friendly, so that was a mini-disaster. Fortunately, this team exploded when Megatron got on his roll and Cecil Shorts emerged. With Pierre Garcon finally back, the 5PtPalm put up a contest-high 203 points in Week 13 to overcome a 70-point deficit in making the playoffs. The late season waiver wire addition of Colin Kaepernick vaulted this squad to the top of the contenders for the $75,000 grand prize. In fact, there were even some difficult start/sit choices in the playoffs, a rarity for 14-team leagues where just fielding a viable flex is often a touch-and-go proposition. In the end, O-Ren Ishii and company fell short, but with a 9th place finish, the 5PtPalm actually has back-to-back Top 10 finishes in the most competitive contest in all of fantasy football. (Suffice it to say that’s a team name I won’t be retiring.)
Space Emperors of Space (3rd Place)
QB: Luck, Locker
TE: Greg Olsen, Dennis Pitta
To help demonstrate the vagaries of win/loss, the Space Emperors were 4-8 and last in record out of fourteen teams heading into Week 13. (Of course, that’s what will happen when you don’t have a RB2 and your WR cadre scores almost no points in the first month.) The final regular season week changed everything. Despite the 1.3 put up by erstwhile starter Shane Vereen, the Space Emperors scored 188 points behind the triple-barreled barrage of Luck, Megatron, and the suddenly ascendant Bryant. In another example of the way depth is important, Larry Fitzgerald spent most of the season firmly on the bench for this team with Cecil Shorts becoming the all-important WR4 who fits into the flex. Even with some serious holes on paper, the ability to go WR-heavy allowed this team to overcome eleven others for the final playoff spot.
Twilight Red 20 (Most Points, Best Record, 6th place regular season finish out of 1872 teams)
RB: Charles, Martin, Leshoure
WR: Megatron, Harvin, D. Thomas, Britt, Danario Alexander
This was my highest scoring team in the regular season. With the flex position manned by a rotation of running backs and Danario Alexander stepping up in Harvin’s absence, Twilight Red 20 didn’t miss a beat when one of its most important players went down. As one of my few teams without Rob Gronkowski, this squad actually benefited from his injury. Led by Griffin and with breakout players everywhere, my best squad averaged 158 points a game on the way to blowing out the competition.
Beyond Event Horizon (Most Points, Best Record, 11th place finish overall in playoff race)
QB: Griffin III
RB: Martin, Morris
WR: Megatron, J. Jones, Nicks, Decker, Britt
TE: Rudolph, Pitta
This was the only late season draft I saw where Julio Jones dropped into the mid-second round. That would have been a bigger deal if he’d performed like a first round pick. Still, this squad blew up in the playoffs and was in the contention for the overall title, giving the Banana Stand a Top 15 finish to pair with its Top 10 finish in 2010.
New Pattern Army (Most Points, League Champion)
QB: Griffin III
RB: Spiller, Morris
WR: Megatron, Fitzgerald, Nicks, D. Thomas, L. Moore
TE: Hernandez, Rudolph, Tamme
It’s crazy now to think that I drafted Demaryius Thomas as my WR4 on many squads. I had him ranked as the preseason No. 5 WR but gambled on him reaching the fourth or fifth round in most drafts. It’s a lucky thing that Lance Moore – whom I wasn’t high on – fell to me in the 12th round of this draft, because Fitzgerald was unplayable.
Eschew Obfuscation (Best Record, League Champion)
RB: Spiller, Morris, D. Brown
WR: Megatron, J. Jones, Cruz, D. Thomas, Roberts
TE: Vernon Davis, Chandler, Pitta
If not for the cratering value of every tight end on my roster, this might have been my most talented team heading into the playoffs. This squad had four Top 10 caliber wide receivers to go with Spiller and Morris, not to mention the incomparable Robert Griffin III.
72 Unforced Errors (Best Record, League Champion)
QB: Griffin, Luck
RB: LeSean McCoy, Charles, Morris, Leshoure
WR: Nicks, D. Thomas, Randall Cobb, Shorts
This team shows why I don’t recommend taking RBs in the first round. McCoy was lost down the stretch, but for much of the season I had to keep a very startable runner on the bench. Meanwhile, with Nicks struggling, WR was always an adventure. Even though this was the one team where I fell into Randall Cobb, this roster didn’t put up competitive point totals at the position until the WW pickup of Shorts. Losing McCoy on this squad wasn’t nearly as devastating as losing Gronkowksi was for my Gronk squads. That should give you pause when considering the relative value of positions.
Turtles All the Way Down (Second Place)
RB: McCoy, Martin, Leshoure
WR: J. Jones, D. Thomas, Nicks
TE: Rudolph, Gresham, Pitta
Turtles missed McCoy more because injuries at WR made the Flex position an adventure.
Crazytown Bananapants (Second Place)
QB: Griffin, Russell Wilson
RB: Charles, Martin
WR: Megatron, Bryant, T. Smith, Britt
TE: Rudolph, Olsen
Crazytown was a bizarre team which suffered a lot of close losses and scored 110 points or fewer three times (which is awful in this format). At one point Crazytown was 2-6 and miles out of contention, leaving me marveling that such a talented squad on paper could be so horrific. On the other hand, when the Bananapants were good, they were very, very good. Over the final five weeks, Crazytown scored 175 points or more four times. Behind the explosions of RG3, Megatron, and Bryant, it made up the stagger with a fury and came up just 16 points shy of winning the points title outright. Late season pickup Ryan Broyles was manning the flex position in Week 13, and, if he hadn’t torn his ACL on the Lions’ first drive, I think they might have made it.
Final NFFC Conclusions
I wrote the QB and RB previews for the 2012 PFF Draft Guide. In those sections I explained what I believe to be the two key points that led to these titles. First, QB13 and QB14 have averaged more points above replacement in the past 8 years than the average of QB2 through QB12. Some of that is just a statistical fluke, and whether RG3 and Andrew Luck were the thirteenth and fourteenth selected quarterbacks in your league is largely irrelevant. What’s important to note is the possibility, indeed the near certainty, of late round quarterback values. Whether you believed that RG3 and Andrew Luck would continue the trend Cam Newton started or you decided to go with Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton, or Josh Freeman, the point is that it was difficult to miss on mid-round quarterbacks as long as you didn’t restrict yourself to only one selection (drafters who went with the combo platter of Jake Locker and Joe Flacco might beg to differ; then again, Flacco had already established a track record of fantasy irrelevance).
In the RB section, I explained the importance of drafting runners with speed and agility who have value in the passing game. My point was not only that these runners are still undervalued in fantasy despite the ubiquity of PPR, but that those players make excellent breakout candidates. The cluster of runners I targeted included Charles, Martin, Spiller, and Ridley. Although they did not fit the profile, I also selected Alfred Morris and Mikel Leshoure in many leagues due to the intersection of opportunity and value. It may seem like it was lucky to get so much value with mid-round picks, but upside down drafting yields this type of bounty every year.
If you go back to my preseason Draft Board, the rankings for many of these runners seem ridiculously high for what we knew about them going in, but that again misses the point. You don’t have to hit on all of your picks – I drafted Kevin Smith, Ryan Williams, and David Wilson in the single digit rounds for many, many teams – in order for the strategy to work. We just need to know that runners who fit the profile break out year after year. If you take one running back in the first six rounds and then select four more between rounds 7 and 11, you’re rarely going to end up short at running back.
The PFF Dynasty
It was a great first year for the Banana Stand as I drafted in an effort to win in the inaugural year and beyond. I used a hybrid strategy of trading away future picks for current stars but also taking players age 25 or younger in each of the first 25 rounds. Team Siegele finished with the best record and the most points. I recorded the high score in six of the thirteen weeks and posted the five highest regular season scores in the contest. I did eventually fall to Bryan Fontaine in the finals, but the point gap between my team and Bryan’s was the same as the gap between his and the sixth place squad.
How it was done: As I usually do, I eschewed running backs early and instead loaded up on wide receivers and tight ends. First round pick Rob Gronkowski was injured, but an early-season trade for Jimmy Graham left me solid at the position. (The flex rules in this league highly incentivize the possession of two elite tight ends.) I’m set for the future with Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones, and Hakeem Nicks but also have Andre Johnson due to a mid-season trade. Keys to the team were the selection of No. 1 overall player (by VORP) J.J. Watt, the No. 1 safety William Moore, and a blockbuster trade to acquire RG3 during the draft. My running back position is manned by Alfred Morris, a preseason waiver acquisition, and 13th round draft pick Mikel Leshoure.
I had never participated in a Dynasty or IDP league before this one, but my redraft teams often have a Dynasty startup flavor, so my normal strategies worked well. The draft for this league was a slow draft that occurred over several weeks and included an insane number of trades. My strategy of trading up created a deep and talented roster.
In both fantasy and reality, GMs overvalue mid and late round picks, while undervaluing undrafted free agents. Because of all the trades, I had almost the entire 45th Round to myself. I enjoyed the comic nature of that and then quickly replaced those guys with free agents such as Alfred Morris, Jerrell Freeman, Reshad Jones, and Corey Liuget.