Pai Mei, Zero RB, and the NFFC – A 2013 Report Card

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Editor’s Note: This looks at the Banana Stand results through the regular season and isn’t updated for the Gronk injury, for example.

I write a lot of stuff for RotoViz and Pro Football Focus that’s pretty far out of the mainstream. When someone sounds like a crackpot, the most likely explanation is that they are, in fact, a crackpot. I hope that isn’t the case.

Ideas are valuable in their own right – even if they prove unfounded. Most innovations begin with a trial-and-error process that is heavy on the error. But the value of ideas passed off as fact should be judged by whether or not those ideas work. In order to test my ideas, I like to play high stakes fantasy football. If the value of things like the Agility Score, Vision Yards, Dominator Rating, Height-adjusted Speed Score, and Zero RB can be found in their application to reality and fantasy pursuits, then the proof should be in the pudding. If the Sim Scores developed by RotoViz creator Frank DuPont provide a competitive advantage and the advanced stats generated by PFF’s game charters hold a special insight, then someone using those tools ought to be able to produce some decent results.

This is my report card.

The Contest

I play high stakes with my brother and Banana Stand co-owner, Tyson Siegele. Our format of choice is the National Fantasy Football Championship, a contest run by Tom Kessenich and Greg Ambrose. NFFC innovations include Third Round Reversal, KDS draft positions, and the strongest playoff format in the industry. Because of the strength of the format, it’s populated by many of the best fantasy football players in the world, including guys like Chad Schroeder, Jared Danielson, Tom Yates, Glenn Schroter, Michael Edelman, David Hughes, and many, many more.

This season we entered 14 Main Events, four in the Classic (the world’s premier 14-team format) and 10 in the Primetime. In each individual league, the top three teams advance to the playoffs. If a team finishes with the best record and most points through 13 weeks, that team finishes first and the next two teams in points finish second and third. If two teams split record and points, those teams face a three-week playoff for the title that runs concurrently to the Grand Prize portion of the contest.

The Classic has 280 total teams and a $100,000 grand prize. The Primetime sports 432 teams and a $150,000 grand prize. It seems vanishingly unlikely that anyone could win both, but, if accomplished, that triggers a $75,000 bonus for a cool $325,000.

This is how our teams performed.

NFFC Classic

5 Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique – Most Points/Best Record, No. 3 Finish Overall

QB: Jay Cutler/Josh McCown, Ryan Tannehill

RB: Le’Veon Bell, Pierre Thomas

WR: Calvin Johnson, Alshon Jeffery, Pierre Garcon, Jordy Nelson

TE: Jimmy Graham, Charles Clay

This is one of the two teams I wrote about for RotoViz in Zero RB, Antifragility, and the Myth of Value-Based Drafting. The three top-rated players on my board this season were Calvin Johnson, Jamaal Charles, and Jimmy Graham. My preferred strategy was to pair Megatron and Graham every time that opportunity presented itself.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Le’Veon Bell, especially since he was injured when I drafted him, but I have great faith in my Agility Score model and he finished as far and away the top runner in  Ryan Rouillard’s breakthrough running back evaluation model. I felt he represented a steal in the reality draft and a good value once his injury knocked him into the sixth round of fantasy formats.

Alshon Jeffery was the one player I tried to target for every team. It’s worth repeating again. Jeffery was the best SEC receiver in 2010 despite the presence of A.J. Green and Julio Jones. I’d challenge anyone to check out his stats, watch the video of his second touchdown catch against Minnesota, and not admit it’s possible he ends up as the best NFL receiver of the three.

The Revelator – Most Points, No. 8 Overall

 QB: Nick Foles, Alex Smith

RB: L. Bell, Chris Ivory

WR: Megatron, Andre Johnson, Jeffery, Nelson, Cecil Shorts

TE: Rob Gronkowski

In a recent RotoViz email chain we were looking at the disparate narratives surrounding highly drafted players who hold the ball too long (Andrew Luck), and undrafted players who hold the ball too long (Case Keenum). In doing this, I noticed an interesting fact about Nick Foles. He doesn’t exactly get rid of the ball quickly. Nick Foles ranks No. 34 in the NFL in time to attempt. He also ranks No. 2 in the NFL in passer rating on passes released in 2.5 seconds or less (behind Peyton) and No. 1 in passer rating on passes released in 2.5 seconds or more.

Perhaps scheme makes a difference? I was cautiously optimistic about the way Chip Kelly’s offense would translate to the NFL. As an extreme outsider myself, I tend not to believe statements like “such and such gimmick offense won’t work in the NFL.” Some schemes will work, and some won’t. The test is in the strength of the idea, not where that idea came from or who it belonged to. The Eagles have a very poor receiving corps and a comically immobile quarterback, and yet Philadelphia has been shredding defenses and moving the ball at will. Over the second half of the season, Foles has been a Top 5 quarterback, and he’s another prime example of the dominance of Late Round QB.

Those that failed: Our other two teams were a little too heavy on guys like Julio Jones, Mike Williams, and Lamar Miller. But the biggest problem may have been the absence of a big time tight end. They did not make the playoffs.

 

The Primetime

 

Other Hand of Darkness – Most Points/Best Record, No. 3 Overall

QB: Peyton Manning

RB: Le’Veon Bell, Zac Stacy, Pierre Thomas, Andre Ellington

WR: Dez Bryant, Josh Gordon, Jeffery, A. Johnson, Nelson, Garcon

TE: Jared Cook, Delanie Walker, Rob Housler

This is the prototype Zero RB team, and the other squad I featured in the Zero RB in Real Events article. In addition to Peyton Manning, this team has the wide receivers who finished No. 2, 7, 8, 9, 12, and 13. There were occasional issues. My roster management was actually very poor. I had Andre Johnson benched during his 49.9 point Week 9 and Jeffery benched this past week when he put up 48.9. Had I managed the unit better, it would have been very close on Monday Night Football for most points overall in the entire contest.

Beyond Le’Veon Bell, there was one more running back I really liked in this draft class. I wrote quite a bit about Stacy before the NFL Draft, suggesting his closest comp was Ray Rice. After our PFF rookie draft, I explained that Stacy was my No. 2 ranked rookie in the class. Unfortunately, he’s not on all of my rosters. I was pushed off of him slightly when he broke camp as the No. 4 runner on the St. Louis depth chart, but my earlier conviction led to a waiver pickup in many leagues a week before his breakout. Two things are important here. Stacy’s advanced collegiate metrics weren’t just good. They were extraordinary. Don’t lose confidence in a player you’ve identified just because the scouts don’t like him. They’re wrong a lot more often than they’re right. Second, don’t buy the idea that wide receivers are easier to find than runners in free agency. The exact opposite is the case.

The Dude Abides – Most Points/Best Record, No. 6 Overall

QB: Russell Wilson, Foles, A. Smith

RB: Stacy, Mike Tolbert, Fozzy Whitaker, Dennis Johnson

WR: Megatron, Gordon, Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, Garcon, Shorts, Danny Amendola

TE: Delanie Walker, Zac Ertz

I love Russell Wilson and when he was available in Round 10, I couldn’t help taking him. (If you want to read several quality articles on Wilson, google Charles Kleinheksel, RotoViz, and Wilson. And just read all of Charles’ stuff while you’re at it. You won’t be disappointed.) I probably still shouldn’t have taken Wilson. Quarterbacks do grow on trees.

I may have gone overboard in this draft. I took seven receivers in the first eight rounds and sandwiched Daryl Richardson in Round 5. When I finally stopped taking receivers, I took Jermichael Finley. So in the first 10 rounds I selected seven receivers, a bust, a guy who got injured, and a luxury QB. You know what you can fall back on when you miss on your other picks? Receivers.

Sometimes people get worried about Zero RB and posit the question: well, what if you miss with your mid-round picks and free agent pickups? The answer is that sometimes you’ll have a bad team but sometimes you’ll still win your league by three games and 237 points.

 Terms of Enrampagement – Best Record/Most Points, No. 7 Overall

QB: Wilson, Cutler/McCown

RB: Jamaal Charles, L. Bell, Rashard Mendenhall, Ellington

WR: Gordon, Jeffery, Garcon, Rueben Randle

TE: Gronkowski

With Megatron falling to me in most drafts, I didn’t end up with Jamaal Charles very frequently, but I was happy with him when he did. Charles is not only the best running back in the NFL, he’s easily the best running back in the NFL. He’s also a perfect fit for Andy Reid’s offense and the one player in the NFL who might have LaDainian Tomlinson or Priest Holmes upside if the Chiefs offense takes strides next year.

Sterling’s working title team put up 221 points behind Josh Gordon and Alshon Jeffery in Week 13 to win the showdown over the Apostles of Purple Jesus and also rally into the points lead. Injuries can make a huge impact in fantasy football, but they don’t always determine your fate. This team also had Julio Jones.

AKA Duchess – Best Record, No. 8 Overall

QB: A. Smith, Cutler

RB: L. Bell, P. Thomas, C. Ivory

WR: Megatron, Gordon, Nelson, Garcon

TE: Graham, Ertz

Much of the fantasy community spent the summer and fall bashing Alex Smith. It was almost as though we were collectively offended by the idea that Smith was in the NFL at all. I can understand getting in a rut where you’re perhaps no longer objective about a particular subject. I write quite a bit about how Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch are overrated (Peterson on situation and Lynch on talent). The difference is in your exposure to risk. Peterson and Lynch represent very high leverage picks and carry a ton of risk if a player drafts them and is wrong. In the area where you might select Alex Smith, you’ve got nothing but upside. Failing to understand the reasons Smith was going to be a big fantasy factor really hurts your audience. Anyway, Smith currently sits as QB13 and is very playable in plus matchups.

 The Fabled Leviathan – Most Points, No. 11 Overall

QB: A. Smith, Cutler

RB: Reggie Bush, Shane Vereen

WR: Megatron, Gordon, Garcon, Keenan Allen, Shorts

TE: Gronkowski, Jordan Cameron

I’m not really convinced Reggie Bush is any good. In fact, I think Joique Bell is probably a better player, but Lions runners have been PPR gold the last several seasons. (Another example of the impact of Calvin Johnson, the best player in the NFL.) I was also very ambivalent about Shane Vereen – he fits a profile that’s below the general threshold for NFL success – but I try to target pass catching backs in the middle rounds, and his ADP remained pretty favorable in the NFFC.

Keenan Allen is another player I was very high on this summer. In fact, I sent the Fantasy Douche several rambling emails explaining why Detroit should really draft him at No. 5 overall and put him with Megatron to form an unstoppable juggernaut. Of course, that was before the PCL injury lingered and the 4.71 and the Lions decided to pass at him at No. 5 overall and No. 36 overall and No. 65 overall. (But hey, they have Darius Slay and Larry Warford.) That was before the San Diego Chargers – a team that actually believed in him enough to draft him – tried to pretend he might sit the bench behind guys like Vincent Brown and Malcom Floyd. Uh huh. And Tom Stoppard is going to sit the bench behind James Patterson.

Anyway, I’m glad I got Allen here, but I wish he were on more teams. Due to the presence of Vereen, Allen, and Gronkowski, three guys who didn’t contribute for big chunks of the season, I think this team may be my best shot to win it all.

Eschew Obfuscation – Second Most Points (Third Place), No. 16 Overall

QB: Smith, Cutler, Carson Palmer

RB: Vereen, P. Thomas, Mendenhall

WR: Demaryius Thomas, Marshall, Jeffery, Nelson, Hakeem Nicks

TE: Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett

Demaryius Thomas was the No. 3 receiver on my board, and the top receiver pick for two of my teams that missed the playoffs. Eschew Obfuscation received nearly the same boost from the return of Gronkowski and Vereen as the reality Patriots and found itself on the cusp of the league championship. It entered Week 13 only three points out of first. Unfortunately, it was outscored 175-163 on the final weekend and dropped the points title.

 Friscalating Dusklight – Most Points, No. 27 Overall

QB: Foles, Cutler

RB: Charles, Bell, Stacy, Lamar Miller

WR: Jeffery, Allen, Garcon, Randle

TE: Graham, Gronkowski

With Gronkowski’s injury situation creating an ADP bubble, this was one of the few opportunities to get both Graham and Gronk without having to burn a first round pick. Selecting both players allowed me to eventually start an elite Flex and simultaneously create a huge gap at TE between my squad and the rest of the league.

I missed on Lamar Miller this year. He’s more of a fixture on my non-playoff teams than my stronger squads. He acts as an object lesson in why Zero RB tends to be better than the supposedly safer WR-WR-RB-RB start. On the other hand, I like him as a ZRB/post-hype target next year.

Those that failed: Our other three teams missed the playoffs. Two of these three teams had Julio Jones, partially demonstrating the impact of injury luck on a squad’s playoff chances. But the bigger problem was probably a more RB-heavy bent on these squads. It’s simply crucial to draft enough receiving firepower to overcome all obstacles.

The Final Tally 

14 Main Events, 4 Outright Titles, 4 Title Splits, and 1 Third Place finish for a cash rate of 64%. If you assume fantasy football is a game of luck, the expected cash rate for these 14 contests would be 24%. We placed two of our Classic teams in the Top 10 and seven Primetime teams in the Top 30, including five in the Top 11. That’s a small improvement over last season where we qualified 8 total Main Event teams for the playoffs. If you want external verification of these results, the final regular season NFFC standings, can be found here.

A few notes about other leagues

PFF Dynasty (with full IDP): Two years in, and the Banana Stand holds two regular season most points/best record titles. Hopefully, I can turn the tables on Bryan Fontaine this year in the playoffs.

Speaking of Bryan, this seems like a good time to mention that he was very high on Josh Gordon. He wrote what may have been the most important fantasy article I read all summer and used his own advice to win his FBG league. (Or it may have been this Gordon article by the Fantasy Douche, who followed his own advice to win his FBG league. Or this one by Davis Mattek, a guy you should follow if you’re done with football for the year and ready for some NBA DFS.) You may have noticed Gordon was on a lot of my NFFC playoff teams. My hearty thanks to all of those guys.

Iron Throne Dynasty (with full IDP): The Casterly Rock Lannisters – that’s me – face the juggernaut squad of @PFF_RossMiles in the semifinals this week. I decided to go upside-upside-down in this year’s startup draft going with IDPs early, followed by mid-round runners, followed by late round receivers. The results were fairly disastrous. The Lannisters snuck into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed and now that Gronk and Miller are starting to contribute there’s at least a chance of pulling the upset here. Editors note: I lost.

BroJackson Cartel: This awesome 32-team, two-conference league run by the incomparable Ramon Ramirez has been a blast. My entry, the Adherents of the Repeated Meme, led the Serie 1 from start to almost finish and put up the most points. Unfortunately, my 4-team division featured the other elite squad and a Week 13 matchup with the Peyton-Peterson owner resulted in a backbreaking loss despite scoring the second most points on the weekend. That moves me down to the 5-seed, where I still hope to sweep through the conference over the next three weeks and then vanquish Serie 2 top seed Frank DuPont in the Week 17 final (although I’m a little frightened by whatever trophy Ramon and IAmShaneMorris have cooked up).

PFF Fanium League: The Fanium format and interface are both excellent. The inaugural season has been a rousing success. My squad sits at 9-4 after vanquishing big boss Mike Clay behind Eric Decker’s four touchdown day. I currently sit in second, two games behind Alex Miglio’s awesome Manning-Megatron squad. Editor’s Note: I finished 10-4 and earned the No. 2 seed. I face Kevin Greenstein in the playoffs, and, based on an anemic performance on Thursday night, am going to lose.

RotoViz Dynasty League (The RDL): If I could do any draft over again this season it would be the RDL startup. This is a 14-team PPR format where you can start up to five wide receivers. The first two rounds went as planned. I selected Julio Jones, traded up for Jamaal Charles, and then pulled the trigger on Gronkowski. Then the wheels fell off the wagon. I mean it was like driving down Alvernon and having all four tires hit different potholes at once.

After picking Charles, I was committed to Zero RB the rest of the way, anticipating a selection of Le’Veon Bell with the No. 1 pick in the rookie draft. Zero RB is almost unbeatable. Almost. You still can’t select Hakeem Nicks, Mike Williams, and Kenny Britt with your next three picks and then trade DeAndre Hopkins for Percy Harvin (I drafted Hopkins at 1.05 in the rookie draft via another trade).

I guess you can’t win ‘em all. (You can. It’s just statistically unlikely.) But I would have really liked to have won this one. Or at least not embarrassed myself.

 

If you’d like to support the Banana Stand and simultaneously purchase the service that helped us win the 2013 NFFC Primetime Championship, please subscribe to RotoViz through our site. We receive half of the proceeds and you get the best fantasy information on the planet. Alternatively, if you want to support the site by doing something you’re almost certainly going to do anyway, consider making your Amazon purchases through our link at the top right. You get exactly the same price, and we make a tiny percentage that could help us keep the site alive. (I also strongly recommend the listed fantasy football books written by friends of the site.) To those who have been Banana Stand readers from the start, thank you. Your enthusiasm has helped us make it this far, and hopefully this is just the beginning.

9 thoughts on “Pai Mei, Zero RB, and the NFFC – A 2013 Report Card”

  1. I am trying an anti fragility draft for my 16 team ppr dynasty startup. It is taking a lot of discipline. So far, I’ve drafted k allen, jeffrey, crabtree and blackmon. I’ve also traded a combo of picks to get cobb. I’ll probably grab a TE next and go back to WRs before snagging a QB. Very exciting draft method indeed, but no hecklers yet…

    1. I really like that approach, especially in 16-team. You have 5 wide receivers in the Top 20 of my dynasty rankings, and very few of your competitors should be able to get anywhere close to matching that. This could end up being a pretty underrated rookie crop at RB as well, making the strategy even more viable.

      Good luck!

  2. I’m seeing graham go in round 1 in many drafts, so I would like to know how you end up with Graham and Megatron on many of your teams. Do you get graham i the 2nd, or have you drafted him in the 1st?

    1. Graham tends not to go as early in high stakes leagues as other formats, or at least he did not in 2013. He was our 2nd round pick on all of these teams. It will be interesting to see how this year’s TE ADP shapes up in late August, as I could certainly see him go in the late first.

      1. Shawn would you consider Graham, WR, WR if you are drafting near the bottom of round 1. Or instead maybe go WR, WR, Gronk? I have Gronk in 3 leagues so far (no backup) and I am thinking for the next 6 drafts where possible to select Graham then WR, WR in a few leagues then in the remaining ones grab Pita+Rudolph late. This gives me 3 ways to play the TE position.

  3. I like that. Having three ways to play it is smart. A good balance between Graham teams, Gronk teams, and late round teams is the way to go.

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