Part II: If you Can’t Win Championships, Win Trades
This is Part II of the second installment of a series on ‘Applying Economic Principles to Fantasy Football.’ The introductory piece addresses key principles discussed in this article and can be found here.
Part I of ‘12 Steps to Turn your Cellar Dweller to an Emerging Dynasty’ can be found here
Hello Rebuilders! It’s time for another session in your intervention toward contention.
You decided it’s time to build for the future, sorted your assets, and traded peak value players for maximum return. What you are left with likely resembles an island of misfit toys; a high number of picks, and probably a large collection of cast offs from contending teams. Today’s session will focus on how to use your castoffs to create the largest increase in value for your squad so you can begin to build a contender.
Today’s session can really be summed up with one idea:
When you’re a rebuilding team you need the consensus to be wrong. Luckily, it often is.
Step 4: Lean Into the Ambiguity
If you’ve ever played daily fantasy sports (DFS), you are likely familiar with the concept of late swap. For those who have not, late swap means switching your remaining player(s) with the highest expected ownership out of your lineup. If your substitutes outscore them, you gain leverage over the field and shoot back up the leaderboard. As a rebuilder you should follow the same concept, but replace players with highest expected ownership with the most clamoured for dynasty assets.
Introducing the Pareto Principle, I explained the concepts of asymmetrical upside and expected value, and why missing on low value assets hurts you far less than hitting on them helps you. This is why you should buy into ambiguity, and it’s doubly true in a rebuild.
Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite ‘W’ eater: New Orleans quarterback Jameis Winston.
In three full seasons as the starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Winston finished QB4, QB13 and QB14 for an average of QB9. In points per game across all five of his seasons, he checks in at QB15. The sample is large enough to be confident in Winston – if given a starting job – as a low-end QB1 or high-end QB2; quite valuable in superflex formats. At 27 years old, if Winston is able to put it all together in his next stop, there is a viable path to long term fantasy value.
The current QB15 in 2021 superflex dynasty rankings is Detroit (?) quarterback Matthew Stafford. He slots in at 60th overall by fantasypros’ expert consensus. Meanwhile, Winston is down at QB31, an overall placement of 135th.
Players within a one round radius of Stafford include consistent starters and top end prospects:
- David Montgomery, Running Back (CHI)
- James Robinson, Running Back (JAX)
- Tee Higgins, Wide Receiver (CIN)
- Diontae Johnson, Wide Receiver (PIT)
- Mark Andrews, Tight End (BAL)
Players within a one round radius of Wintson resemble the roster cloggers you will be left with as ‘throw-ins’ from your initial trades:
- Phillip Lindsay, Running Back (DEN)
- Darrell Henderson, Running Back (LAR)
- Zach Ertz, Tight End (PHI)
- Le’Veon Bell, Running Back (KC)
- Sterling Shepard*, Wide Receiver (NYG)
*For an alternative perspective, read why Stephie Smalls is not giving up on the Giants’ slot receiver
I am not making the case for Winston over Stafford. We do not know whether Winston will get a starting job in 2021. But what are the odds Winston gets a starting gig at some point in the next two years? What are the odds he holds it for multiple years?
Personally, I would rank those at about 50% and 30% respectively. If you can trade a player like Shepard to a contender who needs depth for Winston, or even a player like Browns’ wide receiver Jarvis Landry – ranked three full rounds ahead of Winston – for the mercurial passer and get a late draft pick on top, you’re gaining a high degree of expected value above replacement for your team.
Of all players ranked within the range of Jameis Winston, few have the ability to have a dynamic jump in value as a result of a single decision made by an NFL franchise.
Recall this phrase from my first article on The Pareto Principle:
If you were given a one in five shot of $100 vs. a guarantee of $5, the one in five has asymmetrical upside. Even though four out of five times you get less money, taking the risk is still the choice with a better overall expected value.
Whether you think Winston’s odds of becoming an NFL starter are closer to 50% or one in five, applying those odds to his ceiling outcome gives him an extremely high value above replacement when compared to players with a similar acquisition cost. Good luck trading Shepard, Ertz, or Landry for Higgins these days.
Step 5: Exponential Asset Accumulation
Have you ever heard the phrase “don’t win trades, win championships?”
While viewed with some hostility in the RTDB school of asset management, I understand the concept. You can give up some excess value to lock up a major piece if you are a contender because if you win the title, any lost value is forgiven.
This can and should be used against contenders when you’re rebuilding, because if you aren’t winning a ‘ship anytime soon you better be winning trades.
As a rebuilder, you do not have to concern yourself with a player’s floor or median outcome. You do not need bench depth. Take advantage of your league mates’ risk aversion while exclusively focusing on ceiling outcomes to maximize expected value. You can do this by snatching up quarterbacks with questionable futures such as Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz, the Jets’ Sam Darnold, Packers’ prospect Jordan Love, and the aforementioned Winston. You could select New Orleans’ Taysom Hill and Winston for a 10th and 12th round pick according to the consensus ranks, and have great odds on rostering the Saints QB1 this year at a very low cost.
This does not only apply to quarterbacks. Beyond the obvious route of trading veterans for draft picks, there are several other paths to potentially rapid value spikes. At the running back position, Indianapolis’ Marlon Mack – a free agent – could be had for a minimal price right now, as could New England’s Damien Harris, Pittsburgh’s Anthony McFarland, and Baltimore’s restricted free agent Gus Edwards. All have flashed a quality skill-set and have a path to being starting running back in 2021, which would significantly multiply their market value.
You want to take a free roll? Pick up retired quarterback Andrew Luck off your waiver wire. You may laugh, but those who rostered Tampa Bay tight end Rob Gronkowski got a tidy profit last year if they played things right. More opportunities like this will surely arise this off-season.
While you are trading your top end players to acquire as many assets as possible, you can take a scattershot approach with acquiring ambiguous players. Every player named – plus several more – carries asymmetrical upside. Add these players to your roster, and when variance smiles on you, cash in your profits.
These players – especially the veteran running backs I listed – are not meant to be a part of your long term core. As a rebuilder you should almost always be saying yes to league mates who want to make a deal. Fix their needs, take on the players they want to dump. Your week to week roster construction is irrelevant. It is all about maximizing value at every turn.
When your team quality is poor, quantity is everything. Your goal is to turn the market’s sand into diamonds, and sell those diamonds back for magic beans in the form of draft picks and prospects.
Step 6: Leveraging Your Sucktitude
In Week 9 the Patriots played the Jets on Monday Night Football and I was down a handful of points with only Damiere Byrd to play. My team was 2-6; an intentional tank job of the highest order. Playing a 4-4 team, I went to the owner and offered Byrd for a late draft pick in order to let him buy the win. He accepted, and another asset was collected.
This is an extreme example but there are a number of ways you can leverage the unique circumstances of not wanting to win.
One path to take advantage of your inverse incentive structure is offloading top assets early. Making your team worse via trade unlocks hidden value by improving the position of your own draft pick. As well, in the early season and off season – when everyone is optimistic about their path to a title – there are more buyers and less sellers than at the deadline. Early year deals often get you the most value, and have the greatest effect on your own draft selections.
You should always be looking to buy injured players or those on bye week at a discount. When Giants star running back Saquon Barkley was placed on injured reserve for the year, this created a once a decade buy window. But many rebuilding teams did not take advantage because they did not want to build around an injured running back.
Tankers cannot be choosers.
Whether you wanted to enter 2021 with Barkley or not, trading for Barkley at 80% value this season and letting him sit on your injured reserve was a guaranteed way to accrue value for your team last whether you keep him or sell him.
If you are on a multi-year rebuild the best way to create a lot of value at no risk is taking on picks two years out from conveying, as they are generally much more affordable than future draft selections. 2022 1st round picks are the tax free savings account of the rebuilder’s asset portfolio.
It’s Almost Time to Stop Sucking
In fantasy football, the consensus is wrong far more than most think and rebuilding teams can massively benefit. Players get traded based on the market approximation of their value. The values assigned are often focused on a player’s median outcome. The chance a player greatly exceeds their market expectation or falls far short is underestimated, resulting in a flawed estimation of each player’s expected value above replacement. Ambiguous, fluid assets have lower median outcomes than locked in starters, but some have a similar ceiling. When rebuilding, you need to acquire fluid assets over and over until you pick up enough value to begin consolidating your assets into a contender. Stick with it and you will get there.
While in reality this may take years, in intervention time this takes just days. Stay tuned for Part III coming soon!
If you’re willing to read 3,000 words from Jakob in one week about asset fluidity and accruing value and don’t follow him on twitter… highly weird flex. While you’re at it, check out Jakob and the rest of the @joinourcircle_ gang on our youtube to get new shows and quick shots daily. Last but not least, meet your full support group for all your intervention needs.