Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fantasy: Why I drafted Peyton Manning at #6 (and why you should take him in the first round, too)

The Ghosts of Wayne Fontes organized a blogger fantasy football draft featuring 14 teams. That’s a lot of teams for a snake draft. In the first round, 13 of the 14 picks were running backs, which makes sense, since you have the option of starting three RBs each week.

I had the 6th pick. Ladainian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson, Larry Johnson, Joseph Addai, and Shaun Alexander were off the board. I selected Peyton Manning.

This may seem like a reach pick: obviously, to win at fantasy football, you need good running backs.

The problem is it is very difficult to predict what RBs will be good from year to year; it is the position with the highest bust potential in fantasy football. To illustrate this, let’s look at the performances of the 11 RBs selected in first two rounds of the 2006 Hazelweird Snake Draft.

Larry Johnson
2,199 yards, 19 touchdowns
Clearly a very good pick.

Ladanian Tomlinson
2,323 yards, 31 touchdowns
The best RB fantasy season ever; clearly a great pick.

Shaun Alexander

944 yards, 7 touchdowns
Injuries limited him to 10 games; clearly a disappointing pick.

Clinton Portis
693 yards, 7 touchdowns
Injuries limited him to 8 games; clearly a disappointing pick.

Rudi Johnson
1,433 yards, 12 touchdowns
He did just what was expected of him: a good pick.

Tiki Barber
2,127 yards, 5 touchdowns
A good season, but 5 TDs was disappointing: a lot of RBs selected later topped that.

Ronnie Brown
1,284 yards, 5 touchdowns
A mildly disappointing pick--probably a major disappointment to those who drafted him.

LaMont Jordan
508 yards, 2 touchdowns
Is "disappointment" a strong enough word?

Steven Jackson
2,334 yards, 16 touchdowns
A great pick.

Cadillac Williams
994 yards, 1 touchdown
Another massive disappointment.

Edgerrin James
1,376 yards, 6 touchdowns
Most would consider this a disappointment.

Of the 11 running back selected in the first two rounds of the 2006 draft, at least six must be considered disappointments. Whether these RBs struggled because of injuries, team ineptitude, or their own ineptitude doesn't matter at all: they weren't getting fantasy owners points.

Now look at Peyton Manning. He's never missed a start. In each of his nine seasons, he's thrown at least 26 touchdown passes. In seven of his nine seasons, he's topped 4,100 yards. There is incredibly little risk in drafting Peyton Manning, meaning there is little chance I've wasted my first round pick.

In The Ghosts of Wayne Fontes draft, the first-round RBs selected after Manning were Frank Gore, Reggie Bush, Rudi Johnson, Brian Westbrook, Laurence Maroney, Willie Parker, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Ronnie Brown. It is a virtual guarantee that a few of these RBs will be major fantasy disappointments; it is probably that several of them will be. Which RBs will succeed and which will disappoint? I have no idea--and that's why I didn't take any of them. Some of these draft selections will be considered wasted picks very soon; in 2008, several of these first round selections will be late fantasy picks. But we don't know which ones. It might be because of injuries (it's an injury-prone position). It might be because they play on lousy teams (it's a position dependent on line performance). It might be because the players themselves are currently overrated (several of them are fairly unproven).

It is very unlikely that Peyton Manning will get injured this season. Of course injuries are governed by chance, but he has no injury history. It extremely unlikely that Manning will struggle this season because of his team: he has the best set of skill position players in the league around him, and while losing Tarik Glenn hurts, the line has always done a good job protecting him (and he's smart enough to get the ball away quickly). It is virtually impossible that Manning will struggle this season because of his own ineptitude: he has proven himself to be an elite quarterback (I think he's the best ever, but that's a discussion for another day).

Some of the participants of The Ghosts of Wayne Fontes fantasy draft wasted their first round picks. They didn't waste them out of stupidity (all the picks appear reasonable); we can't know now which ones wasted their picks. But some of those selections will get injured and/or will struggle. We will look back on some of these players as virtual non-factors in fantasy football.

You can't really project which RBs will avoid injuries or struggles; it's a crapshoot. But you can avoid the crapshoot altogether. That's what I did. And while it certainly led me to what looks currently like a weak RB corps, I feel confident I didn't waste my pick, and that Peyton Manning will be a very productive fantasy football player.


  1. I think it makes sense in some situations to take Peyton at #6. His numbers and health are always so solid that he's more valuable than everybody who isn't a top 5 back. The problem is after about the top three you can't predict who the top backs will be, it is a crapshoot. Peyton at least gives you guarunteed stats and you win that position pretty much every week, while then you can go running back the next three picks to make yourself feel better. I understand your thinking, or at least I believe I do.

  2. If I had a top-three pick, I would have taken either Tomlinson, Jackson, or Addai. You're mostly right: the problem starts with the RBs that aren't obvious top picks. It's then that rather than taking a chance on a RB I'm not confident in just because I "have to" have a RB, that I'd rather go to the top player at another important position.

    Paul Charchian of Fanball has advocated something like this with his "Do the Opposite" theory. While everybody is going on a run for RBs in the first few rounds, you have a chance to get yourself the top QB and one or two of the top WRs.

  3. Anonymous7:51 PM


  4. Yeah, Peyton is safe, but his numbers wont be astronomically better than a QB drafted 8 rounds later. They'll be better, but the difference won't compare to the difference between a 1st round RB and a 9th round RB. That's why you gotta take RBs, even if the position is a crapshoot. My first 3 picks were RBs, and while it's entirely possible one (or, God forbid, all) of them will have a down year, I'm prepared for it. Peyton will keep you ahead of the teams that have disappointing picks, but the league winners will ultimately be the ones with stud RBs. Good luck though man, I enjoyed the post.

  5. It's a risk, I know. But in a 14 team league, if you don't get one of the sure thing elite RBs, you might have to take risks to get a championship. And it is possible an 8th round RB will be as productive (or more) than some of those first round RBs.

    Certainly I know I'm bucking conventional wisdom here; standard fantasy strategy dictates taking RBs early. In a deep league, with a middle-of-the-round pick, I decided to try something different rather than being like everybody else that took a RB (literally, everybody else).

    It is a strategy that could land me in last place, and it's a strategy that requires luck (or smarts?) later in the draft to work. I'm happier than I'd have been taking Frank Gore at that spot (who I would have taken), but of course it could be badly wrong.

  6. By the way, folks, this blog is not intended to be a sounding post for me to talk about my own fantasy team(s). I know that would be boring. When I talk about fantasy football, I'm trying to write about ideas that have a wider interest to other fantasy football enthusiasts. If I use examples from my own fantasy team(s), it's only to try illustrate some of the larger fantasy football ideas I'm interested in exploring occasionally at this blog.

  7. I should add I'm completely jaded about fantasy football QBs. When I've tried to get great QBs expensive/early, I've been burned BAD (Kurt Warner 2002, Daunte Culpepper 2005). When I've prioritized RBs and WRs and tried to get by with a late-round QB, I've usually stumbled around at the position all year long.

    So I'm trying to get the surest bet, particularly in a league that gives 4 points per passing TD.

  8. Anonymous6:50 PM

    I drafted Peyton with the 10th pick out of an 11 team league. For the same reasons you did--Peyton was my first pick last year (#6 as well) and he was consistent and scored very well. He also had a career year that helped him shake a serious monkey off his back, and I managed to draft Brian Westbrook too...

    With a late pick in a deep league, Peyton is a solid 1st round pick.