Beat Chris Liss II: The Zero QB and RB “Strategy”

I just completed my second “Beat Chris Liss” league, part of the NFFC’s RotoWire $100-K Online Championship. It’s a 12-team format with 1-QB, 2-RB, 3-WR, 1-TE, 1-RB/WR/TE, 1 K and 1 D along with 10 bench spots. It’s six points for passing and rushing TDs, 20/10 on the yards and PPR.

I wrote about my first “Beat Chris Liss” league three weeks ago, and in it I did a few crazy things like taking Josh Gordon in the fifth round and essentially punting the most important and hard-to-fill position in the contest, wide receiver. My thought was receivers were so inflated I’d value-take on RBs and an elite TE, speculate on Gordon coming back (as of this writing it’s not over yet, though it’s looking worse than it did at the time) and hope one of Aaron Dobson/Kelvin Benjamin/Riley Cooper/Marqise Lee panned out.

That squad largely got panned, as NFFC veterans have come to realize WR-heavy is the way to go, as there are so many useful PPR backs you can get later who have definite roles and relatively consistent production. In fact, Shawn Siegele, one of the players who won a national NFFC contest last year did so by employing a zero-running-back strategy, wherein he loaded up on receivers early and took marginally playable starting backs and high-upside backups throughout the rest of the draft. (Apparently, someone in the draft heckled him for the strategy and actually offered him 2:1 on $1000 wager for who had the better team.*)

So I wanted to try a WR-heavy approach this time around, though not necessarily “zero RB” (In fact, I prefer going one-RB while mixing and matching in the second slot which provides a lot of the benefits of zero-RB with less risk.)

To that end, I prioritized picking at the end of the first round (you set preferences for draft slots in NFFC)  even though I think the values are better early on due to the third-round reversal (TRR) rule. TRR means the late drafters not only pick early in the second but also the third round, giving them a little extra compensation from missing out on the most desirable players in the draft. Only this year, I think there’s a bigger drop-off in Round 4 than there is in Round 3, so drafting late means you get three outstanding players, while drafting early will net you four. But drafting late does virtually assure you two star receivers in the top-two rounds, so I set my top preference to 10 and landed in that exact slot.

Here’s how the draft went:

1.10 Julio Jones – I have him everywhere, and while in the no-money Yahoo! Friends and Family league, I took A.J. Green over him for diversification, in this $100K grand-prize league, I went with the player I have ranked higher. The Falcons throw more, have fewer weapons and their defense is worse.

2.3 Jordy Nelson – When the guy at the turn took Peyton Manning and Montee Ball, I knew I was getting Nelson or Brandon Marshall. I was glad I didn’t have to choose as Marshall went at 2.2, so Nelson was the easy call.

3.3 Rob Gronkowski – Four picks before my turn, I compiled a short list of players with whom I’d be happy: Giovani Bernard, Doug Martin, Keenan Allen, Julius Thomas or Gronkowski. Four of the five went, and that left Gronkowski. While he was the biggest outlier on the board, it’s easy to find a TE late, and I knew passing on RBs like Le’Veon Bell (3.4), Zac Stacy (3.6), Shane Vereen (3.7) and shockingly Andre Ellington (4.4) among others would have consequences; I was now going zero rather than the preferred one RB. Moreover, Andre Johnson, Victor Cruz and Michael Floyd would also have been good fits for my team. While it was possible one of them slipped to me at 4.10, I knew it was unlikely because I had experienced this drop-off picking ninth in the first “Beat Chris Liss” league. Even so, I had Matt Ryan’s, Aaron Rodgers’ and Tom Brady’s No. 1 receivers in a PPR format through three rounds.

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4.10 Percy Harvin – I made the exact same picks in Rounds 3 and 4 as I did in the first draft. I considered Rashad Jennings, but there were a few of his level RB left, and Harvin was my top WR given his return to full health and likely status as Seattle’s top target.

5.3 Joique Bell – I wanted a back who catches passes, gets carries and some goal-line work. Bell seems fairly safe as long as he’s healthy.

6.10 Eric Decker – A month ago, I had zero interest in Decker, and I got talked into him from various articles and arguments on the web. I’m pretty sure I’ll regret this pick. I might have taken Ray Rice otherwise.

7.3 Mike Wallace – I actually took a player for whom there’s no room in my starting lineup. But I like Wallace’s upside in the new offense this year, and the odds that no one ahead of Wallace busts or gets injured are slim.

8.10 Danny Woodhead – This is the type of player I would never draft, but in a PPR he makes for a good temporary fill-in while I wait for my real second back to emerge. I thought about Carlos Hyde here, but as long as Gore is healthy, Woodhead should have more near-term value in PPR. If Gore gets hurt in the first six weeks, I’ll regret this.

9.3 Bishop Sankey – I was close to taking Lamar Miller here, as he has a clearer path to immediate value, but the Dolphins have a player who’s more suited to the passing game in Knowshon Moreno (already gone) while Tennessee has only scat-back Dexter McCluster. I’m not sure this was the right call, but something made me do it.

10.10 Aaron Dobson – A WR was the last thing I needed, but with Justin Hunter going in Round 6, Kelvin Benjamin and Brandin Cooks in Round 7, Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans in Round 8 and Rueben Randle in Round 9, I had to do it. Plus, there’s a good chance more than one of my WR-FLX spots will bust or get hurt, and hopefully Dobson emerges by then. You might notice I still don’t have a quarterback, and the 13th QB, Colin Kaepernick, went off the board four picks before Dobson. This didn’t trouble me too much because quarterback is especially deep in a 12-team league, and these guys couldn’t possibly all fill-up with backups, could they?

11.3 Darren McFadden – I was set to take Russell Wilson or RGIII – whichever one fell to me after the turn, but when neither was taken, I figured I’d play chicken for another round. I needed more RBs, and McFadden in the 11th is a different proposition than when his cost made you worry about his health. And, worst case, I’d settle for Ben Roethlisberger who’s perfectly competent.

12.10 Ronnie Hillman – Wilson, Andy Dalton and Roethlisberger went, and I was hoping RGIII would slide. No dice – he was taken at 12.7, three picks before me by the team that had Matt Ryan. Now, not only was I all-in on one designer strategy (zero RB), but also a second (zero-QB). Hell yeah! And this is the league my producer Trevor Ray agreed to run for me during the season. He’s going to love inheriting this high-degree-of-difficulty roster and getting blamed on-air for mismanaging it.

13.3 Alex Smith – I wanted to wait even another round because at this point who cares, but when someone took Ryan Tannehill right after I took Hillman, shit got real. I like Smith this year as the Chiefs won’t be playing against backup quarterbacks and nursing double-digit leads for nine games like last season. Moreover, Andy Reid has historically gotten a lot out of his QBs in a pass-heavy scheme, and Travis Kelce could be a big piece Smith was missing.

14.10 Donald Brown – I like Brown in his own right, but he makes extra sense here as I already have Woodhead, and now I’m in a good spot should anything happen to Ryan Mathews. I thought about backing up Smith with Carson Palmer instead, but decided against it as I knew I was taking Johnny Manziel later and didn’t feel I had room for three QBs given all the RB fliers I’d need. Besides there will be Geno Smith and EJ Manuel types on waivers all year, so unless Palmer were to turn back the clock eight years, I’d rather mix and match when I’m not using Smith. (It turns out Palmer didn’t go until 17.4.)

15.3 James White – There were rumors Stevan Ridley was getting cut, and while they’re probably false, anything could happen in the New England backfield, especially if Vereen gets hurt again. It turns out I would regret this pick because a team named “ChrisLiss4 President,” who obviously listens to our SXM show, took Josh Gordon at 15.7. I had planned to get Gordon late pending his possible law suit against the NFL, but he went in the 20th round in Jeff Erickson and Vlad Sedler’s league on Monday, so I though I could wait until the 17th. I should have known better. Even so, if Gordon does win in the Ohio courts, I have so many shares of him already.

16.10 Alfred Blue – Jonathan Grimes went one pick before him. I have no idea which is better or more likely to play should Arian Foster go down.

17.3 Tyler Eifert – Quality tight ends like Kelce (13.2) and Charles Clay (16.1) stayed on the board forever, but I passed because I felt getting depth at RB was more essential. Still, I had only the injury-prone Gronk at this point, so I had to get a backup. My worry was it might cost me Manziel.

18.10 Johnny Manziel – I would have been crushed had he not made it back. While it’s fine to mix and match QBs based on schedule, how much nicer would it be to have one with obvious upside grab the job and turn into RGIII circa 2012? It’s also a back-handed way to get a piece of the Josh Gordon upside should he win in court.

19.3 Phil Dawson – He jumped out more than any of the remaining defenses.

20.10 Ravens Defense – They’re been pretty steady and have a home game against Andy Dalton in Week 1.

Here’s the roster by position:

QB Alex Smith

RB Joique Bell/Danny Woodhead

WR Julio Jones/Jordy Nelson/Percy Harvin

TE Rob Gronkowski

FLEX Eric Decker or Mike Wallace

K Phil Dawson

D Ravens

Bench RB: Bishop Sankey/Darren McFadden/Ronnie Hillman/Donald Brown/James White/Alfred Blue

Other Bench: Aaron Dobson/Johnny Manziel/(Decker or Wallace)

Here’s the full roster grid:

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 11.08.27 PM (2)

* This reminds me of the time someone went all-in against me in a Hold ’em game at Ballys when I was holding a made royal flush. (And yes, I will weave my royal flush story into any even tangentially-related topic.)