Vegas, Vampires & Confessions (plus fantasy football)

For any notes about Week 1, skip to the end. For any questions — lineup, add/drop, trade, etc. — reach me on Twitter @Hoover_L_A

For the real reason I posted this, read on.

It’s only fitting that my most gluttonous season of drafts began on a scorching hot summer day in the most gluttonous, overindulgent city I know – Vegas, Baby.

But that was two months ago (to the day) in a ridiculous two-story Caesar’s Palace suite secured by industry legend and loud mouth, Yahoo’s Brad Evans. So, presumably no one cares about that just minutes away from the first Sunday of the NFL’s 100th season kicking off. All our drafts are over and I gave owners little to nothing to help them prep for their pain-staking, potentially season-making decisions. Hopefully, I can make amends in season when the best teams are often not the ones who crushed their drafts, but the ones who adjusted most prudently, made the timely starts, shrewd pickups and season-altering trades.

Still, I must confess a feeling of guilt for going offseason M.I.A. But not too guilty. Because another confession I have is that I’ve grown increasingly burnt out in recent seasons. And since we’re on confessions, I’ll drop one I imagine any casual reader doesn’t realize – I’ve never been anything remotely close to a full-time fantasy writer. I’ve contributed to Rotowire for 8 and a half glorious years, but paid very few bills for the effort. Hence the burn out. Working long weeks as a recruiter – first as a headhunter, then as a senior corporate recruiter – has led to some very, very sleepless falls while moonlighting as a fanalyst. Typically, it takes me a full month or two to feel recuperated after Week 17.

It was with that in mind that I told my long-time editor I needed a change. That writing Rotowire’s “Exploiting the Matchups” was simply too exhausting. It’s a long piece (usually between 3,500 – 5,000 words) and requires quite a bit of research and fact checking. A lot of hemming and hawing over players to choose every week. I never wanted to simply phone it in or make the obvious arguments. Five years of writing that piece after two years of writing the equally grueling “Game Capsules” had just become too burdensome. In my mid 30s, it felt like it was time to pull back a bit.

Now, with the season here, I find myself a bit conflicted that I have no regular article to write every week. We struggled to find something that made sense and I didn’t want to just butcher the ETM column. My hope is to keep up with blogging to produce content, keep a voice and stay relevant. I’d like to think I still have a lot to say, even if the words have been harder to come by in recent years. So, I’m going to try putting together something fun and informative every week, and I’m open to requests. I’m definitely open to answer ANY questions via Twitter – and hope to get many.

Since a column won’t fill up my every waking hour outside of the day job, the gym, some occasional poker and a little family and girlfriend time, I’m also filling the void with a personal high 12 teams this year (13 if you count the one I drafted for the GF’s dad). That’s confession number four. Everyone always assumes a fantasy writer lives and breathes the game and MUST play in dozens of leagues. And every time I’ve been asked how many on a radio or podcast appearance I’ve skirted the topic, semi-embarrassed that the answer was typically 5-7, and some early Rotowire years more like three or four.

If you’ve followed me on Twitter at all (I doubt you have given my lowly 400 some-odd followers) or if you read any blogs I posted last fall, you’d understand why my league volume has spiked. I’ve become hooked with the Vampire format and now have six of these leagues. A draft season that began in Vegas has ended with Vampires.

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Now I couldn’t be more pumped to get the action started to see how my teams stack up. After several years of volunteering myself for the well-known Stopa League (made famous by RW’s Mark Stopa) that did a live auction every July in Vegas during the Rotowire get together, I finally cracked the list for Evan’s replacement to that league – the Sin City Showdown. Same format, 14-team, half-point PPR, Superflex, two TE auction league stocked with industry peeps (Yahoo and Rotowire mostly) and ex NFL players in fantasy or radio. And it lived up to everything I hoped it would.

Boozy. Boisterous. More boozy. A little blurry, even. But a damn good time.

I went in with a fairly sturdy outline. Under no circumstances let someone outbid me for Baker Mayfield or Chris Godwin, grab one other high-volume, elite talent WR and steal value backs with upside. Punt TE and don’t be scared to pay up for a second QB. My bench turned to hot garbage over the coming weeks, but I mostly feel fantastic with the outcome given league size and auction budget ($200):

QB1 – Baker Mayfield – $34

RB – Aaron Jones – $24
RB – Kerryon Johnson – $17

WR – Antonio Brown – $35
WR – Chris Gowdin – $25
WR – Sammy Watkins – $9

TE – Kyle Rudolph – $5
TE – Jordan Reed – $5

W/R/T – James White – $11
Q/W/R/T – Carson Wentz – $22

DEF – Trey Quinn – $1

D’Onta Foreman – $6
Golden Tate – $4
Kareem Hunt – $1
DaeSean Hamilton – $1
Ian Thomas – $1

Not having to fill a defense, I made Quinn “Mr. Irrelevant” for the second time in his career while going bid-for-bid with just bucks remaining against Yahoo’s lovely, irrepressibly awesome Liz Loza (my first time officially meeting her, btw). I’m not ashamed to say the vodka had gotten the best of me by that point and she crushed me. While I was fighting over a miss-bid for Foreman (which I “won”) and delusionally excited to snag Hunt (both since dropped), Liz was stashing Josh Gordon for a single freaking buck, paying the same price I forked over for Foreman for one of my favorite breakouts, Anthony Miller (ignore Week 1; Calvin Ridley didn’t catch a ball in Week 1 last year), and gobbling up sneaky flex options like Albert Wilson and Chris Thompson. She won those blurry battles, but I think I’ve recovered nicely by revamping my bench to include Miles Boykin, John Ross, Carlos Hyde, and Tony Pollard. And with Reed out for a game, I was able to stash him on IR, hang onto some upside skill guys and slide in the Patriots D. After all, I’m destined to lose Week 1 given Aaron Jones’ Thursday performance and the absence of new Patriot wideout Antonio Brown. So, I’m more than happy to roll with the defense who’s next six games include the Dolphins, Giants, Bills, Redskins and Jets twice.

But let’s move on. That was my most fun draft and one of the teams I’m most excited for, but I won’t recap any of the other 11 drafts in great detail. It’s hard to imagine anyone is that fascinated now that drafting is over.

Before getting to any season-long or Week 1 observations, however, I do want to do two things.

1. I owe a shout out to the Scott Fish Bowl. It’s my first time getting invited to represent Rotowire and it is easily one of the team’s I’m most excited about. Not only is it a huge tournament format (1,200 teams!), but it’s also for a great, charitable cause. If you’re not familiar, I’d urge anyone to read up on it and donate if you’re so inclined. After all, who doesn’t want to raise money to give toys to needy children at Christmas?

Here’s the link to learn more:

For anyone interested in the league, it’s a video game theme this year. I’m in the Sidekicks conference, Diddy Kong division and aiming to take it down with my elite QB play (went Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield in rounds 2 and 3 respectively) and a deep assortment of receivers. It’s a superflex format with crazy, “video game” bonuses (5 points for 300 passing yards and every 50 rushing or receiving yards).

2. I’m in 12 freaking leagues. I need to at least brag about the great players I invested most heavily in. So, here are my biggest shares:

QB – Baker Mayfield (6), Kyler Murray (5), Jameis Winston (4), Patrick Mahomes (3), Mitchell Trubisky (3), Josh Allen (3)

*anywhere I don’t have Mayfield, I’m either a Vampire (2 leagues) or I kept Mahomes or could not get him because of circumstances outside of my control

RB – Rashaad Penny (8), Joe Mixon (4), Mark Ingram (4), Justice Hill (4), Nick Chubb (3), Aaron Jones (3), Frank Gore (1)

WR – Anthony Miller (7), Chris Godwin (5), Allen Robinson (5), Christian Kirk (5), D.K. Metcalf (5), Davante Adams (3), Antonio Brown (3), Mike Williams (3), Corey Davis (3), James Washington (3)

TE – O.J. Howard (6), Darren Waller (3), Jimmy Graham (3), Kyle Rudolph (2), David Njoku (2)

And finally, guys I wish I had way more of include: Chubb, Hill, Leonard Fournette, David Montgomery, Josh Jacobs, Chris Carson, Odell Beckham, Godwin (everywhere, literally everywhere), Mike Williams, Kenny Golladay (I have none, sad face), Evan Engram (again, no shares).

In cases in which I didn’t get Godwin he was either kept (three leagues), I was the Vampire (two) or he went within three picks of where I was going to take him. I’ll trade a fool’s ransom for Godwin (or Beckham) this year. In the Sin City Showdown, I won a bidding war for Godwin late in the auction (damn Loza again) and made him the 10th highest paid receiver (tied with Keenan Allen). And you know what, if ranking today I’d put him at nine without hesitation. He’s simply that good. Can separate on any route, is strong at the catch point and can make plays after the grab, good hops for the red zone and acrobatic ball skills and body control to make Winston keep feeding him. He’s this year’s JuJu Smith-Schuster, except he might actually be a more complete player.

In fact, since I originally wrote this (Thursday afternoon), I already made a fairly even trade to acquire Godwin. In a Vampire format in which Godwin was kept this year and I can now keep him next year for a 13th round draft pick – big part that swayed me – I parted with Allen Robinson, Christian Kirk and Royce Freeman to add Godwin and Justice Hill. Then with my open bench spot I added D.K. Metcalf. After A Rob’s impressive start, I’m admittedly a little nervous about overpaying. Still, I’m awfully pumped for a starting lineup that gives me a Baker-Beckham combo, Godwin and stud RBs Barkley, Conner and Devonta Freeman (kept both Barkley and Conner coming in, and remember, in Vampire formats one team doesn’t draft, so the talent pool is very rich to a strong drafter).

Okay, now for the juicy stuff you may actually care about reading. Well, actually just a few quick nuggets about Week 1 that are too late for you to action anyways.

Confession number five: I couldn’t wrap my season predictions Thursday and had too much going on Friday and Saturday to get back to them. I’ll either get them out next week with the nice advantage of a week’s worth of information to steer them or just move on to addressing the Week 2 stuff that owners really care about while scrambling to get wins.

Frankly, AB is really to blame here since things blew up with him Thursday right after I’d written my Oakland predictions. How was I supposed to recover until the dust settled?

So, finally, here are some quick thoughts about Week 1:

  1. We all know the fireworks their offense can put up (and will, beginning Sunday), but we can’t overlook the Cleveland defense. With Myles Garrett, Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson, Denzel Ward and Damarious Randall, they could be this year’s Bears for fantasy purposes. In Week 1, sans left tackle Taylor Lewan, the Titans are going to feel that ferocity in a big way.
  2. James Conner had four games with north of 150 scrimmage yards and a score in his breakout second season. To beat the Patriots on the road, he’ll need to do just that while Big Ben gets acclimated to life after AB.
  3. Behind a terrific offensive line led by Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley, Mark Ingram won’t be the only tailback gobbling up yards like Pacman does pellets. Justice Hill will approach 1,000 scrimmage yards as an electric change of pace back for a top three rushing offense, and he’ll get off to a hot start when Greg Roman’s run-heavy attack steamrolls a dreadful Miami defense in a blowout. Expect 80-plus yards out of the gate for the rookie speedster.
  4. The chess match between division AFC East rivals should be a joy to watch. Does C.J. Mosley or Jamal Adams spy Josh Allen on every pass attempt? If one doesn’t it could be a long day for the Jets defense. Rookie wrecking ball Quinnen Williams is going to collapse the middle of the pocket frequently with running mate Leonard Williams, and when they do Allen can kill them when he escapes to the perimeter if Mosley or Adams isn’t tracking his every move. He’ll either extend drives by churning out first downs with his legs or break their backs with bombs over the top to a streaking John Brown or darts to a crossing Cole Beasley or Zay Jones. Either way, I like Allen to have one of the highest ceilings among all QB’s this week. And going forward, he’s a tantalizing upside play worth a bench spot in any one QB leagues or a starting spot in all superflex formats.
  5. Week 1 might not be the prettiest start for the Chargers as they face a highly underrated Colts defense minus stalwart left tackle Russell Okung. A familiar foe, Justin Houston, may notch a couple more sacks of Philip Rivers to add onto the pile he posted versus the Bolts during his Chiefs tenure. And with no Melvin Gordon facing an Indy front seven that didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher in 2018, expect plenty of quick dump offs to Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson and short strikes to Keenan Allen. Also, don’t expect many points in a slow start to the cursed Chargers’ season.
  6. IDP formats don’t get enough love, but it’s my favorite way to play. One that I’m all in on this year and expect a huge Week 1 stat line from is Jerome Baker. The second-year Miami linebacker won’t leave the field for a defense that will rarely be able to get off it. Facing a run first, run second and keep running some more Ravens team, look for the speedy, instinctive backer to pile up the tackles.
  7. The story in Jacksonville is going to be ugly football versus pretty football, with the Jags looking to pummel their flashier opponents on both sides of the ball. I’m not sure how well that will work out for the defense, but minus thumper Reggie Ragland at linebacker, the Chiefs really lack the pop to slow down a motivated Leonard Fournette who’s seeking a redemption year. Don’t be surprised when this human locomotive leads the league in rushing after one week.
  8. Todd Gurley watch begins with an intriguing matchup. The Rams offensive line took some crucial hits losing Rodger Saffold and John Sullivan. Meanwhile, the Panthers defense added the perennially underrated Gerald McCoy to it’s D line. I expect the Carolina front seven to get the better of Gurley in this one, but for his owners to feel relieved coming out of the game by his workload and noticeably healthy knee.
  9. The Bengals are getting very little love, but with a new offense against a Seahawks defense missing it’s best defensive tackle (Jarrad Reed; suspended) and weak in the secondary, don’t be surprised to see a tightly contested game. Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd are safe sources for yards, but likely not enough to steal one in Russell Wilson’s home since Cinci’s own defensive weaknesses will be badly exploited by Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny piling up the ground yards.
  10. The Cardinals are either going to set the scoreboard or themselves on fire in a game that should be must-see TV. Heavily invested in pieces like Kyler Murray, Christian Kirk and David Johnson, here’s hoping for the best. Against Matt Patricia’s stacked defensive line, however, I’m prepared for the worst. Don’t be shocked if Johnson comes out of this weekend outside of the top 20 scoring running backs.