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Breakfast Table: Salfino and Pianowski Talk Football

Michael Salfino

Michael Salfino writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Scott Pianowski

Scott Pianowski writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Sat, Aug 17, 2013 at 12:08 PM
Subject: Fantasy Breakfast
To: scott pianowski

Our two leagues together are out of the way and provide the perfect context for us to talk fantasy to kick off another season of the Breakfast Table, which I think we began in 2002. Holy crap! That's so long ago, Tom Brady was winning Super Bowls.

You are right that I have a fondness for new stat toys and this year, I tailored points per touch to the various scoring models (it was points per target for wide receivers).

So if I have a common thread to my teams, it's that. I also avoid smaller receivers because they are significantly less likely to get touchdowns on a per-catch or -target basis. But perhaps I ignore PPR at my peril, even though Yahoo! Friends and Family (14-team draft) gives 0.75 and Stopa Law Firm (12-team auction, but with larger active rosters including two QBs and two TEs) knocks that down even more to 0.50.

Let's start with common players. Mine are Demaryius Thomas, DeAngelo Williams, Bilal Powell and Zac Stacy. Yours: Ray Rice, Wes Welker and Daniel Thomas. But Powell, Stacy and Daniel Thomas are so low cost that they can be fungible if we're wrong. There's not much to say about Demaryius Thomas and Rice. But perhaps your Welker love makes you down on Demaryius Thomas's targets? I do have Bernard Pierce in Stopa, but that's not an anti-Rice play. In deep leagues, you have to go after other people's handcuffs because you want another starter, not merely a replacement. I've made a big bet on Williams and as always at this point after the bets are made, I'm plagued by doubt. But more on that later.

For the 10 percent of fantasy players who do auctions, I spent $183 (of $200) on my top six players: Newton $42, Bryant $39, Morris $38, Thomas $32, Williams $19, Palmer $13 - remember, readers, it's up to two QBs active each week. You were less stars and scrubs, marginally, spending $174 on your top six (Rice $44, Lynch $41, Ryan $29, White $24, Eli $21, Welker $15).

In addition to my big six, I'm placing a big bet in Stopa on James Jones (only $6 but basically all-in for me at that stage). In Y! F&F, maybe David Wilson in the third round was a reach. I also took Andre Brown early (78) but that's not a handcuff. I'm trying to finesse RB in that league given my on-paper strength at wide receiver (Megatron, Thomas and Hakeem Nicks in a 14-teamer - but I actually think Nicks was my one major mistake).

If we were playing basketball, all my receivers would be forwards and all of yours point guards who are mostly PPR threats. But I paid much more for them in both formats. Conceptually, I'm also interested in your take on my belief that RBs generally are a bad flex play in PPR formats. I believe that it's more advisable to put wide receivers there. But I know Chris Liss agrees with you as he says that Y! F&F should be treated as a two-WR league. I'll put a WR in a flex every week without thinking twice, even if I have to go to the waiver wire. Fantasy Breakfast 2013 is served.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Mon, Aug 26, 2013 at 3:21 PM
Subject: japanese ice
To: Michael Salfino

Yeah, 2002 was a long time ago. That's back when we had our Brady vs. Pennington debates. (Heck, who's the best in-division quarterback rival of the Brady era? Sadly, it might be Pennington.)

I don't have any designer wideouts yet this year, and that's frustrating to say. Someone - Megatron, Dez, Demaryius, Julio maybe - is going to score 15 touchdowns, but my Welker-Wayne old man types won't be in that group. But I hate the depth of the running back position in 2013, so I find myself using a lot of early picks there (especially in the first couple of rounds). Can't have everything, at least not in the stupid draft world that dominates our landscape.

I like DeAngelo Williams. It's silly that his age is held against him in some pockets - this is a classic case of trusting the odometer first. Jonathan Stewart has all sorts of problems and Mike Tolbert (ah, the Kool-Aid man) is just a fullback, albeit a handy one. Cam Newton will run some in, but maybe it's just 6-8. Those 14 spikes from 2011 are never coming back.

Powell is better than Chris Ivory. Unfortunately, the Jets were the last to realize this. I love Powell as a cost-nothing final piece.

Rice is the type of player I love in the middle of a first round, a floor-driven player. I'm not trying to be a hero in these drafts. Arian Foster's situation, I'm avoiding it. Rob Gronkowski, to me, is one of the all-time sucker plays. I don't want to run my roster a man short. I don't want to pretend I know how healthy (or productive) a player off a major injury will be. I'm also not going to start analyzing the strength of schedule for the fantasy playoffs - talk about a fool's errand. Let's not look too far ahead. (In about six weeks from now, the "Strangest NFL Season Ever" Mad Lib will start. You can set your watch by it.)

Thomas I took as a cheap lottery ticket, someone I'll likely cut quickly if Lamar Miller takes the job and runs with it. He should. I actually like Ryan Tannehill a little bit, but I don't trust Mike Wallace at all. (Conversely, I like all of Pittsburgh's leftover receivers, especially Antonio Brown. I don't care what the measuring tape says. I'll follow the volume, and trust a player still on the escalator.)

I don't like going with backs on the same team - even if you don't call it a handcuff, it's still an upside-limiting play. They can't both break out, they can't both be playable. Obviously they sit the same week, too (I don't take bye weeks very seriously from an assembly standpoint, mind you). Go steal someone else's upside handcuff instead.

I started RB-RB-RB in the Friends & Family, with Rice, Bush and Sproles. I was torn between the second two guys in Round 2, and shocked that Sproles lasted until the middle of the third round. Fine, I'll take depth at the most important position. You can fill quarterback and receiver on a budget, land a combination of sure things and upside plays. If you don't take running backs early, you better be damn accurate (or lucky) with your later picks and your FAAB budget.

I know, it can be done. Any strategy works if you pick the right players, of course, and in less-competitive groups, you can slot "expected waiver-wire gains" as part of your balance sheet. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. But the harder the room, the less I want to play running back roulette. I need to start assembling things right away.

From: Michael Salfino
Date: Wed, Aug 28, 2013 at 2:15 PM
Subject: Re: Fantasy Breakfast
To: scott pianowski

Okay, I started it with Brady. But Pennington had Brady beat in the key stat metrics before he got hurt, which was 2003. So there was a really small window there. If Pennington didn't get hurt, he's probably Drew Brees. Pennington, remember, won a passer rating title even after his devastating arm injuries. But being healthy is part of playing and required to be great, I stipulate. And I'm not denying Brady's awesomeness. How good have all those offensive coaches with him been when they've gone somewhere else?

I don't understand why you every want to put a RB in a flex spot. That's a waste of resources, I believe. In PPR, wide receivers on the waiver wire are decent plays every week. And in non-PPR there simply are not enough good RBs to go three deep. I'm certain that you are generally better off just sticking a WR in those spots. Sticking a RB in there is like putting a second catcher in DH in fantasy baseball.

Yes, Stewart is out now for six weeks and very likely done when it comes to being a significant contributor. No one takes a year to recover from ankle surgery if there are not huge, chronic/crippling problems there. DAW for me was simply a point-per-touch play. He was elite in that regard in recent years while his raw total was unimpressive. I know he's not going to get all the touches, but he's definitely in line for many more than in 2013. But can he maintain the rate at age 30? I'm betting a his low mileage being more important than the calendar.

Maybe Powell is better than Ivory. For me, it's beyond that. Powell is on top of the depth chart and is going to get goal-line work out of the wildcat. They'll probably split whatever points the Jets get out of RB in standard formats but Powell is sneaky valuable in PPR. But it's all about price. Powell is free. So that makes the decision easier.

You like the high floor guys. You are such a good player because you play to win. So you don't care if you have a bunch of BenJarvis Green-Ellis boring guys. When the fantasy world is weeping over guys like Lamar Miller not getting enough touches, you are the smiling Daniel Thomas owner. You're like an Index Fund in investing. They spread risk and beat 80 percent of the geniuses looking for the big score. So you always contend. But I want to watch my team and really be right about guys. That for me is the reason I play the game - fantasy football is just a proxy for that. But the soundest approach for readers is probably to do 75% of what you tend to do and 25 percent of what I tend to do. I try to keep those ratios that way but end up reaching more than that for my favorites not because I'm undisciplined, but because it's fun.

I agree with you 100 percent with handcuffs. But I have Wilson and Brown in Friends and Family not as a handcuff but because I think both can be playable in that deep, 14-team format. Brown also was elite in point per touch (Wilson and Brown both more than a point in that category, in fact). So in my perfect world, both get 200-275 touches and maintain rates close to last year, making both top 15 backs. Think of it like LenDale White and Chris Johnson for a while with the Titans.

I think if Sproles were a receiver, he would have ranked 19th last year in fantasy points. That sounds good, but guys drafted 30 or 40 wide receivers deep will crack the top 20 for sure. I get Sproles as a second running back in PPR (so stupid, should AT LEAST be point per first-down reception). But I'd still rather stick a cheaper wide receiver in there every week as a flex when you factor in cost, even stipulating Sproles will likely be marginally better than WR X.

The tough thing about football is that we do not know true skill level of non-QBs. I feel really good that we do know it with the passers though. So I will not take guys that have not shown elite ability in yards per pass attempt. That means no to Andrew Luck. Now, I know we've debated about this on Twitter, but I also suspect that you would never take Luck over, say, Tony Romo if you ever had to choose between them in a draft. Luck is so anti-Pianowski, hyped for a high ceiling in reality that he has not come close to achieving while Romo is sitting there with elite peripherals, similarly solid fantasy production and a super freak now at WR.

But at other positions, it's hard to say what true skill level is. So maybe your more conservative approach is better because every year teams we think are going to be terrible seem to emerge as ideal environments for fantasy production - Seattle and Washington last year and remember even Matt Ryan's rookie year when everyone was crossing Falcons off their cheat sheets. Others, like even the Jets, may end up being suitable at least. It's hard to think of any team in recent years that has not had one player with whom you can win a championship. So maybe that's why in football the waiver wire yields so much more talent than in baseball. It's not that the drafters are stupid, it's just that projecting performance is so much more challenging. I'm talking things beyond injuries even. But when you add that, too, you see how merely trading with the waiver wire can very easily yield season-altering results.

From: scott pianowski
Date: Fri, Aug 30, 2013 at 7:04 PM
Subject: bull in the heather
To: Michael Salfino

Pennington growing into Brees seems like a stretch to me, though I at least appreciate the similarities (bright guys with less-than-elite physical traits). Pennington is convenient to project because he'll never get to play and prove anything wrong. He was a pretty good player. Brady is, at worst, a Top-5 all-time quarterback, and one could legitimately argue him for any spot in the Top 5.

I want depth in the backfield this year because it runs out quickly. Look at the reach backs people take in the middle of any draft. I know you hate Mark Ingram. Giovani Bernard looks like an overdraft to me (talented as he may be). Shane Vereen's buzz is out of control, isn't it? We both don't trust Ivory.

Williams went bananas at the end of 2013 and basically said, in so many words, "I could have been doing this all year, guys." When's the last time the Panthers were run by a coach you trusted to do the right thing? They've gone overboard filling the running back cupboard, and then they don't know how to utilize the talent. I still like Williams, but in the back of my mind I'm worried the coaches will screw it up again.

Thomas was a lottery ticket who clearly was beaten by Miller, the better player. No worries. It was the lowest cost of entry and it's a cheap throw-away. You try someone else. Maybe it's Knowshon Moreno who clicks. Maybe someone clicks in Pittsburgh. I love David Wilson like everyone does (especially with Andre Brown hurt), but someone else probably siphons some cheap touchdowns. Most of my bench spots will go to running backs, same as any year. Hoard them, scratch them, throw away most, hope you get lucky once or twice. (Good job getting Wilson and Williams in the F&F, by the way.)

Yes, I'm an agnostic. I'm not trying to scream the loudest or have the buzziest opinions. I just want to compete, to have a shot to win. I don't care who it happens to be with. I'll wait in just about every league for my quarterback, and I really don't care who the middle round guy is. I've taken Luck once. I've taken Romo once (I do wish it were more). I took Kaepernick in the ninth round of the Flex Industry League last night. I eschew the target and play the market.

Real games next week. Real Table next week. The longest preseason in history is almost over.

If we didn't argue enough for you, kind reader, no worries. We have a 24/7 argument going on Twitter. Tetherball for adults.