I joined a startup with my friend Tim Torch that is ongoing this week. We thought it would be a good opportunity to employ some of the principles from The Analytics of Dynasty in the startup to build a strong core.
The format is Superflex with 4PT passing TDs and 1.75 PPR scoring for TE. The remainder of the scoring is stock PPR. The total roster is 36 players deep with starting lineups of start 1QB/1RB/1WR/1TE/1SF/5 flex.
Rookie pick placeholders are in the draft with a rookie draft occurring after the NFL Draft.
There were three basic principles we applied going into the draft:
1. Be strong at QB
In Superflex leagues, my research suggests do not be behind at the position. If you need to address the position, it is costly in rookie drafts and the trade market. As a result, one of the cheapest ways to address the position is in a startup draft. We wanted to be strong, with two stable options in the first 40 picks and a quality third option. Based on the build with our first two quarterbacks, we would choose between an upside or a stable veteran at QB3.
2. Be lean at WR
With the format only requiring one wide receiver, we were comfortable with a small wide receiver corps. We wanted to implement some of the findings of the book and be aggressive with them. Our plan was 3 or 4 WRs total in a 36 man roster.
3. Trade down
We had a number of targets in addition to strength at quarterback and wide receiver, including a stable TE1, with targets of Hunter Henry, David Njoku, and Evan Engram. The strategy called for depth at running back and being overweight in rookie picks. While the rookie class seems weak at the top, there are running backs we like beyond the top 5 at the position. Recent drafts I have seen show rookie picks are falling rounds below their historical value.
With the draft taking place in February, more than six months before the 2019 season, there are a lot of unknowns. Embracing that was a critical strategy. We set out to exploit this uncertainty by trading down to collect a deep collection of players and picks combined with drafting high pedigree players with low term stability.
First 8 rounds
We drew 1.04 in the random selection of picks. We assumed Saquon Barkley and Patrick Mahomes were likely to be gone before we picked and felt there was a large tier of players after them. We were aggressive in the trade market to set the trade down price and struck quickly.
Trade 1: Gave 1.04 for 2.06, 4.06, and a 2020 1st.
By WORP metrics, this was a 31% win on value. This gave us a lot of flexibility in roster construction, and the fact we only gave away one pick while receiving two in the startup draft was a good hidden efficiency in the trade.
Trade 2: Gave 2.06 for 3.11 and a 2020 1st.
Our target at 2.06 was Mike Evans, but he went off the board at 2.04. With a wide tier of players still available, we moved down again to 3.11 while adding a 2020 1st. The range at 3.11 is a prime range for the type of build we were targeting. Quarterbacks were slow to go off the board, with only Mahomes and Luck off the board, so the trade down did not leave us behind at the position. The cascade trade of 1.04 netted us 3.11, 4.06, and two 2020 1st round rookie picks, about a 50% boost in our expected WORP over the next three seasons.
Pick 1: Amari Cooper (2.09)
We took Amari Cooper at 2.09 as WR8. There were higher upside WRs on the board, including Antonio Brown and Julio Jones, but Cooper was the safest. With a lean efficiency strategy at WR, we were focused on stability more than Y1 upside. As a top 5 NFL draft pick with a highly productive 2018 season after the trade to Dallas, Cooper fit the mold. We passed on Aaron Rodgers at this point with comfortable options like Baker Mayfield and Russell Wilson in a tier still available.
Pick 2: Baker Mayfield (3.04)
Baker Mayfield was our QB1 after Rodgers went off three picks beforehand. With a good rookie season, high pedigree, and elite metric profile, Mayfield is a safe stable option at the position as QB5. We notably passed on Russell Wilson.
Pick 3: Jared Goff (3.11)
Like Mayfield, Goff was a number one overall pick, in a good offense with good supporting weapons. This was a post-Super Bowl discount as it would be unlikely he fell this far without a bad taste in people’s mouth from the Super Bowl. As QB8, he was the last QB in our tier of safe QBs at the top of the board.
Pick 4: Leonard Fournette (4.06)
Discounts became a theme as we took Fournette at 42 overall. With top 5 pedigree, his stock is only this low because of injuries and bad narratives on his status on the Jaguars. This is likely the biggest risk we took, but with an extra pick, and a positive view of his upside, he was a good target at the end of the tier at RB15.
Pick 5: Corey Davis (4.09)
Entering the draft, we had a target of three wide receivers as a top two wide receivers: Amari Cooper, Brandin Cooks, and Corey Davis. We passed on Cooks at 4.06 in favor of Fournette and he was taken right in front of us at 4.08. We easily stepped up and took Davis as WR14, and like him to improve his efficiency in 2019. We like him to outproduce his 2018 WR26 finish for years to come.
Pick 6: Rookie 1.01 (5.04)
This was an interesting spot. We filled our need at WR, had two strong QBs, and the luxury of Fournette. We liked some quarterbacks, like Matthew Stafford, but thought the price was too high in a wide tier of quarterbacks. Additionally, our wide receiver picks were targeting Will Fuller and Sammy Watkins several rounds later. There were no target players at running back and there was a tier of five tight ends we liked, so 1.01 was the pick largely by a process of elimination and hope for value upside in the next few months.
Trade 3: Gave 6.09 for 7.11 and 2020 2nd
QB3 was on the radar, and there was a tier of five quarterbacks we felt comfortable with Derek Carr, Josh Rosen, Drew Brees, Andy Dalton, and Tom Brady. We wanted a stable QB3 to allow rookie pick flexibility in the next two years, but a tier was present so we decided to move down a full round and collected a 2020 2nd round pick. We owned 7.04 and figured to take a quarterback in the tier.
Pick 7: Tom Brady (7.04)
When Tim and I talked about this pick on the phone, we discussed this pick as a roster construction pick. We liked the ability to get a QB we liked at 1.01 in the rookie draft but took the pick for flexibility. If we passed on Brady here, we boxed ourselves in during the rookie draft. This is exactly the situation to avoid in startup drafts. Brady fell to 7.04 after Carr, Rosen, Brees, and Dalton went in four of the five picks after we traded down. This worked perfectly as a trade down to the bottom of a tier for us. With Goff and Mayfield as long-term stable quarterback options, Brady as a short-term, high upside bridge option at QB27 off the board is an ideal QB3 and preserving our roster flexibility.
Pick 8: David Njoku (7.11)
David Njoku was the 4th TE off the board. We liked the tier here of Evan Engram, Hunter Henry, Eric Ebron, O.J. Howard and David Njoku as a TE1. Howard went off the board at 7.09 as TE4, more than five full rounds later than TE3 Zach Ertz at 2.07. With the seal broken on the next tier of TEs, we had to make a choice or risk missing out. Ultimately we chose Njoku for the upside variance of a stack with Mayfield. We were right to be aggressive, as Henry (8.01), Engram (8.02), and Ebron (8.09) all went before our next pick.
Pick 9: Sammy Watkins (8.11)
Our goal entering the draft was Sammy Watkins or Will Fuller in round 8 as WR3. Both were available at 8.11 and we went with the former top 5 pick in the NFL Draft in the best offense in the NFL.
We accomplished our goals of strong quarterbacks (Mayfield, Goff, and Brady), despite missing on Rodgers and Wilson early in the draft. Our three trade downs netted us an additional top 50 pick, two future 1sts, and a future 2nd. The additional top 50 pick, 4.06 yielded us Leonard Fournette, a potential top 12 RB with depressed value.
Our only “miss” player was Brandin Cooks, who we passed on for Fournette at 4.06 with hopes he fell to 4.09. Unfortunately, he went off the board at 4.08.
The transition to the later rounds looked at the close of round 8 to be a straightforward turn towards running backs and depths at tight end and quarterback, with the hope to accumulate more rookie picks.