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Grand Theft Roto: Draft to trade

8/20/2008

You don't have to trade to be successful in fantasy football.

It's an ugly truth, but it's a truth nonetheless. In most leagues, especially the public ones on a certain Web site that begins with "E" and ends in "SPN.com," a savvy owner who tracks trends, keeps up with injury news and studies schedules can navigate an entire season and win without dealing.

But who wants to do that?

Seriously. Do you really want to be your league's bubble boy, enjoying your hermetically sealed roster, quarantined from the delightfully dirty world of haggling, counteroffering and legal larceny? Of course not, and that's why you're here, reading Grand Theft Roto, ESPN's only fantasy football column entirely dedicated to helping you deal and steal your way to a league title.

I've been writing these columns for baseball and football for several years, welcoming swapsters of all ages to the Grand Theft Roto Family. It's not a full-blown crime syndicate, but it's also not quite a "legitimate business" either. However, if you're new to GTR, here are the CliffsNotes:

In leagues in which you're playing against close friends, family or Disney characters who are too cute to dupe, I believe in the utopian ideal of the "fair deal" that helps both sides. "A trade is a wish your heart makes …" Sing with me.


However, in all other leagues, anything short of lying about a player's health, status or religious affiliation is allowed if it helps you seal a deal that you have no right sealing. I'm going to help you find and twist stats that will help your offers sound credible. I'll point out situations where value can be found and exploited. I'll do everything but hit "send" on your league's trading page. And just to keep me honest, I'm in the process of joining several public leagues under an assumed name for the sole purpose of using them as laboratories for my trade theories. I'll go in, draft a team or -- shudder! -- autodraft a team, and then spend all year trying to get deals done. I expect to win plenty of games along the way, but really that's just icing on the cake. So if I tell you to think about selling Peyton Manning after his first big game for Ben Roethlisberger and an upgrade at wide receiver, I'm going to go put my money where my mouth is and start shopping Manning, if I own him, as well, and then I'll report back to you, the reader.

Every Wednesday through ESPN.com's trade deadline, which is Nov. 19 (Week 12), this column will consist of three major sections. The first is "Casing the Joint," where I lay out a little strategy for targeting players and making offers. The second is "Three I'm Stealing" and "Three I'm Dealing," where I'll call out players I covet and others whose trade value has peaked. Finally, I'll get to "Pulling the Job," where I'll document any "Grand Theft Rotos" I've consummated during the week.

But before you can make your first offer, you need a team, and that means drafting. Now if you want to be that bubble boy I mentioned in the third paragraph, you can just draft your team without ever thinking about how your choices will play out on the fantasy trade market. But if you're a budding member of the GTR Fan Club, then the draft isn't the only way you build your team. It's the primordial soup that eventually is going to evolve into living, breathing trades.


Of course, drafting a trade-friendly team isn't for everyone. If your league is extremely shallow, chances are owners won't deal because they can simply pick up productive players off the wire. Also, if your co-owners are notoriously hard to reach, that's another potential roadblock. After all, it takes two to trade.

However, assuming you aren't in either of those situations, I believe there are some overriding principles you can and should employ to make sure you're ready to deal right away, and I'm giving each one a song from the '80s to help you remember them.

"Simply the Best" (by Tina Turner) -- Even Tina knows that for the first 80 picks in your draft, you take "simply the best" player on the board, regardless of position. (At least I think she does.) Look, I don't know you personally, and I don't know which cheat sheet you're using. You could be using one found on this site, or maybe you've made one of your own using Excel, a logarithm your cousin wrote and a Ouija board. Regardless, you should have at least a top 100 combining all positions; that way, when it's your turn to pick, you know who the highest-ranked player still available is. Admittedly, there are some commonsense limits that come to mind. For instance, you don't want to take your third quarterback before everyone else has their first, and I wouldn't keep passing on running backs and then end up with Ahmad Bradshaw starting for you in Week 1. But short of that, the trade-inclined owner should be amassing value early in the draft, and that means taking the best player, not necessarily the best fit for your roster. Having excess will make it easier to trade right away.

"Missing You" (by John Waite) -- The by-product of grabbing value while the rest of the owners are making sure they have all their positions covered is that you will appear to be "missing" quality at certain positions going into the season. The holes shouldn't be gaping -- you've taken the best-player-available strategy too far if Brodie Croyle is your Week 1 starter -- but still, other owners likely will notice you lack depth in a few places. That's good because you're upping the chances that someone else will notice your thin spots and begin a trade dialogue with you. That's half the battle. Maybe you're not at all worried about having Kevin Boss as your only tight end and don't care that the other guy has Dallas Clark and Jason Witten. That's fine. The point is you now have him on speed dial, so you can determine whom he likes and who he thinks is good for your team. Next thing you know, you can propose a deal with that information.

"Kickstart My Heart" (by Motley Crue) -- When a very average player has a great two- or three-game stretch in the middle of the season, he becomes a viable spot starter. When that same player has the same great stretch in the first few games of the year, he becomes the fantasy flavor of the month and has big-time trade value. Remember LaMont Jordan's 472 total yards and two touchdowns in his first three games of 2007? Of course you don't because he did nothing the rest of the year. But if you looked at his early schedule and saw the Lions, Broncos and Browns on the docket, you might have predicted it and then made a killing selling Jordan just before Week 4. That's why you should be looking at matchups over the first few weeks, to find the guys who are staring at more cupcakes than a quality-control officer for Hostess. For example, while I might not be ready to buy the idea that either Julius Jones or Maurice Morris is ready to carry the load in Seattle, I do know the Seahawks play the Bills, Niners and Rams the first three weeks. Buffalo was average against the run in terms of fantasy in 2007, but the Niners and Rams were downright generous. Suddenly, whoever gets the carries in Seattle might just be worth something by the end of September. So don't be afraid to assemble a "Crue" of players whose early-season schedules could kick-start another owner's heart.

Follow these three song-inspired strategies, throw in a little cuff-blocking (selecting your opponents' "handcuffs" at reasonable slots) and you have yourself a team that is built for swapping. Are you a burgeoning fantasy felon, or a bubble boy in training?

That's what I thought. Don't just win your league this year. Steal it, starting on draft day.

Shawn Peters is a fantasy baseball, football and golf analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him your own grand theft rotos by clicking here.