Spread the scarcity: Two-QB leagues might be truest fantasy test
If there's one complaint I hear all the time about standard fantasy football leagues, it's that fantasy owners don't get to fraternize with cheerleaders.
But if there's a second complaint I hear all the time about standard fantasy football leagues, it's that the most important position in real football -- quarterback -- is too normalized and commodified, and thus marginalized, on fantasy draft day. I mean, an NFL franchise would sell its first-born mascot (and spend hundreds of millions of dollars) to find a great starting quarterback, but when it comes to fantasy drafts, we "experts" routinely tell you to take two running backs and often one or two receivers before you grab a signal-caller?
Well, there's a flavor of ESPN's fantasy football game that solves this issue. When you play the "Two-QB" version of our game, you're forced to start a second quarterback (as well as a third receiver). Even in a 10-team league, quarterback scarcity now becomes an issue, in a way that previously applied to only running backs. (Sorry to those of you in search of a "Two-Kicker" game.) Not only must you select two quarterbacks for your starting lineup, but you have to seriously consider grabbing a third for bye weeks. When the 20 best signal-callers are in starting fantasy lineups, it gets a heck of a lot harder to troll for decent options if you're in need of a backup.
In addition, Two-QB leagues inject another starting wide receiver into the mix, so you now have 11 starters: two QBs, two RBs, three WRs, one RB/WR, one TE, one K and one DEF. The overall intention here, clearly, is to try to balance the top of your fantasy draft. Even in standard leagues, the strategy of always going RB-RB in your first two rounds has become at least mildly suspect; in Two-QB leagues, it is downright bankrupt. No, the idea of a Two-QB league is to spread scarcity more evenly across fantasy's three primary positions. Let's look at a handy little chart to see what I mean; let's compare scarcity in standard leagues and Two-QB leagues:
|Two-QB League Scarcity Analysis|
|Pos||Starters (Real NFL)||Starters (Fantasy)||Percent Started|
|QB - Standard||32||10||31%|
|QB - Two-QB||32||20||62%|
|RB - Standard||32||20||62%|
|RB - Two-QB||32||20||62%|
|WR - Standard||64||20||31%|
|WR - Two-QB||64||30||47%|
In other words, whereas in a standard fantasy league, RB scarcity tends to be twice as urgent as QB and WR scarcity, in a Two-QB league, you have the same percentage of starting NFL players at RB and QB who will wind up starting in fantasy leagues. Now, these percentages aren't entirely accurate, because there's a RB/WR flex starting position in each of these league types. But the point stands: We've substantially leveled the playing field among positions.
Does this mean you should ignore that tried-and-true fantasy maxim about RB primacy? Not quite. A look at the standard deviations among the top performers at each of the three major fantasy positions reinforces that getting a stud rusher is still important:
|Fantasy Point Standard Deviations, 2007|
|Position||Top 10 Std. Dev.||Top 20 Std. Dev.||Top 30 Std. Dev.|
Translation: The drop-off among the elite running backs is nearly instantaneous, whereas the drop-off among the elite quarterbacks happens in the 11-to-20 range, and there really is no drop-off among elite receivers -- they're spread out relatively evenly.
Thus, despite the fact that scarcity now is evenly spread among QB, RB and WR, it still makes sense to try to grab what we currently consider an "elite" rusher in the first round of your Two-QB draft. Certainly, that includes LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson, Brian Westbrook, Steven Jackson and Joseph Addai. (However, if you can't get one of those guys, taking Tom Brady or Randy Moss in the first round continues to be a fine strategy, as it is in a standard league.) Where things start to get confusing is after your first pick.
Now you have to start thinking quarterback. The stars (Brady, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo and Drew Brees) all should be second-round picks, and whereas in standard leagues, my advice always is to wait a long, long, long time to take your quarterback if you miss out on the elites, in a Two-QB league, you don't have such luxury. Now, grabbing your first quarterback is as urgent as grabbing your first wide receiver and your second running back. And frankly, the beauty of our Two-QB format is that I really can't prescribe, round by round, which positions you should take in the third, fourth and fifth rounds. After you make sure to secure that top-10 rusher, the best strategy I can offer is to take the best remaining players on the board, regardless of position, with the caveat that you'd better spread the love among QB, RB and WR. Focus too heavily on any of these, and the scarcity bug will bite you in the positions you ignore.
In summary, my draft strategy recommendations for Two-QB leagues go like this:
• Continue to lean toward RB in the first round, and continue to try like heck to get one of the top 10 rushers.
• Take your first quarterback in the second or third round, unless it's Brady.
• Stick to the "best available" premise in the first four or five rounds.
• However, in those early rounds, don't focus on one of the "big three" positions to the exclusion of any other.
• Think seriously about drafting three quarterbacks, because bye weeks will be tough to fill.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner across all three of those sports. You can e-mail him here.
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