TD-only league strategy
"Look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead. There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive." -- "The Princess Bride"
With all apologies to Miracle Max, sometimes there is no gray area. Just as there's no such thing in real life as "mostly dead," when it comes to playing fantasy football in a touchdown-only league, there's no such thing as "almost scored." Either your player gets into the end zone or he doesn't. It couldn't be more cut and dry. All you have to do is look at the boxscore. If your player didn't score a touchdown, you get a goose egg. Simple as that.
You can have LeGarrette Blount when he rushes for 164 yards against the Seattle Seahawks, and I can have Lousaka Polite that same week, when he gains only 12 yards on four carries against the Detroit Lions. In standard fantasy football leagues, you'd feel pretty good about your guy. In a TD-only league, I'm the happy one because Polite found the end zone, while Blount failed to break the goal line. You get no consolation prize for those yards. You get no bonus for reaching the 100-yard milestone. You get nothing and I mean it! You don't even get a peanut.
That's not to say that you don't want to draft the big names early. After all, it's still better to have Tony Gonzalez in the red and black of the Atlanta Falcons than the similarly monikered yet always-injured receiver who plays in Indianapolis. But because yardage doesn't enter into the equation, you do have to take different considerations into account and adjust your draft boards accordingly. So here's a list of things to keep in mind before you make your selections:
You need a good quarterback
Even though quarterbacks get only four points for a touchdown in many TD-only league setups, while running backs and receivers get six, I still wouldn't have any problem drafting a stud quarterback in the first round. In fact, I might even shoot for it. First of all, every passing touchdown from a quarterback's team, whether it's thrown to a running back, receiver or tight end, is almost sure to come from that quarterback (unless it's a gadget play or the quarterback goes down).
Only in rare cases must quarterbacks fight for red-zone opportunities, and heck, when all else fails, they can even scamper into the end zone themselves. While there's never a guarantee a team will score at all in a given week, I would venture a guess and say that it's more likely that the quarterback will get points for you than any other position.
After all, there were 22 quarterbacks who threw for 16 or more scores last season (meaning an average of one per week), while the list of names at other positions with that rate of success consists of Arian Foster and, um, well, that's it.
Beware the vulturesIcon SMIMike Tolbert was the Chargers' go-to running back near the goal line last season, scoring 11 touchdowns in all.
Mike Tolbert, Mikel Leshoure, Montario Hardesty players like this might not get a sniff until the very late rounds in standard leagues, but in a TD-only league, it doesn't matter that they might get only a handful of carries, if that, per game. What does matter is how close to the end zone they are when they do get the call. On the flip side, if these guys are getting the rock in the red zone, then it has to eat away at the potential of their teammates. As such, Ryan Mathews, Jahvid Best and Peyton Hillis might all get significant carries, but when it comes to clicking for six, they could lose out if someone else gets the call from the coaching staff in close.
Many happy returns
Just think about it: A guy who returns punts and kicks gets roughly 10 free shots at the end zone each game. Don't dismiss these guys. They might end up scoring only three or four times per season, but I'd rather take my chances with Eric Weems and Marc Mariani than any Panthers wide receiver. Versatile return/receiver types such as Dez Bryant, Devin Hester, Leon Washington and Jacoby Ford all get a huge bump in value. Remember, the more opportunities a player gets, the greater his chance at reaching the end zone.
Don't be afraid to double-dip
If you have Brandon Tate in your lineup, and he returns a punt for a touchdown, you get six points. If you also have the Patriots' defense/special teams, those six points just became 12 points. If you draft Aaron Rodgers and follow it up with Greg Jennings, you have yourself 10 points each time they connect. True, if the Packers get shut out, you're now skunked on two roster spots but how often is that going to happen? I don't suggest you use the tactic with, say, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Lee Evans, but certainly I'd consider drafting my starting quarterback's tight end to make those sporadic visits to the end zone all the more valuable.
So that's draft strategy, but what about in-season? Well, you'd manage your lineup just like you would in a standard league, but one thing you need to realize: A TD-only league is far more unpredictable than your usual fantasy football league. For instance, the Colts could have their typical 30-point output in one game, yet Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark might not get you anything, even if they both rack up 150 yards of offense, if neither is one of the guys lucky enough to score. At the same time, a quarterback such as Tim Tebow could throw four interceptions in a game yet still post positive points because he scored on a bootleg in the fourth quarter.
So go with your gut. If you have a feeling this is the week that Marshawn Lynch goes off, then by all means start him over Maurice Jones-Drew. If you think the weather in Green Bay might be awful, and you don't want to start Rodgers, then feel free to put Matt Cassel in his spot.
Have fun with it and take some chances. That's what this kind of league is all about.
AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. His book, "How Fantasy Sports Explains the World" will be released in August. You can e-mail him here.
Follow AJ Mass on Twitter: @AJMass
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2011 Fantasy Football Draft Kit
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