By Leo Paciga ( @FFHoudini )
We’ve all been there, right? Our fantasy football season comes to a crashing conclusion and we’re left with a roster full of underachieving “woulda, shoulda, coulda’s”. Honestly, it’s a tough place to find yourself and it can become even more frustrating once you’ve realized you’re faced with rebuilding your dynasty roster from the ground up. In this article, I’m going to focus on the steps and aspects necessary to begin working on that complete roster rebuild. Let me also add that while it may be time consuming and somewhat stressful, blowing apart a dynasty roster and starting from scratch can be extremely rewarding. I especially enjoy taking an abandoned dynasty team that some owner has run into the fantasy football toilet, rebuilding it and achieving a level of success that the previous owner never thought possible. If you already feel the same way about dynasty rebuilds – that’s awesome. If not, then hopefully this article will cover enough methods and ideas that you’ll gain a new level of confidence when conquering a rebuild.
First Step/Roster Evaluation - I often say the first step in deciding on an off season rebuild is also the most difficult step. You have to take an HONEST look at your roster and decide whether your squad is going to be a complete “blow everything up and start from scratch” rebuild or a “tweak things on the fly” rebuild (which is more like reloading with youth and/or talent instead of a complete roster overhaul). Making an accurate assessment of your team’s strengths and weaknesses is the key to determining your next step for the upcoming off season. A large part of the evaluation process is identifying the players on your squad who make up your foundation. Just who are the players currently on your roster that have the potential to play a major role in your success 2 to 3 years from now? Any player not making that list is a bargaining chip and a trade-able commodity.
Honest evaluation of yourself as an owner - I’ve already discussed evaluating your team from a talent perspective, but you also need to critique yourself as an owner. What areas are you lacking in when it comes to managing a fantasy football team? We all like to think of ourselves as “sharks” or “hawks” or whatever trendy analogy is currently being used for shrewd fantasy football owners, but the truth is, we all have some target areas to improve upon. Some owners struggle with trade negotiations or crafting a fair offer, some owners struggle with line up decisions and still others are challenged by moving players at just the right time. Find your weakness and work on improving it by reading articles on the topic or visiting message boards like the one at Dynasty Football Warehouse. The stronger you become as an owner, the stronger your squads will become.
Study your fellow owners - You’ve all heard the old adage “knowledge is power” …..well in this case, knowing your fellow owners’ tendencies is power. It will be crucial to your rebuild that you have a very good understanding of the habits and playing styles of the other owners in your league. This is even more important if you’ve adopted an abandoned dynasty team and you’re the new owner on the block. Luckily, most online league sites like MFL, ESPN and CBSSports keep a history of team transactions so you’ll be able to go back and look through previous trades and waiver wire acquisitions. The transaction history will help you identify any owners in the league that aren’t afraid to trade for older stud players or make 2 for 1 deals. Following the transaction trail will also reveal any owners who prefer to trade draft picks for established players or owners who have a penchant for giving up too quickly on unproductive rookie players. Playing fantasy football “C.S.I.” with the waiver wire history may also shed some light on how aggressive you’ll need to be in the upcoming season when bidding for the next set of free agent players. Lastly, review previous rookie drafts in order to see if there are any drafting tendencies among your fellow owners. Sure, some savvy owners always draft the best rookie available regardless of position or team need – but some owners have a knack for always drafting the top rated rookie QB…..or always drafting WRs……or always drafting a RB in the first two rounds. Knowing these drafting tendencies will help you set your draft board, especially if you’ve acquired multiple picks for an upcoming draft. Ultimately, the more information you have on the playing styles of your fellow owners, the better position you’ll be in to wheel and deal and continue your roster makeover.
Be alert - Make sure you’re watching for off season contract news, player negotiations, training camp news and trending player values that could impact any of your players or cause concern among your fellow league mates. Potential hold out situations, free agent signings, the NFL draft and roster cuts all create ripples on the dynasty pond and you have to be quick to react and capitalize at a moment’s notice. Keep in mind that any positive news on an older player can spike value and create interest overnight. For example, Steven Jackson’s current situation – finding a new home in the Atlanta backfield – equals opportunity for his dynasty owners and has produced a major uptick in his value around the dynasty community. Owners thinking championship in 2013 may now consider the 30 year old RB as a desirable option because of the upside Jackson will offer in a potentially dominant Falcons offense. Player values fluctuate constantly in the world of fantasy football and as a rebuilding owner you have to stay just ahead of the group think mentality in order to pounce on those opportunities.
Stay active - This can be a tough one depending on your league’s activity level. Simply put, you can’t manage your way through a roster rebuild without making a lot of trades and that means making a lot of offers. I know we’re talking about fantasy football basics, but it is a MUST for any rebuilding owner to send out multiple offers to multiple owners on a regular basis. You’re going to get a ton of rejections – and even more low ball counter offers – so you’ll need thick skin, but if you send out enough decent offers one is sure to stick. I tend to measure my activity level while rebuilding both internally and externally. Internal success is measured one completed trade at a time and external success is measured 10 offers at a time. Offers in volume will create positive roster change and that positive roster transformation will happen one trade at a time.
Be willing to take diminished value - This one can be difficult for some owners to completely embrace and/or digest. As a dynasty owner working on a rebuild, you have to realize that you’ll probably be selling some of your remaining assets at a discounted price. No dynasty owner wants to give up Doug Martin or David Wilson for an aging veteran like Frank Gore regardless of how productive Gore was last season or how nicely you ask. Of course that doesn’t mean you simply give older players away, but with today’s dynasty owner so focused on youth and upside it can be difficult to find decent value for aging super stars. A rebuilding owner has to be willing to discount aging veterans no matter how productive they may be even if it causes negotiating heartburn.
Always top off a deal - Always, always, always try and get a late round draft pick thrown into a deal. Once you acquire enough draft picks, you can then decide if you want to attack your league’s rookie draft owning multiple picks (if the rookie class is deep) or instead try and upgrade by turning multiple late round picks into one early selection. Two 3rd rounders can usually be dealt for a 2nd….and two 2nd rounders can often become a 1st rounder – a good idea if the draft class is shallow or there is a particular player you covet. Another potential method for obtaining value is to target future draft picks more than a season away. Since most dynasty leagues hold their rookie drafts in May or June every year; 2013 rookie drafts are either finished or concluding all over the fantasy football landscape. That means 2014 rookie picks are currently as inexpensive as they will ever be. The window to acquire those 2014 draft picks at their best price point closes as early as October because as each NFL draft draws closer, rookie picks gain value with every big college performance and with each draft article that gets published. It happens every year like clockwork, dynasty owners develop a case of tunnel vision and become fixated on the upcoming draft class. You can use this to your advantage while rebuilding, moving current draft picks in exchange for future picks and receiving a “bump” in the process. It’s too late to capitalize on 2013 draft picks, but a 2014 2nd round pick can easily become a 2015 1st rounder or a 2014 1st round pick can be swapped for a 2014 1st and a player with upside.
Study college players - Whether you’re dissecting film on your own, or following along with draft guys on ESPN or Twitter or reading articles on sites like Dynasty Football Warehouse, you have to understand the “value” of each incoming draft class during a rebuild. Rookie draft picks can be the transfusion your squad needs to take the next step and it falls on each owner to get comfortable with player evaluations. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each draft class will help determine the value of your current picks – if you should trade up, trade down or even trade out of a round or a draft for a young player with upside already performing at the NFL level. Every owner will miss on a few rookie picks, but if you do your homework you’ll be more consistent at turning those 2nd and 3rd round selections into valuable pieces for your dynasty roster.
Don’t be afraid to take chances - You have to be willing to swing and miss when it comes to rebuilding. The success of any roster rebuilding venture focuses on being able to buy low and sell high and both of these concepts are riddled with “what ifs” and risk. What if you sell too early? What if the player you traded away continues to show an uptick in value? Should I buy now or will my “buy low” target continue to perform poorly lowering his price even further? Player values fluctuate on a day to day, hour to hour basis during a football season and while you’re rebuilding you have to try and capture that value at every opportunity. As long as you see value in the deal you’re making, don’t hesitate to go through with it. Being paralyzed by indecision is far more damaging to your rebuild than selling a little too early or buying at a price that’s slightly too high.
Targeting players - So what type of players should you target in a rebuild? The easy answer is to suggest you simply focus on upside and youth, but that’s also a weak answer. The key is to identify players you believe in from a skill set perspective and target those players aggressively, always looking for a situation that creates a momentary drop in value. For example, I love David Wilson and Lamar Miller and last season there was ample opportunity to buy both Wilson and Miller for a decent price while they sat on the bench early in the 2012 season due to rookie shortcomings (fumbling, pass protection). Players like Brian Quick, Rueben Randle, Michael Floyd and Stephen Hill are all WRs that struggled with inconsistencies and/or injuries during their rookie seasons, but all four are examples of off season targets with skill sets I would want to acquire if rebuilding. Injured players can also provide potential value because they’ll come at a discounted price and they’ll most likely be healthy by the time your squad is ready to compete. Finally, acquiring players with the intention of flipping them quickly is always an option. Yes, it may be a risky option, but like I mentioned earlier, it will take some risk to turn a rebuild into a contender. Rashard Mendenhall is a reasonable example of a “quick flip” player and his value around the fantasy football community is currently pretty low. Rashard Mendenhall spent last off season rehabbing a major knee injury and after a disappointing 5 games with the Steelers in 2012, he found a new home for 2013 in Arizona. Mendenhall might not have a highlight reel of jaw dropping performances, but he did string together 3 productive seasons averaging 264 attempts, 1103 yards and 9.6 TDs a season from 2009 – 2011. He’s 25 years old (26 in July), he’s a proven NFL RB with two 1,000 yard seasons already under his belt and he’s still relatively cheap in most dynasty leagues. That’s just the type of inexpensive upside player I look to buy and flip while rebuilding. I would try and trade for Mendenhall at his current price and then look to move him at slightly higher value once he has a solid game or two thereby adding long term value to my squad. Even if that opportunity never materializes it’s not a major setback for my rebuild because the price to acquire Mendenhall didn’t break the bank.
Be patient - I know this sounds like a contradiction to everything I’ve mentioned earlier in this article, but this is more of a “big picture” type of patience. Yes, you have to be alert, active and take risks in the day to day management of your team, but you also have to understand that the entire rebuilding process will take time. It reminds me of trying to turn around an old sailing vessel; an entire crew running around frantically on deck trying to do all the little things necessary to change direction…..yet the ship itself turns ever so slowly. Remember to stay active on a daily basis with your rebuild, but also stay patient with your eyes on the long term goal.
One final note on rebuilding - If you have questions or concerns about roster management or player values, don’t hesitate to reach out to “experts” in the industry. Twitter is a great vehicle for asking questions and gaining insight and folks at many fantasy sites like Dynasty Football Warehouse are eager to help and offer encouragement. The message boards at DFW are also filled with dynasty owners willing to help and offer insight on everything from potential trades to rookie evaluations. You can find me on Twitter @FFHoudini for any questions or comments you may have about this article or fantasy football in general. Good luck to everyone out there rebuilding a dynasty roster, I hope you all have a very active off season.