Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Life Substitutes are constituted for another Fantasy Football season

The Life Substitutes have been doing a yeoman's job for at least five years now of keeping us entertained through the gift of fantasy football.  That's as far back as our records indicate that we've had a team with that name keeping us busy.  They play on's system, in a twelve team league, and this year it's called the Seattle Seahawks Die Hards.

Strategically, it's always a good idea to latch on to a league for fans of a specific NFL team if you don't have the same affiliation, because as they chase players from their beloved hometeam, they overvalue them and undervalue some gems that get scooped up by *this guy [Note: the asterisk (*) denotes two thumbs pointing at owner/author].  We saw a lot of that today during the Live Draft, players like Kellen Winslow and the 'Hawks defence being drafted in the fourth round (no lie), and others like Zach Miller and Robert Turbin (who?) being drafted at all.  Great for *this guy.

The Substitutes were slotted in the seventh position of the twelve team snake draft, and we did a few mock drafts to get a feel for how it would go.  The strategy going in was to not blindly follow the old-school strategy of loading up on running backs early, since the importance of doing so has faded with the essential demise of the stud RB.  Nowadays with RB platoons, there are very few backs who are worth spending a first or second-round choice on,  The better, more modern strategy is to possibly grab a stud wide receiver or franchise quarterback, a guy who doesn't come off the field and reliably produces points, and look for RB bargains with later, less spendy lower round picks.

The results of the mocks showed that we could reasonably expect to snag Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, or maybe luck out and have Drew Brees or even better Tom Brady 'fall' in our laps.  We game-planned a plan 'A' with Calvin Johnson as our first pick, followed by a second-round choice of either Bears RB Matt Forte or Texans' WR Andre Johnson.

Now, some may think that spending a #7 choice on a WR isn't a wise move, but Calvin 'Megatron' Johnson is an absolute beast, a physical specimen at 6'5" and 230 lbs with speed and magic hands.  We suspect that this season we'll witness a season for the ages from him, and he will be head and shoulders above every other WR in production, so drafting him early makes sense to us.

Our plan 'B' was to snag either of Brees or Brady, and then take either Forte or failing that Andre Johnson.  With either plan, we would have a reasonable certainty of a truly spectacular and productive athlete with our first pick.

So of course, the draft went sideways right off the bat.  Despite all the mocks that showed otherwise, Brady, then Brees, then Calvin Johnson came off the board before our turn came up.  Unprepared and lackadaisical, we perused the names left over and settled on Matt Stafford, the Detroit Lions QB who will be (we hope) feeding all the passes and touchdowns to Megatron.  He had a spectacular season last year, when he finally was able to avoid injury, and threw for 5000 yards and 40 touchdowns.  We were lucky to scoop him up in a later round last season, and obviously such a bargain wouldn't happen this year, but felt confident that he would justify the first-round pick spent on him, again if he stayed healthy.  So we went ahead and clicked, drafting him as our first pick, and immediately had second thoughts.

What a smart Fantasy GM should have done before clicking is ask himself "Which player(s) got bumped down out of the Top 6 if Brees, Brady and Megatron went earlier than anticipated?"  Which, it turns out, was LeSean McCoy, the Eagles RB who is an absolute stud, and produced tons of points for the Substitutes last season.  There he was, sitting available to be picked, except we didn't do our due diligence of actually taking a good look at who was available instead of kind of guessing who must be left.  Facepalm.

If we could do it over again, we would take LeSean McCoy instead of Matt Stafford, in a heartbeat.  No question.  It's not a disaster, but a serious lapse.  One which could get us fired.  If we didn't own the team.  Still.  Qualms.

Bravely we carried on, since we know that injuries and the waiver wire are usually how a league is won or lost, not the draft's first round.  Perseverance.  Forbearance.  Resolve.

The second round went more as we planned, with Matt Forte being available, and we snapped him up.  Some question whether he will be effective this season, seeing as he injured his knee late last year, and will split carries with former Raider Michael Bush, who may steal some goal-line TD's away.  We feel that the knee injury was a minor one, seeing as it was only a MCL strain, something which we have recovered from very quickly when we suffered one snowboarding, riding a rail and falling off awkwardly.  We were back on snow within two months with no ill effects, so we can trust that Matt Forte will be fully ready to resume his stellar production for the Bears.  As far as the increased competition for carries, we'll take that in stride, and suspect that the improved Bears offence with the addition of Brandon Marshall will more than make up the lost opportunities for Mr. Forte.

In the third round, according to the original plan, we felt that there would be some value at wide receiver more than any other position.  Certainly since we didn't yet have one, it became more urgent that we snag one in this round.  Except that as usual, the real draft deviated from our mock, with some other GM's doing some unexpected things.  And once our turn came up, undisputed #1 rusher for the high-powered Atlanta Falcons Michael Turner was staring us in the face.  Now, Mr. Turner is 30 years old, and has a lot of mileage, which means there's a risk he will fade this season, as he seemed to do late last season, but the thinking here is that while he won't be the main weapon with Matt Ryan airing it out to Julio Jones and Roddy White, he'll have plenty of opportunities as he closes out drives and games.  Plus, he's a former Charger, we've always loved 'Turner the Burner', and wish he'd never left.  So we decided to grab him, set ourselves up in the backfield with two strong starters, and hope to find some value in WR's still in the fourth round and later.

We missed out on Brandon Marshall by a couple of spots in the fourth, we almost took him in the third and had mocked doing so repeatedly, so we settled on Marques Colston of the Saints.  He is a reliably productive wide receiver, and despite the array of weapons at Drew Brees' disposal he tends to get more than his share of targets.  Especially with Robert Meachem having left the Saints, we figured he was our best option, and we like cheering for the Saints, so we'd rather have him our team than regrettable characters like Dwayne Bowe or DeSean Jackson.  He'll get us over 1000 yards and close to ten touchdowns, so we're okay with that.

The fifth round brought us another surprise, and another deviation from the plan of drafting big-name, dominating receivers early.  Beckoning us as we got ready to pick was All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates.  Gates is a personal favourite of ours, and we like being able to cheer for our team and our favourite players on the field and on the scoreboard.  Also, he has been flying at Chargers training camp, he's reportedly fully healed from the Lisfranc fracture he suffered two years ago. So we got to thinking.

One consideration is that we wanted to avoid drafting Chargers this season, or at least chasing them, since the offensive line is a gigantic question mark for them and Philip Rivers may suffer a repeat of the woes he went through last season when he had happy feet, running for his life and chucking interceptions.  The O-line this year may be even worse, and the results in exhibition games has been less than stellar.  Then again, it may be more the WR's who tend to suffer if the QB doesn't get the protection he needs.  If anything, the TE may prosper from this, as the QB looks for him as a lifeline and quick dump-off option.

Also, we thought we didn't want to chase a premier TE, since Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham had torn up the league last season and shone a spotlight on the position.  We thought we'd sacrifice an elite TE and go dumpster diving in the late rounds, maybe grab Owen Daniels from the Texans who has been productive in the past but struggled last season recovering from ACL surgery.  We hoped the tradeoff would be worth it, that we'd gain more by taking WR's and RB's while other teams 'reached' for their TE's.

But this was Antonio Gates, available in the 5th round, the value was too good to pass up, so we adapted and snagged him and felt pretty good about it.  We feel he could produce at the top of his position as he has done frequently in the past.  He's equal in potential to the young upstarts from New England and New Orleans.

Now, we had our QB, two RB's and a TE.  And only one WR.  We felt good about our draft, even if we were seriously off course, since our planning had identified some bargains in the later rounds that would serve us well.

In the sixth we snagged WR and former-Charger guilty pleasure Vincent Jackson, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  He is basically uncoverable, at 6'5" and 230 lbs he can outmuscle any defensive back, and has the speed to run away from most cornerbacks and safeties.  His ability to jump up and get the ball before a 5'10" CB can swat at it is well established.  He does have to establish a rapport with his new QB Josh Freeman, who is a notch below Philip Rivers.  Mr. Freeman will struggle to deliver him as many deep balls accurately, but on the other hand Mr. Jackson won't have to fight for targets with the many other options he was up against in San Diego.  If we get 1000 yards and 8 or 10 touchdowns from VJ, we're happy.

The seventh round took us on another side road rather than the intended route.  We were getting a little antsy about our lack of WR's, both in terms of quantity and quality, as we saw the names which remained on the board.  It almost played to our advantage though, in that the players who we'd identified as targets once we reached this stage of the draft we felt we didn't need to draft right away, that they would last a couple more rounds.  Meanwhile, Stevan Ridley of the Patriots was still on the board.  He'd been hanging on for a few rounds as teams chased other positions, until he dropped in our laps when we felt that we couldn't ignore the value of a #1 rusher for the Patriots.  Granted, we're aware that Bill Belichick is known for splitting carries between his backs, he might as well be the architect of the 'running back by committee' plague that is endemic now, what with the rotations of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Sammy Morris and Laurence Maroney and touchdown thief Kevin Faulk.  This year, however, it appears that Mr. Ridley is the undisputed winner of the training camp battle.  He's big so he won't be taken out at the goal line, and he can block and catch the ball, so he won't come out on third downs.

So with the opportunity to add a #1 back, we didn't hesitate.  While we didn't want to chase RB's early in the draft, we do value a good bargain, and a starting RB on a productive offence obtained with a seventh rounder is the very definition of a bargain, if not a steal.  Also, we don't want to give the impression that we don't value RB's.  Quite the contrary.  There's nothing more depressing than facing a juggernaut opponent and you're throwing out as one of your backs a Bengals third-down back.  Ugh.  We do want depth to be able to play matchups against defences and in different weather conditions, and to palliate against the prospect of injuries.  Now with three starting RB who can account for themselves on Sundays, the Life Substitutes are on solid ground.

With the 8th pick, we (finally) grabbed the third WR for our squad in Titus Young, the projected #2 opposite Calvin Johnson for the Lions.  Not a very intimidating pick, it's more of a hunch that could pay off if he and Matt Stafford combine for a lot of throws, that'll add up real quick if we get yards and touchdowns on both ends of these completions.  He's a speedy second-year receiver out of Boise State, the perfect complement for Megatron in that he will stretch the field and allow Matt Stafford to stretch his arm out.  Mr. Young has had some issues on the field, being involved in an altercation during practice with Louis Delmas this spring, sucker punching his counterpart and being held out of the next day's OTA.  This was the second such incident, seeing as he'd been involved in a similar incident with Malcolm Jenkins of the Saints during their tilt last season.  Worrisome, but this is the Lions we're talking about, it's par for the course for those choirboys, and we're only spending an eighth-rounder anyway.  Modest risk, potential for a high reward.

Still juggling priorities as we got to the ninth round, we felt comfortable that our WR reserves would last another round or two, so we decided to get some quarterback insurance in Matt Schaub who was still loitering around on the board.  This was somewhat according to the original plan, in that we thought we'd target him as our starting QB around the 6th or 7th round, so we're ecstatic that we got him on our bench this late in the proceedings.  Mr. Schaub had an off-year last season, after a couple of productive seasons, but this was strictly due to injuries, and he's fully healthy this pre-season and has been productive in exhibition season.  If he performs to expectations, we should reap 4000 yards and 30 touchdowns as he helms an explosive attack.  Heck, it might make for a QB controversy on the Life Substitutes, as the coach vacillates between him and Matt Stafford from week to week, agonizing over the matchups, weather, home vs. away factor, etc.  Anyway, better have two options rather than none.  Love us some Matt Schaub in the ninth round.

Once the tenth rolled around, it was time to add some WR depth, some we'd projected would still be there for the taking.  Sure enough, both Anquan Boldin and Malcom Floyd were still available, and we snagged the latter.  Again, it kind of goes against the stated intention to not draft Chargers, but we didn't chase him, we let him drop in our laps very late.  And at this point in the draft, every player has some warts.  Malcom is an athletic 6'5" receiver who is great near the goal line and with long bombs, as well as jump balls.  He has good chemistry with Philip Rivers, and if he can stay healthy, we can expect 800 yards or more and 6-8 touchdowns.  Again, the ceiling is high with Malcom, injuries have kept him down, as well as having to fight for targets with VJ and Antonio.  Another low risk, potential for high reward pick.

We lost out on Anquan Boldin, he was snapped up immediately before our turn in the eleventh round, but we didn't fret, we had another WR on the back burner for even later on.  So we added to our RB depth by picking Rashad Jennings of the Jaguars.  He missed the entire 2011 season due to a knee injury which at first was thought to be an ACL tear, which wasn't the case.  He felt ready to return in October, but had been placed on Injured Reserve and was ineligible to return.  This spring during OTA's and at training camp, all reports are that he's completely healthy and looking like a starting RB.  Funnily enough, Maurice Jones-Drew, the man in front of him on the depth chart, is embroiled in a contract holdout with the Jags.  Now, chances are minimal that MoJo will sit out the year, but the Jags may give more carries to Mr. Jennings to prepare the succession, as MJD could be traded.  Also, the track record for running backs who miss the entire summer and training camp is not great, they tend to get injured or underperform.  So we feel we may have a starting RB on our hands in all but official designation right now.

Another similar option that we considered was Ben Tate, the Texans' super sub RB, and we had mocked/planned to get both, but we hadn't expected to find Stevan Ridley in the middle rounds.  With room for only one RB, we went with Mr. Jennings due to the potential absence/departure of MJD, but Ben Tate plays in that Houston offence where he can do some damage coming off the bench.  It was almost a tossup, but we feel comfortable we made the right choice.

We don't usually draft Defences until the 13th round, and Kickers until the 14th, and usually a dart board comes in handy during the proceedings.  But all we had left to draft beside these two positions was another WR, and the one we had targeted was very likely to last to the bitter end if the mock drafts we had done were any indication.  So we looked at the defences available, and were disappointed to find the Giants, with their crazy pass rush and late, late Week 11 Bye, were no longer available, as the mocks I had performed had indicated would be likely.  So we grabbed the Patriots, with their late-ish Week 9 Bye, and hoped that their retooled defensive line will cause more havoc than in recent seasons and reap us many points.  We resisted the temptation to grab the Chargers D, tantalizingly still available, to preserve our sanity and reduce the complication of picking up another player with a Week 7 Bye.

In the thirteenth, we held off again on the WR, and selected Dan Carpenter of the Dolphins as our kicker.  Now I don't really care about kickers, their performance is so scatter-shot and unpredictable from season to season, it's a waste to grab one earlier than right at the end.  I usually try, if I can, to pick a guy with a potent offence who plays in a warm weather city, but not in this case.  Well, Miami is warm, but not the offence.  Anyway, who cares, it's a kicker.

For the final pick, we picked up Emmanuel Sanders of the Steelers.  He's the #3 WR on the team, now that Hines Ward has retired, and should get his share of balls.  The Mike Wallace holdout and fallout might play in his favour too, for the same reasons discussed for Maurice Jones Drew.  A cheap, cheap pickup, as valid as any this late, with lots of upside.

The thought had entered our mind in the last three rounds that maybe we could pick up an extra TE instead of a WR, seeing as Owen Daniels was still available and he might be a good combo with Matt Schaub, but it didn't make sense to beef up an area of strength with Gates already on the roster, and neglect a possible weakness.  By the fourteenth round Mr. Daniels was gone, so the decision was confirmed for us, and we are quite comfortable with Mr. Sanders on our roster.

So there we have it, a good draft, save from the boneheaded miscue by *this guy right off the start, one from which we hope to have recovered later on.  We'd give this draft a B+.  Really, really happy with the QB situation, confident that the RB's will be a strength, and we have a premier TE.  The WR's aren't overwhelming but may be productive, and we might have the currency (RB's) to make a trade for WR's later on if need be.

QB                          Stafford, Matthew                         1
RB                           Forte, Matt                                   2
RB                           Turner, Michael                            3
WR                         Colston, Marques                          4
WR                         Jackson, Vincent                           6
WR                         Young, Titus                                 8
TE                           Gates, Antonio                              5
DST                        Patriots                                         12
K                             Carpenter, Dan                              13
Bench (QB)                         Schaub, Matt                     9
Bench (RB)                          Jennings, Rashad              11
Bench (RB)                          Ridley, Stevan                   7
Bench (WR)                        Floyd, Malcom                  10
Bench (WR)                        Sanders, Emmanuel            14

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