Fantasy Football Waiver Wire Theory and Week 3 Pickups
Back in college, a few of my buddies and I competed in a weekly poker tournament. It was generally for fun, but we still played with real money. At a time of my life when 20 big ones could be strung out for a week’s worth of grub, those 10 and 20-cent blinds seemed a whole lot more substantial than they do now.
The majority of my poker-playing days are a blur, for more reasons than one. There’s one particular hand that really stands out in my mind, however. After losing some cash earlier in the night, I received the good fortune of being dealt pocket Aces. For those who don’t play poker (more specifically, Texas Hold’Em), the exact thought that was running through my mind was “Wahooo!”
I raised and headed to the flop with just one caller. Now clearly I don’t remember the exact three cards that came out on the flop, so it’s a lie when I say they were a 2, 4, and King. It’s only a half-lie, though, because the cards were at least close to that, and we all know a half-lie is both more useful and moral than telling the truth.
I raised post-flop, again getting a call. On the turn came a 9, and yet another raise. This one put my opponent all-in, and he made the call. We flipped over our cards, and my pocket Aces were beating his Ace and King.
Now if you’ve ever heard anyone tell a poker story, you can pretty much guess what’s coming next. I mean, would I really be going through all of this if the river was a deuce and I took down the pot? No, obviously that fifth card out was a King and I lost the hand. Ridiculed by my buddies, I knew that I still made the correct move.
So what’s the moral of this story, besides don’t continue listening to a guy who starts telling what has perhaps become a horribly-boring college poker tale? The moral is that the end doesn’t necessarily justify the means. There are good ways to play poker and bad ways to do it, and in a game that is inherently filled with luck, favorable outcomes are only sometimes a reflection of solid play.
“A game that is inherently filled with luck.” Sound like another game many of you play? Look, fantasy football is absolutely as much of a game of luck as it is one of skill. Your goal as a fantasy owner, like that of the poker player, isn’t to guarantee success, but rather to simply maximize your chances for it. Like going all-in with pocket Aces that are the best hand and OH MY GOD HOW COULD HE CALL ME!?, great fantasy owners aren’t characterized solely by championships, but the means they implement to reach that end.
So while it’s true that the prosperity of your waiver wire choices will be determined largely by luck, you can still maximize your chances of success by playing the odds. But what are those odds?
I tracked the top 80 early-season Week 1 waiver wire pickups since 2008. Only 25 percent of those have gone on to post starting-quality numbers in fantasy leagues with lineups of 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, and 1 TE, i.e. your chances of hitting on a free agent, even in the beginning of the season, ain’t great.
Above, you can see the breakdown of “hit percentage” by position. While many people jump all over running backs and tight ends in free agency, note that it is the quarterbacks and tight ends that generally excel. The primary reason is that, with only one starter at each position, there are plenty of quality options left on waivers.
Although the running back and wide receiver positions are deeper, so is their presence on benches. Many owners have just one tight end on their roster, for example, while some owners have seven or more backs.
With this data in mind, you can channel your inner Phil Hellmuth and blow up on all these donkeys maximize your opportunity for success. To help along the way, here are a couple of outstanding quarterback and tight end options heading into Week 3. . .
QB Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
It’s important to not overreact to just one game, but you shouldn’t be playing fantasy football if you can’t see that Weeden is a future Hall of Fame quarterback and already a top 20 passer of all-time.
QB Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
Second and third-year players who underperformed early in their careers often represent the most value for fantasy owners. Bradford’s 8.47 YPA suggests he’s on the right track, and he’ll average more than the 30 attempts per game that he’s already posted.
TE Scott Chandler, Buffalo Bills
Two games, two touchdowns. That means 16 touchdowns is a minimum estimate, right?
TE Martellus Bennett, New York Giants
If you’re in a shallow league, Bennett might still be available. With 16 targets in two games, Bennett has already gotten two-thirds of the looks he received in all of 2011.