More Fear and Loathing in Fantasy Land August 20, 2012  |  C.D. Carter

So many jersey-wearing fantasy football fiends at the inaugural Fantasy Football Fest in Atlantic City were like blackjack players who never hit on 16, even when the dealer is showing the stoic face of a queen or king or jack.

The Book – the blackjack book forged through millions of mathematical simulations and proven over time – says you must, by all means, without exception, hit on 16 when the sneering dealer is showing some card with the value of 10. To stand on 16 would be to eschew The Book’s advice of cold, efficient numbers showing you the way to even colder cash money. To refuse to hit is to hock a loogie in The Book’s face.

On any blackjack table in an Atlantic City casino, you’ll find people confidently standing on their hideous 16s, kicking The Book square in the teeth.

And at Fantasy Football Fest, mock drafters told the Fantasy Football Book to shove it and drafted defenses in the fourth round or kickers in the fifth round or, oh sweet and various deities forgive us all, Cedric Benson in the sixth round.

“I have a very specific way I conduct my drafts,” said James Harris, one of a few thousand attendees at Fantasy Football Fest, which brought fantasy savants, current and former NFL stars, and scantily clad women ogled by frat bros to the Atlantic City Convention Center Aug. 18-19. “I start out with quarterback, then running back, then receiver, then…”

“Tight end?” I asked, standing before a mock draft board, trying, for whatever reason, to guess what James would say next. “Another back?”

Harris shot back a suspicious glance. “No, no,” he said, and chuckled. “A defense. Gotta go with the defense in the fourth.”

Roger Leboeuf, a fantasy footballer from Massachusetts who drafted a squad with his 10-year-old son, Nathaniel, at the convention on Sunday, explained the love of fake football defenses this way: “You get to a point [in the draft] when there’s a run on defenses, and you’re just watching the top defenses come off the board, one by one, and you’re worried you’re going to get stuck. I don’t want to say there’s panic, but it might be close. So I pretty much know I have to get a defense.”

Fake football’s book, penned by its most obsessive owners, clearly lacks the nice, neat numerical perimeters of blackjack’s proven formula. Injuries, benchings, suspensions, weather, coaching decisions: there are too many unknowns – the known and the unknown variety – in play every week.

There is no true Book in fantasy, as much as we wish there was – something to tell us who to draft and who to trade and who to pluck from the waiver wire. “Please God, tell me who to play,” we cry out because we read about the Panthers’ backfield split until we weep blood. No answer comes because, again, there is no Book.

There are, however, statistics, lots of statistics. And for anyone normal enough to play in a casual league this season, read up, because understanding who your rivals value is just as important as knowing who to value.

Owners took the 49ers defense and David Akers far too early in far too many drafts held at Fantasy Football Fest. It wasn’t uncommon, upon scanning the completed draft poster boards, to see the Niners’ defense go in the fourth or fifth round. Akers sometimes went around the same time.

If you’re reading this, probably you’re an obsessive, and you’ll smirk at the following and ask why this Fake Football dolt is wasting time reviewing why defenses and kickers should only be drafted in your league’s final rounds.

Nevertheless, let’s review.

Fantasy number crunchers have shown again and again that defense is your fantasy roster’s most volatile position, with last year’s top defensive units being no more likely to pile on the points than defenses ranked near the fantasy points basement. Offensive touchdowns are unpredictable, of course, but fantasy defenses rely on less statistically predictable plays like fumble recoveries, defensive touchdowns, and kick return touchdowns. There is some predictive value in interceptions and yards allowed; hence, there are fantasy defensive teams ranked higher than others. But drafting a defense in the fifth, sixth, or even tenth round is a waste. It goes against one of the only reliable parts of The Book.

Jonathon Bales, author of “Fantasy Football for Smart People,” sums up why drafting a kicker outside of the very last round is pure hooey.

I love to debunk fantasy football “truisms,” but the old adage that you should wait until the last round to draft a kicker is here to stay. The correlation between kickers’ fantasy points from [Year 1] to [Year 2] is actually negative (that is, there is absolutely no meaningful way to predict how many fantasy points a kicker will score). Although extra points are somewhat predictable, the instability of field goal totals makes predicting kicker points a total guessing game.

Yet, people armed with draft magazines and printouts, who made the trip to Atlantic City to hear experts talk about strategy and former greats sign autographs, who play in a dozen or more leagues, who have logged countless thousands of hours watching pigskins fly through the air on Sunday afternoons, were more than happy to burn mid-round picks on kickers and defenses.

I hung around the draft tables in the corner of the convention center and watched owners make the same mistakes, every draft, without fail. They stood on 16 when the dealer showed a jack, they hit on 12 when the dealer showed a five, they didn’t split their aces, they didn’t double on 11.

This makes me an elitist ass, I know. And if you’re laughing at these owners’ complete disregard for the Fantasy Football Book, maybe you are too. But know this: I lost a fantasy title last year to a team that didn’t change its lineup for the season’s final five weeks. In another league, a guy who drafted Tim Tebow in the second round last August won the championship in December. My officemate lost his title match-up to some schmuck who took quarterbacks in the first, third, fourth, and sixth rounds.

I never stand on 16, never even consider it, and if you know even a little bit about blackjack, you don’t either.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember why.

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