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Survivor Strategy - Wide-Outwit, Wide-Outplay, Wide-Outlast

  Posted 7/1 by Jeff Pasquino, Exclusive to Footballguys.com

When it comes to playing in Survivor fantasy leagues, you have to change you normal lines of thinking. The method in which Survivor leagues often work is similar to a "Draft-N-Go" or "Draftmasters" format (drafting players before the season, then no transactions or changes) combined with "Best Ball". That means that your best available lineup from the players that you selected during the draft will be used to post your score. Both of these combined major rules changes force owners to rethink their approach to building the best possible team, and I am here to share with you one of the best methods to use in regards to becoming your league's Ultimate Survivor.

Survivor Leagues

For those that are unfamiliar with Survivor style fantasy football, let me explain some of it to you here (experienced players go ahead to the next section). Survivor Leagues are composed of 10-16 teams of players that are all selected before Week 1 of the NFL season - and usually well in advance of NFL training camps. Footballguys even has some diehards that draft as early as January and February for the coming season, which adds to the challenging format (See the Mock Drafts R Us Forum and "Winter Survivor Leagues" as an example - here are the WSL1 rosters). Each week every team is scored using their best possible lineup, with the top scoring team earning "Immunity" for the next week. The lowest scoring team is eliminated - unless they have Immunity from the previous week. This continues until 4 teams are remaining, at which point Immunity is no longer available but the lowest score is still eliminated. Leagues last for 16 or 17 weeks depending on the number of teams, and some weeks are scored as combinations (such as two-week totals of NFL Weeks 15 and 16) to make the number of eliminations work out correctly. Finally, one team is remaining and is crowned the League Champion, otherwise known as the Ultimate Survivor.

Now, on to the strategy discussion....

Survivor Rosters

There are a number of ways to build a Survivor team, but the goal of each team is still the same - to survive week after week. Despite the common thought, this does NOT mean that the goal is to score the most points each week - rather it is to not be last when the weekly scores are posted. That's a subtle difference, but it is important. Sure, the top scoring team gets the bonus of Immunity, but that is a one-week bonus. The best teams that post the highest scores are often the most mercurial, posting huge scores followed by terrible scores that can have them bounced out. It only takes one bad week to be eliminated, so that has to be considered when building a team.

When building a roster, it is important to determine how your final roster will look early on in your planning. If you start a typical roster (1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 K and 1 Team Defense), your bench depth is a big concern. Footballguys Survivor Leagues are often challenged by limited rosters of just 18 spots, meaning that your bench will have one backup on average for each starter. The "baseline" approach would have twice as many players as starters (i.e. 2 QBs , 4 RBs, 6 WRs, etc.). That all makes sense, but it has a huge impact in how to draft your team, especially at the WR position. Let's examine that next.

Strategies Vary Wide-ly

Let's go back to the earlier point - your best lineup is what counts. That's crucial to understand, because it impacts how you build your team. With three starting wide receivers needed each week, some drafters will try and get the three best guys they can at the onset of the draft and then hope to cover their bye weeks as they come up with their fourth and fifth guy at their later selections. In Survivor, however, bye weeks can be any week in which a player is not a Top 3 WR on your team - so the strategy has to change.

There's also a strong argument to not take three big name WRs early in your draft. By spending three picks early on wideouts, it is three picks that you don't get to spend on bolstering other starting positions. So by waiting on taking your WR3, WR4, and WR5 you can gain advantages over other teams by taking QB, RB2 and TE earlier than other teams. So what is the penalty for waiting? Let's take a hard look at the numbers:

Three is a Magic Number

Let's take the approach that you want to have three Top 36 fantasy WRs each week. That's a reasonable goal, and a great one if you are in a league with 14 or more teams. One approach would be to draft 3 receivers in the first five rounds, likely ensuring yourself of three of the Top 30 ranked receivers (at least as far as the preseason consensus rankings rate them). Based on 2007 numbers, here are how wide receivers scored based against scoring thresholds in both PPR and non-PPR leagues:

Weeks
PPR Leagues
Standard Leagues
10+ Points
7+ Points
12+
7
12
11
12
19
10
15
23
9
22
27
8
30
37
7
39
43
6
50
51
5
58
59
4
67
71

Table 1 - 2007 WR Performance in PPR and Standard (Non-PPR) Leagues

Using the thresholds of 10 points or more in PPR leagues and 7 points or more in non-PPR leagues, you can see that 30 WRs had eight or more weeks of scoring at least 10 points (37 WRs in standard leagues). Also you can see that 50 (or 51) wideouts had at least six weeks of good performances of at or above the same thresholds. For the sake of discussion, I will discuss PPR leagues, but as you can see from the chart the answers are very similar for standard leagues.

What the chart tells us is that in order to have three starting WRs each week that perform well, you want to have three receivers that get 10 points (or more) every week. The question now becomes how to get there. Let us take two approaches - drafting 3 receivers early and then 2 later, as opposed to taking one WR early and then taking 4 WRs not too long thereafter. The additional assumption here is that both teams will take a 6th WR late in the draft, but it will be not much more than a flyer for either squad so it has little impact to the first five selections.

Now, Team A takes 3 receivers early - say with his first 5 or 6 picks. That gives him (or her) 3 WRs that will get 8 or more weeks of 10+ points. Knowing this, Team A's owner will wait on WR4 and WR5, and wind up with a team that looks like this:

Rank
# Of Weeks With 10+ Points
WR1
11
WR2
10
WR3
8
WR4
4
WR5
4
WR6
2

Table 2 - WR Breakdown for Team A - Picking 3 WRs Early Then Waiting Until Late

According to the chart, WR1 and WR2 will likely have 10 or more weeks of doing well, then WR3 will be 50/50 to get 10 or more points in a given week. Because Team A's owner spent early picks on receivers, he has to go and address shortages at other key positions for the next several picks. That means WR4 and WR5 will not be added to the team until the later rounds, which means that it is reasonable to assume that WR4 and WR5 will be in the fantasy WR60-70 range.

Now let's look at Team B, who does take a WR early, but then waits on WR2 and hammers receivers for the next rounds:

Rank
# Of Weeks With 10+ Points
WR1
11
WR2
8
WR3
6
WR4
6
WR5
6
WR6
2

Table 3 - WR Breakdown for Team B - Picking 1 WR Early Then Waiting For Middle Rounds

Unlike Team A, Team B's owner spends only one early pick on a top receiver, deciding to strengthen his team at other positions. He still goes and takes WR2 in the first 5-6 rounds, but waits just a bit longer to grab WR3, WR4 and WR5. He makes sure to get five of the Top 50 WRs to try and get the projected six good weeks from each of his receivers, but that is fine because QB, RB2 and TE have already been addressed early. After 9 or 10 rounds he is likely the first team to have five receivers. His top three starters on paper don't look as impressive as many other teams, but all five are in the Top 50 projected starters for the season.

Survivors Ready?

Before we go on, it is important to notice that the projected number of weeks that will be 10 or more points for each team's wide receivers is exactly the same. Team A has the better Top 3 WRs, but Team B is deeper and it evens out. Both teams are slated for 37 good weeks from their Top 5 wideouts. Now it comes down to trying to figure out which team is better - and which approach seems like the best method. To do this, we need to go do some math.

Using probability, we can determine which team is more likely to have both two and three WRs score 10 or more points each week. Again, using just the first 5 receivers on each team, the probability for each team is as follows:

# Of WRs Scoring
10+ Points a Week
Team A Probability
Team B Probability
3 Receivers
43%
43%
2 Receivers
78%
77%

Table 4 - Probability of 3 Receivers and 2 Receivers Scoring 10+ Points in a Given Week

I have eliminated the rather complicated math behind the results, but suffice it to say that there is next to no difference in the outcome. Both teams are essentially equivalent despite the different individual WR compositions.

The Tribe Has Spoken

Look hard at Table 4. The answer to the question of "Which Team is better, Team A or Team B?" should scream out at you. While both teams are basically even, the truth is that Team B is in much better shape than Team A. Remember, Team B was drafting QB, RB2 and TE far earlier than Team A, so that squad should have much stronger starters across the board than Team A. Team A spent early picks on wideouts, yet Team B "caught up" due to the Best Ball lineup scoring to have comparable WR production.

It would seem that the better strategy for Survivor leagues is to grab five solid receivers before other teams, loading up at the position so that the weekly variation balances out to give you three strong performances each week. Grab one or two Top 20-25 WRs early in the draft, then round out your lineup before adding WR3, four and five before the Top 50 receivers are gone. While it is good to note that most teams will wind up with 5-7 receivers, the difference is the composition of those pass catchers. Quantity and some quality should add up to make three very good scores each week and balance out your lineup.

As always, feedback is welcome at pasquino@footballguys.com.