When is a defensive end a defensive end? When is he a linebacker? Can he be both at the same time?
As it relates to IDP fantasy football, the answer to these questions can be quite important.
Consider the case of Elvis Dumervil in 2013. Due a base salary of $12 million, the Denver Broncos went to Dumervil and asked him to renegotiate to a lower cap figure. The two sides agreed to a cut of $4 million on the final day before the larger cap figure was to take effect. But due to a fax mishap – yes, you read that right, as in “fax machine” – the renegotiated contract didn’t arrive at Broncos HQ in time, and mere minutes before the $12 million figure became official, the team had to release Dumervil, who then signed with the Baltimore Ravens.
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No big deal, right? For fantasy football IDPers, it was a very big deal.
In Denver, Dumervil played defensive end in a 4-3 set. In Baltimore, the Ravens run a 3-4, and Dumervil became an outside linebacker.
His fantasy value plummeted. He went from being a top-5 option at defensive end – a very shallow position – to a linebacker that would not be able to crack the top 30 at the position given his tackle and sack numbers.
The same year saw DeMarcus Ware go from an OLB to a DE in many scoring systems because the Cowboys switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Although Ware didn’t live up to the promise of what he could have produced in fantasy football because of injuries, the position change vaulted him from a top 40 linebacker option to a top 10 defensive lineman option based on his 2013 stats. He was the anti-Dumervil.
All of this is made much more interesting by the fact that traditional 4-3 and 3-4 systems in the NFL are becoming a thing of the past. First, base defenses such as those are not being used as much on the field, with more nickel packages being deployed. Also, when they are used, the 4-3 and 3-4 are often more interchangeable, or at least disguised by defensive coordinators.
So what makes a defensive end a defensive end, and when does the same guy become a linebacker? We’re about to find out.
Depends on the site
What it really comes down to is the fantasy hosting site your league uses. In some cases, hosting sites simply rely on the teams themselves to make the designation. The Ravens call Dumervil a linebacker? Then he’s a linebacker. It’s clear cut.
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RTSports.com is one of the sites that relies heavily – but not exclusively – on NFL rankings.
“When determining a player’s position, we go to the official NFL website and team website,” explained RT Sports’ Jeff Paur. “We also look at our official depth charts on our site, which are provided by our stats provider. At that point, we try to come up with a consensus position. And if it still isn’t clear cut, we’ll search recent articles about the player to see if a position change has occurred. We really don’t have a clear cut system that we use but we use a variety of sources when making a determination. Our ultimate goal is just to get it right, so we’ll use whatever means necessary to do so. This isn’t something we take lightly because we know it impacts so many things in a fantasy league.”
At RT Sports, Paur is ultimately responsible for the decision himself.
“The decision is up to me,” he said. “I’m the senior writer on site and in charge of all the content we provide our readers. So when a position questions arises, I get the call. I will bounce off some questions to others at our company at times to get their opinions.”
MyFantasyLeague.com, on the other hand, uses one source – Rotoworld.com – and sticks to it.
MyFantasyLeague’s Jeff Hall explained.
“We don’t make the decision,” Hall said. “We just follow Rotoworld.com depth charts.”
Clarity seems most important to MyFantasyLeague.com, which is why Hall said the site likes using the team at Rotoworld.com to make the determination, which Hall said is usually made before the season starts and rarely if ever changed in the middle of a season.
“We update the positions about once a month after the NFL draft to keep the player info updated,” Hall said. “Then after the season starts, we don’t make any more updates except in extreme cases where a major player changes position from offense to defense or something like that.”
Hall provided a link to the 2013 position changes as an example:
It begs the question, if sites like MyFantasyLeague.com rely on Rotoworld.com for position eligibility, how exactly does Rotoworld make the call?
Jeff Ratcliffe at Rotoworld.com said in most cases, it’s easy. But in a select few, the team there has to do a lot of digging.
“In most cases, positional eligibility is fairly straightforward,” Ratcliffe explained. “Luke Kuechly is a linebacker. Eric Berry is a safety. There’s no ambiguity there.”
“However, in today’s league where teams run a lot of multiple fronts, the challenge can be designating outside linebackers or defensive ends. In most cases we’ll default to how the team designates the player, though sometimes that’s not 100 percent clear. In which case, we’ll take a closer look at their usage. A perfect example would be Mario Williams last season. The Bills used him as both a linebacker and defensive linemen. However, because he played a majority of his snaps as a defensive lineman (57.7%), we had him designated as a DE. The opposite side of this would be Terrell Suggs. Since Suggs only played 36.3% of his snaps as a defensive lineman, he was designated as an outside linebacker.”
There is, of course, another way to look at this. Maybe Mario Williams is both a linebacker AND a defensive end, in some weird quantum mechanics Schrodinger’s cat sort of way. (Just Google it.)
Fantasy baseball players are no strangers to dual eligibility. If a guy plays enough games at both shortstop and second base, then he can be plugged into fantasy lineups at either position.
As you might guess, a large hosting site like Yahoo! has a well-defined policy when it comes to dual eligibility at a position.
A customer care representative identified only as De Andre provided the Yahoo Sports policy.
“Players may be eligible at multiple positions during the current Yahoo Fantasy Football season,” De Andre explained. “Initial position eligibility was determined based on past participation and information supplied by the teams during the off-season to our data provider.”
He continued: “Please review the following notes about in-season changes to position eligibility:
- All position eligibility requests are reviewed, compiled, and forwarded to our data provider, which makes the final decision on position eligibility.
- Because Yahoo is not responsible for modifying position eligibility, we cannot speculate on future changes or comment on decisions concerning about individual players.
- There are no set criteria (minimum number of games, minutes at a new position, etc.) for position eligibility. A new position will be added when our data provider determines that a player’s primary position has changed, or he is logging sufficient playing time at a secondary position to warrant adding that position to their eligibility.”
De Andre explained the position eligibility isn’t so fickle, though, as to allow for a trick play granting a player eligibility at a new position.
He continued: “Please note: If the position change is considered temporary or situational, position eligibility WILL NOT be adjusted. For example, a defensive lineman who lines up at tight end or in the backfield during goal line situations WILL NOT earn eligibility at a new position. It is not possible to have both defensive and offensive position eligibility. Players will not lose position eligibility when moving from one position to another. If a RB moves to WR during the season, he will be eligible for the remainder of the season at both RB and WR.”
What the future holds
Might we see more dual eligibility at positions in the future in fantasy football, specifically IDP?
Maybe, but that depends on you, the fantasy football player, and what you want to see.
Paur, from RTSports.com, said fans could ultimately determine whether dual eligibility becomes more widespread.
“We have discussed this in the past,” he said. “I believe it is more of a logistical issue than anything, getting it to work on our site properly. I do believe we will get this implemented at some point, though. This has been something we have discussed the past few seasons. The big reason we are looking to do it is some of our users have been asking for it, and we really take to heart their suggestions.”
How to benefit
The grizzled veterans of fantasy football will talk about the good old days, when weekly results weren’t known until the Tuesday newspaper came out, when trades were conducted over something called a phone, and when checking the St. Louis Post Dispatch’s website to see if Marshall Faulk was going to play on a given weekend was “inside information” that helped you win your weekly matchup.
In other words, a little research went a long way back then.
The same could be true today about position switches. If you know a new defensive coordinator plans to switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 in the offseason, because that is his normal system, you can get ahead of these position changes and make a sly trade to benefit from them.
The information isn’t ubiquitous, so you’ll have to go digging. Or just come back to www.FakePigskin.com, where we will be watching these changes for you.
I welcome feedback, arguments and insight from readers. Follow me 0n Twitter at @SteveIDP and let me know what you think.