When average is just fine, thank you

Posted June 29, 2012 @ 12:23 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

The auto-draft function had to have malfunctioned. Yes, that’s what it had to be. That’s what I thought as I sat in my room in a hotel on the Las Vegas strip late last summer and stared in disbelief at my laptop screen.

In front of me was the worst fantasy-football team I had ever assembled.

I was able to draft a couple of players before I left for dinner that evening — my starting running backs, the Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles and the Browns’ Peyton Hillis. As Round Three kicked into high gear, I was in a cab, en route to the Wynn. I don't often get to Las Vegas, and soon I was sitting in a restaurant I had budgeted and scrimped for to ensure I could keep a reasonable poker face when the check came. The auto-draft would have to do its job.

The auto-draft … gave me a kicker in Round Seven.

It gave me just four running backs — including Cardinals RB Ryan Williams, who had already been ruled out for the season. My team defense was picked nine rounds before the final round … the round in which another kicker was selected for me. My skill-position depth was flimsy, but I had backups at all four IDP spots.

As Vegas buzzkills go, it was up there. It may well have been a case of operator error. I had set a pre-draft list, and perhaps I wasn't thorough enough, or didn't completely grasp how my roster would be drafted by the computer. Either way, it was my problem. I needed to hit the waiver wire, and quickly, to see if the other owners had left a gem or two go undrafted. At least I had a strong top three running backs in Charles, Hillis and Jahvid Best.

The other owners, alas, were sharp, and this was a big league, with 12 teams and 23 players per squad. Help was initially tough to find. My team, as you could imagine, hit some rough patches. Frankly, it wasn’t competitive at times. And really, that was about all I wanted, considering the circumstances. I had no illusions.

But I did have a pretty good WR corps. The auto-draft, ostensibly before completely bursting into flames, picked me Bengals WR A.J. Green and Packers Jordy Nelson in Rounds 15 and 16, respectively.

I also had the good fortune of picking up Panthers QB Cam Newton after his impressive regular-season debut. I had no idea he would turn out to be as good as was, I just knew he was better than my backup at the time. I could make as many as five waiver claims a week, and I was going to use them all.

I was desperate. I was humbled. But I was also unburdened. I never had to think, “This guy is struggling, but I can’t bench him now; I drafted him early.” I didn’t really like my team all that much, and injuries too often made my decisions easy.

While it was frustrating to have a flawed team, it was also fun. It was new and interesting, a learning experience. I had to manage this team like none I had before. I worked the waiver wire like I never had, and I dug deeper than ever into the depth charts. One of the best things about that team, in retrospect, was that it forced me to be creative. I loaded up on backup running backs who were next-man-up in the pecking order. I made a few mistakes, but Newton erased just about all of them, and Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray cleaned up the rest.

After an 0-4 start, my luck started to turn. I notched some close, low-scoring wins. The team, though not one of the higher-scoring groups in the league by any stretch, started to get better. Well, OK, let’s be frank — it was The Newton Show.

By season’s end, I was in the playoffs, one of those single-elimination deals, but I was gone after the first weekend. I wasn’t surprised.

Nor was I unhappy.

Frankly, I don’t remember a lot about fantasy seasons past. You enter enough leagues and it all blends together. But I’ll never forget that team. It wasn’t a league-winner, and it wasn’t pretty. At its worst, it lurched and creaked and dripped oil all over the place. At the end, though, it was mine, after I had wanted nothing to do with it.