Deep in the hills of Los Angeles, there is a sacred space of learning that the kids call, “UCLA.” For those not familiar with the nature of university, it is like a bank where you can keep borrowing money no matter how bad your report card is. On the outskirts of UCLA, there is a junction where students spend their borrowed money. Hip shoppers stop at the Whole Foods, put their Chase Sapphire cards into a point-of-sale machine, and smile with maskless glee as the POS takes nine bucks from their account for a single watermelon. Across the street, there’s an In-N-Out, where students shout “ANIMAL STYLE” and wait for their slathered beef like it was the first co-ed on screen in a slasher film.
In the winter, the Rose Bowl celebrates the imagined paradise that is California: the orange groves, the rose gardens, the summer nights on the beach with a Mai Tai. The RazzBowl, however, celebrates the real paradise that is California:
Raiders Chargers Rams greasy burgers and expensive watermelons. And just like your friends want you to come out for one more $15 Mai Tai before taking the Uber to your dad’s condo, the RazzBowl wants you on board for the wildest ride in fantasy football.
Last year’s RazzBowl featured more than 100 industry experts and a bunch of rubes getting together to play the game we all love. And some of us played it better than others. How did I do? 11th place, thanks for asking. TL; DR: I drafted not to win, but to prove my own (erroneous) predictions. So, like any
sore loser curious student, I dug through the data from 2019 to see what I could learn from the best RazzBowl teams. This will be a multi-part series, so get those scuba fins ready for a deep dive! Today, we’re looking at what the best teams did.
The Recipe for Success in RazzBowl
Metaphor alert! Are you that person that cooks a steak for 40 seconds at 500 degrees and seasons it with only pink Himalayan salt? And then you take a picture of that veiny blue inside that’s practically 70 degrees, post it on social media, and spend the evening fighting with your friends who tell you that you’re getting worms from eating that piece of undercooked flesh? Yes, we know you like your steak as rare as a Vikings Super Bowl win. But the rest of us, we know there’s a billion ways to cook a steak (check out my forthcoming book, Steak and Ketchup: A Presidential Kitchen Confidential).
Just like there’s a ton of ways to cook a steak, there’s no perfect model to win the RazzBowl. But, there are trends that the top teams followed, and they did so very closely. They each took their cut of beef, seasoned it a little differently, cooked it a little differently, and presented it in their own way. But when they served it to judges, they basically got the same score.
So how did the top RazzBowl teams shape their teams?
Here’s the short version: draft some good receiving running backs–yes I said “backs”–add a splash of a 5-10 ranked quarterback, and surround that with drizzles of receptions from all over. Voila, you have a team. Tip your waiter generously, and don’t forget to leave a five-star review.
For everybody who paid for the kitchen tour, let’s continue to take a tour behind the scenes.
Keys to RazzBowl Success:
As you’ve figured out by now, I’m not forecasting anything in this article. I’m telling you how industry experts like Mike Beers, Adam Ronis, and Pat Fitzmaurice built their teams and crushed their RazzBowl opposition. In total, my data includes results from 20 teams: the 12 top teams, and 8 second place teams. The 2019 RazzBowl featured 12 leagues of 12 teams, so this data represents the top performing teams out of 144 in the competition.
The 5-star, standout, can’t miss takeaway: The 12 division winning teams in the 2019 RazzBowl rostered 26 of the top-20 running backs. Five #1 teams–including the RazzBowl winner Mike Beers–rostered Christian McCaffrey. Dalvin Cook featured on another three teams (Beers amazingly snagged Cook at #25 in his league), and Austin Ekeler and Leonard Fournette rounded out the most common RBs seen among the top teams (reminder: Fournette snagged 76 receptions last year).
The second most important takeaway: 19 of the top 20 teams rostered a quarterback that finished in the top 12 overall. Most surprisingly, only one of the sampled teams–a second place division finisher–rostered Lamar Jackson; no top team rostered Patrick Mahomes. The top teams predominantly rostered Matt Ryan and Carson Wentz, although Russell Wilson and Jameis Winston also showed up on a combined 4 teams.
And maybe the best for last: the top teams rostered 22 of the top-20 wide receivers, compared to seven top-20 wide receivers rostered by the bottom six teams. Keenan Allen, Kenny Golladay, and Allen Robinson led the way to RazzBowl success.
And for the completionists out there (I see you!): 11 of the top 12 teams rostered a top-6 tight end. The distribution of TE was focused on George Kittle, Mark Andrews, Darren Waller, and Austin Hooper.
To summarize, the top RazzBowl teams drafted top receiving RB early and often, and then surrounded those RB with middle-ranked WR, TE, and a goodish-ranked QB. Of course, there are another 20-something players on each roster. I don’t know about you, but with the high cost of watermelons, I simply don’t have the time to hand-input several thousand players into a spreadsheet. I gotta make my gravy wavy in other ways.
Player Stats to Target:
Again, there’s no perfect recipe to a RazzBowl team. However, the top teams scored very similarly in their categories. I averaged each category of scoring, determined the standard deviation, adjusted the flux capacitor, and multiplied by pi to give you the following stats that you should strive for in your RazzBowl drafting. Because RazzBowl is a “better ball” format that relies on individual high-performances in games, all numbers are calculated on a per game basis:
|Pass Yds||Pass TDs||Rush Yds||Rush TDs||Receptions||Rec Yds||Rec TD|
This composition assumes 1 QB, 3RB, 4WR and 1 TE make it into your weekly total. Keep in mind that the best ball scoring allows those great performances from underdog players to come to the forefront. In other words, your stars need not perform to these numbers every week, but some combination of players eligible at that position should have a chance at reaching these numbers. Let’s break down some interesting strategies to reach these numbers:
RBs are, by position scarcity, the most valuable spot on the RazzBowl roster. They dominate the rushing yardage/TD scores, and many RBs crossover to the receiving categories. For example, per game in 2019, Christian McCaffrey averaged 87 rushing yards, 0.9 rushing TDs, 7 Rec, 63 Rec yards, and 0.25 rec TDs. You can see how easy it was for McCaffrey owners to meet their targets last year, right?
You get 2 default RB slots, although with 2 R/W/T FLEX spots, you can have up to 4 RBs represent your team on any given week. My calculations assumed three RBs are active; if only 2 RBs are present, the numbers increase to a gaudy 120 rushing yards per game and 1.2 TDs. Over a 16-game season, using a 2RB-based approach would be like drafting two RBs with 1900 rushing yards and 19 TDs each. So, try your best to get two top-20 RBs, and then continue to get upside RBs throughout the draft.
To my zero-RB strategists, I’m sorry, I found no evidence that this strategy works in RazzBowl. The exclusivity of RB scoring doesn’t work with strategies that downplay RB drafting. Furthermore, the limited free agent acquisition budget simply doesn’t allow frequent pickups of emerging talent. Blow up my comments if you like. I’m just the messenger.
Ultimately, the single quarterback position accounts for about 17% of the total RazzBowl score, so avoid doing the quarterback free fall. The majority of the best RazzBowl teams grabbed a top-10 QB. However, because QB was also very deep last year, the backup QB contributed frequently. Surprisingly, there was no strong evidence that the rushing QBs led to top finishes. However, my personal observation is that the rushing QBs are the only other viable position who can contribute to the Rushing Yards and Rushing TD categories. A crafty manager could make up for poor RB positioning by drafting a rushing QB. In my first RazzBowl mock this year, I grabbed DeShaun Watson primarily for his passing ability, and secondarily for his ability to run.
I lump this group together because there are 8 spots on the roster that can contribute to receiving scores: 2 RB, 3WR, 1 TE, and 2 W/R/T Flex spots. When you distribute the receiving scores across those positions, you can see how important the reception category is to the overall team score. In fact, receptions averaged between 60-66% of the total team score for the best RazzBowl finishers. However, when divided by the number of positions capable of getting reception yards–that is, 8–it’s clearer that the individual receiver is less important than just a lot of players getting receptions. Thus, the receiving RBs help immensely to RazzBowl success. If you end up in a situation with RBs who don’t catch, you need to draft receivers early and often to make up for that gap.
Michael Thomas appeared on two #1 teams, but more often, the top teams took WR in the 3-5th rounds. When you’re late in the draft, it seems yardage is the important factor. Because touchdowns are so arbitrary, those big yardage games by deep threat receivers can benefit your team. Overall, the evidence points to having a lot of good middle-range receivers as the best strategy.
You still dippin’ your fries in that animal sauce? Good. Hang around for one more minute and then I’ll let you get in the Uber. Maybe we’ll get a smoothie after this.
RazzBowl’s scoring system is ultimately based around getting maximum points, and your best ball score from weeks 1-9 will follow you through the entire tournament. So, doing well at the beginning will assist you throughout the tournament. Indeed, Mike Beers had the highest score in the beginning of RazzBowl, and then won the tournament over some gaudy competition.
There will always be an element of luck in any fantasy football tournament. However, with a full year of data in the books, we can see what the best managers in the 2019 RazzBowl did, and we can do our best to follow in their footsteps and level up our game. Come into the RazzBowl for the fun, the strategy, the community, and conversation. Especially if you’re a fan–send in an application, give it a shot, and hopefully we’ll talk more about fantasy football strategy.
Bookmark this page for your RazzBowl reference. Keep following me on the site and on Twitter @EverywhereBlair because I’ll be writing more about the RazzBowl and what we can learn from diving through the data.