For fear of losing my job, I swear that this will probably be my last football-inspired post of the week.
This is the 47th installment of The Labyrinthian, a series dedicated to exploring random fields of knowledge in order to give you unordinary theoretical, philosophical, strategic, and/or often rambling guidance on daily fantasy sports. Consult the introductory piece to the series for further explanation.
The Most Lukewarm of Haute Takes
In case you haven’t heard, the Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliott with the No. 4 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. That happened a little over one week ago, and I feel that only now am I able to talk about that decision in a reasonable, non-angry way.
We’re super classy up in here, so what I’m about to say is called a “haute take” (in case you were wondering): The Cowboys’ decision to take Elliott was great for fantasy — he will likely need to be rostered in cash games and faded in tournaments during the first month of the season — but in an ideal “real world” Zeke would not be a Cowboy.
In the Twitterverse, I’ve heard a couple of justifications for the pick, the main one of which goes something like this:
The Cowboys are only a season removed from a 12-4 record, and they barely lost to the team that barely lost to the team that barely lost to the team that won the Super Bowl. In 2014, their offense helped out their defense a lot, and Zeke will help the Cowboys offense stay on the field longer, which should help out their defense. In 2014, the Cowboys had a workhorse runner who maximized the value of their offensive line, and in drafting Zeke the Cowboys are adding strength to strength. Zeke should give the Cowboys their best chance of winning a Super Bowl during the final years of quarterback Tony Romo’s “championship window.” And, as a great pass protector, he should help keep Romo healthy.
On my way to the main issue with this perspective, I want to touch briefly on a few of the smaller issues that are problematic.
When It Comes to the Cowboys, There Are No Small Issues
Here are just a few small issues:
- The most direct way to help a defense is to find a defender who can make it better, not to draft an offensive player whose ability to touch the ball will be dependent on game flow. If Elliott’s presence on offense actually does help the defense, that will be a happy consequence, a secondary effect — and, whether you are the general manager of a professional sports team or a novice DFS player, you aren’t following best practices if you invest heavily in a player because of what you assume will be beneficial secondary effects.
- It’s true that in selecting Zeke the Cowboys are adding strength to strength. The problem is that, because their running game is already a strength, the improvement in the running game and thus the contribution to the total team will be relatively small in comparison to what we would have seen if the Cowboys had decided to address a weakness. In general, greater improvements are made when weaknesses are diminished, not when strengths are enhanced.
- Of everyone who blocks for the quarterback, the running back is the least important. He doesn’t even block for the quarterback on the majority of his snaps. What keeps a quarterback safe is positive game flow, which enables a quarterback to hand the ball to a running back and thus avoid being hit. Please note that in many cases a robust running game is a result of positive game flow, not vice versa. Adding a premium running back isn’t often the best way of improving one’s odds of winning.
- The final small issue: The Cowboys have prioritized the wrong positions. DeMarco Murray (a great running back originally acquired with a third-round pick, by the way) is the most obvious player missing from the 2014 team, and so the Cowboys made finding a new Murray-esque all-around running back a priority — but Murray’s absence is not to blame for the team’s struggles in 2015. The Cowboys let Murray walk last offseason because they assumed that behind their offensive line almost any running back could be impactful, and they were actually right. In bad circumstances, Darren McFadden was productive last year. The problem in 2015 wasn’t the running game. It was the passing game, which was negatively impacted by injuries to the starting quarterback and the star wide receiver as well as the natural regression that was likely to occur, given how incredibly productive the passing game had been on small volume in 2014.
Basically, the Cowboys drafted Elliott because they misdiagnosed their ills and thus decided to undergo treatment for a disease they don’t actually have.
Amazingly, that’s not even the biggest issue.
The Cowboys Are a .500 Team
The main issue with the Cowboys — the reason that they can’t recognize their problems — is that they don’t seem to know who they are. They believe that they are the 2014 team and that they merely had bad luck in 2015. That’s possible.
Of course, it’s also (more) possible that the Cowboys are just a .500 team that experienced positive variance in 2014 and negative variance in 2015. In Jason Garrett’s five full seasons as the team’s head coach, the Cowboys’ records have been as follows:
- 2015: 4-12
- 2014: 12-4
- 2013: 8-8
- 2012: 8-8
- 2011: 8-8
Over the last two years, the Cowboys are a .500 team. Over the last half decade, they are a .500 team.
As former Cowboys Head Coach Bill Parcells would say, “You are what your record says you are.”
I believe that the Cowboys are better than their 2015 record — but they’re not a 12-4 team: 2014 is not walking through that door.
The Cowboys are a .500 team, and they’re pretending that they’re not. They’re focusing on the best-case scenario. Only once in the last five years have they had a winning season. Naturally, that’s the one season that they choose to believe is representative of who they are as a team. It’s probably not.
Basically, the Cowboys drafted the way that they did because A) they don’t recognize their problems because B) they don’t recognize themselves.
They selected Zeke in the first round and then the injured and risky Jaylon Smith in the second round because they believe that they need to make bold moves to capitalize on their championship window with Romo. They believe that they are perhaps just two dynamic players away from a Super Bowl victory.
What they don’t realize is that they are a .500 team — and .500 teams rarely have championship windows and are almost never just two players away from winning it all.
The Cowboys do what they do because they don’t recognize that they are the mathematical definition of mediocrity.
Are You the DFS Equivalent of the Dallas Cowboys?
A couple of weeks ago, I outlined the process of not being awful at DFS. A key component of this process is keeping track of your investment and closely monitoring performance so that you can know your skill level.
For a lot of DFS players, it’s easy to commit what I am going to call “The Dallas Cowboys Fallacy.” They ignore that they are essentially .500 players. They focus only on the instances in which they have done well. They decide that, even though they have had success in just one slate recently, the one winning slate is representative of who they truly are as DFS players.
I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you this, but .500 players have a particular name in DFS: Losers. Over the long run, .500 players will lose their entire bankrolls because of the commission that the platforms take. So, in DFS, being even .500 isn’t good enough. We need to be better than average.
On top of this, average players who don’t recognize their skill levels — who fall victim to the Dallas Cowboys Fallacy — are unlikely to take the steps that they need to take to improve. Drafting to improve a .500 team in the NFL is different than drafting to turn a contender into a champion. The same logic applies to DFS.
I Actually Mean You
If you focus on the one slate in which you were just one player away from winning a tournament (as if a lot of other people weren’t also just one player away from winning that same tournament), and if you ignore the one slate in which you sucked and the three slates in which you were average, then you will not understand your own skill level and will thus make suboptimal DFS decisions.
You will not put in the time to learn the subtleties of our Trends tool or our Player Models, and you will not bother to watch all of the tutorial videos. Your reason for doing so will be that you “already know DFS.” You will not compete in the lower-level tournaments that give you an enhanced chance of success, and your excuse will be that you are actually a “better-than-average DFS player.”
And when I say “you,” I mean “you” generically — unless you are the DFS equivalent of the Dallas Cowboys, in which case I actually mean you.
You Are the Red Pill
I devote so much digital space in The Labyrinthian to perspective and process because I believe that DFS is won (and lost) not on the internet but in the mind.
Here’s what I wrote in the very first installment of this series:
At its core, DFS is not about mastering spreadsheets, creating models, or even becoming an expert on the actual sports on which DFS is based. DFS is not really even about beating your opponents. DFS is about entering into a process whereby you master, create, and even become an expert on yourself. DFS is about overcoming what you see in the looking glass. . . .
DFS is about so much more than just the tools and metrics. It’s about the person using the tools and the metrics; about the brain inside the person; and about the thought patterns and decision-making inside the brain . . .
You can find your way to lots of tools all over the internet. We know that ours can help people reach the inner circle of DFS success — but we also know that although tools are necessary they are not sufficient. . . .
Music is made by not the piano but the pianist. Victory is won by not the sword but the swordsman. And ideas are formed by not the thought but the thinker.
In the end, DFS is about the way you think.
DFS is not a maze. DFS is a labyrinth.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
You don’t need to take some red pill to see the truth. Deep down, you know if you are an average player. You also probably have an idea of what you need to do to improve. You just haven’t made the decision to make the necessary changes yet.
Make the decision. Be the change. Don’t be the Dallas Cowboys.
The Labyrinthian: 2016, 47
Previous installments of The Labyrinthian can be accessed via my author page. If you have suggestions on material I should know about or even write about in a future Labyrinthian, please contact me via email, [email protected], or Twitter @MattFtheOracle.