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Building a better waiver wire report
The News - Archive

With the way the weekly fantasy football cycle works, there is plenty of room for owners to improve their teams during the season via the waiver wire. As writers, we hope to point our readers in the right direction. The complexity of NFL depth charts and the wide variety of fantasy scoring systems leads to a number of questions for each writer: How does one provide the right depth of coverage for readers? What player information is most important? How can writers best connect with readers?

To answer these and other questions, four veteran waiver wire columnists were polled: Paul Bourdett who writes for AOL FanHouse; Michael Jones of Football Diehards who writes the straight-forward titled “Waiver Wire Report;” Jamey Eisenberg from CBS Sports, who has titled his column “Playing the Waiver Wire;” and Antonio D’Arcangelis who writes “Through the Wire” for fftoday.com.

Number of Players

There was little consensus on how many players should be covered in such a report, so it came down to individual taste. D’Arcangelis’ provides the most depth, covering 50 to 60 players per week. He said, “I’m sure most of my readers know the starters who are currently excelling and may be available on the wire, so I break down my picks into three categories for each position. I target both offensive and defensive players that may be available in shallow leagues (sometimes just breakout stars that eluded league drafts) as well as players who are available in deeper leagues.” D’Arcangelis also likes to check in on the players he suggested the previous week.

FanHouse’s Bourdett like to focus on about 10 to 15 players each week. He noted, “I try to target the lowest common denominator - those in 10-team, standard performance scoring formats. I’ll throw in some deeper picks too, but a big part of my job is driving traffic back to the site. That’s why I try to cast the widest net possible.”

Neither D’Arcangelis nor Bourdett covers kickers, but Jones does in his 20- to 25-player weekly review. He said, “I usually take each position, and offer my top three to four recommendations, including team defenses, kickers, and IDPs.” Eisenberg uses a tiered method to review 10 to 12 players. He said he places them in categories: “guys to add, guys to avoid and guys to monitor. The monitor guys are ones that could turn out to be good later in the season.”

Research Avenues

Once a writer has chosen how many players to focus on, he can use a variety of research techniques to figure out which players to write about. Eisenberg watches the games and also uses ownership percentage as a main guide. For example, he said “If DeAngelo Williams gets hurt, you can't add Jonathan Stewart because everyone has drafted him. But, you can look at Mike Goodson if he is out there if Williams or even Stewart goes down. Ownership percentage will tell you what people are looking for and who they can still get.”

Bourdett prefers a hands-on approach in that he tries “to watch as many games as possible, keeping an eye on backups and fringe players to see what they're doing in the limited time they're on the field. “ D’Arcangelis also tries to watch as much football as possible and suggested, “It’s crucial to have a navigable database to see the numbers in black and white. With running backs and wide receivers (who make up the bulk of my piece each week) it’s all about the three Ts: touches, targets and touchdowns.” 

In addition to looking at the numbers, Jones takes a humanizing approach to his research: “I enjoy digging out the stories about players that most people don’t know much about. Such as, Domenik Hixon grew up in a strict military background and helped lead the Akron Zips to their first MAC championship. It is these kinds of details that I feel can be a deciding factor when I am weighing between players.”

Value in Strange Places

All four writers noted that they had to look in strange places to uncover stones that could be precious gems. As Jones said, “Remind yourself that there’s a reason these players are on the waiver wire, a reason that 95% of them should not have been drafted in fantasy league drafts, and a reason that 90% of them should not be on all but the deepest fantasy league rosters.” He said that most of the game-changers are not available, but every now and then you can find a guy who will give your team a boost, even if it is only for a week or two. Jones also noted that many people will be scouring the waiver wire for bye-week replacements and in these one-off cases, matchups can be of equal or greater importance than the individual’s past.

Eisenberg chases players who have a low rate of ownership. D’Arcangelis summed things up thusly: “Fantasy value sometimes comes from very strange places, i.e third-strings, practice squads, other leagues.”

Thick Skin

Finally, there is something to be said for the intestinal fortitude, as they used to say on wrestling, that making predictions requires. Because there are so many variables to consider when trying to pick individuals to have big single games, many things can and often do go wrong. D’Arcangelis said, “We all make bad recommendations at some point, but if you can’t stand by your selections and admit when you faltered, you’re doing yourself and your readers a disservice.” Hence, as mentioned above he likes to write about the players he recommended in the previous week and give himself a pat on the back or a slap in the face.

Writers can also try to pick up lessons from their mistakes, or what can be euphemistically referred to as “learning opportunities.” Jones echoed these thoughts and noted, “Some weeks you’re going to miss badly, especially if you are trying look beyond well worn path. The waiver wire report is something you have to have a fairly thick skin to do.”