PFN’s dynasty 101 series continues with perhaps the most challenging endeavor in dynasty fantasy football leagues: rebuilding a last-place dynasty orphan. How can you turn a roster with minimal assets into one that can contend for a championship?
What is a dynasty orphan?
An orphan is a team left behind by a manager that retired from a league for whatever reason. Managers leaving leagues is an inevitable reality. Dynasty fantasy football is a large commitment. People’s lives change and all too often, they just can’t do it anymore.
When someone leaves a dynasty league, the commissioner has to find someone else to join. In redraft, this is easy because the new manager gets to draft their team. It can be far more challenging in dynasty because the new manager has to take over a preexisting team with a roster that may not be very good.
You hope the roster is in decent shape for the replacement, but often, managers leave dynasty leagues because their team is terrible and they don’t want to rebuild it. If you’re the one taking over, it’s now on you to figure out how to turn a disastrous roster into a team that can win.
How to rebuild a last-place dynasty orphan team?
Last-place teams come in all different shapes and sizes. There are varying degrees of bad. For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume this last-place roster at least has a few assets.
If you’re inheriting a dynasty orphan in last place, you need to accept that you’re not going to be able to turn things around in one year. By approaching your first season controlling the team with the knowledge that it will be at least two years before you compete, you can better rebuild the roster.
The first step is to get younger. There will always be teams at the top in need of win-now players. Hopefully, your roster at least has two or three veterans that are useful. Trade those guys for rookies and sophomore players you think will break out. You want to target players that competing teams have no use for in the current season, but who have the upside to be very productive in future years.
Compile rookie draft picks
In theory, a last-place dynasty orphan should have all of its rookie draft picks, if not more. Those teams should also have the first pick in every round.
The rookie draft is the only place you have full control over. Trading veteran players for young future stars is important, but it requires other managers to trade with you. In the rookie draft, you get to choose the players that will be the foundation of your roster for the next several years.
It’s often easier to trade for picks than players in dynasty leagues. Competing managers will be far more apt to give away a pick for a win-now player than to give away one of their young prospects. Use this to your advantage.
Entering your first season, you should have your five rookie draft picks. Try and get 2-3 more. You can do this either by trading away veterans or trading down in your rookie draft. Is there no clear 1.01 for the upcoming season? Perhaps you can sell someone else on the value of the 1.01 and accumulate multiple first- and second-round rookie picks.
The reality is the roster you’re inheriting is more than one superstar away from competing. Of course, you ultimately need superstars, but you need more than one. If you trade down and acquire more picks, it provides more chances to hit on more players. For your rebuilding roster, two WR2s and an RB2 will be more valuable than one RB1.
Focus on wide receivers
Rookie RBs are easier to project in the short term compared to rookie WRs. Running backs will also produce at a higher level more quickly. This can be very appealing to a manager looking to quickly turn around a depleted roster. Don’t fall into the trap! The key to a successful rebuild is wide receivers.
Running backs have a much shorter NFL shelf life than wide receivers. If you prioritize RBs for two seasons of a rebuild, by the time you’re ready to contend, those backs may only have a couple of years left at the top.
On the other hand, elite wide receivers (if you can find them), will remain elite for up to a decade. Whereas running backs typically peak by the age of 25, wide receivers are in their absolute prime from ages 25-29. Many of these WRs will break out and become elite by age 23 or 24. You will get way more mileage out of wide receivers than running backs.
Put together a nucleus of strong wide receivers during the first two years of your rebuild. Then, fill in the running backs. You want to shift the focus to RB once you’re ready to compete. The reason is we can’t project running backs to be effective for as many years as wide receivers.
In 2011, we could reasonably project Julio Jones and A.J. Green to be great for the next 8-10 years. In 2012, if you built your roster around Trent Richardson or Doug Martin, that didn’t go so well.
Wide receivers will give your roster a strong foundation. Then, running backs will put you over the top. Equipped with this knowledge, you’ll be able to rebuild a last-place dynasty orphan in no time!