Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cincinnati by 200 points!?!

With every exciting breakthrough and cutting edge innovation in technology, man is slowly but steadily digging his own grave into obsolescence. Every computerized chess victory, every casual robotic step, every narrowing of the uncanny valley brings us that much more closer to a seemingly inevitable future where the human race, with its flaws and frailties, has been transcended in every way by the polished perfection of its own technological creations. I can only see three possible ways it'll go down:
  1. The machines become sentient, pull a Skynet, and wipe us off the face of the earth.
  2. Paranoid that the machines will become sentient, pull a Skynet, and wipe us off the face of the earth, mankind accidentally manages to wipe themselves off the face of the earth. The machines win by default.
  3. We finally perfect the ability to mass produce realistic and affordable sex robots. The human race entropies and dies out within a century.
Whatever the final scenario will be, thanks to all those hardworking eggheads at places like M.I.T. and Cal Tech, things aren't looking too good for the old human race.

However, until that faithful day when the last human being breathes their final breath and mankind enters the oblivion I'll take solace in the fact that machines still have an overwhelmingly long way to go before they start replacing people. One category where the mechanical mind is woefully over matched is the art of fantasy sports drafting. Oh sure, a website can crunch the endless amounts of numbers, assign rankings, and program in complex, logical algorithms; but we all know that your sports illiterate mother could probably pick a better team then your fantasy league's auto-draft feature. Some sabermatricians may view differently, but talent cannot be fully evaluated just on numbers and formulas alone. For all it's computational ability and refinement, an auto drafter can never have hunches, or take interesting risks, improve on the fly, apply personal experience, and (to use that tired cliche) factor in the "intangibles".

You see this played out almost every year. There'll be a draft and someone (perhaps even yourself) fails to show up and that unfortunate owner ends up with a mismatched, by the books, team that more often then not ends up having a terrible season. Even if you meticulously pre-rank all your choices, it somehow manages to screw it up. Unfortunately this was the case with my recent Yahoo! Fantasy Football team. Although I took great strains to remember to send my money in on time to the commissioner, I had all but forgotten that my draft was last night at 9. When the horrifying realization of missing my draft came over me this morning, I immediately signed onto my league to see the damage that auto-draft had wrath:

Rd. 1 Frank Gore RB - As it turned out I ended up with the 12th and final pick in a 12 team league. Given my position, the auto-draft's selection of Gore was not a ridiculous choice. Looking at the rather shallow depth at the running back position this year, this is at or below where he should have been picked. However, if I were running the show there is no way I would have picked Gore again after his incredibly underwhelming season last year sunk one of my fantasy teams.

Rd. 2 Marshawn Lynch RB - Since I had the final pick, the auto-draft got the benefit of picking immediately the first pick of the 2nd round. The Lynch pick is one I actually like and would have probably pulled the trigger on as well had I been present. He's young, was productive last season, and with the continuing "development" of QB Trent Edwards, will get an assload (and for the games in Canada a metric assload) of carries every game. Plus, I get the relatively rare added benefit of actually rooting for a fantasy player from my real life favorite team.

Rd. 3 Brandon Marshall WR - The auto-draft took the straight by the book path of getting the two RBs first and then moving onto the best WR available. Oh sure he's quite talented but what the auto-draft failed to account for was the three game suspension at the beginning of the season he is currently appealing (either way he'll serve at least one or two). Unfortunately, off-the-field arrests and frequency of incidents related to nightclub shootings are not one of the statistics that are posted for the auto-draft to evaluate.

Rd. 4 Plaxico Buress WR - Another classic example of the auto-draft picking a player that looks fine on paper but you personally just don't care for. While I can't deny that Plax is the star number one receiver of the defending champs I always have the lingering feeling that his perpetual "ankle injury" will screw me over the one year I draft him. Hopefully I'll be able to get one of the four Giant-centric owners in the league to give me a generous trade for him.

Rd. 5 Tony Gonzalez TE - Well I can't really complain too much about getting the most consistently excellent offensive TE of the last decade. Although he's starting to get up there in age, there is no indication yet of a slowdown. He's definitely more like the kind of players I gravitate towards in drafts (consistent, proven veterans over risky, high potential, younger guys). He'll probably continue to be the top target for the the two headed Huard/Croyle monster of mediocrity.

Rd. 6 Dwayne Bowe WR - The auto-draft must have felt I didn't have enough Chiefs players because it immediately picked, after Tony. G, my number three receiver Bowe. Despite the above mentioned mediocre quarterbacking of the Chiefs, Bowe actually had a pretty impressive rookie year (70 Rec, 995 yards, 5 TDs). So I guess he could only get better, right? I frankly would have taken this opportunity, if I hadn't already before, to get a QB which the auto-draft has neglected up to now.

Rd. 7 Jay Cutler QB - The long anticipated pick for the starting QB. It's fairly underwhelming, but what do you expect when you wait this long to pick your signal caller, so I guess the auto-draft had to make due with the best it could. Cutler does have a far higher ceiling then fellow late round QB options like the aging Matt Hasselbeck or the steady if not spectacular David Garrad. Hopefully his inconsistent play last year was due to his then undiagnosed type 1 diabetes and that this season, with proper treatment, he'll be due for a breakout.

Rd. 8 San Diego DEF - Yes the Chargers are full of talent, Antonio Cromartie is amazing, and Shawne Merriman is a 'roided up sacking machine, but Round 8 is a bit too early to be picking up defenses in my book. I would have used this opportunity to pick up some more depth on the roster. I'm a firm believer in the old rule that, outside of rare cases, you save the DEF and kicker for the end. Which means the auto draft will now select...

Rd. 9 Josh Scobee K - Season is over! Everyone might as well admit defeat and send me my winnings. I have won the Josh Scobee kicking sweepstakes!! Auto-draft must know something that I don't because unless the Jags decide to go with an all field goals offensive scheme, there is no reason to pick Scobee-Doo this early in the draft. Oh and did I also mention he missed half the season last year with an injury? A kicking injury! Thanks auto-draft!

Rd. 10 Rashard Mendenhall RB - After temporarily losing all its common sense for the previous two rounds, auto-draft unexpectedly rolls the dice a little bit on the rookie Mendenhall. As a frustrated Willie Parker owner last year I am looking forward to reaping the benefits of the other side of that Steelers running sheme where Parker gets all the yards and a bruiser like Mendenhall gets the fantasy point rich goal line touchdown carries.

Rd. 11 D.J. Hackett WR - Boy the WR position gets pretty thin around this point in the draft. I wonder why I don't have a better fourth WR? Oh yeah. Auto-draft was drafting Josh Scobee!

Rd. 12 Brett Favre QB - Wow, I did not expect him to drop this far. Perhaps it was all the ill will he built up over the summer or all the Giants fans in the league, but I'll gladly take Farve in the 12th round as my back up. Who knows? If things start gelling with the Jets, I just may give him the starting job. Do I sense a quarterback controversy brewing?

Rd. 13 Drew Bennett WR - What can I say? Like every white receiver in the NFL he has "good hands" and solid "fundamentals". Unless "The Greatest Show on Turf" returns to the dome, he'll be at best a bye week fill in.

Rd. 14 Greg Olsen TE - Now we're really heading into the dregs. Perhaps he'll suddenly have a big year. Perhaps the Bears will be contenders again. Perhaps Kyle Orton will prove all the naysayers wrong. And perhaps I'll grow another pair of eyes out of my nipples.

Rd. 15 Jeff Reed K - With the final pick of the draft, auto-draft makes Jeff Reed this year's Mr. Irreverent. And why wouldn't it be another kicker? With the modern state of fantasy football, you'd be a fool not to have a two kicker tandem! I'm surprised the auto-draft didn't just look up who Josh Scobee's backup was and go for the handcuff. The real tragedy is that it drafted two kickers and not one of them was my man, Rob Bironas!

So overall, the roster for ESPN Playmakers seems to be a prime example of inept textbook auto-drafting. Players that the owner hates? Check! Players with intangible off the field issues? Check! Mediocre choices taken far above their expected slots? Check! No consideration given to injury prone histories? Check! More than one kicker? Double check!

You know, maybe that future war with the machines won't be so one sided after all.

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