I was in the moment I saw the tweet. Easiest call I’ve ever made.
On July 21, Tom Kislingbury, who goes by the handle @TomDegenerate, tweeted the following:
“New league idea: vampire. Normal start-up draft except one team does not get to pick at all. They just have to make a lineup from waivers. This team is the Vampire.”
Tom continued in follow-up tweets.
“Every time the Vampire team wins a weekly matchup, they have to swap one of their starting line-up with one of their opponent’s at the same position. So they’ll start out weak but with each win get a bit stronger. If they manage to beat a good team, they’ll grow much more powerful.”
“So when facing the Vampire, you need to make a choice: Play at full strength and risk losing a good player? Or try to beat a bad Vampire team without risking your stars?”
“Needless to say that if the Vampire wins the league, it’s over. Their reign of dark power is complete.”
As soon as I saw the tweet, I quote-tweeted it and said, “I would totally do this.”
I have been playing fantasy sports for 34 years now. And in that time, I have played every fantasy game imaginable. Every sport … NASCAR, golf, college football and basketball … I’ve played fantasy fishing, fantasy sumo wrestling, hell, I’ve even played fantasy hockey once. I’ve always said if you can find a way to keep score, you can play a fantasy version of anything. So I have done a bunch of fantasy games around entertainment. I have played fantasy “Big Brother” (Tyler got robbed). As you might know, ESPN has a fantasy “The Bachelor” game, which I enjoy way more than I should. And my friends and I even created a game called FantasyMovieLeague.com, which is exactly what you think it is: A fantasy game where you program your fantasy movie theater with real-life movies in a salary-cap format, and based on how much the movie makes at the box office is how much your theater makes. Easy to play, hard to master, it’s hella fun, as I am told the kids once, and possibly still, say.
Not surprisingly, I have played tons of different versions of fantasy football. Dynasty to keeper to best ball to start-up, 2QB, super flex, IDP, high stakes, low stakes, no stakes, enhanced TE scoring. I once did a Punt, Pass and Kick league where you rostered only quarterbacks, kickers and punters. Don’t laugh. I’ve actually played in two different punter leagues. I’ve played in four-person leagues and 20-person leagues. I’m in a league right now with 800 players. I’ve played in leagues where every week is a doubleheader, leagues that are a season-long and DFS hybrid, where you play every team in the league every week, and relegation leagues where the bottom two teams get kicked out to a “lesser” league. I’ve played in expert leagues, work leagues, charity leagues, celebrity leagues, leagues with 12-year-olds, leagues with lifelong friends, leagues with strangers, leagues with my wife and kids.
You name the format, the scoring, the league size and I’ve played them all.
Or so I thought.
Because I’ve never played a Vampire league.
I thought I had heard every idea ever. But this one was new, even to me. I loved the idea and loved the challenge of being the Vampire.
I originally had the idea of trying to auction off spots in the league for charity, but setting that up proved too problematic this time. So I just posted in my FantasyLife app about the league and asked who wanted to play. I got so many responses, I decided to do two leagues. I had Stacy Sailer, who is one the executives running the app, choose the participants so no one could accuse me of cherry-picking my competition.
I basically stuck to Tom’s premise with a few wrinkles of my own. When I got on a conference call with everyone, I laid out the rules for these leagues:
• Nine people would take part in a re-draft league using ESPN standard scoring. That is to say one point per reception with a starting lineup of one QB, two RBs, two WRs, one TE, one flex (RB/WR/TE), one kicker and one D/ST.
• The nine drafting teams must play with the team they draft, meaning they could not make any waiver claims. Because of that, I asked them to think about whether they would want to draft two kickers, two defenses, two QBs, etc.
• After they drafted, I would go and build my team from whomever was left. In addition, I could make unlimited waiver claims during the season. We held the draft on the night of Labor Day, just a few days before the start of the season, so that everyone had the best possible information heading into the season.
• There are no trades allowed in the league, except if I, as the Vampire, beat a team. In that case, I would initiate a trade of one of my players for a player on the team I just beat. And there are rules around that: The player I trade for has to have been in my opponent’s starting lineup. So, if you don’t want to risk losing Todd Gurley II, you can bench him against me and I cannot trade for him. In turn, the player I trade away also has to be someone I started — so I can’t use my bench scrubs to trade for a star — and play the same position. This way, I can’t trade a kicker for a quarterback, for example.
• Teams are NOT required to start a full lineup against me. If they want to bench all of their stars to protect themselves, they can. Out of the 10-team league, four will make the playoffs and we will use ESPN standard playoff settings: two-week semifinals (Weeks 14-15) and two-week finals (Weeks 16-17). Once we hit the playoffs, the four qualifying teams will be allowed to make waiver moves. If I make the playoffs, I get the first waiver move. Otherwise, reverse order of standings prevails.
And that’s it. It’s obviously skewed toward the teams that drafted, but because they can’t make waiver claims at all, it gives me a fighting chance.
I can’t tell you how much fun it has been doing these leagues this year. It’s a very different exercise, and I have to think about my teams in a different way than I run any of my other teams. Yes, I don’t have any superstars, but I do have the entire waiver pool as my bench, in essence, since I can make any adds/drops whenever I want to set my lineup … which is both a blessing and a curse.
While you have all these fill-in guys available … they are all fill-in guys. Calvin Ridley wasn’t drafted in either league, but I’d be lying if I said I started him during his three-touchdown game. Deciding between similar upside plays that I have projected about the same is a challenge. When you play normal fantasy football, there are certain starters that are sort of locked in for you every week, either due to their consistency/star power or just your own lack of roster depth. But when you have infinite possibilities, it’s interesting. Yes, there are available QBs who will score high every week, but you’re deciding between guys like Joe Flacco, Blake Bortles and Andy Dalton. It definitely makes it more challenging.
Not surprisingly, just as Tom predicted in his original post, it has been a slow start for me. But not as slow as you might think. In League 1 (The “Fantasy” Vampire League), I just won my first game. I’ve had a bit of bad luck in that league, as coming into Week 5 I had the second-most points against, but that will even out.
I bet if you thought hard about it, you could probably guess most of my team. Understand, of course, that with the rest of the league drafting, in essence, a nine-man league and at least some of the league using bench spots for extra Ks/DSTs/QBs because of the no-waiver rule, there are some decent players who didn’t get drafted.
I mix and match every week, given specific players and opportunity (Giovani Bernard was a starter for a few weeks there, for example), but my core that I am choosing from every week is this:
And then I stream D/STs and kickers. So after my victory this week, I had my choice of a pretty good team. Aaron Rodgers, Saquon Barkley, Melvin Gordon and Stefon Diggs were among the players available to me.
As much as I like Rodgers and Diggs, of course, I thought running back was my weakest position, as (in theory at least) Leonard Fournette will be back soon, which would push Yeldon back to the Jaguars’ bench. My other running backs are decent players in platoons, whereas my wide receiver depth is actually pretty decent and QB will be easy to figure out from week to week, especially assuming Goff gets all his wideouts back soon (plus Jameis Winston is out there). So I vampired Gordon for Yeldon. Basically a coin flip, but I chose Gordon because I like him (and the Chargers) slightly more than Barkley the rest of the season, and because Gordon’s teammate, Austin Ekeler, is available as well. If something happens to Gordon, Ekeler is a clear alternative who would be productive, while I don’t have as much confidence in the options behind Barkley. So even though I am 1-4 in this league, I like my team and it grows stronger.
League 2 (The “Life” Vampire League), is going even better. I am riding a two-game win streak and just finished Week 5 with the highest point total in the league. I am currently 2-3 in that league and my roster is fairly similar:
And then I stream all the D/STs and kickers. Two weeks ago, I had Bernard in the lineup, so after beating that opponent, I was able to vampire Ezekiel Elliott in exchange for Gio. My victory this week was against a team that chose to hide all of its good players, fearful of the Vampire. He played me with a bench that included Tom Brady, Kareem Hunt, Antonio Brown and Diggs.
Of the useful players he actually did play were Carlos Hyde, Marvin Jones Jr. and Alex Collins. I chose a swap of Hyde for Yeldon, which will be pretty close until Fournette comes back. But I love the Browns’ upcoming schedule and, again, I like my WR depth.
So Team 2 will have starting RBs of Hyde and Zeke (heh heh) with White or a third WR as my flex. Lots of work to do, of course, but I like where this is headed. It has been a really fun challenge. I will definitely do more of these next year, and probably expand to 12-team leagues in at least some of them. But in the meantime, I have more games to win and more players to vampire until my reign of dark power is complete. Let’s get to it.
For those who missed last week, Love/Hate is now very simple. Next to every player is a number — the official ESPN projected total for that player in Week 6 (as of that week’s publish time). If they are a “Love,” I expect them to meet or exceed that projection. If they are a “Hate,” I expect them to fall short. Easy peasy.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 6
Matt Ryan vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 20.1 points): I know. Last week was brutal in what should have been an awesome matchup, but I’m back on him this week as a top-five play. Since the beginning of last season, Ryan is averaging 2.8 more points at home than on the road. To that end, he has scored more than 29 points in all three home games this season. I like him to beat his current projection against a Tampa Bay defense that has given up a league-high 28.6 fantasy points per game to QBs, along with a 77.1 percent completion rate and a league-high 8.3 percent of passes resulting in a touchdown. Giddy up.
Jameis Winston at Falcons (ESPN projection: 19.2 points): It’s pretty easy to see why Ryan Fitzpatrick (and Winston for a half or so) combined to lead the NFL in fantasy points before their bye week. The Bucs can’t run the ball, bad defense puts them in constant passing situations and they have one of the best groups of pass-catchers in the NFL. Now Winston, who is still available in about 60 percent of ESPN leagues, gets a Falcons team that has allowed the fifth-highest completion rate (69.8 percent), 10th-best TD-INT ratio (3.0) and the fourth-most fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs.
Kirk Cousins vs. Cardinals (ESPN projection: 19.1 points): The Cardinals blitz on a league-high 38.9 percent of opponents’ dropbacks. Cousins is completing a league-high 77.3 percent of passes against the blitz this season (also, he ranks third in completion percentage against the blitz from 2015-17). Also, you know, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
Andrew Luck at Jets (ESPN projection: 16.9 points): Weeks 1 to 3: 5.42 air yards per target. Weeks 4 and 5: 8.40 air yards per target (for reference, 2016: 8.25). Luck already has three games of 38-plus completions this season. For comparison, from 2014-17, Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL with three total games of 38-plus completions. There have been three QBs this season who have thrown at least 35 passes against the Jets and they’ve combined for 1,051 passing yards. Those QBs? Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Matthew Stafford.
Others receiving votes: Carson Wentz has three straight games of at least 35 pass attempts, and the injury to Jay Ajayi certainly doesn’t mean he’ll throw less. Wentz is one of only two QBs to have 300-plus passing yards and multiple passing TDs in each of the past two weeks, which makes him a low-end QB1 on Thursday night. … For those looking for QB2 streaming options, Baker Mayfield should be usable against a Chargers defense that allows the fourth-most yards per catch after the reception this season (6.48). In Mayfield’s two starts this season, Cleveland is sixth in yards after the catch. He’s just one of four QBs with at least 40 pass attempts, 295 passing yards and one passing TD in each of the past two weeks: Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers and Luck are the others. … The truly desperate could look at C.J. Beathard, who should be chucking it a ton against a Packers team that has allowed multiple TD passes in three of the past four weeks (Josh Allen being the lone exception).
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 6
Russell Wilson vs. Raiders in London (ESPN projection: 17.6 points): Under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer this season, Seattle has the lowest percentage of pass plays in the league (54.4 percent). Last season, the Seahawks had the third-highest rate. Wilson has less than 200 yards passing in each of his past three games, he’s averaging just 24.3 pass attempts per game in that stretch and has only 42 rushing yards this entire season (last season, he averaged 36.6 rushing yards PER GAME). Seattle will not need to play catch-up in this game.
Andy Dalton vs. Steelers (ESPN projection: 19.1 points): Hey, 19.1 is a big number and I get it with the matchup, but the Steelers’ defense did play better last week against Atlanta. In the games this season in which Joe Mixon has been active, Dalton is averaging just 252 passing yards (versus 345 in the two games Mixon missed). Dalton has 16.5 points or fewer in three of five games this season and even with a high over/under in this game, I think this is more of a divisional slugfest featuring a lot of running from both teams. He’s a borderline QB1, but with a projection of more than 19 points, I’m taking the under, making him a “hate” under our new format.
Joe Flacco at Titans (ESPN projection: 14.6 points): Very quietly, the Titans own a top-10 pass defense this season in each of the following (all per-game stats): completions, passing yards, yards per dropback, sacks per dropback and TD-INT rate. Since Flacco threw for three touchdowns in 34 attempts in that Week 1 beatdown of Buffalo, he has just five TD passes in 193 attempts.
Blake Bortles at Cowboys (ESPN projection: 16.8 points): In what should be a low-scoring game (the over/under is 40.5, lowest total on the slate), Bortles faces a Cowboys squad that is a top-10 defense in terms of QB rushing yards per carry allowed this season, despite having already faced Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson. That matters because, since that awesome Patriots game, nearly 28 percent of his points have come from his legs.
Running backs I love in Week 6
Joe Mixon vs. Steelers (ESPN projection: 18.3 points): As I said in the Dalton section, I expect this to be a slugfest and a heavy dosage of Mixon, who had 25 touches in his first game back from injury (a game Marvin Lewis said he would limit Mixon’s workload). Yeah, right. A volume-driven day is in play here on Sunday against a Steelers defense that has given up an average of 18.3 points to RBs in the four games aside from the Buccaneers game (Tampa can’t run). Loves are about meeting or exceeding projections, and I have him as a top-six play this week.
Sony Michel (ESPN projection: 14.8) and James White (12.9) vs. Chiefs: Great matchup for both guys against a Chiefs team that is a bottom-10 red zone defense this season. They allow a league-high 4.44 yards per carry BEFORE first contact this season. Michel is averaging 2.28 yards per carry AFTER first contact this season, fourth most in the NFL. And White now has consecutive games with at least eight catches, 65 receiving yards and a receiving TD. Here’s the list of RBs who can say they’ve done that: LaDainian Tomlinson (2003), David Johnson (2016) and White. Running backs as pass-catchers have given the Chiefs problems this season. Against the position, the Chiefs have allowed the second-most completions and tied for the most receiving touchdowns this season.
Chris Carson vs. Raiders in London (ESPN projection: 13.8 points): See Wilson, Russell. The Seahawks are gonna run in this one against a Raiders defense that ranks as a bottom-10 unit in both yards per carry before AND after first contact (one of only three teams to do so). Game flow should favor Seattle here, especially as Oakland has allowed the third-most rushing touchdowns this season (six) and the eighth-most red zone drives.
Alfred Morris at Packers (ESPN projection: 11.9 points): Morris has at least 12 carries in four of five games this season, and that was with Matt Breida healthy (Breida is highly unlikely to play this week). Morris should get the majority of early-down work against a Packers team allowing the seventh-most yards per carry AFTER first contact this season. He caught three passes last week, so there’s a little action to be had there as well, given that RBs own a 32.7 percent career target share from C.J. Beathard.
Others receiving votes: I’m not the biggest Lamar Miller fan by any stretch, but he should find success against a Bills team that has allowed a touchdown on 12 of 15 red zone drives this season, making them the fourth-least-efficient red zone defense. … We’ll see what kind of impact Marlon Mack has on this Colts offense, but regardless, I expect the pass-catching Nyheim Hines to continue his touch trend from the past few weeks (5, 10, 13, 22), especially against a Jets squad that allows opponents to complete 85 percent of passes to RBs this season (fourth highest). … In a game that should have some bad weather, I like both Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman against a Rams defense that has allowed 5.0 yards per carry and has given up at least 24 fantasy points to running backs in three of five games. The exceptions being the Vikings game in Week 4 when Dalvin Cook played very little and the anemic Cardinals in Week 2. … Javorius Allen has set a season high in touches in consecutive weeks. He’s a goal-line back who also has at least 6.5 points as a pass-catcher in four of five weeks this season.
Running backs I hate in Week 6
Devonta Freeman vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 16.8 points): Freeman showed up on the injury report Wednesday (again), and this is turning into a three-headed monster, as Ito Smith got four touches last week (compared with 10 for Freeman and nine for Tevin Coleman). Since Week 5 of last season, Freeman has just two games with 15-plus carries. It’s a great matchup, but this is a 40/40/20 split and I believe it’s unlikely he reaches 16.8 points, even if he plays.
LeSean McCoy at Texans (ESPN projection: 12.4 points): As trade rumors continue to swirl, McCoy faces a Texans team that is allowing just 3.44 yards per carry this season (fourth fewest). Playing on a Bills team that is averaging the second-fewest red zone drives per game this season (2.00), he’s going to need to score to get past 12.4, and I think that’s unlikely.
Kenyan Drake vs. Bears (ESPN projection: 10.8 points): Last week was good, I guess, if you have Drake. There were signs of life. But still — just six carries. Six. And one fewer touch than Frank Gore. Being in a committee on a low-scoring, poor offense will continue to depress his fantasy value, especially against a Bears team allowing the second-fewest YPC to RBs this season (2.93) and a league-low 1.75 red zone drives per game. No player has rushed for 50 yards against the Bears and I don’t believe Drake, with a single-game high of 53 rushing yards, will change that.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 6
Julio Jones vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 19.6 points): 19.6 is a big number and I’m taking the over? Yeah, I am. See everything I wrote about Ryan, Matt. Jones has exceeded 19.6 twice this season and Sunday will make it three, as Tampa Bay’s corners are no match for Julio. Also, I am playing against him in the ESPN War Room League, so I assure you he is going off. I would be very excited to be wrong on this one, but I don’t think I will be. Another blow-up spot coming.
Tyler Boyd vs. Steelers (ESPN projection: 13.4 points): Boyd played fewer snaps in the slot last week against the Dolphins (57.1 percent compared with 66.2 percent the previous weeks), as A.J. Green spent more time there (48.1 percent compared with 27.2 percent entering the game). I assume that was due, at least in part, to trying to get Green free from Xavien Howard. They may do that some this week to try to get Green free from Joe Haden, but Boyd will play enough slot snaps to beat his projection here. The Steelers allow 11.6 slot completions per game this season (second most), while seeing the slot targeted more than any other team (17 times per game). Boyd has at least seven targets in four straight games and is top 15 in the NFL in total targets during that stretch.
Mohamed Sanu vs. Buccaneers (ESPN projection: 11.1 points): Very quietly, Mo Sanu has 15.5 or more points in each of the past three weeks, one of only six wideouts to say that. He leads Atlanta in receptions (12), yards (151), targets (20) and touchdowns (two) from the slot this season, which is important when you consider the Bucs have coughed up a league high in yards (745) and touchdowns (seven) to go along with the second-most completions (55) and completion percentage (82.1) to the slot this season.
Jimmy Graham vs. 49ers (ESPN projection: 10.6 points): As of this writing (Wednesday night), we don’t know the health status of Randall Cobb or Geronimo Allison, but we do know this: The 49ers have given up the most touchdowns to opposing tight ends. They also have allowed the fifth-most red zone drives this season. Since Week 2, Graham is fourth among tight ends in targets (behind only Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce and Eric Ebron). Those three, incidentally, are the top three tight ends in fantasy this season.
Others receiving votes: I whiffed last week on Quincy Enunwa, although in fairness he came within six inches of a long touchdown and would have had it had Chris Harris Jr. not grabbed his jersey (a bad pass interference that wasn’t called). Either way, it allowed for Robby Anderson to wake up and I’m in on both of them this week as flex plays against a Colts secondary that has given up 516 yards and four touchdowns in just the past two games to opposing wide receivers. … In the same game, Chester Rogers faces a Jets secondary that has given up the third-most receptions and yards to the slot. A cheap DFS option, Rogers has run 95 percent of his routes from the slot. … Speaking of the slot, 67 percent of Keke Coutee‘s snaps and 76 percent of his catches this season have come from the slot. With Tre’Davious White having his hands full against DeAndre Hopkins, Coutee should find success against a Bills group that has given up the seventh-most slot receptions this season. … I know it has been tough recently, but I expect Jordan Reed to have one of his better days Sunday against a Panthers team that is allowing opponents to complete a league-high 87 percent of passes when targeting the TE this season (20-for-23). … If O.J. Howard doesn’t play this week, I like Cameron Brate to be a top-10 guy, especially considering his past connection with Jameis Winston.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 6
Allen Robinson at Dolphins (ESPN projection: 12.3 points): Quietly, the Dolphins are giving up the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing WRs and my expectation is that underrated Xavien Howard will shadow Robinson. Howard is turning into a shutdown corner and it’s worth noting the Dolphins have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing RBs this season. I believe this is a heavy Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen game, so Robinson should be OK, but I feel he will fall short of his projected 12.3 points.
Corey Davis vs. Ravens (ESPN projection: 12.7 points): I get the talent and the target share argument, but among starting quarterbacks, only Josh Allen is throwing fewer passes per game than Marcus Mariota. Only one wide receiver has gotten more than 70 receiving yards against Baltimore this season (Tyler Boyd) and that was from the slot. Davis is a perimeter player and I don’t love his chances against a Ravens defense that is allowing opponents to complete just 54.8 percent of passes this season, which, if it holds, would be the lowest rate in the past six years.
David Njoku vs. Chargers (ESPN projection: 9.3 points): Njoku has shown some improved chemistry with Baker Mayfield under center, but this is a tough matchup against the Chargers. The Bolts have allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends and just one score, and that includes games against Travis Kelce, Jared Cook and George Kittle. Yes, Kittle went off, but that was basically one big play. Opponents are completing just 57.6 percent of passes when targeting the TE against the Chargers this season (third lowest in the NFL) and for all his size, Njoku has yet to see a red zone target this season.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, once heard of a fantasy league that was all about predicting which Phish songs would be played at an upcoming concert. There’s a league for everything. He is the creator of RotoPass.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.