Productive Struggle (PS) is a natural contrast to the Win Now (WN) philosophy. The approach was coined by Ryan McDowell (Dynasty Blueprint Productive Struggle), and intended as a build strategy for sustained championship contention at the cost of immediate gratification. The base principles of PS are to invest in long-term, stable assets while fading aging production and fragility. This article will discuss the nuance of PS, a notable trade during an industry startup draft, and a side-by-side comparison of early stage PS vs WN draft strategies.
Viability of PS
Although the PS approach may be strongly associated with rookies, rookie picks, and future build intent, the age/production curves of various positions present opportunities to buy veteran talent within the confines of a longevity mindset. McDowell (Strategy in Action: Productive Struggle) highlighted this practicality, intertwined with high upside aggression in a 2017 mock with 4 straight WR picks to start. He paired two young, but established, talents (Amari Cooper and Davante Adams) and two elite rookie prospects (Corey Davis and Mike Williams). In single QB formats such as the mock McDowell detailed, PS can present as WR heavy, or purely “pass catcher” heavy, as WR and TE have extended career arcs beyond that of the typical RB. The travail of PS is managing the dregs of RB after the scorched earth of the early rounds. This may hint at the suboptimization alluded to by Jordan McNamara in a question concerning PS drafting:
Trading back, as @LosingMyBets suggested, might gain the draft pick compensation to account for the draft value lost but it does not replace the opportunity cost to select the higher quality player. This insinuates that dismissing elite RBs is not profitable in practice, as it is difficult to add RB1/2s to a roster without multiple factors; a.) being fortunate enough to acquire any in the following rookie draft, b.) giving up the same value or more in trade, or c.) buying low after critical events such as injury or production regression.
The PS advocate would counter this caveat with the assertion that their team is beginning with lower face value but greater implied value, such that after a single season, the roster should be comprised of more inflated assets that create additional trade value. A look at ADP data from MFL drafts last season (post-August 15, 2020, not including rookie drafts) in comparison to June, 2021 (not including rookie drafts) indicated that 2020 rookie WRs/RBs taken in the top 200 have gained an average of 25 spots. Multiple players gaining an average of two rounds would create significant value excess that would allow maneuverability in the market more comfortably. However, in contrast is the depreciation of top 200 sophomore WRs/RBs (2019 rookies) by nearly 32 spots in ADP over the same interval. This underscores the limitation that young assets cannot be blanketed as universally inflatable.
|Position||Rookie Season||Aug15+ 2020 ADP||June 2021 ADP||Delta (Change in value)|
PS and Super Best Ball
The addition of superflex alters the positional demands and creates more viable picks for PS to be executed. The longevity of QB is a strong ideological fit, along with the recent influx of highly valued QB prospects. In an April, 2020 dynasty superflex best ball startup (JJ Zachariason Live Blog), McDowell altered from a WR heavy opening and began with Kyler Murray (1.07) and early 2020 rookie picks in successive rounds (1.01, 1.03, and 1.05). McDowell’s only other QB selection through 10 rounds was Ben Roethlisberger (10.02). It seems likely, given the 2020 superflex rookie values prior to last season, that McDowell would have added at least one or both of Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa.
The addition of best ball alters the roster demands and may incentivize the strategy to a degree. PS in a traditional scoring format is akin to playing darts with a shotgun; hoping to hit enough successful young-upside selections to create an advantage with ascending stars. Fortunately, the onus on studs can be diminished with large dynasty benches and best ball roster optimization. PS no longer needs to spike the rookie breakouts to achieve significant results but accrue rookie relevance and avoid complete busts. Instead, the manager can attempt to trade back and acquire more relevant startup or rookie draft picks while dumping late (>20th round) picks that are mostly ineffective. The cost may appear prohibitive in a superflex league (eschewing early QB capital), but when you can increase your viable headcount and subtract from an opponent, the needle is moving in your favor.
Rich Hribar provided an illustrative example of an ideal PS trade in the same startup draft discussed with McDowell (JJ Zachariason Live Blog). Hribar moved the 1.03 and 29.04 to Scott Barrett for 2.11, 9.03, and a 2021 1st. Trade result:
Hribar Haul: Nick Chubb (2.11), Teddy Bridgewater (9.03), and 2021 1.11 (Thank you, @LordReebs)
Barrett Haul: Lamar Jackson (1.03) and ???? (29.04)
Although innocuous, Teddy Bridgewater contributed reasonably in super best ball last year with 5 QB1 and 7 QB2 weeks to Lamar Jackson’s 8/6. Nick Chubb provided 6 RB1 and 3 RB2 weeks with only 12 games played. The 2021 1.11 has yet to be selected, but in comparison with a similarly valued draft class, the 2020 1.11 pick was selected at 6.05 in the startup draft. As much as the deal was guided by longevity for Barrett, it seems to be creating a considerable advantage in 2021 for Hribar even if Teddy Bridgewater is unable to find the field in Denver. Remarkably, this trade seemed to end in the worst-case scenario for Hribar; a stud RB that is a year older, a potential backup QB, and Barrett’s 2nd place finish devaluing the 2021 1st pick value (which could have ranged in startup value from 1st – 7th rounds). However, look at the asset comparison without the drafted players to glimpse at the power of this trade:
|Hribar Pre-Trade||Barrett Pre-Trade|
|2021 1st||2021 1st|
|Hribar Post-Trade||Barrett Post-Trade|
It is difficult to argue with Barrett’s move, as he was able to monopolize the top 2020 QBs with Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, while running out an impressive 2nd place finish. Nonetheless, the trade sacrificed two valuable additions to bolster his roster depth. This value is perceivably overcome by the luxury of Lamar Jackson as his QB2 for many years, allowing him to invest more future rookie/roster capital in other positions. However, he has traded away some of this capital, particularly the 2021 1st, which will stall his roster expansion (barring other trades). Hribar will now add two 2021 1st round picks (including his own) to accelerate his roster expansion. Remember, these picks do not need to become stars to have value! They need to have enough utility to crowd out dead players from his roster with actual production or production upside. As a result of this deal, it appears that Hribar could have a 4-player advantage against Barrett heading into the 2021 season!
Comparing PS and WN
Hribar and Barrett’s startup was rife with trading. Other drafts may not follow similarly, with a tamer, stick-to-your-pick feeling. This was the case in the 2020 dynasty superflex best ball startup discussed in the previous post looking at WN. To analyze the startup and future challenges for PS, the 1st-12th rounds of the PS draft for Fear of the Dark will be juxtaposed to our WN hero, Regulators.
The two rosters are roughly similar through 3 rounds but diverge from there. The most dramatic discrepancy is a year later, as Regulators seems to have no players outside of Baker Mayfield with potential value gains, while Fear of the Dark had strong value gains from Joe Burrow (despite injury), D’Andre Swift, DK Metcalf, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Herbert. With 3 power QBs midseason, Fear of the Dark suddenly found themselves with a monster build complemented with foundational pieces at RB/WR. While Regulators is now contending with the closing windows of Tom Brady, James Conner, and Chris Carson, Fear of the Dark expanded with maintained rookie draft picks, along with splitting stocks on inflated assets to gain more rookie draft capital without sacrificing roster capital (Justin Herbert for Dak Prescott + 2021 2.02, DK Metcalf for 2021 1.03 + Tee Higgins). Fear of the Dark summarily bolstered their roster with 2021 rookies Najee Harris (1.03), Travis Etienne (1.08), Trey Sermon (2.02), and Elijah Moore (2.08).
PS appears to fit great in the recent era of mega NFL draft classes. Combined with super best ball, it also seems more realistic that young RBs are actionable within the startup strategy. Regardless of format, PS is worth a consideration in any 2021 startups. For a fun and radical iteration of PS, investigate the “All-22” strategy discussed by Norm Cruz (Drafting ‘All-22’ in a $500 FFPC Dynasty Startup Draft), which hones in on the youngest possible roster creation with an aim for a year 3 player arc convergence of epic proportions!