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Serpentine Drafts vs. Third Round Reversal
David Dorey
August 5, 2008
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Nothing has proven so time-honored as the serpentine draft in fantasy football. No doubt the initial drafts were all replications of actual drafts so that each team would have the same draft slot each round. However, that produced an imbalance in leagues since the team drafting first not only had the benefit of grabbing the top rated player in the NFL - a huge advantage by itself - it also assured them 2 of the best 13 players, 3 of the best 25 and so on as the advantage continued on.

Serpentine (AKA "snake") order sought to cure that imbalance by reversing the draft order every other round so that the first team goes last in the second round, first in the third, last in the fourth and so on. It also really changed up drafts since depending on where you were drafting, you could have anywhere from 22 picks down to no other picks happening before you draft. Thus created "the swing" where the first and last teams were going twice in a row before waiting until all other teams had also gone twice.

It has worked greatly. Certainly more fair than "standard" drafting and even allows some interesting tactics and strategies for those drafting on either end since they know at least one of every two players they have will either be someone who has fallen or a guy they had to make a reach to get knowing that they would not be there in 20+ picks. Serpentine is certainly the standard now and almost no leagues use a different method - almost.

What has recently come to light is the use of the third round reversal (AKA 3RR). The problem it is attempting to address is that even with serpentine, the first drafter gets three of the first 25 picks in a 12 team league. The 12th team would only be getting three of the first 36 picks (and then also the 37th pick). Problem is that superstars do not much hang out in the fourth round. Drafting first means getting the super stud running back and then being able to access either a top wideout, tight end or quarterback or a mid-tier running back. In most years there are one or two super-backs (Tomlinson most recently) and drafting him has netted an immediate and distinct advantage. Following that up with, say, a top wideout and top quarterback builds a pretty formidable team that could not exist for the team drafting last. And those initial picks will dictate where you go in later rounds.

So - Third Round Reversal does exactly as it says. Using a serpentine draft order, it reverses the third round so that team #1 gets picks 1.01, 2.12, 3.12, 4.12, 5.01, 6.12, 7.01, etc. (it swaps a 3.01 for a 3.12). Team #12 gets 1.12, 2.01, 3.01, 4.01. 5.12, 6.01, 7.12 (it swaps a 3.12 for a 3.01). It is the same thing as serpentine with that third round repeating the order of the second round. Otherwise - all serpentine.

But what advantage would that really create and what disadvantages does it really cure?

To address this question, several of the Huddle message board veterans held a seven round mock draft using serpentine order and then using the same teams, redid the draft by starting over in the third round and drafting with that round reversed. Let's take a look at the resulting teams for the first and last three teams to draft each round. No change of any significance happens to the teams draft 4th through 9th.

The third round for both drafts:

Pick Serpentine Third Round Reversal
3.01 WR Houshmandzadeh WR Edwards,Braylon
3.02 WR Edwards,Braylon WR Smith,Steve
3.03 WR Smith,Steve WR Houshmandzadeh.
3.04 RB Jacobs,Brandon RB Jacobs,Brandon
3.05 RB Graham,Earnest WR Johnson,Chad
3.06 WR Holt,Torry RB Graham,Earnest
3.07 RB Stewart,Jonathan RB Stewart,Jonathan
3.08 WR Johnson,Chad RB Maroney,Laurence
3.09 WR Welker,Wes WR Holt,Torry
3.10 WR Boldin,Anquan QB Brees,Drew
3.11 QB Brees,Drew WR Williams,Roy
3.12 WR Burress,Plaxico WR Welker,Wes
 

While there was some variation in the two drafts, they basically held the same third round in each.

Did it decrease the advantage of being in the first three teams drafting?

Team #1

After starting out with Peterson and Romo - quite the 1-2 punch - in serpentine he selected T.J. Houshmandzadeh and in Third Round Reversal he took Wes Welker. It did not really change his team too much as he followed the same general plan. In the end, he had to give up Houshmandzadeh and settled for Wes Welker which doesn't sound that bad.

Taken another way, he went from the 7th WR drafted to the 13th WR drafted. It is a step down but how much is debatable. Oddly enough, I think the 3RR team looks better than the serpentine team.

Serpentine Third Round Reversal
1.01 RB Peterson,Adrian 1.01 RB Peterson,Adrian
2.12 QB Romo,Tony 2.12 QB Romo,Tony
3.01 WR Houshmandzadeh 3.12 WR Welker,Wes
4.12 WR Marshall,Brandon 4.12 WR Marshall,Brandon
5.01 RB Maroney,Laurence 5.01 RB Turner,Michael
6.12 WR Cotchery,Jerricho 6.12 RB Young,Selvin
7.01 RB Young,Selvin 7.01 WR Engram,Bobby
8.12 TE Davis,Vernon 8.12 TE Miller,Heath

Team #2

With Tomlinson and Maurice Jones-Drew talking the first two picks for a very solid start, in both cases this team went for WR at the third pick. There was a change here since the serpentine draft has Carson Palmer available at the 4.11 when he wasn't in the 3RR draft - and he took Gates. But that's more about who was drafting before him than the 3RR draft changing things.

In this case, the definite change was drafting Roy Williams in the 3RR and Braylon Edwards in the serpentine. That means the 3 RR cost him the 12th wideout drafted instead of getting the 8th one taken in the serpentine. It is a change with some impact, but it is harder to evaluate these two teams because of changes in drafting strategy caused by different players being available in the two drafts. I do like the serpentine team better though. Much better.

Serpentine Third Round Reversal
1.02 RB Tomlinson,Ladainian 1.02 RB Tomlinson,Ladainian
2.11 RB Jones-Drew,Maurice 2.11 RB Jones-Drew,Maurice
3.02 WR Edwards,Braylon 3.11 WR Williams,Roy
4.11 QB Palmer,Carson 4.11 TE Gates,Antonio
5.02 TE Gonzalez,Tony 5.02 WR White,Roddy
6.11 WR Coles,Laveranues 6.11 RB Jones,Julius
7.02 RB Taylor,Fred 7.02 QB Hasselbeck,Matt
8.11 WR Porter,Jerry 8.11 WR Porter,Jerry

Team #3

Here's an interesting use of the new draft spot. In the serpentine, took Steve Smith (suspended the next day) who was the 9th wideout drafted. But in the 3RR, he went for Drew Brees as the fourth quarterback drafted instead of selecting the 13th wideout drafted. With lesser value in wideouts, he opted for tier one quarterback Brees. He could have taken Brees in the serpentine but preferred Smith.

As it worked out, he had Gates available in the serpentine but not the 3RR. And he waited until the 8th round to take Rodgers as the 12th quarterback selected so a major change in drafting strategy. Once again, Oddly enough, I would prefer the 3RR team with the tier 1 QB and starter Forte over Mendenhall. Losing Gates for Davis does hurt, but overall I would prefer the 3 RR team.

Serpentine Third Round Reversal
1.03 RB Jackson,Steven 1.03 RB Jackson,Steven
2.10 WR Fitzgerald,Larry 2.10 WR Fitzgerald,Larry
3.03 WR Smith,Steve 3.10 QB Brees,Drew
4.10 TE Gates,Antonio 4.10 WR Johnson,Calvin
5.03 RB Jones,Thomas 5.03 RB Jones,Thomas
6.10 RB Mendenhall,Rashard 6.10 RB Forte,Matt
7.03 WR Gonzalez,Anthony 7.03 WR Cotchery,Jerricho
8.10 QB Rodgers,Aaron 8.10 TE Davis,Vernon

So as far as an advantage being taken away from the first three drafters, our example doesn't really show that happening. It is impossible to compare the two teams completely because the drafting strategy changed with different players available. Those initial rounds are about deciding when to take a position stud and when to just mine a position before it is gone.

But the 3RR draft is an much about removing the disadvantage to those drafting at the end than hurting the first teams to draft. Let's see what changes 3RR allowed for those 10th, 11th and 12th teams to draft in the first round.

Team #10

Interestingly, this team did take the same position in the third round in both drafts but then deviated significantly the rest of the way. In essence, he upgraded from the 13th drafted wideout (Boldin) to getting the 9th drafted wideout. Only four spots but it does get him back inside the top ten.

But after that, there was a major deviation. He took Witten at the 4.03 in the serpentine but then opted for Boldin in the 3RR even though Witten was still available. So with a better wideout, he opted to take Boldin again but it only cost him a 4.03 in the 3RR instead of the 3.10 he paid in the serpentine. Overall, I personally like the serpentine draft better from having more difference makers in my opinion.

Serpentine Third Round Reversal
1.10 RB Barber,Marion 1.10 RB Barber,Marion
2.03 RB Bush,Reggie 2.03 RB Bush,Reggie
3.10 WR Boldin,Anquan 3.03 WR Houshmandzadeh
4.03 TE Witten,Jason 4.03 WR Boldin,Anquan
5.10 QB McNabb,Donovan 5.10 WR Evans,Lee
6.03 WR Evans,Lee 6.03 TE Cooley,Chris
7.10 RB Green,Ahman 7.10 QB Anderson,Derek
8.03 WR Berrian,Bernard 8.03 RB Johnson,Chris

Team #11

This team also varied a lot between the two drafts. In the serpentine, Drew Brees was taken but moving up nine spots in the third round led this drafter to take Steve Smith in the 3RR. This is actually the opposite of what happened to team #3.

So instead of taking the 4th best quarterback, they preferred the 8th wideout drafted. To be honest, while the two teams are rather different, I am less certain which one I would prefer. The Serpentine draft netted a top tier quarterback and while the 3RR could have taken him as well, it didn't. But it has better wideouts and tight end with at least upside at quarterback in McNabb.

Serpentine Third Round Reversal
1.11 RB Lynch,Marshawn 1.11 RB Lynch,Marshawn
2.02 RB Johnson,Larry 2.02 RB Johnson,Larry
3.11 QB Brees,Drew 3.02 WR Smith,Steve
4.02 WR Williams,Roy 4.02 WR Burress,Plaxico
5.11 WR Bowe,Dwayne 5.11 QB McNabb,Donovan
6.02 RB White,LenDale 6.02 TE Gonzalez,Tony
7.11 TE Daniels,Owen 7.11 WR Driver,Donald
8.02 WR Moss,Santana 8.02 RB Fargas,Justin

Team #12

This team mercifully makes the comparison a little easier by mirroring the first five rounds as to position drafted. In the serpentine, opted for Burress as the 14th wideout drafted but with 3RR he got the 7th wideout taken. That is a pretty significant shift.

In this case, I would prefer to have the 3RR team with the exception of Ronnie Brown. For some reason, the serpentine draft had Michael Turner taken at the 4.01 and in the 3RR, he was moved to take Brown even though Turner was to last another round before being selected. But overall, hard to argue with not wanting to take the 7th best wideout instead of the 14th best one.

Serpentine Third Round Reversal
1.12 WR Wayne,Reggie 1.12 WR Wayne,Reggie
2.01 RB Grant,Ryan 2.01 RB Grant,Ryan
3.12 WR Burress,Plaxico 3.01 WR Edwards,Braylon
4.01 RB Turner,Michael 4.01 RB Brown,Ronnie
5.12 RB Smith,Kevin 5.12 RB Smith,Kevin
6.01 QB Roethlisberger,Ben 6.01 WR Coles,Laveranues
7.12 WR Driver,Donald 7.12 TE Scheffler,Tony
8.01 TE Miller,Heath 8.01 QB Schaub,Matt

So in the final analysis, what does a Third Round Reversal draft do? The answer is that it does help to take away an advantage of the first three teams and decreases the disadvantage of those teams drafting in the final spots of round one but apparently not dramatically. It is not the magic bullet of fairness and it is a small change overall. The bottom line is that is does accord the later round teams with a better draft spot in the third round - undeniable. And it removes an advantage of the early drafters but in all cases, a draft is more about what the team owners do than jockeying the draft order. No two drafts are alike, not even when the same people do them.

The question is if using 3RR would result in a more fairly balanced league. The answer is yes - in theory. In reality, it is more about what you do with the draft picks you have and strategy will always change depending on the players presented to you.

There is one reality with doing this analysis this year. We are coming off the 2007 season where passing numbers were through the roof all over and running back injuries were significantly higher than usual. Since most people draft by pretending that last year is going to happen all over again (and it never does), drafts are taking far more quarterbacks and wide receivers early than ever before. Figure in most years, that swing pick at the 2.12 and 3.01 usually has no more than three or four wideouts and maybe just one quarterback taken. So in previous years, holding the #1 spot often meant you could easily have top three wideouts and quarterbacks waiting for your second and third pick. This year actually makes 3RR look less effective that it would in other years.

My recommendation? If you have a longtime local league - give 3RR a try. It is a complication in the draft - albeit small - and it is almost impossible to really judge if the results are materially big enough to warrant making the change. But 3RR can be an interesting twist for leagues that have been around for many years and I am all for making fantasy football more fair and more interesting. The results may not be quite as big as it may seem on first blush, but there are at least small benefits to making the change. So while drafts are all about the drafters and what they do, I would recommend you have your long-time league consider it. The change will not hurt your league, could make it more fair and overall make the draft a little more interesting.

Hey - if nothing else , it will offer a moment of levity when the guy with the first pick gets out-voted on something.

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