Ask Your Fantasy Football Expert: Pat Thorman of PFF Fantasy

"So the FA RB music stopped and Blount, Moreno and MJD found chairs. Where the hell is CJ going when TEN cuts him? NYJ? ARZ? DEN? NE???"

I’ve seen his avatar for a year and heard him recently on the 2 Mugs and Faked Goods podcasts, so it was time to get Pat Thorman into the fold. He typed lots of words, so let’s get past the intro and to the meat.

How did you get started in fantasy football writing? I was having a quiet night last February, with some relatives in town, and I’d retired to my only refuge – which is basically the end of the dining room table. Bryan Fontaine, who is an awesome guy, tweeted that PFF Fantasy was looking for writers. Luckily I had enough liquid courage in me to send some samples of what I’d done during the 2012 season with a “what’s the worst that can happen?” perspective. Needless to say I was shocked and psyched beyond belief when he gave me a shot.

Do you still have that new writer smell? Congrats on the FSWA award. Haha – well my musk includes a faint hint of cigarette smoke and baby wipes, so I doubt it. Or maybe that is what new writers smell like? Hoping to quit (again) before he’s potty trained or old enough to know what a dope I am, so the race is on. [Zach note: Pat won the Newcomer of the Year award, so don’t ask him if he’s going to repeat.]

And thank you. It was an absolute honor, especially seeing as there is an incredible amount of writing talent in the fantasy community, and more all the time.

Can you chat about your “elevator pitch” at the FSWA awards ceremony, and are we going to see your floating-salary DFS idea come to fruition for the 2014 season? The elevator pitch was based on a new DFS version in which player salaries float throughout the week based on demand. The ultimate goal is to promote more diversified rosters, and the format will organically cause that by keeping a larger portion of the player pool viable compared to the traditional DFS set-up. At the same time, the most highly sought after players/matchups will become expensive and everyone won’t have them on their rosters. You can still have the same quarterback as many other entrants, but depending on where/when you lock the price in, the purchasing power for the rest of your lineup will be greater/lesser than most of your competition.

NFL DFS has a unique dynamic that other sports don’t, and that is a five-day incubation period where sites are mostly dormant. This can unlock week-long interaction that benefits both gamers and the host site. It’s a clear untapped opportunity.

Find a more in-depth explanation of the idea, and PFF’s role.

Hopefully those in attendance at the FSTA conference check out the written explanation because I’m pretty sure I blacked out when it was my turn to get up and pitch it. My public speaking is a work in progress, to be (too) kind.
I sure hope we have it up and running by the 2014 season. We’ve gotten plenty of positive feedback and a couple nibbles, but are still interested in speaking with other potential partners in the coming months.

What on earth is your Twitter avatar? That would be Hunter S. Thompson, iconic doctor of journalism. He’s probably best known for Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, and for good reason – it’s pure genius and even better on the page than the screen (although Depp & Del Toro are amazing). The vibe was an attention grabber in my college years, but he’s so much greater than just that book. He had an amazing perspective on politics and sports, and he loved football. His ESPN Page 2 column was appointment reading, and annually Googling “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” at Derby time is about as close to religious ritual as I get. He’s my favorite writer and when I found that pic of him throwing a football it was a no-brainer.

Are you a Patriots fan? Either way, is Belichick going to continue to frustrate us with his RB/WR usage until he retires? Yes, I’m a Patriots fan. I was lucky enough to have season tickets through a friend from 2000, when I got out of school, until ’09. Pretty well-timed run, although I could have done without ponying up to fly out to Arizona for the Helmet Catch game. Damnit. I’ve mostly retired from going to games now, for many reasons.

Unfortunately Belichick will probably frustrate us more often than not. He has shown that he’ll lean on a bell cow back in the past (Corey Dillon, Antowain Smith, to a degree), but loves being multiple on offense almost as much as on defense. He’s used pass catching backs even during his Browns years with Eric Metcalf. So the Kevin Faulks and Shane Vereens aren’t going anywhere. Vereen and Ridley are free agents after ’14 so we’ll see some new blood come in, and maybe that will give more certainty. Let’s not bet on it though.

As far as wide receivers, it’s a matter of finding the right guys. Welker and obviously Moss were locked into fantasy lineups. Branch was useful in his first go around. Edelman’s attractive in PPR leagues, and I’m going (gone?) down with the Amendola ship. I’m sure Belichick would love to get back to the more versatile, up-tempo friendly, two tight end offense they ran a couple years ago, but the talent just isn’t on the roster right now. That’ll funnel value to the main wideouts in the short term, whoever they wind up being.

What’s your day job? I work in the financial services industry. I try to keep my worlds from colliding as best I can, which is why I came up with the fake name. It’s not a very cool fake name, but Salvatore Stefanile was already taken.

You mentioned on the Faked Goods podcast that you are a RB/RB guy in redraft and you lean toward going WR early in dynasty drafts/auctions. What about a keeper league strategy, asks the guy about to do a keeper redraft this fall? Assuming there are traditional starting lineup requirements, I tend to minimize quarterback in keeper leagues as well as redraft. It’s not hard to land a guy like Romo, even after the draft in trade, and it allows you to concentrate on other areas. Tight ends fall in this category for me as well, mainly because they’re also “onesie” positions where supply outpaces demand, and we can usually unearth decent enough options to fill that single slot.

I try to project a relatively small window for running backs, and more heavily weigh the situation they are in, versus other positions. Since their average lifespan at full productivity is tighter, it’s not typically effective to bank on talent winning out over a long haul that may not even occur. On the other hand, receiver is just the opposite. This is an interesting year for pass catchers in startups because they run so deep in the NFL draft. Not saying to ignore them, and everyone else will be targeting them in rookie drafts, but you’ll be able to supplement your receiver corps and backfill talented youth if you skew a little bit older than normal in startup.

A great point that Shawn Siegele, of PFF Fantasy and RotoViz, made to me is to concentrate on higher upside, rare players over safe guys. Even if a small handful of those hit you can tread water, and if more hit you create ubersquads. A side benefit of that is that nobody likes to trade for “safe” players, and we should always be thinking of what the perceived resale value of our players is. As usual, he offers wise words.

Are you the man to bring the “film” and “stats” guys together? I don’t think any one person can bring together the particularly entrenched factions of the Stats vs Film debate, especially not someone who isn’t expert in either one. It’s surprising on one level that quite a few otherwise extremely intelligent people cannot concede that a blend of both is optimal. On the other hand it makes sense that a person who pours so much of their personal expertise, and on many levels their soul, into one form of analysis would find validation in that method being deemed superior. At the end of the day individuals will gravitate towards what they are most comfortable with and whichever is most accessible to them.

Personally I don’t have the time to watch film on every player I want to know about. I rely on those that do, and God bless em for it. I also don’t have the wherewithal to create intricate NASA-level algorithms based on breakout age, market share, and prom date measurements. Luckily I can ignore Excel and head to RotoViz, for example, to get an idea of a handful of players that I do have time to watch.

There absolutely are blind spots on both sides. Sometimes the Stats crew misses on trees when quantifying the forest, and the Film guys the opposite. Using the best that both have to offer reduces at least some of those blind spots. [Zach note: I like to be in the “make fun of both” camp.]

How many leagues are you in? What’s the league that you want to win the most? I’m in eight leagues of my own and I’ve helped friends, who are very casual NFL fans, run their teams for years (for 30% of any winnings, nothing if they don’t win). That adds between 10-12 more. So Tuesday nights and Sunday mornings are pretty hectic. I’ve won my largest home league three years in a row and that’s helped the wallet, but I wanted to win the FSWA Industry Insiders league more, despite there being no monetary prize. It was a thrill to take that and beat out far better fantasy minds than my own. I’d love to step up my DFS game this coming season, from moderately successful to Bales-ian level profitability. [Zach note: We all want to be Bales when we grow up.

During the long, dark offseason, do you prefer to review the 2013 season/prep for 2014 or are you covering the NFL draft as well? I mainly spend my time analyzing specific players or overall trends from the previous season. When you’re in the heat of the moment and making vital decisions on a week to week basis, you can lose an overall macro sense of what’s going on. What I liked most about my in-season weekly column was the fact that it revolved around snaps and was a good springboard for getting a wide view of the league when I focused on team snaps in addition to individuals’ play counts. Trying to get in front of which teams will be running more or fewer plays can give a leg up, on a cumulative basis, throughout the season.

As far as draft prep, I find myself in a catch-up position mainly due to the fact that my Saturdays are sacrificed for “Sunday Immunity” – as Chad Scott and Rich Hribar like to call it on the Faked Goods Dynasty podcast. It causes me to rely quite a bit on the gaggle of excellent football minds that have their fingers on the pulse of the incoming rookies. We are fortunate to have the likes of Matt Waldman, Josh Norris, Sigmund Bloom, Rumford Johnny, the RotoViz crew, and an unnamable number of other resources. Personally, they bridge the gap between season’s end and when I have the time and basis to form my own opinions before the NFL draft. It’s invaluable. And I must say I’m quite grateful to have those extra weeks this year, now that the draft isn’t until May.

The spouse question: Does your wife have any issues with your football obsession? None at all. She’s a football fan herself (although a Giants fan) and her knowing who Troy Aikman was, way back in our high school English class, was one of the reasons I was first attracted to her. I’m sure she could do without being a football widow for so many Sundays, but she knows this is what I love and has been incredibly supportive.

Football or sex: which do you think of more? Football. Haha – part of me wishes that wasn’t the easiest question you’ve asked.

Where’s your “command center” or “man cave” for watching the NFL games on Sunday? Is there an official Beer of Pat Thorman to consume during the games, or are you “on the clock”? It’s nothing elaborate. One TV in the living room and Sunday Ticket on the iPad, with the occasional interruption from my now 16-month old son and/or visit from some friends to watch the Pats game. I do prefer the Pats not play at 1pm, unlike when I attended the games, so I can keep tabs on developments as they happen and enjoy Twitter at its peak. There are so many games going on at that time that it’s tough to enjoy watching the home team, friends, food, drink, etc.

There is not an official Beer of Pat Thorman. If there’s a drink of Pat Thorman it’s something with tequila in it. Usually a margarita, as low-rent as they come: limeade, a little sour mix and Sunny D (not kidding), and a decent tequila. I’m convinced the vitamin C from these are the only reason I’m still kicking. As far as beer goes, I usually go with the seasonals – typically Sam Adams. For an IPA, I really dig Lagunitas.

Which football writers are on your must-read list? You can’t come away from an article by Shawn Siegele, Rich Hribar, and Mike Clay without learning something new. Denny Carter, JJ Zachariason, Evan Silva, James Todd, Jon Moore, Rumford Johnny, and Jonathan Bales fall into that category as well. The work that Sal Stefanile does with two-quarterback leagues, which should be standard roster requirements, is outstanding. You can’t beat Jeff Ratcliffe and Ross Miles for IDP. I basically try to read everything at PFF, RotoViz, XN, Football Guys, and Dynasty League Football. I wish there were two more hours in each day, really. General football writers that I don’t miss include Greg Bedard, Bill Barnwell, and Chris Brown. Mike Reiss is the epitome of what a no-nonsense beat reporter should be and really is the only source of Patriots information you’d need if you had to choose just one.

Tell me about a hobby/interest outside of football. We’re lucky enough to get to head to Lake Winnipesaukee (of “What About Bob?” fame) in New Hampshire, where my Dad lives, so getting as much snowmobiling and water sports in as possible is a huge treat. Free time has been nearly eliminated over the last year or so, but I try to shoehorn as much music in as I can. I play (a bad) bass guitar, and try to catch as many live shows as I can. Phish and Pearl Jam top the list. My little guy calls a concert poster of Eddie Vedder “Uncie Eddie” when he passes it, and though I’m not exactly sure how many Phish shows I’ve seen, it’s closer to 100 than 50. If they’re playing anywhere from Jersey to Maine it’s a good bet that I’m there, so if anyone wants to catch up this summer at Mansfield or Randall’s Island, tweet me before the shows. I used to go for the party more than the music, though at some point in my 20s that shifted the other way. But much like Film and Stats, the live Phish experience is best optimized as a blend of both. [Zach note: Sigmund Bloom shares your feeling. I’d probably get into it after a couple of Belgian Ales.]

Is there anything I failed to ask that you’d like to address? The only other thing I’d like to say is how incredibly grateful I am to be part of such a talented, and above all, inclusive community. As much as I love writing about football, the best part of the last year is the connections I’ve made with awesome people. I’ve never interacted with as many like-minded folks as I have over the last year and it’s been outstanding. I’ve also learned a ton, and the level of discourse is so high that it forces us to keep raising our games. It’s cliche, but we can never know everything about football, and that really is the most exciting part. It’s been a great year both with writing and on a personal family level, and I couldn’t be more thankful for where I am.

Tell me about any plugs that you’d like. Sites, podcasts, projects, anything. Head to PFF Fantasy all offseason to get a free taste of what a Gold subscription gets you in the summer and fall. Also check out the great work Mike and the guys have been doing on the FNTSY Sports Network.

Thanks a ton to Pat Thorman for being a good sport and turning this around so quickly.

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