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Testing Expansion Strategy in Dynasty Leagues

Is your league considering expanding to more teams? Take a look at how a mock expansion played out with a protected expansion draft strategy.

A few weeks ago, Rich, Matt, and Garrett had a listener mailbag episode of the #Nerdherd podcast. In the episode, someone wrote in asking the best way to go about expanding an already active dynasty league.

This is a tough question and one that I have seen around dynasty Twitter and subreddits before. The easiest solution (if you aren’t uprooting the entire league and redrafting) is implementing an expansion draft. But what would this draft look like?

In the #Nerdherd episode, Rich and the guys discussed current owners getting to protect a set number of players and leaving the others exposed to being draftable. We have seen this in real life recently in the NHL with the Vegas Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken expansion drafts.

To test out if this expansion draft gives good returns to keep the league balanced and competitive, I reached out to one of my good friends and we set out to draft two expansion teams in our home league. Here is what teams were produced.

Setup

First off, a little about this home league. The league has been around for 15 years but has only been a dynasty league for the last eight years. Still, the league is strongly established in dynasty and a redraft of all the teams would not be something we would want to do.

The league is 12 teams and 0.5 PPR. There are nine starting spots (QB, WR, WR, RB, RB, WR/TE, TE, Superflex, Flex), 10 bench, and five taxi spots. The expansion will move this to 14 teams.

In order to set up this expansion draft, my friend and I decided on seven players or picks to be protected for each team. The theory here is you could protect most of your starting roster with seven total protections, while still leaving some high-end talent exposed. There was a bit of back and forth on the podcast on how many players to protect, but seven feels like a good total.

Additionally, we decided that the rookie draft for the year the expansion teams joined would need to have a lottery for the top eight picks. This lottery is for all of the non-playoff teams from the previous season, plus the two expansion teams. The expansion teams and the team that finished worst had the same odds in the lottery and then the odds got worse for each team that finished second-to-last to sixth-to-last in the previous season.

The rule was set that any current team could only lose a maximum of two players. If one expansion team wanted to pick two players from the same current team, that was allowed. But once two players were picked, that franchise could not lose any other players or picks. We also decided the expansion draft should snake between the two teams to keep the draft as even as possible.

With all of these guidelines established, we were ready to draft.

The Draft

With the first pick of the expansion draft, I took a stab at Saquon Barkley. My theory was he had the highest upside of anyone available and I wanted a piece on my franchise that could play well for me or get me a high return in a trade if the RB returns to his former glory.

Credit: Business Insider

My friend began with two picks from the same current team. He took Tua Tagovailoa and Calvin Ridley, closing off that franchise from any other players being taken. I, in turn, took DeAndre Hopkins from the same franchise I took Barkley from, and that team was finished being pillaged as well.

We continued back and forth until every franchise had two players or draft picks taken and we had 12 assets on our current teams. Here were the hauls for each team:

Expansion Team 1: Saquon Barkley, DeAndre Hopkins, Mac Jones, Brandon Aiyuk, Damien Harris, Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Noah Fant, pick 12 in the rookie draft, Daniel Jones, pick 14 in the rookie draft, and James Robinson.

Expansion Team 2: Tua Tagovailoa, Calvin Ridley, Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins, Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Carson Wentz, Hollywood Brown, Courtland Sutton, Odell Beckham Jr., Davis Mills, and Jimmy Garoppolo.

The Lottery

We also conducted the lottery and Expansion Team 1 got pick 3 in every round and Expansion Team 2 got pick 4 in every round. Every pick after 4 moved back two spots in every round, so the pick 12 and pick 14 that Expansion Team 1 received in the expansion draft actually pick 14 and 16.

We both believed a draft lottery was the only fair way to add the expansion teams in. The expansion teams should have a chance to get the top rookie in the draft, but your current owner he finished last should also have this chance. Simply assigning the top two picks to the expansion team is not fair for your current owners who have been around the league for years.

Strategy

My strategy when I went into drafting my expansion team was to fill out my starting roster fully so I had a team that could start and play that year. I wanted balance in my picks and opportunity for success at multiple positions.

This goes against my typical tactic of acquiring as many young players and picks as possible when starting up a team. However, with an established league of teams already playing, I wanted to make sure I invested in some top talent when I could early. My hope is that I can flip some of these guys to an established team if they have a strong start to the 2022 season.

My friend aimed at finding as much trade value as he could with every single pick. Taking players like Ridley, Thomas, and his heap of quarterbacks was a strategy in hoping they could have high trade value for him in his first year in the league.

Drafting based on positional need in the league can give an expansion team strong trade assets.

Also noteworthy, the six quarterbacks he took included two from current teams that only had one quarterback left after the expansion draft. In a Superflex league, these owners will likely pay up to make sure they have two quarterbacks every week, and my friend now can hold these guys for a bit higher than their market value. It’s a strong strategy if you were an expansion team.

Both tactics have their pros and cons, but it was nice to see the difference in strategies in both teams. Clearly, there are a couple of different ways to build out your team in this expansion format.

Concerns

What we found from this exercise was a very usable system to be able to expand a dynasty league. The teams that were drafted are not the best in the league on paper, but they have plenty of assets to start building a franchise around.

The one major issue is they do not have a lot of depth on their teams as they will only have 16 players on their teams after the rookie draft. With 24 possible roster spots when taxi squad is included, this is a significant cut in depth.

It is likely you would need to open free agency for the two expansion teams first to allow them to fill out their roster before opening waivers to everyone in the league. Alternatively, you could have up to three players that can be taken from the current franchises when the expansion teams are added instead of just two per team.

The balance here is what you and the other owners in your league want to do. Many owners may already no be happy losing two of their mid-range players. Asking them to lose a third may be too much, so the free agency route might be your best bet.

Alternatively, you could have the third player taken from every franchise be a bottom-four player on each team. Current owners can designate their bottom-four and the expansion teams could only pick the third player from that franchise out of those four players.

Conclusion

Expansion can be a tough move for any dynasty league to do. But in some cases, a group of friends or family members wants a way to make sure they can include as many people in their league as possible.

If expansion is decided as something your entire league wants, I believe this expansion draft method is the best-case scenario. You can talk to your league members and determine how many players and picks to protect and then conduct a draft lottery for the top rookie picks.

In our exercise, seven protected players and picks seem to be the right fit. When we looked at protecting only six, there were too many big-name players and picks exposed. When we protected eight, there wasn’t nearly enough talent for the expansion teams.

Each league setup can be a little different, so running a mock expansion is never a bad idea. Get the feel for how the expansion could shake out before committing to it.

Just remember: you are adding these expansion teams to be part of a competitive and fun dynasty league. You should make sure you aren’t protecting too much on your current teams so that these expansion owners have some talent to choose from. A balanced league is always the most fun.

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