NFFC Cutline Strategy and Review


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NFFC Cutline Strategy and Review

Even if you are not a “high stakes” player or participate in the NFFC Cutline, like most articles on Fantasy Points, you can get some pertinent information to apply in your drafts and/or in-season management.

I really like the NFFC Cutline because there are only three free-agent pick-up periods and the leagues are Best-Ball for first nine weeks. Great for those of us with lots of re-draft leagues or have time constraints. I also like that you get a shot at the $100,000 grand prize. I’ve done 10 Cutline drafts so far and over 50 Best-Ball drafts, so I’m in a grove with this format.

If you aren’t familiar with the Cutline contest, a quick breakdown follows. After that I will layout some draft strategies for this type of contest and then take a look at a recent Cutline draft I did.

NFFC Cutline Championship

10 teams per league. $150 entry fee. The NFFC does offer price discounts if you buy a package of five or nine. Also, be sure to follow the NFFC on Twitter, as they throw out promo codes from time to time.

Only THREE free agent periods (FAAB used):

Bidding Time Frame:

There will be only three free-agent periods during the regular season and none during the championship playoff.

Free agency will run on the Friday of the following weeks:

  • FAAB 1: Week 2

  • FAAB 2: Week 6

  • FAAB 3: Week 9

Mark your calendars:

  • Week 2 – September 18

  • Week 6 – October 16

  • Week 9 – November 6

Best Ball weeks 1-9, then set your line-up weeks 10-16. Official rule:

Leagues have an optimal scoring format for Weeks 1 through 9 where your highest scoring player from each of the 10 starting positions is scored at the end of each week. Then in the Championship Round and Wild Card Tiers of Weeks 10 through 16, all owners must set their starting lineup each week. That is different from the regular season.

PPR scoring and passing TDs get 6 points.

The 6 points per passing TDs make QBs in the NFFC format a tad more valuable (most contests only give 4 points per passing TD).

League prize is $250 for 1st place. The real money is in the Overall chase, as 1st place gets $100,000!

NFFC Cutline General Game Theory

Best-Ball - Even though Best Ball for only nine weeks, I feel it necessary to treat the draft like as you would a full Best Ball league. This means two or more QBs, Kickers and Defenses. I realize there are three FAAB periods, but the first one doesn’t even run until after Week 1. With the regular Cutline season only nine weeks, you can’t afford to throw away points in Week 1.

Optimal Scoring – The computer selects your highest scoring players and makes your starting line-up.

Optimize: make the best or most effective use of (a situation, opportunity, or resource).

You have to give the computer a fighting chance…give it players or teams to optimize.

Kickers & Defenses/Special Teams (DST) – Prime example of giving the computer something to optimize or not. I see it pretty much every draft -- some owner only takes one Kicker and one DST. I hate to harp on this, but if you aren’t drafting two or more of each, you are giving points away. The main objective of fantasy football is to score more points than your leaguemates, so why give them an advantage?

If I have three Kickers, chances are one of them will score 10+ points every week. If you are someone who drafts one Kicker, what happens the week he only kicks two extra points? My team just got an eight-point advantage on you. That might not happen every week, but chances are really good my team with three Kickers will outscore your one-Kicker team by at least 5 points per week. Multiply that by nine weeks and you just gave me a 45 point advantage over the course of the regular season.

But those 45 points can be made up by one of the late-round darts that are being thrown instead of drafting a second Kicker, right? Wrong. How many late-round darts really hit and will hit for the full nine-week regular season? Not many. I looked at all the players in last year’s NFFC Cutline contest and I found Terry McLaurin, D.J. Chark, A.J. Brown, Raheem Mostert, and Darren Waller as the only four big difference-makers from rounds 17 on. Only four of those players made it into the Top 100 at the end of the season (Mostert was barely out of the Top 100). Six non-Kickers in the last nine rounds were game-changers. 90 picks, and six out of 90 picks made a big difference. That’s not a very good hit rate, as you have less than a 10% chance of hitting something big. So think smaller, think about Kickers and DEFs. Grind out some points.

Lastly out of the Top 100 scoring players in the NFFC Cutline last year, five were Defenses/Special Teams and two were Kickers. Looking at the Top-12 finishing teams in the Championship Round, 10 out of the 12 had either a Top 6 DST or Kicker, many had both.

COVID and the CUTLINE - Tighten up your game! I know, it is not a sexy pick to draft your RB handcuff, but in the age of COVID-19 and players missing three weeks because of a positive test, you better do it. And rarely does anyone talk about handcuffing your WRs, so guess what…you better do it. For example, if you own Julio Jones, there is no reason not to target Russell Gage. Not only can Gage be a Flex option in some weeks, but his value skyrockets if Jones goes down. He can be yours for a 20th round pick or later in most drafts. I got him in the last round (26th) of a recent Cutline (and I am neither the Jones or Ridley owner). I value back-ups that are talented and can strut their stuff should the starter go down; think RBs like Alexander Mattison, Chase Edmonds and Tony Pollard. Since this worldwide pandemic is lingering, in the past month I’ve bumped taking my handcuffs by a round. And while I really like carrying three Defenses in Best Ball leagues (and I consider the Cutline a Best Ball for the most part), I’ve been only drafting two Defenses so I can use a roster spot to back-up my WR.

Waiver Wire – I wasn’t joking when I wrote above to mark your calendars for the three waiver wires. Unfortunately, a couple years back I missed the first waiver run… got confused with the dates. With only three waiver periods I dug a tremendous hole for myself. Plus, the first waiver period there are usually many key pick-ups that can be made. Did you only draft one Kicker and one Defense? Time to get those second ones during the first waiver run!

The NFFC uses FAAB to determine how free agents are awarded. If you aren’t familiar with FAAB, it stands for Free Agent Acquisition Budget. You are given a budget of $1000 “dollars” to acquire free agents throughout the season. How you spend it is up to you and there is no other way to get free agents. It is a bidding system, with the minimum bid at $1.00 and if you spend all your $1000, that’s it… no more free agents for you.

I tend to be very aggressive in FAAB, not only in bidding, but in acquiring players too. In other words, I tinker with my roster a bunch. If my sleeper pick is not producing and I don’t think he will (this is the key point…you have to know when the writing is on the wall), off he goes for a player that has upside. For example, I really liked J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Jake Kumerow last season as super deep sleepers. I felt both were on teams that needed WR help and specifically deep threats. Even before Arcega-Whiteside was hurt, he wasn’t getting the targets, despite a 93% and 76% snap count. Same with Kumerow, 67%, 88% and 71% snap count, yet only 2 or 3 targets a game. It also didn’t help he ran the wrong route early in the season, and we all know Aaron Rodgers will freeze a WR out after that. Cut bait and get someone else. Go get a Russell Gage, who one game got nine targets, while only playing 57% of the offensive snaps.

It is never a good feeling to drop a free agent only to see him go off later in the season. I’ve dropped my fair share of players, only to see them go off a month later. While looking over the free agent data from 2019 I saw plenty of folks drop Kenyan Drake and DeVante Parker. If that happens to you, use it as a lesson, try to identify why you dropped them and why they later went off. You can’t beat yourself up over the Kenyan Drake’s of the world. No one had a crystal ball that showed he and his 3.7 yards-per-carry average and zero TDs would be traded in-season and go 5.2 YPC and 8 TDs for the rest of the year. DeVante Parker, on the other hand, was getting 7, 7 & 6 targets the first three weeks of the season, Those target numbers indicate one should show some patience.

I’m aggressive because I’m also trying to identify the free agent before he breaks out. I want to roster him and only spend $1. A perfect example is Damien Williams in 2018. Buried on the Chiefs depth chart and even when Kareem Hunt missed time, nobody wanted him. Nobody but savvy fantasy owners that is! While everyone was throwing $400-$600 at Spencer Ware, there were some owners (including me) that threw a $1 bid on Williams. BAM! Damien Williams lit it up from Week 13 on and carried many teams in the play-offs (same with C.J. Anderson that year).

Because there are only three FAAB/waiver wire periods in the Cutline, I tend to spend more the first period, not so much the second period and then have a few hundred dollars left for the last period. The third and final waiver period is always interesting, as there are plenty of players that can be added to bolster your roster for a playoff run and about 40% of the teams have given up at that point and don’t even make bids.

Giving up is never my style. Even if I am out of it, no one in my league is getting a free walk to the championship. I will always place bids, even in the final weeks and you better hope you have more money than I do. Besides, in the Cutline, there is a Consolation Round with prizes for the Top 12 finishers from $400 - $3,000, so I am always trying to better my team.

As far as how much I will bid on a player? It depends. Like I wrote, I try to identify players before they will cost much. When that doesn’t happen, I’ll pay anywhere from $300 - $700 for a difference-maker. It’s also a good idea in the final two FAAB periods to look at what other owners have left to spend, especially the contenders. Maybe the top teams only have $300 left to spend and there is a hot WR on the waiver wire; then you know you might have to spend at least $301 to get the WR and maybe more if you think others in your league are still working the waiver wire.

Here are what some of last year’s hot free agents went for:

D.J. Chark – High $991, average $175

Tyler Higbee – High $221, average $59

A.J. Brown – High $470, average $154

Gardner Minshew – High $300, average $61 (first FAAB, went up significantly third FAAB period)

Terry McLaurin – High $996, average $506

Raheem Mostert – High $680, average $181

Hunter Henry – High $671, average $300

Will Dissly – High $1000, average $575

Daniel Jones – High $850, average $210

Bye Weeks 10, 11 & 13 – Because the Cutline regular season ends after Week 9, there will likely be players on your roster whose bye week hits while you are playing in the Championship or Wild Card brackets. Luckily, you take your weekly scoring average from Weeks 1-9 into the brackets, but in order to keep advancing and stay over the “cutline,” you need to maintain good scoring. Thus, it is very important to have bye week fillers that can get you a good score. Of course you can always climb back over the “cutline” if you fall down, but it is hard if you take too big of a hit during these bye weeks. It is no secret that I am partial to a Patrick Mahomes and Clyde Edwards-Helaire hook-up. The trouble with that is they are both on Week 10 byes. So I have to replace my stud QB and what I am hoping is a PPR beast. It gets worse too. High octane offenses like Dallas and Atlanta are also on Week 10 byes. Because the WR position has good depth, I am not as concerned with covering myself at that position (unless I have two or more WR out in Week 10), but RB and QB does raise a red flag. I tend to draft 3 RBs early anyway, but I am mindful they aren’t on the same bye as “my guy” CEH. If I have Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott or Matt Ryan as my QB1, I am looking at QB2’s that have good match-ups in Week 10. I have identified the following, ranked in order of preference:

  • Tom Brady @ Car

  • Carson Wentz @NYG

  • Josh Allen @ Ari

  • Ben Roethlisberger vs. CIN

  • Aaron Rodgers vs. JAX

  • Garner Minshew @GB

  • Baker Mayfield vs. HOU

  • Dwayne Haskins @ Det

  • Drew Lock @ LV

  • Sam Darnold @Mia

If you are drafting Mahomes you don’t really like to have to pay up for a Brady, Wentz or Allen for your QB2, but if one of those fall, I pounce.

I always keep the NFL schedule in grid form up when I’m drafting to make sure my QB2 isn’t facing a tough DEF, it just becomes more important in the Cutline because the Championship hunt starts early.

Read the Rules – Even if you have played in a league for years, always helps to refresh yourself with the rules. A few years back the Cutline was not Best Ball for the first nine weeks, you had to submit a weekly line-up. The NFFC did a good job of letting folks know of the change, but what if you weren’t on social media or reading their newsletters or on their forums? You might not have found out about the change until after your draft and then you are sunk, everyone else is drafting Best Ball teams and you would have been drafting a re-draft team.

7/18 NFFC Cutline from the Nine Hole

1st Round (1.09): Miles Sanders (RB, Phi) – I’ve been on Miles Sanders since my first draft which started minutes after the Super Bowl ended (NFFC Trendsetters). I took Sanders at 2.04 in that draft; since then I have watched him steadily creep into the first round. Sanders is a dangerous weapon as he is extremely versatile and a great fit in Doug Pederson’s offense. He finished his rookie campaign strong and had an impressive 4.57 yards per carry, not to mention 50 receptions. I was concerned over the loss of RG Brandon Brooks (massive loss), but the Eagles signed 9-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters to replace him.

2nd Round (2.02): Joe Mixon (RB, Cin) – I was indeed shocked that Mixon wasn’t taken by Team 10 (they opted for Austin Ekeler & Patrick Mahomes). Each to their own, but no world exists where I take Ekeler over Mixon. He’s entering his fourth year and coming off back-to-back 1,100+ rushing seasons. YPC off a little in 2019 at 4.1, but I chalk that up to Offensive Line injuries and poor QB play. With Joe Burrow under center, Mixon will face less stacked boxes in 2020. Pre-draft I had planned on taking either Sanders or Mixon at 1.09, whoever fell. Good feeling when you get both.

3rd Round (3.09): Jonathan Taylor (RB, Ind) – I might have taken Allen Robinson here, but he went one pick in front of me. I like starting three RBs in a row, plus Team 10 only had one RB, so I knew one of his picks on the turn would be RB. I wasn’t going to let the upside of Taylor slide to the Mahomes owner. I do not care that Marlon Mack is there. I do care that Nyheim Hines is there, as he will take receptions away from Taylor, but I still think Taylor will get his fair share. If you have a Porsche, there is no reason to let it set in the garage collecting dust. Bonus: Jonathan Taylor will be running behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. No preseason games, so Taylor should stay put as a 3rd round pick and should not be overlooked if he does.

4th Round (4.02): Mike Evans (WR, TB) – I’ve always liked Mike Evans and his long arms. Do I think he gives 100% all the time? Nope… and that is why he isn’t on more of my teams. But with the QB upgrade of Tom Brady (who will be playing with a chip on his shoulder), Evans is too tempting to pass up here. I think Brady gets over 4,000 yards passing, which means big numbers for Evans, who has never had a season with less than 1,000 yards receiving. It’s the 4th round and I got a WR that should put up over 1,300 yards and around 8 TDs (would be more, but Gronk is gonna hog those red-zone targets).

5th Round (5.09): Mark Andrews (TE, Bal) – I really like Mark Andrews, but if Calvin Ridley or Robert Woods would have been there, I would have taken one of them and hoped Andrews made it back to me. He surprisingly only started four games last year, but it didn’t matter as he saw almost 100 targets (98) and had double-digit TDs (10). More of the same this year and I predict he leads all TEs in touchdowns.

6th Round (6.02): D.J. Chark (WR, Jax) – Both my targets, Chark and Dak Prescott are here. I opt for Chark because I took a top tier TE and if I would have went QB, that puts me in a WR hole. I like a balanced team and when I passed in Dak, I set my QB target as Carson Wentz. Chark has great chemistry with QB Gardner Minshew and I see him with another1,000 yard receiving season. I also like that Jacksonville’s Defense is not very good, so their offense will likely be playing from behind for many games, advantage Chark!

7th Round (7.09): Tyler Boyd (WR, Cin) – If you read the Fantasy Points Staff Dynasty draft article, you know I like Boyd. I’m not worried that Green is back or a rookie is under center. Both will make Boyd have a rock-solid season. Slight consideration for Jarvis Landry, who went to Team 10 with the next pick.

8th Round (8.02): Mark Ingram (RB, Bal) – I feel like Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt’s character from “Once Upon A Time In…Hollywood) when the hippies come to do witchy things and he had just smoked an acid cigarette: “Uhhhhhhh…can I help you?” Cliff doesn’t know what the heck is going on and neither do I when Mark Ingram falls to the 8th round and RBs like J.K. Dobbins, DeAndre Swift, Chris Carson, Devin Singletary, Cam Akers and David Johnson are getting drafted before him. Mark Ingram is the starting RB on one of the most electric offenses in the NFL. Enough said.

9th Round (9.09): Carson Wentz (QB, Phi) – He was my target and I got him in the 9th round. Shows that is pays off waiting on QB (although I do like taking Mahomes in the 2nd sometimes). He will build upon his 4,039 yards passing and 27 TDs of last season, with great coaching, strong O-line, strong run game and (finally) a game-changer WR in Jalen Reagor.

10th Round (10.02): Josh Allen (QB, Buf) – Horrible pick. I was greedy Gordon Gekko in the 10th round. Carson Wentz paired with Josh Allen in a Best Ball-format, yes please! However, the correct play would have been to back up Miles Sanders with Boston Scott. It almost worked out. I was one pick away from Boston Scott, but Team 8 decided to cock block me. Can I write that here? I don’t care… still upset with myself for getting cock blocked. That’s what greed will do to you. Team 8 is the Kenyan Drake owner, so it was even more surprising he took Scott with Chase Edmonds on the board. Scott, Edmonds, Mattison, Pollard, and a couple other back-up RBs will produce at a high level if needed. It stings even more if you look at the draft board and see all the quality QBs still around, didn’t really need to take Allen.

11th Round (11.09): Jared Cook (TE, NO) – Since I got sniped on Boston Scott I decided to take my second TE. It was the right call, as five TEs went in the next round. I also noticed Team 10 had yet to draft a TE and Cook was the last TE of his tier, so I didn’t want Team 10 to get him. Team 10 ended up taking Austin Hooper two picks later. Not even close in terms of projections.

12th Round (12.02): Jalen Reagor (WR, Phi) – It is not hyperbole when I wrote above that Jalen Reagor is a game-changer. I feel the same way about Reagor as I did Eddie Royal in his rookie year. Not that they are the same type of WRs (they aren’t), but I don’t think many people know what’s coming. Carson Wentz is dying to throw the deep ball and finally will have a consistent target. Don’t give me the DeSean Jackson talk. A few years back when I was on John Hansen’s Sirius/XM show with Michael Rapaport, both he and Michael mentioned DJax as a mid-round value. They were both surprised when I said that I didn’t like DJax and that they would be sorry they drafted him. I told them I had been watching him play since his Pac-10 days at Cal and dude doesn’t like to go over the middle, doesn’t like to get hit, and is a one-trick pony. I was right. By the way, when Reagor catches the ball in any kind of space, look out… you won’t catch him from behind and he is a playmaker in the open field.

13th Round (13.09): Duke Johnson (RB, Hou) – I’m not sold on David Johnson being a three-down back or his effectiveness. And while I don’t think Duke Johnson will take over the RB1 role, I do think he will get his opportunities to be involved in the offense. Solid bye week filler or Flex play. Fantasy Points projections have Duke Johnson scoring more points than Boston Scott, so take that Team 8!

14th Round (14.02): Michael Pittman (WR, Ind) – Living in Los Angeles, I got to see plenty of Michael Pittman. Tough, physical and smart, the perfect complement to T.Y. Hilton. He is going to learn so much from playing with Philip Rivers. I can’t wait to see where he is at in three years, but for now, I will look forward to see where he is at after Week 8. I considered Chase Edmonds here, but since I took Duke Johnson the pick earlier, wanted to maintain some balance and Pittman is a fave, I rarely pass him up.

15th Round (15.09): Breshad Perriman (WR, NYJ) – I think Perriman in the 15th is a solid value pick. Like him in Best-Ball, as I see him having several big games and then disappearing the next week. Didn’t consider anyone else here, as Perriman seemed like the obvious choice because he is usually gone by now. While I trust Perriman, you know who I don’t trust? Adam Gase.

16th Round (16.02): Nyheim Hines (RB, Ind) – He’s not a handcuff to Taylor, although his production will rise if Taylor goes down. Being the Taylor owner, made sense to take Hines here. There will be games he makes it into my Flex slot because of his PPR value.

17th Round (17.09): Anthony McFarland - It’s the 17th round… will the James Conner owner please wake up?! Unlike Hines, if Conner goes down, I think McFarland will be huge. Taking a look at the draft board, Team 5 is the Conner owner and instead of taking McFarland, he drafted DeSean Jackson, Curtis Samuel, and Ben Roethlisberger. I can see the Big Ben pick, solid value and he needed a QB2, but don’t like passing up McFarland for those two WRs. I will say McFarland’s Achilles’ Heel is his pass protection, hoping that is addressed in training camp.

18th Round (18.02): Allen Lazard (WR, GB) – Thought about Kicker or Defense here, but Team 10 already had two DEFs and one Kicker, so chances were low he would take another. I don’t think Lazard is going to set the NFL on fire with big games, but I do think he is the preferred WR2 in Green Bay over Devin Funchess. Lazard had a 100-yard game last season and a couple games where we scored 16+ fantasy points. In the 18th round, I tend to look for my back-ups or guys who can crack my starting line-up a few times and Lazard fits the bill.

19th Round (19.09): Tampa Bay (DEF, TB) – Generally I do not draft Baltimore, San Francisco or Pittsburgh for my DEF. I like them, but the price tag is too high. Tampa Bay and New Orleans are my fall back DEFs. I think both are going to put up some good numbers and both tend to be overlooked by fantasy owners. Tampa Bay gets the nod before New Orleans because of pass rushers Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul. Barrett went undrafted in 2014 and in 2019 led the NFL in sacks.

20th Round (20.02): Giovani Bernard (RB, Cin) – Probably should have went with my third QB here, as the position dried up with five QBs going shortly after, but I like those PPR RBs and I have Joe Mixon. Again he won’t be the starter in Mixon goes down, but he will get a bump in opportunities.

21st Round (21.09): Robbie Gould (K, SF) – Time to look at kickers. I try to get at least one Top 8 Kicker and Gould fits the bill. SF moves the ball well enough to give him plenty of FG opportunities. 2019 found Gould with a career-low 74.2% FG conversion rate, so I’m hoping for a rebound… but he was 41 of 42 on extra-point attempts.

22nd Round (22.03): Tua Tagovailoa (QB, Mia) – Because of COVID-19 and the Best Ball format, I want to carry three QBs. I should have taken one a couple rounds earlier, as I was left to choose between Nick Foles and Tagovailoa. Not a hard decision… I’ll take the upside. I don’t see him starting right away, but at some point, Miami will need to see him in game action. Very talented, hope his recovery from a gruesome hip injury is going well.

23rd Round (23.09): Ka’imi Fairbairn (K, Hou) – I’m looking for Kickers that play indoors for their home games for my second Kicker usually. Fairbairn has a career 83.7% FG conversion rate. Didn’t have a great year in 2019, like with Gould, expecting a rebound.

24th Round (24.02): Seattle (DEF, Sea) – I end up with Seattle as my second DEF in the majority of my Best Ball leagues. They averaged almost 8 points per game in NFFC scoring last season. And with a Week 6 bye, there aren’t many conflicts with the first DEFs I draft. They addressed their needs in free agency (Bruce Irvin among a few key signings) and via the draft (Linebacker Jordyn Brooks was a 1st round selection), so I anticipate the Seahawks moving up from their 26th ranked 2019 season.

25th Round (25.09): Nick Boyle (TE, Bal) – I handcuffed my TE instead of a third Kicker. The TE position is of value on the Ravens team, so if Andrews goes down, Boyle should put up decent enough numbers. Last year he saw 43 targets that resulted in 31/321/2.

26th Round (26.02): Russell Gage (WR, Atl) – I had one last opportunity to select my third Kicker, but I don’t want to pass on Russell Gage, who is the No. 3 WR on one of the better offenses in the NFL. Gage saw 74 targets last year and had a 66% catch rate. I’ll hope both my Kickers are playing in Week 1 and address the third Kicker during the first FAAB period. I was surprised the Julio Jones owner didn’t select Gage, but he has solid WR depth and decided to throw a dart at Devonta Freeman. I would have taken Gage, Freeman declined an offer from Seattle, which seemed like an ideal landing spot.

A high stakes fantasy player for over 15 years, Jules is an inaugural member of the National Fantasy Football Championship (NFFC) Hall of Fame and has career earnings of over $250,000. Her forte is identifying breakout and sleeper players.