Thirty Fantasy Football Strategies (Written by Jeff Mans unless noted)
Jeff Mans and friends share thirty different fantasy football strategies you can use this season
By Rick Wolf
The SMART system appeared for the first time in the very first Rotoworld.com football magazine in 2003, which was largely written by Matthew Berry, Glenn Colton and me. All three of us are among the seventeen people in the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Hall of Fame. The SMART system is an acronym for a set of general principles to guide you to a winning fantasy football season from draft to Fantasy Football Championship. Using this system, Colton & I won four of the last seven FSTA titles and numerous other leagues. Here is what the acronym describes and how to use it:
This pertains to the offensive system that is used by the player’s NFL team. Each fantasy football player needs to look at all the head coaches and offensive coordinators of each team. We have heard many analysts this offseason discuss whether having Scott Linehan as offensive coordinator in Dallas will increase the value of Terrence Williams or Tony Romo. We have heard people say that Adrian Peterson and Kyle Rudolph could be huge under Norv Turner. Know the systems and how they affect the players that you have your eyes on.
Manage your draft preparation and your team all season.
RULES FOR DRAFTING
DO YOUR HOMEWORK – read as much as you can. Make your own lists even if it starts with someone else’s list. It is more important to stick to the strategy than it is to know every projection for every player.
DO NOT DRAFT A QB IN THE FIRST OR SECOND ROUND – you will get good value later in the draft. Do not pass on a 10 TD RB or WR for a QB that will be only slightly better than a waiver wire QB.
RUNNING BACKS RULE – Draft an elite Running Back in the first round. Draft a Running Back in the second round in almost all cases. The exceptions include when it is possible to get an elite WR and your pick will be within 7-10 picks of going off the strategy. In leagues where you can play a flex, you should draft three RBs in the first four rounds. No exceptions.
TRACK COMPETITOR’S NEEDS – Make sure you keep up with all the teams, so that you know what they need. Sometimes grabbing a 2nd QB before a handful of teams get their first is a useful strategy to keep a good player from them and backs up your QB.
FOLLOW THE DRAFT WHILE NOT ON THE CLOCK – Watch the board for position runs or for a backup going before a starter to make sure you get the starter.
RULES FOR IN-SEASON MANAGEMENT
PAY ATTENTION TO BYE WEEKS – Prepare for your BYE weeks on players a couple of weeks in advance. Players on BYE do not get picked up, but can provide value for you. Look ahead and replace a week in advance.
MAKE ALL MOVES THAT MAKE YOU BETTER – Trades and waiver pickups should be made if they make your team better.
The older the player, the more likely they are to get hurt. For RBs, it is about talent, youth and opportunity. For WRs, it takes some time to learn a system, some time to get used to the NFL and then it is time to move to super stardom. So we believe that 2nd & 3rd year WRs provide great value. For QBs, age can mean experience, but you need to discount them slightly and raise the value of young guys slightly.
In a typical fantasy football league, there are 12 teams with 16 NFL players on every roster. There are 32 NFL teams. Thus, you are guaranteed to have 2 starting QBs, 2 starting RBs and 2 starting WRs. Assume you draft 2 QBs, 4 RBs, 4 WRs, 2 TEs, K and DT to make up your 16 players. That leaves you with two spaces. Think about using at least one of those two spots to back up your best RB (provided he is in a good system and has a capable backup).
Football is FAR more predictable than baseball. The players with talent simple score most of the fantasy points. You should use a couple of roster spots on the best talented players. For talented players, opportunity presents itself.
WHY IS WINNING SO IMPORTANT?
Although Fantasy Football is about having fun, making the games more fun to watch and getting a break from everyday life, winning is more fun than losing. Sticking to these strategy steps both in the draft and in-season can help make sure you have a better chance at winning. Have fun.
Have you ever watched a dog as it’s chasing its tail or a moth as it bumps into the light and thought, “How dumb can you be?”
I feel the same way every year when I hear what expectations are for certain players. It’s worse when I hear them justify those expectations based on last year’s statistics. Let’s get something clear folks: very little that happened last year correlates to this season. This is not baseball. Players are not guaranteed some floor of fantasy production. In football there is an almost infinite amount of potential outcomes on every single play. Each play is literally a war between 20 soldiers (players), two captains (QB & defensive captain), several colonels (assistant coaches & coordinators) and two generals (head coaches). What’s more is that the strategy changes on every play. So how in the hell can you expect consistency from one season to the next? You can’t. Heck, you can’t expect consistency from one week to the next.
Since the end of the 2013 regular season, there have been seven new head coaches hired. That is 22% of the league that have brand new generals leading them. Each new general has a new system, a new philosophy, new favorite players and perhaps most importantly new colonels.
There are a whopping 13 new offensive coordinators in the NFL this season. Ladies and gentleman, that is 41% of the entire league that have brand new offensive systems and playbooks than they had last season. There are nine new defensive coordinators in 2014 also. That is 28% of the NFL who are changing the way they play defense. For those of you who are unfamiliar with how football works, I will make this analogy for you. An NFL teams playbook is equivalent to a movie script. When you take an actor or actress from one movie and give them an entirely different script, do you expect the same movie? I loved Jim Carey in “Ace Ventura” but did you see “The Truman Show?” Why do we have the same expectations of players who find themselves in new offenses? We shouldn’t.
The reason so many fantasy owners gravitate toward last years’ stars is because they are chasing that production. They are so pissed off that they weren’t the ones who took Peyton Manning in the sixth round that they are hell bent to make up for that by taking him even earlier this season. The best fantasy players in the world are those with a short memory. Those that can move on the quickest are the ones who are always setting the trends in their leagues and not reacting to them.
Think about it this way. How many times during the season does a random player go off and everybody rushes out to get them on the waiver wire the following week? This happens pretty much every week doesn’t it?
For example, in the first two weeks of last season, Chargers WR Eddie Royal caught five touchdowns. After his three TD performance against the Eagles in week 2, the bids for Royal were up to 90% of allotted free agent dollars. In my FFPC league, Royal went for a ridiculous $891 (of a possible $942 the owner had left). This is the single biggest mistake owners make with their free agent dollars is using them to chase something a player has already done. You don’t get credit for points already scored guys, so why look at the past when making your bids?
I spent the next 14 weeks telling everybody to not start Eddie Royal every single week (he had just 37-517-3 the rest of the season) and in many cases to drop him from their roster.
“But I spent $891 of FAAB on him!”
Yeah so you keep him around in order to try and justify an obviously poor decision you made earlier? That is chasing and it’s why so many people lose at fantasy football.
Other examples of chasing include chasing a player from one team to another. Remember when Larry Johnson was the best fantasy RB in the world with the Chiefs then signed with the Redskins and couldn’t even make the team? How about Shaun Alexander with the Seahawks then again with the Redskins falling apart completely. How many of you chased Danny Amendola to New England, Greg Jennings to Minnesota or Mike Wallace to Miami last year? I am not saying that each player that switches teams is going to fail because there are plenty who change locations and flourish. The point here is that very rarely does a player change teams and post-similar numbers.
So keep your eyes in front of you and don’t give in to that urge to look over last year’s stats. They are absolutely meaningless now and will do nothing but confuse you on what is about to happen in 2014. If you can have a short memory and resist the urges to follow the sheep, you’ll be a much better fantasy football player year after year.
Know Your League Rules
This one should be very easy yet you can bet your ass that there is at least one guy at every draft who says, “Wait, we’re not doing PPR?” The slightest format change can and should change who you draft and when. The most common error here is not knowing or understanding how your scoring system works. Here are a few of the very basic scoring methods that you should know going into any fantasy football season.
Do you get four or six points for passing TDs?
Obviously how you answer this question ties directly into the value of QBs in your league. If all touchdowns are going to count as the same amount of points, then your duty as a fantasy owner is to accumulate as many TDs as possible. A QB like Drew Brees who has averaged 42 TDs over the last three seasons probably should be a first round selection in a six point per TD league format. Those extra 84 points is too much to pass up on. Also, those two points really add up week in and week out and often can be the difference in two or more wins per season.
Is it a Points Per Reception league (PPR) or not?
PPR leagues bring a lot more value to WRs, TEs and pass catching RBs. If you thought Drew Brees’ extra 84 points was a lot, there were 17 players who had 84 or more receptions in 2013. That is a lot of extra points out on the table. This format gives value to a lot more players who otherwise provide minimal impact. Some leagues may reward a half a point or even a quarter of a point for receptions so be sure you know this before the draft.
Do you get points for yardage and if so how much?
Believe it or not, even in 2014, there are leagues that only reward points for touchdowns. Most leagues though do reward points for yardage, but these can be quite different. Yardage leagues make those players who are active between the 20s more valuable. Guys like Pierre Garcon (1346 yards, 5 TDs) & Kendall Wright (1079 yards, 2 TDs) were big time contributors in yardage leagues whereas they would have been massive disappointments in a TD only format.
Are there bonus points for yardage milestones (100/300 yards)?
Back in the day (1998 or so), I was in a league that rewarded you with ten bonus points for a 100-yard rushing/receiving game (or 300 yard passing yards). That is more points than a TD and in many cases, the difference between a win and a loss. Be sure you understand the bonus structure of your league and at which yardage markers those bonus points kick in.
Do you get points for kick/punt return yardage?
They key here is to not overvalue the return men, rather just keep it in mind. Players that play a significant amount of offensive snaps and happen to return kicks or punts are most ideal in this format. This adds value to players like Darren Sproles, Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jacoby Jones and Danny Woodhead but not much for random return guys like Trindon Holliday and Leon Washington.
Are there negative points for interceptions, fumbles, missed field goals, etc.?
Kickers are the worst in these league formats because you could be sitting with a one point lead on Monday night and a missed field goal could cost you the victory. Most running backs and wide receivers that have constant fumbling problems get replaced. But quarterbacks such as Eli Manning (27 INT, 7 fumbles) and Carson Palmer (22 INT, 6 fumbles) can put a big damper on your team on a weekly basis.
Of course there are hundreds of other scoring formats in play in fantasy football. Different scoring formats, keeper leagues, roster positions and plenty of rules that make each league unique. Before you sit down at your draft this year make damn sure you know every single rule of your league inside and out.
Follow The Offensive Line
It’s a very simple philosophy really. The better the offensive line is the better the offense as a whole will be. If you think about it logically, wouldn’t it be easier for a RB to run when he isn’t being touched? Shouldn’t a QB perform better if he has more time and wider passing lanes to throw from? Everybody should be nodding their heads in unison right now.
The skill position players get most of the credit for the way that an offense runs. But it is truly the guys up front who provide them those opportunities. Remember Priest Holmes with the Ravens? He was a complete afterthought before landing in Kansas City with one of the best offensive lines in the history of the NFL. In 2001, Priest Holmes was running behind behemoths like Will Shields, John Tait, Casey Wiegman and Willie Roaf. All of a sudden, anybody who runs the football there including Holmes, Derrick Blaylock, Tony Richardson and eventually Larry Johnson were all impact runners. How do you think players like Holmes, Terrell Davis and Arian Foster go from being barely drafted (or not at all) to NFL All-Pros? They follow a great offensive line and you should too.
When you are looking for those breakout type players or trying to figure out which players are going to go bust in 2014, it’s as simple as following the offensive line. The Dolphins added Branden Albert, Ja’Wuan James and Billy Turner this offseason, which should be great news for Ryan Tannehill, Knowshon Moreno/Lamar Miller and the entire Dolphins offense. Meanwhile, the already porous Raiders failed to retain either Jared Valdheer or Andre Gurode, leaving them thin and just plain bad along the offensive front. As tempting as the talent is with Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, there just isn’t going to be anywhere for them to run.
This holds true for in-season as well. Every week, we pore over the practice and injury reports of all the skill position players but pretty much ignore the offensive linemen. As we all know, lineup decisions can make or break your fantasy team. When setting your lineup each week, it should be a priority of yours to keep tabs on the health of the offensive lineman for the players you are selecting from. If one of your RBs is missing his powerful LG (think Mike Lupati), that is a significant loss and likely will lead to reduced production for the offense.
Think of how much better the Baltimore Ravens offense was in 2012 then in 2013. Well, did you realize that the Ravens lost center Matt Birk (retirement) and had Bryant McKinnie’s weight crush his effectiveness. A midseason trade for Eugene Monroe patched the left side but by then, it was too late. This season, the Ravens have changed their blocking technique up front, which normally could be a disaster in the first year but with the current personnel, it just may work. The smaller, quicker linemen can move better laterally and create the cut back lanes Ray Rice will need to thrive.
If you go back through your history playing fantasy football and think about the players or teams that helped or hurt you the most, at the center of it all will be an offensive line that was the reason behind it all.
Know The Systems
It’s been nearly a decade now since I realized that most people who play fantasy football don’t understand offensive (or defensive) systems. When I say “systems,” it basically means the goals of the offense (or defense). My simple philosophy on this as it pertains to fantasy is if a team doesn’t want a certain player to touch the ball or to score a touchdown, why should we? An example of this is Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. The entire design and fundamental principle of the Seahawks offense is to not make Russell Wilson throw the football. In his two seasons, including one in which he won the Super Bowl, he averaged 25 pass attempts per game. When you consider that the NFL average is 36.2 and that QBs like Peyton Manning & Matthew Stafford average near ly 20 more attempts per game than Wilson, it should tell you something.
Earlier in this draft guide, I talked about the NFL head coaches and coordinators. We discussed what types of systems they run and most importantly which players fit and which did not.
Knowing the system that each team runs will help you determine the type of numbers players will put up. Specifically, it helps us project rookies and players that have switched teams this offseason. Golden Tate left Seattle, where we know they throw the ball just 25 times per game, for Detroit, where they throw the ball 40 times per game. If we were to apply Golden Tate’s production in Seattle last year (64-898-5) and adjust for the Lions pass happy offense it would be reasonable to project a 88-1239-7 season for Tate. Now, the numbers don’t translate that easily in football and thus these are some awfully lofty projections we would be making, but the basis is true. Tate is going to have a lot more opportunities in Detroit than he did in Seattle because of the difference in offensive systems.
You can also use this information in determining how a certain style of player will fit into a specific offensive (or defensive) system. The biggest impact here is at the running back position. Do you ever wonder how players like Arian Foster & Alfred Morris could go from a late round pick (Morris – 6th round) or undrafted (Foster) to being an All-Pro? It comes down to system folks. In fact, both of these RBs are what they call “one cut” runners meaning they excel in a cut back or zone blocking system.
Many will speculate this season that Arian Foster’s lack of production is due to his offseason back surgery. While back surgery is never a good thing, the true cause of Foster’s career falling off will be the loss of Gary Kubiak, Rick Dennison and the zone blocking system the Texans have run since Foster came into the league. Foster isn’t cut out for a power run system and neither is Alfred Morris. Whereas Ray Rice, who struggled last season is a perfect fit for Kubiak’s system in Baltimore this year.
So you see, knowledge really is power. The more you understand the game of football and the makeup of each teams system the more likely you are able to accurately assess each player production year after year.
Make Every Roster Spot Matter
It is unbelievable the kind of garbage that people roster on their fantasy teams. It makes me ill to see an owner shuffling through player stickers at a live draft. When they finally settle on a name they recognize, I almost want to ask them to pay their entry fee to me directly. You should not take any round in your draft for granted. This means not taking a bunch of players from your favorite team or taking that recently retired player hoping that he comes back (Tony Gonzalez).
For some reason, fantasy owners always seem to want to completely waste their last pick in their draft on garbage. This shouldn’t be a point of pride because while you are wasting that pick, somebody else in your league is taking one of your RB handcuffs or another backup QB. They are playing to win while you are being a dip stick. For every draft pick and roster spot that is wasted on stupid gimmick players, an orphaned puppy is murdered. I believe this to be true.
Your fantasy team is more than just your starters. Between bye weeks, injuries, benchings and suspensions, your team will go through absolute hell this season. You need depth to survive and thus your need to manage your roster week in and week out.
Do not use your team to store garbage players. Players who play multiple positions such as Denard Robinson and Dexter McCluster are not more useful. That is a fantasy baseball thing that doesn’t translate to fantasy football.
Also, rookies who were talked up before the draft but fell into much later rounds, such as Jimmy Garoppolo and Dri Archer, are not useful. You have to ignore the hype machine and stay focused on the players that are actually useful to your team.
Other situations to stay away from include veteran player who may try a comeback such as David Garrard, Willis McGahee and Plaxico Burress. Aaron Hernandez is not getting parole anytime soon and it really isn’t funny to make him your last pick. All right it is kinda funny, but still not advised. Players who will be in a committee or platoon situation all season are also roster fat. Think Jonathan Stewart, Rod Streater and Tim Wright, as such platoon players to stay away from if possible. Then there are those players whose final numbers look good as a result of a few big games. Remember consistency is what you are after in fantasy football. Last but certainly not least, players who are more important to the media than they are to their teams. You know who I am talking about. Terrelle Pryor, David Wilson and Danny Amendola are a few examples of players who get more press than snaps these days.
What you want to do is make sure you put together a roster that is deep at all positions but not littered with players who are questionable to start on a week-to-week basis. A championship roster has a clear starting lineup with backups at each position to fill in during the bye weeks and in case of injury. Having eight “startable” WRs isn’t a good thing whatsoever. Roster management is an absolute necessity in staying sane during an otherwise crazy NFL season.
Watch The Game Or Trust Someone That Does
To watch football is to understand football. I cannot stress enough how important it is to actually watch the games. There is truly nothing that can replace watching, studying and learning the players and teams that control our fantasy football life. The fact is not many people understand the game of football. I don’t mean to be snide or condescending here but that is the truth. The reason for this is that not many people played organized football growing up. Think about it. Everybody reading this played little league baseball at some point. Right? Ok, now how many of you played Pop Warner Football? I would guess that the number would be around 25% or less. So it stands to reason that very few people who play fantasy football also played organized football growing up. This is why watching the game is so important. By watching the games, you learn so much. You can see how good offensive line play really leads to offensive production. You can see how the QB never looks the way of a certain WR. You can witness whether or not a RB can pick up yardage after contact. So much can be learned from watching and all of it will help you become a better fantasy football player.
The beauty of the NFL is they schedule their games on days and times that make it possible to see every game of every season without interfering that much in your regular daily life. Of course though, life always gets in the way. Whether it’s work, church, holidays, family, porn (to each their own), or more often than not wives/girlfriends, there is always something getting in the way of us and our football.
So what do you do if you cannot watch all of the games every week? Well that is where I come into play. If you can’t watch the games yourself, you absolutely have to put your faith in somebody that does.
You would be stunned to learn how many fantasy analysts actually do not watch football. I won’t call anybody out in these pages, but I hear all of the time that my fellow fantasy industry people are doing everything BUT watching football on Sundays. To be honest, that really bothers me too. Because if you don’t understand the game, never have played the game and don’t watch the game, what exactly gives you the right to advise people about the game? Honestly, nothing in my opinion.
Although I am a strong believer in watching the games in all sports, I understand that’s next to impossible. In fantasy baseball you can read the boxscores and get a pretty good idea of what transpired. It isn’t perfect, but that, along with our basic knowledge of how the game is played, helps us understand how it all fits together. But reading a football boxscore is a whole different experience.
Danny Woodhead 11 Yard Run (Nick Novak Kick).
What does that scoring summary tell us? Honestly….nothing. Why was Woodhead getting the carry instead of Ryan Mathews? Why were the Chargers running the ball at the 11 yard line? To which side did they run the ball? What type of running play was it? How in the hell did Danny Woodhead make it 11 yards without being tackled?
Watching the game, we would have known that this was a fluke play in which the Chargers were winding down the clock with a lead and ran a WR option reverse. Woodhead kept the ball and was dead to rights along the left side before the linebacker crumbled to the ground (with a season ending knee injury) allowing the entire lane to open up and him to score. Every scoring play in football has a backstory. The scoring play itself is never the answer to our fantasy questions. Reading the boxscore will never help you properly predict or project what will happen in the future.
So the next time you have a fantasy football question, I urge you to put your trusted fantasy analyst to the test. Ask them why they feel the way that they do about a player or situation. Ask them what they see in such and such player or players. Ask them why they anticipate Arian Foster having a good (or bad) game and really dig into them for specifics. You’ll be stunned how many very general answers you’ll receive and how quickly you’ll be rushed off of the phone lines or chat.
It’s All About Consistency
Every year as we prepare for our fantasy football league drafts, we get so excited about what is to come. We dream of big things from those players that we’ve identified as breakouts and we work hard to hit it big with every single pick we make. The amount of time spent on arguing and worrying about who is going to score more points between Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy is frightening.
Everyone wants to know what the secret formula is for winning at fantasy football. Well after 25+ years of playing this game, I’ve been able to pinpoint it down to one thing folks: consistency.
Boring isn’t it? Yeah well what isn’t boring is frustrating the hell out of your league mates year after year by winning games, making the playoffs and taking home title after title. What really infuriates them and makes them refer to you as “lucky” is that you are able to do this year after year without having the best players on your team. We fall in love with the players who carry our teams on their back by having incredible seasons. Tom Brady in 2007 with his 50 TD passes. LaDanian Tomlinson in 2006 with his league record 31 TDs or even Shaun Alexander the year before with 28 TDs. Oh and pretty much everybody on the Broncos last year especially Peyton Manning and his ridiculous 55 TDs.
But let me ask you question: Did the team that had Manning last year win your league?
I am sure that a good amount of you will say yes to this - after all how do you not win when a QB is throwing 3+ TDs every single game. But, what will surprise you is that according to an ESPN study, 64% of Peyton Manning owners indeed did not win their leagues last year. How can this be you ask? It’s simple really. Manning and the Broncos kind of wet the proverbial bed in week 15 against the Chargers last year. Sure Manning had 289 yards passing and 2 TDs but teams that had ridden Manning to that point had come to expect a lot more of him. Without him, the rest of their team was severely below average and that ho-hum performance was enough to crumble their season.
You see guys, fantasy football isn’t about who has the best player and in most leagues isn’t about who has the most points. What it all comes down to is which team can consistently produce and outscore the rest of the league. Instead of relying on one or two players to carry you to a title, devise a lineup that consists of 8 or 9 players that all produce and make you unstoppable.
What you need are players who produce on a weekly basis. Guys like Darren Sproles always wind up with solid numbers when you look at them at the end of the year but during the season are just brutal. Sproles scored 35% of his total fantasy points for 2013 in two games. That doesn’t help you win games people. Big weeks are nice to have but those players like Sproles, who post the massive weeks followed by let down after let down, are just not going to help you win consistently. We all know that JaMaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte were all crazy valuable and crazy consistent last year. But do you know who the sixth most consistent RB was in 2013? Chris Johnson. Yeah, a guy who everybody thought was a terrible disappointment and a guy who got cut in the offseason was one of the most steady RB producers in fantasy football last year. In fact, 34% of Chris Johnson owners won their fantasy football championships last year. Obviously CJ?K didn’t win those titles for his teams, but I think it is safe to say that he was just one contributor to some very consistent teams that took home titles last year.
How To Use ADP
Hopefully everybody reading this is familiar with the acronym ADP, which stands for Average Draft Position. If not, you may have to take our refreshers course over on FantasyAlarm.com. Either way, the ADP data we accumulate during the preseason is huge in helping us form our draft strategy for this coming year. By reviewing the latest ADP numbers, you can decide when the right time to select your players is going to be.
For example, you want to build your team around a prolific fantasy QB because you love the consistent, high end points they tend to produce. So, what do you do? You take Peyton Manning or Drew Brees (hopefully nobody else) with your first round selection. Alright, mission accomplished right? Wrong. As the draft plays out and as the ADP numbers would have shown you before had you bothered to look was that nobody is taking QBs early this year. In fact the ADP for Peyton Manning going into your draft was 14.9 (2nd round) and for Drew Brees was 18.3 (also 2nd round). So what you should have done was lock down a premium player with that first round pick such as A.J. Green and still gotten your elite level QB. Because you reached on the QB your next best option at WR in the second round was Larry Fitzgerald. So by not doing your research you wound up with elite QB & Fitzgerald instead of elite QB and Demaryius Thomas. You downgraded when you didn’t have to.
This is why I always have a hard copy of the latest ADP printed out and in my Draft Book before every draft that I do. I go over it and highlight the players that I want and when I would have to pull the trigger. Now every draft is different and you need to understand that, but so many fantasy players follow the same herd that it is a lot easier to land your perfect team than you might think.
Before last season I loved Josh Gordon. He was my 14th ranked WR despite knowing that he was going to miss the first two games of the season due to a suspension. But his ADP was in the area of the 8th round (88th overall to be precise). So despite my third round grade on him, I didn’t have to go any earlier than the sixth round on him in any league that I competed in. Therefore I was able to accumulate 3-5 better assets and still able to land my guy that I had rated the higher. That is how you rock a draft and build championship caliber roster my friends.
A quick ADP tutorial for you before we move on. Use the early rounds (round 1-3) to get players who are absolute locks for fantasy production. You don’t take rookies here, you don’t take first year starters here and you don’t take a QB. A.J. Green, Eddie Lacy, Jimmy Graham, Reggie Bush, Larry Fitzgerald and Wes Welker are good examples of early round picks.
In the middle rounds (rounds 4-9), you acquire your starting QB, a TE and fill out what will be your every week starting lineup. This is the time to take a shot on a hot shot rookie or a player that has landed in a premium situation. At the WR position, the middle rounds is the perfect spot to grab your PPR guy who may not have the TD upside but who will rack up receptions to keep you steady. It’s also the time to make sure that you’re lineup isn’t consumed with all of the same bye weeks or major late season weather concerns. At this time, you’d want to lock in players like Andrew Luck, Frank Gore, Julian Edelman, Bishop Sankey, Golden Tate, Rob Gronkowski, Colin Kaepernick and Chris Johnson.
The late rounds (rounds 10+) is what separates the men from the boys and the champions from the men. Leagues are won and lost in the late rounds. If you are utilizing these picks for depth and breakout upside plays, then you are using them correctly. If you are “having fun” by selecting backup TEs, injury prone RBs or deep threat WRs, you are what we in the business call “dead money.” The difference is subtle but huge. Say you have Frank Gore as your RB2 and you’re sitting there in round 12 and wind up taking Darren Sproles while Carlos Hyde was still on the board. This is a terrible decision. When are you going to start Darren Sproles? During a bye week? What is Sproles going to provide your team? Hopefully he is on the field long enough to get 3 carries for 14 yards. We pray that he gets 3+ catches in the week that we need him and maybe he does or maybe he doesn’t.
Instead you could have had Carlos Hyde, a guy who insures you that if your RB2 goes down, you have the automatic backup and wouldn’t miss a beat. The late rounds are also where you backup your QB and I suggest doing this around pick #10 or #11. This is the difference in having an Eli Manning or Ryan Tannehill as your backup as opposed to Matt Cassel or Chad Henne. At the WR position, here is where you can flex your training camp knowledge muscle and grab that guy who nobody has heard about but is turning heads during camp. Think Victor Cruz in 2011, Denarius Moore in 2012 and Kenbrel Thompkins last year. This will give you some immediate trade chips once these guys make an early season impact and the rest of your league realizes they are not available on the waiver wire.
Hopefully you all realize just how important ADP is and how effective it can be used to help you draft a better team.
Training Camp Matters
Everything that happens during the NFL Season evolves from what happens during training camp. It’s more than just jobs that are won and lost or roles that are defined. Training camp is where the playbook is installed. It is where the players learn the game and how to play together as a unit. Training camp is where Tiki Barber learned to stop fumbling, it’s where Kurt Warner showed he could run an offense and where Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison learned one another’s tendencies.
More recently, this is where players like Joique Bell and Alshon Jeffery proved they were worthy of expanded roles in their offenses. This lead to breakout regular seasons that translated into immense fantasy values. Training camp is so much more than just where teams come together and players get into shape.
It has been this way throughout time. For those of you who have played fantasy football or just been NFL fans for a while, we can go back and uncover previous fantasy breakouts. If you had paid attention to Training Camp 2010, you would have seen Victor Cruz grab everyone’s attention with some highlight reel catches a year before he broke out in the regular season. In 2003, a little known former college QB named Anquan Boldin worked his way into the Arizona Cardinals starting lineup during camp. Heck just two seasons ago, we saw a fourth string RB named Alfred Morris in Washington work his way up the depth chart to become the Redskins starting RB and workhorse.
You may hear other fantasy analysts downplay the impact of training camp. For the life of me I don’t know why they do it, but I hear it every year. Maybe they don’t believe that jobs are really at stake? Maybe they think it’s easy to learn an NFL playbook? Or maybe they think that training camp is just a bunch of guys running around getting in shape.
As someone who has been to and covered many NFL training camps over the past decade, I can assure you that everybody in the NFL wins their job during training camp. Those players who don’t realize their job is on the line are usually the ones who are stunned to be cut at the beginning of September. Tell Cordarrelle Patterson that it is easy to learn an NFL playbook. Why didn’t Patterson get more touches early on in 2013? He didn’t know the plays and thus was limited in the number of snaps he could participate in. Although many (including myself) believe Patterson could have a big 2014 campaign, we won’t know how far he has come until Vikings camp this summer.
Preseason games are a bit different in that all we should be looking for is playing time. The outcome of those games and the statistics are as useless as a drive thru tip cup (seriously, does anybody tip at the drive thru?). But we can stay on top of depth chart movement by watching who is playing with whom and when. Those that don’t pay attention don’t win fantasy football championships.
Never Reach On A Rookie
This is one strategy that has changed quite a bit over the past few years. Rookies have been making more impact in recent years than they used to a decade ago. Still, this is a very volatile group that tends to be overdrafted year after year in fantasy football.
Let me ask you this: What do Tavon Austin, E.J. Manuel, Tyler Eiftert, DeAndre Hopkins and Cordarrelle Patterson have in common? They were all drafted in the first round last year and failed to make much of an impact whatsover. We could go even further and look at Justin Hunter, Zach Ertz, Geno Smith, Robert Woods, Gavin Escobar, Vance McDonald, Montee Ball and Christine Michael who were taken in the second round and made little to no impact as well. In fact, of the first 16 offensive skill position players taken in 2013, only four - Le’Veon Bell, Aaron Dobson (barely) and Eddie Lacy - made any fantasy impact last season. Meanwhile Keenan Allen (3rd round, 76th overall) and Zac Stacy (5th round, 160th overall) were complete afterthoughts entering camp last season yet went on to have very good seasons.
The point isn’t that rookies can’t make an impact. It is that just because they were taken with an early round selection doesn’t mean they are going to waltz right into camp and be a starter in week one. There is more to football than the ability to throw, run and catch. A RB who can’t pass block cannot be on the field during passing downs. A QB who doesn’t develop proper mechanics or learn how to throw the ball away won’t have success in the league. Wide receivers who have trouble learning the playbook and don’t develop a rapport with their QB also don’t make an impact on the football field.
So how do we know which rookies to trust and which to be hesitant on? Let me make it easy on you here. Don’t trust ANY rookie in the NFL ever. I don’t care where they were drafted, how highly they are talked up in the summer or how large of a guaranteed contract they received. Until they make it through a full NFL training camp, they aren’t worth a damn.
The media will tell you all about what a players 40 yard dash time is, how many yards he passed for in college and what he scored on the Wonderlic test. But nobody ever talks about how well a player graded out in pass protection or what grade he received in his English Literature class in school. As I say all of the time, these are all amazing athletes. Athletic ability doesn’t decide whether or not a player will succeed or not. It’s all of the intangibles that never get noticed until training camp. So be skeptical of these rookies until you see how they evolve through eight weeks this summer.
Make Your Own Draft Book
It’s time to get into your preparation for the draft. For every draft I do, whether it be face-to-face, online or via Skype, I ALWAYS make my own draft book.
So what is a draft book you ask? It can be whatever you want it to be. For me, I take a standard three ring binder and a set of tabs and go to work. I keep my draft book real simple. All I include in it is basically items I have already included in this Draft Guide you are reading. These items include: Up-to-date NFL Depth Charts, a breakdown of the league scoring system, a copy of the NFL schedule and my own personal rankings with bye weeks listed. Then I punch holes in them, put them into the binder and voila! My draft book is complete.
At this point I absolutely know that you are not impressed with this strategy and may have already skipped ahead to the next one. Good. This strategy is for those of you who are willing to spend that little bit of extra time to be ahead of the competition.
So why should you make a draft book? There are several very important reasons. For starters, you absolutely MUST have a copy of your own rankings or if you are going to use mine, be sure to print out the latest ones from the online guide at Fantasy Alarm. Whatever you do in this life, PLEASE do not rely on the default rankings on the commissioner sites. These are absolutely awful and will lead you down the path of destruction. Making your own rankings allows you to become familiar with the players and to actually form an opinion on which players you like in what spots. It will save you so much time and help you draft the team you REALLY want by following along on your own handmade rankings (or those of your favorite fantasy analyst). Plus as you mark off the already drafted players on your own spreadsheet, you become more aware of the trends and runs happening during your draft.
Also, make sure your rankings are at least 220 players deep in a standard 12 team league. A basic rule of thumb for this is 35 QBs, 50 RBs, 80 WRs, 25 TEs, 15 Kickers & 15 Defenses. I usually go much deeper than this, even in a 12 team league, but this breakdown would be enough to at least get you by.
Feel free to improvise with your draft book as well. I always include the latest depth charts, a copy of the full season NFL schedule and a copy of my leagues rules & scoring system. Sure you can open up multiple windows with this info for online drafts but having just these basic items in front of you vastly slows the draft down for you. If you are doing live drafts you should consider putting keeper lists, consistency rankings, target reports and anything else that you may want to look at before putting that sticker on the board.
Age Is Important
We all recognize that football is a very physically demanding game. What these players put their bodies through is nothing short of abuse. Take a look at all of the lawsuits that are being filed by former players who are now limited physically due to what the NFL put them through. The average NFL career lasts just 3.5 years and thus the turnover of NFL players is quite high. Even those who have a long career in the NFL have a very limited window of peak production years. It is those players who are at the pinnacle of their production that we target in fantasy football.
Fantasy football has been around long enough that we have seen plenty of trends develop and plenty of them change or die out. One of the most constant elements over the past 20 years in projecting a player’s fantasy value is their age. Granted, the peak age for a player varies depending on what position they play and in some cases in how much college ball they have played as well.
Quarterbacks have the largest peak production years of any position in football other than punter, placekicker and long snapper. Young QBs (Age 22-24) however, do not perform very well whatsoever. As you seen in the chart below, QBs between 22 and 24 years of age average between 8 and 14 fantasy points per game.
There was a popular believe years ago that a starting wide receiver who was entering his third season was destined to breakout. That theory worked out quite a bit back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s but doesn’t hold up as well any more. Glenn Colton has a great article in this very draft guide that explains how the second year WR is the new third year WR. Whether it is their second, third or fourth year the bottom line is that WRs take several years before hitting their stride and a bit longer even to hit their peak. Unlike the RB position though, fantasy WRs can maintain consistent production well into their 30s.
The final spot we will look at is the tight end position. TEs are difficult to gauge, as they seem to develop at all different times. Thus we can come to the conclusion that the TE position is very reliant on the offensive scheme. The better ages for TEs, as you can see from the chart below, seems to be around age 30. Young TEs don’t seem to make that big of an impact whereas the few TEs who actually play deep into their 30s actually are significant contributors.
So as you can see, age plays a pretty important role in how a player performs in terms of fantasy football. It’s important that we use this data, as it is tried and true and will help us significantly make better decisions both in the draft and during the season.
Stay Away From Problem Players
You would think that this strategy would be easy and need little explanation, but every year I see problem players get drafted aggressively high. I don’t know if this is because people run out of ideas quickly during their drafts or if they just really don’t realize the kind of trouble these players will present throughout the season.
First off, let me define what a “problem player” is. A problem player is someone whose performance will be affected by circumstances beyond his on the field skills. These circumstances include, but are not limited to, frequent injury, playing time issues, contract issues, high profile personal relationships, not getting along with coaches or teammates, having intense outside interests other than football and are involved in anything relating to performance enhancing drugs.
Then you have the players who are constantly in trouble off of the field. These are the guys who have outstanding arrests, DUI’s, legal issues, domestic issues or any other trouble that may result in suspension or expulsion from their team or the NFL. These players will ruin your season in one fell swoop so why take on the risk?
If you stay away from all of these types of players, aren’t you ruling out the majority of the NFL? Sadly, this is a fair point. The idea here is not to completely rule out every single player who has had an on or off the field issue before. It’s about ruling out those who have countless issues year after year. You know the guys that I am talking about. Vernon Davis always has a problem. Whether it’s his contract, his coaching staff, his QB, the play calling or the media there is always a distraction with him. Vernon Davis is a problem player and should be avoided this and every year.
There will come a time in every draft where one of these problem players upside is worth the risk. The key is to never, ever have to count on a problem player as an every week starter on your fantasy team. If you have the opportunity to select Maurice Jones-Drew in the late rounds, that is fine. But if you take him as your RB2 or even RB3 you are putting your team in harm’s way. Between his constant injuries and off the field hobby of fantasy football (no, this isn’t a good thing for players), he is just not someone you can rely on.
The poster boy for problem players without question is Percy Harvin. If you draft Percy Harvin in anything higher than the 10th round, you are a complete sap. Harvin averages 11 games played over his five year NFL career. Now in fairness, many of those missed games have come in the past two seasons. But anybody who has played fantasy football for awhile and has owned Harvin knows the score. Percy Havin is perpetually questionable. Of his 55 games played in his career, Havin has left the game with an injury 8 times. That is half of a season folks. What’s more is that Harvin has been listed as questionable, doubtful or out an amazing 38 times (out of a total of 80 possible) in his career. That is 48% of the time!! The Vikings traded him because of this very reason and they are so much better off for doing so. You can’t win fantasy football with players that you can’t depend on.
With Harvin, this problem goes all the way back to college when he consistently got out of practice because of migraine headaches. These “headaches” got so bad that the Vikings medical staff seriously believed at one point that he may have a brain tumor and had him tested thoroughly. Guess what? No more headaches after that. Interesting. Harvin plays only when he wants to play, bottom line. He played against the Vikings last year because he wanted to shove it in his former teams face for trading him. Then he sat out again. Then he played sparingly during the playoffs. In Super Bowl XLVIII he shined on both offense and special teams because, well, it was the Super Bowl. You can’t rely on these types of players. Consistency is paramount in the NFL and Percy Harvin is the very definition of inconsistent.
A few final notes about problem players. Stay away from guys who are always questionable. Stay away from players who get injured but never placed on IR. Stay away from anybody with a reality show, who had a reality show, is related to or dating someone that has a reality show. Anybody who has unresolved arrests or offseason mishaps that he NFL has not officially ruled on yet should be avoided at all costs. Finally, any player that is talked about more on the news or in the magazines then they are in the opposing teams meetings. This would be Johnny Manziel, Steve Smith, Jonathan Stewart, Kenny Britt and Hakeem Nicks. You want players that strike fear in the hearts and minds of other NFL teams and your fantasy football opponents. Others need not apply.
Don’t Draft Doug Baldwin
I’ll be honest here. I really don’t have any problem with Doug Baldwin per say, just the idea of drafting him and players like him makes me sick to my stomach. I have been writing this article every year since 2005 using a different player as the subject of my wrath. I originally titled this piece “Don’t Draft Eddie Kennison” back in his Kansas City Chiefs days. Over the years I have used such players as Warrick Dunn, Alex Smith and Golden Tate. Since Tate has landed in a much more offensively friendly place in Detroit this year, I have decided to anoint Baldwin as the poster boy for mediocrity.
The idea here is simple: Do not spend time on players who are at best average players. You want your roster to be made up of either haves or have nots. Those of you who play fantasy baseball, basketball or hockey usually seek the opposite. In those sports it is great to have steady production from below average players. This is mostly because you are starting the majority of your roster in those other fantasy sports. One of the most difficult parts of fantasy football is selecting your lineup week in and week out. That is where the “Doug Baldwins” can absolutely kill you.
Let me ask you a question. How would you describe Doug Baldwin as a fantasy player? Does the word “startable” enter into your mind or out of your lips? That word is the absolute kiss of death to fantasy owners. The more players on your roster that are “startable,” the more times you are going to screw up your lineup. Please trust me on this. I make a living answering fantasy football lineup questions all season long and have for the better part of a decade. So in theory, these “startable” players are great for my business. But I absolutely HATE to be wrong and unfortunately when it comes to players like Doug Baldwin, Nate Washington, Denarius Moore and Donnie Avery there really is no right answer.
These players do not have specific skills that make them any more or less attractive as fantasy options. They don’t play on high octane offenses that are going to put up massive yardage or point totals. They don’t excel in any specific type of matchup either. Starting players like this is nothing more than guessing and I don’t like guessing.
I would rather have clear-cut backups and players who aren’t even active on gamedays instead of “startable” players. For example, give me Dan Orlovsky (backup to Matthew Stafford) over Chiefs starter Alex Smith. I’d take Ka’Deem Carey (backup to Matt Forte) over Steven Jackson of the Falcons. At WR, I would take ANY Broncos WR (seriously…ANY of them) over any receiver on the Seahawks. Yes, especially Percy Harvin.
This mentality reduces my risk for lineup mistakes while also maximizing my teams upside. The less mistakes you make in fantasy football, the better. By keeping away from the startable and average players around the NFL you are putting yourself and your fantasy team in the best possible situation to succeed.
To be a high-level fantasy football player, you have to have roster awareness. Not just awareness of your own roster, but that of all 32 NFL teams also. Usually fantasy players are aware of backup RBs, WRs and even to an extent, TEs. But it’s astonishing how little knowledge fantasy owners have of the backups to the most important position on the field.
Backup QBs are worthless, until they are not. Josh McCown was a complete afterthought last year until Jay Cutler went down with a groin injury in week seven. Even after it was learned that Cutler would be out for 2-3 weeks, he wasn’t a priority on the waiver wire. But those who realized that a QB in Marc Trestman’s offense, who had Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett and an emerging Alshon Jeffery had some value were rewarded handsomely. Then there is the tale of Nick Foles who came in for an injured Michael Vick in week five and proceeded to start the next 10 games for the Eagles. Foles threw for 2,645 yards, 24 TDs and 2 INT in those starts and lead plenty of team to the fantasy playoffs. Well, if they were wise enough to pluck him off of waivers in week six.
Each year you can count on about 25-35% of starting QBs not making all 16 starts. Whether it’s due to injuries, ineffectiveness or coach’s decisions, we are going to see plenty of backup QBs in 2014. You need to know which ones are worth either drafting (not advisable) or bidding on in free agency.
We’ve already discussed how important a teams offensive system is. Well backup QBs in those systems, believe it or not, have quite a bit of fantasy value. If you are a Matthew Stafford owner, it would make a lot of sense to have Dan Orlovsky as one of your backup QBs. This is called buying into a system and works quite effectively in fantasy. Think about what your options might be should Matthew Stafford go down with an injury this year. In a standard 12 team league, you would probably have to choose from the likes of E.J. Manuel, Geno Smith, Chad Henne or Matt Cassel on the waiver wire. Why bother mixing and matching from this disgusting group when you know Orlovsky will put up some very good numbers? If you surround a QB with enough talent, as Chicago did last year with Josh McCown, they will succeed.
So don’t be one of those guys who think they don’t have to know who the backup QBs are. Knowledge is power in life and definitely in fantasy football. The more you know about even the most random of backups, the better prepared you’ll be for whatever this fantasy football season throws at you.
Handcuffing Is Huge
If you have learned anything so far it is that the situation in fantasy football is even more important than the individual players themselves. By now you should have identified several situations across the NFL in which you would like to buy stock in this season. Once you realize it is the system that makes the player and not the other way around, you understand the power of the handcuff.
To further my point here lets take into account the Denver Broncos under Mike Shanahan back in the day. When Terrell Davis went down in 1999, Orlandis Gary took over and rushed for 1,159 Yards in twelve games. In 2000 when Davis and Gary got hurt, Mike Anderson took over and rushed for 1,487 yards again in just twelve starts. To use more recent examples, let’s look at the Buffalo Bills in 2011. Fred Jackson was tearing it up until week 11 when he broke his leg. Enter disappointing second year player C.J. Spiller who goes on to average 112 yards per game while racking up 5 TDs in 5 games. Then there was 2012 when the Eagles All-Pro RB LeSean McCoy went down with an injury before week 11. Seventh round rookie Bryce Brown draws the start and rushes for 178 yards and 2 TDs against the Panthers. Then the following week he goes off again against the Cowboys for 169 yards and 2 more TDs. Last year we all remember what happened when Jay Cutler went down (twice). His backup, Josh McCown, a journeyman QB who was out of the league a year before, came in to throw for 1,329 yards, 11 TDs and just 1 INT in five starts. McCown was a QB1 in fantasy running Marc Trestman’s offense in Chicago.
The lesson here is Orlandis Gary, Mike Anderson, C.J. Spiller, Bryce Brown and Josh McCown were all either unheard of also rans or complete early round busts. But when forced into action, they each became highly productive fantasy players overnight. In each case it is because the system was focused on utilizing either the RB or the QB no matter which jersey number was lining up at the position.
Handcuffing obviously works for QBs and WRs too. Remember Matt Cassel in New England running the Josh McDaniels offense? He was 10-5 and threw for 3693 yards and 21 TDs in 2008. Yes this is the same Matt Cassel who then proceeded to win just four games the following year in Kansas City and couldn’t even hold the QB1 job in Minnesota last year.
How about when Marvin Harrison went down in week 5 of the 2007 season for the Indianapolis Colts? Reggie Wayne stepped in and delivered 1,510 yards and 10 TDs. Too long ago you say? Alright how about in 2012 when Greg Jennings missed most of the season with a groin injury? Randall Cobb stepped up and became the lead dog in Green Bay leading to Jennings taking some sour grapes with him to Minnesota the following year.
I hope that you all see the symmetry here between the systems and the success of everybody who gets an opportunity to touch the ball in that system. When you make a commitment to a player who is in a great system, it makes a lot of sense to insure yourself by handcuffing that player. This locks you in to a positive fantasy situation and practically eliminates the constant concerns about injury that all fantasy owners have year in and year out.
Size Does Matter
I hate to be the one that has to break this to you, but size does indeed matter. Not just in the bedroom, but in life. Reaching the high shelf in the kitchen, seeing over people’s heads at parades, always being in the back when you take pictures - these are all ways in which being bigger is better.
It also helps, however, if you happen to be an NFL wide receiver. You see, the bigger the wide receiver, the better fantasy impact they will likely make. Let me explain.
About a decade ago or so I started to notice a certain pattern with NFL WRs. The big guys were having the most fun. Back in those days, players like Randy Moss (6’4”, 215 lbs), Terrell Owens (6’3”, 226), Keyshawn Johnson (6’4”, 212), Chad Johnson (6’1”, 200) & Javon Walker (6’3”, 220) were starting to take over the game.
I hopped on the big WR bandwagon right away and over the course of the next ten or so years I was able to uncover such breakout performers such as Anquan Boldin (6’1”, 217), Andre Johnson (6’3”, 230), Roy Williams (6’4”, 210), Marques Colston (6’4”, 225), Brandon Marshall (6’4”, 230) & Dwayne Bowe (6’2, 220). Remember, the only one of these players that had any sort of high expectations was Roy Williams and the rest were all outstanding finds for me later on in drafts.
Let’s look at the facts here folks. Last season just four of the top 25 fantasy WRs were under six foot tall (Antonio Brown, DeSean Jackson, Julian Edelman & T.Y. Hilton). The average size for the top 25 fantasy WRs was 6’3” and 218 pounds. This just goes to show that while everyone wants to bang the drum of all of the diminutive slot receivers, the big guys on the outside are the true fantasy stars.
This is a popular misconception nowadays because everyone falls in love with the slot receiver who gets a ton of receptions. PPR has ruined fantasy football in this way because players are now confused about what pays the bills. Touchdowns. There were 56 receivers that scored five or more touchdowns in 2013. Of those just 14% (8 of 56) stood below six foot tall.
Well fine but what about my beloved tiny slot receivers? Surely their receptions translate into massive amounts of fantasy points. Nope. Of the top 20 point scorers last year, just four of them were under six foot tall and among the top 30 in receptions last year. Well four of thirty isn’t that bad right? Of those four, just one (Julian Edelman) spent more than half of his snaps out of the slot. So don’t get caught up in the “so and so is the new slot receiver in X” because it’s not just about where they line up but how the offense utilizes these players. In today’s NFL, if you don’t have size at WR, you probably aren’t on the field very often.
The numbers go on and on like this forever folks. It is without question - the bigger the WR, the better the fantasy numbers will likely be. Remember this when you are creaming yourself for the likes of Danny Amendola, Tavon Austin, Harry Douglas, Ace Sanders, Doug Baldwin, Eddie Royal and Jarius Wright (remember him before last season?).
Don’t Underestimate Kickers
No draft kit would be complete without some strategy about selecting a kicker. All I am going to say here is that far too many fantasy owners give little to no thought to the kicker position. Meanwhile every single season you will have at least a week or two that come down to the wire in which five points or less decide your fate. Sure it isn’t rocket science but when it comes to choosing a kicker for your fantasy team, there are some very simple strategies to keep in mind. Here are my thoughts on choosing a kicker:
Go with a warm weather or dome stadium kicker. For obvious reasons this will improve your chances at long distance field goals and scoring in general. This is especially important as we get into the colder weather months in which one big snowstorm can completely shut you out. Sure the Packers are a high scoring offense, but do you really want to put your faith in Mason Crosby who gets to play at least 10 games per season in horrible climates such as Green Bay, Chicago and the new outdoor stadium in Minnesota? No thank you.
I also like to draft someone with a late bye week. I always aim to have a kicker with a bye week of 8 or later. This provides you ample time to structure your roster before you have to make the roster move to add another kicker during the bye week. Usually by the midpoint in the season we haven’t seen much weather impact yet and ideally you’ll have already had many of your other skill position players pass their bye weeks. This helps with roster space and allows you to possibly roster two kickers for a week if needed.
Don’t play the week-to week-kicker game. Select your kicker in the draft and stick with him week in and week out unless there is an injury or other obvious situation in which you need to cut him. The goal is to maximize the points you earn from this spot by accumulating all of the points that kicker amasses. Trying to play matchups or playing the waiver wire from week to week for your kicker ends up with the exact opposite happening. When you get greedy. more often than not you are costing yourself points instead of accumulating more. Trust me on this folks. The entire idea that kickers points are random means trying to pinpoint a new one every week is practically impossible.
Finally, don’t wait until the last round to draft your kicker. I draft my kicker in the second or third to last round to ensure I get the guy who best fits the criteria above. Waiting until the final round will force you to be stuck with someone instead of you controlling whom your guy will be. At this point in the draft, you are usually just grabbing backups anyways so don’t shy away from locking down the best possible player that will have an impact on your team every single week.
When a starting QB goes down with an injury or is replaced due to ineffectiveness, it completely changes the nature of the offense. Too often fantasy owners want to act as if a change at QB isn’t going to effect the other positions on the field, which of course is completely incorrect.
We have to remember that the way an NFL practice is run is that the starters get the lion’s share of reps with one another. The backups practice with the backups and so on and so forth. The backup QB will get reps with the first team on most teams but that equates to about 3-5% of the total practice snaps. As we discussed in our training camp strategy, how well an NFL team practices directly translates into how well they play on Sundays. The chemistry, the trust and the camaraderie that teams develop (or don’t develop) in practice shows up on the field on gamedays.
So, during the course of OTA’s, minicamps, training camp, the preseason and the regular season, it is only natural that the backup QB develops timing and chemistry with the backup RBs, WRs & TEs. I remember back in 2006 I was talking to a Broncos beat reporter about midway through the season and was asking him about their young QB in Jay Cutler. At the time, Jake Plummer was the Broncos starting QB but Cutler was the hot strong armed kid who everybody knew could be big in Mike Shanahan’s offense. During the conversation about Cutler, he kept bringing up the name Brandon Marshall. He said that Cutler and Marshall were putting on “a show” during practices so much so that Jake Plummer went to the coaching staff to have them “slow it down.” Well a couple of weeks later, Jay Cutler replaced the struggling Jake Plummer and in that first game in week 12, I happened to notice a big, physically imposing WR on the field an awful lot. Sure enough, after a late game 71 yard TD strike, I learned that was indeed this Brandon Marshall kid I had been hearing about. Well we all know how that relationship turned out, as not only did Culter and Marshall share great success in Denver the following year, but they eventually rekindled their bromance in Chicago years later. Jay Cutler absolutely loves throwing the ball to Brandon Marshall and the production the two of them compile is wonderful.
But we don’t have to go back that far to see examples of how the QB/WR relationship impacts fantasy football. How about last season’s Philadelphia Eagles? Riley Cooper had 19 targets, 9 receptions, 93 yards and 1 TD in the Eagles first five games with Michael Vick under center. In Nick Foles first start in week 6, Cooper broke out for 4-120-1 and picked up 8 targets in that game. Cooper went on to score six more TDs from the hand of Nick Foles and have by far the best season of his four year NFL career. Foles and Cooper have chemistry and that is something that shouldn’t be ignored heading into 2014.
Quarterbacks are creatures of habit. When they find something they like and that works, they stick with it. When the pressure comes in, QBs are going to put the ball up in the direction of the player they are most confident in to make a play. These WRs rack up more targets, more receptions and most importantly more fantasy points. Anytime there is a change in QB the offense as a whole changes. The coaches call different plays. The offense uses different formations, different personnel grouping and substitutions are established. Anything and everything is done to make that QB feel comfortable. So anytime you see a QB change, please realize that everything you knew about that offense has changed. Maybe the backup QB will also feel comfortable throwing the ball to James Jones, or maybe he prefers his practice squad buddy Jarrett Boykin (see what I did there?).
The way to stay ahead of the competition in fantasy football is not to look back on what happened previously but anticipate what is about to happen next. The better you are able to predict the trends before they happen (and believe me it’s not that hard), the better player you are going to be.
The latest trend in fantasy sports is to overuse statistics. It’s gotten so out of control in fantasy baseball that we are now layering our already complicated stats. My good friend and fellow Fantasy Alarm staff member Ray Flowers swears by the numbers. He and I often debate the merits of such stats as wOBA, VORP & BABIP in fantasy baseball and things such as red zone rate and targets in fantasy football. In baseball, statistics have a lot of merit. They hold up over time and are incredibly useful to fantasy players.
Football is a different animal. There are different goals in football than there are in baseball. Football is the ultimate team game in that 22 players have an impact on the outcome of every single play. What’s more is that each play has a script that was drawn up by the coaching staff which dictates how each player is supposed to perform. Every player on that field is at the mercy of what their head coach wants to do on any given play. Many times the goal of the team isn’t to gain yardage or score points. This makes fantasy owners shudder but it’s true.
At its core, the game of football is about field position and time of possession. Gaining yardage and scoring points is only important when you are losing. Teams do not care to accumulate offensive statistics if they don’t need to score points. So how then can we recite numbers to project fantasy output? We can’t.
The way to win at fantasy football at any level is to fully understand where football statistics come from and what they mean. I get real frustrated hearing people use made up stats such as “red zone rate.” To pretend that when an NFL offense gets inside the 20 yard line, any player has a fair opportunity to score is ridiculous. People who have never played the game of football create statistics such as “red zone rate”. Remember that the goal of the offense is not always to score. Sometimes teams get in the red zone and are only playing for a field goal and thus all offensive players technically take a “red zone rate” hit. On those occasions in which the team wants to get into the end zone, there is no equal opportunity for each offensive player. If the team calls a running play, only one player has a chance to succeed. That is hardly the fault of the WR now is it? Perhaps the most overlooked fact in fantasy football is that on every passing play the QB has a variety of options. We call them reads in which the QB scans his options in a specific predetermined order and makes a quick decision based on the defensive arrangement and his own comfort level and delivers the pass. Unless of course he doesn’t. QBs are taught time and time again that if they are not comfortable with the way a play sets up, throw the damn ball away. Especially if this happens in the red zone.
Another stat that I find misleading is pass targets. Targets are believed by most to be the amount of time a receiver was targeted by the QB. While this is technically true, it also assumes that the intended target was their first choice. This is quite a faulty premise to be sure. As we discussed above, a QB has up to seven different options on every passing down. If a QBs first read on a pass play is to his “X” receiver (on his left side) and immediately after the snap his LT falls down. All of a sudden the QB has to flee to the right to escape pressure and while he is on the run he wisely tosses the ball away down the right sideline. Guess how that pass target is recorded? As an intended target to the “Y” receiver whom pretty much never had a chance of being the intended target on that play.
These are just a few examples of really bad and misused football statistics. As we’ve established previously, many folks haven’t played a down of organized football in their lives. Thus, they don’t really understand what these players and teams goals are on any given play. So their way of trying to understand or make sense of the game is to compress numbers into forming misguided statistics that cannot and will not tell you a damn thing about fantasy football.
Defensive Rankings Are Useless
The day will come when we as a society realize just how awful playing fantasy football with defensive/special teams (DST) is. Let me be clear on this before I launch into my tirade against DST. As long as your league plays with DST. it is important that you use these units and the points you receive or lose from them to your advantage. It is not a good idea to ignore or not care about any position on your team that you have to start every single week. That being said, DST are random and completely stupid to play with.
Think about how you get points for your DST. It is all about how many points the other team scores. Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that DST are responsible for ALL point the other team scores which is beyond stupid. If a QB throws a pick 6 or the other team gives up a special teams TD your defense gets the blame. Ridiculous. Anyways, the standard format for scoring DST is that you get points for holding the other team under 18 points in a game. Between 18-21 you break even and get a big juicy zero. The problem here is that only two NFL teams averaged below 18 points per game in 2013. In fact, 22 teams averaged over 21 points per game, which in fantasy leagues means an automatic loss of points. If your DST was unfortunate enough to play against the Broncos last year, they AVERAGED a negative seven (-7) per game against the Broncos. What is the point of this? Either we in the fantasy industry need to adjust the point totals for DST or better yet we need to uniformly cut it from leagues altogether.
I’ll admit that I am a fan of using individual defensive players (IDP) in fantasy football. Many people think that IDP leagues are too complicated or difficult to understand, but that is honestly just not the case. Sure there are leagues that go way overboard and use like nine defensive players but that is far from the norm. I would strongly suggest replacing DST with a 3 IDP format in which each team starts one defensive lineman (DL), one linebacker (LB) and one defensive back (DB). This is very simple, very easy and is much easier to keep track of than DST.
There are only two strategies when it comes to using DST in fantasy football. The first is to pick on the worst offenses in the league every week. This makes a lot of sense as the Jaguars averaged a disturbingly low 15 points per game and 2.4 turnovers per game in 2013. But the problem with this strategy is that only one team can use the DST against the Jaguars. Even if we expand this to include the Bills and the Giants who were the next two best offenses to play against this is hardly enough quality DSTs to warrant a roster spot.
The other strategy is to target the best defenses in the NFL and specifically the ones that create the most turnovers. But even the “Legion Of Boom” in Seattle only averaged 11 points per game last year and that is with a shutout and four defensive TDs. Since turnovers are so random, DSTs can have some huge weeks where they rack up massive points and others in which they actually lose points. Did any of you get bounced from the playoffs in week 16 last year by the Patriots 28 DST points? For one, why would anybody be starting the Patriots DST in the championship game? The point is somebody did and it literally won them a championship. Sick.
We have to evolve as an industry and recognize when certain things just aren’t working and aren’t fun. Defenses and Special Teams units are completely random and useless. They take away from the skill of the game of fantasy football. So, if your league is still using DST go ahead and pick which one of the two strategies you are going to use in 2014. But I would strongly suggest you show your commissioner this artile and tell him that it is time to move into the 21st century and either kick DST to the curb or start playing IDP.
Strength Of Schedule Myth
There is a lot of information you can ascertain from the 2014 NFL schedule. But unfortunately, how tough the matchups are is not one of them. This has been a misconception in fantasy football for a long time and I am amazed year after year how many people cite “strength of schedule” as a reason to or not to draft certain players.
Let’s dive into this a little further. Offensive and Defensive rankings in football are stupid. Is that direct enough for you? Why are offensive and defensive rankings stupid you ask? Because they don’t represent a true reflection of how good or bad a unit actually is. In the NFL, each team only plays 40% of the league each season. How can you honestly know where teams rank if they only play less than half the league every year? A great matchup, especially against a division opponent, can skew the entire season ranking.
For example, where do you think the Chiefs, Raiders & Chargers finished in the defensive rankings against the pass last season? Considering each team had to play against Peyton Manning and the Denver offense, it shouldn’t be surprising to find that the Chargers (29th), Raiders (28th) & Chiefs (26th) each finished among the worst in the league. Just by chance, what do you think the AFC South team defensive rankings were against the pass year in and year out between 1998-2010? The Jaguars, Titans and Texans were consistently in the bottom third of the league. Of course defensive rankings are going to be skewed when you have a Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers in your division. Just because Drew Brees threw for 342 yards against the Cardinals last year doesn’t mean the Cardinals pass defense sucks. In fact, if you take away that performance in week three, the Cardinals defense was a top eight defense against the pass last year. Including that game they finished 14th.
So here is what happens year after year and it drives me crazy. It will be week six and I’ll hear somebody asking a fellow fantasy analyst a question about who to start and sit that week. Then I hear something along the lines of, “The Giants have the 3rd worst rushing defense in the league so you should definitely start Pierre Thomas this week.”
We’ve already learned that chasing last season’s numbers is a misguided strategy. We’ve also learned that very little that happened last year means anything for 2014. So, it just makes sense that all of these strength of schedule projections are absolute garbage.
Consider this. Going into the 2013 season the Carolina Panthers and the Detroit Lions were expected to have the leagues most difficult schedules. This caused some to shy away from players such as Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson. As it turns out, the Panthers faced the leagues 17th most difficult schedule and the Lions wound up facing the third EASIEST schedule in 2013.
As we’ve talked about, the weather can play a huge part in any given NFL game. Teams that play in more wind, rain and snow will likely have better defensive numbers and worse offensive numbers, right? Ever wonder why the Packers, Bears, Chiefs & Jets are known as great “defensive teams” throughout their history? While teams like the 49ers, Dolphins, Cowboys and Chargers are known as offensive juggernauts? Weather slows some teams down considerably, especially late in the season. Thus, these rankings are simply not realistic on a game-by-game basis. Nor is using the strength of schedule prognosis in projecting fantasy football output.
This is why I stress learning about the game, the coaching staffs, the offensive lines and the playbook. When you learn these things you will be able to identify which matchups are more and less favorable without getting trapped into the web of deceit that is strength of schedules.
Stay Away From Hometown Players
Let me preface this by stating what is going to be obvious in that I am indeed a Chicago Bears fan and we have Matt Forte on the cover of this magazine. Well, I assure you that the cover decision was made well after this strategy was written and was not something that I was in complete control of. What happened was that Forte stunned us all by grading out as the #1 overall selection according to my formulas and that was an obvious choice to go with on the cover at that point. In over 25 years of playing fantasy football, I have probably only had a dozen or so Bears on my teams. I didn’t buy in on Rashaan Salaam, Curtis Enis, Cade McCown or Cedric Benson and that worked out quite well for me. Anyways, let’s get on with this strategy as it is a very important one and one that very few people are aware of or adhere to.
We all have our favorite NFL teams. Whether you root for the Chiefs because you grew up in the western area of Missouri, the Ravens because you followed them out of Cleveland, the Dolphins because you grew up watching Dan Marino or the Patriots because you are a front-runner. Somewhere deep inside all of us is that one team that we bleed for. For me that team is my hometown Chicago Bears.
In fantasy football though, we have to remain impartial. We can’t show favoritism toward one team or another. This is an understated yet incredibly important aspect of becoming a winning fantasy football player. How can you be objective if you have such incredibly loyalty toward one (or more) NFL teams? The answer is you can’t.
So how can this fandom be overcome? The truth is that it can’t. But what you can do is to identify where your loyalties lie and counter them by knowingly staying away from them. That’s right, I am telling you to stay away from the players on your favorite team.
Why would I ask such a thing? Because I have seen it year after year where fantasy owners waste draft picks and free agent dollars on their hometown players. It’s not just that they are bidding on their hometown players, it’s that they’re overbidding on them. I am sick of getting the phone call from Bill in Green Bay asking how much he should bid on Andrew Quarless. Nobody outside of Green Bay gives a damn about Andrew Quarless let alone would bid anything significant on him. So in essence, Bill is bidding against himself in this example. This happens more often than you realize every season.
You see, when you have such love for your team, your not thinking or acting rationally. You want your team and every player on that team to do so well that you trick yourself into believing they are better than they truly are.
That desire to see your team win will cause you to judge those players unfairly. This can be both positive and negative. There are times in which you think a player is far better than they are because he is on your team and there are times when you’ll cut bait on a disappointing player just because he let your team down.
I hold myself to this principle. I will not draft a Chicago Bears player until a minimum of one round after his appropriate ADP. Yes this means even Matt Forte this year. I stay away from all backups on the team as well unless absolutely necessary. This way I am drafting with my head instead of my heart, which is the only way that the best fantasy football players do it.
The Weather Factor
This is a strategy that always ends up getting confused and thus I will do like Walter White and tread lightly. We all know that weather impacts football unlike any other major sport. There are very few weather delays in football and once in a decade does a game ever get postponed due to weather. So, the teams, players, coaches and most importantly fantasy football players are at the mercy of whatever mother nature decides to throw at us on Sunday.
Believe it or not, but weather is a factor in every single draft pick I make. When I say “a factor” I do NOT mean that I only select players that play in a dome. If I had to attach a number to it, I would say that 5-10% of my selection process involves weather considerations. Now I do not play in many leagues that permit trades, so those of you who will draft whomever and then trade them to some dumb sap in your league right before the bad weather hits, take note.
My general idea for a perfect draft is taking warm weather QBs & Kss, cold weather RBs & DSTs and dome WRs. Of course it doesn’t work out that way very often but that is usually my general plan heading into a draft. Thus a team consisting of Tony Romo, Matt Forte, Ben Tate, Julio Jones, Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston, Phil Dawson and the Jets DST would be a very solid team for me to build.
The goal here is to limit the exposure your team has to cold and potentially inclement weather late in the season. Early on, weather isn’t a big factor in fantasy football but as the seasons change and winter arrives, it becomes paramount.
The structure of fantasy football also puts an emphasis on weather. Think about how many great fantasy teams you’ve drafted and seen drafted that have not won a championship. As we all know, all it take is one bad week during the playoffs and even a stacked team will fall.
It’s not just rain or snow that impacts fantasy numbers either. Wind is quite possibly the biggest weather factor in fantasy football. Wind affects the passing games and the kicking games quite dramatically. Cities like Chicago, where the average wind speed at Soldier Field in December is 14 MPH, can destroy your title dreams with just one bad storm. With so many fantasy teams relying on huge performances and numbers from their QB & WRs, weather has become much more important in recent years.
I’m not telling you to stay away from all Packers, Bears, Bills, Patriots or any other cold weather teams here. What I am saying is that when you are torn between two players and trying to decide which is the right way to go, you have to consider how effective each will be in bad weather late in the season. You can’t set your team up in a way that one bad storm on a Sunday afternoon will ruin your chance at a title.
The Key To Dynasty
Dynasty leagues are a lot of fun. Let’s face it, deep within our souls we all want to be team owners and/or general managers. We want to build championship teams and guide them through a dynasty. But for many owners this dream will never happen because they fall in love with the chase so much they forget what the object of the game really is and that is to win.
In the NFL, tomorrow is promised to no one. Injuries are a way of life for these players and their teams. By injuries, I am not even talking about hamstring pulls or even concussions. I’m talking about the kind of injuries that put your career and even sometimes your life in danger. Football is a rough game and there is a good reason why the average NFL career lasts just 3.5 years.
Dynasty league owners are constantly trying to win a championship that is 2 years away. They rest on the idea that in two or three years all of these young players they have accumulated are going to develop and then they will load up on more talent with all of the draft picks they’ve accumulated in trading away useful players. But that never happens. That magical season of two years from now never happens because fantasy football doesn’t work out that way. This game is way too fast and changes far too quickly for anyone to be able to project what the following year (hell, the following week) might bring.
Let’s put it this way. Building a winning team this season is the absolute best way for you to build a winning team in the future. Why? Well because as we talked about earlier in this draft guide, people love to chase last year’s performances. So, if you were to win this year and thought that your team was probably too old to win again, you could very easily sell off those pieces to immediately restock for another title run. Think about it. If you had Peyton Manning right now in a dynasty league you would be able to sell him for two or three really good players right now.
You should never, ever be playing to lose in fantasy sports. The players, the rules and even your league may not be there next year. I hear stories all of the time about dynasty leagues breaking up usually because several owners quit because their teams weren’t winning. Well that is what happens when you are so consumed with winning some future title that you are completely neglecting your personnel right now.
One other tip that I will share with those who play in dynasty leagues is trade your draft picks. Especially if you are in dynasty leagues of 14 or more teams, these picks are virtually useless yet dumb owners crave them. It is amazing what you can get around week 11 of the season for your first round pick in next year’s draft. What smart owners do is trade away their draft picks for players who are already established veterans entering the prime of their careers. In one of my dynasty leagues last year, somebody traded away Ben Tate & Emmanuel Sanders for a #1 pick in 2014. That pick turned out to be the #7 overall selection in this years draft and the player selected was Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin is a nice player and should become one of Cam Newton’s favorite targets eventually, but that could be a year or two down the line. Sanders landing in Denver and Tate taking over as the Browns RB1 make this trade look amazingly bad for the owner who coveted draft picks.
If you play your dynasty leagues with the same mentality and urgency as you do with your redraft leagues, you will find that it’ll go a lot smoother. It is incredibly easy to take advantage of your fellow owners in dynasty formats for as long as they are living for the dream.
Stacking is a term used mainly in daily fantasy sports (DFS) to reference loading up on multiple players from one team. In DFS, you can stack a team, a game or a night (Monday/Thursday). But in seasonal leagues, it equates to having three or more players from the same offensive or defensive unit. Let’s explore the differences.
In DFS you are playing to be the top point scorer in your game. Whether you are playing in a head-to-head matchup, a 50/50 (double up) or a multi-entry tournament, the entire goal is to score the most point in that particular week. Thus, stacking has proven to be a very useful strategy when playing in daily leagues. Some of the biggest contests and payouts have been won by players who stacked their rosters in order to take advantage of a high scoring game or ideal matchup. This strategy works particularly well in daily fantasy baseball and basketball, as it really simplifies the research for you. In fantasy football however, stacking doesn’t work quite as well. The ideal time to stack in DFS football is when you believe the game is going to be a high scoring affair with both teams. If the game isn’t competitive, the players are removed quite quickly in football which will completely backfire your stack. So, it’s way more beneficial to stack a game then it is to stack one particular team in football.
In seasonal leagues, I don’t like stacking whatsoever. I realize that I am saying this right after a season in which we saw an NFL team set pretty much every offensive record known to man, including the most points ever scored in a season at 606. But we have to keep an eye on the prize in fantasy football and remember what the most important aspect to winning a championship is and that is consistency.
Sure the Broncos had about eight legitimate fantasy producers on their team last year but what happened in week 15? Yeah, week 15 right smack dab in the semi-finals of most fantasy leagues, the Broncos offense cooled down considerably and accounted for just 307 yards of total offense. Peyton Manning did have 2 TD passes in this game but both were to fourth WR Andre Caldwell, which helped nobody in fantasy. Just like that, your Broncos stack that seemed so invincible was knocked out before even reaching the title game.
When you have more than three players on a single team you run the risk every single week of laying an egg. On any given week the offense you are stacking could get derailed by weather, injury, an elite defensive performance, coaching decisions or just the nature of a slower, sloppier game. When you invest your money, the #1 thing any financial advisor will tell you is to diversify your money. Sure if you put everything you got into Apple and the stock soars for a couple of days you are looking good. But that one day that an iPod catches fire and enflames an entire school bus, that stock is going to drop like three day old fart.
Draft your team to survive the ups and down of what will undoubtedly be a tumultuous NFL season. Don’t put all your faith in one team as one single snap of a tendon could then derail your entire year. Save your stacks for DFS where if it doesn’t work out for you that week, all you have to do is come back with a reloaded crew the following week. That is impossible in seasonal leagues and thus highly frowned upon by me.
How To Use Your FAAB Budget
Another very important in-season strategy is how to use your free agent acquisition budget (FAAB). One of the main reasons why so many fantasy football players wind up losing interest late in the season is because they fall out of contention. One of the biggest reasons they fall out of contention is they fail to properly use their FAAB.
No matter how well we try to draft the perfect team, we should all understand that the NFL will never allow you to be perfect. Each season presents a new set of obstacles that come on out of nowhere. For these reasons, we have to utilize the waiver wire to the best of our ability.
Understand that the value of our FAAB budget is equivalent to two high round draft picks. Would you waste two high round picks on garbage like Khiry Robinson or Ryan Broyles? Well that is the type of money spent on those two last season. Furthermore, would you ever use a high round draft pick on a DST? Of course you wouldn’t. Yet, we spend a good amount of our FAAB year after year on playing DST roulette.
Let me explain how I use my FAAB in every league that I am in. Let’s assume the budget is $100 for the year and that we can use it all the way until the end of the season. So, I look at the season as 12 weeks long, which is the average length of the fantasy regular season. I immediately reserve $10 for the playoff rounds should I make it. This eases my mind in that I can safely use $90 during the regular season without having to worry about not having a move come playoff time. It also is an easily divisible number, as I section the season off in thirds. I allow myself $45 in weeks #1-4, another $30 in weeks #5-8 and the final $15 in weeks #9-12. I break it up this way for a couple of reasons. The first is to remind myself how much more valuable a player that is picked up earlier in the season is. The second reason is to not make crazy overbids on players that are hot early in the season. If there is budget left at the end of each segment, I just roll it over to the next.
My other secret in using my FAAB budget is that I always work a week ahead. This means that after the draft I am looking ahead to week two of the NFL season for the better matchups. Then, as everybody is overreacting to the first two weeks of the NFL season, I am strategizing for the first bye week in week four. This strategy has been huge for me over the years, as I am always ahead of the rest of my league. This also frustrates the hell out of my fellow league mates because as they go to overbid on the hot defense that week, I already have them.
Using your FAAB is no different than how you use your paycheck. If you blow through it all at once, chances are you’ll always be broke. However, if you are able to budget wisely and make smart purchases, you’ll continuously live a better life.
Let’s talk about some in-season strategy here shall we? Trades are a vindictive mistress that will haunt you for the rest of your life if you are not careful.
Personally, I find trades very unnecessary. Most fantasy league trades are simply good players ripping off lesser players. I know damn well that some of you out there practically rely on making trades to compete every year. That’s ok. But I want to make clear for those who are in competitive leagues what trade guidelines to follow.
All fantasy trades should be on a one-for-one basis. If team “X” needs help at WR and team “Y” needs a RB why do they need to involve a bunch of other players at other positions? This is a tactical mistake.
Everybody wants to rip off the other person in a trade. This is one of the reasons that I am so against trading in the first place. Nevertheless, with everybody out to down right screw the other team in trade offers. you need to make sure that you are not the one being ripped off.
The best way to do this is to keep all trades and trade offers down to the primary players only. There is absolutely no reason to be swapping four, six or eight players in fantasy football. I have long thought that the more players added to a trade, the more screwed over one team would be.
So I decided to put some research behind this and analyzed 160 trades made during week 6 (most active week) of the 2013 season according to the CBS Sports Commissioner service. To be as fair as possible, I took 40 trades apiece involving QBs, RBs, WRs & TEs and then averaged them out. For each position I looked at 10 trades apiece that were either 1-1, 2-2, 3-3 & 4-4. The 1-1 trades were for the same positions, whereas the multiple player deals had all different positions mixed in. Then I totaled up the point differentials of the trades through week 16 and averaged them out. The results were even more dramatic than I had expected as the point differential grew astronomically once the trades exceeded the two for two variety. Check it out:
1-1 Trades = 23points
2-2 Trades = 31 points
3-3 Trades = 67 points
4-4 Trades = 79 Points
1-1 Trades = 21 points
2-2 Trades = 44 points
3-3 Trades = 57 points
4-4 Trades = 68 points
1-1 Trades = 27 points
2-2 Trades = 24 points
3-3 Trades = 50 points
4-4 Trades = 91 points
1-1 Trades = 33 Points
2-2 Trades = 18 Points
3-3 Trades = 60 Points
4-4 Trades = 68 Points
So as you can see, the data doesn’t lie. The more players involved in a trade the worse the outcome is certain to be for one of the parties. So, why take on that sort of risk? Sure it would be great to come out ahead on these deals, but that is far from a sure thing no matter how the deal appears at first. Keep your trades simple and straightforward and you will avoid the pitfalls that occur with these multiple player trades.
Setting Your Lineup
It’s almost comical that we spend roughly two and a half months pining over every last detail about our draft and yet spend about an hour or so on Sunday morning locking in the players that will actually decide our fate. It doesn’t really matter if you have a totally stacked team if you constantly miss out on point by setting the wrong lineups. So let’s talk about little bit about how you should be managing your fantasy football team and what thoughts should go into setting your lineup each week.
First of all, with the new Thursday night game every week, fantasy owners are now having to scramble to get home from work and make sure they check their roster to see if they have anybody going that night. It’s a giant pain in the ass really. Then if you miss out on a guy that goes off or worse, you start a player that lays an egg (which happened frequently last season) it puts that much more pressure on you on Sunday morning.
Well what if I told you there was a way to prevent this or at least limit your stress with making your lineups. Would that be something you were interested in? I thought that you might.
Sometimes I think that we make things too complicated. I understand that it is good for my business if everybody who plays fantasy football treats their teams as though “everybody is in play” every week. It’s sort of like being at one of those 1000 flavors ice cream shops. How the heck can you make a decision when you have so many options? Let’s simplify things then.
I treat all of my fantasy football teams much like NFL teams treat their rosters. I keep them extremely organized by having my own depth chart for each team. This means I have ONE starting QB. I don’t flip flop around from matchup to matchup because it is just as easy to completely miss each week then it is to always hit. I do this for each position as a matter of fact.
The first thing that I do after I draft a team is sit down and create a depth chart. If you have taken the advice in this Draft Guide, this should not be too difficult a task. The only time this gets difficult is when you have a lot of “startable” players, which we know is certain death anyways. Having this depth chart will allow you to quickly adjust during bye weeks and in times of injury. This strategy also allows you to maximize your consistency. We have this problem in fantasy football where most owners are always swinging for the fences when a base hit will win the game. Taking bigger risks with your lineup, especially when you have productive starters to select from, is death.
Sure in rare occasions you may have to sit a starter due to terrible matchup (usually weather related) or because of ineffectiveness, but this shouldn’t be happening every week. If your starting RBs are Eddie Lacy and Doug Martin, you need to let them play week in and week out. If you sit Martin in favor of Bishop Sankey one week and Martin does what you drafted him to do, you’ll be chasing that mistake for weeks. This is how you wind up with a non-playoff team at the end of the year despite having good players. Do you know how many owners sat Andrew Luck in the first round of the fantasy playoffs (week 14) last year? The Bengals were a bad matchup and Luck had not been playing very well heading into this matchup. So, they started the likes of Matt Schaub against the Jaguars (198 yards, 1 TD), Alex Smith against the Redskins (137 yards, 2 TD) & Ryan Fitzpatrick (172 yards, 1 TD) over Luck. Luck went on to throw for 326 yards & 4 TDs that week and propelled his owners into the semifinals. There is absolutely no reason to ever sit Andrew Luck folks. If you don’t want a top end dependable QB, then wait until the 13th round to get somebody you can logically swap in and out of your lineup.
Having this depth chart also will help you manage your roster when it comes to trades and waiver pickups. You’ll never have to guess which player you should cut, as it will be obvious to you on your depth chart. You will always know where your depth is and where you need help as well. So do as the pros do and be a real head coach. After you draft, create yourself a depth chart and don’t change it every week. It’s consistency we are after in fantasy football and it is hard to have that with an inconsistent owner every week.