Here’s a Trade Every Fantasy Football Manager Should Make

Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) runs with the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of a disappointing Thursday night performance on September 14, the Minnesota Vikings have a 10-day prep period before they host the Sunday contest versus the Los Angeles Chargers.

With an 0-2 start, the extended break between games could not have come at a better time—the squad and their coaching staff clearly need to assess their hits, near-misses and all-out gaffes. No doubt Kevin O’Connell’s team will have spent considerable time looking to address glaring issues across their lines, both defensive and offensive, particularly as it applies to the running game.

Hopefully, there will also be time to step away from the game for a day or two, to clear minds, heal bodies, and find reminders that “football is life” is very much a marketing slogan for the masses and not an accurate reflection of reality. It turns out, this reporter has confirmed, there is indeed life beyond the game.

fantasy football
Aug 26, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) reacts before a game against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

This applies to every football player, whether it be a 300-pound lineman getting paid 7 figures to break a hole in the oppositions line, or a 180-pound fantasy football manager clawing for any advantage in claiming a $200 payout, plus more importantly, bragging rights, for winning his league title.

This week, while the Vikings took their 10-day hiatus from game play, I took a hiatus of my own. While Alexander Mattison pondered how he was going to improve upon the 31 rushing yards per game he is averaging in his first two games as the team’s number one running back, I was driving cross-country to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, far out of cell phone range and deep into country of breathtaking beauty.

While Vikings Offensive Line Coach Chris Kuper dreamed about having a healthier and deeper offensive line than his current collection of above-average gimps (plus the outstanding and healthy Brian O’Neill) and below-average fill-ins, replacements, and taxi-squad hopefuls, I was hiking happily along the Lake Superior Trail on the South Shore, oblivious to last weekend’s football results.

While Kevin O’Connell no doubt sat up until 2am, covered in a cold sweat while trying to figure out the right changes in scheme and play-calling to return the Purple run game to adequate levels, if not the stellar plateaus it had enjoyed throughout Dalvin Cook’s career, I was lying beneath a million glistening stars in a little teardrop camper equipped with a glass roof, sleeping like a baby despite the fact that Mattison is a starting running back for not just one, but both of my fantasy football teams.

Ranking the RB Rooms
Oct 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) celebrates a first down against the Chicago Bears in the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

Now mind you, my bliss did not come all at once. On the night of the 14th, I had watched Mattison gain all of 28 yards on the ground while losing a fumble, and my psyche was teetering. Not only did his lack of production play a favorite factor in my favorite team dropping to 0-2 for the season, but his stats were putting both of my squads in a perilous position before the weekend even hit.

I spent far too much time on Friday wading through my current rosters and league waiver wires, considering ahead of time what steps I might need to take to unceremoniously dump Mattison from my starting lineup and possibly my team entirely. It was a typical fantasy football overreaction; a classic case of fantasy-compulsive disorder disguised alternately as needless worry and unfounded (in the eyes of the greater world around us) depression over my squad’s biggest achilles heel.

My first day at the campsite, I was obsessively seeking a method for further waiver-wire searching, and submitting free agent claims that might address my worst fears. There was no cell service, no wi-fi, no bars on my phone. I nervously patrolled the campgrounds, and discovered to my delight that a guy could take the footpath leading to the long wooden stairs down to Lake Superior’s edge, stop at the bench halfway down, retreat three steps (not two, not four) and a single bar would appear on my phone. A lifeline connection to my fantasy app.

Soon, though, it became apparent that this was even more maddening than not having a lifeline at all. The signal would flicker and fade out at a moment’s notice, and I was fortunate to get 5 minutes of time. It reminded me of tuning in to a Cardinals baseball game out of St. Louis in the early seventies, in which I would continually have to adjust the tuner on my pocket AM radio a fraction of an inch to again hear Jack Buck’s voice. Amazing, until it wasn’t. The signal flickers out, and you’re left with nothing.

But I digress. Back to Mattison. Earlier this fall I had gladly drunk the Kool-Aid that Vikings’ General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah had concocted and fantasy football pundits across the Internet had readily distributed. Mattison was slated to be the Vikings’ new bell cow, and he had cleared 100 yards rushing in 4 of 6 tries when starting in place of Cook in the past.

Adofo-Mensah, like many around the NFL, was thinking that RB was a position of declining value because younger, cheaper backs were so readily available. Stars like Cook, Tampa Bay’s Leonard Fournette and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott were let go on the assumption each club could easily replace them at a far lower cost. And here was Mattison, gifted the top job in the Vikings backfield, with little hope for a decent Plan B if things should fail.

Two weeks into the season, it looks like the Cowboys were right, with the presence of Tony Pollard making it a no-brainer. Second-year back Rachaad White seems a little more iffy in Tampa Bay. Mattison has been the early flop.

Sep 14, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) during warmups against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to see now that both Adofo-Mensah and I have been suffering from some serious buyer’s remorse where Mattison was concerned. I dealt with it by escaping for vacation, while Kwesi dealt with it by acquiring an insurance policy in Cam Akers. It’s a move I applaud because it had to be done, though really Akers seems even more likely to disappoint than Mattison, given his career full of under-achieving moments. Mattison’s been underachieving now for just over two weeks. But for a Viking fan and fantasy manager (or an NFL head executive) those two weeks have felt like a full season.  

So, it’s on to Akers, in what no doubt will develop into a committee approach—again, solid thinking for the Vikings braintrust: throw something new at the problem and hope it works better than what we’ve seen so far. This clearly spells an even deeper disaster for fantasy football managers; there’s nothing that ruins a season more readily than an expected bell-cow running back ending up in a job-share role.

Was I spending the week in my usual panic mode, knowing my options are severely limited for propping up my fantasy teams while watching Mattison free fall into obscurity? No, I was not. I was hiking. I was eating s’mores by a campfire. I was playing cards with my wife.

I was watching the leaves of a thousands trees turn from green to a deep lustrous red and a vivid gold that I now realize, in hindsight, was almost exactly a match for the shade found on the Vikings’ jerseys. I was literally letting go of every source of stress, fantasy football and otherwise, and letting them slowly slide off my shoulders.

Upon my return, I learned of the trade and considered the implications for my fantasy football hopes, and I barely muttered a “meh” while shrugging my light, worry-free shoulders. I’m going to assume that Mattison is still the better back, that his years of success on the Vikings have earned him the right to prove it, and that, given time and some health improvements on the line, he indeed will prove it. Alexander Mattison is still the new Dalvin Cook. And now it’s Cam Akers who is the new Alexander Mattison, playing the talented understudy. No harm here. All’s good.

I’ve traded my fantasy-compulsive disorder for an it’s-all-good feeling of calm. Now that’s a trade I recommend for each and every fantasy football manager out there. Even if the results of my prescription may not be particularly long-lasting.

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