‘Tis the season folks. There are so many reasons to love this time of the year. We are in the heart of the summer and you are likely enjoying nightly BBQ’s, days out on the lake and late-night bonfires. However, lazy days lounging in your hammock while listening to baseball on the radio (or is that just me?) are beginning to be numbered. Which could allow minor depression to kick in, that is until you remember what comes along with the calendar flipping to August – Football Season baby! Training camp, rookies meeting new teammates, early-season optimism and most importantly – Fantasy Freakin’ Football. Fantasy sports will undoubtedly entertain you throughout the course of the season but everyone knows the absolute best (and most crucial) day of the year is DRAFT DAY.
There is no single method, strategy or secret I can bestow upon you that will allow you to achieve fantasy greatness. Throughout this season I will be providing you with multiple strategical and advice articles that should allow you to digest this fantasy game from a vast array of vantage points. If you’re the type of person who soaks up information well, you should be able to digest all of this, combine it with your own personal knowledge, and then weigh out all the information for yourself. Ultimately, creating your own method(s) that will lead you to the fantasy promised land. However, if you are someone who tends to inhale info in one ear and then spit it out the other (quite common, I’m constantly guilty of it myself) or maybe you are brand new to fantasy football and are searching for a solid place to begin building your strategical foundation – don’t fret, you’ve come to the right place. If you take just one thing from this article, and one thing only – remember this following sentence as if Fantasy Football were a mega-corporation and this were its mission statement. Fantasy football is all about minimizing risk and giving yourself the best odds to win on a weekly basis. Very simply put and at the most basic level, that is what you find at the core of our game. It always leads back to that.
Playing the Percentages
I wish I wasn’t lying when I told you that I was able to predict the future. I would sit here and brag to you guys all day that I called it: Rookie QB Dak Prescott would throw over 3,500 passing yards and have under 5 interceptions (2nd player in NFL history to do so). Ezekiel Elliott was going to lead the NFL in rushing yards with 1631 yards (he was the first rookie to do so since Edgerrin James and his 16 touchdowns were the most by a rookie since Maurice Jones-Drew). I told you LaGarrette Blount would rush for 18 touchdowns (when his career high was 7). Remember when I said that Todd Gurley, a consensus top 5 draft pick, would run for less than 60yds/game and average under 10 fantasy points/week – while remaining healthy all season. How about the undrafted rookie WR Tyreek Hill hauling in double digit TD’s and finishing inside the top 15 WR’s for the season? Or even Terrelle Pryor, yes the same Ohio St. QB, would not only become a WR – he would haul in well over 1000 receiving yards and be an extremely reliable asset all season (in Cleveland nonetheless!?). The point I’m trying to make is that I CAN’T PREDICT THE FUTURE. Neither can you. Nobody can predict the future, especially in an always changing, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, league such as the National Football League. All we can do is try to stack the odds in our favor as much as possible. Well, how on earth can we do that Eddie – you might ask. I proclaim for you to answer this simple question: What is most likely to happen? Now, unlike predicting the future, you can always research player data and try to spot meaningful trends to best answer that simple question. Most of the time players will produce close to their career statistical mean (unless so young they’ve yet to reach full potential). Of course, every season a handful of long shots will pay off and they produce off the chart, completely out of thin air, numbers. Nothing you can do about that, and hey, that’s all part of the fun anyways (especially if the player is your long shot), but you certainly don’t want a roster full of these high-upside/potential long shots. The way to give your team the best odds to succeed is to minimize risk and play the percentages that will give you best chance to dominate.
Information Overload – how to avoid it?
You undoubtedly will come across a multitude of suggestions this offseason. Such as “draft your RB’s early”, “wait for a QB” or even “take a top WR and TE”. While there is some merit in these suggestions, it’s typically dependent on each position’s depth. Nobody can predict how your league’s draft will play out. Sure, in todays NFL we have more QB depth than ever. In fact, in 2016 there were 25 QB’s who scored over 200 fantasy points and 18 of them topped the 250-fantasy point plateau. Waiting to draft you QB certainly seems plausible given the depth of the position in 2017. However, if you believe in the magic of Aaron Rodgers and he’s still available in the 4th round – don’t hesitate to draft him. Don’t get caught following the crowd during the draft just because there is a run of RB’s going early – if you can get the clear-cut #1 player at his position, it will provide you tons of value all season long. Always remember that there are many trails you can take that will end in you achieving fantasy glory.
Another crucial element you need to be aware of when drafting is your specific league settings. Most advice pieces you’ll encounter are tailored towards a certain type of league format. For instance, PPR-league (point-per-reception) columns will have slot receivers and RB’s with high targets and great hands ranked significantly higher than standard format columns. Some leagues play with 2 QB’s, some have a FLEX position and some do not. Know exactly the point breakdown for your league as well. Most leagues score 6 points for all TD’s but a lot of leagues will reward passing TD’s just 4 points. While some of the minor differences seem, well, minor they will significantly alter the values of certain players. You need to know your leagues settings inside and out before the draft. This will allow to properly judge each player as you see fit.
Stacking the Odds in your Favor
In order to stack the odds in your teams favor you will need to be cognizant of each player’s range of outcomes. You don’t need to have any one players stats or projections memorized. Much more importantly, you should have a general idea of how much you like a player in comparison to other players. Find yourself an expert’s player rankings (someone you trust) and use it in order to differentiate between players easily & quickly, especially when you’re on the clock and the draft timer races towards :00. When it comes to a player’s range of outcomes there are two types of players to keep in mind. Players with high floors over the duration of a season (low risk, consistent week-to-week). Players with high ceilings, who could at any week could provide elite numbers. When judging a player’s range of outcomes, we want to answer our magic question from earlier. That’s right – What’s most likely to happen? Almost every decision you’ll make throughout the season comes back to that. Whom to draft, start, pick-up, trade? Always ask yourself what is most likely to happen.
For instance, Drew Brees has finished as a top-10 QB in 13 straight seasons (since 2004) and has thrown for 30+ TD’s in 9 straight seasons. David Johnson finished last season with 1,200+ rushing yards and 800+ receiving yards (only 4 RB’s have ever accomplished the feat) and had more receiving yards (879) than any RB since Charlie Garner in 2002. Not surprisingly, Johnson appeared on the more championship rosters (29.8%) than anybody else in 2016-17. Le’Veon Bell managed to finish 4th in RB fantasy points last year, despite missing the first 4 games. He averaged 157 yards from scrimmage per game, which is the 3rd highest all-time (behind only OJ Simpson (160.2) in ‘75 and Priest Holmes (163.4) in ’02). Bell has averaged an anstonishing 16.79 career fantasy points per game, behind only HOF RB Jim Brown (18.62). So, let me ask you again – what’s most likely to happen? Answer that question before each move you make and before you know it you be just like Katniss Everdeen – with the odds forever in your favor.
Properly Preparing for the DRAFT
You don’t need to be perfect, because you never will be. Accounting for injuries, suspensions, locker room issues or even players having an affair with another’s wife just isn’t possible but, without a doubt, WILL happen to your team in one form or another. Which is exactly why, as much as possible, I want to own players with high floors. Week to week consistency is what wins championships. Not every player can be as studly as David Johnson week in & out. Still, give me a LeSean McCoy, who never produced less than 100 yards from scrimmage or 1 TD last season. Where many experts will hype up high ceiling guys, such as Jay Ajayi – due to his record setting 2016 when he rushed for over 200 yards three times! I’ll look at his 11 weeks, when he rushed for under a meager 80 yards! Both McCoy & Ajayi are being drafted in the late 1st/early 2nd rounds this season. Sure, they both averaged about the same per game totals last season, around 15 pts. Ajayi will get you 28 pts one week and then 2 pts the next. I’ll always prefer McCoy and his high usage, each week producing somewhere in the 12-20pt range. This is simply one example, but there are hundreds of them to be found with a little research. Consistency folks, we play a week to week game where you only need to outperform your opponent that week.
Many of you have probably heard the old adage that you can’t win your draft in the first few rounds, but you can certainly lose it. Well, never has it been more true than nowadays. People are saying to draft elite WR’s first this year (due to many early RB busts the past few years) and as it may be a wise decision, it depends on your league. What is much more important than which position you draft during the first four rounds is that your selections are as rock-solid as possible (and immune to injury, if only…). Research shows it all. 26% of your annual points will come from your first two picks in the draft. After just three selections you’ve accumulated 36.5% of year-ending points and after four picks you now have racked up 48% of all points scored in a season. Bottom line is in the first 4 selections (25% of draft) you will have drafted nearly half of your points. Don’t screw it up. Know exactly where you are drafting and study, study, mock draft, study and then study your mock drafts. Be ready to deal with all possible outcomes during the draft, all but ensuring you land four STUDS that you can ride off into the sunset with. All the way to Championshipville, U.S.A.
Always remember to HAVE FUN and keep the odds forever in your favor!