With 2016 behind me I took a little time to reflect on the season that was. I didn’t have a successful season and wanted to try to figure out why. I was coming off of a very successful (at least financially) 2015 and I had high hopes for 2016. However, I was pretty disappointed as everything came to a close. This is an exercise I’d recommend to any serious fantasy owner undertake. Everybody makes mistakes, and if you want to improve on your fantasy game going forward, you have to be able to look back and reflect on your mistakes and find areas to improve on. I played in approximately 15 leagues last year, most of which were dynasty leagues, a few re-drafts & keepers with a little IDP sprinkled in. Each league had different scoring systems in place and all required a different mindset going into their respective drafts and I wanted to break down all of the facets of fantasy and see if there were things I could improve on. I looked back at the drafts and recalled my mindset and strategy at the time, the specific players and types of players I was targeting, (I also applied that to waiver moves throughout the year) and my setting of lineups week in and week out. This might be a little long for some (and people like lists) so here are my fantasy resolutions in list form, it might be enough for you right there. However, if you want a finer detail breakdown, I’ll expand on each point in the article as well:
In 2017 I will not:
- Strictly adhere to any draft strategy. Zero RB, Zero WR… whatever.
- Wait too long on selecting a quarterback.
- Focus on young, unproven guys outside of dynasty leagues.
- Try to look smart and take too many “sleepers” on draft day
- Draft the same players across all of my teams
- Focus on safe, high floor players
- Be timid on waivers early and late in the season
In 2017 I will:
- Go with the flow on draft day and take what the draft gives me.
- Draft the best player available.
- Grab a quarterback after the studs are gone but before the real garbage is only left.
- Focus on established, productive veteran players outside of my dyno leagues.
- Only draft a “sleeper” (or two) in the last few rounds of my draft and not a round earlier.
- Diversify my lineups and try not to be overexposed with any specific players.
- Focus on high upside players.
- Be hyper-aggressive on early season waiver, chill out mid-season, and hit ’em hard again as the playoffs loom
- Continue to put in the work each week to set a weekly winning line up
Looking back at my drafts, I’m not too disappointed. Like many people, I had planned on going with a Zero-RB approach last season unless I could get a few key running backs that I was targeting. Exiting most drafts I was happy with the roster construction of my teams. Of course, in hindsight, I’m not a fan of many of these rosters, but I can see what my plan was on draft day and for the most part it looked good on paper. What did I do that I’m not a big fan of going forward? Zero-RB. We all know all the reasons why zero-RB is supposed to work, and many of us in the fantasy community fully embraced it in 2016. But, to be honest, I didn’t reap the rewards I anticipated and judging from twitter and message board comments, many others out there feel the same. As more and more mock drafts for next year get completed, we’re going to see an over-correction on Zero-RB next year, with people taking running backs early. Although I’m not adhering to a strict Zero-RB strategy again next season, I can see how there might be an over-correction in the market next year opening the door for some good values on wide receivers. Despite my current distaste for Zero-RB, the anticipated over-correction does open the door for me to adopt some sort of modified Zero-RB-like strategy. What do I plan on doing differently? I’m going to just draft the best player available. Plain and simple. The name of the game is points, and I want to grab as many guys as I possibly can who I think will score the most points and will be selecting the best player on the board every chance I get.
I’m not saying zero-RB doesn’t work or that it’s a bad strategy, all I am saying is that I’m never pigeonholing myself into a draft strategy again. Every draft plays out differently. I’m going to go with the flow, or more accurately, swim against it. If I see everybody going Zero-RB, I’m going to hit the top RBs hard, if people are overreacting to last season and hitting on the RBs early, I’ll gladly take the WRs that they’re overlooking.
A noticeable mistake I made was waiting on a quarterback. I’m typically the last guy to draft a QB in all of my leagues. I love late round QB strategy, and it’s a proven winner as it was this past season. We saw Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, Matt Stafford and Marcus Mariota all taken in the 10th round or later and 3 of the 4 were all in the MVP conversation until the fantasy playoffs started in week 13. So, where was my mistake? I just waited way, way too long. People were drafting backups in many leagues before I grabbed my first. One of my strongest teams this season was limited all season by my garbage QB situation. I had to rotate waiver wire pickups each week between Case Keenum, Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian & eventually Colin Kaepernick. It was ugly. Somehow that team still managed to get into the playoffs. I still won’t be taking a QB early, but I’m going to be very conscientious about who is still on the board as the draft progresses. I’d rather take a guy I like a round earlier than I’d feel comfortable with in round 9 than end up with a bunch of bums in round 14 or later. Late round QB is still a great, winning strategy, but I let it get out of control.
Another problem I noticed was that I focused on the wrong types of players. I’ll focus a bit more on this in the next section, but as far as the draft was concerned, I took too many young, unproven guys. I find this to be a problem with many fantasy owners who play in many dynasty leagues. We get so caught up in the youth movement in all your dynasty leagues, that when you’re playing in a redraft league you either forget that a guy like Frank Gore is a solid fantasy running back or you overdraft guys like Laquan Treadwell. Lots of owners, myself included, want to hit too many home runs on young guys to stroke our egos and feel smart all the while leaving solid fantasy contributors on the board because they are 29-years old. This could also be applied to sleepers too. In the last round or two of a draft, there’s nothing wrong with throwing a dart or two, but once I got my starters in place, I started tossing darts like a madman in some leagues. I grabbed Tyreek Hill in a few drafts, but for every Hill, I grabbed a Cody Core and Keith Mitchell too. Don’t get me wrong in dynasty leagues, I’m still high on both (Core in particular) but I won’t be trying to get too cute until the very end of my drafts. There was just too much wasted mid-round draft capital on players that could probably be grabbed off of waivers a week or two into the season.
Types of Players:
I just mentioned drafting the wrong players, but I’ll get into that more here as it pertains not only to the draft, but as you attack waivers through the season and your general roster construction as well. As mentioned before, I had roughly 15 teams. The question to have going into draft season in 2017 is “What do I want those teams to look like?”. Do you want to diversify your players so an injury doesn’t kill off 5 teams at a time, or do you want to have very similar rosters constructed with the exact same players that you’re high on going into the year? I’m usually a “same players across all teams” guy because I believe in the players I’m drafting and if there is an injury or suspension or something, I know I’ll have to fix it across several leagues at once, but I’m going to diversify next year and I realized that very early into 2016. I had grabbed Keenan Allen in a bunch of leagues and losing him 1 game into the season was a huge blow. In many of those leagues I also had Donte Moncrief, so I was way behind the 8-ball. We all need to look at fantasy football players like stocks- I’m no expert broker- but I know diversifying your assets is the way to go. I’ll be applying that principle next year, and would recommend that you do as well. If my turn in the draft is coming up and I’m torn between a player or two (or three) I’m going to go with the guy I don’t have any shares of elsewhere. I had Charles Sims on 11 or 12 of my 15 teams, although he did ok when he played, he wound up on the IR and never lived up to my expectations for him. That was significant blow to my fantasy season as a whole that I could have minimized significantly even if I only had him on 5 or 6 teams opposed to 12. I will not be targeting the same guys across all leagues next season unless players keep falling in drafts & represent a great value.
I think, more than anything else, my biggest weakness was playing it too safe. I drafted guys with high floors, not high ceilings. The name of the game is to win at the end of the season, right? You need to get guys who breakout and exceed expectations to do that, and I grabbed far too few of those types of players. I was to risk averse. The boom or bust guys are going to be much higher on my draft board next year. If they bust, I’ll cut them and grab somebody off of waivers. I picked too many middle of the road guys and as a result, I ended up with too many middle of the road teams. The highest upside guy available is who I’ll be targeting each pick next year regardless of what his downside might be. Those are the guys who win you championships, not safe plays. It’s not a terrible idea to possibly mix in a few stable, middle of the road guys, but the name of the game is winning fantasy trophies and hopefully a few dollars in the process. If we, as fantasy owners, are not trying to build a #1 seed, championship caliber squad come playoff time, what’s really the difference between going 0-13 or 7-6 and still missing the playoffs? As for me, I’m making the bold picks next season.
I mentioned it a bit in the draft section, but in non-dynasty leagues, I went too young. I drafted guys like Charone Peake, DeAndre Washington, Dwayne Washington and Wendell Smallwood in redraft leagues. What was I doing? I think part of me want’s to grab the next big sleeper rookie and to look like I’m smart, but I did quite the opposite. What a dumb move in redraft. Plenty of good, established older players out there and I was out there trying to wow people because I know the name of some 6th round nobody from a division 2 school who I hope will breakout when 6 people ahead of him on the depth chart go down with injury… ugh. I went too young and tried to hit on too many sleepers. I know I’ll still know all of the names next year, I hope I’ll be smart enough not to draft them and to be ready for them on waivers if/when they do emerge. This tends to be a bigger problem among more seasoned fantasy owners. If you’re a casual player, it’s pretty unlikely you drafted Josh Ferguson thinking he’d supplant Frank Gore in Indy after Gore’s elderly body broke down. Most likely because you probably had no clue who undrafted rookie free agent Josh Ferguson was. Sometimes too much information can be a killer, especially for dynasty guys who have to do some heavy speculation each off-season.
One of the things I think I did fairly well across all leagues, but still could work on doing a little better was attacking the waiver wire. Overall I did well, but there were a few glaring misses, and I remember thinking at the time “I really want this guy, I should probably bid more” and in hindsight I missed out on all of those guys. Dak Prescott comes to mind. I drafted Romo in a few places and in none of those leagues did I successfully grab Prescott despite putting bids in for him everywhere. If there is a guy I want in the future, I’m not going to have any trouble overpaying for him. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over my nearly 20 years playing fantasy sports, is that your free agent bidding dollars are most valuable early in the season and they become less and less valuable as each week passes. Overpaying for Prescott isn’t really overpaying when you get a guy for the full 16 weeks of the NFL season. Anybody you’re grabbing early is going to give you a full season, or almost a full season of production, that’s a lot of bang for your buck, whereas a guy you grab in week 11, is only going to give you 5 games of action. So, What did I learn? I’ve always been aggressive on waivers, but I’m going to be even more aggressive earlier in the year. It’s not real money and you don’t get to keep it at the end of the year. Now a little contrary to that, I’m going to save money in the middle of the year unless I really love somebody so I have some FAAB left for the playoff push if somebody emerges late. In the leagues where I did blow through all of my money early, I ended up not being able to grab guys who emerged as the fantasy playoffs kicked off. It wasn’t detrimental, and more than anything, I would’ve liked to be able to block other owners from grabbing a guy, but it would have been nice to have a little money in reserve to make something happen, especially in IDP leagues where a few juicy matchups presented themselves down the stretch.
If there was one thing I did great all year, it was setting my lineups. This was something I’ve struggled with in the past and have worked hard to get better at in recent years and it all seemed to come together this year. It was time-consuming and difficult at times, but it was totally worth all of the effort. Many in the fantasy community will say “always play your studs” but I played the match ups all year. I used many different tools out there to make my picks each week. I looked at the average fantasy points allowed by the defenses my players faced, I looked at recent trends, I used multiple sites’ start sit recommendations and tools and calculators, I compiled all that information into charts each week (handwritten too, no excel here, I’m old school- paper, pen & a calculator) and then used every single point projection & positional ranking I could find and averaged those out. The corresponding chart basically gave me a collective weekly ranking for all of my players and I plugged them in accordingly. Sit Gronk? I did it. Start Ty Montgomery over a guy like Lamar Miller, guilty. Pick up Charles Clay for a one week plug-in with much bigger named options already on my team, yup, been there done that. It was successful an astonishing amount of the time. Yes, of course I got burned a few times here and there but overall, the system I developed worked great. Although, I will admit, the misses really sting. Watching a stud on your bench go off is excruciating, but you have to trust the process. It gave me more Jay Ajayi against the Steelers and Adam Thielen against the Packers than any other process would have. If anything, to simplify it, I applied more of a DFS mindset to season long fantasy. I looked at each week as a mini season, what do I need to do to my lineup to give me the best chance to win today and win this week’s game? Quite a few times, the answer to that question was an overlooked guy on waivers, especially in IDP leagues. There is tons of information out there, much of it free, that will give you a leg up on your competition each week- use it! Most people in the fantasy writing community are pretty knowledgeable, if you pool that collective talent, you will very rarely be steered in the wrong direction.
That much wraps it up. Much like everybody else, I did a few things right and a few things wrong during the 2016 fantasy football season. In years past I’ve always tried to be cognizant of those mistakes and improve on them in the coming years, but I didn’t always do so. I have them written down and posted near my desk (and if I lose that, I’ll always have this to reference back to) so I’m really going to apply all of the lessons I’ve learned to next year. If you find these ideas helpful to you, feel free to print out the list from the beginning and keep it handy so you can reference back to it as draft season rolls back around. This isn’t my usual writing style, this first person account, and admittedly I selfishly wrote this for myself, kind of like a reflection on the year that was for me in fantasy, but I think many of these lessons can be helpful for many people out there. Many fantasy owners make the same mistakes year in and year out and it’s helpful to be aware of them, especially after months off from doing anything fantasy football related. A new season starts and we’re full of all the hope in the world that we’re going to have a more successful fantasy season in the year ahead, but we fall back into our routines and before you know it BOOM! We have the same results we always have.
I hope you find this is helpful and feel like it’s a useful tool for you in 2017 and going forward. Enjoy the off-season, and hopefully with the lessons you learned from last year, you’ll take down some championships next season.