We all know the cardinal rule of fantasy football: You don’t win your league at your draft. You must, however, take into consideration the flip side of that coin: You can’t win your league without building a stable team foundation at your draft. The only way to do that? Know your options. If you subscribe to the theory that it’s way too early to start prepping for the 2018 fantasy season in March, you’re not alone; not by a long shot. But consider this . . . while your opposition has their eyes turns elsewhere, focused on March Madness brackets and MLB Spring Training, you could be measuring up the talent pool from which you will be drafting your squad in August right now. That’s right, there are some key events happening now that, if you pay attention, will give you early insight into who could help you win your 2018 ‘ship. Start prepping now. Similar to Proximo’s advice to Maximus in Gladiator: “Win the crowd and you’ll win your freedom,” my advice to you is “Win the offseason and you’ll win your league.”
The NFL Combine: February 27 – March 5
The NFL Combine has just come and gone. Now it’s time to take a look at the results and see what we’ve learned from the performances of the 2018 incoming rookies. There are many articles out there about Combine winners and losers. Take advantage of Combine wrap-up and reaction analysis to see how top prospects like Saquon Barkley, Nick Chubb, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and Dylan Cantrell performed. Although rookie TEs are not historically big fantasy winners, one of my big takeaways is that Penn State’s Mike Gesicki had a stellar Combine performance, with a 4.54 40 (fastest TE showing this year). He also excelled in the vertical, broad jump, 3-cone, and shuttles. If your strategy is to draft two TEs to avoid streaming off the wire, or if you just want to take a risk vs. reward shot at a rookie TE that could pay off, targeting Gesicki might be the way to go.
Free Agency: begins March 14
Free Agency is a pretty big deal, especially with the talent that’s out there this offseason. Topping the list is QB Kirk Cousins, who could land anywhere from Minnesota to Denver. You’ll want to follow his story to see where he lands, for sure. The coaching staff and surrounding talent on his new team will help you decide not only if you want to target him in your draft, but also where he’ll be falling for you to pick him up.
Another free agent to keep an eye on is Sammy Watkins. He’s a polarizing player for sure. With only 39 catches and 8 touchdowns for the Rams last season, you either love him or hate him. But his performance really came down to the other talent surrounding him in LA (Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp) and how he was used by the coaching staff. A different team may yield very different results for Watkins in 2018.
Finally, consider Jimmy Graham. The ‘word on the street’ is that Graham could reprise his TE role in New Orleans next season. For me, his lackluster 2017 performance dropped him way down my target board for next season. However, if he re-signs with the Saints, I’ll definitely consider picking him a little earlier in my draft.
My point here isn’t necessarily to show you exactly who to target in your 2018 fantasy draft, but to illustrate how these players’ situations on potentially different teams will give you the insight that you’ll need when draft day comes. Keep an eye on free agency spotlights now, and follow the news on the progress of big-time free agents when they reach their 2018 landing spots.
The NFL Draft: April 26 – 28
Like you, the coaches of all 32 NFL franchises paid attention to the performances that this year’s former college talent displayed at the Combine. It’s their turn to draft the players they want on their teams, which should be quite telling as to which players you will want on your fantasy teams. Much like your observations from free agency, you’ll find that where these players land will influence your targets for your squad. I won’t go into much detail here, but you’ll be sure to note the landing spots for RBs like Saquon Barkley, Nick Chubb, and Derrius Guice to get an idea of how they will be used in their future teams’ offensive schemes. The same goes for WRs Dylan Cantrell and Calvin Ridley. If they go to a WR-needy team, they may produce immediate results for your fantasy team, but if their landing spot is on a team stacked at WR, then it’ll be a hard pass on these guys in your draft. In that case, they’ll probably end up as waiver-wire pickups later in the season.
Finally, although mock drafts really don’t start ramping up until July, several mock draft articles have already published that are specifically taking place early to show how opinions of fantasy prospects will change as the above events take place. For instance, take a look at our own DFF Early Redraft Mock Draft 3.0 here. We recently did a 12-team, 5-round mock draft to get an idea of where we stand on players at this point in the offseason. Our next mock will take into consideration NFL Combine performances, and the one after that will encompass our thoughts on free agency news.
So there you have it. Win the offseason, win your league. Start your prep now and get a leg up on your competition. Trust me, you’ll be thanking me next December.