by Dan Trader (@RotoNostra)
“I may not have morals, but I do have rules.” Tony Soprano
I was asked a question by a fellow fantasy freak this week; frankly, it’s a fair one. Even though it was painfully obvious through the principles of detection that he intended this question to be insulting, I wasn’t offended. Contrarily, I was actually sort of glad that he asked.
He dismissively half-grunted, “What makes you think you’re more qualified than me to talk about fantasy football?” As I mentioned, a fair point. Keep in mind though, if you had the undoubted privilege of knowing this soft-spoken tender soul the way I do, you’d also know he hasn’t won a title since Moses wore short pants. But in all actuality, if you come seeking truth, that really doesn’t matter at all. “I don't,” I admitted. “Anyone can do this, even you.”
Let me break it down this way: no one truly knows what’s going to happen. If you really believe Michael Fabiano or Matthew Berry, analysts whom I love and listen to religiously by the way, know any better what will actually transpire on the field than little Johnny Hopscotch around the corner then you should probably stop drinking during the day. What they can do, however, exceedingly well, is do research, interpret what they see and hear, and make decisions or give advice based on sound logic and reason with stats to reinforce their respected opinions.
You don’t need to be an expert to know what you’re doing and I personally don’t think of myself as one. However, what I do consider myself is statistically successful at fantasy football, and I’m also of the belief that anyone that really wants to be can be as well. You only need to be committed, know what to look for, what to avoid, to develop a strategy, and adapt throughout the season; with a little help from your gut instincts and lady luck, you will be well on your way down the yellow brick road.
Am I more qualified than my friend, or you for that matter, to give fantasy advice? Not in my mind, because at the end of the day, this isn’t rocket surgery... Also remember, this is your team, and only you should be making the decisions. But at the minimum, am I qualified to share my thoughts and opinions? Or at least attempt to occasionally impart some semi-earthly wisdom? I’ll let you decide.
I was in one 12-team league in 2009, the first year I ever managed a team, and I won. I initially assumed, along with the rest of the league, that it was all luck. I mean, why wouldn’t I? I had been against fantasy football to begin with for a while because I thought it would sully my experience as a fan and I was only filling in last minute for a friend. But in reality, through reading, watching and learning, my fandom increased exponentially and I had much more fun than I expected.
Since the end of that season, I’ve annually participated in more leagues, currently in seven, and I’ve missed the playoffs three times. In 2014, I was in four leagues. I made the playoffs in all four and won the title in two. Additionally, in three of the four leagues, during the regular season, my records were all identical at 11-2 as my teams entered the playoffs as the first seed with the most total points scored by a hefty margin. Last season in 2015 I was in six leagues, and since my teams’ records and total points were eerily similar to 2014, I’ll spare you the statistical details, but I went to five championships and won three, repeating in one and only lost by five points in one of the bigger letdowns of my fantasy career.
I’m sincerely not listing my stats to toot my own horn or solicit a pat on the back. The only point I’m trying to illustrate is that I wanted a competitive edge, so I developed a strategy, stuck to it and so far it’s happened to pay off. It sounds simple when you say it out loud, but it basically boils down to targeting the right players in conjunction with taking calculated risks. And since we’re trying to dominate the fantasy offseason, let’s start building a strong battle plan for the draft.
Target Your Team
This may seem like a given but if you’re treating your team like it’s your business, and you’re the scout, head coach, general manager and so forth, then you should be determining which players will represent you and your business honorably and professionally. Which players excite you to watch and make Sundays more fun? You wouldn’t hire anyone you didn’t know personally without examining their credentials and confirming their competence and commitment unless if you were employed by the Browns, and the same concept applies here. You obviously want to target talent, but there are other criteria to inspect and examine beyond a players’ ball skills, athleticism, size, and speed. You should be looking for:
· Consistency – Recognize any players who have finished at the top of their position over the past two to three seasons and beyond, including incoming rookies, who also do not have an extensive, or serious injury history or problems off the field. Regardless of why they’re not on the field, if they aren’t playing they can’t help you win. It’s vital to be familiar with the players who are at higher risk to not finish a season at the very least. And while it’s impossible to predict acts of the football gods, it is possible to do your damnedest to avoid them. To clarify, I never completely shun from players who’ve been injured before because, first of all, that’s basically impossible. But I’ll elaborate more on that in a minute.
· Opportunity – Who has an opportunity to step into a premier role and make an immediate impact? This could be identified through trades, retirement, injuries, free agent acquisitions or the draft, with the incoming class providing a ton of depth in the possibilities department (aisle 4). There are always offensive players drafted each year, even after the first round, who end up significantly helping their team almost immediately at the start of the season.
· Offense – Who is the offensive coordinator? Who is the quarterback? Who is in the supporting cast? Is the team’s scheme run-heavy or pass-happy? What is the rank of the offensive line? When trying to decide between two premier wide receivers, I usually side with either the more prolific offense or better quarterback. When choosing between premier running backs for my number one, I try to pick the player in the best situation, in the more run-heavy scheme with the better offensive line, or avoid the true running back-by-committee situations if I can help it.
· Upside – If you want to always have a realistic shot at winning your matchups each week, you need asmany prolific playmakers in your squadron that are notorious for just going off and changing the game at the drop of the dime as you can afford. That’s obvious enough. But your roster will additionally always need to have boom or bust potential, and managing your lineup is all about balancing risk and reliability. So personally, I typically only shy from high-potential players with health concerns if I can’t acquire that upside at a price that outweighs the bust potential. For example, I drafted Arian Foster at the end of the seventh round last season and Todd Gurley the round after in one league. Both players had histories of performing at high levels, but both had major injury concerns coming into the season, among other factors for Foster. I knew in the best case scenario I would have acquired two RB1’s fairly below market price, and if things went south, I wouldn’t have lost too much in the acquisitions. For the same reasons, one of my first waiver moves in all my leagues the year prior was for Odell Beckham, Jr. while he was still injured before week one, and we all know how that turned out. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve picked up countless players who didn’t pan out, but no risk, no reward. Just make sure the scale isn’t tipped too heavily on the risk side and you aren’t investing too much capital. Try to also remember there’s a difference between being injured and being prone to injury.
To thoroughly examine all this criteria, at the risk of sounding redundant, allow me a brief moment to reemphasize what I discussed earlier about studying up and keeping current. If you read everything you find, from draft guides to past evaluations to early player rankings and projections, and listen to football news and podcasts every day, you will always be able to more logically generate your own opinions, and that really is most crucial. Be a fan and go all out! Going back to something else I said earlier, this is your team and only you can make the final calls because it’s the only way to learn or have fun. But approach scouting players for your team like you’re interviewing candidates for your business, with love, tenderness, and meticulous attention to details, and I believe you will begin to separate yourself from the rest of the drones in fantasyland.
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