If you are reading this, hopefully congratulations are in order for getting past your opening round of the playoffs! In my nearly 30 years of playing fantasy football, I’ve won countless championships, and only missed the playoffs a few times! In the early years, I’m sure luck played a huge part? As the years went on, well, I had a reputation to protect, and I really developed a hard core philosophy; and I abide by these 5 principles to counteract luck:
RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH:
It is easy to print out lists ranking experts top 100 at each position. How did they come up with that list? Is it the eye test? Is it simply looking at last year’s obvious stats? Obvious stats?
How many receptions, rushing yards, total yards and TDs. Obviously important stats! However, what can separate you from your rivals, is looking into the minutia. For example, in analyzing TE/receivers/backs, I like to look at carries and targets, which equals volume! Targets can be an indicator for things to come. It doesn’t take a fantasy genius to project Davante Adams, Keenan Allen, DK Metcalf, Travis Kelce, or Darren Waller as top receivers/TEs to draft. The players that can help you win championships are the Robby Anderson, Michael Gallup, and Robert Tonyan type players. How they are trending this year can help you project next year. I like guys that average 6 targets or more a game. Find the non-star player that fits that trend, and he can be a sleeper on your future team. They will be mid tier on most lists, maybe even bottom tier, but if you see trends in their game, they could be misplaced on those lists. For example, a “high” projection player for me that might be a mid tier for most next year is DJ Chark. He is trending up in targets as the year closes, and coupled with a change in QB next year, he could be a draft steal. Again, not a pick over the obvious elite guys, but a guy to consider as a WR 2, or 3 for sure, and someone to consider in keeper leagues. Another “obscure” guy is Russell Gage. Julio is getting older and this kid is trending upward...a little research can be an eye opener.
Essentially, draft every player with a purpose! Injuries are inevitable, and do you really enjoy vying for the hot player of the week! Have them already on your roster/bench. Before this year who would have predicted Darnell Mooney or Anthony Miller of the Bears at times, out performing Mecole Hardman or Curtis Samuel? I guarantee Hardman and Samuel were higher on all the preseason WR rankings! Currently, the Bear duo have been targeted 71 and 68 times respectively, both a hair under 6 targets a game! Samuel 61 targets at 5.7 per game, and Hardman, 42 total targets and 3.5 targets a game. Hardman and Samuel have 1 more receiving
TD, but my point, volume usually wins out in the end. Make a mental note for both Bear players to climb your draft board next year, especially if Allen Robinson moves on to another team. Yet, I guarantee their names, along with Chark and Gage will be forgotten by many, compared to Hardman and Samuel?!
Remember, this is about preparing you for next year!
For running backs, I need to see carries per game and targets as well. This is a harder category to project. Running backs today can be a 3 headed monster. The Rams killed fantasy owners with the shell game of Henderson, Akers, and Brown. Obviously, your research should conclude Akers to be the back moving forward, but if always a committee system, you might have him on your bench as insurance? The same holds true in Indianapolis with Taylor, Wilkins, and Hines. For fantasy owners in deep leagues forced to play any of the aforementioned players, you hit every 3 or 4 weeks! In regards to teams that have the “Bell Cow” back, like Henry, Elliott, Barkley, Connor, etc., you better know their backup, and handcuff that player as insurance. If I drafted Barkley, you bet for damn sure, I drafted Gallman Jr., in the late rounds! Wayne Gallman Jr. has performed extremely well in Saquan Barkley’s absence. However, when Barkley is healthy, Gallman takes a back seat. Unless of course, he moves on to another team.
My next point, another thing to stay on top of, player movement. For example, if you are a Matt Stafford hater but he is traded to New England or Indianapolis, does your mindset change? It would for me! Doing homework also can help with mid season trades if players are going to miss 5 or so games to injury or suspension. A perfect example of this was in 2016. I drafted Ben Roethlisberger in the 3rd round as my number one QB. Tom Brady if you recall was suspended for 4 games as a result of “Deflate Gate”. I drafted him in the 7th round! I was then able to flip Brady, after holding on to him most of the season, to a team who had an injured number one QB, and I landed Odell Beckham Jr. That solidified my receiving corp and propelled me to my leagues championship game (See results below)! Maybe next year’s Brady for you is Joe Burrow, or who knows, a traded, and reinvented Carson Wentz? You never know!?
Do the research; look back at volume, stay on top of player movement, suspensions, injury return dates, and you could be a crafty drafter! And do the same work during the season, to get that obscure, trending upward player!
AVOID DRAFTING PLAYERS FROM BAD TEAMS:
I have no statistics or interesting anecdotal stories here. Just avoid players on really bad teams! You can pick some up throughout the year on the waiver wire out of desperation, or once you see consistent volume, or finagle a trade if so desired, but do not draft them! You might pass up on the next Terry McLaurin, but as a result, you could land Stefon Diggs, or Allen Robinson? Not a philosophy for everyone, but a tenet I stick to!
NEVER BENCH YOUR STUDS:
Many years ago, I had Troy Aikman and Jake Plummer as my QBs. For a minute during fantasy playoffs, I actually started to analyze the match-ups, then stopped, and said to myself, “What the hell are you doing!” What if I truly liked the research I did to convince myself to go with Plummer? What if he played against a weaker pass defense? What if Dallas went heavy on the run game with Emmitt Smith? WHO CARES! Troy was my Number 1 QB that year. If I had gone with the better match-up, I would have gotten 250 yards, 1 TD, and 1 interception from Plummer. Troy passed for 455 yards and 1 TD!
What if my stud is having a bad stretch? What if my second QB is on fire? I still say lean towards your stud! Case in Point, would you play Russell Wilson this week who has been a mess of late? How about Lamar Jackson? What if Baker Mayfield was your backup, and he just had his monster game? What if Herbert is your guy, are you concerned because of last week? Kyler Murray is clearly injured and off his game as well? These are stipulations you might consider, but I say, PLAY YOUR STUDS! You will sleep better if you lose with Wilson vs. losing with Mayfield, I assure you. Finally, this goes for all positions of course! Are you going to sit Davante Adams if he is matched up against Jalen Ramsey (he is not, just a hypothetical), when Robby Anderson is playing against a decemated secondary? Ummm NO, PLAY YOUR STUDS!
WATCH THE WEATHER:
If I have one CAVEAT to the above section it is the weather! Don’t let your year long fantasy season go to waste because you ignored the various game forecasts! In 1981, the high flying San Diego Chargers, the prohibited AFC favorites to go to the Super Bowl, had to travel to frigid Cincinnati. In a game that was called the Freezer Bowl. It was -9 with windchill! They lost 27-7. If a team was derailed by awful weather, individual players certainly can be as well! If your stud is Big Ben, and they are expecting a snowstorm in Buffalo, I would consider your capable backup, if his game has ideal conditions, and he has a favorable matchup! Poor weather conditions truly scare me, and if on top of that, your stud, i.e., Big Ben is a poor performer in bad weather, well, you have my blessing to deviate from principle three! The running game could be the one position to benefit from poor weather, so I lean towards PLAYING YOUR STUDS with running backs. My final note on this section is to drop your kicker and pluck any kicker off the waiver wire if the conditions are poor! I love nice climate games for kickers, and dome conditions for my kicker. Would you want Jason Tucker in a blizzard or a mediocre kicker in Miami, or in a dome!?
DON’T GET CLAYED!:
The most demoralizing loss I have ever had, was a 2016 championship game in a winner take all league, which had a massive purse! My team was a machine! I destroyed opponents, and had only 2 losses, and I still had the second highest total the weeks I lost. Yes, I Iost to the high scoring team those 2 weeks, which is an entire article for another time! That being said, I rolled the rest of the year. However, entering the end of the year, and into the playoffs, I was constantly picking up a different TE off the waiver wire. Both my guys were injured, and my main guy, Jordan Reed was having a terrific year prior to his inevitable injury (when is he not hurt!). My lineup was so stacked, I survived the miniscule production from the TE position. However, I did not want to take any chances in the championship, and TE was literally my only concern. The other positions were all healthy, and just plug and play! After reading countless articles, and seeing countless expert lists, I decided on Charles Clay. A nondescript TE, the equivalent of a Jacob Hollister, or Daniel Fells of today. As the man above is my witness, ten minutes to kickoff, moments before lineups were locked, I opened my laptop and did one last search on TE opinions. I found this one article, by some unknown author, that was extremely enthusiastic about C.J Fiedorowicz! His name alone is enough to not consider him as an option! Yet, I pulled out Clay, and plugged in Fiedorowicz in my lineup. Seconds later, the lineups locked!
My team went off! I had Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, Dez Bryant, LeSean McCoy, and Demarco Murray (not very productive) going crazy (and yes, my league had 12 teams, I made some savvy trades)! However, my opponent’s team also was going crazy. We both had our highest totals of the year. It was literally an amazing championship game, decided on Monday Night Football. I had Dez, and he played well, 4 for 70, and 2 TDS, and he was the only player remaining in our lineups.
Oh, you are wondering how CJ Fiedorowicz performed? His line: 4 receptions, for 42 yards, and 8.2 points. And how did Charles Clay do...8 receptions, for 85 yards, and 2 TDs!!! I lost the championship game, and the entire pot by 3 points! If I did not overthink it, and pull out that laptop just minutes before the lineups locked, I would have won in an epic landslide, and gone on one hell of a vacation! The moral of the story, do not sweat the Charles Clay players of the fantasy world. Make your decision, and barring a late injury report, keep the laptop shut...and DON’T GET CLAYED!
Follow these 5 key principles, and if not this year, I guarantee you future success in your fantasy leagues!