Whether your fantasy football season ended with much crowing to the chagrin of your friends, or soul crushing gnashing of teeth, much to the gleeful laughter of your friends, it has ended all the same, and for most of us, so too has four months of infernal and nebulous decision making on minutiae so detailed and nuanced that many a romance and many a marriage have shipwrecked on a late Tuesday night over a waiver wire request for Tennessee’s #2 WR, Nate Washington. Your marriage/relationship thanks you for the next seven months of fantasy hibernation. Now just what did you learn and what can you take away from this latest season?
A personal Fantasy Autopsy:
After cutting down on fantasy teams the previous two seasons, I joined 11 leagues in 2013, 1 auction league, 8 returning keeper teams, and 2 redraft leagues. The Final Tally:
Championship Titles – 3
Runner Up Finishes – 1
Semi-Finalist Finishes – 1
Wild Card Round Losers – 2
7th Place – 1
9th place – 1
12th place – 2
What I got right:
I hit on 5 of the top 10 finishers as did the consensus, I also hit on 3 of the 11th-20th finishers, as did the consensus (a nice reminder that guiding picks based on the consenus is a losers game, both ADP and I missed on 12 of the top 20 finishing fantasy quarterbacks).
*What were the big hits?
I beat ADP big time on my ratings of Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, and Phillip Rivers. In each of these cases I applied one of my traditional standards for rating QB’s: Talent and Opportunity, or, reactiveness. In making my rankings I tend to use a 3 year trend to base any judgment, not a one year trend, which is why I didn’t overreact to Stafford’s off season in 2012, I did the same with Phillip Rivers, buying the idea that the addition of Keenan Allen would help and that Rivers career, trumped his downward trend from ’11-’12. Right again. In the case of Romo and Luck, I bet on talent and opportunity over reactiveness, and youth concerns. Owners simply hate Romo because of his rightly earned rep as a choker, while Luck simply didn’t have the flash of a RG3 or Wilson, but did have the talent. In both cases I was right, Romo ranked #3 in ppg before he injured his back in week 16, while Luck ranked exactly where I slotted him before he wrapped up the season in some impact-less games.
Outside of the top 10 I also had a few other hits including rightfully plunging Tom Brady down my rankings (you simply can’t produce elite fantasy #’s if you lose your #1, #2, and #3 weapons for the season as Brady did with Hernandez, Gronk and Welker), and pushing up Carson Palmer, and Joe Flacco a touch higher than ADP suggested. Big misses for me included overrating RG3, Eli and Matt Schaub. In the case of RG3, I considered him a value pick with a 4-5 round discount, but he didn’t pay off by any stretch, I followed Eli’s tradition of following bad seasons with quality seasons, by celebrating my downgrade in ’12, and parading my misinformed higher ranking in ’13 whoops. Schaub killied me in back to back seasons in 2012 and 2013 with me chasing dreams of a 2009-2010 repeat, when those prayers were clearly the illusory pinings of a Schaub fan who was never paid back for his faith in the one time Falcon draftee.
@ Running Back
At RB, both ADP and I tied with 5 of the top 10 RB’s making our top 10 rankings (yet another reminder that the consensus is always unreliable), with me trumping ADP with LeSean McCoy (ranked 4th), Marshawn Lynch (ranked 8th) and Matt Forte (ranked 9th), and ADP trumping me with Jamal Charles (I had him 6th, ADP had him 5th), and they’re lower ranking of the hugely disappointing Richardson (ranked 3rd by me, 7th by ADP). Other hits included a lowering of Alfred Morris, and Frank Gore below ADP, ditto ranking Ryan Mathews, Gio Bernard, Reggie Bush, Lev Bell ahead of ADP.
What lessons might be learned amongst this mess? The Lessons I always preach: namely, obsessing on going RB/RB in rounds 1 and 2, or RB always in round 1 is a coin toss on the odds for your fantasy season. Year after year the consensus first round unfolds, and the consensus top 10 at RB unfolds, only to be proven 41-50% wrong. If you bet on the wrong RB your chances of sabotaging your season with the wrong pick are nearly 50% season to season. This year failed bets included Doug Martin (injury), Arian Foster (injury), CJ Spiller (injury and game planning), Richardson (young bust) and Ray Rice (350+ Touch Fatigue and general team decline). Fantasy owners tabbing these players sabotaged their seasons, and it’s no coincidence that among the 5 teams of mine that missed the playoffs, 4 included Richardson, and 1 included Martin, a case in which I violated my own principles, letting ADP trump my preferred ranking of Martin (the fact that the Bucs stunk, were headed nowhere, and had questions at QB, had lead to my dropping Martin out of the top 5 entirely before I let ADP, and 1 season of stats to base a ’13 projection upon-before this decision Martin would have been out of my top 5 rankings, and my selection would have come down to a coin flip between the equally erroneous Richardson, or the gold mine that was LeSean McCoy (owned on 3 of my 4 title game squads, Charles was owned on the fourth).
What does this reality teach you? Simply this: If you’d chosen anyone of the top 8 ranked non-rb’s save for Aaron Rodgers (Injury), you would have landed a top 30 asset for the season and still been a contender. I don’t know about you, but getting an 87% chance of a hit on my first/2nd rounder by avoiding rb with one of my selections (or both), sounds like great odds to me. At the end of the day, this dictum, combined with the movement of the game to a more passing focused offensive approach has upped the value of quarterbacks (8/10 top points producers were quarterbacks this season-only Charles (3rd overall) and McCoy (my sleeper steal this summer-10th) made the top 10 overall at seasons end), and wide receivers substantially, and made pass catching running backs of veritable gold mine of value, as such running backs are far less likely to disappoint season to season based upon their ability to produce even if they don’t get enough totes (see players like Reggie Bush, and Andre Ellington, who produced excellent numbers despite not receiving enough touches, and injury).
@ Wide Reciver
At Wide Receiver in 2013 I hit on nine of my top 10 WR’s, only missing on Victor Cruz, whose season was torpedoed by the general malaise of the entire New York offense. Josh Gordon and Alshon Jeffrey were new entrants in the top 10, and both were consistent targets of mine on draft day (I landed Jeffrey on half of my teams, and Gordon on 2 of them). Wide Receiver year in and year out is also a great position to target on draft day early because of the paucity of injuries that derail seasons at the position.
Think of your top 10 Quarterbacks, injury ruined the seasons of those who drafted Aaron Rodgers, RG3 (slow recovery, no TC/preseason reps), Matt Ryan and Colin Kaepernick (all his weapons were injured). 4 of your top 10 QB’s produced subpar seasons largely due to seasons. At running back, injuries ruined or hampered the seasons of Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, Arian Foster, and CJ Spiller, nearly half of the top 10 running backs. How many Wide Receivers disappointed in the top 10 due to injury? Only 1 of my top 10 wide receivers had such a negative impact (Julio Jones), now I’ll grant that Roddy White also went down for long stretches, but he was already ranked outside my top 10 due to injury issues in the offseason and declining production. At the end of the day, 8 of the top 10 wide receivers delivered on expectations, 16 of my top 20, 80%. Compared with running backs, wide receivers simply have a much, much better chance of delivering for your team, its been emphatically proved season after season, but the sheer necessity of landing 3 running backs on your team that you can rely upon scares off many owners. What would I suggest to address this issue? Speculate.
This season I offered plenty of targets worth speculating on, and while my history is much better at speculating in wide receivers than backs (this year I nailed Michael Floyd, Alshon Jeffrey, and Keenan Allen, three of the most valuable WR finds outside of the top 9 rounds), and I correctly warned owners away from targeting Danny Amendola (constant injury history), and Dwayne Bowe (noodle armed dump off specialist Alex Smith was always going to be unlikely to properly utilize such a fantastic deep game weapon)), I still am a big believer in using only 1 of your early round picks on a tail back because the failure frequency of top 10 rb’s is so high, and the success rate of QB’s and WR’s and TE’s with similar evaluations is so much higher. It is difficult to land legit running backs, but just take a look at the legit weapons you could have landed this year at RB, if you’d merely focused on QB, WR, and/or TE early:
Ben Green Ellis
Take a look at that list: 6 of the top 40 running backs weren’t even, on average, drafted, based on ADP across all platforms, 8 of the top 20 running backs were drafted in the 5th round or later, and fully half of the top 40 running backs were drafted in the 5th round or later (well technically 19 out of 40 , + 4th rounder Eddie Lacy).
So for your first lesson for 2014, consider, half of the 2013 top 40 running backs could be had outside of the top 48-50 picks, and when you consider that, acknowledge to yourself that utilizing three or four of your top four drafts picks on pass catchers (WR/TE), and a stud QB makes far more sense than loading up on starting running backs. At the end of the day if you’re just as likely to land a legit starting running back in the fifth round or later, as you are in the first four rounds, and you are, then eschewing running backs to build a team loaded at quarterback, and wide receiver, or quarterback, wide receiver, and TE, with complementary quality starters at RB is an excellent way to lock up a playoff appearance and a shot at a title.
*Draft your franchise QB. Don’t listen to fantasy experts and mediots who tell you to wait on quarterback because there’s plenty of depth at the position. Sure there’s plenty of depth, but much of that depth will have a down season (RG3, Eli Manning), become a total bust (top 15 ranked Josh Freeman and Matt Schaub), or have a season derailed by injury to himself or to key teammates (Rodgers, Ryan, Brady, Kaepernick, and RG3). Investing in a tried and true quarterback with an excellent track record of success and health makes sense, especially if there are no questions with regard to his teammates. Manning and Brees blew up in 2013 after slightly down performances related to injuries and coaching, Newton and Stafford turned in their second elite season in three years, Andrew Luck who backed up his top 10 season in 2012 with a top 7 season in 2013 despite major injuries and losses, and much hated Tony Romo who produced a top 3-12 finish for the sixth time in six years in which he was largely healthy. So fantasy owners, before speculating on third and fourth tier QB’s while loading up on running backs, consider locking up a traditional elite franchise QB you can count on, a Drew Brees, a Peyton Manning, a Matthew Stafford, a Tony Romo (I know, gag), and Aaron Rodgers who may have hurt you when he missed a third of the fantasy season this year, but gave owners top 2 fantasy performances at QB in five consecutive seasons from 2008-2012 despite losing Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, and Randall Cobb, and starting 4 different running backs during the same time period.
*With the new season in the books, take a look at the top finishers this year, and scout out values for next year. What players could come at a great discount in 2014 because of injury or consensus stupidity (like the Kaepernick sucks Meme that spread around the country in October and November when mediots and fantasy players ignored how the loss of his best three pass catchers to injury might have caused his problems: no Crabtree, no Vernon Davis (missed half of his starts early on), no Manningham)? This year in my keeper leagues I repeatedly set aside draft picks in the speculative rounds typically used on defenses and backup quarterbacks to speculate on 5th running backs, and injured players I would get a discount on in the 2014 draft. My priority targets included Percy Harvin (landed typically in the 8th-10th round, could be kept as a 6th-8th rounder in ’14, and if healthy, a likely consensus 3rd-4th round pick for ’14), Michael Crabtree (landed typically in the 11th-13th round, and likely to be drafted in the 5th-6th round in ’14), Jeremy Maclin, a consensus top 80 player I typically landed in the 13th-15th round, and would be expected to be drafted in the 6th-8th round in ’14, and lastly Jonathan Stewart, who I typically drafted and stashed as a 16th-18th rounder who could be kept in the 14th-16th rounds in ’14 despite being a consensus 7th-9th rounder. Now depending on league design, this strategy may or may not work for you, if it does, apply it, you can always use a roster spot to sit a talented player to boost your keeper team in the long run, getting a Harvin or Crabtree 4-7 rounds earlier than usual gives you tremendous flexibility on draft day and is something any owner should be looking to do.
*Additionally owners would be wise to target specific players who could be tremendously undervalued based upon situations, and/or lack of information on the part of players. In 2013 I had two different fantasy football players I knew a great deal more about than seemingly any owner or fantasy writer around, and properly valued them as a result in leagues where they were typically massively undervalued, these players were Alshon Jeffrey and Keenan Allen. Being a long time Redskins fan, I’ve spent many a fall in recent decades scouting college players that might be acquired by my team. When your favorite team sucks as badly as mine has for decades the draft is often one of the few means by which any hope is likely to reside, and as a result of this scouting I was particularly familiar with several wide receivers who’ve been recently drafted (the redskins have been weak at the WR position for years, and haven’t drafted and developed a franchise caliber WR since HOF Art Monk 33 years ago). I had my eyes on several prospects in recent years, and some of my favorites for value included Alshon Jeffrey (a top 5 overall prospect for the ’12 draft before he fatted up and disappointed in his final year at South Carolina), Keenan Allen (a 5 star, elite WR recruit who vanished into the abyss that was Jeff Tedford’s final seasons at Cal, then was injured in November, destroying his ability to show well at the combine/workout day, which resulted in the Charger plummeting from a top 12 overall ranking heading into the fall of ’12, to a mid-3rd round draftee status last spring), and Robert Woods (a top of the line chain moving pass catcher with deceptive speed who was a flat out stud playing beside Marquise Lee and with Matt Barkley at USC, but was drafted into the fantasy wasteland that is Buffalo). Lastly there was Cordarelle Patterson. Unlike Many owners, I recognized that Christian Ponder was a bust in waiting when he was a multi-round overdraft alongside waiver wire scrub Blaine Gabbert back in 2011, and as such, Patterson’s value was likely to be negligible in ’13 (I deliberately avoided all Vikings pass-catchers this summer due to the QB issue). However, I kept my eye on Patterson as a waiver wire target because I figured Ponder’s time in Minnesota was numbered and a switch at the QB position was distinctly possible and might elevate Patterson’s value. Other targets included Vincent Brown (a hyped and disappointing supposed #1 in San Diego for ’13, it can’t all go right), and Ryan Broyles (former top prospect who blew out his knee late in the ’11 season and struck me as a great value target playing in the pass happy Detroit offense, unfortunately Broyles never fully came back from that injury), and Michael Floyd, the Notre Dame sleeper WR that struck me as excellent value coming as he did with a new pass oriented scheme in Arizona, and playing alongside his best QB, and WR partnership ever (now that came through with flying colors as Floyd came on strong in the second half of the season, passing the 1,000 yard mark while falling just shy of the 70 receptions milestone).
Now we all know that my strategy of picking single defenses and keepers and loading up on speculative WR’s and RB’s late can truly pay off, and in 2013, I hit on Jeffrey (top 10, ADP of 12th round), Allen (top 13, undrafted free agent), and Woods (top 45 WR, undrafted free agent ADP). I picked up Cordarelle Patterson once Ponder went down in week 3, and while I had to wait six weeks for Patterson to finally get starting snaps, and quality quarterbacking, Patterson delivered in the final third of the season top 10 WR points per game, well worth the waiver wire ammo. At running back speculating could pay off as I showed, but I would be lying if I told you that I nailed the strategy in 2013. I managed to corner the market in Rams running backs who didn’t pay off acquiring Isaiah Pead, and Daryl Richardson on numerous teams and Zac Stacy on only one, I also missed out on Danny Woodhead’s extraordinary season, investing instead in Ryan Mathews, but I did manage to collect a few of the undrafted and late drafted running backs of value namely Donald Brown (a favorite of mine ever since the Colts used a first rounder on him several years ago), Pierre Thomas, my favorite undrafted pick up because of my lack of belief in Mark Ingram, and Andre Ellington (I was hot on the trail of the #2 running back in Arizona because of my lack of belief in the slug footed Mendenhall). All of these pick ups were key assets to teams that lost a starter, or drafted a bust, and I could also mention my acquisitions of Bilal Powell (I love to speculate on former high draft picks that are still on a roster after a few years and have no serious challengers to playing time), and Moreno, but in both cases those were largely luck, Powell was housed on many of my teams in ’12, but not in ’13, while Moreno was a waiver wire stash pick up made with a hefty supply of waiver bucks.
*Who are the best value targets for 2014? In terms of rookies, your best targets would be:
I’m not a huge fan of the rookies in ’14, only Marquise Lee strikes me as both a value, and a threat to produce huge #’s next fall, every other potential target strikes me as overvalued for now. Stay Tuned.
As for best veteran value targets for 2014 includes a few potential guys worth taking a look at:
Jake Locker: A former top baseball and football high school prospect, has an approach similar to Cam Newton, physical, great arm, great runner, like Newton he struggles with accuracy and lacks weapons.
Latavius Murray: Word is, he’s the only RB the Raiders will keep for ’14.
Knile Davis: Charles has gotten nicked and injured plenty over the years and Davis looked good in small samples.
Lamar Miller: The Dolphins moronically refused to utilize Miller with consistency throughout the season going to slug on wheels Daniel Thomas instead. The line is terrible, but he has talent.
Bernard Pierce: Rice fell apart, proving the 350+ touch overuse rule remains valid and Pierce didn’t deliver either. As such, like Miller he’ll be available on the cheap in 2014 and will be worth giving a long look with a later round pick.
Denard Robinson: The Jags finally started using him late, but Robinson wasn’t able to produce without fumbling. Jones-Drew will be leaving and there’s nothing else with difference making ability on the roster, consider Robinson if he gets touches in the preseason.
Andre Ellington: Arians refused to turn the running game over to Ellington despite his vastly superior numbers to Mendenhall, in ’14 he may finally make the change (keep an eye on Stepfan too).
Marcus Lattimore: The Niners have drafted and stashed Lattimore, a former top 3-5 overall pick candidate before back to back knee injuries derailed his college career. No rehab issues thus far, and he and Hunter look like worthwhile bets to replace Gore by ’15.
Tavon Austin – Top 60-75 pick in ’13, he’ll drop for the ’14 pick, with Bradford back and a year under his belt, Austin’s a good bet to deliver on ’13 expectations with reduced draft pick cost in ’14.
Brian Quick: Former top 40 overall pick, has never been able to land the starting gig in St. Louis, a late round flyer if he’s seeing a lot of snaps, he has more talent than any other Rams WR not named Austin.
Kenny Stills: Showed a great many flashes as a rookie with an intriguing 32-641-5 line, the problem is, are we looking at Robert Meachem 2.0, or a legit weapon? There’s no way of knowing and with the saints, he’ll be nothing more than a 5th option until changes are made at RB, and WR. Worth keeping an eye on.
Mike Williams: great possession WR with 950-8 line possibilities, after a season lost to injury, he could be had at a mild discount in ’14.
Cordarelle Patterson: Once elevated to a starters role he produced top 15 WR numbers. There’s no chance he goes that high in ’14, and as such he could be a value, especially if the Vikes give up on Ponder as their starter (as they should). Represents tremendous value in the 6th round or later, and may produce third round caliber #’s.
Leonard Hankerson: Three years down the line and he still hasn’t left his imprint on the game. He has size and some speed and a lock on the #2 WR position if the new coaching staff likes him. In a new system he could be a Mike Williams clone. Will cost very little on draft day (if anything).
Terrence Williams: showed a great many flashes playing for Miles Austin, and is well worth targeting on draft day if Austin leaves.
Justin Hunter: Caught 4 TD’s despite rarely seeing snaps as a rookie. Locker will be back in ’14, and the Titans have no WR’s worth a damn. Could be a real value pick late.
Da’Rick Rogers and Lavon Brazil: Heyward-Bey’s brief flirtation with a starting WR job disappeared in late September and with good reason. Rogers and Brazil played like dynamite in limited appearances in December. Will be fighting for the #3 and #4 jobs in ’14, but represent huge potential.
DeAndre Hopkins: showed explosiveness and tremendous potential early on before dunderheaded play, and overall inconsistency issues got him sent to the bench.
Markus Wheaton: Deeply impressed Steelers brass in mini and training camp, got dinged up early in the season, and never got a chance to give Emmanuel Sanders a run for his money as the #2. Expect Wheaton to break out within the next two seasons. If Sanders heads out in free agency, the job will likely be turned over to Wheaton.
Marvin Jones: A 50-700-10 line is incredibly impressive and it seems clear that the former Cal standout WR has taken over the #2 job in Cincy, a job that was deeply productive early on in Marvin Lewis’ regime and could be again. Jones should be available on a discount, and could produce #’s analogous to a healthy Mike Williams with a 2-4 round discounted cost.
Robert Woods: Had a decent rookie year that might have been even better if not for injury and disciplinary issues. Was a stud at USC and a legit red zone threat, if EJ Manuel can develop into something better than the Ponder dopplegangor he was at FSU (both QB’s didn’t have anywhere near the #’s to justify their draft day slotting selections), Woods could prove to be another Stevie Johnson.
Aaron Dobson: Took a great deal of time to learn the offense and overtake undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins, but when he did, he produced legit #2 WR numbers with Brady, posting a 18-287-3 line in four fully healthy starts in midseason. That projects to 72-1148-12 in a full season. Keep an eye on his health and status in the offseason.
Stephen Hill: A lost season after a semi-bright start for the former top draft pick. Word is he’s a knucklehead with issues. He’s also a burner with great size. He’s the only weapon in New York at WR capable of producing elite numbers with Geno Smith. He may never develop into that weapon, but he’s worth keeping an eye on.
Rob Housler: A lot of hype for Housler before the season, but very little production. Housler is a genuine talent that could break out given a great offseason. Keep an eye on him and consider invested your 2nd TE position in him late in the draft.
Tyler Eifert: Only Jermaine Gresham prevented Eifert from posting a 70-750-5 line. Once Gresham’s gone Eifert is a lock to be a top 10 TE with top 5 potential.
Dwayne Allen: Allen’s stock should be quietly up in the minds of savvy fantasy players. Coby Fleener had the entire season to himself running in the same offense he ran in Stanford but posted only 5 quality performances in 16 starts. He may grow from this experience, or perhaps Allen becomes a go to weapon after a largely superior rookie campaign. Keep appraised of his performance during the offseason, and notch him down as a sleeper worth considering.
Ladarius Green: An athletic freak and seemingly heir to the throne of Gates, Green is a huge talent who simply needs Gates to move on to turn into a potential top 5 TE threat. Don’t sleep on Green.
Jordan Reed: Posted top 3 TE numbers when healthy, then lost the second half of the season to concussion issues. Injuries and a concussion limited him to only 6 complete games. However in those 6 starts he posted a 39-430-3 line, in a full season that could project to 104-1136-8, granted that’s a best case scenario, but the talk that Jordan Reed is a Hernandez clone in terms of potential on the football field seems valid. If he can avoid following down the path of Jahvid Best before him (Reed has suffered 3 concussions in the last 4 years), he will be a top 5 TE in the decade to come.
[image via NFL.com]