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My 2013 Fantasy Football Lessons: How to Build for a Better 2014

By April 16, 2014No Comments

The 2013 season was a tumultuous one for me, as I’m sure it was for plenty of you. I play in a couple different leagues, but the one I take the most seriously (my league of record, per se) is a standard 10-team league with 9 of my closest friends (the one that Mr. Schreck won this past year).

Boring, I know, but when I do most of my research, this is the league that I have in mind. Therefore, I will be discussing my decisions and lessons-learned in this league throughout this article. I had a strange year this year. The first week of the season, I put up an inordinate amount of points, and I thought this would lead to a great season. Instead, I proceeded to have sub-par performances until about week 7, racking up several losses.

Despite this rough stretch, I managed to make a push at the playoffs and was eliminated in week 14 (we have a 4-team playoff format in weeks 15 and 16). I could wax poetic (or perhaps not so poetic) about the ups and downs of my season for hours, but I’ll spare you that experience. Instead, I’m going to expound on several major themes that I took away from the 2013 fantasy football season.

Trends From Last Year Do Not Always Apply To This Year

I’ll get this out of the way right now: I understand that past performance can be a valuable indicator of future performance. This is one of the basic tenants of fantasy football analysis, and it has plenty of merit. I am not arguing that. I am, however, arguing that a major theme from a specific year does not always carry over to the next year. Let me explain.

2011 was the year of the quarterback. Elite quarterbacks put up insane amounts of fantasy points, and, going into 2012, it was common for 4 to 5 quarterbacks to be taken within the first twenty picks of most standard drafts. For most of the owners who followed this early QB strategy, the season was not a fortuitous one. Of course there are exceptions, but generally, this was the case.

2012 was the re-emergence of the bell-cow running back, a guy who could carry both his real team and his fantasy teams to success. Going into 2013, it was widely assumed that, since great backs were scarce and you needed them to win, going RB-heavy in the early rounds was the only way to win.

It was common to see 9 or more running backs go in the first 10 picks, and completely unproven guys like David Wilson and Lamar Miller were going in the top 35 picks. Did going RB-heavy really lead to wins, though? I haven’t done thorough and quantifiable research into the matter, but unless you drafted guys like Jamaal Charles, LaSean McCoy, Matt Forte, or Marshawn Lynch in the first two rounds, I doubt it.

2013...I’m not sure what you would call 2013. I’ve heard some experts call it the year of the wide receiver, but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. More importantly, though, it doesn’t matter what you call it. Does the fact that running backs weren’t as productive this year mean they won’t be next year? Absolutely not. Does the fact that injuries among startable tight ends were more common this year mean they will be next year? Again, no.

Looking at just the previous year leads to major drafting mistakes among fantasy football players, and even experts fall into it this trap. You cannot look at the draft strategy that would have worked best last year and assume that it will still be the best draft strategy this year.

Fantasy football is about predicting the future, not figuring out what would have worked last year. Obviously, this is easier said than done, but it is something that many people, myself included, tend to forget. Don’t go all-in on this year’s hot, guaranteed-to-work draft strategy.  Instead, focus on time-proven principles and getting the most value of your draft.

Beware of Small Sample Sizes

Going into this year, I had Colin Kaepernick as my 5th ranked quarterback, behind the usual cast of Manning, Brees, Rodgers, and Brady. I didn’t believe in Cam to be consistent, and I liked Kaepernick’s upside. Most of the people in my league went with the “Wait on a QB” strategy, so when I saw Kaepernick still available in the 8th, I pulled the trigger.  He showed enough flashes of what we saw last year to keep me from completely dumping him, but he wasn’t the consistently elite fantasy QB that I thought he would be.

This is an example from my team, but there have been plenty of others as well. Remember Lamar Miller and David Wilson? How about Doug Martin, CJ Spiller, and Trent Richardson? All of these guys were drafted very highly with only a year (at the most) of serious production to show. I’m not saying that you should stay away from everyone who hasn’t shown more than a year of production, but just be weary. Know what you’re getting into, and try to have a back-up plan in place.

Stop Overvaluing RB/WR Depth

This is a big one for me. I’ve always been the guy who drafts 4 running backs within the first 7 rounds and has more running backs rostered than any other position. Don’t get me wrong, I still think having depth is a good thing, but there have been a few times this year when I took it too far.

As I mentioned above, I drafted Kaepernick. My strategy going into the draft was to draft a high-upside QB like Kap and take another quarterback (e.g. Andy Dalton, Jay Cutler, etc.) a couple rounds later. As the draft went on, I decided to forego the second quarterback in order to upgrade my RB/WR depth.

Did I really need DeJuan Harris, Golden Tate, or Greg Jennings? No, I didn’t play any of them even once (in my defense, Harris was put on IR less than a week after I drafted him), and I dropped them all within the first 4 weeks of the season. In retrospect, I should’ve stuck to my pre-draft guns, and snagged an insurance quarterback.

Before week 12, I picked up Chris Ogbonnaya. Now, at this point, he was one of the better, if not the best, waiver wire options at running back. That’s not the issue. The issue lies in who I already owned, and who I gave up to pick him up. I could’ve picked up Nick Foles with my waiver position, but I didn’t. Foles would’ve been a nice option to play, along with Kaepernick, based on matchup.

My other running backs at the time were Reggie Bush, Danny Woodhead, Ryan Mathews, Steven Jackson, Joique Bell, and Bobby Rainey. Was there a need at running back? No. At best, Ogbonnaya was a matchup play. In reality, he was a guy I picked up for one week, started, got 2 points out of, and dropped. Foles, on the other hand, put up an average of about 24 points-per-week in weeks 13 through 16.  Not my best move.

My idea, all along, with the running back depth had been to use it for heavy bye weeks and trade it away for a stud right before the deadline. When I tried to do this, though, I couldn’t even get close to market value for my depth. Why? No one needs depth after bye weeks, so everyone else was trying to do the same thing as me.

No one wants to get 3 middling players, 1-2 of whom will sit on their bench for the rest of the season, and give up a great player. So in the weeks leading up to the playoffs, I was left with 6 running backs, all of whom (besides Reggie Bush) had about the same potential for putting up points, to decide from. Making incorrect decisions is almost inevitable in that position. My quest for the always-elusive running back depth ended up leading me down the wrong road.

Always Try To Improve Your Team

This sounds obvious, but let me explain what I mean a little more. Do not be complacent with where your team is, even if you’re having success. If you think making a move will improve your chances to win, then make that move, even if it means “fixing what ain’t broke.” This is something I’ve had trouble coming to terms with in past years.

This year, however, I was constantly making trades, waiver pickups, and lineup changes in order to get better. Some of these moves didn’t work out, but others directly led to me having a shot at the playoffs at the end of the season. The bottom line is this: everyone else in your league is trying to improve his/her team. If you’re not, then they’re either closing the gap between your teams, or they’re overtaking you.

Do not take this piece of advice too far. If you don’t see any feasible ways to improve your team, then don’t make any moves. You should always have a well-thought-out reason for any move you make. However, if you think you can be better, don’t let your fear of screwing up get in your way. You manage a fantasy football team for a reason, so trust yourself to make the right decisions.

And There You Have It!

Those were the four biggest things I took away from my own personal experiences in fantasy football this year. In case you’re wondering, I finished the regular season 7-7 in this league, which puts me in 7th place. I was, however, in the playoff hunt until the very last week of the regular season.

Certainly not great, but when you consider that 3 of my top 5 picks were Steven Jackson, Julio Jones, and Gronkowski, you can see why it didn’t work out all that swimmingly. I understand being skeptical of taking advice from a guy who didn’t even make the playoffs of his own league, but the idea here is that I learned these lessons mostly through examining my failures this year and plan to implement them next year. Hopefully you keep them in mind as you begin your preparation for next year’s fantasy season!

Nick Walsh