On Monday, July 8, 2019, my stepson, David, turned 21.
And on Thursday, July 18, 2019, the Draft-Day Manifesto turned 21.
I’m taking both to Vegas. Shots all around!
As I sat down to write this, a day after we celebrated David’s birthday, I realized the coincidence of this column being the same age as my kid and, well, I started reflecting.
It’s been an interesting two decades and a year.
I’ve seen the U.S. women’s national team win three World Cups, I’ve seen 23 movies in Marvel Cinematic Universe and I survived Y2K. When I began writing this column in 1998, the Toronto Raptors had yet to make the playoffs and were averaging just 22.5 wins a season through their first four years of existence. I saw Tom Brady barely average 200 yards a game in his final season at Michigan and I’ve seen him win six Super Bowls since. I’ve seen email go from something you got very excited about when you heard “You’ve got mail!” to wondering if they will ever run out of Nigerian princes wanting to send me fortunes.
I’ve seen fantasy football become a viable way to make a living, I’ve seen it lead me from Los Angeles to Bristol and a job with ESPN, where I met and later married David’s mother. I’ve seen too many kids lacrosse, basketball and football games to count, I’ve seen braces and proms, I’ve seen girlfriends and breakups. I’ve seen family vacations, graduations and the birth of David’s twin sisters. And I’ve seen David take them to their first school dance at their request, and I’m amazed I’m still alive because my heart completely burst that night.
I’ve seen David start playing fantasy football, I’ve seen him graduate from high school, and I’m currently watching him live by himself in New York City as he works as an intern before his senior year in college.
He is growing up, he is changing, he has become a young man, and way too soon, he will be in the real world. It’s a proud and bittersweet adjustment for me, and one his mother and I are still in the process of making, with varying degrees of success.
And so it is with that longing for the past while embracing the future that we turn to my other 21-year-old, the Draft-Day Manifesto. As the Manifesto rips up its fake ID and proudly saunters into the casino, you’ll find some updated but classic thoughts and theory that longtime readers will find familiar. However, there is much that is new this year as well. It’ll include my overall thoughts on fantasy football strategy and theory, a basic foundation on which to build a championship-caliber team, and, as I was just remarking to the thousands of happy RotoPass.com subscribers who won their league last season thanks to our tools and rankings, there also will be some over-the-top, self-serving promotion.
There’s also a new format where I’ll give a guide for each round of a standard ESPN draft, lots of updated research and at least one new joke. (Editor’s note: That wasn’t it.)
So welcome, friends old and new, to the 21st edition of the heart-stopping, knowledge-dropping, ADP-rocking, booty-shaking, strategy-making, earth-quaking, sleeper-taking, Springsteen-stealing, justifying, death-defying, legendary DRAFT-DAY MANIFESTO.
Let’s start, as we always do, with the most important piece of fantasy football advice I can give.
At a fundamental level, fantasy football is entirely about minimizing risk and giving yourself the best odds to win on a weekly basis.
That’s it. That simple. From this article to the end of your season, every single thing you do needs to lead back to that very simple but rarely followed rule. Every draft pick, every waiver move, potential trade, start/sit decision and every other move.
I lead off with that every year because with wall-to-wall coverage of fantasy football these days (including this very long article), it’s easy to lose sight of it.
In July 2018, we had no idea that Chicago Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks would finish the year with more rushing yards than Le’Veon Bell. That Adrian Peterson, an unsigned free agent, would finish with 1,042 rushing yards, or just 12 fewer than Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette combined. That Patrick Mahomes, with just one game under his belt as a starter, would double the amount of touchdown passes thrown by Aaron Rodgers. That in Weeks 16 and 17, the championship weeks in ESPN standard leagues, no running back would have more fantasy points than C.J. Anderson, who had previously been cut by two NFL teams and was sitting on his couch a month prior. That Zay Jones would finish with more fantasy points than A.J. Green. That 5-foot-10 Tyler Lockett would finish 39th in receptions but fifth in touchdown catches. That perennial fantasy disappointments Eric Ebron and Jared Cook would both finish top five at the tight end position, each scoring over 60 points more than Rob Gronkowski.
I can’t predict the future.
Neither can you.
Neither can anyone else.
So all you can do is minimize risk, give yourself the best odds to succeed every week, make the best call you can in the moment and let the chips fall where they may.
If you take only one thing away from this article, make it that. I’m gonna repeat it once more, because it’s that’s important:
At a fundamental level, the key to fantasy football success is minimizing risk on a weekly basis to give yourself the best odds to win.
By the way, if you take only two things away from this article, make it that and that my Fantasy Life app is a free and incredible resource for super-quick fantasy football alerts and includes an amazing community of fantasy football fanatics who will give immediate feedback on your team, potential moves and so much more. (Hey, I already got the RotoPass.com plug in.) Seriously, the app is worth it just for the alerts. There’s a reason we are at 4.8 stars in the App Store. It’s 100% free, so what have you got to lose? Download it, and if you hate it, just delete it. Do it now. I’ll wait. I mean seriously, where the hell else do I have to be? We got 11,000 more words to go.
Anyway, back to football analysis and the challenges therein. As my good friend Joe Bryant of FootballGuys.com fame likes to say, it’s a game with an oblong ball made of leather. Weird stuff is going to happen.
Since you won’t know what is definitely going to happen, all we can do is try to predict what’s most likely to happen.
In the final four weeks of 2018, Derrick Henry averaged 6.7 yards per carry. In the prior 43 games of his career, he averaged 4.1 yards per carry. What’s most likely to happen?
Travis Kelce has caught at least 80 passes for 1,000 yards for three straight seasons. What’s most likely to happen?
In the past 15 years, only one rookie TE (Evan Engram) has finished as a top-10 player at the position, and that was a fluky year where Odell Beckham Jr. missed the majority of the season and Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard also missed a decent amount of time. So only once in 15 years. What’s most likely to happen with Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson this season?
Using a little research and some basic logic, you can take a moment to think about every player, situation and opportunity from every angle and make a call on what’s most likely to happen. Why could this guy succeed or why did he fail last season? Was it a fluke? Is it easily repeatable? What stands in the way of his success and what could propel him to that sweet, sweet fantasy goodness? Once you figure that out, it’s fairly easy to determine what is most likely to happen. It won’t always work out, of course, but like everything else in life, if you play the odds, it will work out more often than not.
This is a long article, but for those of you who look for the “TL;DR” in any post more than a paragraph, there are really two crucial things you need to understand when preparing for your draft or auction:
The first is that — one more time for the kids in the back — AT A FUNDAMENTAL LEVEL, THE KEY TO FANTASY FOOTBALL SUCCESS IS MINIMIZING RISK ON A WEEKLY BASIS TO GIVE YOURSELF THE BEST ODDS TO WIN.
Here’s the second:
It’s a weekly game.
Oh yeah. I’ve written about it since Beyonce was just one of the three girls in Destiny’s Child, and it’s the most obvious thing in the universe and yet … I hear very few people talk about it every year.
So allow me to hit you over the head with it:
WE DON’T PLAY A YEARLY GAME.
WE PLAY A WEEKLY GAME THAT HAPPENS TO TAKE PLACE OVER THE COURSE OF AN NFL SEASON.
Ultimately, “season-long” fantasy football is a string of 13 (and hopefully more) one-week contests. Analysts, writers and pundits (and I’m guilty of it too) all talk about how many touchdown passes or fantasy points or yards or targets or whatever someone had last season and how many are projected this year, but the truth is, there aren’t a lot of players who need to be in your lineup every single week.
Sure, it would be awesome if your team was filled with a bunch of guys like Saquon Barkley, but you’re gonna need guys like T.J. Yeldon, who last season was the 10th-best running back in fantasy in Weeks 5-8.
On draft day, you are putting together a squad that needs to do one thing: outscore one other (predetermined) team during one certain week. Knowing that there will be bye weeks, injuries and many other surprises during the course of the season, what’s the best collection of players you can put together on draft day to give you a foundation — key word there is foundation — to have the best shot at success every week?
To put it a slightly different way, you want the best group of players you can collect who will give you the most potential fantasy points in a given week, with an underlying tenet being that you DON’T have to start the same team every week and — thanks to bye weeks — can’t.
So how do we do that? VBD, Zero-RB, Zero-WR, QB early, wait on a QB, RB/RB, WR/WR, TE early, TE late, autodraft, just picking the highest guy available on whatever sheet you printed out when it’s your turn … honestly, I’ve seen them all work and I’ve seen them all crash and burn.
So there are many ways, but here’s how I go about it:
Before the draft
1. I watch, listen, read and research like crazy. And I always remember that everyone lies
Look, this article has a bunch of player targets by round coming up, but the majority of this article is about theory and strategy. And certainly everything else you read/see/hear this preseason will be about players and their values, both high and low. And just know that every single thing you’ll read isn’t actually a fact but rather an opinion disguised as a fact. Trust me. Or better yet, read my 100 facts you need to know before you draft. Often imitated, never duplicated, it’s the original and my absolute favorite article to write every preseason. If nothing else, the intro is helpful to understand how analysis is created.
2. I study the rules
It seems obvious, but I can’t tell you how many drafts I’ve been in where someone midway through says, “Wait, how many WRs do we start?” … or some such. Every difference matters. Study that thing like it’s the Zapruder film (finally a reference that’s older than 21!). How many roster spots do you have? Do you have an IR spot? If so, you can be a little more aggressive in going after talented but injury-prone players. Is it TE premium scoring? How many teams make the playoffs? When is the trade deadline (if there is one). And so forth.
3. I figure out where I am drafting
Am I drafting on ESPN.com (or the ESPN App), where more people draft than any other site in the world? Or am I drafting somewhere else because the commish is a stubborn lummox? The reason I ask, other than another plug for the No. 1 fantasy site in the world, is that average draft position is largely driven by the default rankings on whichever site you play.
So the ADP ranks (and the likely way your draft goes) on ESPN differ (sometimes significantly) in some ways from the ADPs in other places people play fantasy, because our default rankings are different from those of other places.
Find a rankings source you like, compare it with the ADP of the site you are drafting on and you will be able to find players who are going way too high or too low for your taste. That’s where you’ll find market inefficiency. (And it will be, once again, the driving force of this year’s preseason Love/Hate column.)
4. I mock draft like crazy
Once I know which site I’m drafting on and all the rules and settings (and hopefully what spot you’re drafting from), I do a ton of mock drafts. A good place to start is our Mock Draft Lobby, of course.
The more you draft, the more scenarios you try, the more prepared you will be, and the more familiar you’ll be with the draft room itself. Speaking of mock drafts, if you do join one, don’t leave. People who leave mock drafts early are, like, the sixth-worst people on earth. Also, if you join a mock draft, don’t impersonate me or someone else. I can’t tell you how many tweets I get that say, “I’m in a mock draft with you!” And it’s not me. It’s so weird — I don’t get why people do that.
Anyway, just know every time I do a mock draft (or any kind of league), I will always put it out on Twitter, so check there first.
During the draft
It’s a phrase I have used often, but it still holds true: You can’t win your league in the first round, but you can lose it.
In other words, this is NOT the place to get cute. You want safe, you want reliable, you want as close to guaranteed production as possible.
Like, after you get past the big four RBs, one guy I love as a first-rounder this year (but who is somehow going in the second round as of this writing) is David Johnson (ADP: 12.0, RB8; My Rank: RB5).
Look, fantasy success comes from two things: talent and opportunity. Any player going in the first round has talent and opportunity, but the volume for Johnson is likely to once again be insane. I mean, even in an awful year last season for a historically bad Cardinals offense where everything that could go wrong did go wrong, Johnson still somehow finished as the ninth-best running back in fantasy. And that’s because of his volume (last season, he handled an NFL-high 48.3% of his team’s touches). While the jury is still out on how many games Arizona will win this season, Kliff Kingsbury’s offense should be fantasy-friendly, especially for DJ. During Kingsbury’s tenure at Texas Tech (2013-18), his teams led the nation in offensive plays per game and were top-10 in terms of total RB receptions.
Meanwhile, somehow Le’Veon Bell, who missed 18 games in his first five seasons prior to sitting out all of last season and is on a new team with a coach who has been in charge of one of the slowest-paced offenses in the NFL the past few years, is currently going in the top five. Whether you’re buying that Le’Veon will work as a Jet or not, the point remains that you can’t tell me there isn’t tremendous risk there. The fact that he’s going fifth overall is nuts to me, and I have him as a second-rounder (and I’m not crazy about him even there).
If the past few years on ESPN are any indication, your first two picks will combine for around 30% of your weekly fantasy production. Thirty percent! That … that is a lot, kids.
And this year, in the early rounds, more often than not you want to go running back. It’s not that there aren’t talented wide receivers (or tight ends) out there, but it’s about the opportunity cost. Look at these charts, which show — from the past three years individually and then combined — the dropoff in total fantasy points from RB 1-10 to RB 11-20 (RB1 to RB2) versus the dropoff from WR 1-10 to WR 11-20 (WR1 to WR2). Also included for context is the dropoff from 11-20 to 21-30 at each position (RB2 to RB3 and WR2 to WR3).
Hold these charts for a second and let’s take it a step further. We are in the first two rounds here, so let’s talk the elite of the elite. Which positions hold the edge in terms of high-end production? Here is a chart detailing the dropoff from the top five at each position in total fantasy points to the rest of the top 10. I did this for last season and compared the results to the three years prior:
OK, you probably didn’t need this fancy table to tell you that elite TE production last season was bananas, but I made “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe build it and he’s all proud of it, so here you go. And we’ll talk about the three elite tight ends in a bit, don’t you worry.
What’s most interesting to me here is the spike in elite running back production and the leveling of the WR landscape. So yeah, don’t get cute inside the top four picks this season, and a strong argument (he said, hopefully) could be made that going running back just about anywhere in the first round is a fine move if you believe that player has the potential to finish inside the top five at the position.
Obviously, not all things in 2019 are going to be as they were in 2018, so I’m not suggesting these rates are locked in. I just want to use them to show that building around a star running back (or even two, depending on the flow of your draft) is the percentage play based on data gathered from the past four seasons (and especially last year). And as we’ve just learned, class … AT A FUNDAMENTAL LEVEL, THE KEY TO FANTASY FOOTBALL SUCCESS IS MINIMIZING RISK ON A WEEKLY BASIS TO GIVE YOURSELF THE BEST ODDS TO WIN.
Is drafting DeAndre Hopkins or Davante Adams in the first round going to sink your season? Of course not. They are both stars. But when you see guys like Julio Jones, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Odell Beckham Jr. going in the second, it’s hard to argue there’s a big dropoff from Round 1 to Round 2 at the wide receiver position. Running back, on the other hand … question marks crop up pretty quick (how much do YOU trust Dalvin Cook or Leonard Fournette?), and that’s before you decide if you believe in Todd Gurley II’s knees.
In most ESPN drafts this year, I’d expect roughly the same number of RBs and WRs to be off the board through two rounds and I’m much more likely to open my draft RB-WR or RB-RB than WR-RB. I will say I don’t want to leave my first three rounds without at least one wide receiver, however.
Example Round 2 draft targets
Among players currently going in Round 2, there are two players I love:
Joe Mixon (ADP: 19.8, RB10; My Rank: RB8): Again, it’s because of volume. In his second NFL season, Mixon became a true bell cow back. He averaged 20 touches per game and was top-five in terms of percentage of his team’s carries and rushing yards. Now with Zac Taylor at the helm, if Andy Dalton and A.J. Green can remain healthy, the Bengals offense should be far more explosive in 2019.
Odell Beckham Jr. (ADP: 15.5, WR5; My Rank: WR4): If you want a WR, he has a legit shot to be the top fantasy wideout this season. I love the move to Cleveland for OBJ, mainly because of the QB upgrade. Once Freddie Kitchens took over this offense in Week 9 last season, Baker Mayfield led the league in deep completions per game and was second in deep attempts. That’s obviously going to help Beckham, who excels on deep passes. Consider that Beckham has scored 25-plus fantasy points in more than 30% of his career games thus far, and that was with Eli Manning as his QB. Just imagine what he’s going to do with Mayfield throwing him the ball.
Example Round 3 target: Mike Evans (ADP: 24.7, WR10; My Rank: WR10)
An example of how deep WR is, you can get borderline top-10 talent like Evans, Amari Cooper, T.Y. Hilton and Julian Edelman in this round. They aren’t as good as the elite guys, but they’re much closer in safety and guaranteed production to the truly elite WR than the “could be great, but could also be injured” types. Again, guys like Cook and Fournette are going in this round. This is where you start to see flaws in some of the running backs, but WR is still at a stud level. This is also the round Zach Ertz and George Kittle are going in, and I like both players a lot, but I’m most likely waiting on tight end this year. We’ll discuss tight end in the Rounds 7-9 section.
Last thing before we move on to Rounds 4-6, and that’s the importance of player evaluation, which is ultimately what a draft is about: looking at a list of players and quickly evaluating which players are better for your team than others.
I evaluate players using many factors, but you don’t have to because, let’s face it, you have a life.
But I’d like you to focus on just two things when thinking about players, and the first one is vital in the first two rounds:
Range of outcomes: yearly
As you prepare for your draft or auction, you need to have an opinion on every player. You don’t need to have stats or projections memorized but just a general sense of how much you like that guy in comparison to other players. Even if it’s just someone’s rankings that you trust, some way to differentiate between players as the clock ticks down on your pick.
Every player I roster has to have a range of outcomes that makes them one of two things:
1. A player with a high floor during the course of a season.
2. A player who could wind up as an elite option at a position in any given week.
And in the first two rounds, I want players who qualify for No. 1. To put it another way, last season, Adams scored at least 16 fantasy points in all 15 games he played and never went consecutive weeks without finding the end zone. He is also the only player in the NFL with double-digit TD receptions in each of the past three seasons. Now, the Packers have a new offensive system and a new head coach, and there’s a lot of emerging young wideouts who could potentially eat into his target share, but come on. All of it is unlikely to greatly affect him. And even if, somehow, there were a slight downturn in production, I wouldn’t care. I would still have Adams as my No. 1 wide receiver because his range of outcomes is small.
Barring some catastrophic injury, Adams will finish as one of the top WRs in fantasy. He has a narrow range of outcomes and it’s at an elite level. Meanwhile, someone like Sammy Watkins (currently going as WR24) has a much wider range of outcomes. He could be awesome, he could be unplayable.
You see, too often people evaluate a player only in terms of what he could do in a positive manner, the best-case scenario for that player. People also tend to have recency bias, meaning they think only about how the player performed in the recent past, not looking at a larger body of work.
Last season (including the postseason), Watkins played in seven games in which he saw more than five targets. In those games, he put up an impressive 39 catches for 590 yards and three TDs. In the remaining 11 games the Chiefs played, Watkins did not play in six of them and totaled just 11 catches for 105 yards in the other five. It’s clear that there is a much wider range of outcomes for Watkins than, say Kenny Golladay, who is currently three spots ahead of Watkins at WR and managed at least 50 yards receiving in 11 of his 15 games last season.
As much as possible, especially in the early rounds, I want players with a high floor. And not just a high floor for the season but a weekly high floor. That consistency, week in and week out, is what wins championships, like Saquon Barkley or Davante Adams helped many fantasy managers do last year.
Speaking of high floors, let’s talk quickly about the Big Three at tight end: Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and George Kittle.
They are immensely talented players and they are my top three tight ends as well.
And here’s the argument for taking them here:
Last season, the Big Three TEs averaged 277.9 points (17.4 PPG). The next three tight ends averaged 192.9 points (12.1 PPG). In other words, a Big Three TE gave you 44% more points on a weekly basis than TE4-6.
Do you understand how massive an advantage that is? We were all drooling over Patrick Mahomes last season (including me — I was so all-in last year I was worried he’d issue a restraining order), but as magical as last season was, he was “only” 39.3% more valuable on a weekly basis than Russell Wilson (QB9).
The Big Three provided a greater edge over the next three best TEs than Mahomes did to a fringe starter at QB.
So that’s the argument if you want to take one of these tight ends here: that you think they will provide a significantly higher return than any other tight end.
But here’s my concern:
What they did last season wasn’t just awesome, it was HISTORIC.
Over the past five NFL seasons, here are the top four fantasy TE seasons:
Travis Kelce (2018): 294.6 points
Zach Ertz (2018): 280.3 points
Rob Gronkowski (2014): 266.4 points
George Kittle (2018): 258.7 points
Like, what? We had two guys last year who were better than the last time we saw elite Gronk? And you’re drafting as if that will continue?
Let’s look at this from another angle:
In 2018, the Big Three TEs averaged 67% more PPG than TE4-10 (in theory, the other “starters” in a 10-team ESPN league).
In the five years prior, the average decline in PPG production from the top three TEs to the next seven was just 30.1%.
You heard me: The increase in production that the top three TEs gave you in 2018 over the other TE starters was more than double the edge the top three at the position gave you in the previous five seasons.
Remember, kids, we’re playing the game of “what’s most likely to happen.”
So I ask you, gentle reader. What’s most likely to happen this year?
Before you answer, let me try one more way. Let’s take out the names and just go by the top three players, regardless of name, at the tight end position in fantasy.
• In 2018, the top three TEs in fantasy (the Big Three) scored 833.6 points.
• In 2017, the top three TEs in fantasy scored 663.3 points.
• In 2016, the top three TEs in fantasy scored 639.3 points.
So … I ask you again: What’s most likely to happen with the Big Three TEs this year?
Don’t get me wrong. They are awesome, they are my top three tight ends, and if you play in a league with TE premium scoring (usually 1.5 PPR for TEs), I most certainly get it and support it.
But in an ESPN standard PPR league, I’m unlikely to grab one of these tight ends at their current ADP.
Also, Mahomes goes in this range. I’ll get to QBs overall in a later section, but specifically about Mahomes, my 100 Facts has a bunch of stats showing that even if he regresses, Mahomes is still worth drafting as the No. 1 QB. So yeah, if you want him, I get it. He’s magic and fun as hell to watch and root for. And maybe, just like last season, he shatters all perceptions and has another amazing year. I have him in some dynasty leagues and absolutely love him.
I’m a wait-on-QB guy in ESPN standard leagues.
This probably won’t even matter, because you are either drinking the Kool-Aid on Mahomes or you’re not, and no logic or reason will sway you from whichever position you have. But if you decide not to draft Mahomes, consider this:
Player A: ADP of 41.6 with a 19.3 PPG average
Player B: ADP of 80.4 with a 19.6 PPG average
No one in their right mind is taking Player A, can we agree on that? Well, those are the averages for QBs 1-5 in terms of ADP last season (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson), while Player B represents QBs 6-10 (Carson Wentz, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger and Kirk Cousins).
Of course, this season could be different, but the fact that the depth of the position makes a stat like that even remotely possible means you’re better off waiting, provided you don’t think Mahomes is going to throw for another 50-some-odd scores again.
In short (too late!), while every draft is different and you have to let the draft come to you, in most cases I want to leave this section with at least one RB, one WR and a third player that is either RB or WR. And more likely than not, it’s an RB.
So at this point in the draft, your roster most likely looks like one of these two versions (in no particular order):
Now, maybe you have one of the top tight ends or maybe you grabbed Mahomes, so sure, some of you will be sitting with a roster like one of these:
Whatever the construction, the point is simply this: These next three rounds are about grabbing more running backs and wide receivers.
Whether you have a Big Three tight end or not, the next tight end isn’t going until the sixth- or seventh-round range (Evan Engram, O.J. Howard and Hunter Henry are the next three currently going off the board), so either way you’re not really looking at a tight end in this section.
And whether or not you have Mahomes, the only QBs going in this range are Watson, Rodgers and Luck. Again, I’m a wait-on-QBs guy and we will get into that in the next section, but even if you decided to take the plunge on one of those guys, it’s still just one player, and the other picks in this section are going to be RBs and WRs.
In general, over the past three years on ESPN, the average difference between players picked in Rounds 4, 5 and 6 is less than 1.5 points per game. So with the production likely to be similar, if you like a player in this range, go get him.
Look alive, Chester, this is important.
A point and a half. Do you understand what I’m talking about?
So much of draft talk is about “value” and what’s a “reach,” and while that is true in some areas (most prominently in the first few rounds), we’ve studied this, and there are always going to be Patrick Mahomes- or James Conner-type anomalies that skew things. But in general, in the past three years, the difference between players picked in Rounds 4, 5 and 6, on a points-per-game basis … is a POINT AND A HALF.
Get who you want, when you want in this section and focus on running backs and wide receivers.
The rest of the stuff I do this entire preseason, in columns, on The Fantasy Show on ESPN+, on the Fantasy Football Marathon (Aug. 12 and 13) and on the Fantasy Focus Football podcast will be about player analysis, which players you should look at, which you should avoid and in which rounds to do both of those things.
But here are a few hints as to what to look for:
1. Players on good teams
How many times have you heard “I want quarterback X because his team stinks and will be playing from behind.” Or “running back Y is going to benefit from his team consistently being ahead.”
We hear them all the time. Are they true?
Below is a breakdown of the percentage of players who finished in the top 10 at their position in fantasy points since 2014 while playing for an NFL team that finished with a winning record that season.
QB — 74%
RB — 64%
WR — 68%
TE — 56%
K — 76%
D/ST — 84%
In other words, 74% of the top 10 fantasy QBs since 2014 have come from teams that were better than .500 in the NFL. Are there some junk-time heroes like the Tampa Bay quarterbacks last season? Of course. But overall, if the NFL team is winning, its players are fantasy assets.
By the way, all establish-the-run jokes aside, I found the recent spike in correlation between winning teams and running back points interesting. I’ll let someone else argue if teams are winning because they run the ball or they are running the ball because they’re winning. But for our purposes, it’s interesting to note that in 2015, the top five NFL teams in terms of RB fantasy points combined for just 37 wins. In 2016, that number rose to 44, and it was up to 54 in 2017. Last season, the top teams in RB fantasy scoring won 61 games!
All in all, the top five teams in terms of fantasy points for RBs over the past five seasons are averaging a tick under 10 wins per season.
Our friends at Caesars Palace have seven teams currently projected for 10 or more wins (Patriots, Chiefs, Colts, Eagles, Rams, Saints and Chargers).
2. When looking at running backs, go for the guys who also catch passes
So I’ll spare you the math behind it, but we looked at what RB2s on fantasy playoff teams did last year, and it was 14.4 points per game in PPR scoring. So for our purposes here, let’s just say you want a RB2 who ideally scores at least 14.4 points per game, and we’ll give a range up to 18 points for some higher-scoring weeks. In 2018, 60.7% of such performances saw the running back score at least five points as a pass-catcher.
Those are just some numbers to tell you what you know instinctively: that versatile backs have more ways to score points, especially in a PPR format.
3. When looking at wide receivers, chase volume, not scoring
Touchdowns are great. They are also, generally speaking, unpredictable. But it stands to reason that the more looks you get, the better your chances are at scoring fantasy points one way or another. So looking at average weekly production from WR2s on playoff ESPN teams, it’s about 16.6 points per game from that position. So if we once again expand up to 18 points to account for higher-scoring weeks, we find that 62% of all such performances saw the wideout get at least seven targets.
4. When in doubt at running back, go young
In 2015, seven of the top 15 RBs (total PPR points) were 26 or younger. In 2016, that number jumped to 11. It rose again to 13 in 2017, and then last season, every single top-15 RB was in his age-26 season or younger. If you buy into the age trends, this would put James White and David Johnson in a tough spot this season, as they are the only two backs from this group graduating from this age range. Obviously I’m ignoring the age thing on Johnson. Remember, he basically lost a full season with the wrist injury (so no mileage on the legs).
Example Round 4 target: Damien Williams (ADP: 45.0, RB18; My Rank: RB9): This ADP is insane to me. I get the small sample size concern and I still expect Williams’ ADP to rise substantially as we get closer to draft season, but come on. I would be doing backflips to get him in the fifth. He’s a legit third-rounder. Last season, in the six games in which Williams got 10-plus touches (including the playoffs), he averaged 24.4 fantasy PPG. It doesn’t matter that Williams might not be an elite talent, because his role and opportunity are as good as it gets. Last season, Kansas City RBs were top-five in both red zone targets and red zone rushing TDs. And since Andy Reid took over as head coach in 2013, the Chiefs lead the league in RB receiving TDs and are top-five in both rushing TDs and YPC. And because of his limited usage in Miami, I am choosing to ignore the 26-year-old RB rule for him as well (he’s 27).
Other targets in this area: Devonta Freeman, Josh Jacobs, Brandin Cooks and Marlon Mack.
Example Round 5 targets
Aaron Jones (ADP: 45.2, RB19; My Rank: RB15): Free Aaron Jones! Look, not including Mike McCarthy, we all know how good Jones is when given the opportunity. Last season, he gained 5-plus yards on more than 42% of his carries, the second-highest rate among qualified RBs. And in the eight games in which he saw 10-plus carries, he averaged 19.1 fantasy PPG. We’ve heard the Packers’ RB coach already praise Jones’ fitness and conditioning during OTAs, and Matt LaFleur has stated he wants his RBs more involved in the passing game this season. I fully expect Jones to set a new career high in touches, and if that happens, you’re getting a top-15 RB at a fourth-round price.
My little Cooper Kupp (ADP: 53.3, WR19; My Rank: WR20): There’s obviously a little bit of risk here with Kupp coming off a torn ACL, but I actually think that’s baked into the ADP already. If you remove the game in which Kupp was injured, he would have been WR11 on a PPG basis last season. Kupp was also fifth among all qualified WRs in yards per target (10.9). He’s an ideal option to pair with a high-upside WR1 at this point in the draft.
Other Round 5 targets: Robert Woods and Kerryon Johnson.
Example Round 6 target: Chris Godwin (ADP: 66.5, WR23; My Rank: WR21):
As required by fantasy analyst law, I am high on Godwin this year. (I’m actually very high — once again — on the Tampa Bay offense.) Godwin has flashed plenty of talent in his first two seasons in the league, and now he will finally have a consistent every-week role. Consider that Godwin still finished as a top-30 WR in 2018 despite being outside the top 50 in routes run at the position. Now the departures of DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries have freed up 177 targets, and new coach Bruce Arians has already come out and said he wants to use Godwin in the Larry Fitzgerald role in his offense. I’m buying, and Godwin’s ADP is going to be much higher in next year’s drafts.
At this point in the draft, you should have the core of your starting lineup. Through the first six rounds, you’ve likely got at least two starting running backs, two starting wide receivers and one flex. And for me, I’ll likely not only have a flex but a strong bench player as well.
That means this section is about adding depth and finally looking at the tight end and quarterback positions (assuming you’ve ignored one or both to this point). This is where at least half your league will start focusing on QBs, and everyone who didn’t draft Kelce, Ertz and Kittle will start looking to fill the tight end spot.
So let’s discuss quarterback here for a second. We discussed it some in the Rounds 1-3 section, where Mahomes was going. But let’s take Mahomes out of it, as his season was literally historic, and speaking of history, that means it’s unlikely to repeat. (Remember … what’s MOST likely to happen?)
Last year, the difference between QB3 (Ben Roethlisberger) and QB11 (Mitchell Trubisky, a non-starter in ESPN leagues) on a per-game basis in Weeks 1-17 (ESPN standard season) … was less than 2.6 points a week.
I’m not saying a little over two and a half points a week isn’t something. But it isn’t when you’re passing on an elite option at another position to grab a QB early. Because even if you screw up which QB you take in the draft, the talent pool will be so big, with quality QBs in your free-agent pool (in an ESPN standard league of 10 teams, starting one QB), you’ll be able to grab someone to start and still get quality production.
Even last season, with Mahomes setting all sorts of records, there were 11 times when a QB scored 36 points or more in a game, and 10 different QBs appeared on that list (the only duplicate was Trubisky).
Last season, quarterbacks on playoff teams in ESPN leagues averaged about 21 points per game. Fifteen QBs reached the 21-point threshold at least five times in 2018, including Marcus Mariota. And with increased playing time this year for Baker Mayfield and Jameis Winston (plus the addition of Kyler Murray to the player pool), this number should only get better.
Again, remember, we play a WEEKLY GAME. There are 32 starting QBs in a given non-bye week. Only 10 of them can start in an ESPN standard-sized league. There will always be viable starting options on your waiver wire. That’s not the case at RB or WR. Or, frankly, TE.
I don’t like paying a premium for the elite TEs as we discussed above, but you’re gonna need one, and this is where the usable ones start going. I’d prefer to grab one in this range rather than truly wait it out. Sure, there’s always a chance there’s another Jared Cook or Eric Ebron type waiting out there this year. (Or even George Kittle. Remember, Kittle was drafted as TE18 last year. I mean, someone had him as TE11 and on the “Love” list last year, ahem.) But while I have high hopes for Oakland’s Darren Waller, and certainly Baltimore’s Mark Andrews has his share of fans, I’d like to get at least one tight end who will be an important part of his team’s offense.
Finally, the seventh round is where the Bears D/ST is being drafted. Come on, people. What are we even doing here?
Look, I know. The Bears were great LAST season. Awesome. Amazeballs. All that and a bag of beef jerky. Seriously, they were the $#%^.
And this year, that means … nothing.
From 2013 to 2017, the difference between D/ST1 and D/ST2 was basically a point a game (1.1, to be exact). The 2018 Bears were an outlier. Based on past track record, even if we KNEW they’d repeat as D/ST1, is the extra point over D/ST2 or the few points over a late-round D/ST worth their current seventh-round ADP?
I say no way. I mean, among the players going after the Bears D/ST at the time of this writing are Chris Godwin, DJ Moore, Hunter Henry, David Montgomery, Kenyan Drake, Tyler Boyd and Baker Mayfield.
And that’s IF we knew the Bears would repeat as the top fantasy defense.
And we don’t. We have no idea if they will repeat. The only thing we do know is that we have not had a No. 1 D/ST repeat as the top unit the following year THIS MILLENNIUM.
Remember last year, when the Jaguars were the rock-solid, can’t-miss D/ST you had to have and were being picked in the seventh round?
Well, they finished as D/ST10.
If you want to reach a round or two for a defense you love, I wouldn’t do it, but fine. Knock yourself out. But in a 10-team standard league, it just makes no sense to reach for one anywhere in this section.
Example Round 7 target: O.J. Howard (ADP: 65.4, TE5; My Rank: TE6):
Like Godwin, Howard is a player who should benefit greatly from a more consolidated target tree in Tampa Bay this season. In fact, Howard was already starting to show flashes of a breakout last season prior to getting hurt. He finished as a top-10 TE in seven of 10 weeks, the third-highest rate at the position, behind only Kelce and Ertz. Howard also finished 2018 top-10 among TEs in both air yards per target and reception percentage, making him a great fit for Bruce Arians’ downfield passing attack.
Example Round 8 target: Mike Williams (ADP: 82.9, WR30; My Rank: WR29):
As discussed, this is the area where you start looking at players with upside who have the opportunity to step into larger roles. Williams is at the top of that list. Last season, he became just the second WR in the past decade to score double-digit TDs on fewer than 45 receptions. Now, I obviously don’t expect Williams to score on 23% of his catches like he did last season, but you have to believe he’s going to see a lot more than 66 targets in 2019. He already has a defined red zone role, and with the added volume he should see following the departure of Tyrell Williams, it’s easy to see the former high-first-round pick making the jump into the WR2 range.
Other Round 8 targets: Derrius Guice, Tevin Coleman and Robby Anderson.
Example Round 9 target: Carson Wentz (ADP: 95.9, QB9; My Rank: QB8):
Being able to grab Wentz in the ninth round is exactly why you wait on QB. It’s easy to forget because of the injuries, but since the start of 2017, Wentz is the fifth-best QB in fantasy on a points-per-game basis. I’m not crazy about DeSean Jackson from a fantasy perspective (except in best-ball leagues), but I do love him for Wentz’s value. Over the past two seasons, Wentz ranks top-five in deep TD passes per game and top-10 in deep TD percentage. I hear you on the injury concerns, but if the Eagles are willing to commit $128 million to him, I’m pretty sure you can swing a ninth-round pick for him.
Other Round 9 targets: Dede Westbrook and Will Fuller V.
At this point in the draft you should have your “offensive” starting lineup (save for maybe a QB if you’re really waiting, which I am fine with, or a TE if you decided to punt the position). For the most part, this is sleeper territory. Dart throws. Fliers. #YOLO.
With that in mind, the thing I want you to consider for this section is what I brought up in the Rounds 1-3 section:
Every player I roster has to have a range of outcomes that makes them one of two things:
1. A player with a high floor during the course of a season.
2. A player who could wind up as an elite option at a position in any given week.
In that Rounds 1-3 section, we discussed the first point and the range of outcomes over the course of the season. For this part of the draft, I want to talk about the other thing to focus on when thinking about players:
Range of outcomes in any given week.
The idea here is that certain players, given their talent and the right opportunity, have a range that could easily extend very high in a given week.
In other words, if you are not drafting a starter with a reasonably narrow range of a yearly outcome, then the bench (which is basically what you are drafting in this area, aside from maybe a QB and/or TE) should be players with the potential for a very high weekly ceiling.
Again, very important to keep stressing this: It is a weekly game. This means that every single week you will look at all the players available to you — on your roster and in the free-agent pool — and decide on a starting lineup.
As obvious as it seems, that’s actually a huge step that gets overlooked a lot in fantasy. Because it’s not just enough to have a good player — you need to know when to start that player.
I mean, as great as Derrick Henry’s 238-yard, four-touchdown performance was in Week 14 last season, very few people got to enjoy that. A fairly pedestrian fantasy year for Henry had preceded that game, and the Jaguars were still considered a good defense.
I actually have a friend who is in a deep league and had Henry on his bench initially, but then Keke Coutee was questionable for the week and not looking great. So he was, reluctantly, forced to start Henry in Week 14 at his flex in a 16-team league. Without Henry’s big game, he would have lost the game. Instead, he ended up winning the league. Amazing.
But most people didn’t get to enjoy Henry’s monster game, as he was started in less than 20% of ESPN leagues that week. So the key is not just having huge single-game potential but knowing WHEN to start a player to get that big game when it happens.
For example, you’ll see below that my Round 10 and 11 targets are Latavius Murray and Rashaad Penny. Both are talented running backs who should get some work every week in productive offenses that run the ball well. But to me, what makes them so appealing is that if anything happened to Alvin Kamara or Chris Carson, respectively, each would immediately be a top-15 RB that week, if not higher, and be a must-start back.
You would KNOW to start them.
It’s like we said at the top … it’s a weekly game, and while it would be great if you could just start the same group every week and not worry about it, there are very few players who are worth starting every week without pause.
So you’re gonna need guys like, yes, Murray, who last year with Minnesota was the 10th-best running back in fantasy in Weeks 6-10, slightly outscoring Ezekiel Elliott on a points-per-game basis.
Look at our live draft results. As of this writing, Dante Pettis and Golden Tate are going as WR37 and 38, respectively, both being drafted in the 11th round.
Pettis came on at the end of last season as a rookie with a backup QB and in Week 13-16 was the 13th-best WR in fantasy, scoring 62 points in PPR scoring. For comparison, in that same time frame, Keenan Allen scored 66.4, Julio Jones scored 67.4 and Michael Thomas had 69.6. All less than two points per game better than Pettis. It’s a small sample size, it was NOT with Jimmy Garrappolo, and the Niners have (in theory) added a lot more weapons this year, including Tevin Coleman out of the backfield and talented rookie wideout Deebo Samuel. So there’s a lot that could go wrong here — Pettis might not come anywhere close to that production.
But he COULD.
Pettis is a talented young guy who produced in a difficult situation. And now he will have another year in Kyle Shanahan’s complicated but fantasy-friendly offense and, in theory, improved QB play. (Side note: We will see, but based on what we’ve seen so far, I’m not convinced Jimmy G is that much better than Nick Mullens. That’s more of a compliment to Mullens than a shot at Jimmy G, by the way. I digress.)
Pettis has shown top-15 talent. Gimme a guy like that all day over someone like Tate, who is now on his third team in a calendar year, will be playing with a QB in Eli Manning (and possibly rookie Daniel Jones at some point) that is significantly worse than Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford or Carson Wentz/Nick Foles. He has never been a huge touchdown guy, as his fantasy value has relied on volume, and it’s hard to see him getting significant volume on a team with Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard. I’m sure he’ll be fine, but man, gimme the upside of a guy like Pettis, Geronimo Allison, Michael Gallup or Courtland Sutton — all of whom are going off the board after Tate — all day, every day. If you ever need a solid guy like Tate who can just give you 8-10 points in a week, guys like that are always available on the waiver wire.
In the world of “what’s most likely to happen,” when I am drafting in this area, I want guys with high weekly ranges. Guys who could, in the right set of circumstances, be top-15 guys. This can also include the backups to your first-round picks, who, should something happen to your star, would fill in nicely. I am pro-handcuff, especially if it’s a situation in which you know who the replacement would be. So yeah, if I draft Todd Gurley, I am making sure I have both Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown.
What I don’t want is no-upside guys like Tate, who will end the season with a few good games, but you’ll never know when they are coming. His range of weekly outcomes is not high.
I am of the belief there is no such thing as a bad pick after Round 10 in a 10-team redraft league. What are we playing for here, fourth place? Swing for the fences. YOLO, baby.
And if you strike out on draft day with those fliers, so be it. Draft day is just one piece of the puzzle. Consider this:
I had the crack team here at ESPN HQ study the millions of people who play with us on ESPN.com — more than any place else! For free! With an amazing app that is also free! And controls all of your leagues and teams in any ESPN fantasy sport! And has rankings, articles, videos and more! And you can mock draft from it at any time! Except when you’re driving. That would be bad. Don’t mock and drive, kids. But yeah, want to start a new league? Activate an old one? Honestly, our ESPN Fantasy App is badass and can do everything, including, I am pretty sure, cure the common cold. It’s also 100 percent free! — look at all the most common players on teams that won it all in 2018.
NOTE: ND in the chart below denotes not drafted.
Most common players on 2018 ESPN Fantasy champions
Look at this list. Undrafted guys like Phillip Lindsay, Jaylen Samuels and Eric Ebron, as well as Nick Chubb — who was drafted but then dropped in most leagues — were crucial parts of ESPN championship teams last year. So were later-round picks like George Kittle, Julian Edelman, Robert Woods and, of course, Patrick Mahomes. All the more reason to pay close attention to this section.
So just remember: In this portion of the draft, you want players with a potential high weekly range of outcomes.
Example Round 10 target: Latavius Murray (ADP: 108.5, RB36; My Rank: RB34)
As discussed, a player like Murray is a great target in this area because he’s productive enough to use as a flex if needed, yet he also has the upside to be an every-week starter if Alvin Kamara were to get injured. Remember, the Saints have led the NFL in rushing TDs in each of the past two seasons, and in 2018 they were top-five in both overall and red zone rush percentage. By the way, very quietly, Murray has been one of the best goal-line RBs in football the past few years. Last season, Mark Ingram averaged 13.3 touches per game and was 12th among qualified RBs in red zone carries per game. If Murray sees a comparable workload, he’s going to be a great value outside the top 100 picks.
Other Round 10 targets: Vance McDonald, Jordan Howard, Darrell Henderson, Christian Kirk and, of course, Pettis.
Example Round 11 target: Rashaad Penny (ADP: 112.2, RB38; My Rank: RB35)
Similar to Murray, Penny could be flex-worthy even if he’s the backup, but he would instantly become a top-15 RB if Chris Carson were to miss any time. Seattle ran the ball on a league-high 49.5% of its plays last season and the departure of Mike Davis frees up 146 backfield touches (9.7 per game). And just for fun, if you combined the fantasy production of Davis and Penny last season, that player would have finished as RB14.
Other Round 11 targets: Kyler Murray and Austin Ekeler.
Example Round 12 target: Geronimo Allison (ADP: 140.5, WR48; My Rank: WR31)
In three of Aaron Rodgers’ past five healthy seasons, his WR2 has finished as a top-20 WR, so we know the role has a lot of value. The hard part is trying to predict which player is going to have that role when the season begins. But honestly, at this point in the draft the reward of guessing correctly far outweighs the risk of being wrong. Last season, Allison was a top-30 WR for the first four weeks of the season prior to being injured. He had at least 64 yards in all four of those games and at least five catches in three of them. The reports on him coming out of OTAs were positive, and I’m more than willing to take a 12th-round flier on the player I think has a real shot to be Green Bay’s second-most-productive WR this season.
Other Round 12 target: Courtland Sutton.
Example Round 13 targets
Donte Moncrief (ADP: 141.6, WR49; My Rank: WR42): Just like in Green Bay, we can expect the No. 2 WR role in Pittsburgh to hold plenty of fantasy value. Moncrief is still just 26, and we saw flashes of his upside when he scored seven TDs in just nine games with the Colts back in 2016. For his career, Moncrief has scored on nearly 60% of his red zone receptions and I expect him to have a featured role in that area of the field for the Steelers this season. Remember, over the past two seasons, Antonio Brown and Jesse James were responsible for more than one-third of Pittsburgh’s red zone receiving TDs, so the opportunity is certainly there, as more than 200 targets are now available for the Steelers. That’s also one of the reasons I am super high on Vance McDonald this year.
Jameis Winston (ADP: 160.4, QB19; My Rank: QB14): I would not be the least bit surprised if Winston finished the season as a top-10 QB. So being able to grab him this late as my starter, or even as your backup if you have a shaky starter, is Example 8,000,000,003 why you wait on a QB in 10-team leagues. Since the start of 2017, Winston has thrown for at least 300 yards in half of his starts. And had he qualified last season, he would have led the league in both deep completions and deep attempts per game. Oh, and now he gets to play under Bruce Arians. Winston makes for a great backup QB because he has the upside to be an every-week starter, but by drafting him this late, you have the flexibility to bench him if he struggles or has a poor matchup.
Other Round 13 targets: Keke Coutee, Emmanuel Sanders
Example Round 14 target: Darren Waller (ADP: 169.9, TE33; My Rank: TE16)
You should never expect one of your final picks to be a reliable starter, so a player’s floor doesn’t really matter at this point in the draft. Instead, you want to focus on players who have the talent and opportunity to step into bigger roles. Last season, the Raiders were seventh or better in terms of both overall and red zone targets to the TE position, and with Jared Cook now in New Orleans, Waller is currently projected to take on that role. Waller doesn’t have much of an NFL résumé, but he’s a converted college WR who is 6-foot-6, 255 pounds and ran a sub-4.5 40 at the combine. He’s also been heavily praised this offseason by Jon Gruden, offensive coordinator Greg Olson and even his new teammate Antonio Brown. Could mean something, could mean nothing, but why not take the chance and find out? It’s the middle of July as I write this and I’ve already done a handful of real leagues, including a dynasty start-up, the Scott Fish Bowl and some best-ball leagues. I have Waller in every single one of them.
Other Round 14 targets: Michael Gallup and Royce Freeman.
This is where you’re taking your defense and your kicker. If you want to reach for a defense that you like in Round 13 or 14, I’m not doing that, but I don’t really hate it. It’s your team, go for it. But in general, as we discussed in the Bears D/ST section, the math doesn’t really work out for either a defense or a kicker any earlier than here.
Just remember, the No. 1 kicker last year (Ka’imi Fairbairn) was drafted in just 1.6% of leagues. And last year, the defense everyone reached for in the seventh round, the Jags, was 15th in fantasy points after the first month of the season.
The difference between kickers, points-wise, is too negligible to reach for one earlier. There will be some who emerge as reliable options, but the idea that you, or anyone, will be able to predict a breakout kicker with any degree of certainty on draft day, and pass up a shot at this year’s Patrick Mahomes or George Kittle (both of whom went in the 12th round or later last year) in the process, is silly.
If you want a hint, here’s one: Since 2014, four of the top five teams in kicker points also rank top-10 in D/ST points. Every edge is worth gaining, so if you like your kicker, why not double down in the final round with his defense?
Those top five teams in kicker points? Yeah, they also all rank inside the top 10 in running back points over the past five seasons. Laugh at my Alvin Kamara/Wil Lutz/Saints D/ST stack all you want … but there is some math to back it up and almost no risk in structuring your roster in this fashion.
Example Round 15 target: Indianapolis Colts D/ST (ADP: 148.2)
From Week 10 on last season, only five defenses scored more fantasy points than the Colts. During that stretch, Indianapolis allowed less than 17 points per game. The Colts also spent seven of their first eight draft picks on defensive players this year.
Example Round 16 target: Jason Myers (ADP: 169.2)
Myers had the fourth-most fantasy points of any kicker last season and tied for the league lead with six field goals of 50-plus yards.
NOTE: Obviously, the ADPs and my rankings listed above will change a lot after this column publishes in late July, so always make note of those in your draft prep.
Five final thoughts
1. I never sweat bye weeks, the schedule or players on the same team. Construct the best team you can, because you’re never sure how things will play out. Last year at this time, no one wanted to face the Jaguars in the fantasy playoffs. Derrick Henry laughed at that. And having Matt Ryan and Julio Jones or Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins last year certainly worked out for folks, as did having Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott or Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. Or Patrick Mahomes and the starting RB of the Chiefs.
2. You know what’s better than a draft? An auction. As much as I love a draft, it’s nothing compared to an auction. In an auction, everyone gets a shot at Saquon Barkley. It’s a much fairer way to distribute players, it’s more fun and it’s an even better test of skill. Seriously. It’s chess compared to checkers. Try it once.
3. As long as we’re talking about trying new things, try some different league types. Don’t get me wrong, the ESPN standard settings are a lot of fun, but if you’re like me (and if you’ve read this far, you are) … you crave all sorts of fantasy football action.
• One format I really enjoy is “Super Flex.” First of all, there are no kickers or D/STs. Instead, you play four flex spots, in addition to a QB, two RBs, two WRs and a TE. One of the flex spots can be a second QB (you can do this in ESPN leagues by designating an “OP” slot). Really fun format and highly recommended. I’m in a deep dynasty league with this format with a bunch of other fantasy analysts (shoutout to the DFB Invitational) and really enjoying it.
• I’ve written before about Vampire leagues, where everyone in the league drafts except one person. That person is the “Vampire,” who must make his/her team entirely out of waiver-wire players once the draft is complete. However, the other teams can’t make pickups at all, and when the Vampire plays the other teams, if the Vampire wins, he/she can trade one of his/her starting players to the losing team for one of its starting players (at the same position). So as the season goes along, the Vampire gets stronger. I did two leagues last year (both as the Vampire) and lost in the finals in both (argh, Todd Gurley, whom I had Vampired), but lots of fun. I will do them once again and choose from users on the Fantasy Life app.
• I also want to try a “Guillotine” league. My friend Scott Fish tweets about it all the time. Basically, it’s a 12-team league where the lowest-scoring team each week gets cut from the league entirely. Then all that team’s players are released into the free-agent pool. You keep playing until there is only one team left.
• Finally, a great format is best ball. There are a few places that offer this — I used to be a spokesperson for DRAFT.com and the DRAFT app, so I’m partial to it — but basically, you and others draft a team like normal. And then … you do nothing. No other moves, the league plays out and every week, after the games are done, your best possible lineup is set for you and everyone else in the league. It’s a great way to get some real “practice” drafts in that count but have no maintenance beyond the draft.
4. I ask this every year, and we are making great progress, but our work is not done yet. Look, if you’ve read this far, you’re a gamer. You get it. You know how much fun, how awesome, how addictive fantasy football is. You know how it brings people together. So why keep it all to yourself? I am asking once again of everyone reading this:
Make it your goal to convince one person in your life who has never played before to try a league this year. We need more women playing, more kids, more senior citizens. Fantasy football is something everyone can enjoy, so ask your parents, your kids, your neighbor, co-worker, someone.
Just one new person.
Help me spread the word. Because my mission on this planet isn’t done until every man, woman and child plays fantasy football.
5. Remember, this is a hobby. WE PLAY FOR FUN.
You remember fun, right? Does anyone remember laughter? Fantasy football is a game. A pastime. Something we do to escape our grind, not worry about anything else going on in the world, and have fun while spending time with friends, family and co-workers.
We all get nervous, we all sweat wins, but ultimately … it’s a game. Remember that, especially when you feel like embarrassing yourself on social media to harass a player, a coach, a fantasy analyst or a league mate. And go easy on your commissioner. That’s a tough job already.
Just calm down, OK? Believe me, I get it. I’ve been in more than my share of email wars and angry text exchanges in years past. So I’m not being holier than thou. I’ve been there, my friend.
But please, I beg of you. There’s plenty of negativity in the world already; there is absolutely no reason for you to add to it over a hobby, or to lose a friendship over it.
Many thanks to “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe of the Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast and to The Stat-a-Pillar, Damian Dabrowski of The Fantasy Show on ESPN+, for their help with this. And most of all, thanks very much to you. For reading this far and for reading for 21 years. Shots all around.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, can’t wait! He is the creator of RotoPass.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.
Editor’s note: Some information contained in this column has previously appeared on ESPN.com.
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