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Week 18 Need to Know: Lessons Learned From 2021 Fantasy Football Season

The yearly reminder: Don't draft your QB too early.

Well, all season we’ve been talking about what we need to know, but what have we learned from the 2021 season? It’s not quite over yet; however, we can reflect on the last four months and maybe there are some lessons to be had.

1. Death, taxes and drafting a late-round QB

Going by ADP by position, this is how the current QB scoring leaders by points per game stack up (minimum 10 games played):

Player: QB ADP / Scoring Rank / Differential

  • Patrick Mahomes: 1 / 4 / -3
  • Josh Allen: 2 / 1 / +1
  • Kyler Murray: 3 / 4 / -1
  • Lamar Jackson: 4 / 8 / -4
  • Aaron Rodgers: 5 / 6 / -1
  • Dak Prescott: 6 / 11 / -5
  • Russell Wilson: 7 / 13 / -6
  • Justin Herbert: 8 / 2 / +6
  • Tom Brady: 9 / 3 / +6
  • Matthew Stafford: 10 / 10 / 0
  • Ryan Tannehill: 11 / 16 / -5
  • Jalen Hurts: 12 / 7 / +5
  • Joe Burrow: 13 / 9 / +4
  • Baker Mayfield: 14 / 27/ -13

Hypothetically, you could’ve been the last guy to draft a QB in your 12-teamer and ended up with Hurts. If you would’ve taken QBs back-to-back, your backup could’ve been Burrow. Hurts was drafted around the late 90s and Burrow was going just over No. 100, sometimes a bit later. This would’ve given you eight picks to stock up on RBs, WRs and TEs. Every season the fantasy nerds tell you to draft a QB late, yet managers can’t help but risk it early on a quarterback who’d essentially have to duplicate or exceed his previous season’s stats to meet the pick’s value.

Jalen Hurts exits when a railing collapses and fans fall on the field.

Allen is averaging about 24.6 fantasy points per game, Burrow is at 20.52, so let’s call it four points. Allen was drafted in the late-second to mid-third round. They’re separated by about 80 picks. The pick just ahead of Allen is Justin Jefferson and the picks around Burrow are the Steelers defense, Sony Michel and Kenyan Drake. Yikes. When you hit on your late-round QB, you gain a huge scoring differential advantage.

Of course, you could get it wrong and many of you waited and got stuck with Baker Mayfield and Ryan Tannehill. But that’s why you draft two and hope one of them hits. The odds are in your favor with such a strategy. Even if it doesn’t work out, you’re still coming close to bridging the point differential. Tannehill is a whopping 8.7 points behind Allen; Mayfield is close to a dozen points behind. But that extra stud RB or WR gives you another dart throw to hit the bullseye on your sleeper choices. And if you also fade the TE position, there were plenty of late-round emerging guys like Dalton Schultz, Dawson Knox and Pat Freiermuth.

The Lesson: Load up at RB and WR early and often on draft day. Fade QB and TE late and draft them back-to-back.

2. Kickers and D/ST are still pointless

If your league still uses kickers and team defenses, may I ask why? Fantasy’s No. 1 kicker, Nick Folk, is averaging 10.3 points per game. The No. 12 kicker, Greg Zuerlein, is averaging 8.7—less than two points separating the pair. In Weeks 11 and 12, Folk scored 16 and 21 points in standard scoring leagues. In Weeks 15 to 17, he scored 5, 3 and 9. Can you imagine losing a playoff matchup, with actual money on the line, because your kicker had a bad game and your opponent’s kicker scored 20-plus? Why would you subject yourself to this?

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Things only get nuttier with team defenses. The Cowboys, fielding fantasy’s No.1 defense, averaged 11.3 points per game; the Broncos (ranked 12th) scored 7.4. So sure, it’s a four-point swing, a bit larger point differential than the 1 to 12 kickers. So maybe there’s more predictability to defenses. Dallas scored 17, 22, 16 and 24 points in Weeks 13 to 16, which likely carried many teams to their league title contest in Week 17. The Cowboys D put up one point in Week 17 and eight teams scored 12 or more.

Yes, there are strategies like favoring kickers who play in warm weather or in domes. You can add a team defense that’s facing a rookie quarterback. Yes, you can stream them. Yes, it’s all part of the game and you win some, lose some. But I’d rather just focus on the heart of the game and if we’re going to include any part of the defense, it should be IDP!

Yes, all fantasy players post bad games, get hurt, catch COVID and occasionally take off their pads and head to the locker room early. But to me, kickers and defenses may as well be the scoring equivalent to a random number generator. I can’t trust it, I don’t like it and I’d rather have more RB handcuffs and the extra roster spots available.

3. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Some rookie receivers dominated once again. We never thought we’d see somebody like Justin Jefferson break out the way he did in 2020 and then Ja’Marr Chase raised the stakes. Elijah Moore, Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle and the late-emerging Amon-Ra St. Brown all put themselves on the map. We saw flashes of brilliance from Kadarius Toney. We saw encouraging moments from Rashod Bateman and Rondale Moore.

Ja'Marr Chase celebrates a touchdown.

We now have two seasons in a row in which a rookie WR disrupted everything we thought we knew about the position. Jefferson posted 88-1,400-7 a year ago and Chase has 79-1,429-13 with a game left to play. Remember those old third-year breakout receiver fantasy articles that highlighted guys who were finally going to put it together in Year 3? You’d be real late to the party by then.

While the game continues to trend toward more and more passing, I’ll gladly try to find value in guys like Darnell Mooney or a late-round flier PPR machine like Hunter Renfrow. Chase’s ADP at pick No. 74.4 sounds like a steal, but you’ve got to remember there was that odd swell of news in the preseason that Chase forgot how to catch and play football.

In hindsight, St. Brown at pick No. 198.5 seems obvious, but you’re conveniently forgetting all the rookies who did next to nothing. And even if you did draft him, you probably cut him after three games when he had all of six catches for 43 yards.

It’s more important to balance risk between proven players, rookie upside, second-year sleepers, safe floor veterans and so on. When rookies inevitably start coming off the board, you quickly forget about Trey Sermon at 87.2 and Deebo Samuel at 88.2. You forget about Laviska Shenault at 91.8 and Michael Carter at 93.4. Shoot your shot on a couple rookies, but don’t overdo it. They won’t all be Jefferson and Chase, and you don’t want to use too many draft picks on lottery tickets.

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