FANTASY PLAYS: Time to note draft lessons heading into 2016
Any fantasy football owner can tell you all about those moments when they took the wrong turn at that fork in the road - probably in annoying detail - whether they made the playoffs or finished last.
It often goes all the way back to that optimism-filled draft day in August.
Most leagues wrapped up their championship rounds by Week 16, though some are still chugging into Week 17 finales. So it's a good time to quickly discuss what we learned from draft day as the season played out.
Take note of the wounds still fresh in your mind now. Jot them down as reminders for 2016:
It gets harder to stay true to drafting the best player when you notice your roster is thin at one position and the best options keep flying off the board. But stay with it.
In my longest-running league, I veered off course and took Melvin Gordon because I needed a running back. You can imagine how much I loved owning Gordon, he of the 217-touches-and-no-touchdowns season, while passing on best-available candidate DeAndre Hopkins. In fact, I'm going to need a bottle of Maalox just thinking about it now.
OPPORTUNITY ISN'T EVERYTHING
DeMarco Murray seemed destined for big things when he joined Chip Kelly's quick-snap offense in Philadelphia. Instead, Murray wasn't the right fit and ended up in a jumbled backfield mess (and didn't play well even when he did get work).
Another example was Andre Johnson, who seemed set for at least one more good year while signing on to catch passes from fantasy star Andrew Luck. It was terrible, much like everything for fantasy players who invested in Colts.
WAIT ON QB
Burning a high pick on Luck was a waste, and Aaron Rodgers' upside took a hit due to injuries around him. Meanwhile, guys like Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer, Blake Bortles, Derek Carr and Tyrod Taylor were either drafted late or not at all and averaged at least 17 points per game in standard leagues.
I still remember watching Dallas rookie Julius Jones emerge to run for 722 yards and seven touchdowns over the final six games of the 2004 season. He even averaged 27 carries a game. I was sold. I loved his upside and aim to grab guys on their ascent, so I spent a late-first round pick on him the following year.
It didn't take long to realize that the 2004 was Jones' high point.
Fast forward to 2015, and there were two running backs with a similar profile: Denver's C.J. Anderson and Cincinnati's Jeremy Hill. Both tore up NFL defenses through the second half of 2014 and entered this year with massive upside. And yet, both stunk.
The point: it might be worth letting someone else take the gamble on the guy who hasn't proven he can do the job at an elite level through a whole season.
There were five running backs topping draft boards: Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy, Le'Veon Bell, Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch. Yet Bell and Charles were lost early to injuries, Lynch had nagging injury trouble and Lacy never looked like himself, leaving only Peterson to provide a legit return on that investment.
The fantasy gods were good to Cardinals and Panthers owners playing Week 17 championship games. With Carolina's loss at Atlanta on Sunday, that means both teams are fighting to lock down homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
That means full go for fantasy starters Cam Newton, Palmer, Greg Olsen, Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson and Michael Floyd. No resting guys here, avoiding the biggest pitfall playing all the way to Week 17.
Aaron Beard is an Associated Press sports writer based in Raleigh, North Carolina. He's closing his 14th season of obsessing over lineup decisions in fantasy football. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP's NFL site at http://pro32.ap.org .