Should Real-Life Teammates be Fantasy Football Rivals?

Owning players from the same team is fraught with risk, but the right pairing can lead to fantasy glory.
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Fantasy football is constantly evolving with various moving parts, theories and strategies. There is no one way to approach it, which adds to the overall challenge and enjoyment it brings to so many people around the globe. If all drafters utilized the same data, analysis and approach when it comes to roster construction, there’d be no winners or losers. No one plays fantasy football to get a participation trophy, right?

It’s all about who finishes at the top of the league and gets to hoist that championship trophy. The strategies owners implement each season shift depending on the specifics of NFL scheduling, depth of position players around the league, and whichever statistics and metrics are en vogue.

One approach you can take is to roster more than one player from the same team, also known as stacking. While it may seem like a bad idea to put multiple eggs in the same basket, this practice can be advantageous at times. Drafters who had the foresight to select several players from the Atlanta offense last season likely found themselves among the best teams in their respective leagues. The trio of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman all posted incredible fantasy numbers, and each of them landed in the top six in standard fantasy points at their position.

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The downside to stacking comes when a team’s offense has a dreadful day on the field, which causes several of your players to suffer simultaneously. As with everything in fantasy football, you need to assess the risk versus the reward and decide if this is a strategy you’re willing to pursue in hopes of a big payoff.

One way to stack without risking too much is to seek out a WR3 or a tight to pair with your quarterback. In leagues that start three players at receiver, your WR3 is most likely a real-life No. 2 receiver. While you’d expect a team’s secondary option to put at least some points on the board, it’s not as devastating as missing out on expected WR1 production, along with your quarterback. In other words, an owner with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown would be in trouble any week the Steelers offense struggles. One with Roethlisberger and Martavis Bryant, though, would be in a better spot to salvage a win.

Outside of players like Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Jordan Reed and Greg Olsen, the tight end position is largely dependent on touchdowns. It simply doesn’t feature many reception or yardage monsters. Converting red-zone targets into points is essential to a tight end’s weekly fantasy output. Thus, pairing a tight end with his quarterback can bring lucrative double-dipping at a cheap price. In that vein, consider Russell Wilson and Jimmy Graham. Graham is capable of WR1 numbers in any given week, and both he and Wilson feature affordable draft-day price tags. Graham will get the rock from a top notch quarterback, and you don’t have to reach in the draft to complete the stack.

Strength of schedule is always something to consider, and that goes doubly for stacking players. The 4for4 metric schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed, or aFPA, is great for this exercise. By removing the schedule bias, aFPA makes it possible to compare players in an apples-to-apples manner and make the best possible choice for your roster.

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Sam Bradford, Drew Brees and Cam Newton all appear to have soft schedules at the season’s outset. That could make Kyle Rudolph and Willie Snead, both of whom have moderate acquisition costs, more desirable on draft day. Christian McCaffrey could benefit, as well, though his price tag has climbed all summer. Still, a Newton-McCaffrey pairing could bear significant fruit for any owner who goes for it.

Pairing a running back and wide receiver from the same team is a different proposition altogether. Teaming up a quarterback with one of his receivers or his tight end, or even a pass-catching back, is a logical concept. Both players can score on the same play. Such is not the case with backs and receivers. Every yard David Johnson gains and every touchdown he scores takes potential fantasy points off of Larry Fitzgerald’s plate.

Each possible pairing of running back and receiver teammates needs to be evaluated on its own. Going back to the beginning of this column, no fantasy owner who had Atlanta’s Jones and Freeman last year were sad about it by the end of the season. Such a pairing has a lesser chance of paying off, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss the idea out of hand.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to fantasy football. Stacking players can work, and it can backfire. As with everything else in the game, it’s all about value. If your draft presents you a sensible opportunity to pair, say, Tom Brady and Brandin Cooks, go for it. At the same time, you shouldn’t be reaching for Derek Carr simply because you already have Amari Cooper.