- Reflecting on 2018 and resolving to be better fantasy football owners in 2019.
On Monday we celebrate the dawning of a new year. As you’re considering your resolutions for 2019, don’t neglect your fantasy leagues. Changes you resolve to make now can help you win your league next season.
This has become a yearly staple here at SI.com, and it’s something I always consult when the following fantasy season arrives. Here are my five New Year’s resolutions for the 2019 fantasy football season.
1. I will be aggressive with my waiver acquisition budget
Phillip Lindsay spent most of the 2018 preseason as an afterthought in fantasy leagues. While Lindsay toiled on the second-team offense in Denver, it was fellow rookie Royce Freeman who shot up draft boards, ultimately ending the summer with an average draft position in the third round. It was a huge surprise, then, when Lindsay and Freeman split 30 carries right down the middle in Week 1. They both looked good, running for 71 yards apiece, but it was Lindsay who also played a role in the passing game, catching two of three targets for 31 yards and a touchdown. Freeman, meanwhile, didn’t get a target in the game. That usage should have signaled to everyone what was ahead for Lindsay, despite a nondescript summer. Yet, fantasy owners were cautious with Lindsay on the waiver wire after Week 1. It wasn’t until after Week 2, when he ran for 107 yards on 14 carries, that he really started to catch on in fantasy leagues. By then, it was too late for many owners.
Lindsay ended the fantasy season as the No. 11 back in standard leagues and No. 13 back in PPR formats, racking up 1,037 rushing yards, 35 receptions, 241 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 15 games, and it wasn’t hard to see that potential for anyone willing to act fast after what he did in Week 1. Had Lindsay’s season gone in a different direction, he wouldn’t have been the first player in NFL history to have a big season-opener, only to fall off the map later in the season. Still, the way the Broncos used him strongly suggested that he was going to be a big part of the offense all season. Anyone who targeted him on the waiver wire after that Week 1 performance got one of the best returns on investment of the 2018 season, and likely also learned a valuable lesson. The longer you wait for data, the greater the chance that you miss out on the best waiver players of the season. Sometimes, you have to jump in with two feet, even if it’s uncomfortable. You have to be smart about where you do it, but you don’t get to take your FAAB dollars or waiver priority with you into next season. It’s there to help you make big plays on the wire, and the earlier you do so, the greater effect those players will have on your team. Don’t be shy to make big bids or burn a top waiver priority when the opportunity presents itself early next season.
2. I will handcuff my backs at midseason
Damien Williams, Elijah McGuire, Jaylen Samuels and Jamaal Williams were all top-13 backs in Weeks 14 through 16, the fantasy football playoffs for most leagues. Through Week 13, they ranked, 98th, 79th, 77th and 61st, respectively, at the position. C.J. Anderson ran for 167 yards and a touchdown in Week 16 in place of an injured Todd Gurley. If all that isn’t the best argument for handcuffing your star backs, I don’t know what is.
Every handcuffing situation is different. McGuire already had some value on his own, and that value exploded when Isaiah Crowell went on IR. Damien Williams rose to the top of his depth chart because of the release of Kareem Hunt no one could have seen coming, and an injury to Spencer Ware. Samuels and Jamaal Williams took over as starters because of injuries to James Conner and Aaron Jones. Anderson played in place of Gurley, though that might not have been the case had the Rams not already clinched the NFC West by Week 16. The bottom line remains the same, though. Any fantasy owner who rode Hunt, Conner, Jones or Gurley through the regular season, but didn’t handcuff them heading into the playoffs, likely did not win a championship.
Handcuffing your star backs early in the season remains a losing move. At the beginning of the season, you want roster flexibility, investment in multiple situations, and depth to handle injuries and byes. Plus, there’s no guarantee that a guy who looks like a handcuff in Week 1 will be in that position in Week 14. Anderson was on the Panthers to start this season. McGuire was on the PUP list. Damien Williams was third on the Chiefs’ depth chart. Once midseason arrives, though, backfields have taken shape and it’s clear who are the most important players on your team. That’s when the savvy fantasy owners among us will handcuff their backs, insulating themselves against a worst-case scenario ruining a once-promising season.
3. I will target offenses as much as I do players
In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that this is a resolution I made years ago. However, it’s a great one to highlight for fantasy owners who have not yet fully learned the lesson that a rising tide lifts all ships.
The Chiefs, Rams, Buccaneers, Steelers, Patriots, Saints, Colts, Falcons, Packers and Chargers are the top-10 teams in total offense. Seven of them—the Chiefs, Saints, Rams, Steelers, Chargers, Colts and Patriots—are also in the top 10 in scoring, joined by the Seahawks, Bears and Texans. Take a look at the top-10 teams in yards per play, and you get two new teams, the Panthers and Packers, in the mix. That’s 15 teams in the top 10 in at least one of yards per game, points per game and yards per play. Those 15 teams produced 11 of our 12 QB1s (all but Kirk Cousins), seven RB1s, seven RB2s, 10 WR1s, five WR2s, and seven TE1s. Some players, like Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott, are going to be just fine regardless of the environment around them. Still, every single player in the league is better off when he’s part of a strong offense.
Had you targeted those offenses this draft season, you still might have missed out on the likes of Todd Gurley or Antonio Brown. They were no-doubt slam dunks, and you had to invest significant draft capital in them. However, players like Patrick Mahomes, Robert Woods, Juju Smith-Schuster, Marlon Mack, Tarik Cohen and Tyler Lockett were all there for the taking for any owner who decided in advance to get a piece of predictably strong offenses, no matter what that piece might be. Make sure you have that in mind as you’re preparing for drafts and auctions next summer.
4. I will not overreact to the flattening out of quarterback scoring
Quarterback has long been the most fungible position in fantasy football, an easy spot to find late-round value in drafts, cheap value in auctions, and weekly value on the waiver wire through the season. That was on display again this season, with Patrick Mahomes, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Mitchell Trubisky, and Ryan Fitzpatrick all among the top-10 quarterbacks in points per game in standard-scoring leagues. All were taken in the eighth round or later in typical 12-team drafts this summer, with Mahomes, Trubisky and Fitzpatrick all ranked 16th or lower in quarterback ADP.
However, this was a particularly egalitarian year at the position. Mahomes was far and away the No. 1 quarterback, ending the year with 412.74 points in standard scoring leagues. Roethlisberger finished second at 344.33 points, a full 4.56 points per game behind Mahomes. Roethlisberger was closer in total points to Philip Rivers, who ranked 12th at the position, than he was to Mahomes. Seven quarterbacks averaged between 19.5 and 21 points per game, which effectively results in zero difference from week to week. Widen the range to 18.5 to 22 points, and you rope in 13 of the top 14 quarterbacks.
While quarterback value will remain fungible and easy to find in 2019, understand that the lack of differentiation among the QB1s and high-end QB2s this season is almost certainly an anomaly. In 2017, two quarterbacks averaged between 19.5 and 21 points, and five were between 18.5 and 22 points. The season before that, the quarterbacks in those ranges numbered one and six, respectively. If you rode one quarterback all season, unless it was Mahomes, he came as close to not mattering as we’ve ever seen in the fantasy football world. Do not expect that to be the case next season.
5. I will trust myself above all else
I’ve been playing fantasy football since 1998, and I still make mistakes. One of the worst things a fantasy owner can do is doubt his or her own convictions, and yet I did that in a key spot in my league of record this year. I picked Drew Brees to win the MVP and lead the Saints to a Super Bowl championship in our preseason predictions here at The MMQB. Yet, when I decided to be the first person to take a quarterback in my home league, which is a superflex format, I opted for Aaron Rodgers over Brees. Rodgers actually ended the fantasy season, including the playoffs, with more points than Brees, but Brees was the No. 2 quarterback during fantasy’s regular season. Had I stuck to my convictions and taken Brees, I would have won at least one more game, which would’ve changed my playoff seeding and put me in a position to advance deeper into the playoffs. I may have even earned a bye, which would have totally altered my playoff fate. Instead, I went out in the first round of the postseason, only to watch Rodgers have his best game of the season after I was eliminated.
There is no shortage of rankings and opinions at your fingertips every summer as you prepare for the coming fantasy football season. Some of those are more helpful than others, and you should consult some, especially those here at SI.com (obviously), to assist you in your prep. At the end of the day, though, it’s your team. You’re the only one who has to live with your team. Your thoughts and beliefs should be its guiding light. Whether you win or lose, you should do so with your players.
Happy New Year, everyone!