Crystal Ball Week 15 2018

By Evan Tarracciano
Evan Tarracciano

With the final few weeks of the 2018-19 Fantasy Football season upon us and the Holidays now in full swing, it becomes ever important to take a step back and reflect on what happened, what lessons we learned, and how to best apply them moving forward.

As the clock rings in the New Year, it will mark my 10th year in the industry. The phrase “time flies when you are having fun” has never rung more true – I still enjoy sitting down and typing out these articles just as much now as I did ten years ago, when I started with nothing more than a blog and a dream.

The “Fantasy Gods”, though fickle in nature, have been quite good to yours truly this year. A large number of the picks and pans that I wrote about in our draft magazines and online content hit the mark. Patrick Mahomes and Saquon Barkley, Amari Cooper and Nyheim Hines were players that I went out of my way to draft this year, since I wanted to “put my money where my mouth was” and back breakout candidates. I listed Rob Gronkowski and Jay Ajayi as players to avoid, and staunchly defended my stance on players like Marlon Mack, D.J. Moore and Ito Smith – both through Sirius XM appearances on the Football Diehards show, and during my “Diehards After Dark” Q&A segment.

Sure, I’ve had a number of misses and bad beats too. Everyone has. Injuries happened, rookies struggled to learn the playbook, veterans faltered and kickers inexplicably missed extra points. Yet this year, for perhaps the first time from start to finish, I was able to write down several lessons that I plan on learning from, and applying those experiences towards next season. Some of these notes you may find to be obvious, especially considering my tenure and ever-greying hairline, and others might be applicable to you as well. I’d encourage everyone to perform the same reflective practice – think about where you succeeded and struggled and try to become a better player!

There is a reason that ADP is called ADP

An easy trap for owners to fall into when prepping during draft season (and in the draft itself, for that matter) is to become a slave to a set of rankings. Trusting the opinion of others in the industry is helpful for sure, and a number of our award-winning writers here on the website rank amongst the top in the industry for their predictions and accuracy. Yet, treat their opinions as such. Opinions. Speaking on behalf of everyone here, we all do our fair share of evaluating, tape watching, mock drafts and everything else. Yet our opinions are ultimately our own, and flawed as the next. During the Football Diehards “Best Ball” draft that we held earlier this year as a staff, I raised my eyebrow at several of the choices made by my colleagues. However, plenty of their breakout candidates came through, like Philip Lindsay or Tyler Boyd.

When compiling a list to use during draft season and work off of, please keep in mind that “ADP” does indeed stand for AVERAGE draft position. A player who is ranked as the 24th best receiver is not always selected as such, nor should he be viewed as always worse than the 23rd ranked option, and superior to the 25th. Tiering helps to clarify this to an extent, and treating players as options within a classification, rather than a hard-set number, aids in team construction. Antonio Brown and Julio Jones are both unquestioned WR1 options. They were drafted as such, and have come through for their Fantasy owners in 2018. Some weeks Brown may score more than Jones or vice-versa, but this doesn’t mean that one is clearly better than the other. Treating players as options within tiers rather than being a slave to a certain set of ADP rankings or tables is definitely something that I’ll work towards.

Tight End is a thin position, and having a leg up on the competition helps

Going into the 2018 season it was well known that the tight end position was a barren wasteland after the first few selections. Injuries to Greg Olsen, Delanie Walker, Hunter Henry, Tyler Eifert and other players solidified this stance even further. Outside of Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, George Kittle and Eric Ebron, it has been very difficult to trust anyone at the position on a week-to-week basis.

During draft season I made the choice that I’m sure plenty of my followers did – I punted the position. I threw a few dollars towards players with upside at the end of an auction draft in the hope that someone would break through and generate value. What seemed like a good idea at the time (and a thought process shared by plenty of other analysts) has turned into a season-long headache that has drained a large potion of my FAAB and caused issues. Not spending a few extra dollars to secure a top-5 player has led to me struggling to fill the position every week. In my home league that I’ve referenced in the past, I have started a different player at the position in 12 of the 14 weeks. Each time it has chipped away a few dollars of precious FAAB that I could have tossed at handcuff candidates or streaming defenses and kickers.

Needless to say, I’ll try not to fall into this trap again in 2019. Securing one of the big-5 options is going to be a priority of mine.

Rookies are an increasingly important area of value in Fantasy Football

For the first three or four years that I participated in Fantasy sports, I was very hesitant to support rookies, knowing full well that many struggle with the large leap in learning curve from college to the NFL. With offensive systems in college mimicking their professional counterparts now more than ever, the transition period isn’t as rough as it once was. Sure, certain systems are still in place that require an adjustment – the triple-option and RPO offenses in some colleges to the air-raid style of schools like Texas Tech. However, more and more players drafted out of D1 schools have a solid understanding of route trees and complex changes. This in turn has led to a dramatic shift in philosophy at the top-level.

A quick look at the running back position speaks volumes. Saquon Barkley is right behind Todd Gurley in average points on a week-to-week basis. James Conner’s knowledge of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense led to him being a RB1 in the majority of formats, and he remains a top-10 player, even after missing last week with an injury. Philip Lindsay has enjoyed a breakout season that few saw coming, and has solidified himself as a low-end RB1 option in PPR formats. Other rookies like Nick Chubb, Kerryon Johnson, Sony Michel, Gus Edwards, Josh Adams, Nyheim Hines and others have continued to flash. Don’t be so dismissive of young talent!

Stream DST and Kickers

The last two years I’ve finally started to dip my toes into the DFS waters, and that has been a major factor in my newfound love of streaming at both of these positions. “Scared” isn’t the right word to use perhaps, but “tentative” or “reluctant” would be a good way to describe my stance on streaming when I first read about it. Wouldn’t it simply be easier to draft and secure a top-5 option at these two spots, add a backup option when necessary during bye weeks and just adjust as needed? Though that is a possibility, it turns out that rarely there is a clear-cut choice worth holding onto all year, especially with how one or two injuries can change the playing field, on either the offensive or defensive sides. Case in point? The Jacksonville Jaguars entered 2018 with as much hype as I can ever remember for a defense. They were the exception to the rule of waiting until the final few selections to address the position, with the idea that their ability to generate turnovers and pressure on opposing offenses woul
d lead to them being a league winner. It turns out, that wasn’t the case. In fact, taking a quick look at that same home league that I had referenced earlier, the Jaguars are currently ranked as the 23rd best option, tying them with the Detroit Lions in terms of points scored. Yeesh. Pretty clear that they weren’t worth the hype.

Kickers are somewhat more predictable from a projections standpoint – focusing on those that play in domes is always a smart idea, coupled with offenses that have the ability to move the ball more struggle to score in the red zone (New York Giants, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans). The amount of points that separate the top kicker currently in the league (Wil Lutz and Jason Myers are tied with 132 points) from the 12th best option in Cody Parkey from the Chicago Bears only amounts to a few points per week. I doubt that changes much moving forward.


Make things fun

This idea gets lost from time to time. Fantasy sports are supposed to be fun. Everyone who plays them wants to win, but going insane each week and letting one’s emotions hinge upon a catch or two makes playing less enjoyable. For certain, there are people who play this competitively, or (like yours truly) make this their profession. That aside, the majority of leagues are still considered to be “friends and family”.

Enjoy the craziness of the Football season. Understand that your team will suffer through injuries, hardships, underperforming players, bench breakouts by accident and drive you insane. This same randomness and unpredictability is what makes playing the game so enjoyable – embrace that! If we already knew what would happen week in and week out the fun would be stripped away and any sort of joy would be removed. The chaotic nature that is the NFL was the catalyst for this being created in the first place. Play with your family and friends, occasionally select someone with your heart rather than you head, and enjoy cheering on your team each week. Give your team a little life and soul! Never be afraid to take the leap and try something new – from joining a pick’em pool, creating your first dynasty league, participating in an auction draft, or attending a game in person and screaming your heart out.

In conclusion...

Ordinarily this column focuses upon questions that my followers have regarding waiver wire pickups, or thoughts upon particular trades or scenarios. With the exception of perhaps one or two options in 10 or 12-team leagues (Dante Pettis, Ian Thomas and to a lesser extent Justin Jackson or Damien Williams) I wouldn’t recommend going crazy with waivers this week. The team that carried you this far should be rock-solid and already in place.

In the cast of Williams and Jackson, their value (as I discussed in length last night on air) is immediately tied to the health status of the starter in front of them. Should Spencer Ware or Melvin Gordon sit out Thursday’s contest, either are worthy starts in a 10-team league. Thomas represents a strong streaming option for owners looking for help at the tight-end position, while Pettis has come on enough of late for the San Francisco 49ers that he is a viable FLEX choice.

I wish all of my readers the best of luck this week – feel free to submit any additional questions to me on Twitter (@Roto_Wizard) and I’ll be happy to lend a hand. Onward and upward towards championship week!