What Constitutes a Successful Fantasy Football Year?

I guess it’s all about perspective. For example, I played in seven leagues this year. If a crystal ball had informed me with the somewhat vague but iron-clad guarantee that I would finish no worse than third in any of my seven leagues, I would have gone on my way with a smug sense of self-satisfaction. The fact that I would stand to win only one of these leagues, however, was left out. Seven leagues. Seven top three finishes. But only one top finish? And while the odds are in my favor, not even that is guaranteed, as the one I may win is a points league that plays all 17 weeks, and while I have a lead going into the final week, nothing is ever certain. So now, having all the facts instead of just the vague promise of top three finishes across the board, I have to ask myself: Has this season been a success for me?

First, a little more about me. I consider myself, in as non-arrogant of a way as possible, the best fantasy football player in all of my leagues. This isn’t because I’m so much smarter than everyone else, or anything like that. I’ve just been playing for a very long time, and over the years I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on assessing players’ fantasy values relative to where they’re drafted, and their likelihood of success in a given week. That’s fantasy sports in a nutshell right there. Get pretty good at that one thing, and you’ve got most of the battle in hand.

Here’s the rub. While I consider myself the best player in all of my leagues, a significant number of the other players feel the same way about themselves! There’s a bit of player overlap, but not a ton. For example, Shaun, my partner here at The Stain, and I are in two leagues together. Several of our good friends, including Shaun’s wonderful soon-to-be wife, are in multiple leagues with us. But again, not a lot overlap. Out of a possible 76 or so players, about 60 are unique. Of those 60, probably half consider themselves to be top dog. That’s a ton of confidence.

That’s also the way I want it. I don’t play fantasy football (or any fantasy sport for that matter) to take candy from babies. I’m not trying to rip anyone off with ridiculous trades. I don’t want to build some insane roster of the 10 best players and just bulldoze everyone else who was left with scraps to choose from. I want the playing field to be level, and I want to have a slightly better roster thanks to astute mid and late round draft selections, and I want to win more weeks than I lose thanks to informed and intuitive line-up decisions. It’s one thing to be Kramer in a karate class with twenty 5-year-olds and come away as king of the hill, but it’s entirely another to stand at the starting line of an obstacle course with a large group of your peers and equals, and come away the champ.

So, is finishing among the top three in all of my leagues a success? Financially, I can say it is. Most of my leagues pay out for third place, and all of them do for second. But while a bit of a financial reward is nice, that’s not really why we play. A quick calculation in my head reaches a total in the neighborhood of $2,000 in prizes for winning all of my leagues. A couple grand would be a cool little bounty, but with a wife, kid on the way, and a mortgage, it’s a little bit south of the income I need to be providing. Ultimately, the real reason we play is so after we win, we can walk around like a ****ing peacock with its feathers spread and talk smack until the end of time. Yeah. So essentially, since at best I’m going to win one of seven leagues, it’s been an epic failure.

Well, not exactly. See, when you’re drafting your fantasy team, you’re not doing so with the thought, “This is the lineup I’m trotting out in the FINALS in four months!” Well, you might be, but if that’s what you’re doing, you’re in for a rude awakening come playoff time. Speaking of playoff time, that’s really what you’re drafting for. So many things can and do happen over the course of a football season that change the outlook and composition of your fantasy roster. You’re trying to prepare bye weeks, and… ok, segue.

When it comes to bye weeks, there are three prevailing philosophies. 1) Try and stagger your bye weeks so you don’t have a week where most of your top players are unavailable to you. 2) INTENTIONALLY try to have all of your top players have the same bye weeks so you’re essentially punting that week in exchange for being able to field your strongest possible line up all the other weeks. And 3) Don’t pay attention to bye weeks at all, draft the best possible player for your positions of need and cross the bye week bridge when you get to it. Personally, I’m 75% number 3, and 25% number 2. I’m zero % number one because, for right or for wrong, my brain cannot get wrapped around the concept of “let me figure out a way to field a less than optimal line up for weeks 4-11.” Can’t. Do. It. So, I pick the player I want and say heck with it. If it comes down to choosing between two players I like equally, and one of them has a bye week that matches a player at the same position I already have, I will choose that one so I can have both active for the maximum number of weeks. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong to do it this way, but it’s the way that makes the most sense to me.

Back to preparing for playoffs, in addition to bye weeks, you’re trying to create depth for flexibility, and put yourself in a position where an injury doesn’t destroy you…dammit! Ok, another segue.

Handcuffs. They’ve been ingrained as accepted fantasy strategy since the invention of the game. In the late rounds, you pick the back up to your top running back(s). That way, in the event that the top guy gets hurt, the backup seamlessly slots in. I effing hate this and almost without exception, don’t do it. I would rather try to find a player that projects to be productive without needing another player to get hurt for that to happen. And those players are indeed available in the 14th round. All this, of course, goes out the window when the bye weeks are done. At that point, you’re adding the backups to your stars and dropping your late round flyers and other fringe players since roster flexibility is far less vital when you’re not dealing with byes anymore. And I’m also a hypocrite, because in the one league where I owned Adrian Peterson, I stashed Jerick McKinnon too. I did so against all of my instincts, and everything I believe to be good fantasy strategy, and I did it because of a combination of factors. 1) AP is still the best fantasy RB, in that you can sharpie him in for top 3 stats at his position for the season before it even starts, unless 2) he gets hurt, which as a 30 years old back in the NFL, is an ever increasing possibility, and 3) when the end comes for RBs, it often comes quickly and it isn’t pretty. Also, 4) after the awful events of last year involving his kids, you never know what else might surface that could get him suspended, and 5) his leash is not long for any shenanigans. Lastly, 6) because of Minnesota’s offensive system and style, their running game can be successful with the back-up.

Here’s why I still hate it and feel the need to shower every time I tell people I hate handcuffing, yet the dirty secret of having McKinnon on my bench all year rattles in my brain. Do you really know who the handcuff is? In AP’s case, is it really McKinnon, or is it Matt Asiata? You’re not only using a valuable roster spot on a player who in a best-case scenario never sees the field, you don’t even really know if he’s the right leech to be sucking up that roster spot. Ask 100 fantasy “experts” before the season started who Jamal Charles’ back up was, they probably would all have told you Knile Davis. Who the eff is Charcandrick West anyway? And who the double eff is Spencer Ware!?  Let’s foreshadow to your 2016 fantasy football draft for a moment. Let’s assume you got a high pick and ended up choosing Rams’ stud RB Todd Gurley. We’re reaching the later rounds of your draft and your starters are pretty much all accounted for. You’re now in a spot where you are starting to accumulate depth, take flyers on boom or bust guys, or if you’re so inclined, go a little earlier than recommended to secure a top defense. (note: conventional wisdom dictates that you wait until your last two picks to get your kicker and defense. In ESPN standard scoring leagues, that’s all fine and good. But of my 7 leagues, 3 had some form of modified scoring in place that placed increased value on defenses. Always check that stuff before your draft.) Or, do you snag Tre Mason, Gurley’s presumed back up should he get hurt? Maybe in a 14 or 16 team league, where the waiver wire is a barren wasteland of suck, you do. But in a regular old 10 or 12 team league, there are still going to be guys available to draft that don’t require an injury to the starter to be able to provide you with some production. PPR darlings like Bilal Powell and Theo Riddick are a couple that come to mind. Anyway, let’s say the worst happens and Gurley goes down for an extended period with an injury. You’re not worried because you have Mason. After all, he looked capable as a rookie. Then, on the first drive of his first game as the starter, he coughs up a fumble in the red zone. And just like that, the Benny Cunningham era begins. Wait, maybe you also had Cunningham on your roster! Except, that while being a pretty good football player in general, what with special teams contributions and all, he’s just not a viable fantasy guy. So now the Rams have some weird hybrid thing going on with a combination of Cunningham, Tavon Austin, and perhaps Mason gets another chance in the backfield, but are you starting any of them now? Exactly. Meanwhile, you probably could have had Darren Sproles this whole time, or LeGarrette Blount.

Here’s another example. Say you end up with Marshawn Lynch. You lucky dog, you! Regardless of format, Lynch is an amazing fantasy back. Hedging your bets, you make sure you also get Fred Jackson and/or Christine Michael. After all, Beastmode has taken AND given a lot of hits. Who the eff is Thomas Rawls?

The examples don’t end there, but in case you printed this article so you could read it on the toilet, I don’t want you to get hemorrhoids so we’re going to keep moving.

We’re trying to build a roster that will get us into the playoffs, where anything can happen. And I was 7 for 7 there. So huge success? Gosh, who the heck knows at this point. Well, let’s look at what went right for me and what went wrong.

 

What went right:

 

First and foremost, I must say that contrary to what normally happens, I was very fortunate on the injury front this season. I had one league in which I lost Andrew Luck, Jamal Charles, Steve Smith Sr., and Julian Edelman to injury, and several others where I lost one or two of those guys, but by in large, I was lucky. Even on that one team where I lost everyone and their mother, I was able to “make do” replacing Luck with a combination of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kirk Cousins. Receiver was fortunately deep and I got lucky with Doug Baldwin, and at running back, well, you’ll see in the next section who I got a little lucky with.

Also, when I like a player, I try to get him on all of my teams. Some players who play in as many as or even more leagues than I do try to avoid having the same player on every team so if they get hurt or something goes disastrously wrong, it doesn’t scuttle every single team you have. Me, I go the other way. If I like someone, I’m betting on him to go big and help all my teams. Quite often, I’m right. This season it was DeVante Freeman (6 of 7 teams), DeAndre Hopkins (5 of 7 teams), Delanie Walker (4 of 7) ((you may be seeing a trend here, I apparently like guys whose names start with De…)), Eric Decker, Carson Palmer, Tyler Eifert (3 of 7 each) and more.

And then there’s when I don’t like a player. I will simply not draft him. Almost regardless of what round we’re in. If we’re being realistic, even if you don’t like LeSean McCoy but he’s somehow available late, you’re going to take him. But for the most part, that doesn’t happen. And I was rewarded immensely for having the following players on exactly zero of my teams: DeMarco Murray, Peyton Manning (I did pick him up on waivers to make one start for me in one league), Calvin Johnson (not terrible, but for where he gets picked?), Alfred Morris, Eddie Lacy, DeVante Adams (another guy I snagged on waivers for a week or two when desperate times arose), and Ryan Tannehill.

 

What went wrong:

 

Sometimes, I’m just wrong about a guy. This season it was Jordan Matthews and Melvin Gordon who disappointed me the most. I had those guys on multiple teams. I would have had Carlos Hyde on all of my teams had others not shared my enthusiasm for him. And perhaps the most epic example ever of me being wrong about a guy was last year when I went early on Cordarelle Patterson in every one of my leagues, and compounded my error by bragging after his huge week 1 performance against my Rams. Oh, did I ever sh*t the bed there. It happens.

This year like every year, I also avoided some guys like the plague that I could easily have had, and would have benefitted from. Jordan Reed, Cam Newton and Blake Bortles (seriously, I got SO lucky QB was deep this year…), Darren McFadden, and probably a few other guys. One notable star who I had on zero of my teams was Odell Beckham Jr. To be fair, this isn’t because I didn’t think he was going to be good. It’s just that people were using first rounders and high second rounders on him that I felt would be better spent on guys like AJ Green, Julio Jones, the aforementioned DeAndre Hopkins, and DeMaryius Thomas. This incorrect thought on my part didn’t kill me as all of those guys were good this year, but sheesh. And again, to be fair to myself, I also didn’t have Dez Bryant on any of my teams; also not because I don’t think he’s good, but because I think he kept getting picked earlier than I had him slotted.

Then there’s the stuff that happens that really has you shaking your head. I lost one final to a guy who only squeaked into the playoffs by winning the last regular season week by 4.5 points because his opponent had Andy Dalton who got hurt. In the finals, he rolled out the Blake Bortles / Allen Robinson stack, and also Tim Hightower (whom he was awarded over me due to waiver priority). Nothing I can do about that. I lost other playoff matches where nearly everyone on my opponent’s roster seemed to be going against catastrophically bad defenses like New Orleans, Cleveland, and San Diego, while my poor players were travelling to Seattle, Kansas City, and Carolina. Hey, you can call that bad planning on my part if you want, but I will freely admit that I don’t look to see who a player’s week 14 and 15 opponents are before I draft them. Shame on me I guess. And then I lost one final because the team I was able to trot out there simply wasn’t that great. And then I picked the wrong week to sit Kirk Cousins, the wrong week to play Denard Robinson, and watched the combination of Brandin Cooks and the Arizona D lay ruin to my dreams on my opponent’s behalf.

Boy, for a guy who is trying to convince you (and himself) that this season was a success, my section on what went wrong sure looks longer than the one on what went right.

So there you have it; a successful fantasy season, odd as it is, in a nutshell. Got any good fantasy stories from this season to share with us? Hit us up on Twitter.

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