I miss the fantasy buzz already. I know we have our dynasty leagues and all of our rookie drafts to get excited about, but nothing is quite like the seconds before redzone frantically scrolling through your multiple teams to check if any players are locked in as inactive.
It feels as if every time we get to the NFL playoffs, a worthwhile exercise would be to look back at the previous glorious 16 or so weeks to figure out where it all went right or wrong. It rarely happens, we rarely give it enough time. We move on to the next thing in life far too quickly without learning from past experiences to improve. Let’s spend some time looking back. I have five lessons relating to either draft strategy or flex spot selections that I have either learned, or slightly tweaked an opinion on, during this crazy 2021 season. I have thrown in an extra five tips/tricks as a bonus that I have learned over the years past. Please remember that these are my lessons learned and yours will be different, although the goal in sharing these is to get you thinking.
1. Flex spot selections – Target better offenses and greater time of possession
I’ll kick things off with a topic that I could easily write multiple articles on and would quite happily dive a lot deeper into during this offseason. Simply put – In order for your offensive players to score fantasy points, the offense must be on the field (excluding any crazy scoring systems). I found that on the occasions where I needed a flex from my bench or from the wire, predicting who would have the ball more in a contest, resulted in more opportunities to score points. This would be regardless if they are run heavy or pass happy teams. It sounds pretty simple, and you may think ‘well of course, if I’m 50/50 between two players, I’m going with the better offense’. Sure. Well, what if that decision was between more touches on a weaker team who had the ball less vs fewer touches on a better team who had the ball more? We could differentiate here a little between RBs and pass catchers, as I’m firmly in the category of volume is king for RBs but not so much for WRs and TEs. There is nothing worse than seeing a player in your line-up go 3 and out multiple times in a row. Even if he touches it all 3 times, the maximum number of yards that he will gain will be 9 and then punting on 4th down (excluding penalties). More and more better offenses are going for it on 4th down also (and converting), something to keep an eye on in the future. I’m not saying a player on the Jets, Giants or Jaguars (each in bottom 5 of ToP) cannot ever outscore someone from the Ravens, Bills or Packers (each in the top 5 of ToP), but you want to tie yourself to good offenses who can move the chains. This is a game of percentages after all.
Lesson – When deciding between two players for your last flex spot, let the tie breaker be what is the better offense and who will have the ball longer (regardless of volume share of team).
2. Draft Strategy – A leg up on the ‘onesie’ positions
For the sake of this discussion, I’ll try and keep this to a normal redraft league format of 1 QB and 1 TE (no TE prem). I also will leave the defence and the kicker out of here, although team D may get a shout out a bit later on. I will draw on my own examples. In 2019 I drafted Lamar Jackson in the 11th round and Darren Waller with my final pick in the 15th. Having so much leverage at both positions, it became increasingly harder for me to lose my advantage on a weekly basis. Even if my early RBs or WRs didn’t hit, there were so many options at RB and WR (on the wire or via trade) that I felt comfortable sometimes waiting until the last moment to select a few starters. As you can probably tell, I walked my way to a championship ring that year. The year of 2020 may have been the classic example of not taking the time to learn the lesson from the previous year i.e RUSHING QBs ARE KING! I left this draft with Matt Ryan and TJ Hockenson. OK, Hock balled out that year and finished TE5, however Matt Ryan had a ‘meh’ kind of season and it didn’t matter too much as I decided to stream the position that year as he has zero rushing upside of course capping his weekly ceilings. Despite a strong finish, I lost in the semi-final that year. Moving on to this season, I took Travis Kelce in the 1st and Jalen Hurts in the 8th round. I regained my crown and I put it down to having a rushing QB that I didn’t draft early (the same for Lamar in 2019). Too many times I have heard that to wait on QB or TE is the best strategy as there are so many of them to choose from later on in the draft. Say that to the person who was streaming Cole Kmet or Gerald Everett in the final this year over Kelce or Andrews! For savvy fantasy players, a combination of an elite TE and a rushing QB may well be worth paying up for in the draft or early season trade. Especially if you believe you have enough skill and knowledge to be able to find the gems at RB and WR, given their depth, over your rivals. That said, those who drafted Darren Waller this year may have a completely different take on this.
Lesson – Leave your draft with either an elite TE or a rushing QB, or preferably both. If somehow you miss on either of them – trade for them ASAP.
3. Draft strategy – Hero RB all the way
I have probably exhausted every known draft strategy over the years. Usually, in your typical standard 1QB league with 2RBs, 2WRs etc I go heavy RB early. After this year I am convinced that I will be drafting 1 RB early and then not touching the position until later in drafts, forevermore. Bold words I know. There are a lot of tasty pass catchers and QBs in the early rounds that will help with the urge to draft another RB. Obviously seeing CMC and Henry go down to injury helps the thinking to limit your early picks to one RB over two to limit the risk, and the injury risk has always been higher for RB. Seeing Rashaad Penny, Boston Scott and Elijah Mitchell in the top 10 for running backs in championship really hits this home hard. The biggest lesson I have learned this year is to pick up as many backup RBs as you can. Not only though out the season, but throughout each fantasy week. There is nothing stopping me picking up the backup for the starting RB on the Thursday game and then dropping them on Friday for the Saturday game for example should an injury/covid not occur. Then doing the same for the early game on Sunday and so on. The more transactions involving RBs, increase your chance on landing one of these top 10 at the end. Certainly, those who ended up with Ronald Jones would disagree with all of this.
Lesson – Draft one stud RB and continue to pick up back up running backs throughout each of the fantasy weeks.
4. Flex spot selections – Focus on scoring points and not on your opponent’s team
When it comes down to the semi-final or final, fantasy players really start on the matchup (and rightly so). Who doesn’t look at the infamous fantasy score predictions? This lesson is to not be let any decisions be swayed because of what your opponents have locked into their line-up. You could obviously use this lesson throughout the entire season; however, it seems even more appropriate in the semi-final or the championship game. Again, I will reference my championship game to describe the mistake I made that nearly cost me the title! I picked up Isaiah McKenzie for my final flex spot in week 16 given his performance in week 15, the fact that Buffalo had Atlanta on last game of season and Beasley/Davis both ruled out with covid the week before. Then the NFL changed the rules for unvaccinated players halfway through the week and Davis and Beasley were back. My opponent had Josh Allen. I dropped McKenzie and grabbed Davis on the news that Sanders was LTD/DNP all week. My decision was now between Mooney, Foreman and Gabe Davis. You can see where I’m going with this… I should have gone away from Davis for either of the other two because of the fact that the opponent had a rushing QB and it would be a double whammy if he ran it in instead of throwing it to Gabe. Well – It happened twice. Not only that, but he could also have thrown it to Diggs, Beasley or Knox resulting in a similar scoring split between us. Same can be said for players playing a defence. You never actually know which way it could swing so it would be better off focussing on the fact that foreman was starting RB on a home team favourite, who were top 5 in ToP. Or a piece of an offense playing at home with a QB that he has had previous rapport with, vs the giants who were bottom 5 in ToP, and now had Mike Glennon as their QB. I didn’t even mention the weather in Buffalo. Mooney and Foreman were the plays over Gabe Davis and I thought if I could have a piece of Josh Allen’s points it would really sting my opponent. I got lucky. A big lesson learned here.
Lesson – Focus on your own team rather than starting a player just because your opponent has their QB or it is vs their Defence.
5. Flex spot selections – Over/Unders and predicting ‘Game Flow’
I have saved my favourite lesson until last. Some might say that this final lesson and my the one I listed first (Time of possession) are interchangeable, but I’ve listed them separately as there is a little more to this one. There are so many things that can affect the game flow of a context, and in turn game flow can have a huge effect on the fantasy output. Too many to list here, but I will focus on the ones that I’m looking for more and more as the years go on:
- The strength of the QBs. It felt as if there were more backup QBs starting this year than ever. The dreaded virus had a major hand to play this year, but also just poor QB in general. There is good reason why the Vegas lines are so affected by who the QB will be in a matchup.
- Tendencies of the teams in neutral game script and pace of play. This is the biggest link to ToP and usually tells me if a team will get up early and control the clock. Again, highly effective offenses with a good running game usually rule the ToP (and you usually want offensive players in your fantasy teams from that team). Pace of play is worth digging into deeper this offseason. Typically, you want players either on fast paced teams or playing them.
- Weather during the game. You want to be consistently checking this the nearer you get to kick offs and the nearer you get to December. Poor weather will play a factor in the total points scored and the over/unders for both teams. It got to the point of my wife asking me “Where is Green Bay and why are you checking the weather there?”. This is where you want to be.
- Defensive injuries. This is something I probably didn’t focus on as much in previous years. Maybe because of covid, I have been taking a lot more notice if a lockdown corner or a key middle line-backer will be missing a game (Jaire Alexander or Derrius Leonard). If the injuries or covid strike late in the week, the team will have even less time prepare for the week creating all sorts of opportunities for your fantasy team.
Looking at the Vegas odds should and will factor all of the above so maybe the lesson here should be as simple as keep an eye on the Vegas lines. Bottom line – I did a much better job this year predicting who would be playing from behind in a game and it heled with fantasy scoring.
Lesson – Check Vegas totals before game. Higher overs/unders and point spreads give clues on who to start in a pinch.
Hopefully this has given you a taste of some of my lessons over the past year. As I alluded to earlier, my lessons will be (and should be) very different to yours. It’s what has made our fantasy experiences unique for 2021. Other lessons I’ve learned in the past that may be helpful include:
6. Pass catching RBs have more upside. I would say that this is the case no matter what the format.
7. Stacking works. If a WR or TE scores highly that week, then it is very likely that his QB will follow suit.
8. Save some FAAB for final push. Incredible how many teams run out of FAAB by mid-season missing the likes of Rashaad Penny, Amon Ra and not to mention the team defences (Bears) down the stretch. Which leads me nicely to….
9. Stream defence no matter what. The right thing is to play matchups and attack weaker QBs. It is hard to sit the Chiefs for example having had such a great stretch getting you to the championship, but if you didn’t pivot off them in week 17 you were likely playing catchup from that onesie position.
10. Bye a win via trade. This is more of trick that a lesson. Look at your schedule and try and trade a player with a bye week against an opponent in a certain week, for a player on his/her team that you know will destroy you in that matchup. I traded away Joe Mixon for David Montgomery one year straight up. I made it look like the other person was winning the trade, however 4 weeks later when we had our matchup, my opponent figured what I did. Mixon was on his bench with a bye, and David Montgomery went nuclear vs the Eagles against him.
Happy offseason everyone! We can get through it together, don’t worry.