“You just never know.” This is a quote in the preface of The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. This handbook, published in 1999, describes step-by-step instructions for surviving such disastrous situations as wrestling free from an alligator (p. 57), performing a tracheotomy (p. 88), or landing a plane (p. 114).
The NFL draft is complete. It is officially fantasy football draft season! Over the next several weeks we will be bombarded with endless rankings, a plethora of advice, and countless news-worthy items. Despite this avalanche of information, well, “you just never know.” (Surviving an avalanche is on page 140.)
While we’re all looking for a competitive edge on the positive side of our draft, in the spirit of the Worst-Case Scenario publication, it may be beneficial to examine some negative aspects of fantasy drafts. This will better equip us to survive our draft unscathed.
Naturally there are common warnings that come with each fantasy draft. One caution may involve relying too much on default rankings (which may not be updated or reflect suspensions or injury issues).
Failing to familiarize yourself with your league scoring rules may also hurt your draft. What if your league does not score passing TD as 6 points? Suppose your league generously scores return yardage? Overlooking these scoring details could be costly.
Draft strategies may also vary. You might covet a certain skill position early. Some owners deliberately try to target QB and WR pairings in their draft. Others may insist on handcuffing players or ignoring bye weeks to get the best player available (BPA).
I’ve seen enough bizarre and conflicting strategies over the last 16 seasons to conclude that owners generally go with what has worked for them in the past. Until it fails for them, you can’t convince them otherwise.
With these out of the way, the next 5 areas can potentially ruin your draft.
1) Relying too much on Preseason or Combine Statistics.
Some players have put up eye-popping numbers at the combine or in preseason. Don’t be fooled by 2016’s Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott who both had an awesome preseason. Lightning may have struck twice in 2016 with respect to them. But they are the exception and not the rule.
Former preseason leaders included RB Zach Zenner (2015), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (2014), WR Allen Hurns (2014), and Khiry Robinson (2013). If you bumped up their value for your draft in those seasons you were an entire year too early, if at all.
At times, lightning strikes in preseason as it did with WR Anquan Boldin (2003) and RB Willie Parker (2004). Remember that preseason is generally for the coaching staff to grade the non-starters. It should not be a surprise then that the non-starters will get more work. Temper your expectations.
2) Trust Quotes from Coaches.
In today’s politically correct society, NFL coaches are artisans in dealing with the media. They are masters of sharing non-committal yet positive messages. Check out these beauties:
- We have to get player X more involved in the offense. (i.e. on the field more; more touches)
- Player Y is 100 percent better than last year at this time. (i.e. best shape of his life)
- Player Z has really improved his standing with the team.
Keep in mind, as promising as these actual statements are, they are also ambiguous and do not admit to a commitment. “More involved” can mean anything. Really, would any of us expect a coach to say (on the record) that a player is average, or even terrible? A coach teaches and motivates, especially during the off-season.
One of my favorite examples of this was when Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith was quoted that the Bears were going to throw to the TE more. I bought into this direct quote and confidently drafted Desmond Clark. The good news is Lovie and the Bears did throw to the TE more. The bad news is he never said when it would happen. I found out the hard way that it was still a season away from happening.
3) Stockpile Players from Bad Teams.
In 2016, the 5 teams that had the most trouble scoring points were the Bears, Texans, Jets, Browns and Rams. Honorable mention goes to the Jaguars, Giants, and 49ers. If the majority of your roster had players from these teams, perhaps the fantasy yardage may have made some of your weekly matchups close. However, the lack of TD scoring most likely hurt your bottom line.
4) Swing for the Fences.
Each season there are situations or scenarios that seem ideal. An example may be a top-rated rookie landing on team in desperate need of his skill-set. Then there are the theoretical fantasy philosophies that suggest that third-year players take the leap to the next fantasy tier. Another theory suggests that marginal players in a contract year have financial motivation to perform well, so it is assumed that they will.
Add in the media and other “experts” who perpetuate this and you have a Faberge Organics Shampoo moment. (Faberge Organics was a 1980’s commercial well-known for their tag line of telling 2 friends, and they’ll tell 2 friends, and so on; which was also spoofed in the movie Wayne’s World.)
What these scenarios really do is disproportionately elevate the value of players. It turns a late-round sleeper at the beginning of June into a single-digit round, “must-have” hype by August. If you decide to swing for the fences by filling your roster with these type of players and personal man-crushes, your draft can have you scrambling for the waiver wire sooner than you think.
5) Ignore Reality
Reviewing fantasy history reveals certain trends. Yet many owners rely only on last season’s statistics. Trends are more reliable than statistics. Here’s a few:
- Career Seasons. It’s tough for players to repeat, especially when they have a career type of season. I’m not suggesting that you should lower their value or avoid them altogether. But it’s not realistic to expect the same career numbers in consecutive seasons. Matt Ryan owners beware.
- Defenses and kickers are overrated. On average, the 12th-ranked defense is only about 3 points per game behind the first-ranked defense. Even top-notch defenses go through slumps. The 2016 Vikings finished #1 in standard scoring leagues, but eight other defenses played better than the Vikings during the last 8 weeks of the season (when it mattered most). As for kickers, each year, multiple undrafted kickers finish in the top-12.
- Most injuries take a year to heal. If a player has off-season surgery, or is injured in pre-season, you should rank him lower or avoid him all together depending on the injury. This may be too extreme to some. Hamstring, toe/foot and shoulder injuries seem to be the most nagging and performance affecting injuries and may linger all season. A sobering reminder is that even missing 4 games is roughly one-third of a fantasy season.
- Free Agents and one-hit wonders. Beware of lower-depth players that excelled last season only because higher-tiered players missed time due to injury. Deservedly they may have earned a right to more touches, but that doesn’t guarantee they will see them. Nor is it a lock to supplant the incumbent starter. Also, it can be risky to assume that high profile free agents moving to new teams will suddenly improve everyone else on their new team.
The sad truth is that fantasy football is not an exact science. History has proven that even the best fantasy experts are only about 60% right. (That was a failing grade when I was in school.) The remaining average experts drop to the 55% range. Add in the fact that of the first 12 players drafted at each position, sadly, approximately half will actually finish the season in the top 12 (except for the QB position). Moreover, consider too that for many fantasy owners, about half of their opening day roster will be traded, cut and replaced by seasons’ end.
With all of this already working against you, the key is to limit your worst-case scenarios during your draft. After all, “You just never know.”