Season-Long Fantasy Football Outlook - Overview
Why I’m Here
Fantasy Football Season is officially upon us and it’s time to start preparing. I have three drafts in the next week so it is officially time for me to give this wonderful sport the attention it deserves. I have a pretty tried-and-true system for preparing for fantasy drafts every year so I figured I would put it into blog form. Over the next few days, I will be walking through each division and giving an overview of each team’s fantasy outlook for the 2019 season. Let’s go.
Note: Everything written here will be concerning a 12-person, 0.5 point per reception, snake draft league with all other scoring being standard.
My Fantasy Philosophy
Before I get into a team by team breakdown, I’ll start off with a little explanation of my philosophy on each position in season-long fantasy football. Evaluating each position is a very important part of drafting, so it is important to have a decent plan for each before going into your drafts.
My philosophy on fantasy quarterbacks is a more extreme version of what you’ll hear a lot of experts say: Wait. Don’t draft a quarterback until you absolutely have to. There are statistics to back this up that I don’t have in front of me at the moment, but in most years the gap between the 3rd highest scoring quarterback and the 20th highest scoring quarterback is pretty insignificant. There are always plenty of good fantasy quarterbacks every year, so I usually don’t even bother drafting one until Round 13 or 14.
Sure, there are exceptions to this rule. Patrick Mahomes was sensational last year and led all quarterbacks in fantasy points per game by a considerable margin, so his relative value was much higher than everybody else. Even still, it is tough to predict who will be the top guy because so much of it is based on week-to-week matchup, so I still find that the best strategy is to wait. By waiting, you capitalize on the other morons in your league reaching on quarterbacks and passing on much more valuable position players that you can snatch up.
By far the most important position to prioritize in season long fantasy football leagues is running back. There are only 32 backfields in the NFL, and each of those backfields typically only use one running back on the field at a time. There are 24 mandatory running back positions in a standard 12-team league. That means that after all the running back positions are filled, there are likely only 8 backfields left to target. This is not how it typically works out because there are always multiple decent backs in some backfields, but I am just trying to put in perspective the scarcity of the position.
Because the position is so scarce, I am always looking to load up on as many valuable running backs as I can get. So the next question becomes what makes a running back valuable?
Many people believe talent is the most important thing in evaluating running backs for fantasy, but (in my opinion) they are extremely incorrect. This is my strongest opinion in all of sports, so bear with me here. Outside of the top running backs in the league (Saquon, McCaffrey, and maybe Zeke), talent doesn’t really matter. The difference in talent between the 10th best running back in the league and the 150th best running back in the league is really not nearly as big as you might think. There is only so much a running back can do. It’s vision, speed, agility, elusiveness, etc., but the reality is that a lot of guys excel at all of those things. Do not make the mistake of trying to evaluate running backs based solely on talent.
The running back position in fantasy football is all about one thing: Opportunity. Not just the quantity of opportunity (touches), but also the quality of opportunity (how good is their system). The best way to explain what I’m talking about is by looking at three backfields from last season: the Steelers, Rams, and Chiefs. All three backfields featured great running backs who were tearing it up from a fantasy perspective (Bell, Gurley, Hunt). The general perception from the media and fantasy owners was that of all three of those running backs was that they were just so talented and that’s why they were so productive. Wrong.
Enter James Conner, Malcolm Brown, and Damien Williams. All three running backs stepped in to replace their “more talented” counterparts and all three excelled in their positions. The fact of the matter is that the talent gap between the first three guys I mentioned and the next three guys I mentioned is really not that significant, and the stats back that up. Conner, Brown, and Williams all took advantage of great opportunities and were all great fantasy players as a result.
It’s the same thing every year. Everybody wants to say “OMG ______ is so good”. Sure, he’s good, but Peyton Hillis used to be “good”. Justin Forsett was “good”. Demarco Murray was “good”. Doug Martin was “good”. Alfred Morris was “good”. My point is this – every running back is pretty damn good at football. What makes them a great fantasy asset is not their talent, but their opportunity.
Remember everything I just said about running back talent not mattering? Ignore all of that for wide receivers. Wide receiver is the second most important position to focus on in fantasy football, and evaluating receivers really comes down to two things: Talent and Targets.
I can explain the reason talent is more important for receivers than it is for running backs pretty easily. Look at the 2018 Texans: If you handed the ball to both Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue and told them to hit the same hole, they’d probably wind up picking up roughly the same number of yards on the run. If you told both Deandre Hopkins and Keke Coutee to go get open and make a catch 25 yards down the field, Hopkins is much more likely to get it done than Keke Coutee. The talent gap between an extraordinary wide receiver and an ordinary wide receiver is much more significant than it is for running backs.
Perhaps more important than talent for the wide receiver position is targets. This isn’t rocket science. You need a guy who gets enough targets on a weekly basis to make him a reliable starter. While Deandre Hopkins might be one of the best receivers in the league, he is not a valuable fantasy asset if he’s only getting a few targets per game. There are two basic questions to ask when trying to determine how many targets a receiver will get: How often will the team throw? And how often will they throw to that receiver?
The next most important position after running back and wide receiver is tight end. This position is very unique in the fact that it tends to change every year. In some years, there are 15+ tight ends who all get a decent number of targets and touchdowns and the position is more or less a wash. There are other years where there are really only a few great tight end options and then everybody else is just searching for touchdowns. Because it’s so early in my preparation process, I haven’t determined what type of year I expect this to be.
As a rule of thumb, if its a weak year for the tight end position, I will draft them early and often. If there are only 5 really solid tight end options and you get 2 of them, you have an incredible trade piece to shop around your league (don’t be the asshole who does this with quarterbacks – there are always a billion quarterbacks, nobody cares that you have Matt Ryan and Drew Brees).
If it’s a deep year for tight ends, I will typically try to wait a little bit to snatch one up. If there are 10 tight ends I really like, I’ll try to get one of the first 5 or 6 off the board. If there are 20 tight ends I like, then I might wait until the very end of the draft to finally pick one. Tight end is a weird position. If it’s deep, just let the draft come to you. If it’s scarce, don’t be afraid to reach on one or two early on.
Evaluating tight ends is almost the exact same as evaluating a receiver but with one additional caveat: Touchdown hunting. In years when the position is scarce, you can still always find guys who get enough red zone targets to be worthwhile despite a limited role in the offense.
Defenses and Kickers
Do whatever you want for this, but my rule is simple: I’m drafting a defense in round 15 and I’m drafting a kicker in round 16. If your league doesn’t force you to draft these positions, don’t. Both of these positions should be filled through the waiver wire and free agency anyway. Don’t waste valuable picks on garbage.
Positional Evaluation Summary
QB – Wait
RB – Opportunity
WR – Talent and Targets
TE – Talent, Targets, and Touchdowns
D/ST – Round 15
K – Round 16
Thanks for reading. I will begin walking through each division soon.