Fantasy Black Friday
To some, the phrase Black Friday conjures up thoughts of waiting in long lines to purchase things that we probably don’t need at cheaper than normal prices. For a much smaller group, it can mean the final Friday of the fantasy football regular season. And for an even smaller group – for all I know only includes me – it may mean the end of the season after an absolutely horrific Thanksgiving performance from the Green Bay Packers.
In any event, for most fantasy teams, this is the time for the bottom half of the league to start looking at next year. I don’t know about everyone else, but it’s been a rough season for me. The supposed iron-clad theory of taking Running Backs early and treating other positions as an afterthought had more holes in it than the Jaguars defense. The first round had more busts than success stories. The Bears defense, last season’s #1 defense, is now droppable in 2013. The Saints defense that surrendered the most yards in league history in 2012 is a top 5 defense in 2013. It wasn’t a good year to be a tight end. The only real consistency was at receiver and I thought you could just take any old receiver in the 5th and 6th rounds.
With all this in mind, let’s go over a few theories about roster construction and game theory that can possibly be used in 2014.
The Running Back-Running Back Theory is NOT Back
In the days of LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson, you were crazy if you didn’t select two Running Backs in your first two rounds. For a brief moment over the last few years, people were making a case for Aaron Rodgers or Calvin Johnson as the #1 pick and that seemed crazy. This year, we were back to Running Back early and often, but out of desperation rather than actual talent. The perceived drastic dropoff in RB talent after the first 8 or so backs was overblown. If you thought you were safe taking Ray Rice and Stevan Ridley, not only were you wrong, but hopefully you grabbed Zac Stacy, Andre Ellington or Le’Veon Bell either late in the draft or mid-season.
The thought process this year – which I agreed with and used as the basis of my drafts – is that the gap between the top few Running Backs and everyone else, is greater than the gap between the best and average players at other positions. Truthfully, good value has come from all over the draft board.
Only four of the top ten backs in standard scoring were actually drafted in the first round. The others were between the 2nd and 6th rounds, with the third best RB, Knowshon Moreno, going almost totally undrafted. The consensus top 5 receivers (in no order; Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, AJ Green, Demaryius Thomas) are all in the top 10 in scoring. Jimmy Graham was the consensus first Tight End drafted and he has 50 more points than Julius Thomas at #2, who was a waiver add or super-late draft pick. The Chiefs defense was undrafted and is the #1 unit for now, while the Texans and Bears, both drafted inside the top 100 overall, are so droppable it hurts.
Odds are, if you loaded up at a position early, you were happy if it was anything other than Running Back. You could have very easily grabbed Calvin Johnson, Jimmy Graham and Peyton Manning in your first three rounds and filled in the gaps at Running Back with Eddie Lacy, Reggie Bush, hell, even Giovani Bernard or Fred Jackson. While it’s always nice to have a player with guaranteed touches, and you can’t predict serious injuries, try to be more conscious of overall value. Don’t pass on Jimmy Graham to get Chris Johnson because you’re worried about getting stuck with DeMarco Murray. That logic may have sounded smart in August. It sounds downright silly now, doesn’t it?
Don’t Be Afraid To Cut Your (Former) Studs
It’s the hardest thing to come to terms with. That player who you spent a first round pick on or $60 of your $200 auction dollars isn’t good anymore. Sometimes it happens gradually, and sometimes it’s a horrific and immediate downward spiral into irrelevancy. In 2007, I was stuck with Shaun Alexander who I took 6th overall, as I couldn’t cut him, and no one would let me trade him away when he was obviously done for. What a lost year that was.
In most leagues, there are usually only 5-7 bench spots available. In the middle of the season, bye weeks make you do really horrible things to your lineup. Keeping guys like Trent Richardson and Steven Jackson just hurts you in the end. Being able to recognize a massive and irreparable drop in productivity can free up a spot for you to pick up guys like Andre Ellington, Rashad Jennings or Andre Brown. I know those aren’t the marquee names you drafted in August, but if you took Ray Rice’s numbers and gave him a random name like Art Vandelay, you’d drop him in a heartbeat. Again, you don’t have to drop these guys just for fun, but don’t drop other valuable pieces because you’re holding out hope that CJ Spiller will get back to 6 yards a carry.
Don’t Always Try To Win The Trade, Just Improve Your Team
It’s week 8. You’re sitting there with Julius Thomas and Tony Gonzalez and you just lost Reggie Wayne for the year. Your friend needs a tight end, and he’s got a few extra wide receivers. He offers you TY Hilton for Julius Thomas. On the surface, you may think it’s a bad deal for you – Thomas is a top 2 TE and Hilton, while good, is inconsistent. However, if you can’t play more than one tight end, what value is there in holding onto two? Sure, if one gets hurt it’s good to have another high end starter, but if you’re only keeping them to play matchups/bye weeks, get better value out of your entire team.
Be willing to speculate on high upside players that may not be top ten guys yet. Don’t always be looking to screw your leaguemate out of a deal to the point where you don’t even make a trade. It’s sometimes better to take the slightly worse end of a trade if you’re moving a position you have depth at, to get another player you can start.
Defenses and Kickers
The two most ignored positions on draft day are also the most replaceable throughout the season. Just because total points between the top defense and kicker to the 15th best defense and kicker isn’t a big difference doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be trying to improve these positions all year. Most people are still hanging onto guys like Matt Bryant and Randy Bullock who are now the 24th and 26th best kickers in standard scoring. They’re 72% and 68% owned. Go pick up someone above them. If you don’t have a top 6 or 7 defense be on the lookout for matchups, and don’t be afraid to hold two or three defenses at once with playoffs coming up. Don’t force yourself into playing a mediocre or bad defense just because they have a decent matchup.
Just Win, Baby
I’m guilty of this a lot. Don’t tinker obsessively with your bench. Don’t worry who your 4th and 5th flex plays are in week 13 after the byes end. If you’re struggling around .500, don’t play for depth and long term viability. Just win now. If that means dropping Trent Richardson and Ray Rice to pick up Rashad Jennings and Benny Cunningham, do it. If it means cutting one of those guys to pick up a defense with a better matchup, do it! If a loss ends your season, it doesn’t matter how impressive your ability to stack talent is (unless you’re in a keeper/dynasty league).
Which leads me into my final point. If you’re in a keeper league, your 2013 season may be over but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve for 2014. Assuming you can keep players that you didn’t draft, maybe it’s time to cut your useless Running Back handcuffs, or that extra defense you won’t be keeping. Grab guys like Dennis Johnson, who may be the starter in Houston next year, or guys like LaMichael James in San Francisco, because how long can Frank Gore really be the starter? Injured players like Dennis Pitta, Michael Crabtree and even Jeremy Maclin, have probably been forgotten about by your leaguemates and if you can get good keeper value next year, you’ll already be ahead of the game.
Hopefully you’re still in the playoff hunt of your league going into the rest of week 13, but if not, I hope this has you thinking about how to improve in 2014. Time to enjoy the NFL for the actual sport it is. There’s always three-team-teasers to keep you occupied.