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Mike Davis | Archive | Email |
Staff Writer

Props to Readers Like Jim

2016 Predictions in Review

Back in July, I singled out 1 QB (Cam Newton), 1 RB (Todd Gurley), 1 WR (Alshon Jeffery), and 1 TE (Rob Gronkowski) as players for whom fantasy owners would have to overpay in 2017.

None of those players finished in the top 12 at their position, so a reader named Mr. Squeeze gave me credit for a 1.000 batting average (which is a bit over-generous, since I turned out in at least one case to be right for the wrong reasons). Still, it is nice to see one's predictions come true—and even nicer when other people notice.

For that reason, I want to shine a spotlight on the predictions of a reader named Jim, who singled out four rebound candidates in that same column. He picked 1 QB (Andrew Luck), 1 RB (Carlos Hyde), 1 WR (Julian Edelman), and 1 TE (Jimmy Graham) that he considered likely to outperform expectations in 2016. This is how he evaluated his own predictions at the end of the season:

[My predictions] were works of literary brilliance not seen since the likes of Ralphie's theme in a Christmas story.

To an extent, I think I hit on all of them. But let's just see how rose-colored my glasses are.

Luck has been back to the standard we expected of him before last year. He won't get to 40 TDs in 2016, but he should go past 30 [despite] missing 1 game. I'd rather dress up in a pink bunny outfit than have to face Luck during the playoffs. Hyde is the Official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200 Shot Range Model air rifle of the Niners, the only thing you really want. His midseason swoon resembles Edelman's, but both had solid enough seasons and look to be prime time fantasy playoff studs. Jimmy Graham is back to being most of what Jimmy Graham was and bullying defenses like Scut Farkus. All of them were at bargain basement prices or later round picks that have continued reason for fantasy relevance right up thru the playoffs.

You can send a major award.
Jim, your major award takes the form of all the applause you're getting from readers right now (whether you can hear it or not). You were dead on concerning Luck and Graham, and the Hyde pick was quite good (except for the midseason lull that you mention). It's a bit harder to sell me on the Edelman pick since not all leagues require a WR3—but I'll grant that in a lot of league formats you could reasonably claim to have gone four-for-four.

In any case, I appreciate the time and thought you put into your picks—as I know many readers of this column appreciate the time and thought that their fellow readers put into keeping the conversation of Q&A going.

Last Week's Question: What will you do differently in 2017?

In Week 16, I asked readers what they expected to change about their approach to fantasy football in 2017. Although the changes could have concerned anything from handcuff strategy to league structure, the responses focused overwhelmingly on disenchantment with the zero-RB strategy in drafts. As Thomsoad wrote:
After applying the no RB strategy for 8 years now this is the first time ever I failed to make the playoffs in both money leagues. The culprit besides bad luck (B Marshall 2nd round, A Jeffery 3rd round; R Cobb 4th round) was a huge uptick in other people drafting WR's in the top 2 rounds. I'm personally hoping other people will do something different next year so I can get back to winning.
Note that even though Thomsoad is disappointed with the results the zero-RB approach delivered this year, he rightly points out that the problem may have been related to the specific receivers he took rather than zero-RB as a strategy. If, as he hopes, the other owners in his league go less WR-heavy in the first two rounds next season, he'll presumably have better options to target at the beginning of his draft.

Two readers replied to Thomsoad to point out that they enjoyed success in their leagues because they avoided the zero-RB approach. One (Chuck) attributes his involvement in two championship games (out of three fantasy leagues) to his balanced approach. Another (aenima9481) found success despite drafting some of the same dud wide-outs as Thomsoad, but he enjoyed that success because spending his first pick on David Johnson allowed him to gain ground at RB that he lost at WR.

This discussion among readers got me thinking about the draft approach I took in 2016 and how I'm likely to modify it for 2017.

In a nutshell, I think I'll probably be a little more focused on RBs (and less focused on WRs) next year.

I'm not saying I'll rule out a zero-RB approach in any draft if that's the path that makes sense under the circumstances. But if the 2016 FFToday staff league taught me anything, it's that the easiest trap we can fall into when it comes to the zero-RB approach is to spend so much time evaluating receivers relative to each other that we forget to evaluate them relative to RBs.

I had a horrible year in the Staff League in part because my primary RBs (Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, and Jeremy Langford) were injured early. In a league that requires owners to start two RBs (and permits a third), it's vital to build a stable of RBs. But since I felt a lot more confidence in the tiers I had created for WRs than the tiers I set up for RBs, I went ridiculously heavy on WRs in the draft. Because my first pick in the Staff League was Adrian Peterson, I can't realistically blame my poor performance on the zero-RB approach. But at the same time, I did use the zero-RB approach in other leagues, and my reliance on that approach led me to underemphasize the RB position in the Staff League.

Over and over in the draft, I felt confident that receiver X was clearly a cut above receivers Y & Z, whereas running back A was not so clearly a cut above running backs B &C—if only because I hadn't put as much thought into RBs.

The result was that I pulled the trigger on too many WRs and not enough RBs—and never had a chance to recover from the injuries my team sustained at the RB position. I might have been able to get away with this in leagues that permit a run-and-shoot lineup, but it was a reckless approach to take in a league that requires owners to start two RBs at a minimum.

Lesson learned.

Any readers who stumble upon this column in the coming months are welcome to email me or post comments about the lessons they learned this season. I hope to review thoughts in this vein in the summer of 2017.

For now, please let me thank the community of readers at FFToday for another great season of fantasy football discussion. It's a blast to write for and interact with you folks.

Enjoy the playoffs, and have a great 2017.

Survivor Pool Picks - Week 17 (Courtesy of Matthew Schiff)

#3: Detroit over Green Bay: (12-4, JAX, OAK, DAL, MIN, PIT, NE, CIN, TN, GB, AZ, DET, NYG, SEA, HOU, IND, BUF, SD)

This is NOT a TYPO. Detroit will WIN this game straight up. The Lions are underdogs by a field goal or more in the last game of the regular season. But since the winner of the game will host a wild card playoff game the following week, the Lions-Packers matchup can also be seen as the first game of the postseason. Vegas says to take Aaron Rodgers and company. But Matt Stafford has waited his whole NFL career to make the postseason, and after losing the last two games to NFC East Playoffs teams (the NY Giants and Dallas Cowboys) in consecutive weeks, it just seems appropriate for the Lions to shed their hard-earned nickname (the “Lie Downs”). Yes, all the stats lean towards Green Bay. But this is the Sunday that Lions fans have been awaiting for years. And nothing would be sweeter than to beat their division rivals to close out the season.

#2: Tampa Bay over Carolina: (14-2, HOU, AZ, CAR, WAS, GB, TN, NE, MN, SEA, NYG, PIT, BUF, DEN, ATL, ATL, DAL)

Yikes, you never want to be sitting in the last week of your survival league looking over your choices of games and saying, “I have to take Tampa.” After all, the Buccaneers are the biggest enigma in the NFL this side of the New York Giants. It doesn't help that Doug Martin was a healthy scratch from last week’s game. Unfortunately for Martin, he also found out that he has a four-game suspension for a banned substance. So look for an aerial assault from Jameis Winston (featuring Mike Evans and Cameron Brate, of course). While Carolina was the elite of the NFC last year, the "S" on Cam Newton's chest is more likely to stand for Sulkyman than Superman these days, and his supporting cast hasn’t stepped it up after their Super Bowl hangover. But games like this aren't about individual player performances; they're about team morale, and you should expect the team that “needs it more” to eke out a victory.

#1: Kansas City over San Diego: (14-2*, SEA, CAR, MIA, CIN, NE, PIT, GB, DEN, DAL, BAL, NYG, NO, SD, DET, MIN*, TEN)

Last week, with my #3 pick, I followed the strategy that I have used most of this year by betting against the Browns. Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates couldn’t make history against Cleveland in the touchdown arena, but the Chargers did manage to become the 2016 team that finally allowed the Browns to win their first game of the season. So can the team that lost to the Browns in Week 16 defeat the Chargers in Week 17? I don't think so. The Chiefs do have something at stake in this game: If they can win against San Diego at home and if Oakland loses at Denver without Derek Carr, the Chiefs win the AFC West. So even though this is a divisional matchup, it's the game I feel the most confident about this week. I recommend it as your SAFEST bet in Week 17, which always proves to be a wildly unpredictable slate of games.

Mike Davis has been writing about fantasy football since 1999--and playing video games even longer than that. His latest novel (concerning a gamer who gets trapped inside Nethack after eating too many shrooms) can be found here.