As a former Bleacher Report featured columnist and KFFL writer, I've done fantasy football articles before. This will be my first fantasy football article here at Think Different.
Now that the 2014 fantasy season is over, it's time to take a look at what lessons we can glean while the wounds are still fresh. I finished as the runner up in my league, having lost in the Week 16 championship round after finishing first in my league in the regular season. The following minor insights are things that particularly stuck out to me as general themes for 2014. Let's get to it.
1. Take the TRUE stud RB early
There are few true stud RBs in the NFL. By "stud", I mean running backs who are three-down backs. Many running backs are not (1) adept pass catchers, (2) good goal line backs or (3) adequate pass protectors—or some combination of these three. So they get pulled out at the goal line where their touchdowns get vultured by some second- or third-string running back. Or they get pulled out in passing downs because they can't catch the ball well. Or they get pulled out on passing downs because they can't help pass protect. Whatever the case, their production suffers.
This should have been a big red flag for consensus #1 overall pick LeSean McCoy because even though he is a skilled pass catcher, a solid goal line back and good enough in pass pro, the Eagles nevertheless acquired Darren Sproles, which you subconsciously knew would reduce Shady's touches. McCoy finished as the 12th best fantasy running back, including a horrific 3.0 and 7.5 fantasy points (fp) in critical Weeks 14 and 15, respectively. (Sproles didn't do much in Week 14 himself, but he did outscore McCoy with 9.3 fp in Week 15.)
The only RBs who fit that stud status at this point (while averaging at least 13 fppg in 2014) are Le'Veon Bell, Matt Forte, DeMarco Murray, Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster, Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles and (surprise) Lamar Miller. But consider the question marks on several of these stud guys:
- It's unclear how the next Bears coaching staff will use Forte in 2015.
- Murray is injury-prone and while he finally finished his first season playing all 16 games, he did play through a broken left hand, so he still makes me nervous next year despite playing behind an outstanding offensive line.
- Lynch's status in Seattle next year is up in the air (plus he came up small several times in the regular season).
- Foster is getting old and continues to break down.
- Lacy is prone to concussions.
That leaves Bell, Charles and Miller as the only options I would consider as "safe studs" next year; the rest are "risky studs" who may not return your first- or second-round investment. Bell probably will be the consensus #1 overall pick in next year's cheat sheets. Miller is a sneaky value play next year, having quietly notched a 1,000 yard rushing campaign this year and finishing as the 9th best fantasy RB.
Outside of these backs, other backs can provide solid fantasy numbers without the high draft pick risk—guys like Jeremy Hill, Joique Bell, Latavius Murray, etc. So if I miss on a "safe stud", I'd rather go for a stud WR rather than a "risky RB stud"—whether you're in a PPR league or not—which leads me to my next lesson learned.
2. There's serious depth at WR
We knew coming into the 2014 season that the rookie WR class was pretty good. There's always a question of how quickly that translates into NFL production and in past years, rookie WRs—Calvin Johnson excepted—were too inconsistent for fantasy purposes.
That wasn't the case this year. Odell Beckham Jr. finished the season as the second-highest fantasy wideout with monster rookie numbers we haven't seen since Randy Moss. Mike Evans quietly finished as the 13th-best fantasy WR. Kelvin Benjamin and Sammy Watkins started strong, though they struggled a bit in the second half. Jordan Matthews and Jarvis Landry showed fairly consistent promise, with both averaging double-digit fantasy points in PPR leagues. Throw in young emerging talent like DeAndre Hopkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Alshon Jeffery and Golden Tate and you have a lot of depth adding to the usual WR suspects like Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall and Randall Cobb.
Indeed, the top 12 WRs scored between 23.8 to 16.8 fppg while the top 12 RBs scored between 23.6 to 12.5 fppg, so WRs outscored their RB counterparts. Furthermore, in PPR leagues, there were 22 RBs who averaged double digit fppg compared to a whopping 48 WRs—more than twice as many WRs than RBs! In fact, there were six RBs who averaged better than 17 fppg but 11 WRs who hit 17+ fppg.
Of course, most leagues start more WRs than RBs too, but the fact that there is tremendous WR depth means you can at least consider bucking the recent "stud WR first" strategy in next year's drafts.
3. Cheat sheets suck
If you strictly adhered to cheat sheets, you probably didn't win your league's championship.
In Yahoo cheat sheets, for example, the top three picks in the respective positions were:
QB: Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees
RB: LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson
WR: Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas
TE: Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Julius Thomas
DEF: Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis
In reality, the top three fantasy performers (in PPR) were:
QB: Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning
RB: Le'Veon Bell, Matt Forte, DeMarco Murray
WR: Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., Demaryius Thomas
TE: Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen
DEF: Houston, Philadelphia, Buffalo
So only 5 of these top 15 picks were accurate. That's a dismal 33% accuracy rate. And that's not just Yahoo cheat sheets. Other cheat sheets suffer similarly as well. Of course, you'll all forget this article by August next year and faithfully stick with the cheat sheet script again. But don't say I didn't warn you.
And that leads me to my next lesson learned...
4. Do NOT pick the first guy listed at any position on next year's cheat sheets
Looking at the 2014 cheat sheet's top-ranked performer by position versus the actual 2014 top performer at each position, you'll see that NONE of them were right. That's an even more dismal 0% accuracy rate.
Le'Veon Bell will most likely be the top ranked fantasy RB next year, if not the #1 overall ranked fantasy player. Emotions are high given his production this year, so you'll absolutely swear on your mother's death bed as well as bet your firstborn child that Bell will surely meet your expectations as the top ranked fantasy RB next year.
Don't bet on it.
I'm not saying don't take him if you have the chance. After all, I did say in point #1 above that I consider Bell a "safe stud." However, the cliche stands true: "That's why they play the games." Things happen in the NFL.
Last year, Arian Foster was the consensus top-ranked RB in fantasy drafts. Remember who finished as the top-ranked RB last year? It wasn't Foster. Try Jamaal Charles.
Same held true for QB and WR. Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson were the consensus top picks at those positions in 2013 cheat sheets. The real top finishers at those positions in fppg? Peyton Manning and Josh Gordon.
5. Uncertainty rules
Did you know Russell Wilson finished as the fourth-best fantasy QB in 2014? Even more amazing than that is the fact he did it with wide receivers you can't even name. Golden Tate left for Detroit. Percy Harvin was mediocre before being traded mid-season to the Jets. Who knew?
Did you expect Odell Beckham Jr. to be the second-best fantasy WR considering that he has Eli Manning throwing to him? Yes, the same Eli Manning who probably went undrafted in all but perhaps 14-team+ leagues? And given that the barely 6' 0" Beckham doesn't fit the recent popular trend of mega-tall receivers? And facing opposing teams' No. 1 cornerback since Victor Cruz was out for the season? Who knew?
Did you think 94-year-old Antonio Gates (ok, he's really 34 years old, but that's still ancient in the NFL) would finish as the fourth-best fantasy TE, just .04 fppg less than the exalted Jimmy Graham? Who knew?
Did you expect that the much-ridiculed-in-real-life Chicago Bears offense nevertheless boasts the 2nd-best fantasy RB, the 11th- and 19th-best fantasy WRs, the 5th-best fantasy TE and—as mocked as he is—Jay Cutler was the 8th-best fantasy QB through the fantasy regular season? Who knew?
Would you have thought that Eagles QB Nick Foles and much-derided (and rightfully so) backup Mark Sanchez would be near statistical equals fantasy-wise? (Foles averaged 18.2 fppg; Sanchez 18.0) Who knew?
The NFL is quirky and unpredictable, perhaps more so than ever before—which means playing fantasy football is trickier than ever before.
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