With the 2019 NFL Preseason just a couple weeks away, that means another year of fantasy football is almost upon us. Fantasy football is meant to be a fun game but nonetheless, it can be a very competitive game at the same time. Having consistent advantages over your opponents will truly pay off over the length of the season. So with draft day arriving in the near future, here are some essential things you should and shouldn’t do every year in fantasy football.
Do: Research Before And During The Season
The best decisions in fantasy football (and in life) are informed decisions. Studying a great amount of research will separate you from most of the pack. Before draft day, you should know what players you do and don’t like, under the radar players (“sleepers”) to target, what players are injured, etc. Research will especially help you at the end of the draft when you’re basically drafting solely on the potential of your players at that point. You can even go as far as to make your own rankings but the draft platform you are using will provide rankings for you (don’t rely on a platform’s rankings too much though, use your research and intuition as well). If you’re not preparing for the draft, you’re most likely preparing to fail. However, even if you aren’t satisfied with how you drafted it is completely okay. While the draft could pay dividends over the course of 13-16 weeks, the draft is the foundation of your year in fantasy football, not your fate. During the season it is crucial to research consistently. You can’t rely on all your preseason research to carry you throughout the season. I’m not saying you have to obsessively read every fantasy football article on ESPN or spend hours listening to fantasy football podcasts. Reading articles (and listening to podcasts if you have the time) is something I would recommend, but it’s also very easy to follow fantasy football accounts/analysts on social media and talk to others about their opinions. Before the draft, doing “mock drafts” will help you to a far extent as well. Without a doubt, it will be really difficult to make yourself a championship contender if you’re not doing the research.
Don’t: Auto Draft
Please…PLEASE don’t let a computer automatically simulate your roster during the draft. The other league members won’t be happy (rightfully so) and arguably the most fun experience of fantasy football is the draft itself. If you’re worried about making mistakes during the draft, auto-drafting does not justify anything except not being able to attend the draft. The roster you draft will look really different during the season due to trades, free agents and injuries. Even if you make costly mistakes during the draft, you can still recover during the season and use the mistakes as lessons for next year. Trust me, your opponents will never let you forget it if you auto draft, even if you win the entire league. Just don’t be that guy.
Do: Make Trades
Making trades might sound sort of simple, but it pays off big time. From a personal standpoint, there have been numerous leagues where I have gone from an average or above-average team to an instant championship contender through the trade market. You don’t need to go crazy with trades and it might be a good idea to wait a few weeks until making your first trade, but there’s no doubt in my mind that making trades is necessary to constructing a solid fantasy team. The most important key in trades is a classic business phrase: “Buy low, Sell high.” When a player is on the verge of breaking out but hasn’t lived up to the production that their potential indicates, this means it is a good time to buy low. A great time to sell high is when you know a player on your roster has reached their peak production and will most likely not repeat their high-level performances due to injured players on their team returning, too high of expectations to repeat or other possible reasons. A great example last year is James White. Last year, James White had been under the radar while consistently putting up double-digit points in fantasy during the beginning of the season. The week before New England Patriots starting running back Sony Michel got injured, I traded a couple players on my bench for James White and his value then went off the charts (in what my friend said was a “pointless trade” at the time). A couple weeks later with Sony Michel expected to return pretty soon, I knew there was no way White would repeat his amazing stretch of production (even if Michel wasn’t returning, White wasn’t going to put up 25+ points every week like he was during this stretch). I proceeded to trade James White for first and third round value players while James White regressed to the mean.
Don’t: Put Too Much Value Into Bye Weeks
While keeping an eye on buy weeks is a good idea, this happens far too often where people are too concerned with the bye weeks of their players. During the draft, many people have the tendency to leave great players on the board simply due to certain players having the same bye week as someone they just selected. It’s not worth neglecting 12-15 weeks just because of how one week could hurt you. The same goes with trading and free agency: don’t pass up a player simply due to their bye week. The only exception is when your quarterbacks both or all have a bye week. If you decide to not stream quarterbacks, you better make sure your quarterback on the bench does not have the same bye week as your starting QB. There are no bye weeks after week 12 and this is when your bench becomes significantly less important. After week 12, you need to maximize the talent of your starting lineup for a playoff run.
Do: Know the Commissioner’s Scoring System
Remember how I said earlier that you don’t want to be the guy auto drafting? You also don’t want to be the guy who asks during the draft: “Wait…Is this PPR (Point Per Reception) or Standard?” You can’t assume the scoring system of your league and it’s a 100 percent obligation to check the league rules/settings. A good portion of leagues has different rules than others. Even if it’s a couple of small differences between most leagues, those small differences could make a huge difference in the draft or during the season. One of my friends was in a draft where he was confused with everybody taking quarterbacks really early and it wasn’t until after the draft that he realized passing touchdowns were worth 6 points, not the usual 4 points (which doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but it definitely is). Knowing the settings your commish put in place will be crucial to your draft strategy and how you adjust your lineup every week. Knowing the scoring system of your league is arguably the most important rule of fantasy football.
Don’t: Be A Bad Commissioner
Lots of commissioners make the league too much about themselves, whether it’s through controversy like vetoing every trade, putting absurd rule changes before or even during the season, not making the draft in time for the season, etc. Bad commissioners have the tendency to heavily favor their own personal interests/strong suits which can put others at a disadvantage. There are some tough decisions to make as commissioner and while it’s important for the commissioner to stand their ground, it is also important to give all league members a fair say. Also, league members, this goes both ways. Don’t be that guy always slandering the commish and making his or her job harder than it should be. Being a commish isn’t easy and the person who volunteered for that position is exerting time and effort for the benefit of all (and if they aren’t exerting time and effort that falls under the bad commissioner guidelines).
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Do: Wait To Draft Kickers and Defenses (And Quarterbacks)
In every draft you participate in this year, wait until the last two rounds to select defense and a kicker. Kickers, no matter how good even the best kickers are, will be very unpredictable every week. Defenses are just as, if not more unpredictable than kickers but the key with defenses is their weekly matchup. I’m not alone when strongly advising you to stream defenses through free agency. More times than not at the end of the draft, I’m looking at the matchup a defense is playing against their first couple weeks of the season, not their statistics from last year (previous statistics can help as a tiebreaker between multiple defenses though). A good tactic for picking up kickers is how good the offense of their team is, considering the team will be in field goal range more often. Regardless, you really never have a sure idea of what you’re going to get with kickers/defenses week in and week out, therefore indicating you need to select skill position players instead. As a football fan, kickers and defensive players are awesome. As a fantasy football manager, kickers and defensive players can’t be prioritized. In the draft, it’s also necessary to be patient with quarterbacks. Assuming the value of a quarterback is not inflated by the league’s scoring system, taking an elite quarterback will have you miss out on much more important top-tier running backs/wide receivers and even tight ends if that’s what you prefer. If you don’t like the best players available when you’re drafting a certain pick and you really like an elite quarterback available, trust your gut and take the QB. The point I’m trying to make with quarterbacks is that there is such a relatively small gap between the top quarterbacks you have to take in the earliest rounds compared to the very good quarterbacks you can wait much longer for. To quote fantasy guru Matthew Berry again, “there is so much depth at the quarterback position in fantasy so there is zero reason to pick one early.” When you take a quarterback early, you might have lost the opportunity to take a star running back or wide receiver leading your team to a championship.
Don’t: Get Personal
Fantasy football losses can be tough, but you don’t need to be such a sore loser that you neglect somebody and hold a grudge in real life (especially the NFL players themselves). You don’t need to personally attack another league member just because they won’t accept your trade or have tactics you completely disagree with. While all of that is detrimental, I’m referring to why you can’t get personal with your lineup decisions. This also applies in the draft as it’s very tempting to pick a player you like instead of a player that’s actually better. With lineup decisions, every player in the starting lineup matters and each player could realistically be the difference between a win or a loss. I could go on and on about this but I think a personal anecdote will get the point across. Tarik Cohen, starting running back for the Chicago Bears, is by far my favorite player in the NFL. During my flag football season last year, I literally taped a piece of paper on the back of my jersey that said “COHEN-29.” Cohen had a breakout fantasy football season last year and I’m being a little hypocritical when saying that I made sure he was on my team. Going into the championship week of my most competitive fantasy football league last year, I had the decision of starting either Cohen or Stefon Diggs (who I’m also a big fan of) at my flex position (for those who don’t know, the “flex” is an extra starting spot available for wide receivers/running backs/tight ends). The most logical choice was to start Diggs as he is a wide receiver in a PPR league, he had a more favorable matchup, was more consistent than Cohen and basically had most of the pros/cons in his favor. My team with a co-owner was absolutely stacked and I didn’t think it would make a huge difference who I chose to start. With Cohen being in one of the latest games of the championship matchup, I imagined my co-owner and me going ecstatic as Cohen crossed the goal line, scoring a touchdown that would solidify a championship that we had worked so hard for since what felt like forever at that point. Instead, the game went down to the wire and we started Cohen who was having his worst game of the season (As Juice WRLD would tell you, I was listening to my heart and not my head). In an intense back and forth finish, it all ended with our team losing at the last possible second with JuJu Smith-Schuster fumbling the ball at the end of the regulation (we still love JuJu though he’s a great person and football player). While starting Diggs would have earned us the fantasy championship, we lost in heartbreaking fashion by just 0.6 points… I’ll never forget that feeling of devastation as I collapsed to the ground in pure sadness as my co-owner screamed in frustration at the same time. With that being said, I hope you realize not to make the mistake.
Do: Pick Up Free Agents Through The Waiver Wire
If there’s another thing I can guarantee in fantasy football, it’s that every year there are several waiver wire players that have a breakout season nobody sees coming. Odell Beckham Jr., Devonta Freeman, David Johnson, and Juju Smith-Shuster are all recent examples of top-tier talents that came from the waiver wire. So many free agents end up having sky-high potential that shouldn’t go overlooked. It’s not the best idea to use your waiver every week considering you’ll be at the back of the waiver wire standings (for those who don’t know, if two people use a waiver on the same free agent, the manager who has a better position in the standings will receive that given free agent) and that could waste your chances on promising pickups. Additionally, you shouldn’t wait forever to use your waiver because that could also waste your chances on promising talents. Usually the Tuesday/Wednesday morning of every week, you are eligible to pick up free agents without the expense of a waiver (unless somebody just released a given player from their roster) so I highly recommend targeting free agents on a weekly basis (and hopefully you don’t have to spend them all on a waiver). Waiver wire pickups/free agents could end up being just as valuable as first round picks. Even if the free agents you pick aren’t home run players, they can definitely still be solid additions to the team. Even if a free agent helps you for just a couple weeks (which could be a good time to sell high after those couple weeks), it’s important to remember fantasy football is a weekly game. What I mean by that is that it’s easy to get caught up in the what-ifs of past weeks or sacrifice too much in preparation for later weeks. Every week matters in fantasy football and you can’t take any week/opponent for granted. Another benefit worth mentioning about free agency is that you don’t have to give up value like you have to do in trades, therefore indicating waiver wire pickups can easily be low risk-high reward.
Don’t: Make Too Many Acquisitions
This might sound a little conflicting considering I just told you the importance of making trades and picking up free agents. Making trades and picking up free agents is a must in fantasy football, except making too many acquisitions can hurt you. In fantasy, it’s important to be patient and evaluate if things are working out. Likewise, so many owners are recency-biased, overlooking the potential and/or production of a player simply due to poor performances that just happened. Don’t regret trading a promising stud just because they had a disappointing previous two weeks at the time. As I mentioned earlier, making too many waiver wire pickups can keep you in the back of the waiver wire order/standings the entire season. Despite all that, it’s definitely not a bad thing to be towards the top of your league in acquisitions. As long as you are confident that you are making the right acquisitions, go for it (quality over quantity).
At the end of the day, fantasy football is a game. Fantasy football is meant for fun. You are not the general manager of an NFL team with your job on the line. You are the general manager of a team in “fantasy,” not real life. Fantasy football can be stressful and frustrating but you shouldn’t forget to enjoy the journey. The highs of fantasy football can’t be appreciated without the lows. Trust the process and make the most out of what should be a really fun experience.
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