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The New Reality No.108: Lessons Learned, 2018 Strategy

Navigating the ever-changing landscape of dynasty fantasy football

With just Week 17 left in the regular season, a vast majority of dynasty leagues have awarded their championship trophies. For owners, it is time to get back to business - improving their roster through trades, rookie draft strategy, and proper player valuations for next season. Here are some lessons learned from 2017 and strategies for 2018:

2017 LESSONS

WORKHORSE BACKS RULE

For the second year in a row, stud running backs ruled dynasty championship. Last year it was David Johnson, LeVeon Bell, and Ezekiel Elliott. This year Alvin Kamara, Todd Gurley, and Kareem Hunt were additions to LeVeon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott (back in Week 16) as cornerstone performers to fuel playoff runs and late-season dominance. For folks who have followed my work over the years, you know I built many dominant teams with the stud receiver theory and going cheap at running back in startup drafts and being selective in rookie drafts. Much of that strategy had to do with the landscape of running back up until a year ago. The producers were on the old side and the draft classes were not all that great in terms of pedigree. As a result, the position was stocked with tenuous bets as foundational dynasty assets.

All of these factors are flipped now as running back is stocked with younger producers with strong pedigree. Add another strong class in 2018 and having a roster built on a few workhorse backs is paramount to success. 

CHURN AND BURN LOW-PEDIGREE PLAYERS

In recommendations to dynasty owners, I have zero allegiance to fringe roster players or flash producers optimizing a thinned out depth chart to repeat their peak the following season. Flipping the excess in-season is optimal, but at times owners need the depth to get through bye weeks and injuries. The offseason is the time to finish the back-end roster churn, however, with even marginal rookie draft upgrades by trading those flash players without pedigree. Day 3 receivers and running backs who rose up in opportunity due to injuries are prime examples of the 'zero allegiance' bucket of players. These assets are unlikely to evolve all the way to core dynasty assets, so cashing out and churning through many options to hit lightning in a bottle is ideal. Repeating this process over and over reduces roster cloggers and adds future rookie capital to the pockets of active dynasty owners.

Some examples of these churn and burn players entering the offseason:

2018 REGRESSION CANDIDATES

QUARTERBACKS

Carson Wentz was on the positive regression list for 2017 and nearly tripled his touchdown rate in his breakout 2017 season. Now, Wentz is a strong regression candidate for 2018 in the downward direction. His 12.5% touchdown rate lapped the position and historically quarterbacks above 9.5% have a 94% regression rate. Only Aaron Rodgers in 2011-12 managed to hit even 10% after a season of more than 11%. In short, expect Wentz to sag back down to 7-9% next season.

Russell Wilson at 10% is another quarterback above the threshold. The last two times Wilson has been above 10% he has dropped at least 3% the following season.

Marcus Mariota is on the positive regression list after a lost 2017 season. Mariota's 4.5% touchdown rate was roughly half his career rate after seasons of 8.3% and 9.5% leading up to this year. Mariota is a strong breakout candidate for 2018 if the coaching and system get straightened out.

Finally, Joe Flacco is the most tepid regression candidate to qualify for this season. At 4.9% Flacco is barely below the 5% threshold and his career rate is around 6%.

RUNNING BACKS

Alvin Kamara: The rookie breakout had an unearthly 12% touchdown rate on the ground in 2017. With decent volume, you have to go back to Willis McGahee in 2009 to find another rate close to Kamara's historic 2017 season. Expect Kamara to drop down to at least 7%, if not lower, in 2018.

Samaje Perine had a touchdown rate of 0.6%, below the strongest regression zone of less than 1%. 94% of backs in his zone boosted their numbers the following season.

Jay Ajayi: Like Perine, Ajayi is in the sub-1% group and a strong candidate in 2018. Ajayi had a 3% rate in 2016 and stands to see a larger chunk of the Eagles backfield work after joining the team midseason via trade.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Julio Jones has not been a strong touchdown scorer in his career, but even for him, 3.6% is a low mark as was his 2017 season. His career mark is double and a rise back to the 6-8 range in 2018 is a reasonable expectation.

Alshon Jeffery had a 16% rate in 2017 with a career rate of less than 10%. Carson Wentz is also on this regression list for 2018, so the volume will need to increase or expect fewer scores between the pair.

DeVante Parker had a single touchdown on 51 receptions for a 2% rate, far below his 7% mark a year ago. Parker is a prime breakout candidate in 2018 with a touchdown uptick and Jarvis Landry potentially leaving in free agency. Receivers with less than a 5% rate have regressed upward 88% of the time in the following season.

TIGHT ENDS

Jimmy Graham relied on touchdowns to buoy his fantasy production in 2017 with an 18% rate. His career rate is 50% less even as a strong touchdown producer at the position and his alarming drop in separation and yards-per-catch is added concern for 2018.

Jack Doyle logged a 3.9% touchdown rate on a hearty 76 receptions. The average touchdown rate in this zone increased by 4% the following season, which would double Doyle's rate for next season.

There is No Offseason

To close every season of the New Reality series, I want to thank every reader at Footballguys of my column(s) and all the great work done by a collection of all-stars on staff here. This is our passion and provides further enjoyment of the game we all love. There is no offseason for dynasty owners and the end of the regular season marks the beginning of NFL Draft season. This means dynasty trading, new startup drafts, preparing for rookie drafts through prospect evaluation, and being the general manager for our dynasty squads to be even better in 2018. I am the founder and operator of UTHDynasty.com, a full-time dynasty site focused on team-building, prospect analysis, and metrics. If interested in more than 200 premium podcasts (all dynasty/college) annually, a historical data-backed dynasty trade calculator, title-winning rankings, and more - check out the site as the calendar turns over to 2018. As we flip the page to next season in our dynasty consciousness, I will close with the phrase to finish every UTH podcast - never settle, refuse to be average, and keep building those dynasties!