Each week, Footballguys staff members will share the big movers in their respective Dynasty Rankings. This week, we are discussing lessons learned. As we – dynasty staff – continue to learn more about getting better as dynasty owners, we want to pass along our knowledge.
One lesson I think dynasty owners can learn is not to overreact to one year - one way or the other. There were a great many player performances and trends that I do not feel will hold past this year, yet many owners will fall into the trap of assuming next year will be like this one.
I think we saw an outlier year in terms of wide receiver production. Part of that was marquee names like Odell Beckham Jr., Allen Robinson, and Amari Cooper getting hurt. Part of that was offenses that had been humming taking a step back, thus causing the connected assets to also lose steam. Tennessee (Rishard Matthews), Tampa Bay (Mike Evans), and Cincinnati (A.J. Green) come to mind. Conversely, we saw running backs (Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, and Alvin Kamara in particular) end up as top performers in PPR leagues. With a very good running back class on the way in 2018 and the memory of running backs dominating the landscape, we’re going to see people overpay for these rookie picks and sell off valuable assets that will rebound in the near future.
That said, I think the smart play is to go after some of these guys who disappointed or didn’t live up to expectations. For example, Corey Davis, Christian McCaffrey, and Mike Williams are going for less today than they were going for at rookie draft time last year. Even if it’s only a slight discount, it’s an opportunity you aren’t going to have once these guys begin to produce. Your buy-low window will slam firmly shut when they do become weekly contributors.
Another piece of advice is to make sure you are tending your roster. It’s easy once you are out of the playoff hunt to get discouraged and not want to think about football. This is the wrong time to mentally check out. Now is the time to be loading up your roster with stash players. If you need some ideas on that front, check out my Waivers of the Future column for this week. Don’t worry about keeping fringe guys like Kerwynn Williams on your squad. Cut non-elite kickers and team defenses. If trades are open, start trying to upgrade picks by packaging picks with players that aren’t part of your long-term plan. Dynasty is a year-round process, and just like in the NFL, diligence to the details now will lead to championships down the road.
Running Backs are Back - The 2017 running back class has kick-started a movement where the position is back in full force for dynasty owners. The trend will continue for the next few seasons as the 2018 class is another strong one, further bolstering a position where I can see as many as 12-14 backs in the top-20 of dynasty rankings being backs from the last two draft classes. When I started in dynasty, wide receiver was king in team-building. My biggest issue with running backs was the average age of the top backs and the lack of young blue-chip options. I am now on the running back positional train as the age, pedigree, and opportunity equation is fertile once again and the best dynasty squads will have two, three, four of the strongest backs to contend in the near-term.
Make Quarterbacks Prove It - The position with the most one-year wonders is at quarterback. It is dangerous to anoint young signal-callers and assume they will be annual strong QB1-level performers for the next decade. While an owner may occasionally miss out on the next great one by eschewing investment after one good season, waiting for another season or two of confirmation mitigates plenty of false positives with high-level investment prices (specifically in premium formats). Examples like Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Derek Carr, and Dak Prescott are cautionary tales from the past season or two. Deshaun Watson and Jared Goff could be in a similar boat in the offseason.
Huge Middle Tier of Tight Ends - Few will dispute the top of the tight end rankings with Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce. I would argue Evan Engram should be in the top-3 mix as well. The next 5-10 options offer plenty of sameness. I would caution owners in the trade market or startups to not value any of them with such a vice grip to pass on value by shifting down the list. On a side note, the 2018 draft class will look like a homeless version of the historic 2017 crop. I do like Mark Andrews as the clear No.1 tight end of the class with a strong combination of size, athleticism, and production.
Looking back at lessons from 2018, I have three 2018 New Year’s resolutions for becoming a better dynasty owner and writer.
1. Pay More Attention to Coaching: My first resolution is to pay closer attention to the coaching carousel in the offseason and hone in on which offensive coaches I want to “hitch my wagon to” going forward. Nearly all of offseason dynasty analysis tends to focus in on identifying talented players. We watch the combine, devour Matt Waldman’s RSP and watch free agency closely. Less time is spent looking at coaching changes and scouting the offensive coaches to determine the impact they could have.
More than any season in recent memory, 2017 highlighted the importance of coaching. The glaring example is Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Robert Woods and the Los Angeles Rams offense after moving from Jeff Fisher to Sean McVay. Gurley is especially instructive. He had a total of just 6 touchdowns in 16 games under Fisher in 2016. He just racked up 8 touchdowns in the 3 weeks of the fantasy playoffs.
Kyle Shanahan also did an incredible job given what he had to work with in San Francisco. Marquis Goodwin had less than 800 yards receiving total in his four seasons in Buffalo and is on pace for a 1,000-yard season in San Francisco. Shanahan’s exit from the Falcons also clearly had a negative impact on the top offensive weapons in Atlanta. Sean Payton (Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II) and Andy Reid (Kareem Hunt) continued to show their ability to produce top fantasy running backs.
2018 Focus: While the list is nearly limitless, there are some situations worth watching especially closely. As mentioned, I want to “hitch my wagon” to anyone Kyle Shanahan drafts early. I will aggressively trade up in rookie drafts if San Francisco takes a running back or wide receiver early hit the draft. We will also want to pay close attention to potential new coaching staffs in places like Cincinnati (Joe Mixon), Chicago (Mitchell Trubisky), New York (Odell Beckham), Arizona (David Johnson), Detroit (Matthew Stafford) and Tennessee (Marcus Mariota). Deciding which of these talented young players to buy and sell should be largely based upon our confidence level in the offensive minds that will put them in position to fail or succeed.
2. Put Extra Effort into Building Depth: There is always a tendency in the offseason to focus too heavily on slotting players into a Week 1 starting lineup and forgetting the importance of building team depth. 2017 provided a great reminder that our playoff lineups will probably look nothing like our opening day lineups. Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, David Johnson, Dalvin Cook, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, Allen Robinson… and we could keep going. Injuries take their toll on every dynasty roster. We also see players and teams being more intelligent and aware of diagnosing and patiently treating concussions, a trend that should continue to grow going forward.
2018 Focus: Don’t always insist on getting the best player in every trade because the bottom half of the roster is almost as important as the top half. Consider making more of those 1-for-3 deals to stock my roster and insure against injuries. Also, I want to try not to get too enamored with any single prospect in the draft and always explore opportunities in rookie drafts to trade down for value.
3. Embrace the Uncertainty: Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld once talked about “known unknowns,” which is a fun turn of phrase that is especially applicable to the dynasty format of fantasy football. We have to remember that we know a lot less than we think we do about which younger players are “good at football,” the best way to build a dynasty roster and which rookies are going to hit.
2017 showed we can’t write off young players (Nelson Agholor, Jared Goff, etc.) or even slightly older players (Robert Woods, Case Keenum, Marvin Jones Jr, Zach Ertz, etc.) too early as “not good” because we don’t know for sure who is going to develop and take their game to the next level.
The past season also showed conventional wisdom on team-building must be taken with a grain of salt. We never had to build our dynasty rosters around wide receivers even if that was what some preached. It’s entirely possible for elite young running backs and quarterbacks to also carry premium value and serve as foundational building blocks. Great players and dynasty building blocks can come at any position, which 2017 proved to be true.
We also need to be careful in assuming we know more than we think we do about rookie drafts. There is always a risk in packaging picks to move up for “the next big thing” like Corey Davis or Laquon Treadwell or Kevin Smith when every year we see some of those early picks disappoint and later picks turn into productive players immediately (like Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, Deshaun Watson and Juju Smith-Schuster).
2018 focus: Stay open-minded about players and try to view things through the lens of probabilities. Rookie X might have a 60% chance of being an impact player while Rookie Y has only a 30% chance. The key is to avoid convincing yourself (and then valuing) Rookie X as if he has a 100% chance or that Rookie Y has a 0% chance. Remaining humble is our approach is key. Embracing the known unknowns of strategy, staying patient with young players, and valuing rookies based more upon probabilities than hot takes will be keys to a successful 2018.
The quarterback and tight end positions will see turnover at the top next season. Each position has aging stars and up-and-coming youngsters. Dynasty owners will be pushed to decide how to balance youth and production. A premium will be required for elite production by young players (e.g., Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce, Evan Engram, etc.). Also, there were several players at each position who disappointed (e.g., Derek Carr, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Tyler Eifert, and Jordan Reed) so a decision must be made as to the ability of each to rebound, especially if there is a coaching change.
There will be several very good wide receivers changing teams this offseason, so dynasty owners are encouraged to consider the risk and opportunity as the dynasty value will change. This year, some receivers flourished changing teams while others languished. The reason for either success or failure is the role the player was signed to fulfill. Players like Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin were great successes while Terrelle Pryor, Sammy Watkins, and Brandin Cooks failed to meet expectations. So, even though Woods and Watkins were on the same team, Woods’ role is more productive in coach McVay’s offense.
Lastly, when seeking value, consider the injured players. Dalvin Cook, Allen Robinson, and Cameron Meredith are all cheaper this coming offseason than last. Use injuries, suspensions, and players changing teams as opportunities to identify players who could be bought at a discount. If your dynasty team needs a younger quarterback to go with a veteran, why not explore how cheaply you could acquire Ryan Tannehill?