The Gut Check No.458: Six Ways to Salvage Your Fantasy Season

In this week's Gut Check, Matt Waldman gives six steps to potentially salvage your season. 

Let me guess, your August draft didn't go well. You didn't land Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, or Philip Rivers at a bargain between rounds 9-12. You didn't think James White and Sony Michel could co-exist as fantasy starters (much less count on Michel getting healthy) and laughed off any talk that Fantasy Santa Claus Adrian Peterson was in shape to get down the chimney and deliver the gifts.

You probably thought Adam Thielen, Cooper Kupp, and Davante Adams were in store for a big regression, too. Whatever the reasons, you're now 0-6, 1-5, or 2-4 in a competitive league and trying to fix it.

If you're reading this, it means you still have a fighting chance because you haven't given up. You're not one of those competitors who pack it in when a challenge is kicking your tail. Don't be that person, you learn nothing from giving up.

This week's Gut Check will provide six steps to help you salvage your fantasy season. That's the sales pitch. The reality is that these six steps might help you salvage your fantasy season. After all, you got into this mess and there are no magic pills.

The biggest promise yours truly can make is that listening to some of these takes will definitely make you a wiser fantasy player for giving some of them a shot.

1. USE THIS MOMENT OF LOSING AS A LEARNING EXPERIMENT

Mediocre and bad fantasy players look at their losing records at this point of the season, attribute it to a bad draft, and decide they're going to do a much better job of preparing for the draft next year. The problem with that common thought is that their entire fantasy game is a table resting on that one leg called the draft.

There are three other legs capable of supporting a winning effort — trades, free agency, and lineup decisions.

But everyone in my league makes crappy trades...

The free agency well is dry...

This is a crazy season for rational lineup decisions...

Yours truly hears these excuses every year and there are still fantasy players writing in at season's end sharing how they started 1-5 and made it to their league championships. Don't make excuses; try to get better.

Unless of course, fantasy football is only fun for you when you're winning. If that's the case, you should really stop reading this column because you don't want to learn, you only want to win. Respect for being honest with yourself.

A for the rest of you, embrace your crappy team as a chance to spend more time creating trade offers, cultivating negotiations, and analyzing the waiver wire. Spend more time looking at your lineup decisions. Consider this losing record the freedom to try new things or as a rehab job.

If you inherited a house with good bones but needed some structural and design rehab, you wouldn't sell the house for cheap if you pride yourself on having the skills to make it a home any buyer would envy? A skilled person in this situation would attack the project and if he or she encountered anything beyond their experience, they'd make the effort to learn new things.

You've inherited this house. If you accidentally put holes in the drywall or lay a patch of tile poorly, you can fix it.

2. EXAMINE YOUR PAST LINEUP DECISIONS

Look at the data your league provides to identify any potential issues you have with lineup decision-making. Go through your past six weeks of games and answer these questions:

  • How many games you could have won if you placed the highest scoring players in your starting lineups, regardless of how odd or sane those choices were?
  • How many games you could have won if you made different lineup decisions that only involve choices you truly debated before pulling the trigger?
  • How many games could you have lost if your opponent made a different lineup decision that only involved choices they would have seriously debated before pulling the trigger?
  • Can you attribute more than one loss to not starting a specific player?
  • Can you attribute more than one loss to failing decisions with specific positions?
  • Which difficult player-position decisions have been successful?

Try to pinpoint specific patterns of issues. You may realize that you're excellent at picking running backs and tight ends but stink at choosing that third or fourth receiver in your lineup. Maybe it's better to trade away that stud runner for an upgraded receiver and a lesser back — or if you only get the receiver, acquire a lesser free agent back with potential.

3. CHECK YOUR POWER RANKING ON YOUR LEAGUE SITE

How well are you scoring versus the rest of the league? If you're 0-6 because in four of those weeks you've outscored almost every team in the league with the exception of your opponent and the other two weeks your loss came down to one or two bad but reasonable lineup decisions, then, despite the advice at the beginning of this column, it might be wise to sit tight and continue forward with the same team and lineup decisions.

If you don't have a power ranking formula with your league provider (you really need to change league management systems), at least comb through your results and determine what your record would be if every team played the other every week. Do the same for every team and compare it to your own. This is your all-play record.

If you're not among the top 25-30 percent of scorers each week and your all-play record isn't in that percentile, either, it's confirmation you need to take more drastic action. Otherwise, be patient and use the waiver wire to fortify the bottom of your roster with more promising options while resisting predatory fantasy players offering deals that will hurt your team more than help it because they are trying to catch you and your losing team in a moment of desperation.

4. THE SUM OF YOUR LINEUP IS GREATER THAN ITS PARTS: TRADE A STUD

You're not scoring well, but you have Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown, or Adam Thielen? It's time to sell them for multiple players.

Notice there are no quarterbacks or tight ends mentioned. Unless your scoring system is specialized to elevate the value of these two positions, no one wants them at the value you need in return — even if a tight end like Travis Kelce is one big week away from performing like a fantasy WR1.

Unless you have no other choice (more on that later), start with the highest-valued pieces. Your best players aren't going to play so much better than they're producing at the rate of three good players combined. You can still wear a Gurley jersey after you trade him away; the Rams offensive line isn't going to show up at your door and give you a beat-down in front of your spouse and kids.

Even if it does, don't enter a trade negotiation involving one of your studs as if you need the deal to solve all your problems. It's best to see it as one of many moves that will involve additional trades and/or free agent acquisitions. If you are expecting one big move to solve your problems, you will be less likely to make a fair deal because you're expecting more in return that the market commands for that player.

A good guideline for trading a stud is to determine the projected fantasy points you expect the stud to deliver for the rest of the season and compare the same projections for the players in return. However, it's essential that both players you're acquiring are options you expect in your starting lineups weekly. Many fantasy players will try to justify an offer of 2-3 players based on relative points to the single stud but those points are only useful if those options are starters for you.

This is why it's often wiser to make one-for-one deals or package deals that involve trading one position of strength for positions of need. However, you're not likely in this situation because you may need a player at the position you've traded away and a different position as well.

Try to trade after your weekly free agency period so you know that your negotiation partner has exhausted his options for the week because if you begin negotiations beforehand, he or she may be savvy enough to see which free agent you're logically trying to acquire and use that to their advantage by taking them ahead of you and using them as ransom for the ongoing negotiation to up the ante.

5. DEAD WEIGHT MUST GO

There's no time to be sentimental or hopeful that your banged-up stud or potential stud is worth holding onto in case you make the playoffs. Dreams of him running roughshod through your opponent in Weeks 14-15 after not getting a single point from him until then is foolish. It's possible this happens, but it's better to have given up a Devonta Freeman or Leonard Fournette to a team for less than his full value than to hold onto him.

Even if you make the playoffs and wind up playing the team you traded one of these options to and they use those guys against you for the victory, you must remember that you wouldn't have even reached this point if you kept your binky.

Given your tight window of survival, these players are the binky that must be pulled from your vice-like, terrified grip:

  • Fournette - It might be Week 10 before he's ready and he still has an increased shot at another injury because his ankle is a constant problem.
  • Freeman - He could return in Week 15 and your semi-final appearance is not the week you want him in your lineup for a warm-up game. And that's IF Atlanta is even in contention for a playoff spot with its horrific defensive play.
  • T.Y. Hilton - He's nearing a return but hamstrings can linger and limit explosion even when healthy enough to be on the field.
  • Calvin Ridley - Jene Bramel is hearing that Ridley is day-to-day but he expects week-to-week. Bone bruises are deceptively difficult injuries.

If a player on Bramel's list isn't a starter, won't earn contributor reps, or isn't the direct backup to a productive starter in a productive offense in your lineup, you need to drop him if Bramel lacks optimism about his return in Week 8. Trade these players.

6. TALENTS WORTH ACQUIRING

Whether it's the waiver wire or the trade market, you're seeking high-upside talents in addition to proven, consistent starters. When trading a stud, you should expect at least one proven option — if not a second proven option who performs a lower tier but consistently so. However, there are times you may have to make concessions and target players who offer more upside than consistent fantasy production.

Here's a list of players likely on rosters who have high-upside for the rest of the season. This is not in specific order and there are several other players that could be listed here. These are a few of many examples.

  • WR Doug Baldwin: He's only on this list because the weeks of preseason doom-and-gloom may have embedded perception of a bad year for Baldwin that has stuck. If this has made him sellable, buy his services.
  • WR D.J. Moore: The rookie's targets have doubled over the past two weeks compared to Weeks 2 and 3. And despite a pair of fumbles last week, the Panthers returned to him late in the game. Even when Moore's workload was light, his tackle-breaking ability and burst have been notable. He could easily be a second-half riser.
  • WR Dede Westbrook: As often as Keelan Cole continues flashing his talent this year, the volume remains low. Westbrook has earned volume and production in a role similar to Moore in Carolina as the middle-of-the-field YAC receiver with big-play perimeter ability. With a banged-up ground game and injuries to the defense, Westbrook (and maybe Cole) should remain a viable option.
  • WR Keke Coutee: One down game could be enough to acquire him at a reasonable price. The opportunity and talent are present.
  • WR Chris Godwin: Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick shared a lot of first-team reps this summer and it was clear that the mission was to feed Godwin the ball. He's still ahead of Mike Evans in the touchdown column and earned another against Atlanta with Winston at the helm. If someone wants to sell you DeSean Jackson's services, consider this as well because there's a narrative that he and Winston never built a rapport last year. This summer, they connected often.
  • WR Taylor Gabriel: Go all-in with Gabriel as a second-half wonder now that Chicago is using him as a primary option.
  • RB Tarik Cohen: Some fantasy player is going to outsmart himself and deal Cohen for a profit, but this offense is built around him and Gabriel. He could be that "lesser RB option" that you acquire along with a viable receiver in exchange for your stud.
  • RB Ito Smith: He's the 43rd-ranked back in standard leagues. With Freeman gone for eight weeks more weeks, Smith has earned the complementary role to Tevin Coleman and has been out-producing Coleman for the past three weeks as a low-end fantasy RB2. However, Atlanta's defense lacks its backbone of starting defensive tackle, middle linebacker, and safeties. Game scripts aren't favoring the Atlanta ground game and it means that Smith may have Coleman's old role, but the offense isn't in a position to give them the necessary volume for production we've seen in previous years. Smith is worth acquiring because he can remain a low-end fantasy starter but he'll likely a bit overpriced. If you can get him at flex value, do the deal. lf you're getting him at an RB2 value, the game scripts make it a riskier play.
  • RB Peyton Barber: The Buccaneers offensive line is not a good run-blocking unit and the defense is in worse shape than Atlanta's injury-riddled unit. Even so, Barber's poor production is attributable to an early schedule with strong defensive units and poor game scripts due to great offenses earning big leads. Tampa Bay faces Cleveland, Cincinnati, Carolina, Washington, New York, and San Francisco during the next few weeks. If you can acquire him on the waiver wire or as a small add-in as part of a 2-3 player deal, he has the skills to deliver starter production against easier opposition. Ronald Jones is worth a really cheap add (and he isn't viewed that way), but Barber has been consistently the better option this year. Don't expect that grand entrance for Jones in 2018.
  • RB Carlos Hyde: This is a good example of a consistent player who isn't regarded as a stud but plays as close to one as you can get without giving him that label. Browns fans are calling for Nick Chubb hourly and as a believer in Chubb's talent, it would be great to see him earn more opportunities. However, Hyde has done little as a runner to earn less playing time. He still does more with less than most backs in the league. The best way to acquire Hyde is to hope the fantasy team with the Cleveland back also has Chubb and you trade for both because it's unlikely that Chubb cuts significantly into Hyde's time without an injury.

Here are talents who are less likely on rosters who could be worth a speculative add:

  • RBs Doug Martin and Jalen Richard: Both players are free agent possibilities based on the potential for Marshawn Lynch's groin injury turning into a season-ending issue. Martin has the highest upside, but the Raiders defense and banged-up offensive line could make Richard the better play. He could earn high-end RB3 production if Lynch has to miss time. Consider these guys preemptive pickups on deeper rosters if you're getting rid of dead weight.
  • RB Jamaal Charles: Yuck, right? Well...he didn't look bad in Denver unless you're the same kind of observer of talent who thought Adrian Peterson looked bad last year. Jacksonville could offer him an expanded opportunity and if you're really desperate for a back, he's the type of option you're going to be cycling through until you hit on something with a trade or good selection.
  • WR Marques Valdes-Scantling: Equanimeous St. Brown lovers could be touting this big, fast receiver whose slow-developing game lags behind Valdes-Scantling, who is the No.19 fantasy option in standard leagues during the past two weeks. Aaron Rodgers hasn't been shy about criticizing his receivers in the media but after the Monday night comeback, he once again told sideline reporters that Valdes-Scantling is and has been ahead of the other rookies. Geronimo Allison and Randall Cobb are expected back in Week 8 but you may want to add the rookie as a preemptive option on a deeper roster. Do not trade for him, it's a losing proposition unless we learn there's a setback with the returning starters.
  • WR Terrelle Pryor: Monitor the extent of Pryor's groin injury. If it's not major, he's been developing a rapport with Sam Darnold in the red zone. Most people have written him off but two years ago, he was an up-and-coming stud. While Washington bad-mouthed Pryor last year, the team also bad-mouthed Kirk Cousins and Cousins is outperforming Washington's "real quarterback."
  • WR Tre'Quan Smith: It doesn't matter how you feel about his talent, the Saints like him and want to use him more. The track record of receivers that have authored worthwhile production under Sean Payton and Drew Brees is enough to consider him.
  • WR Albert Wilson: We're at that weird stage fo the season where Wilson could easily be on as many rosters as waiver wires. His ability is real and his role has been increasing.
  • WR Jake Kumerow: If injuries to Green Bay's wide receiver corps persist, Kumerow could be a factor. He's a big-play option with good tracking of the football and skill after the catch. He returned to the active lineup this week and was a favorite of Aaron Rodgers during his preseason of discontent with this young receiving corps.

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