“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Sun Tzu, 'The Art of War'
It is commonplace in fantasy football to become engrossed in the shiny bastion of self-determination in the face of all challenges. I alone will be the master of my fate in this season. The moves I make will be the undoing of anyone who stands against me and it is by this solo strategy that I will be champion.
What many owners forget as their attention is pulled in 10 different ways during a regular season week of relentless cheatsheets, expert opinions, and injury updates is that oh-so-underrated aspect of fantasy football: knowing your opponent.
It sounds simple, but how many of us can honestly admit that we have taken the time to dig down on the tendencies of not just ourselves, but our league rivals?
‘Well, I know Johnny likes to take running backs in the first round…’
It’s a start, but it is merely a peek through the keyhole into the mindset of the owner, not a hard and fast rule we can follow to glean actionable information that can ultimately help us succeed.
It is the unexploited edge that fantasy owners have had on the tip of their tongues for years, but have been unable to articulate. Know your enemy. After all, human beings – and by extension, fantasy owners – are predictable by their very nature. Taking the time out to know your rivals is like finding that 50 dollars in your back pocket that you didn’t even know you’d been missing.
To dig into the many complexities of knowing your league rivals, the Footballguys brain trust has shared its thoughts under a series of subheadings, listed below.
- How to deal with tricky owners
- How to exploit overzealous owners
- Traps to avoid when trading
- Final words of wisdom
Let’s take one at a time, beginning with those tricky owners.
How to deal with tricky owners
Daniel Simpkins – “Knowing what was motivating him helped me to respond”
It’s always helpful for me to keep this question in mind when dealing with this type of owner: ‘What is motivating them?’ When you can answer that question, it can help you to deal accordingly with that owner.
I remember when I was the commissioner of a league and this guy was being a jerk to the whole league, but he was particularly belligerent when dealing with me. I set boundaries and let him know that verbal abuse wouldn’t be tolerated, but I also talked to him on the side and tried to find out more about why he always came off as so angry.
It turns out that he was in medical school, was getting married soon, and was just under a lot of stress. Understanding where he was in that moment helped me to have the empathy I needed to have. It still didn’t end well; he ended up leaving the league in a huff later. Yet knowing what was motivating him helped me to respond to him in a way that was helpful to both him and to me at that time.
Sigmund Bloom – “Some trade out of boredom”
It is very important to understand the personality of your competition so you can establish a professional relationship that facilitates trades. Some like to do the mating dance of counter, counter, counter and never lead with their best offer. Some never make a deal unless they are the ones initiating the trade talks. Some trade out of boredom. Some overreact to bad games. Some overreact to good games.
Hopefully, your league will stand the test of time and you'll be building a file and relationship that will help your team in the future. Engaging in trade talks that you feel will lead nowhere can still be fruitful as a way to gain information on the mindset of your competition.
Ryan Hester – “Trading should always be a win/win”
In some of my leagues, I have owners who don't like to trade. For whatever reason, they are always hesitant, if not completely against, the idea. Others think that all trades are ‘win/lose’ propositions (meaning that one owner clearly gets the best of the deal while the other regrets it). Trading should always be ‘win/win’. Find owners who also believe in that tenet, and negotiate with them.
Daniel Simpkins – “Once you know what they like, cater to them”
There are so many layers of this. You have introverts and extroverts. You have people who prefer to lead and people who prefer to follow. You have easygoing and flexible thinkers, as well as austere, rigid thinkers. Some people love trade offers. Others want to deal minimally with offers and get annoyed when they have several come in over the course of a week.
The important thing is that you realize first what your style is and the strengths and weaknesses of your personal style. That will help you temper yourself when dealing with others. Then make the effort to get to know the styles of others. Once you know what they like, cater to them. If I find that an owner seems annoyed by my constant offers, I scale back. If I am dealing with someone who has more of an extroverted personality than I do, I let them take the lead in negotiating a deal. I generally have more success when I try to be accommodating to their style and preferences.
How to exploit overzealous owners
Daniel Simpkins – “They knew they could push me to sweeten the deal”
Confession time: I may be one of these overzealous owners. I’m always grinding, trying to make my teams better, particularly my dynasty squads. I’ve been exploited in the past when other owners have recognized that I’ve fallen in love with a player they have and are patient with taking multiple trade offers from me where I continue to escalate my deals. Some of these owners admitted to me later that they would have taken my initial deal, but they knew they could push me to sweeten it because they knew I really wanted the player. I’ve learned to counter this by setting limits for myself before I go into the negotiation. Once I offer the deal that is at my limit, I don’t offer another one. I’ve had a few times where they rejected a deal, I let them know I wasn’t willing to go higher, and then they accepted the initial proposal.
Very simply, when someone approaches you with interest in a player, it probably means they will pay more than they are offering in their opening offer, maybe a lot more.
Sometimes people trade just to trade. Or they lose two weeks in a row and feel that they need to shake things up. Learn who these people are, and do some digging to find out if they're interested in anyone on your team. If they are, they might be willing to pay more than you think for your player.
Traps to avoid when trading
Daniel Simpkins – “People don’t care for power plays”
It’s tempting to bring up a superior offer you have sitting on the table when you are in trade negotiations with another owner. I would advise against this. I’ve made the mistake of doing it a few times in my dynasty leagues and it never resulted in anything good. People don’t care for power plays or knowing they are competing with others. Those owners walked away from our negotiation and looking back, I don’t blame them one bit.
Sigmund Bloom – “Don’t be afraid to lose a trade”
Don't be afraid to ‘lose’ a trade. There is a limited window to make trades and a limited number of trade partners, so if you have a surplus at one position and need at another, you might have to accept less than you're looking for to upgrade your starting lineup.
Ryan Hester – “Play matchups and stream”
Keep positional scarcity in mind at all times and don't sacrifice depth, especially early in the season. For example, let's say you drafted your quarterback late and aren't thrilled with him after three or four weeks. A leaguemate who drafted an elite quarterback early and an over-performing sleeper late sees that and floats you an offer. The offer is the over-performing sleeper for your RB3. For the purposes of this example, let's say that is a player such as Tevin Coleman - someone with a defined role in his offense who also has huge upside should his backfield mate miss any time.
It might be tempting to trade a bench player for a starter, but you should realize that running back is a much more valuable position than quarterback. Running back injuries happen frequently, meaning that Coleman could be elevated to RB1 on his team, or one of your running backs ahead of Coleman could be hurt, forcing you to give Coleman a couple of spot-starts.
In the latter instance, I'd much rather have a player like Coleman in a pinch than the typical waiver wire running back who is further down his team's depth chart. And as for your quarterback problem, the waiver wire actually can be fertile ground for help there. Play matchups and stream; hang on to your depth at running back and wide receiver.
Final words of wisdom from the staff
Daniel Simpkins – “Look for clues and cues”
Just be observant. We often get so focused on ourselves that we don’t critically think about what the other person is saying or doing. If we look for clues and cues, we will see them. It just takes making the extra effort.
I think my biggest weakness is just being overly driven and too zealous when it comes to maintaining my teams. As I discussed earlier, that can go very wrong in trade negotiations, but if I channel my energy into research, into managing my waiver and free agent acquisitions, and understanding the tendencies of others, my energy is better spent and I am a more successful owner.
Sigmund Bloom – “Look at every interaction as an opportunity”
Make lots of offers. Pay attention to how quickly the offers are rejected, accepted or countered. Whether the other team counters before rejecting, or counters with your offer still on the table (i.e. they may accept the original offer if you reject the counter). See what kind of responses you get when sending out a group email or post on your league site about players being available or seeking help at a position. Basically, look at every interaction as an opportunity to learn more than can help you in the future.
Adam Harstad – “Five minutes of detective work would have been the difference”
Here's a fun example of scouting the opposition from our staff dynasty league. This year was our fifth rookie draft. In 2014, I drafted Sammy Watkins and Davante Adams in the first and Teddy Bridgewater in the second. In 2015, I drafted Phillip Dorsett in the first and Jameis Winston in the second. In 2016, I drafted Michael Thomas in the first and Austin Hooper in the second. In 2017, I drafted John Ross in the first and Deshaun Watson in the second.
From that, you might conclude that I really like taking the top WR left on my board in the first round and I love getting highly-drafted quarterbacks late in the second. And if you concluded that, you'd... have been absolutely right, as in our 2018 rookie draft I took Calvin Ridley in the first and Baker Mayfield in the second.
If you were drafting after me in that draft and wanted Mayfield, you might have looked at my roster, seen that I already had Winston and Watson, and been tempted to wait. If you'd actually checked my draft history, you'd have known that expecting me to pass on Mayfield there was a chump bet. In this case, five minutes of detective work would have been the difference between staying put and missing out on your guy or trading up and getting him.
Everyone has tendencies and preferences. You can't use them if you don't first know them.
While correctly identifying personality quirks and tics of fantasy owners in your league will be a labor of love, it will be one worth pursuing if it results in that fat, shiny trophy landing on your lap - and not theirs - come the end of the season.
Every edge matters in this hobby of ours, and knowing your enemy is an excellent step in the right direction to league domination.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks to all the staff members of Footballguys who contributed to this article.
If you have any questions regarding IDP fantasy football or football in general, please drop me a line on Twitter @davlar87