The New Reality No.128: Lessons Learned, 2019 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 dynasty GMs, 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 2018 and strategies for 2019:

2018 LESSONS

WORKHORSE BACKS RULE, but depth is paramount

With most of the top running backs possessing high pedigree, a well-rounded game, and multiple quality years in front of them, the position is as strong as ever. Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, Melvin Gordon III, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Ezekiel Elliott, and James Conner all measured with at least 2.00 adjusted wins over replacement player (aWORP) for the fantasy regular season. No running back surpassed this threshold in 2017 as a point of reference. This is a proprietary metric looking at start rates on myfantasyleague.com and production above replacement player, essentially true impact. The odds are dynasty GMs of one or two of the above backs make their playoffs. However, with injuries late in the season, having quality depth was likely needed to hoist hardware for making it to and winning, in championship week. Stashing a host of primary backup running backs who can hit resulted in options like:

The above backs were all factors in the fantasy playoffs despite bumpy roads to get there through the fantasy regular season. Having a top running back depth chart in September and October does not ensure an all-star lineup in December during the highest-leverage weeks.

While the above options (and others who were spot-starters during the season like T.J. Yeldon, Giovani Bernard, Latavius Murray, and Matt Breida to name a few) were not big impacts in the playoffs, fantasy is a weekly game where putting the puzzle pieces of starting lineups over 13-16 weeks is the goal, not necessarily which backs are auto-starts by opportunity any particular week.

The 2019 primary backup running back carousel is sure to be shaken like a Boggle container in the coming months via free agency and again by the NFL Draft, but by August and September, there will be another 30-50 backs worthy of being auto-rostered dynasty backs with opportunity in their sights for 2019 streaming. The key is having enough of them to possess higher odds than your leaguemates to benefit from the avalanche of injuries.

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.

High-level Trade Candidates

Mid-level Trade Candidates

Low-level Trade Candidates

2019 REGRESSION CANDIDATES

QUARTERBACKS

Patrick Mahomes II: There are minimal datapoints pre-2018 of the rocket ship known as Mahomes, but even the all-time great quarterbacks have regressed from their historic seasons. Mahomes is pushing for 50+ touchdowns to close the season but even Peyton Manning and Tom Brady tumbled hard from their 50+ touchdown peak seasons.

Matt Ryan was a positive regression pick for 2018, which was correct with his touchdowns bumping up by 13 heading into Week 17. However, his 2018 touchdown rate is close to 25% higher than his career mark and highly likely to fade back without a bump in volume.

Russell Wilson is one of the best in the game, however, his 8.4% touchdown rate dwarfs even his high 6.0% career mark as by-far the best of his seven NFL seasons. Wilson has been historically low volume this season which could soften his regression in 2019 with a boost in attempts, but Wilson is a strong regression candidate especially if Seattle sticks with their run-heavy DNA next season.

RUNNING BACKS

Todd Gurley paced the NFL in rushing touchdowns for a second straight season, but his touchdown rate ballooned to nearly 50% more than his strong 2017 campaign. Gurley is a strong regression bet to sag down by five or more rushing scores even if he is potent yet again in 2019.

Derrick Henry's touchdown rate in 2018 was 50% higher than his career mark. Henry exploded for 12 scores on the ground despite being on the lesser end of a committee for much of the season. Henry could be a volume breakout option in 2019 if the lead back from Week 1, but the touchdown rate is a strong regression candidate needing a volume spike to repeat.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Calvin Ridley: The first-round rookie burst onto the scene as an ancillary option in Atlanta with six touchdowns in the opening month of 2018. However, he faded to the finish with three scores over the final three months (pending Week 17). Ridley had modest volume as the secondary receiver to Julio Jones (and Mohamed Sanu being in the WR2/3 rotation) which will need to expand for Ridley's 15% touchdown rate to sustain his scores next season even stabilizing in the 9-10% zone.

John Ross finally played meaningful snaps in 2018 and produced an other-worldly seven touchdowns on a mere 20 catches. Ross did not show well and benefitted from multiple injuries on the Bengals depth chart and a few well-designed red-zone looks. Ross will need to expand his usage and efficiency to earn more looks (and repeat his seven scores entering Week 17) in 2019.

Anthony Miller is another rookie posting an unsustainable touchdown rate on low volume. Miller surpassed the rarified 20% touchdown rate, which is typically cut in half, or more, the following season. Miller's 54 targets entering Week 17 will need to push 100 or more next season for a scoring repeat.

TIGHT ENDS

Eric Ebron is the glaring touchdown regression tight end exiting 2018. Ebron enjoyed a cleared out depth chart (and thin wide receiver group) in Indianapolis to the tune of 12 touchdowns, more than his previous four years combined, plus his touchdown rate mirrored the doubling effect of his scoring boost this season. A victory for Ebron in 2019 would be dropping only 3-4 touchdowns into the higher single digits.

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 2019. 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 2019. As we flip the page to next season in our dynasty consciousness, I will close with the phrase I finish every UTH podcast - never settle, refuse to be average, and keep building those dynasties!