The Gut Check No.360: Year-End Review

What Waldman learned this season from some of his fantasy squads that could help you next year. 

I profile some of my teams every year because I think they offer owners a chance to learn more about different formats that they may enjoy in addition to valuable lessons they can glean for their management.  

Dynasty (Team Defense): Unlikely Contender

Lessons Learned: When Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman were healthy, my team had a far more favorable outlook with Chris Ivory and Giovani Bernard as match-up RB2s and Marvin Jones Jr and Anquan Boldin as solid bye-week depth. The fact that I earned a playoff spot and won my first game is a testament to the guideline that an elite quarterback is one of the best anchors you can have in dynasty leagues.

Russell Wilson has four straight weeks of at least 31 points and three straight with at least 40 points. The Seahawks' quarterback has accounted for 35-50 percent of my team's total points during this span and it has been enough for me to maintain a scoring streak that got me into the postseason despite fielding an injury-riddle squad. 

I've had a lot of trade offers in this league, but most of the deals involved me getting older backs in their final years for my younger, productive, and/or injured players. No thanks. I was prepared to be an also-ran this year to keep the core of my squad intact.

My young receivers from recent draft classes haven't turned the corner. Cody Latimer and Paul Richardson Jr were players I expected to be competing for the No.2 or No.3 spot in my lineup. I expected Richardson to be doing what Tyler Lockett has done down the stretch. I hoped Latimer would force Denver to remain a three-receiver rotation when Wes Welker left town.

I'm not overly concerned. You have to continue stockpiling RB and WR talent and endure the slower development timetables, injuries, and flat-out misses. If Wilson continues to ascend, I should have enough depth at both positions to compete or at one position to trade for help elsewhere. 

Re-Draft (TEAM DEFENSE): Staff League HEART-BREAKER

Lessons Learned: I lost two games in this league by a total of 1.6 points, which would have put me at 7-6 heading into Week 14. In fact, I was in first place three weeks ago, which is pretty good when you look at my running backs. What kept me in contention and the 4th-highest scorer is the waiver wire.

The waiver wire matters when you watch the games. My acquisitions of Stefon Diggs, Travis Benjamin and Gary Barnidge were all based on seeing their skills in action and understanding how their skills were being put to use.

Route running, skills versus tight coverage, and the situations where they earned targets were among the things I noted when I decided to pull the trigger on them. I didn't turn my nose up at the team, the quarterback, or the quality of the opponent. 

Where it appeared I failed with the waiver wire was getting too aggressive with my budget on one player, but this is an inaccurate perception. I went for broke on Vernon Davis last month and the only player of real value it cost me was a shot at Spencer Ware. Truth be told, I could had Ware the week before he broke out and I considered adding him, but opted for Jay Ajayi

What I learned is that blowing your stack on one player early in the season is a bad idea. Sometimes it works out, but usually there are too many good players who can make a difference throughout the year to go all-in on any option. I did this last year in this league with Josh Gordon and it cost me.

By the time I went all-in on Davis, we were in early November and I had spent 81 percent of my season's waiver budget and got great return. It was a calculated risk to add a player down the stretch with the potential to supply a "finishing blow" to my competition that didn't work out. 

My biggest mistake was drafting a quarterback early. I took Andrew Luck with the 18th overall pick when I got Tom Brady in the 10th round. Who would I have picked if I opted against Luck? Lamar Miller, A.J. Green and DeAndre Hopkins would have been appealing and I probably would have jumped at Brady in the 9th round, which would have meant not getting Isaiah Crowell

I don't usually take quarterbacks early, but it's about knowing your league. This league tends to turn its nose up at early quarterback picks because it's filled with writers who recommend against the practice to their readers. I've had success taking Peyton Manning in the past by going against this tendency. But in a league where parody is the norm, I think it's easier to play match-ups with quarterbacks than with other positions.

Also, you don't stockpile quarterbacks in re-draft leagues unless the size of the league is large enough to create demand for the position. I thought I might get a chance to trade Luck or Brady for a runner or receiver. The only offer I received wasn't compelling enough to negotiate further and Luck sat useless on my roster.

 

Dynasty IDP: Stick to the BluePrint

Lessons Learned: This squad has been a big-time loser for the first two seasons we've had this league, but during those years I followed my blueprint of investing in quarterbacks, tight ends, wide receivers, and linebackers. Elite quarterbacks and tight ends are the toughest to acquire in a league with this scoring system and receivers and linebackers are the most liquid

Injuries and suspensions (Josh Gordon, Dez Bryant, Tyvon Branch and Greg Hardy) have been painful during the first two seasons, but my anchor positions of QB-TE included the five shown above on my active roster and I also had Delanie Walker, who, along with a draft pick, I parlayed into Amari Cooper and Eric Kendricks.

The greatest problem I've had with this team this year is knowing whom to start at linebacker and defensive end week-to-week. I endured a four-game losing streak down the stretch where the difference in 3 of those 4 games was no more than 4-13 points (essentially, the correct choice at one linebacker spot). 

Jeff Hasley and Sigmund Bloom are the two teams outscoring me in this league. I've split games with them this year and I have a fighting chance now that Rob Gronkowski has returned and proven he's healthy enough to start with greater confidence. Even if I lose, I know my squad is in position for long-term contention, especially if Bryant and Gordon rebound in 2016. 

DYNASTY IDP: Rebounding from a Demolition

Lessons Learned: This was the team where I gave up Marshawn Lynch, Von Miller, Peyton Manning and Antonio Gates earlier than I should and essentially gave one team a long-term boost for multiple titles and another a longer shelf life at contending. It was the first time I ever blew-up a dynasty roster. 

Don't blow up a dynasty roster unless you get a king's ransom in return. Some of you will automatically do this, but most of you will undersell the value of these players. Ask for more than you feel comfortable and consult with someone other than me (because my weakness is trades of this type regardless of whatever anyone says to the contrary in my leagues) to make sure you're getting your share.

At the same time, I have managed to have success with trades during subsequent drafts, acquiring Martavis Bryant, T.Y. Hilton and C.J. Mosley. But the waiver wire and the acquisition of unknowns/fringe players-turned-contributors might be where I'm earning the greatest return on investment. 

C.J. Anderson has disappointed, but he'll be healthy enough next year that I anticipate him to earn one more shot at the starting job. He's young enough to fulfill this summer's promise for another 5-6 seasons if his mind is right. Allen Hurns has turned into a player that in any given week you can arguably claim is "the better Allen" of the two receivers on the depth chart. You'll probably lose that argument, but it's not as outrageous as it seems. 

I still have a defense to rebuild, especially where I've had 4-3 DE after 4-3 DE get turned into 3-4 OLBs while watching Vontaze Burfict suffer injury after injury and Patrick Willis retire. This team has a long way to go, but scoring in the middle of the pack and staying into the playoff hunt until two weeks ago was progress. 

DYNASTY IDP: End of an Era 

Lessons Learned: I inherited this team with Alex Smith as my only quarterback and turned it into a contender with Peyton Manning at the helm while building depth with Russell Wilson. Last year, I traded for Adrian Peterson during the preseason as a calculated move to take this squad over the top, but we all saw how that played out.

The lesson learned is that you take your shot. If you miss, make sure that shot you take is big enough not to regret it. Loading up my team with Manning, Peterson, Jimmy Graham, A.J. Green and the rest of my offensive powerhouses was a good idea that didn't play out as expected. I can live with it. 

Manning's days as a stud quarterback are over, but Russell Wilson's are still on the upswing. What hurt me down the stretch were injuries to Steve Smith and Jimmy Graham, who are big-time yardage bonus players in this league format. While I have more faith in Smith returning to relevance for one more year, I'm not expecting either to offer me much in the future. 

Travis Kelce's presence buffers the loss somewhat, but this team needs a lot of help at linebacker and more depth at wide receiver. I see a rebuilding phase on the horizon and it doesn't have to be a long one since I have my draft picks and key players still in their prime.  

DYNASTY (Team DEF): A mirage Supported by others' misfortunes

Lessons Learned: I've forgone draft picks in this league for at least three years now while in a rebuilding effort. Sounds like the wrong way to go about it, especially when the majority of these players two years from now, when I have a full complement of picks, won't be as good as they are presently--if they're even in the league: Brady, Rivers, Stewart, Fitzgerald and Smith. 

If I'm honest with my work in this league, I'm profiting from the injuries and dysfunction of Le'Veon Bell, Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray and Jamaal Charles while riding the one true anchor player I have in Tom Brady.  I traded for Fitzgerald this year when I saw I had what it takes to contend. Too bad I lost due to in-game injuries to Rawls and Ware--especially when Isaiah Crowell went off today. But who am I kidding? I only flirted with the idea of Crowell this week and have no regrets opting against him.

There is hope for this team, but I'm skeptical. Manziel is a talent, but can he mature into the player I'll benefit from having by the time Rivers and Brady are gone. Will it feasible to hold onto Brett Hundley long enough to gain a return on him? Can Isaiah Crowell realize that his box score against the 49ers is what it should look like more often for a back of his talent? 

Can Thomas Rawls maintain his focus to be the future when Marshawn Lynch leaves and when is Lynch leaving the league? You can ask the same about Spencer Ware.

Can Jordan Reed stay healthy? Will the Lions develop an offense that maximizes Ameer Abdullah's talent? Will C.J. Anderson look more like the guy from 2014 in 2016 rather than the injured bust of 2015? 

There's so much that will have to flip just right for my team not to miss a beat over the next 2-3 seasons. One of the things I've learned most from this league is to work from your strengths as a manager. I experimented with trading away draft picks to turn around this franchise and while I had success this year, I don't think it's long-term. 

Stay tuned. 

Keeper-Salary Cap (Reality Sports Online): Walking Wounded

 

Lessons Learned: Injuries matter. I lost two WR1s and a RB1 and it doesn't include the multiple weeks that Desean Jackson and Matt Forte missed. Essentially I had five starters missing for significant lengths of time after starting 3-0 and leading the league in points.

I lost six of seven after that as the injuries piled up. Three of those losses were by a total of 13 points when my average margin of victory in September was nearly 29 points per win. 

My salary cap will give me plenty of spending room next year. It also means I'll be losing some worthwhile players, but most aren't huge losses if you think about their age and immediate future: 

  • Marquess WilsonThere's still potential here, but probably not in Chicago unless Kevin White and Alshon Jeffery can't stay healthy.
  • Dion LewisHe was a waiver wire pick and I could only sign him for a year. 
  • Rishard MatthewsAnother helpful free agent pickup this year.  
  • Nate WashingtonMore speed-dial value. 
  • Andre JohnsonAn expensive failure I paid $25 million of my cap for his services. Glad it was only a one-year deal. 
  • Keenan AllenLosing Allen just as he was rounding into form hurts. 
  • DeSean JacksonI love his ability and in the right spot he can be a superstar, but odds are likely that I can probably find a better player now that his deal is up.
  • Brent CelekWaiver wire speed-dial. 
  • Heath MillerHe was more helpful last year. 
  • Seahawks Defense: I have the Rams for another year. 
  • Calvin JohnsonI franchised him this year. It's unlikely I'll do it again, but it doesn't mean I won't think about it.  

Here are the key players I'll have at least another year: 

  • Carson PalmerI signed the veteran through 2018 as a hedge for Teddy Bridgewater and I'm beginning to think the long-term deal was a better move than I original thought. He was my starter all year and an elite fantasy option. 
  • Teddy BridgewaterHis future depends on the health of the Vikings' line next year or a David Carr scenario could happen. 
  • Matt FortePlease find your way to a contender with a good offensive line for a year (things you say at the tail end of a contract of an older player). 
  • Duke Johnson Jr & Isaiah CrowellI get one more year of this backfield (rookie deals) with the hope one emerges strong enough to franchise. 
  • Charles SimsHis rookie deal ends next year and I could benefit if Doug Martin's value is too high for Tampa to keep. This and Forte landing with a team like Dallas, Seattle (if Lynch retires and the team isn't as high on Rawls as we think), or New England (if they make him the feature back, which is a big if...) would be my ideal scenario for this league. 
  • Albert WilsonHis rookie contract expires next year and one good season from this promising unkonwn is possible. 
  • Chris ConleyI hate betting on Alex Smith to help me.
  • Terrelle PryorReasonable investment in a great athlete switching positions.

Add this up and I have a enough cap room to build another solid team next year around a top quarterback/offense in the Arizona-Palmer fit, even if Forte, Sims and the Browns backfield aren't helpful. 

Daily 

  • Total Invested: $20
  • Total Won: $392 (possibly more depending on tomorrow's Monday Night Game)

Lessons Learned: This is my first foray into daily fantasy. I put $20 into a FanDuel account last January in Las Vegas at the Footballguys' retreat and that's all I've spent of my own funds. While I'm sure that that daily analysts at Footballguys have a wealth of fantastic information and I probably would have won more if I studied their methods, my main source of basic information was Jene Bramel.

Jene gave me the basics about the games and outlined some things to consider that he gleaned from the daily writers: Stacking running backs and defenses or quarterbacks and receivers/tight ends. And considering home games.

Mostly I just picked players based on watching the games, my history of film study, and reviewing the opposition's team defense stats for any players I considered for my lineups.   

My best performances came during the earliest weeks of the season, the time of year Jene told me that others recommended caution because the stats aren't there to show trends. I attribute this success to the time I spend studying film and learning about the players and the game. 

I found that the less I second-guessed my analysis, the better I performed. I wouldn't consider myself good at FanDuel even if I thought my conscious attempt to learn more about the game with a small investment has helped me earn nearly 20 times what I put in. 

I didn't play the volume of games like the high rollers and I don't have the time. I doubt I ever will. What I've learned is that I enjoy the format in small doses and that film study has potential to keep me competitive in the space with those who lean more on algorithms. 

 


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