Many dynasty leagues have their trade deadline in Week 11, or Week 12 at the latest. While the argument for not having a trade deadline is a hotly-contested one in the dynasty community, this end date to major transactions on the dynasty calendar offers a final push for teams to make their moves before the offseason adjustments of player value.
While stashing marginally-talented primary backup running backs (or even a choice quarterback or two in premium formats) is ideal for contenders, I recommend shopping them to the starter's owner if they are contending as you fall out of the race. Independently, these backups have no standalone value but can offer peace of mind and injury insulation down the stretch. In the offseason, they will have no market value and are likely back on the waiver wire as you prepare for rookie drafts and the new reality of 2018 depth charts around the NFL. Even a later round rookie pick upgrade is worthwhile as after the trade deadline they will be locked on your roster outside of dropping them. Make an owner pay, even a small price, for their handcuff before the deadline.
SEEK ROOKIE PICK UPGRADES
When the rookie fever starts in the offseason, it can be near impossible to strike reasonable deals to trade up in the draft. The 2018 class projects as a second straight strong crop of talent, only fueling the flame for top picks. However, the picks are still projections at this point. Using lower-level producers or upside players to work up the draft board (say from later second round to early or mid, or Round 4 to Round 3) now is optimal. Once the pick order is assigned and the draft process begins, trades tighten involving rookie picks. Seek package-up trades before the deadline as an owner can always trade down and be a seller by draft day if the value is not present.
One exercise I do every year is looking at the final month or so of the fantasy landscape to handicap each position for potential title-winning players. They may benefit from a strong schedule with the benefit of strength of schedule stickiness to project better production by midseason. Others will benefit from greater opportunity. Others will be regression candidates returning to their historical norms. Here is a look at each skill position for potential league winners for 2017:
Why: Without Ezekiel Elliott and a leaky offensive line more is on the shoulders of Prescott as a runner and passer than any previous point in his young career. Prescott has finished as a QB1 in 6-of-9 games this season and Dallas' two best pass efficiency matchups are still to come (Giants in Week 14 and Raiders in Week 15). Quarterbacks facing the Giants this season are the equivalent to QB3. Wildcard round fantasy teams with Prescott will have a trump card to advance to the semifinals.
Why: The Giants' schedule of pass efficiency defenses this year has been brutal to-date. Only Week 4 and Week 10 were advantageous matchups (Buccaneers, 49ers) and Manning was QB5 and QB10 respectively in those games. In fact, Manning has more top-12 finishes this season than Drew Brees. Yet, Manning is one of the Rodney Dangerfield options at the position and some dynasty leagues have even dropped him in start-1QB depths in the past week. The schedule improves dramatically over the rest of the season, including strong matchups against Kansas City (Week 11), Oakland (Week 13) and Dallas (Week 14).
Why: The Bills have the easiest remaining rush efficiency schedule in the NFL by a decent margin. No opponent ranks even in the top-half of the league left on the schedule, plus the Chiefs and Patriots encompass three games for the Bills and are in the bottom-4 of the league in efficiency allowed. McCoy is a touchdown regression candidate to close the season as well with a 1.9% touchdown rate in 2017 compared to a 3% career mark.
Why: Burkhead's best two games of the season have been the past two weeks and Burkhead's rise in role has resulted in Mike Gillislee being a healthy scratch for the Patriots backfield. Burkhead is an all-around weapon with the size to run inside (unlike miscast Dion Lewis) and the versatility of a split-out receiver and screen game dynamo. The Bills mark the Patriots' schedule twice over the final month of the fantasy season as the easiest running back matchup available over the past five weeks. Miami in Weeks 12 and 14 is also a quality matchup.
Why: Thomas has been a 'Steady Eddie' option this season with mostly WR2/3 performances and only two games of top-15 production. However, the schedule improves with four straight high-level pass efficiency matchups on tap starting in Week 12 and a neutral matchup in Week 16 (Washington) after the month of ideal opponents. Outside of Week 11 (Cincinnati), there is not an above-average defense in wide receiver fantasy points allowed left on Denver's schedule. Thomas is also still on the touchdown regression watch list with two touchdowns on 48 receptions this season (4%) after a career rate of 9%.
Why: The rookie has outperformed Antonio Brown in recent weeks and the fantasy playoff schedule is ideal for Pittsburgh's receivers with New England and Houston in Weeks 15-16. Both are in the top-5 of PPR points allowed to opposing wide receivers. For the Patriots, many weeks this season a secondary option has been the top fantasy option as they focus on the No.1 receiver (aka Antonio Brown).
Why: Engram has been on fire of late with four straight games of 15+ PPR points. Outside of Sterling Shepard, there is little else in the Giants passing game and the schedule is rosy for the rookie to finish his impressive inaugural season. Over the final five weeks of the fantasy season, all of the Giants' tight end defense matchups are above average and four are enviable projections averaging more than 15 PPR points allowed to tight ends. In short, Engram is set to continue his hot stretch and be one of the most productive rookie tight ends in NFL history.
Why: Touchdowns have eluded Cook for much of his career and 2017 has been no different with a single trip to the end zone on a hearty 39 receptions. Cook is a strong regression candidate with a current streak of 26 receptions without a touchdown. Three of Cook's four best games have come over the last month, however, and the schedule includes ideal matchups against the Broncos, Giants, Cowboys, and Eagles from Week 12 to 16.
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