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Let me guess, your August draft didn't go well. You didn't follow my advice to land Lamar Jackson, Dak Prescott, or Matthew Stafford at a bargain between rounds 9-15. Justice Hill's speed seduced you into believing that I was too hooked on Mark Ingram to see the Ravens offense clearly and no matter how much LeSean McCoy dropped, you thought I was crazy to have LeSean McCoy this entire summer as a top-20 fantasy back.
You probably thought my love for Cooper Kupp was out of bounds and that my constant reminder of Sammy Watkins' offseason fixes to his body were little more than sentiment. That obvious went for me doubling-down on Austin Hooper and imploring you to wait until a least round 10 on tight ends because of Delanie Walker, Greg Olsen, and Darren Waller.
Whatever the reasons, you're now 0-4, 1-3, or 2-2 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 line of 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
Notice there is only one quarterback and no 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 Julio Jones jersey after you trade him away; Matt Ryan isn't going to show up at your door and give you a beat-down in front of your spouse and kids.
Don't enter a trade negotiation involving one of your studs as if you need the deal to solve all your problems — even if the deal works out that way. 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 Kareem Hunt or Saquon Barkley 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:
- Barkley - At best, he returns Week 7 but it's more likely he returns between Weeks 9-11 despite the jogging along the sidelines. Remember, straight-line running isn't the issue; cutting will be and that's a huge part of his game. You need to win now and unless you are a master negotiator with a shrewd eye for talent on the waiver wire, rebuilding your team mid-season while still holding into Barkley will be a massive challenge.
- Hunt - If you still have competitors that believe Hunt will undercut Nick Chubb upon his return from suspension, sell him now.
- A.J. Green - He's nearing a return but he's made it clear that he wants to be completely healthy so he can showcase his skills for a new contract. Most players return before they are 100 percent, so Green's statement is code for waiting until he's 100 percent.
- Hunter Henry - It's unlikely you'll get much for Henry but he shouldn't be clogging up your roster. However, he's one of those players that a contingent of fantasy players seem to have an irrational love for his game so he could be a pot-sweetener in a package deal to a rich team that wants to get richer.
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 7. Trade these players. I also recommend checking out Chad Parson's Cutting the Cord articles as reading material for players to dump.
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 underperformed but have high-upside for the rest of the season. This is not in a specific order and there are several other players that could be listed here. These are a few of many examples.
Note: In this season's environment, running backs will be difficult to part with so I'd recommend trying to acquire receivers and try to build a stronger roster with an undervalued quarterback and tight end and strong receivers. You can win with only a consistent RB2 scorer in your running back stable if you have the other weapons
- QB Jacoby Brissett: The perception that he's a back-up will linger for another 4-6 weeks. If you're in the hole and have Mahomes or Wilson, I'd check to see if the manager with Brissett also has a bigger name at the position and trade for the Colts quarterback while making a deal elsewhere to off-load Mahomes or Wilson for at least two valuable pieces. Again, the more pieces a team offers for one player, the more likely those separate pieces lack value. Try to limit the number to 2-3 pieces, at most.
- QB Aaron Rodgers: I doubt anyone will trade him for value but I always get 2-3 questions a week where there's an offer where I have to rub my eyes to make sure I read it correctly and immediately respond with "Yes...as fast as you can."
- QB Jared Goff: The Rams' quarterback is the unpopular kid in middle school, who is actually really cool but had some embarrassing moment that all the popular and wannabe popular kids make fun of and the label stuck. Despite the offense's issues, Goff isn't the problem and if is fantasy manager is willing to part with him and another quality player for Mahomes or Wilson, I'd consider it. Goff will likely be finish among the top 5-7 quarterbacks.
- RB Jordan Howard: There's a possibility that all of the cool-kid fantasy analysts have dumped on Howard enough that your league mates have drunk their rancid Kool-Aid and your league mate believes he or she is selling Howard high. There's a risk this will be true, but I still don't see massive improvement from Miles Sanders' vision. If you can get Howard and one of the quarterbacks in return for Wilson or Mahomes, it's a risk worth taking.
- RB Le'Veon Bell: The difference in Bell's stats against the Bills Week 1 and the last two Jets' games without Sam Darnold isn't significant but I'd be willing to risk that Darnold will be more efficient with giving Bell good looks in the red zone compared to a first-time starter like Luke Falk. Buffalo, Cleveland, and New England also have decent-to-strong defenses. Although a schedule of Philadelphia, Dallas, and Jacksonville isn't an easy October, Miami (twice), New York (Giants), Washington, Oakland, and Cincinnati are the Weeks 9-14 slate. And if Bell can earn 92 total yards and a touchdown against the Bills with Darnold, I think he can be good enough against the first three tough units that you'll see him emerge into a low-end RB1 after Week 9.
- RB Ronald Jones: I'm reticent to recommend him, but he is making smarter decisions albeit against the Giants and Rams. Still, I like what I'm seeing and the opportunities are increasing. Jones still lacks refinement as a decision-maker so it's a boom-bust recommendation. You better get a really good second player in return for whatever big piece you part with to get Jones.
- RB Kerryon Johnson: Go all-in with Johnson who the coaching staff treated like a feature back against the Chiefs and there is no one else on the roster who will intercede. He is a player I might make a 1:1 trade if I have depth behind the marquee option I'm trading away.
- RB Jaylen Samuel: The Steelers like him and they're incorporating him into the offense to the point that regardless of James Conner, Samuel has no worse than flex-appeal.
- WR Adam Thielen and Stephon Diggs: I've never been a fan of Kirk Cousins but I believe there will be enough improvement (and a necessity to throw the ball) that this duo will have midseason value as fantasy starters.
- WR A.J. Brown: If going the cheap route, Brown's route running may be inconsistent with certain types of coverage, but he's the most physical and explosive receiver on the roster and Marcus Mariota is gaining confidence in him.
- WR Josh Gordon: The Patriots are among the best teams in the NFL because they make adjustments in-game and in-season. Gordon is the most explosive talent on the team and he can always be had at a discount due to his potential for relapse (and with each year he returns, the likelihood of relapse probably drops because it means the league is seeing signs that he as made strides) and his low production thus far.
- WR DeSean Jackson: Injury is always a risk with this small and rail-thin wideout, but he's pound-for-pound one of the better options in the league and connected well with Carson Wentz before he got hurt.
- WR Dante Pettis: While the football world considers Deebo Samuel the play and has questioned Pettis, it was revealed last week that Pettis was also dealing with a torn pectoral muscle in addition to a groin issue and the torn pec was a preseason injury. Samuel is performing well on plays designed to get him into space and run but he's still a work-in-progress as a route runner. Pettis could have a strong midseason and stretch-run, once again.
- WR Calvin Ridley: You might have a shot at sneaking off with Ridley in a 2-for-1 package deal with him as a second option if the fantasy manager is disappointed with Ridley and has depth.
- WR Marvin Jones: He's capable of WR1 production and if you have to part with a marquee name to get two players, Jones is one of those options that a good team may part with due to depth and you get a player with high upside in a promising offense.
Here are talents who are less likely on rosters who could be worth a speculative add. I could name a number of running backs but it's probably better to go into this midseason rebuild with the mindset of adding receivers who can play for you know rather than stagnating your roster with backs who might earn a shot to play later. You can take a stab at one of several backs—Jordan Wilkins, Alexander Mattison, Doug Martin, Ito Smith, Brian Hill, or several others if you have room for one option but don't overdo it:
- WR Keke Coutee: Kenny Stills' hamstring injury opens the door for Coutee, who will start against a Falcons defense that's banged-up and horrible at stopping yards after the catch. Coutee will see middle-of-the-field targets and thrive. With Kansas City, Indianapolis, Oakland, a Ramsey-less Jacksonville, Baltimore, and Denver also on the schedule, Coutee is a nice bet.
- WR Jake Kumerow: Although unlikely, if Davante Adams misses multiple weeks, Kumerow has a rapport with Rodgers and a vertical game that could pay dividends.
- WR Anthony Miller: Likely ruled out as a "drop" a week or two ago, Miller's snaps are slowly climbing. .
- WR Geronimo Allison: If the passing offense comes alive, look for one of Marques Vales-Scantling or Allison to benefit and Allison seems to have more rapport in the middle of the field with Rodgers.
- TE Dawson Knox: Consecutive strong games that have highlighted his athletic ability downfield, at the catch-point, and after the catch should be enough to be convinced of his talent. Opportunity remains a bit of a question mark, but Tyler Kroft probably won't be ready soon. You can at least stream Knox as a high-upside option for a few more weeks.
- TE Gerald Everett: Is Everett a fantasy solution? Risky. What I can say is that his Week 1 snaps were at 30 but for the past three weeks, they've been at 50, 58, and 56 and his targets went from 1 to 5, 2, and 8. Desperate times call for finding solutions others haven't thought of. Everett is a good receiver with downfield skill, the trust of Goff, and an offense that is using him more that is still explosive enough in the passing game to merit consideration.
- TE Ricky Seals-Jones: You don't want to add him as your solution for the position, but it was interesting to see him earn 21 snaps for the Browns. Cleveland is using more two-tight-end sets and Seals-Jones is much more receiver than blocker. Cleveland treated him as such and if you're in a position to add and monitor, he could develop into a solution who will allow you to exchange existing options for personnel you need more.
These are players I am less inclined to target because there's a danger that they're overvalued:
- James Winston: The Rams and Giants aren't strong defenses and I'm not convinced Winston's recent upswing in production is sustainable. He has the skill-talent but the line play is what makes or breaks Winston's decision-making.
- Kyler Murray: Opposing defenses are dropping deeper and taking away Murray's vertical game because that's his strength. They are letting him run because he really doesn't want to and despite the Russell Wilson comparisons, he lacks Wilson's pocket management wisdom. I'll also argue that he's not as dynamic of a runner as the hype surrounding his game.
- Courtland Sutton: I can go either way on him. He'll likely earn the lesser cornerback in coverage each week but he still has technique issues. They haven't bitten him yet this year, but each catch remains an adventure when facing tighter coverage or less than pinpoint-accurate targets.
- Phillip Dorsett: This is speculative on my part because I haven't studied him this year. However, I find it difficult to believe that he's improved so much that he will remain more valuable than Gordon.
- Juju Smith-Schuster: Mason Rudolph and the surrounding receivers are too inconsistent at this time to take the plunge on Smith-Schuster with hopes of a rebound.