Nobody wants to hear about your fantasy team, but everyone wants to know how the analyst you're reading on a weekly basis and considering his recommendations did in his.
This week's Gut Check will be a season review that's a mix of my strategies, recommendations, and bold calls.
Review of Bold Calls
Clyde Edwards-Helaire: Most bought into the RB1 hype for the rookie. There were a few of us at Footballguys who saw him as an RB2, at best. Edwards-Helaire is a good young back, but he's not a power runner. I hear about his power all the time on television, but they are wrong.
He's powerful for his size but he isn't a true power runner as much as he is an after-contact player who minimizes the level of contact that reaches him. Instead of bouncing off direct hits or pulling through wraps above his knees from defensive linemen and linebackers, he runs through reaches and lower-leg wraps from those defenders and earns a push against defensive backs who deliver glancing shots.
Edwards-Helaire is an open-field bully whose acceleration and short-area quickness is good enough to make him an NFL starter with RB2 value on a team that has 3-4 better options in the passing game and some holes in its offensive line that prevent them from sustaining its ground game. This combination of factors was why the Edwards-Helaire buzz was too great and much of football media reinforced it after a huge night against the Houston Texans defense—a unit that is among the worst in the league against the run.
How would one know Houston would be that bad at the time in order to make the right call on Edwards-Helaire? You wouldn't but you can see what Helaire didn't do well and understand how that would translate moving forward.
This was from September 17. My conclusion from the original piece at my site: "The strengths of his game and his offense will put him well within the range of delivering production among the top 15-20 backs in the league. However, if Edwards-Helaire earns the buzz that he will be a top-five running back in terms of 2020 productivity, he’ll have to score touchdowns and break tackles. It’s early but so far, he has work to do or it won’t happen."
He has work to do to match the hype. He's a good back, but not (yet at least) a great one.
Josh Jacobs Earns Top-3 Production Among PPR Backs: Jacobs is currently 11th and has only 30 receptions. I expected 60 receptions, 300 carries, and 1,400 yards rushing. He's on track for 1,000-1,100 rushing yards and 40-45 catches, at most. Expecting a running back to double his reception-count, even if you're correct that he'd be the main receiver from the backfield, isn't a wise projection.
Matthew Stafford Eclipses 5,000 Yards and 40 Touchdowns: Bold call. Not a good one. If Stafford stayed healthy enough to play for the remainder of the season, he might have reached 4,200 yards and 25 touchdowns. Kenny Golladay's injury was a factor, but not enough of one to add another 800 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Adam Trautman Would Lead Rookie Tight Ends in Receiving: Harrison Bryant earned that honor with 19 catches for 182 yards and 3 touchdowns. Cole Kmet has come on and earned 17 catches for 172 yards and 2 scores. Trautman is third with 12 catches, 121 yards, and a score. None of those mattered for fantasy football. I still like Trautman and Bryant the most, long-term.
Tua Tagovailoa Will Outplay Joe Burrow And Deliver Starter Production After Week 9: That was easy. Ha! Of course, it had nothing to do with the factors that were about analyzing talent. Burrow's injury sealed it for Tagovailoa. Still, Tagovailoa has been pretty good for a rookie during his four-game stretch as a starter. He does have a better completion percentage and yards per attempt during the games he played than Burrow's two starts but that's not enough to make a meaningful comparison.
CeeDee Lamb Will Deliver Top-15 PPR WR Production: Before third-ranked fantasy quarterback Dak Prescott got hurt in Week 5, Lamb was the No.11 receiver in PPR formats after five weeks. I'll claim this as a win in seeing the correct outcome in theory that injury wrecked.
O.J. Howard and Rob Gronkowski Will Combine for 1,300 Yards and 15 Touchdowns: Utter failure, although I think there was some promise when you note how Gronkowski rounded in to shape and got better as the season progressed Howard and two strong games and one decent outing out of the four he played.
Mike Thomas (Bengals) Will Be A Fantasy Contributor By Year's End in Cincinnati: Nope!
Todd Gurley Has One More Year In Him As a Top-10 RB: After the first nine weeks, Gurley was 6th in PPR formats and 6th in standard leagues. Then Uncle Arthur paid a visit. Now, Gurley is 18th in standard formats and 20th in PPR leagues. He was almost there.
Here's the original no-fly list. The following notations next to each last name will help you see how it worked out. The players I put in bold this summer were players I recommended drafting if you were going for a less conventional draft plan
* = Performed below his ADP value but was still a fantasy starter.
$ = Performed above his ADP value and was a starter.
@ = Performed above ADP as a reserve/contributor.
# = Performed below ADP and wasn't a starter.
! = Performed below ADP due, in part to injury.
& = On par with his ADP
Waldman's 2020 No-Fly List
When you examine the 15 options firmly on the No-Fly list without exception, 8 weren't worth their selections based on ADP. However, the weight of those players who performed above expectation is more important and I missed massively on DeAndre Hopkins, Aaron Jones, Cooper Kupp, and Kareem Hunt.
Those four players are on a lot of contenders still alive. My apologies especially for Hopkins, Jones, and Kupp. Hunt? If Chubb didn't get hurt, Hunt wouldn't have been there.
Lesson learned: If the player is a stud, he may experience a regression due to a scheme change or abnormally high touchdown or yardage year but don't cancel him from your draft plan.
As for Kupp, I apologize for the ambivalence this summer. I had him listed as a player with hidden upside this year. The source of the ambivalence, the 12 personnel sets that I feared may take Kupp out of the game.
The lesson I learned here is that when the analytics of alignments leads to a potential fear that a top player on the offense might see fewer snaps, ignore the analytics. The idea of questioning the value of Kupp as a highly-utilized option is ludicrous. At the same time, I understand that we've seen some ludicrous coaches hold talents back due to their obsession with a scheme, but I'd prefer to err on the side of talent in these cases.
Nick Chubb's hidden upside was apparent just from watching how well he performed despite the presence of Hunt. It shows that his 2,000-yard upside was read.
Russell Wilson was cooking like a grandma prepping for a Sunday meal after church until a minor slump in November. He still qualifies.
Gardner Minshew was a top-12 passer before the injury. Drew Brees? Opposing teams were scared of the deep ball. Yes, I know PFF has been trolling Brees' arm but the coverage differences between Brees in the lineup and out of the lineup showed that they respected his deep accuracy and field reading to find the deep target more than Taysom Hill and forced Brees into a check-down mode.
Boston Scott flashed his hidden upside while Sanders was dealing with an injury.
Even Gurley had 10 weeks of top-5 upside and I projected him as a top-12 option if he reached that hidden upside.
Quintez Cephus? Nope.
Injuries aided my call on Austin Ekeler. While I didn't explicitly state that he couldn't hold up as the main back and I don't think that's the case, I did (and do) believe that some of the fantasy analysts drooling over pictures of his conditioned body were a mass lack of understanding that most running backs are top-conditioned athletes and his cut physique didn't make him a more powerful back in a meaningful way. His role was going to remain the same.
Baker Mayfield didn't get benched, which is enough to say he outperformed my expectations. He has been a good matchup-play the past two weeks but unlikely a player you have used until recently and even then, it would have been a huge risk based on his overall performance.
Odell Beckham Jr had moments when Mayfield had moments, but then got hurt.
Re-Draft: The Second Half of the Draft Is the Difference
I played in one true re-draft league this year: Footballguys Staff League, filled mostly with OG staff writers. And without a doubt, it was my worst year in this Super-Flex format, going 4-9 and scoring fewer points than all but three of my competitors. I was in first place after five weeks and everything fell apart.
What went wrong?
The best summation: Injuries and a belief in Tampa Bay's offense delivering on its ceiling of potential.
Injuries to Key Surrounding Talent: This was the biggest reason my team went from first-to-nearly-worst. Not much I can learn here.
- I drafted sixth and Ezekiel Elliott fell to me. That was great for the first five weeks until Dak Prescott got hurt, the already injury offensive line caved in, and the team imploded.
- I thought I stole James Conner in the second round, a player I recommended higher than anyone in the industry this year. Conner was a good play from Weeks 2-8, earning three 100-yard games and scoring 5 touchdowns. But like Elliott, his offensive line suffered injuries and lackluster play.
- I believed way too much in Tampa Bay's tight ends, thinking that Tom Brady's influence on Bruce Arians would be greater than it was, drafting Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard in this 1.5 PPR format for tight ends. Although, when I look back at Howard's four-week season curtailed by injury, Howard had two strong games out of four and had a schedule of six more teams ahead that were among the 10 most generous units against tight ends this year.
- I also took shots on rookies in the second half of the draft instead of quarterback depth. I resist the need to have 3-4 quarterbacks in Super Flex formats, banking on one study and one "dud" that will play more like a stud than people think. I've had success in this league even rolling with one quarterback. So I went with my perceived stud (Brady) and overachieving dud (Gardner Minshew). It was working until Minshew exited the scene with a thumb injury after Week 7. Up to that point, Brady was sixth in points at the position and Minshew was 10th.
Lesson: The biggest lesson I'd take from this is to acquire more depth at quarterback and take fewer shots on talents you can probably get on the waiver wire early in the season without much competition for it. See below.
Investing Too Much In Rookie Talent: My first eight picks were solid-to-strong if not for injuries to surrounding talent.
The most questionable choices were Smith-Schuster and Gronkowski, but both were delivering as starters in this format during the first seven weeks before the bottom dropped out from my squad. And Smith-Schuster is the 20th PPR option and the most consistent and valuable Steeler receiver at this point of the year.
Chark clearly didn't work out this year, especially once Minshew's injury occurred and he couldn't deliver an accurate downfield target. Lamb was a clear fantasy WR2 and gaining steam before Prescott got hurt.
As with most teams, these choices weren't the problem, in theory. The bigger issue? Lack of depth on the back end. Here's a list of players I picked during the second half of the draft and who I could have taken instead:
- 9.06 Zack Moss: Ronald Jones II and Antonio Gibson were available, but I honestly wouldn't have taken Gibson despite it being the best choice. Marvin Jones Jr was still available.
- 10.07 Gardner Minshew: Although it didn't work out, the injury was the only reason this didn't prove a sound choice.
- 11.06 Bryan Edwards: Christian Kirk and Teddy Bridgewater were significantly better choices. This was an awful pick based on my valuation of his talent and training camp buzz.
- 12.07 Tony Pollard: I'm not questioning this one.
- 13.06 O.J. Howard: This was proving sound before injury struck.
- 14.07 Joshua Kelley: It started promising but ended poorly. Robby Anderson would have been the steal here.
- 15.06 Vikings Defense: Darius Slayton was still on the board. That's crazy and shameful, considering the Colts defense was also available. Horrible pick.
- 16.07 Larry Fitzgerald: Michael Pittman Jr was the one pick of value in the round that was still available.
- 17.06 Quintez Cephus: Darrel Henderson and Corey Davis were the sleepers that hit from this round.
- 18.07 Benny Snell: I won't question this one, it was good value if the offensive line didn't implode.
If there's a lesson to be had here, it's how important the back end of a draft is. My team would have been contending if I had made six of these eight players: Ronald Jones II, Teddy Bridgewater, Christian Kirk, Darius Slayton, Michael Pittman Jr, Darrel Henderson, and Corey Davis. Instead, I had to scramble for receivers like Travis Fulgham and Tim Patrick to sub for injured backs.
And if I had a higher view on Gibson, this team could have been in a much better spot. Where I failed the most here is going for unproven upside (Moss, Edwards, Kelley, and Cephus) ahead of players who had solid starting roles: Jones, Kirk, Slayton, Bridgewater, and Davis.
Keeper: Waivers Can Compensate for a Bad Draft
My one keeper format is a fantasy writer's league that I've been a part of for three years. I've been to the championship game in two of those three seasons and I'm still alive in the fourth year after a victory of 0.03 points over my good friend Mike MacGregor of FFToday, who didn't deserve that kind of painful defeat.
- DeVante Parker
- Tyler Higbee
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Laviska Shenault Jr
- Miles Boykin
- Devin Duvernay
- Eric Ebron
- Dante Pettis
Again, I made awful choices in the back half of this draft this year. Usually, this is my strength, but not this year. Fortunately, I had a good run with the waiver-wire to salvage this team. This included timely additions and use of Jamaal Williams, Jimmy Graham, Randall Cobb, Nick Mullens, Travis Fulgham, Josh Reynolds, Gabriel Davis, T.Y. Hilton, and Logan Thomas.
That's a seriously good rebuild of depth and starter value from a waiver wire that kept my team in playoff contention. And that's the lesson learned: The waiver wire and lineup management are powerful parts of a winning campaign. My additions of key talent and lineup efficiency of 85.8 percent helped me win four games that I otherwise would have lost and helped me perform like one of the top four teams in the 12-team format.
Dynasty: The Perennial Stacked Contender Looking for a Title
Most of my leagues are dynasty formats and the majority of those have full IDP components. I'm 11-2 and the top seed in the Footballguys IDP Dynasty League. I have a stacked roster and I've been in the semifinals every year since this league started but never reached the championship. This may be my strongest team thus far but I play Matt Bitonti's team, which was one of the only two squads to beat mine during the regular season.
The best lesson I can offer for this team is that I stockpile wide receivers, linebackers quarterbacks, and anchored my 1.5 PPR for tight ends with a great one in Kelce.
My best draft pick this year was linebacker Patrick Queen, who leads my unit that has declined a bit but I hope to reload soon. If C.J. Mosely and Dont'a Hightower return to form, that will be a temporary fix for maybe a year or two, but I'll be looking for youth to supplement what I have with Queen, Eric Kendricks, Alexander Johnson, and Shaq Barrett.
My best free-agent picks this year were Jamaal Williams and Adrian Peterson to serve as my RB2 platoon next to Chubb until A.J. Dillon gets his shot; tackle Grover Stewart as depth behind Jones; Emmanuel Obgah who my quartet of strong, veteran defensive end play; and safety Daniel Sorenson.
Lessons: Stockpile quarterbacks (Mahomes, Brady, and Russell Wilson), wide receivers (Amari Cooper, Stefon Diggs, Godwin, Hill, and Anderson), get a great 1.5 PPR TE as a priority startup pick (Kelce), and make linebackers a near-equal priority as wide receivers. Safeties, cornerbacks, and second running backs in these formats are usually much lower priorities. You can compete without great dept charts in these areas.
Dynasty: Going for a Dynasty
This team has been to the championship for the past two years, winning one, and it's in the semifinals this week. This team was a rebuild from the studs that won its first title without a strong running back in this full-IDP format with 1.5 PPR for tight ends.
This league underwent some leadership changes and from my perspective, 2-3 general managers decided that they didn't like the possibility of a team maintaining a long-term dynasty over them and opted to change the roster limits, get rid of taxi squads, and create more waiver wire value.
They feared me.
I'm kidding. They wanted to encourage more ways for people to field competitive teams.
This year, I gave up Russell Wilson for a Jonathan Taylor and a second-round pick. While the deal favored the GM getting Wilson early, I still like having Taylor. Especially when I also acquired Nick Chubb for a first and second-round pick this summer—the second-round pick I got from the Wilson-Taylor deal. I also got Myles Garrett for a second-round pick in May.
I don't like to trade but when I do, I tend to know exactly what I want.
Other key additions this year: Keenan Allen in a special draft after the parties mentioned above decided to change several rules in the league.
Overall, this team survived injuries to Chubb, Michael Thomas, Taylor's midseason slump, and this league leadership's refusal to allow an IR for players that opted out for COVID (C.J. Moseley).
This isn't my strongest incarnation of this team, but it was still the top-scoring team in the league and has as good of a chance as any to win the title.
The best lesson learned was to stay patient with your riches and parlay them for talents you believe in. For me, it was Chubb, Garrett, and Taylor for three early draft picks and Russell Wilson. With Mahomes and Jackson (and Goff), I think that's worthwhile.
Dynasty-Devy: Win Now, Because You Spread Yourself Too Thin
The Grad School League is my favorite league. The player pool consists of NFL players during their first four years of their careers. Once they've played more than four seasons, they are no longer eligible to be on a team. It makes the rookie draft and devy draft ridiculously important.
I inherited a bottom-dweller that had Patrick Mahomes II on the taxi squad as a devy player. It was one of the big reasons that I took over this squad. After four years, this team is strong enough to win its division and lead in points. This has to be the year because I'm losing a ton of talent that isn't replaceable.
This is the final year I have with Mahomes, Alvin Kamara, who I traded to acquire in the second round of my first rookie draft, and Jamaal Williams, who platooned with D'Andre Swift in my backfield. Buffalo's Jarret Patterson will have to have a massive impact as a rookie in 2021 for me to salvage this backfield and I doubt that happens.
Did I mention I was losing Mahomes? Sorry, I'm a little sad about that. Especially when my best shot at a starter next year is Brett Rypien and Sam Ehlinger. Not good.
I am in promising shape at wide receiver with Justin Jefferson, Jerry Jeudy, Devin Duvernay, and Laviska Shenault Jr. However, I lose Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds just as he was about to get free from the Rams. It means I don't have much bargaining power to acquire a startable quarterback for 2021 at this time.
Tight end is also promising if Jared Cook will get out of the way and let Adam Trautman take over. Harrison Bryant is also poised for emergence in 2021 or 2022. I lose Evan Engram and Robert Tonyan Jr, who were immensely helpful this year.
This team is the 2020 Champion or bust. And the bust is inevitable in 2021. The lesson learned for me is to either commit heavily to a stockpile of 1-2 positions and use that stockpile to trade for positions of need (quarterback for me) or stockpile 1-2 positions in the devy draft. I've spread myself too thin in this league after building a potential winner and won't be able to sustain it.
Non-IDP Dynasty: The Surprise Contender Thanks to Stockpiled Reserves with Talent
This team is a PPR squad with 1.5 PPR for tight ends and the ability to start up to five backs, five receivers, and/or five tight ends. I traded for Ezekiel Elliott in this league hoping to bolster a depth chart that was lead by Frank Gore and Duke Johnson Jr.
Yeah, that bad.
The receivers and tight ends didn't compensate for it, either. Calvin Ridley, Marvin Jones Jr, and Robby Anderson aren't bad, but when you can start five receivers and the rest are Keelan Cole, Fitzgerald, and scrubs, it's not a good unit.
So how did this team make the playoffs?
Combine them with Mahomes, Ridley, Anderson, and good weeks from Jimmy Graham, and this team often scored wildly better than anyone anticipated. If I had started Keke Coutee two weeks ago--another player I originally drafted in the third round two years ago but dropped last year and added from waivers two weeks ago--I'd be in the semifinals.
Why didn't I?
I forgot to add him to my starting lineup. So it goes.
The lesson here other than active lineup management is that adding talented reserves with starter upside can pay off. But yeah, I just got lucky due to injuries to Christian McCaffrey and George Kittle. I should take a more active approach to make this team better.
Dynasty: Punching Above Its Weight Class
Frankly, this perennial playoff contender is at a crossroads and it is lucky to be in the semifinals. Russell Wilson, D.K. Metcalf, the Bears defense, and Jordan Reed have somehow kept this team in contention.
My running backs are awful. James Conner gave me a third of a season. We get one devy pick per season and Sony Michel was one of them. So was A.J. Green back in the day. I've had to lean on Giovani Bernard, Boston Scott, and Josh Kelley for much of the year.
I only needed one back in this league and even so, it was a challenge. I betted on the combination of Metcalf, Kirk, Pittman, Green, Julian Edelman, Michael Thomas, Austin Hooper, and Irv Smith to carry my Wilson and Matthew Stafford-led squad to a much better season.
You can see how that turned out. While my team is capable of a huge output in any given week, my squad was 8th in scoring out of 14 teams despite an 8-5 record and my best scoring week was the fourth-lowest of any team in the league.
Because of my issues with healthy tight ends and backs, my lineup efficiency is a poor 78.3 percent. Still, I somehow avoided losing four games with my lineup choices.
Lesson learned: I got lucky. Only three other teams in the league had a schedule where the opposing teams scored fewer points against them. I had the third-best record in the league and the fourth-easiest schedule.
I face by buddy MacGregor, the top-seeded team in the league, this weekend in the semifinals. If I luck-out and beat him again, I may need to send him some gifts.
Good luck this week.