With just Week 16 left in the regular season, a vast majority of dynasty leagues are awarding their championship trophies this week. 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 2020 and strategies for 2021:
Value Quarterback Profiles
Some of the bigger quarterback producers beyond their dynasty cost in the offseason in 2020 were stable long-term profiles. Aaron Rodgers is one of the glaring examples. Rodgers, coming off a so-called "down" year in 2019 where touchdowns were down, but his TD-INT ratio remained off-the-charts elite, was fading down to the fifth round of startup drafts at times due to Jordan Love's drafting and the "end is coming in Green Bay" dialogue.
However, Rodgers is an all-timer, and betting on his profile (SEVEN top-six seasons entering 2020 and 10 top-12 seasons overall, the third-most top-6 seasons for any quarterback dating back to the mid-1990s) was and is a prudent one over less established options. Through Week 15, Rodgers is QB3 in PPG and QB2 in total points. On the cheaper side, Tom Brady and Drew Brees are QB12 and QB13 in PPG this season. Both were affordable (think late Round 2 picks) in the offseason and deemed 'done' by many pushing them into irrelevancy or retirement. Running quarterbacks out of dynasty town preemptively is one of the bigger mistakes in dynasty leagues, especially in premium formats.
The young relatively unproven quarterbacks are the IPOs and penny stocks of the dynasty spectrum, while the veterans who have been there and done that are the mutual funds who dispense the dividends and pay the bills. Who could be a ripe value in 2021? Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, Matthew Stafford, and Jared Goff are examples with seven top-6 seasons and 14 top-12 seasons between them. None are particularly hot dynasty names in the offseason when it is all about the sizzle and possibilities of the next young breakout star.
Running Backs: It's a Weekly Game
Footballguys Dynasty Show co-host Jordan McNamara summarized the rookie running back twists and turns well in this week's episode. I would highly encourage a listen every week, but this week's show highlights the point I would make here - dynasty is a long-term game but a weekly rollercoaster. Injuries, matchups, snap share, touchdowns called back, depth chart changes, and more all impact the start rate, confidence level for lineups, and performance of running backs and especially still developing ones. The 2020 rookie class has seen the following in less than a full season's time:
Jonathan Taylor: Blocked behind Marlon Mack, unblocked with Mack's injury, breakout game and now great, disappointing due to a murky committee and lower-usage games, now a strong producer to close the fantasy regular season and two weeks into the playoffs.
J.K. Dobbins: Sparsely plays early, rises over time, still lagging in production even with Mark Ingram II's injury and fading from a relevant part of the committee, Gus Edwards plays well, receiving usage question mark.
Cam Akers: Quality Week 1 usage, fades to quizzical lack of usage for weeks at a time interspersed with injury, breakout game, strong and predictable use, injury in-game (plus called back plays and chunk TD) in Week 15 and now out Week 16.
These are just the first running backs typically off of rookie boards back in May and the twists and turns have been pronounced in most of a single season. Running back is a weekly game. If you start two per week for 13 fantasy weeks, that's 26 starts you need to puzzle-piece your way together. All but Vaughn had pockets (some bigger than others) of confident starts as Flex plays, RB2, or even RB1 lineup decisions. Year 1 lineup confidence for rookies is a bonus, not a given or an entitlement. Entering rookie drafts (or drafting rookies in a startup or dispersal draft) is an investment in the future. Mix a rookie back or two with veterans and injury-away backs and the puzzle pieces come together over the aggregate season.
Dating back to mid-August, the AVERAGE NFL running back depth chart has missed 5.1 games from their at-the-time starting running back plan or hierarchy. My tracking means if the RB1 is out for a week, that's one missed game. If there's a week with said RB1 out and the RB2 is out as well, that's two missed games as now the RB3 is the new starter for lineup decisions. Only three depth charts did not see a missed game by the projected August starter in 2020 (and still a fantasy week to go): Saints, Titans, Bills. That means there were 29 depth charts where a non-starter streamer was available for at least one game and, on average, for five games this season. Depth and playing the volume game for running backs is critical to collect these opportunities.
Pay Attention to the Details
Whether in one league or 20, the weekly player churn through the waiver wire and first-come, first-serve avenues are critical to improving your team. To use one league as an example where players are unlocked when dropped through waivers, etc. and available for pickup, here are some of the adds and flips I was able to execute as a result of the shallow-moderate rosters and attention to details to acquire-sell-replace with the valuable roster spots as an orphan in 2020 and building towards a better 2021:
Acquired, from September forward
- J.K. McKissic
- Myles Gaskin
- Jeffery Wilson
- Benny Snell
- Trey Burton
- Mo Alie-Cox
- D'Ernest Johnson
- Wayne Gallman
- Taysom Hill
- Nyheim Hines
- Rashard Higgins
- Duke Johnson Jr
- Gabriel Davis
- Adam Trautman
- Salvon Ahmed
- Ty Johnson
- Lynn Bowden Jr
- Myles Gaskin, Jordan Howard for Darrell Henderson, 21 3rd
- Tre'Quan Smith, Mo Alie-Cox for 21 3rd
- D'Ernest Johnson, 21 3rd (mid) for Darrynton Evans, 21 3rd (early)
- Carlos Hyde, Rashard Higgins for 21 2nd
- Wayne Gallman for 21 4th
- Duke Johnson Jr, John Brown for 21 2nd
- Salvon Ahmed, Nyheim Hines, J.D. McKissic for 21 2nd
2020 REGRESSION CANDIDATES
The 94% regression rate threshold for touchdown rate (per completion) for quarterbacks is above 9.5%. The quarterbacks currently qualifying in 2020 for regression downward next year include Aaron Rodgers (12.0%), second highest of his career. The other three times he was >10% he dropped by 2.2% on average the following season, which would be 6-7 touchdowns based on similar volume next year. Russell Wilson (10.8%) also with the second-highest rate of his career. The previous similar season, Wilson dropped 3.4% the following campaign. Ryan Tannehill is a touchdown and interception rate regression candidate (in a negative way) for 2021 with 10.8% TD rate and 3.5% INT rate. Tannehill's INT rate is close to half of his 7.1% mark with Tennessee in 2019. On the positive touchdown regression watch list for 2021 includes Sam Darnold (3.4%) assuming he has the starting job after 7% range TD rate the previous two season. Daniel Jones (3.3%) after 8.5% as a 2019 rookie and Joe Burrow with 4.9% as a rookie this season. Notable veterans close to the line and worth including for consideration in 2021 are Jared Goff (close to career-low TD rate, career-high INT rate), and Dak Prescott (big volume, but career-low TD rate and highest INT rate since 2017).
D'Andre Swift is an expected TD rate decliner in 2021 (the volume should increase to offset some of it) with seven scores on just 92 carries. Antonio Gibson is another rookie with a regression-worthy TD rate with 11 scores on 141 carries. On the positive side, Ezekiel Elliott's touchdown outage matching Dak Prescott exiting the lineup makes for an easy projection for a bounce-back in 2021, posting just five scores on 200+ carries. Damien Harris would be another positive regression candidate to consider for 2021 with two cores on 137 carries, looking the part, and Cam Newton's contract expiring in the offseason, who siphoned goal-line work for the Patriots.
WIDE RECEIVERS and TIGHT ENDS
Stefon Diggs is seeing monster volume in 2020, but five scores on 111 receptions easily marks the lowest rate in any season for Diggs outside of 2016. In 2017, Diggs surged up to a 13% TD rate. Terry McLaurin was a negative regression candidate following his 12% rookie year. 2020 marked correction to 3.8%. Look for a bounce-back in 2021. Adam Thielen is having a career year for TD rate, a crazy 21% mark, far above any season in his productive career. Look for a sharp correction in 2021 unless his volume pushes 150+ targets a la 2018. Like Thielen, Mike Evans has been a lower-volume touchdown maven this year with a 19% TD rate, most closely replicated in his rookie season (18%). The following year Evans tanked to three total touchdowns. Either the volume needs a significant rise, or expect a few less scores for Evans in 2021.
Robert Tonyan Jr is the significant touchdown regression tight end for 2021. With more than a 20% TD rate, Tonyan is likely to lose a host of scores next year, assuming his starting role is not challenged by Jace Sternberger, Josaiah Deguara, or an addition to the depth chart. Evan Engram may be the biggest gap between upside and production to-date at the tight end position. While not a strong touchdown scorer in his career, his 7.8% TD rate from 2017-2019 has taken a nosedive to 1.9% in 2020. Engram has top-three upside for a peak season, and his touchdown rate would be a significant factor to a strong turnaround in 2021 specifically.