August Is A Long Way Away
Four months ago, I had my worst draft ever. I was traveling, and even the convenience of smartphone technology could not help me. I missed my first-round pick. I continued missing out on running backs in a format where you could start three in a lineup.
Then, I picked the wrong player because his first name was the same as the one I wanted. As a result, I missed out on the player I was certain would deliver elite value as an exceptional rookie at his position.
As the reigning co-champ in this long-time industry league that I wanted a shot to repeat, it looked like I screwed those chances up before the season even began.
One thing I always preach, even if I don't say it explicitly, is that August is a long way from December.
Two rounds after picking the wrong Dalton, I chose the actual rookie exception (pictured above) who delivered elite value at his position. I also picked a 33-year-old value who had dominant weeks as my WR4. And when I had bye weeks, difficult matchups for my starters, and injuries, I plugged in another rookie who delivered WR1 value for the second half of the year.
This week, my team which was second in total points this year is playing for consecutive titles.
August is a long way from December. More lessons below.
Reviewing My Fantasy Season
I play in six leagues. Links to the leagues below. FYI: "Position-adjusted performance IDP" means that the scoring tries to put top IDP performers on equal terms with top offensive performers.
- A long-time 1-QB, PPR dynasty IDP league with 40-man rosters
- A 32-team 1-QB, position-adjusted performance IDP dynasty industry league with 45-man rosters
- Footballguys IDP 1-QB Staff League with 40-man rosters and position-adjusted performance
- A long-running industry keeper league with 1-QB, PPR with 20-man rosters
- 28-man roster, SuperFlex PPR dynasty league with mostly football writers and scouts
- A 35-man IDP devy/dynasty format where only players with less than five years are eligible
I made the playoffs in all six leagues. I advanced to the semifinals in five. I advanced to the championship in two.
The lessons I'm sharing will be based on reviewing each league in the order I listed them. The most important lessons are in bold for those of you who scan. I only have lessons from the first four leagues.
League No. 1: Injecting Youth Into an Aging Roster
A common refrain among fantasy analysts is to trade players as they age, hopefully getting them off your roster when they have 1-2 years left of value. It's a worthwhile strategy when you're not in a dynasty format where 1-2 teams have accumulated 80-90 percent of the rookie draft picks for multiple years.
They're not interested in your aging players. They're interested in building a squad that has players peaking for the next 3-5 years.
If you're one of the few not feeding these tank-and-bank GMs your draft picks, you'll have to get younger gradually. Fortunately, you can also remain competitive in the process.
From my experience, the easiest way to gradually turn over a roster is to focus on four position groups: running back, wide receiver, linebacker, and quarterback. In many of my leagues, these positions are the most populated part of my roster.
The quarterback position isn't as populated as the other three, especially in a 1-QB format. Still, I have found that if I can have 2-3 strong starters on my depth chart, it's difficult for my season to go into the tank due to injury, and I always have one player I can potentially trade for positions of need.
It's why I drafted Anthony Richardson at 1.06 despite having Mahomes and Lamar Jackson. I'm not going to resolve all of my roster issues through the draft and free agency, and often, the best way to resolve a positional need isn't to draft the position of need but to draft a position of strength to create a surplus. Once you have a surplus, you can trade for the players you want. It's how I got Nick Chubb, Jonathan Taylor, and two championships in three years in this league.
You can afford to have older players at TE, DE, CB, and S. This is a 1.5 PPR league for TEs and you can start two, so it's great to have two strong starters at the position. It's also worth keeping depth — even aging options who are still known for their athletic ability. Because elite tight ends often play at a high level for a longer period than any offensive position other than quarterback, I wouldn't load up on this position at the same rate I would at QB, RB, WR, and LB.
Because my team is solid at LB, QB, and (at least, entering this season) RB, let's use my receivers as a good example.
This league has a starting lineup requirement of 3-4 receivers. Before the rookie draft, my starters were Keenan Allen, Michael Thomas, and Adam Thielen. Allen and Thielen were fantastic for their draft capital while healthy this year. Thomas was a starter as well. If Allen didn't get hurt at year's end, there's a legitimate chance this squad is in the finals based on where I would have been seeded otherwise.
Heading into 2024, Allen looks like he'll remain a viable option. Considering that Thomas's injury isn't the ankle that led to his extended absence and he was a top-36 receiver for the first seven weeks of the season, he may still offer value next year. Despite a two-game slump that knocked Thielen out of fantasy WR1 value in 12-team formats, Thielen was dominant from Weeks 2-6. It's difficult to project that the 33-year-old will return to top-20 value next year.
All three options might have another 1-2 years left, but I wasn't counting on it back in May and still not counting on it now. I knew this spring that this group is essentially on borrowed time.
Fortunately, I added Jayden Reed (2.06) and Puka Nacua (4.06) in May. I added Parker Washington in Week 14. I also have Kayshon Boutte as a free agent addition before Week 1 as a cheap long-term bet. This doesn't solve my receiver depth chart, but another good rookie draft and off-season consignment shopping of late-round rookies and young vets could change that.
It has in the past. Thielen was one of those cheap buys off the waiver wire several years ago. Another Viking is working out in this fashion this year on my LB depth chart — Ivan Pace Jr, Jr., who I've been recommending since July. Pace is LB43 for the year but LB9 since Week 10.
League No.2: Lean on Your Greatest Strength in Huge Leagues
32-team leagues allow one player to be signed to each conference, essentially making this a pair of 16-team formats. Even with 45 players on the roster, 16-team formats stretch the pool of talent thin. The reigning champion in this league is Sirius XM's Mike Dempsey, whose greatest strength as a fantasy GM is negotiating trades.
He excels at successfully building strong rosters through numerous deals all year long. Negotiating deals is one of his top priorities. It is not one of mine. Even if I had the time, I'm not sure I'd build a team the way Dempsey does it.
Because I didn't have the time in this league, I went in a far more radical direction: Leaning to the extreme on my greatest strength. If you asked me what my greatest strengths are as a fantasy GM, I'd tell you the rookie draft, free agency, and lineup decisions. At least, that's what I initially thought when I asked myself that question.
When examining it on a broader level, the true answer is that I have a strong knowledge of offensive personnel. I know the talent well, and it gives me the benefit of finding productive options relative to their cost.
There are two ways to lean on your greatest strength. The most common is to push hard to acquire the best offensive talent, but in a large league format like this with fantasy analysts, everyone is strongest at offensive talent. Even if I were to have the arrogance to think I know the talent best, it would still require me to undertake several trade negotiations to get the desirable options.
The best path in a large format is to take the best possible commodities in the area where you're least knowledgeable about the depth of personnel. In my case, that's the defensive side of the ball. While I play most in IDP formats and occasionally hit on a player like Justin Madubuike or Ivan Pace Jr, who could wind up the Brock Purdy of the LB position, it's not my greatest strength. It's best described as my relative weakness; even if I'm not weak at IDP management, I'm weaker relative to my offensive knowledge.
So, I loaded up my roster on defense with the likes of T.J. Watt, Shaq Barrett, C.J. Moseley, Bobby Okereke, and Fred Warner. I continued to diligently shape my cornerback, safety, and defensive tackle depth charts with productive free agents because, even in an industry league, the free agent pool is rich enough to find leading producers with diligent weekly effort.
Because my relative weakness is defense and I focused on known commodities, it means I had to lean hard on my knowledge of offense to build a unit from scraps.
It doesn't mean I picked the entire offensive depth chart from the waiver wire. I drafted Nick Chubb, Chris Godwin, and Rhamondre Stevenson in the startup phase of the league. And, as my defense gelled, I could take shots on talents like Christian Watson and Trey McBride. However, the lack of great depth in my offense can lead to a narrow margin of error for these offensive choices.
Trey Lance is a good example. Bryce Young might wind up that way as well. Still, this team went 22-6 during the season, earned the No.1 seed in the conference, and is in the Championship round against fellow FBG staffer Gary Davenport with an offensive roster filled with more misfits than weekly starters. Here are my lineup options on offense for most of the year:
- 1 of QB Russell Wilson/Bryce Young
- 1-3 of A.J. Dillon/Rhadmondre Stevenson/Jaleel McLaughlin/Chris Brooks/Kevin Harris/Keaontay Ingram/Trey Sermon/Kenyan Drake (I didn't draft Sermon)
- 3-5 of Godwin/Demario Douglas/Demarcus Robinson/Watson/David Moore/Lynn Bowden/Richie James/Andrei Iosivas (return yards count in this league)
- 1-3 of Tyler Conklin/Tyler Higbee/Trey McBride
Because offensive knowledge is my strength and I initially broke it down into the draft, free agency, and lineup management, you can see that all three came into play for my offense to do just enough for me to win on the strength of my defense.
While I doubt I win the championship in this league, this team illustrates the value of my knowledge applied successfully. Despite having the 12th-best points total out of 32 teams, my 84.5 percent lineup efficiency is 6th overall, and that was a big reason why I fielded the 3rd-best win-loss record in this league.
I found the best cheap offensive players I could each week to play winning matchups. It's not an easy strategy, but it demanded me to exercise my strongest muscles rather than build my weakest ones, and that proved successful in a competitive environment.
League No.3: Lineup Efficiency
This is my perennial semifinal squad. I have won one championship in the past three years, but I've had heartbreakers to the eventual champ for many more. The team is getting older at the core positions of TE (Travis Kelce - 1.5 PPR), WR, and LB and I lost Nick Chubb at DE Matt Judon early in the year.
I have supplemented this roster with youth and productive free agents like Anthony Richardson, Jayden Reed, Pace, and Chuba Hubbard. But the reason this team went 9-5 (tied for second) despite ranking 6th out of 12 in points is my 86.3 lineup management efficiency, tops in the league.
Identifying strong matchups rather than leaning on what your league management site predicts matters. With defensive players, I found that using the past 2-3 weeks of production as a guide for my waiver-wire decisions was a far better method than seeking total points or points-per-game average. It allowed me to dig deeper into trends and matchups for those options and led to stronger decisions.
League No.4: You Can Survive (and Thrive) a Bad First Half of the Draft
I won this league last year (the oddity of the Bengals game led to DLF and the RSP splitting the title). My 9-5 record this year is second in the league. My 89.2 percent lineup efficiency and total were also second in the league.
Sounds promising, right? As stated in the beginning, my draft wasn't. I was traveling to New York for Alicia's final presentations and graduation from law school during the proceedings and was always pressed for time.
In my haste, I picked Dalton Schultz instead of Dalton Kincaid. And partially due to my frustration with that selection, I dumped Schultz in Week 1 only to miss out on him being TE10, which is three spots higher than Kincaid at season's end.
Derrick Henry was my RB1, and I didn't have another shot at an RB I valued until Round 7, A.J. Dillon. Not a great choice. In a league where you could start three backs, I only had one decent starter and a bunch of scrubs like Rico Dowdle, Keaontay Ingram, Kenneth Gainwell, and Jeff Wilson.
That's not the worst of it: I missed my first-round pick. Who misses their first-round pick?
Still, I made the championship round for the second consecutive year despite this mess at RB, screwing up my TE selection, compounding the issue with a worse Week 1 decision, and missing my first-round pick.
Despite an awful start to the draft, I had good picks in the second half:
- Round 10: Sam Laporta: When I missed out on Kincaid, I went with the other rookie I mentioned this summer who had a shot to be the exceptional first-year TE.
- Round 13: Adam Thielen
- Round 15: Jayden Reed
Paired with Henry, Brown, Mahomes, and Brandon Aiyuk, it worked out well. It would be a lot of fun to talk trash that I won this league without a first-round pick.
I hope your season ends in a similar epic fashion.