Unless your league uses a creative playoff format, it’s likely that another fantasy football season has concluded. And while every year has its fair share of twists, turns, injuries and noteworthy performances, both good and bad, can you objectively say that 2015 was anything other than extraordinary?
Over the past few years I have caught myself saying, “It’s been an odd year,” but if that was true then, just what was 2015?
The conclusion of the 2015 fantasy football year should in no way be the conclusion of your team building efforts, research or attempts to gain an advantage. Quite the contrary, in that this is the time you can potentially gain an advantage while your competition chooses to gloat, relax or in any other way take a break from their fantasy activities. Your waiver wire should be open for a period of time following the championship and this is the time to cut those kickers, extra defensive players or unproductive sleepers and replace them with new faces with more upside.
Here at DLF, we’ve always considered the NFL’s off-season to be our “on-season.” When other sites go dark for the year, the masses flock to DLF for our off-season coverage. The 17 week regular season is merely the canvas upon which your preparation, development and work will be on display. The other eight months is where you should be putting in your time and pulling ahead of your competition. We hope you stick with us for another year. I can guarantee no team works harder for your benefit than does DLF! We’d like to think you’ve come to see and expect that.
In this two-part series, I’m going to take a quick look at the year that was in fantasy and in part two, highlight a few of the moves I feel you should be making prior to your rosters locking for the year.
So, take my hand and walk with me…
2015 Rookie Draft
You may have your own ideas, but for me the rookie draft is the official beginning of the next season. To be sure, there is announcement day, the NFL Combine, the rookie draft, rookie training camp, Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and training camp to choose from. Take your pick. For me, the rookie draft is where the greenhorns are paired with their new teams and the excitement builds for the year to come. – not to mention a fair amount of fantasy prognostication.
Just as the rookie draft is an annual occurrence so, too, is the pre-draft rookie hype. All of us that play in dynasty formats are easily lost in the allure of the potential stars of tomorrow, those whom we’ll certainly be riding to multiple fantasy championships. Picks and players are traded at a frenetic pace prior before, and after, the NFL Combine as coaches jockey to rebuild their teams in key areas. And in most cases, the price paid for those draft picks just isn’t justified. Yet most of us all do it. Let’s take a look at the 2015 Rookie Draft from one of my primary leagues to gauge the talent and order of preference (your league will likely differ).
- Amari Cooper, WR OAK
- Todd Gurley, RB STL
- Melvin Gordon, RB SD
- Kevin White, WR CHI
- Jameis Winston, QB TB
- DeVante Parker, WR MIA
- Breshad Perriman, WR BAL
- Nelson Agholor, WR PHI
- Dorial Green-Beckham, WR TEN
- Marcus Mariota, QB TEN
- Ameer Abdullah, RB DET
- TJ Yeldon, RB JAX
- Tevin Coleman, RB ATL
- Tyler Lockett, WR SEA
- Phillip Dorsett, WR IND
- Jaelen Strong, WR HOU
- Jay Ajayi, RB MIA
- Maxx Williams, TE BAL
- Duke Johnson, RB CLE
- David Johnson, RB ARI
Within the top ten, outside of both Amari Cooper and Todd Gurley, is there one of these players that delivered you to the fantasy promised land? What about the top 20? Re-do this draft and this year’s R20 (Rookie #20) selection of David Johnson may even go first overall based on his late season performance. Of course, there will be multiple players from this draft that will have long careers but if there’s one thing that has been proven over the years it is that unless you are a very rare individual, you can’t build a competitive team solely through the draft. I’ve seen it attempted and I’ve tried it myself and it’s largely a fool’s folly.
After year one:
Rising – Cooper, Gurley, Winston, Mariota, Lockett and David Johnson
Holding – Parker, Green-Beckham, Yeldon, Duke Johnson, Ajayi
Falling – Gordon, White, Perriman, Agholor, Abdullah, Coleman, Dorsett, Strong, Maxx Williams
You can split hairs on the value of some of these rookies. For myself, I view Ameer Abdullah as a clearly “falling” player based on the expectations affixed to him. Others will defend him vigorously but I feel they aren’t objective about what Abdullah has (hasn’t?) shown on the field. Luckily, there’s still plenty of time.
Before blindly falling in love with the incoming rookie class once again, I urge you to objectively review the last few years of league rookie drafts and see for yourself the minefield that it is. Have a pick in the top five? You have about a 50% chance of getting a fantasy productive player. Outside of the top five, the odds drop. Dare I remind you, too, that the rookie draft isn’t just about the pick that you have as much as it is the depth of the particular class. We’ll be talking a lot about that in the weeks and months to come. Stay tuned.
What have we learned?
Augment your team with rookies, do not build a team with them as your foundation. Every team has to rebuild on occasion and the best way to do that is to trade away veteran players during the season to those in competition at the top of the standings. The reason for doing this during the season is two fold: 1) The heat of competition increases the demand for productive players and you can generate more interest and potential over-payment and 2) During the season, it’s easier to get a read on the incoming rookie class as they have most likely seen some field time.
There’s nothing wrong with accumulating draft picks, but remember those picks almost always have more value prior to the rookie draft before good players go to poor situations. Keep the high draft picks and trade those lower ones away from young productive players to those wanting to spin the proverbial rookie wheel. Let them take the risk while you take the known commodity.
This past year during draft season, it seemed that the, “When do I draft a quarterback?” debate was all too common yet again. Unless you are in a Super-Flex league, the common belief is it’s a waste of a pick to select a quarterback anytime before round six. For myself, I prefer to wait even longer as long as the pool is deep enough. The rub here is that if the pool is not deep enough it’s because so many others have already filled the position, thus decreasing the need for YOU to follow suit. In cases like this, I’ve found myself waiting until round nine or ten before drafting such names as Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo, Eli Manning, etc.
Injury wise, 2015 wasn’t overly impacted by quarterbacks ending up on the training table. Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck certainly did, but neither were lighting the fantasy world on fire prior to their injuries. Andy Dalton was enjoying a career year and his late season exit certainly did impact many playoff lineups.
Let’s take a look at the top ten quarterbacks through 16 weeks of the 2015 season:
- Cam Newton, CAR
- Tom Brady, NE
- Blake Bortles, JAX
- Russell Wilson, SEA
- Carson Palmer, ARI
- Drew Brees, NO
- Aaron Rodgers, GB
- Kirk Cousins, WAS
- Eli Manning, NYG
- Philip Rivers, SD
Hello Blake Bortles and Kirk Cousins!
Bortles took major strides in ’15 as his weapons were upgraded and he looked far more poised in the pocket. He’s a narrow 30 points away from the QB1. Cousins, whom I picked up in numerous leagues just because he was starting was a player whom I was sure was no better than a Matt Cassel or Matt Flynn type of fill-in. Instead, he’s the QB8?
Any way you slice it, those coaches selecting a quarterback early would have been calling names such as Rodgers and Luck. It’s yet another indictment on the fascination for drafting a quarterback overly early in start-up drafts. Know your format and scoring as there are times for selecting a signal caller early, but in most cases, you’re far better waiting until later in your draft. You could have tabbed Brady, Bortles, Palmer, Cousins, Manning and Rivers all after rounds eight and nine.
What have we learned?
Wait to take your starting quarterback unless your are in a Super-Flex (2QB) league. As was evidenced again this year, you can still land a good signal caller in round nine, give or take a round and sometimes even later than that. Just make sure to take quality over the upside risk unless you are willing to hamstring yourself for a couple of years while you try to unwind from a poor decision. Stay away from competitions and ultra-young players and, instead, target upside veteran players that are the centerpieces of their respective offenses for your QB1 and then dip into the developing quarterback pool.
Oh, the running backs. The bane of our existence – or at least for many of us. What a hot mess 2015 was.
It’s odd to look back on the years and see how the draft mantra was that one had to secure his/her running backs early and let the receivers fall. How times have changed. Surveying league after league in the playoffs, it was brutal to peruse starting lineups. I could feel the pain and frustration with each click. Each week in my lineup advice column (individualized lineup advice for our premium members) it was routine for the question to start with: “I’m in dire straights with my running backs or my running backs are decimated.” More than any other year, the running back position let many down in 2015.
Let’s first look at the top ten backs:
- Devonta Freeman, ATL
- Adrian Peterson, MIN
- DeAngelo Williams, PIT
- Danny Woodhead, SD
- Lamar Miller, MIA
- Doug Martin, TB
- Todd Gurley, STL
- David Johnson, ARI
- Mark Ingram, NO
- Chris Ivory, NYJ
If you had more than two of these names being in the top ten at the end of the season, I’m going to accuse you of lying. Okay, maybe not, but you get the point. It was a horrific year at the position and what isn’t known is whether this is the new normal or if we can expect a return to something more akin to the past. Dare I believe the former.
As I mentioned above, I looked at dozens of lineups and running back starts over the past two weeks and I saw names such as: Antonio Andrews, Cameron Artis-Payne, Denard Robinson, Charles Sims, Bilal Powell, Bryce Brown, Christine Michael, James White, Mike Gillislee, Alfred Blue, Spencer Ware and even the game changer, Kyle Juszcyk. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Even in the championship games, David Johnson, Charcandrick West, Buck Allen, Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and Jeremy Langford were all legitimate plays. Who? Really?
2015 wasn’t kind to LeVeon Bell, DeMarco Murray, Jamal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, Dion Lewis, Arian Foster, Carlos Hyde, Joseph Randle, Tevin Coleman or even such names as LeSean McCoy, Eddie Lacy and Jeremy Hill. It’s a fantasy wasteland of talent brought down by the injury bug.
The landscape has changed here, people. While many NFL teams still run to set up the pass, the game has transitioned to a receiver’s game. There’s no need to overdraft quarterbacks here, but you can fully expect receivers to dominate the first round of start up drafts in 2016. To be sure, there will be many of the typical names called in the first round but I assure you that they won’t be blurted out so confidently. Look for running backs to fall as they’ve nearly reached commodity status.
What have we learned?
Once again, the running back position is a crapshoot and the trend is toward more of the same. Two and three back committees aren’t going anywhere and with veteran backs falling to injury at a seemingly ever-quickening pace, there are less touches to go around as teams look to specialists. Even stalwart backs like Adrian Peterson are now rarely playing every down. I’ve transitioned my strategy to a receiver focus and I believe you should, too. That’s not to say you can’t get lucky with a back in the first round, but it’s a minefield outside of the first two or three off the board.
The trend over the past couple of seasons has been an increase of league passing attempts and, in fantasy, an increase in popularity for building teams via the wide receiver position and not running backs. In fact, a number of draft strategies have emerged that de-emphasize the running back position altogether in favor of the more consistent receiver. In 2015, it seemed that the zero-RB strategy was all the rage. Going into 2016, expect more of the same and to a greater degree.
When looking at the top ten, there aren’t any great surprises. Well, perhaps one:
- Antonio Brown, PIT
- Julio Jones, ATL
- Brandon Marshall, NYJ
- DeAndre Hopkins, HOU
- Odell Beckham, NYG
- Allen Robinson, JAX
- Larry Fitzgerald, ARI
- Jarvis Landry, MIA
- A.J. Green, CIN
- Doug Baldwin, SEA
It’s a good list until you see WR10 Doug Baldwin. Just what is he? How is he the tenth ranked receiver and is this a trend or an anomaly. When looking at our forum and surveying Doug Baldwin threads it’s obvious that a vast majority believe his production is an anomaly, and can you blame them? At 27 years old, he bloomed late and in an offense that didn’t portend his rise. Still, similarly sized to Antonio Brown and with similar speed, there’s no reason to expect he will slip back into anonymity. Nor is there any great reason to expect a repeat performance. The bigger question is really more about what production can be expected in 2016?
It’s easy to see how a first round draft could take a decidedly different shape than years past when looking at this list. With at least seven or eight young receivers and still others hovering just outside the top ten (Demaryius Thomas, Brandin Cooks, Calvin Johnson, Amari Cooper, Jeremy Maclin, etc) it would seem that future draft strategy is relatively clear. The names on this list may actually bring some excitement to a selection later in the first round which would allow for a second receiver selection earlier in the second round.
What have we learned?
It’s rather evident the wide receiver is on the rise and will be the foundation of fantasy teams going forward. In 2015, excluding quarterbacks, only two of the top 15 fantasy point scorers were running backs (Freeman and Peterson). Obviously, if you play in a non-PPR format, the game is changed a bit but even with that consideration, when viewing total touchdowns on the season, the listing is fairly evenly disbursed between running backs and wide receivers with receivers (Baldwin and Robinson) holding the top spot with 14 each. Freeman and David Johnson share a tie for second along with receivers Marshall and Beckham Jr. at 13. That said, would you have predicted those two running backs to lead all others in scoring? I think not.
The fantasy running back will remain a significant part of your team build strategy. It is the receiver who will be the engine by which you compete. A top running back, wherever they come from, could very well have an enormous impact on future standings as consistency from the position is hard to come by. I think it’s been shown recently that there’s much more stability at the receiver position such that they deserve early attention in drafts to even a greater degree than they have in the recent past. What has changed is that those that balked at the strategy in 2015 will likely adopt this believe in 2016, making it much harder to construct a team.
The tight end position has always, at least to me, been one of those positions that could generate a material fantasy point advantage come game day. I love nothing more to see my positional match-up consist of my Rob Gronkowski over my opponents Coby Fleener. It makes for an instant advantage.
Let’s take a look at the top ten of 2015.
- Rob Gronkowski, NE
- Jordan Reed, WAS
- Greg Olsen, CAR
- Gary Barnidge, CLE
- Delanie Walker, TEN
- Travis Kelce, KC
- Tyler Eifert, CIN
- Ben Watson, NO
- Jason Witten, DAL
- Zach Ertz, PHI
What have we learned?
Typically, the tight end position has been the difference between the haves and the have-nots. Meaning once you get outside of the top five or six in ranking, there remains little point disparity such that you need to consider an earlier selection. Read that as: “If you don’t get one of the top producers, let it go until much later in the draft.” With the group above, the cutoff appears to be between TE5 and TE6. This being the case, in a 12 team league not getting one of the top six relegates you to the next six would puts you at a nearly 100 fantasy point disadvantage at the TE12 position.
The other thing that should be realized about tight ends is that it is a forgiving position which allows for in-season free agent additions for the quick. I added Gary Barnidge in multiple leagues as he rose from anonymity on his way to a TE4 ranking.
Rob Gronkowski is still clearly the top dog of the group and is only 26 years of age. Sickening. He truly has redefined the position. Jordan Reed is ultra athletic as well and, if he can stay healthy, has the potential to be good for a long time.
I hope you have enjoyed this quick look at the 2015 season and you’ve already begun laying the groundwork for team additions and future drafts. In the next part, I’ll be going deeper into each of the positions to highlight names that you should be adding to your roster as we head into the off-season.
Follow me on Twitter: @DLF_Jeff