Week 16 of the NFL season is upon us, meaning it’s playoff time in fantasy football. Where did the path to the playoffs begin? The draft. It’s the season’s most important day for building your team’s base.
But while draft day forms the foundation, in-season management can’t go overlooked. With that in mind, let’s review some approaches that worked in 2018 and can be applied to 2019.
Minimize risk in Round 1 or it could be disastrous
Le’Veon Bell. Ouch.
Most people said there’s no way Pittsburgh’s star would sit out the season in a contract dispute — until he did, costing many fantasy teams their season.
With an average draft position in standard scoring leagues of 2.2, according to Fantasy Pros, owners expected the workhorse running back to build off his two consecutive seasons of more than 1,000 yards rushing, more than 75 receptions and nine or more total touchdowns.
Those Bell owners who snagged his backup, James Conner, late in their drafts or off waivers likely saved their seasons.
Conner is a staple on playoff teams on Yahoo and ESPN, appearing on 75.9 percent of playoff rosters on ESPN (based on 10-team leagues with standard PPR rosters and scoring) and on 52.8 percent of the top 500 Yahoo public league teams.
Given how things unfolded in Pittsburgh, many owners might think drafting a player with off-the-field concerns isn’t a risk if they land his backup.
They need only turn to 2017 and the Ezekiel Elliott situation for repudiation.
Elliott averaged about 20.4 points per game in PPR scoring and 17.8 points per game in standard scoring in 2017. But while Elliott served a six-game suspension, the Cowboys split carries between Alfred Morris and Rod Smith. Each player only had one game each where they matched or bested Elliott’s production.
Returning to 2018, Bell owners likely passed on drafting backs such as Elliott, the Cardinals’ David Johnson, the Saints’ Alvin Kamara and the Giants’ Saquon Barkley.
Those players weren’t without question marks on draft day, but they all were safer than Bell and on track to be fantasy standouts.
Be patient at quarterback during draft day
The NFL may be a quarterback-driven league, but fantasy football plays by different rules. Literally.
ESPN’s list of players most commonly found on playoff teams only has three quarterbacks who appear on 49 percent or more of those rosters: the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes (59 percent), the Rams’ Jared Goff (53.8 percent) and the Saints’ Drew Brees (49.8 percent).
Brees was on average the sixth quarterback drafted, according to Fantasy Pros, with Goff 15th and Mahomes 16th.
Cam Newton, who was the fifth quarterback taken on average, according to Fantasy Pros, was the only one of the first five quarterbacks drafted to appear on Yahoo’s list (11.2 percent).
So while quarterbacks may draw the NFL’s highest salaries, don’t let that trick you into jumping the gun for one on draft day.
Actively monitor waivers for hidden gems
Think you drafted the perfect team? You might have, but are you willing to miss out on someone like Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay to prove it?
Hindsight is 20/20. But of the 12 most common players to appear on playoff teams on ESPN, four of them went undrafted in the average 10-team PPR league: Chiefs running back Spencer Ware (67.9 percent), Lindsay (62.7 percent of playoff teams), Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd (65.5 percent) and Colts tight end Eric Ebron (57.1 percent).
Entering Week 16, Ebron is the No. 4 scoring tight end, Lindsay the No. 13 scoring running back and Boyd the No. 14 wide receiver (all according to ESPN PPR scoring).
What do these four players have in common? Opportunity. And that might be the most important characteristic to assessing fantasy value.