By all accounts, “The Flintstones” was in trouble.
Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty needed rescuing, and as Steven Spielberg — yes, that Steven Spielberg — looked at the pile of scripts on his desk, he felt he was nowhere close to the answer.
It was the early ’90s and Amblin, Spielberg’s production house, had acquired the rights to bring “The Flintstones” to the big screen. The original director — Richard Donner of “Lethal Weapon” and the Christopher Reeve “Superman” movies fame — had fallen out a while ago and the project had bounced around town a bit before finally landing with Amblin Entertainment. Script after script after script was commissioned … and rejected. Eight different scripts had come and gone and still, Spielberg felt he was no closer to getting the movie off the ground.
It was fall of 1992 and time was running out. Steven wanted John Goodman to play Fred, but due to John’s commitments to the hit sitcom “Roseanne,” John only had May to July of 1993 to film the movie. And so, with no script he liked and the sundial ticking, Spielberg went about finding a new director to attach to the project.
Someone who could help shape a direction for the film and oversee a script.
It was, as they say, “a good gig.”
In fact, it was a great gig. OK, sure, you’re probably not worried about what you’ll wear to the Oscars when you do that movie, but so what? Working with Spielberg? On what would be a big summer movie based on one of the most well-known and beloved animated shows of all time? A movie that you know will get made, will have a big budget and will have tons of support behind it? Getting to see the fun, wild and vivid world of Bedrock come to life, complete with dinosaurs? Did I mention working with a living legend? Or the dinosaurs? Did I mention them?
And when there is a great gig available, everyone is interested. And so, as the story that was told to me goes — Steven met with lots of directors, all well-respected, all accomplished, all well-known in Hollywood.
One of the names on the list of potential directors to meet Steven might have surprised some. It’s not that Brian Levant wasn’t successful. A former sitcom writer, director and producer, Brian had done over 400 episodes of various hits, including “Happy Days” and “Mork & Mindy.” He had recently made a foray into directing, helming “Problem Child 2,” which made $ 33M on a $ 12M budget, and then later “Beethoven,” a family film that cost just $ 18 million to make and ended up grossing more than $ 147 million worldwide. This is how studios measure success, and both movies had been done at Universal, where Amblin was housed, so that connection helped as well.
But still. This was to be a summer tent-pole movie. This was “The Flintstones.” This was SPIELBERG. He was, by most accounts, a long shot to get such a job.
And so, one by one, they walked down the long hallway to meet with Mr. Spielberg. I’m sorry. MR. STEVEN SPIELBERG. As close to royalty as you get in Hollywood. Wanting to impress the man, director after director pitched their view of what the movie could be. “I see Fred as a Christ figure.” “Bedrock is an allegory for the bleakness of humanity.” EW.com reported one take was a “Grapes of Wrath-type thing where Fred and Barney leave town during a depression to look for jobs and wind up in a trailer park.”
Each take more complex and filled with symbolism than the next. Except for Brian Levant, who just shrugged at Spielberg and said, very simply, “Come on. It’s ‘The Flintstones.’ I’ll make it funny.”
And that, my friends, won the day.
I spoke with Brian recently about his memories of that meeting, and he explained that the issue everyone was having was easy to spot. “They were trying to reinvent the wheel. I was like … It’s ‘The Flintstones.’ The wheel works fine. You don’t need to reinvent anything!”
An avid collector of pop culture memorabilia (which you see on Brian’s Instagram @BrianLevant), Brian had brought in some of his prized Flintstones memorabilia collection, including some rare items. Brian’s passion and enthusiasm swayed Spielberg, as did Brian’s understanding of the brilliant simplicity that made the show so popular.
“I got the job by embracing the purity of it,” Brian said. “The fundamentals, if you will.”
In fantasy football and in life, we often get into our own heads, overthinking and not seeing the quarry for the stones. Or something like that. The direct and obvious approach is often the correct one.
“It’s ‘The Flintstones.’ I’ll make it funny.”
Which brings us slowly, once more, into the 19th annual edition of the Draft Day Manifesto. Howdy, partner. Pull up a boulder and make yourself comfortable. Can I get you a Brontosaurus burger?
I have been writing the Manifesto for close to two decades now, and as always, there are some things in here that remain unchanged from year to year. The basic blueprint to construct a championship team, some of the strategy and, as I was just saying to some of the extremely happy RotoPass.com subscribers, there will also be some over-the-top, self-serving promotion.
But there’s also updated research, new analysis and at least one new joke. (Editor’s note: That wasn’t it.)
Let’s start with the most important piece of advice I can give you about fantasy football.
At a fundamental level, it’s all about minimizing risk and giving yourself the best odds to win on a weekly basis.
That’s it. That simple. Everything leads back to that. Every draft pick, waiver move, potential trade, start/sit decision and more.
I write it every year because it’s not only true, but because it’s very easy to lose sight of. Exactly one year ago, no one thought Cam Newton would play 15 games and still finish as the 17th-best QB in fantasy. No one thought a fourth-round rookie QB would not only start every game for Dallas, but would finish as the sixth-best QB. That Jay Ajayi, who was literally left at home for the Dolphins’ first game, would end up with three 200-yard rushing games. That Todd Gurley would play all 16 games but score just 1.2 points more than Bilal Powell. And fewer than Isaiah Crowell. That a wide receiver would lead Green Bay running backs in fantasy points. That Rishard Matthews would outscore Allen Robinson. That Cole Beasley would outscore A.J. Green. And Dez Bryant. Or that Kyle Rudolph would have more points than Rob Gronkowski and Tyler Eifertcombined.
You can’t predict the future. I definitely can’t predict the future. No one can predict the future. So all you can do is minimize risk and give yourself the best odds to succeed. If you take just one thing away from this article, make it that. If you take two things away from this article, make it that and the fact that my Fantasy Life App is not only free, but an amazing community of fantasy football fanatics there to help you win. (I mean, hey, I already got the RotoPass plug in.)
As you start the draft prep process, you will be inundated with a vast amount of data, news, stats and analysis. I see it every year as people get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information and get way too deep into their own heads. The key is to sort through all that and not get lost or try to reinvent the wheel. It’s “The Flintstones.” Make it funny, you know?
Realize there is more than one path to success, but at the core of them all is to trust yourself and your process.
With Goodman’s hiatus coming up quickly and more than 6,000 sets, props and costumes needing to be built to bring Bedrock to life, time was running very short. So Brian went back to his sitcom roots, hired a bunch of writers to sit in a room with him for a few weeks, and they all collaborated on a new script. Ideal? No. But it got the job done. It got the movie officially green-lit, they made John Goodman’s production window, and when all was said and done, the movie made more than $ 341 million (which would be about $ 700 million in adjusted box office today), plus an insane amount on merchandising, and all for a budget of about $ 46 million.
It was “The Flintstones.” He made it funny.
Whether you liked the movie, hated it or never saw it doesn’t really matter. By the standards Hollywood sets, it was a huge success and certainly had a lasting effect on Brian’s life. Whether it is Hollywood, Fantasy Football or life, getting to the essence of the problem you are trying to solve and then, you know, doing that, is a recipe for success.
And that’s what we’re going to do. Let’s acknowledge the irony about a crazy-long article that has a goal of simplifying your draft day experience, but that’s what we’re going for here. A set of rules, guidelines and stats that ideally, once you absorb them, make draft day a simple, enjoyable first step towards winning your league.
Before we start, one last thing. As I mentioned, I have written this Manifesto for many, many years. And in a lot of places, the framework and themes are similar. So, with a tip of the cap to Brian Levant, I’m going to try to simplify the column this time around. Theory will still be here, but “the math” behind it can be seen in any of the previous year’s versions. Last year’s methodology can be found here.
Still a Manifesto, just a slimmer, more efficient one built for 2017. It’s eco and mobile friendly, baby!
So here you go, you list-loving internet. The 25 best tips for draft day.
1. Just repeating this one more time because it’s that important …
At a fundamental level, fantasy football success is all about minimizing risk and giving yourself the best odds to win on a weekly basis.
Every decision you make should be influenced by this. Whom to draft, avoid, start, bench, trade, waive, pick up or anything. All of it.
You can’t predict the future. It’s more about “what’s most likely to happen.” And then do that.
Dak Prescott had six rushing touchdowns last season. In the history of the NFL, the only QBs with multiple seasons of five-plus rushing touchdowns are Michael Vick, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow. What’s most likely to happen?
Dallas’ signal-caller could and should be great in 2017, but will he be as great?
Jameis Winston had six rushing touchdowns in his first year, but just one in his second.
What’s most likely to happen?
Drew Brees, for instance, has nine straight seasons of 30-plus touchdown passes.
Over the past five years, New England has 9.8 percent more rushing touchdowns than any other team in the NFL.
Again: What’s most likely to happen?
Using a little research and basic logic, you can take a moment to think about any particular situation from every angle. What was behind the player’s success or failure? Was it a fluke or is it repeatable? Once you figure that out, the answer on what to do is fairly easy. It won’t always work out, but like everything else in life, if you play your cards right, it’ll work out more often than not.
2. There is no right way to win
They all work. And they all don’t. I’m speaking of “draft strategies.” Value based drafting, Zero RB, RB/RB, etc. They all work and they all don’t. We’ve looked at this every year.
Here’s the list of most common players on 2016 fantasy playoff teams on ESPN.com (I cut it off at 50 percent):
There are some first-rounders in there, most notably David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott. But there are also a lot of players who greatly outperformed their average draft position (ADP), like Matt Ryan or LeGarrette Blount, or were waiver-wire pickups, like Davante Adams or Jordan Howard.
Let’s look at this list from another perspective.
Here’s last year’s first round based on ESPN ADP, along with the percentage of teams owning that player that made the playoffs:
1. Antonio Brown 44.9 percent
2. Odell Beckham Jr. 35.3 percent
3. Adrian Peterson 7.6 percent
4. Todd Gurley 33.7 percent
5. Julio Jones 41.5 percent
6. Ezekiel Elliott 57.5 percent
7. DeAndre Hopkins 30.9 percent
8. David Johnson 66.9 percent
9. Devonta Freeman 56.3 percent
10. Rob Gronkowski 27.76 percent
Obviously, just after Week 13, some teams were still hoping they might get something out of Adrian Peterson or Rob Gronkowski. By and large, though, whether you went WR, RB or TE in the first round last year, you had a chance to make the playoffs in your league. Even those crushed by Peterson’s injury.
3. Know your league. Inside and out.
It seems obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many people don’t know all of the rules of their league. You should know them inside and out, backward and forward, because that knowledge is what you’ll use to (legally!) exploit those rules and construct the best team possible on draft day. Is there an injury slot(s) in addition to the normal roster positions, like a DL slot in baseball? If so, you can be more aggressive with talented but injury-prone guys. Are you required to leave the draft with a full lineup? I say you should have to, but if not, don’t bother with a kicker or a defense and use those two slots for extra position picks. You can waive them just before the season starts or do a 2-for-1 trade to grab a D/ST and K just before Week 1.
What’s your roster size? How often can you make moves? Do tight ends get 2 PPR? Any other weird scoring rules? Does your defense score points for holding opposing teams to certain yardage totals, or is it yardage totals and scoring totals? Every rule in your league shapes a player’s value. Travis Kelce has more value in overall ranks in a league that awards 2 PPR for TE than a normal PPR league. Someone like Brian Hoyer has value in a 2-QB league but shouldn’t be drafted in a 10-team, 1-QB league. You can’t evaluate players unless you know their value, and you can’t determine value unless you know the rules they are being judged against.
4. Remember: The roster you construct on draft day is not what you are stuck with for the whole season
Unless it’s a “best ball” type league, in which you make no moves, of course. As you saw from the list of common players on playoff teams, you’ll need the Robert Kelley and Dak Prescott types to get you to the promised land (or, at least, an invite to the dance, he said, mixing sports metaphors).
You do not need to leave draft day with a “perfect” lineup. What you do need to do is leave with a roster that has some linchpins, some upside and enough flexibility that you are prepared for whatever fantasy disaster is thrown your way. Do NOT panic during the draft if a position plays out in such a way that you feel you had to reach for a player.
5. It’s a WEEKLY game
Another tip that seems obvious, yet every year I see people ignoring it in either their analysis or research.
While our game takes place over a full season, the truth is it’s actually 13 (and hopefully more) one-week contests. So while you hear a lot in the preseason discussion (and I’m guilty of it, too) about how many touchdown passes or fantasy points or yards or targets or whatever someone had last season, the truth is there aren’t a lot of players who need to be in your lineup every single week. It’d be great if they were all David Johnson, but consider someone like Cameron Meredith, who was ninth in total PPR fantasy points from Weeks 13-17 last season, with 81.28 (Tom Brady scored 79.76 in the same time frame).
On draft day, you are putting together a squad that needs to do one thing: outscore one other (predetermined) team during a certain week. Knowing that there will be bye weeks, injuries and many other surprises during the course of the season, what’s the best collection of players you can put together on draft day to give you a foundation (that you will add to) to have the best shot at success every week?
To put it a slightly different way, what’s the best group of players you can collect that will give you the most potential fantasy points on a given week, with an underlying tenet being that you DON’T have to start the same team every week and — thanks to bye weeks — can’t.
Here’s a loosey-goosey-math example of what we are talking about. Last season, the Browns, Cowboys and Panthers were the three worst defenses by ESPN standard fantasy scoring against the TE. If you punted the tight end position in the draft and simply (effectively) streamed the top-producing, widely available TE against these three porous defenses each week of the season, you got 172 standard points. Rob Gronkowski’s total in his past 17 games: 166.3 standard points.
It’s not always that easy, as the right player has to be available and you have to choose correctly, but hopefully the point has hit you over the head here: By changing your tight end starter each week last season and choosing reasonably correctly, you would have had a viable starting tight end, in terms of end-of-the-season points. It just would have been a different guy every week. I’m not saying it would have been easy, but even the fact that there WAS a way to basically stream together a “waiver-wire tight end” last year that would have outproduced a healthy Gronk should tell you something.
Not that I nailed every call, obviously, but 217 players made at least one appearance on Love/Hate last season, meaning there was at least a legitimate reason to consider those players that week, regardless of whether they actually produced.
6. So, how do we win that weekly game?
Score 93.7 points per game in non-PPR leagues. For the third straight season, standard fantasy owners should be targeting 93-94 points on a weekly basis if they want to be successful on a consistent basis. (At least that’s the number for 10-team ESPN leagues.) Some weeks, 83 will get it done, if you play a team that tanks, and some weeks 140 won’t, if you play a red-hot squad. But in the game of what’s most likely to happen, score 93.7 points every week and you’ll win more often than not. You’ll win enough to get into the playoffs in an ESPN standard league. In previous years, readers have asked what that number is for PPR leagues, and the answer is 119.5.
Here’s the positional breakdown for the average playoff team in 2016 (i.e., what total you needed each week from your RBs, WRs, etc.):
Here’s the total positional breakdown for the average playoff team in 2016 (i.e., what you needed total each week from your RBs, your WRs, etc.).
OK, so using that table, you can see that you should be counting on roughly 23.9 points per week total in non-PPR and 30.2 points per week in PPR from your running backs. In PPR play, basically any back with a pulse would have worked if you had paired them with Le’Veon Bell (26.5 PPG) or David Johnson (25.5) last season, so you can’t really mess that up. But if you don’t end up with one of the first two picks, here are some combinations that worked last season, just to give you an idea:
On the non-PPR side of things, the combinations that put you in the best spot to succeed last year are a bit different. For running backs, you’re targeting 23.9 points per game and last year you could’ve had …
There are many different combinations that would have netted you in the neighborhood of 23.9 or 30.2 points per game from your running backs. Of course, this is not foolproof, as big games happen and thus make the per-game production a bit deceiving (especially for an up-and-down, often touchdown-dependent guy like Jeremy Hill). And clearly, Zeke plus whomever worked for many as well, but for a general idea, this is the type of production you needed weekly and, if history is any indication (it has been in this neighborhood for three years or so), this should work this season as well.
On the receiver side of things, our table tells you that you need 30.4 points per game from your tandem in PPR. Here are some examples of what that could’ve looked like last season:
And the receiving tandems that produced roughly the desired per-game totals (19.5 fantasy points per game) for non-PPR included …
Again … simply examples. There are a ton of different ways to get the magic numbers and 2017 could be very different, but these magic numbers have remained reasonably stable over time and serve as a good barometer for what you are chasing. Maybe you give up a few points at running back and pick up a few at receiver. Regardless, if you can pencil in roughly 94 points a week in non-PPR leagues or 120 in PPR, you’re much more likely than not to be in a good spot when all is said and done.
7. A helpful trick during your draft
Before your draft, take the chart I listed in No. 6 and let’s say you’re in a PPR league.
In your draft, you wind up with a high pick and you select Antonio Brown, if for no other reason than it gives me a chance to rerun this photo from last year. Don’t judge me. If you had an article and a photo of you and Antonio Brown, you’d run it, too.
Anyway, you look at our handy ESPN projections and see that we project Brown for 302.8 points this season in PPR, or 18.9 per game.
So now, you redo the chart to look like this:
WRs 11.5 + Antonio Brown
So now you know you’re chasing just 11.5 at WR2 in PPR. Pretty easy to get to. But say the second round comes and you don’t like any of the non-WR options available. So you decide to take Amari Cooper at the end of the second. Cooper is projected at 14.2 points per game, which means you’ve exceeded your needed total by 2.7.
So now you do this:
WRs Amari Cooper, Antonio Brown
You’ve taken the 2.7-point “surplus” and taken it off of your RB total, giving you a better view of what you need to reach your target number. The idea that ESPN or any set of projections you use is going to 100 percent nail them is obviously false, but this is a way to quickly gauge your team construction process as you progress through a fast-moving draft.
8. Range of outcomes: yearly
I have discussed this in much more depth in previous Manifestos, but it’s always good to have a quick(ish?) refresher, so I want to do that here. As you prepare for your draft or auction, you need to have an opinion on every player. You don’t need to have stats or projections memorized, but just a general sense of how much you like that player in comparison to other players. Even if it’s just someone’s rankings that you trust, some way to differentiate between players as the clock ticks down on your pick.
Here’s one way that I evaluate players and I’d like you to think of this as well: Every single player I roster has to have a range of outcomes that are one of two things:
1. Players with high floors during the course of a season.
2. Players who could wind up as an elite option at a position in any one given week.
Let’s break that down, starting with players with high floors during the course of a season.
Too often, people evaluate a player only in terms of what he could do in a positive manner, the best-case scenario for that player. People also tend to have recency bias, meaning they think only about how the player performed in the recent past, not looking at a larger body of work.
Is there a chance Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Jordy Nelson, Mike Evans or others could finish ahead of Antonio Brown this season? Of course. But I have Brown as my No. 1 wide receiver because his floor is insanely high. Barring a catastrophic injury, he’s going to be one of the elite guys this season.
Given a brand-new team, offense and QB, plus his injury history, the range of outcomes for Alshon Jeffery this season is much wider. Could be a stud, could fall well short of his current WR11 ADP. Sometimes the risk is worth the reward and as the draft goes on, I am definitely willing to take more risks, but overall, early on I try to get players with a narrow range of yearly outcomes.
Obviously, as much as possible, I want players with a high floor. And not just a high floor for the season, but a weekly high floor. That consistency, week in and week out, is what wins championships. Not every player is a stud, but knowing you can count on a solid seven points a week from someone is more valuable to me than a DeSean Jackson type, who will score 12 points one week and then two the next in non-PPR. It’s still 14 points over two weeks, but I’d rather get the seven every week. That consistent production at as many roster spots as possible is what will help you plan the rest of your roster to figure out the best way to get to 94 points each week. I find Tristan H. Cockcroft’s Consistency Ratings to be incredibly helpful for this.
Remember when I wrote earlier of having an opinion on players? Well, I want you to at least have an opinion on the range of outcomes for every player, too. Even if you just take a rankings sheet and quickly go down the list making notations like “wide,” “medium” or “small.” Doing this exercise will help reshape how you view each player and guide you through the draft.
Now, there’s a finite number of players with a high floor and/or a starter’s level of consistency. So if I’m not drafting a high-floor guy, I’m drafting a “potentially elite in any one week” guy.
9. Range of outcomes: weekly
So, as you move toward the middle, and especially later, rounds of your draft or auction, I want you to stock your team entirely with players who could potentially have a high weekly ceiling.
Again, this is a weekly game. So, obviously, every single week you are going to look at all the players available to you — on your roster and in the free-agent pool — and decide on a starting lineup.
As obvious as it seems, that’s actually a huge step that gets overlooked a lot in fantasy. Because it’s not just enough to have a good player, you need to know when to start that player.
In Week 1 last year, DeAngelo Williams had six receptions, 171 total yards and two scores on his way to a 35.10 PPR game. With Le’Veon Bell suspended, Williams was a no-brainer. That same week, undrafted rookie RB Jalen Richard of the Raiders had 95 total yards and a score for 17.5 PPR points, much of it coming on one big run. No one got to enjoy that game on their fantasy team. There would have been no way to know to start Richard that week.
Let’s spin that forward to this year. In PPR leagues, Duke Johnson Jr. is currently going in the 13th round and Darren McFadden is going in the 14th. Give me Darren McFadden all day every day. Johnson is a nice player and there are reports he’ll be even more involved in the passing game this season. OK. Johnson was basically worth 9 points a game last season.
Meanwhile, McFadden is going to be completely useless this year … unless something happens to Ezekiel Elliott. And if that were to happen, McFadden would be a top-10, no-brainer start for any week Zeke missed.
Guys like Johnson are always available on your waiver wire, so I’d much rather fill out the back end of my roster with guys like McFadden. He potentially has an insanely high ceiling in specific weeks. Those are the guys I want. Kareem Hunt is going one pick after Johnson. Just stop. Hunt all day, every day for me. There is upside there that just doesn’t exist with Duke.
Yes, there will be the Ty Montgomerys of the world who will emerge, but many of the future stars of the 2017 season will be drafted in the later rounds. So with your final few bucks at the grocery store of fantasy football, use them on lottery tickets, not something practical like toothpaste.
10. So about those first few rounds …
I asked Jacob Nitzberg of ESPN Stats & Info to do a deep dive into last year’s ESPN ADP for me and man, did he ever. I’ve said for a long time that “you can’t win your league in the first round, but you can lose it.” In other words, as anyone who went with Adrian Peterson last year will tell you, choose wrong in the first and it’s hard to recover. But then you see what David Johnson did last year and, well, you kinda can win your league in the first round.
Ask anyone who went with DeAndre Hopkins instead of David Johnson last year and he/she will tell you (while crying, of course) that blowing that first-round pick can crush you.
So, I wanted Jacob just to look at positions from a macro level, in terms of how many players drafted in the top 20 last year finished in the top 20 at their position (in other words, starting caliber in a 10-team league).
As you see in the chart, of the top 20 QBs in terms of ADP on Sept. 8, 2016 (first day of season), 18 of them finished in the top 20 in standard fantasy points at the end of the season. The two exceptions were Eli Manning (ADP of 9 among QBs, finished 21st) and Brock Osweiler (ADP of 20, finished 28th). Meanwhile, the two QBs drafted outside the top 20 to finish in the top 20 in scoring were Matt Ryan (ADP of 21, finished second) and Joe Flacco (ADP of 26, finished 20th).
Ryan and Manning were the only real surprises to me. Running back, however, was a bit of a different story. Only 12 of the top 20 RBs by ADP finished the season in the top 20, although eight of the top 10 did.
Of those eight players to finish outside the top 20, six of them played in fewer than 10 games last season. The only two to play more than 10 games were Jonathan Stewart (final rank of 23rd) and Matt Forte (21st). Among the notable RBs drafted in the top 20 not to finish there were Adrian Peterson (ADP of 1, finished 115th), Doug Martin (ADP 8, finished 51st), Eddie Lacy (ADP 11, finished 69th), Jamaal Charles (ADP 15, finished 104th).
Not surprisingly, injuries were the key reason highly drafted runners failed to return value. However, of those eight RBs drafted in the top 20 to finish outside there, none of them averaged as many fantasy points per game as the top 20 RBs did for the season (13.8). C.J. Anderson came the closest at 12.4 per game. So while injuries derailed their seasons, they’re weren’t being as effective as you’d hoped when they were healthy.
Of the top 20 WRs by ADP, 11 finished the season in the top 20, but that included just four of the top 10. Notable WRs drafted in the top 20 to finish outside were DeAndre Hopkins (ADP 4, finished 36th), A.J. Green (ADP 5, finished 34th), Allen Robinson (ADP 6, finished 29th), Dez Bryant (ADP 7, finished 26th), Brandon Marshall (ADP 9, finished 52nd) and Alshon Jeffery (ADP 10, finished 53rd).
This is more interesting to me, because while injury played a role for some (Green, Bryant, Keenan Allen, Sammy Watkins), there were many who played at least 12 games and still didn’t finish in the top 20: Hopkins (16 games), Robinson (16), Julian Edelman (16), Marshall (15), Jeffery (12).
And of those nine WRs who didn’t return top-20 value, only one averaged enough fantasy points per game to match the top 20 WRs (10.4). Green averaged 12.0 fantasy points in his 10 games played, while Bryant was close at 10.0.
Finally, of the top 18 TEs by ADP, 12 finished the season in the top 18. (Note: Only 18 TEs were drafted high enough to be given an average draft position.) The most notable TE to be drafted in the top 20 but not finish there was Rob Gronkowski (ADP 1, finished 22nd). The only other TE drafted in the top 10 to not finish in the top 20 was Tyler Eifert (ADP 8, finished 29th). Both Gronk and Eifert played in just eight games last season, and actually ranked No. 1 and 2 in fantasy points per game among TEs.
While guys such as Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones deserve to be first-rounders, my take after seeing this, and also going back and looking at past years’ data, is if it’s close for me in the early rounds, I’ll go with a RB. Especially in PPR, you’re most likely going to want at least one elite WR, but for the most part, if a top-20 RB fails it’s probably injury-related. But as we see with WR, it’s not just injury concerns but also poor QB play. Of all the top-20 WRs drafted last year who played more than 12 games and finished outside the top 12, only Edelman had a good QB. Hopkins, Robinson, Marshall and Jeffery were all done in in large part by awful QB play.
The WR position is also so crazy-deep this year, especially in the middle rounds, that you’ve got a much better chance of finding an every-week starter in the middle-to-late rounds at WR than you do at RB.
11. I am a “handcuff guy”
You heard me. The injury rate among top-tier running backs is why I am on the “pro” side of taking “handcuffs.” There are obviously situations (like in Oakland, for example) where it’s unclear what would happen if the starter went down, but as I said with McFadden, I’d rather lock up the production of my very high draft pick than be scrambling if something happens and all my other lottery tickets haven’t come in yet. There’s much debate in the fantasy industry around handcuffs, but for early-round guys where there’s a clear backup, I’m in favor.
Speaking of building a team …
12. Roster construction
I’m a one tight end, one kicker and one defense kind of guy (and you know to draft a defense and kicker in the final few rounds, right?). Depending on what you do at TE, I am OK with rostering two TEs this season if you have a Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed or Tyler Eifert, but everything else is RB or WR. And when in doubt, in the middle and late rounds, go running back over wide receiver. Looking at No. 10 above in a slightly different way, there is a better chance a startable WR is on your waiver wire during the season in any given week than a RB. You’ll likely need more RBs during the course of the season and there are more chances for one to “pop.” I want as many shots as possible at having one of those guys who pops on my team.
13. Speaking of those tight ends …
While I have players I like and ones I am not a fan of, I am a “best player available” drafter. Again, there’s no one way to do it. But specific to Gronkowski, Reed and Eifert, I am in on those guys at their current price (Gronk going end of the second, Reed in the fourth, Eifert in the eighth). I feel their injury history and concerns have been baked into their prices somewhat, and as you know from my “range of weekly outcomes” section, when healthy, these guys can win you a week. I actually like the depth at tight end this year, as there are a lot of tight ends going in the 11-20 range who can be helpful.
As of this writing, Ezekiel Elliott is scheduled to play all 16 games. But our own Adam Schefter is reporting that the Cowboys “are bracing for a possible short suspension.” So while we wait to see if, in fact, Elliott will be suspended, I am still taking him third overall unless the suspension is four or more games.
Last year, Melvin Gordon missed three games and was the seventh-best RB in fantasy. Le’Veon Bell missed four games and was the third-best running back in football. It’s a weekly game. Zeke plus, say, three games of a replacement-level running back (or Darren McFadden!) is easily the third-best running back in fantasy this year to me. In addition, since any suspension would be served before bye weeks start, you’ll have the rest of your roster to choose from.
15. I don’t care about …
• Bye weeks: So much can happen during the season, you won’t know until you get there if you are light or OK during a heavy bye week.
• Schedule: A year ago at this time, everyone was talking about how great the Panthers’ defense would continue to be and kept drafting them high. You can’t know in August what a bad matchup will be in December.
• Players on the same team: Tom Brady doesn’t know you also have Rob Gronkowski on your team, and he doesn’t care. Pick the best team possible, and if it means you own players on the same team, it’s fine. We’ve done studies, there’s no significant difference one way or the other.
16. Just because it’s a plug doesn’t mean it isn’t true
Mock draft, baby. Practice makes perfect. You just read this whole damn thing, you’ve clearly got time. Why not do one now in our free mock draft and auction lobby?
Speaking of mock drafts, if you do join one, DON’T LEAVE.
People who leave mock drafts early are, like, the sixth-worst people on Earth. Also, if you join a mock draft, don’t impersonate me or someone else. I can’t tell you how many tweets I get that say “I’m in a mock draft with you!” And it’s not me. It’s so weird, I don’t get why people do that. Anyway, just know every time I do a mock draft (or any kind of league), I will always put it out on Twitter, so check there first. Or just believe we are in a league together.
17. The big ADP secret
ADP is largely driven by the default rankings on whichever site you play. So the ADP ranks on ESPN probably differ in some ways from the ADPs in other places where people play fantasy, because our default ranks are different from other places. Find a rankings source you like, compare it with the ADP of the site you are drafting on and you will be able to find players who are going way too high or too low for what you want. That’s where you’ll find market inefficiency. (And it will be, once again, the driving force of this year’s Love/Hate.)
18. We all lie, lie, lie
This article is almost entirely about theory and strategy, but everything else you read this preseason will be about players and their values, both high and low. And just know that every single thing you’ll read isn’t actually a fact, but rather an opinion disguised as a fact. Trust me. Or better yet, read my 100 facts you need to know before you draft. Often imitated, never duplicated, it’s the original and my absolute favorite article to write every preseason. If nothing else, the intro is helpful to understand how analysis is created.
19. They’re just names and numbers, baby!
A common question I’ll get is some version of: “I have pick three and I really want Jordy Nelson. Is that too early?” And the answer is … sort of. Look, I wouldn’t draft him that high and my ranks reflect that. But if you want Jordy and you have pick three, he’s not coming back to you in the second round. So grab him there. Just understand that rankings, whether you use mine or someone else’s, are a loose guideline. They are not hard and fast, and the market value of players, which is what the rankings are on some level, changes with every player selected, as certain positions may suddenly become more scarce or plentiful. It’s your team, you have to live with it, so draft the guys you want, not what some piece of paper that doesn’t know your league, or the participants in it, tells you.
20. It’s YOUR Team
I want you to win. I spend hours upon hours every day watching film, researching stats, talking to players, coaches and beat reporters to try to help you win. Outside of my family, it’s literally my entire existence. So I really, really want you to win.
But not as badly as you do.
It’s your team, my virtual friend. You will think about — and know — your own team, your league rules and the other people in your league much better than I or anyone else who does fantasy analysis. You are the one who has to live with the results. So use me and others as a resource, nothing more. We can’t tell the future. Don’t be afraid to ignore what we say — both on draft day and during the season — if it goes against what you believe. The final decision for your team needs to live with you, not me or anyone else.
21. Checkers and chess
As much as I love a draft, it’s nothing compared to an auction. In an auction, everyone gets a shot at David Johnson. It’s a much fairer way to distribute players, it’s more fun and it’s an even a better test of skill. Seriously. It’s chess compared to checkers. Try it once.
22. Speaking of trying something new …
If you’ve read this far, you’re a gamer. You get it. You know how much fun, how awesome, how addicting fantasy football is. You know how it brings people together. So why keep it all to yourself? I asked this last year and am asking it again of everyone reading this.
Make it your goal to convince one person in your life who has never played before to try a league this year. We need more women playing, more kids, more senior citizens. Fantasy football is something everyone can enjoy, so ask your parents, your kids, your neighbor, co-worker, someone.
Come on. Just one new person. Help me spread the word.
23. Not sick of me yet?
Well, good, because there’s going to be a lot more Matty this year. Starting with the second annual Fantasy Football Marathon on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Radio, ESPN’s digital properties and our social channels. Last year, Adam Schefter and I stayed up for the entire marathon, appearing on TV at least once every single hour for 28 hours straight. We are both dumb enough to have signed up for it again, so you’ll see us and tons of ESPN analysts and personalities giving insight, breaking down film, talking sleepers, mock drafting and so much more. If you enjoyed last year (and by the feedback I got, you sure did), this year will blow it out of the water.
The marathon starts Monday, Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. ET and rolls on live until Tuesday, Aug. 15 at 11 p.m. ET.
Marathon aside, I will once again write my weekly Love/Hate column on Thursdays this year for ESPN.com, the ESPN App and the ESPN Fantasy App, including the preseason version that will be out soon.
The 11th season of the Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast with Field Yates, Stephania Bell, Daniel “Secret Squirrel” Dopp and me has already been doing daily episodes and will continue to go Monday through Friday throughout the football regular season. Subscribe on iTunes or stream it on the ESPN App. In addition, video clips from the podcast are available to watch every day in the ESPN Fantasy App.
The Emmy award-winning “Fantasy Football Now” returns again with an expanded show. Starting the first Sunday morning of the NFL season, Tim Hasselbeck, Stephania Bell, Field Yates and myself, along with our amazing NFL reporting team, will be on ESPN2 and WatchESPN for three hours, as the show is now from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET every Sunday of the NFL season.
And finally, there is a new weekday fantasy football show. “The Fantasy Show” with myself, Daniel “Secret Squirrel” Dopp and the not ready for E1 players will debut on TV Aug. 16, the day after the marathon. That’s right. I am going to be up for 28 hours straight and then try to host a TV show. Tune in, it may be the only episode.
The Aug. 16 debut is actually on ESPN at 3 p.m. ET. Then, it moves to its daily home of 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2. The show also will be available on ESPN.com, WatchESPN and the ESPN Fantasy App.
Finally, you can always find me on the social media. My name is the same (@MatthewBerryTMR) on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat or you can download the free Fantasy Life app, where I hang out the most and it’s the only one I have alerts set for. I am @matthewberry on that, just search my name and “Fantasy Life” in the app store.
24. “Actually now that you mention it, I am sick of you”
Luckily for you, we have many great analysts here who do a ton of amazing work, so you don’t even have to bother with me. I would encourage you to follow, read, watch and listen to my colleagues Stephania Bell, Matt Bowen, Mike Clay, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Ken Daube, KC Joyner, Eric Karabell, Jim McCormick, Field Yates and Al Zeidenfeld. They’re all terrific.
25. And finally …
We do this for FUN. This is a pastime, OK? We all get nervous, we all sweat wins, but ultimately … it’s a GAME. Remember that, especially when you feel like embarrassing yourself on social media to harass a player, a coach or a fantasy analyst. Calm down. There’s plenty of negativity in the world already, no reason for you to add to it over a hobby or to lose a friendship over it.
Unless you’ve got a shot at the title. I mean, come on. You can always get new friends.
Many, many thanks to “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe of the ESPN Fantasy department for his research help.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, is, now that you mention it, kind of sick of himself. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a paid spokesman for DraftKings.com and one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app.
Editor’s note: Some information contained in this column has previously appeared on ESPN.com or in the ESPN Fantasy magazine.