Lindor to the Mets

The New York Mets proved they’re in it to win it in 2021, acquiring All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco from the Indians in a bold trade. The six-player deal sent infielders Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez, pitching prospect Josh Wolf and outfield prospect Isaiah Greene to Cleveland.

Lindor, 27, is a four-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove Award winner and arguably one of the best all-around players in baseball. He is coming off a down year that saw him hit .258 with only eight home runs in a short season, but he averaged 34 homers with a .278 batting average from 2017-19. Lindor will be a free agent after the season.

Carrasco, 33, was honored as the 2020 American League Comeback Player of the Year, returning from a life-threatening chronic myeloid leukemia diagnosis to start 12 games for the Indians with a 2.91 ERA. Overall, Carrasco is 88-73 with a 3.77 ERA in 11 seasons, finishing fourth in AL Cy Young Award voting in 2017.

Fantasy managers should know that these two players will transform the dynamics of the Mets’ roster. In Lindor, the Mets are receiving one of the most dynamic starting shortstops in the game. In Carrasco, they have found another proven starter to join a rotation that includes Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman atop the rotation.

Lindor is projected to bat second behind Jeff McNeil, with Michael Conforto, Dom Smith and Pete Alonso hitting behind him. This not only raises Lindor’s ceiling for producing runs and RBI, but it also raises the stock value of the above-mentioned players, along with Brandon Nimmo, J.D. Davis and James McCann.

Of course, there are other stars shining brightly across the MLB. Here are another dozen players that I like that should be on your radar when it’s time to draft. Keep in mind that it’s very early, and a lot can change before opening day. It’s also important to see where these players will be drafted. Keep an eye on their ADP.

Ozzie Albies – The Braves second baseman, 23, scored more than 100 runs in 2018 and 2019 and stole 14 and 15 bases respectively in 2018 and 2019. He’s worth a fourth or fifth round pick.   

Tim Anderson – The 27-year-old White Sox shortstop is undervalued year. He’s had two seasons in a row with a batting average above .320, and he can hit for power and steal bases.  

Cody Bellinger – The 25-year-old Dodgers first baseman took a big step back last year after a breakout year in 2019. But he can contribute in five categories and is worth a second-round pick.

Bo Bichette – The 22-year-old Blue Jays shortstop has flashed potential, playing parts of the last two seasons. He hits over .300 and can steal a few bases but lacks the power of an elite player.

Xander Bogaerts – The 28-year-old Red Sox shortstop  has a career batting average of .289 and .805 OPS. Unlike many players, 2020 was not a down year for this four-category contributor.

Freddie Freeman – The 31-year-old Braves first baseman seems to be getting better with age. He bounced back from COVID to play all 60 games and bat .341 with a 1.102 OPS.

Eloy Jimenez – After a good start in his rookie year, the 24-year-old White Sox outfielder built on that in 2020, with a 14 home runs, a .296 batting average and .891 OPS in 55 games.

D.J. LeMahieu – A career .305 hitter, the 32-year-old Yankees infielder has thrived in New York. He hit .364 with a 1.011 OPS last year, but he’s a free agent this year and may go to LA.  

Manny Machado – His second year in San Diego was good, with 44 runs scored, 16 homers and 47 RBI in 60 games. It’s noteworthy that Machado has been largely free of injuries in his career.

Whit Merrifield – He has a lifetime .295 batting average and has been healthy during his career. Lacking in power, he had 12 steals in 60 games last year, scoring 38 runs and adding 30 RBI.  

Yoan Moncada – Managers who drafted him based on 2019 production were disappointed, and it looks like that season was an outlier in his short career. But he could be a buy-low prospect.

Adalberto Mondesi – After a slow start, he closed out the 2020 on a tear in the final weeks, finishing with 33 runs, 22 RBI and 24 stolen bases, which led the league in the shortened season.

Early look at baseball

It’s January 5th, and it’s way too early to predict what players will be worth drafting in 2021. Assuming, there is a return to normalcy with a COVID vaccine, I expect a corresponding return to normalcy with a number of players who underperformed in 2020. Here’s a look at some position players who are on my radar as I look ahead to the 2021 fantasy baseball season.

José Abreu – The reigning AL MVP has a career OPS of .870 and a career batting average of .294, which makes him a four-category player. If he’s not overvalued, he’s worth picking up for first base.

Ronald Acuña Jr. – Although his batting average in 2020 was only .250, he’s a five-category player and still deserves to be one of the top draft picks. He has a rare combination of speed and power.

Nolan Arenado – He slumped a bit in 2020, with his average and OPS dipping to the lowest points since his rookie year. But I expect him to return to form as a solid four-category player this year.  

Javier Báez – He hit only .203 last year, with a .599 OPS. He steals bases but is not elite in speed, or power. After being drafted in the third round in 2020, I wonder how far he’ll slip in this year’s draft?

Mookie Betts – The Dodgers are building their team around him, and you couldn’t be faulted for doing the same thing. He is a five-category player and worthy of an early first-round pick. 

Alex Bregman – I’m willing to overlook his only down year in 2020 because it was 2020. He has a lifetime OPS of .877 and a 272 average.  If he’s still on the board in the second round, I’m a buyer.

Rafael Devers – The Red Sox third baseman is only 24, and a year of normalcy could be the glide path to superstardom. He hit .263 with 32 runs, 11 home run, 43 RBI but no stolen base last year.

Josh Donaldson – He alternates healthy seasons with injury-plagued ones. Perhaps, it’s time for a healthy season like 2019, but he’s 35. He has a lifetime OPS of .877 and batting average of .272.

Joey Gallo – The Rangers outfielder hits for tremendous power, but with little surrounding him in the lineup, he may be only a one-category player instead of three. And he’s a lifetime .208 hitter.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.  – The Blue Jays infielder (1B/3B) hasn’t broken out the way analysts thought he might right out of the gate, but the talent is obviously there. It could happen this year for him.

Bryce Harper – He was the Phillies’ best player last year and has more than earned his contract so far. He’s had 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI his last two full seasons, and he has a lifetime .900 OPS.

Aaron Judge – When he’s healthy, he’s a beast, but he’s never healthy. Perhaps, he is due for a season without injuries. He has a lifetime .948 OPS and .272 average. However, I won’t overpay for him.

Kyle Lewis – The Mariner outfielder and reigning AL rookie of the year was a waiver wire addition for me last year, but he’ll come with a premium this year. Still, he could be a five-category player.

Francisco Lindor – Like so many superstars, the Indians shortstop had a down year in 2020, but I expect him to bounce back and be a five-category player in 2021 as he plays for a lucrative contract.  

Brandon Lowe – He had a terrific 2020 season before running out of gas at the end of the season. But there’s life left in the bat, and he fits in well with the always competitive Rays team. He’s a value.

Starling Marte – The Miami outfielder doesn’t excite me, but he can contribute in three categories (batting average, runs and stolen bases). I would consider him only if he slips to the fourth round.

Brandon Nimmo – The Mets outfielder hit .280 with 33 runs, 8 home run, 18 RBI and one stolen base last year. He could be worth a late draft pick with a team that should be a contender in 2021.

Salvador Perez – The catcher was a monster down the stretch last year. A full season could bring him back to All-Star level. He hits .333, with 22 runs, 11 home runs, 32 RBI and 1 stolen base in 2021.

José Ramírez – The Indians third baseman almost won the AL MVP Award, finishing second in voting in 2020, and third in ’17 and ’18. He can steal a lot of bases. It seems like 2019 was an outlier.

Bryan Reynolds – The Pirates thought they had a lineup piece for the future before he took a step back in 2020. With a weak lineup surrounding him, he’s only worth a late-round selection.

Juan Soto – The Nationals outfielder is just a notch below Acuna. He hits with as much power, but he doesn’t steal as many bases which keeps him from being a first-round pick from my perspective.

Eugenio Suárez – He was supposed to be the Reds centerpiece star in 2020, but he took a step back with only a .202 batting average and .781 OPS. In spite of that, he still hit 15 home runs in 57 games.

Fernando Tatis Jr. – What is there not to like with “El Niño?” The Padres are building a powerhouse of a team out west, and Tatis will be in the center of it. He’s easily worth a second-round draft pick.  

Gleyber Torres – His first two seasons with the Yankees were very good, but last year was not good. However, it was 2020. Eligible at both 2B and SS, he’s still be worth a fourth- or fifth-round pick. 

Mike Trout – The bad news is that he’s stop running, which still makes him a four-category player. Although injuries are more of a concern in recent years, he’s still worth a first-round draft pick.

Justin Turner – It depends somewhat on who he’ll be playing for in 2021, but he hit .307 with 26 runs, 4 home run, 23 RBI last year. He’s a career .292 hitter but he is 36 and injury prone.     

Christian Yelich – He didn’t play like the top-tier star he is in 2020, but he would be a bargain if he is available late in first round or second round in the draft. He’s a potential five-category contributor.

Mike Yastrzemski – I added him from waivers last summer, and I was glad I did. The 30-year-old Giants outfielder had a breakout year, and he may have even more help surrounding him in 2021.

New Year’s resolutions

It’s New Year’s Eve, which is always a good time to make New Year’s resolutions. So, I want to share three pertaining to the important subject of fantasy football. My first resolution is to draft Devante Adams in the first or second round. Granted, this resolution could be impacted by draft order. If I have one of the top four picks, it would be hard to pass up Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, or Derrick Henry. But I would take Adams with the No. 5 pick.

Adams was taken with the twelfth pick in my home league draft, but I was stunned to find him still on the board when I was ready to use my 20th pick for my ESPN league team. I had taken McCaffrey with the first overall pick and waited for what seemed like two hours for draft to snake back to me. I was sure I had a bargain when I took Adams at the end of the 2nd round, but I didn’t know how good. His 43.2 points last week in the finals was a late Christmas present.

There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe Adams’ season. I’ll start with the fact that he’s tied for the league lead with 17 receiving touchdowns in spite of appearing in only 13 games in 2020. You can’t depend on touchdowns with a player, but there’s more. He has accumulated 341.8 fantasy points, which is first in PPR scoring. He is averaging 26.3 points per game. One key stat to consider is his 142 targets, which is 10.92 targets per game from Aaron Rodgers.     

My second New Year’s resolution would be to draft Travis Kelce in the second round. This might be difficult because of draft order. Kelce won’t be flying under the radar after the season he’s had. Kelce, fresh off his fourth straight 20+ point performance, broke George Kittle’s single-season receiving record for a tight end with 1,428 yards. He also led the Chiefs in receptions and yards, which is no small accomplishment with Tyreek Hill on his team.

If I miss out on Kelce, I would focus on drafting Kittle. He might be available in the third round, which would be fantastic because Round 3 was the dead zone in at least one of my drafts last year. It will be easier to get Kittle than Kelce because he was injured and missed more than half of the 2020 season. The point is that I want to lock up an elite tight end early in the draft and then focus on loading up on wide receivers and a quarterback in the middle rounds.

When you are preparing for the next draft, you will inevitably read articles from analysts promising you 2021 is different. They will swear this is the year the breakout tight ends break out. It won’t be. If you don’t have Kelce or Kittle rostered by the fourth round, you’d better grab Darren Waller – if he’s still available. Kelce and Waller (and Kittle when he was healthy) were the only tight ends worth their salt in 2020. And Kelce’s PPG average was 4.1 above Waller.

My third New Year’s resolution will be to draft a running quarterback. Eight of the top 12 QBs in fantasy points per game rushed for at least 20 yards per game in 2020. The four exceptions were Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ryan Tannehill and Justin Herbert. My minimum sample size is five games started, so I’m not including Jalen Hurts and Taysom Hill, who would have been in the top 12 if they had been regular starters on their respective teams for the bulk of the season.

The dual-QB has changed the landscape of fantasy football forever. What started as an evolution turned into a revolution last year with the record-setting performance of Lamar Jackson. I was a late adopter, and it was just luck that I was able to acquire Josh Allen at the end of the 12th round in my ESPN league. Allen, who is No. 1 in fantasy points scored in PPR leagues, would be the MVP on this team that is chasing a title if I hadn’t drafted Adams at the end of the second round.   

Just FYI, I traded Cam Newton for Brady early in the season in my home league. Brady wound up as the 10th best quarterback and 10th overall in fantasy points. But I still traded for Jackson late in the season because the running quarterback provides the high floor you want. Brady had three 30 + games in 2020, but he had five under 15 points and a 2.36 stinker in week 9. Allen had one game where he scored less than 15. Jackson only had two. Neither had a single-digit game.    

CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK, PART 2

Some of us are enjoying the challenge of participating in the second week of a two-week finals. Adams and Allen have propelled me into a 31-point lead in my championship matchup. This dynamic duo accounted for more than half of my 141.7 points. Like I’ve previously said, it’s better to be lucky than good. But week 17 is a challenge because this is the week that superstars are often rested. For instance, my opponent won’t have Patrick Mahomes available on Sunday.

Mahomes being out is good news for me, but I have my own problems. Christian McCaffrey, my top draft pick last fall, has played only three games this season. Mike Davis, his backup, is listed as doubtful and probably won’t be available on Sunday. James Robinson has already been ruled out, so I may have to start Latavius Murray and Gus Edwards as RB1 and RB2. Another option is Alexander Mattison, the backup for Dalvin Cook. Cook is out, but Mattison is questionable.

If you’re playing in the final week of the NFL regular season, you should look at more than just the injury status of your players. There’s a possibility your fantasy stud will be benched, or get a reduced work load. The Chiefs are an example because they have locked up the best record and a first-round bye. In addition to Mahomes, Kelce and Tyreek Hill probably won’t play. Other less obvious teams to watch are the Steelers, Bills, Packers, Saints, Seahawks and Buccaneers.

I took a look at the Bills playoff scenarios, wondering if Allen might not play, or play only a half against the Dolphins. If the Bills win that game, they finish 13-3 and clinch the No. 2 seed in the AFC no matter what Pittsburgh does. The No. 2 seed would normally be more important because of the first-round bye it brings, but there’s no such bye this season. With the playoffs expanded to seven teams in each conference, only the top seed in each conference gets a bye next week.  

Getting the No. 2 seed would ensure Buffalo gets two home games in the playoffs if it wins in the first round. The only game the Bills would have to play on the road is in Kansas City, if the Chiefs and Bills qualify for the AFC championship game. In spite of the injury risk, I think Allen will play on Sunday. He might head to the bench if Buffalo gets a big league, but I doubt that will happen. The Dolphins are fighting for a playoff spot, and I expect a close game in Buffalo.

The Saints are another team playing for seeding. There are numerous scenarios to consider here because Green Bay and Seattle also factor into equation. The Saints could clinch the top spot and a bye, but they would have to beat Carolina, with the Packers losing to Chicago. I don’t think that will happen. If New Orleans builds a comfortable lead in the second half, and the Packers are ahead, they may rest Alvin Kamara. That’s why I picked up Murray on waivers this week.

While Kamara got the headlines last week with his six touchdowns, 155 rushing yards and 56.2 fantasy points, Murray quietly accumulated 96 total yards and 12.6 fantasy points. That was against Minnesota, ranked 27th against the rush. Carolina is ranked 25th against the rush, so it’s another good matchup for Kamara and Murray. But I think Kamara may not see much action.

With a 31-point lead, I don’t need a blowout performance from my running backs. If I could get 20 points from my RB1 and RB2 tandem, I’d be happy. My stud, Devante Adams, is definitely going to play against Chicago because a win locks up a bye for the Packers in the NFC. If Adams and Allen can deliver at least 20 points each, I’ll feel pretty good about my chances. I’ve also got D.K. Metcalf as my WR2, playing against a 49ers team he torched for 40.1 points in week 8.    

I share this information with you because I want you to know how I think through strategy in fantasy football. My hope is that I am able to help you be a better fantasy manager. You may not have any of the above-mentioned players rostered, and you may not even be playing this week. But if you’re reading this column, it’s clear you want to learn more about winning in fantasy football. If you have learned anything from me, or others, you’ll be a better manager next year.   

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

The unforeseen

Last week, I advised that you take stock of your fantasy football season before you close the books. You need to determine what went right and what went wrong. I shared the three mistakes I made in my home league that contributed to my defeat in the quarterfinals. I’m playing in the finals in my other league and won’t take stock there until the two-week matchup is over.

When you look back on what went wrong on your team, be sure to distinguish between mistakes you made and unfortunate events you couldn’t have foreseen. For instance, if you drafted Christian McCaffrey, you couldn’t possibly have known he was only going to play in only three games. That’s not your fault. But if you didn’t roster Mike Davis, that is your fault.

The injuries to McCaffrey couldn’t have been predicted because he had no injury history heading into 2020. If you draft him next year, it’s a different story. Perhaps, McCaffrey will come back healthy in 2021 and have an injury-free season, but there’s a decent chance the injury history with this 24-year-old NFL and fantasy superstar is just beginning. You must consider that.

However, it’s not just injuries that can’t be foreseen. The fantasy demise of Ezekiel Elliott was also not foreseen. No one could predict the injury to Dak Prescott, or four key offensive linemen for the Dallas Cowboys. But there was something else I couldn’t have predicted with Elliott. I couldn’t have predicted that he would quit on his team when the season turned sour.

I’ve shared in a previous column about how the team lost confidence in Elliott and wouldn’t trust him with goal-line carries. I watched the way he was running in 2020, and it was very different from past seasons. If I had to describe it in one word, the word would be lackluster. Tony Pollard was running behind the same offensive line last week when he put up 33.2 fantasy points.

Elliott wasn’t the only key running back on my home league team that underperformed this season. Did any of you draft, or trade for James Conner? I did, knowing the injury history was a risk. But I took him in the third round because he had always been a bell-cow back when he was healthy. Conner started out carrying the ball 15-20 times, but his volume dropped unexpectedly.

Two weeks before Conner stopped producing in week 9, Elliott started turning in subpar performances. The only thing that saved my team from crashing and burning was the return of Nick Chubb from IR in week 10. Elliott and Conner did poorly in every game except one after week 9. Granted, injuries contributed to some of that, but there was more to it than injuries.

Both Elliott and Conner saw their volume drop when their respective quarterbacks started throwing the ball more. Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball only an average of 35 times in the first five weeks of the season, but he threw the ball 45.57 on average in the next seven weeks. Dak Prescott averaged 50.25 passes per game in the first four games before his injury.

In contrast, Prescott attempted only 459 passes in 2016 – his first year as the Cowboy starter. That’s an average of 28.68 pass attempts per game. Prescott was on pace for more than 800 throws in 2020 when he was injured in week 5. If your quarterback is throwing the ball that much, he’s not going to be handing it off very much to his franchise running back.

In retrospect, I did observe the trend as the Cowboys evolved into a pass-first team. By 2019, Prescott was averaging 37.25 aerials per game. But the evolution became a revolution last spring when his team drafted CeeDee Lamb in the first round. This was a harbinger, and I blame myself for drafting Elliott after that because I knew they had a lot of wide receiver mouths to feed.

In last week’s column, I admitted my biggest mistake was relying too much on consensus picks from analysts. They all had Elliott at No. 3. In my PPR league, my pick should have been Alvin Kamara, who catches the ball 80 times a year. In a standard league, it should have been Derrick Henry, who led the league last year with 1,549 yards and has already exceeded that this year.

If you’re a casual fantasy football player, you can rely on consensus picks. But if you’re serious about winning, you must commit the time to do your own research. It takes time, but it’s worth it. Like a homicide detective, you follow the evidence and see where it leads you. Then, you must trust what your research has shown you and act on it. Be brave, and go against the crowd.

CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK

There’s nothing more exciting for a fantasy manager than competing for the top prize in his, or her league championship. As I shared at the top of this column, I’m playing for the championship in my ESPN league. I must admit that I am lucky to be in the finals. My opponent needed only 12 points from Chase Claypool, or Eric Ebron, to win. He only got 7.8 from Claypool.

 “It’s better to be lucky than good,” is the famous quote from Lamar Gillett, the only P-35 pilot in World War II to shoot down a Japanese Zero fighter. I’d rather be good at what I do than depend on luck, but I’ll take all the good luck that comes my way. I actually don’ believe in luck. I do believe in providence, and I’d consider good luck to be a blessing from God.

But I digress. If you’re team made it to the fantasy football finals, congratulations. My advice to you is simply don’t let up. Continue doing all of the things that you did to get here, and don’t take your victory lap until you win the championship. Check the waiver wire every day. And check the status of your starters. If a player is questionable, don’t sleep on him.

Let me give you an example. I have two players in my starting lineup listed as questionable. My RB1 on my team is Christian McCaffrey. He’s returning to practice this week after missing the last six games, and ESPN has points listed after his name. That’s a good sign, but things could change before Sunday. I’m not worried because I have Mike Davis on my bench.

The other player listed as questionable in my starting lineup is Jacksonville running back James Robinson. Robinson injured his ankle in the fourth quarter of last week’s game. The injury was not believed to be serious, and Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said he expects Robinson to play Sunday against the Bears. I don’t believe him, and I am acting accordingly.

You might wonder why I don’t believe Marrone. The reason is that the Jaguars have no reason to play Robinson and risk aggravation of the injury. In fact, they have reason to not play him.  The Jags, are now in position to win the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. All they need to do is lose their last two games, and they will be able to draft the Clemson’s quarterback.

There’s a lot of talk about players tanking. Players don’t tank because they are competing for jobs and lucrative contracts. However, owners and front offices tank, and the decision to bench Robinson will be made by owner Shahdid Kahn, who knows his franchise would increase in value if Lawrence becomes a Jaguar. I think the decision has already been made.

I share this information with you, hoping to help you be a better fantasy manager. You may not have Robinson on your roster, and you may not even be playing this week. But if you’re reading this column, it’s clear you want to learn more about winning in fantasy football. To win, you must think outside the box and not believe everything you hear from analysts.  

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

Time to take stock

Your fantasy football season is over – or it will be soon. For many of us, we have been eliminated from the playoffs in one, or more leagues. For me, one season came to an end with a quarterfinals loss last week in my home league. I hate losing. When I was eliminated from the playoffs on Monday, I wanted to close the book on 2020 and be done with it.

But I didn’t close the book for two reasons. First, I am writing a weekly column for Creative Sports. The season isn’t over, and I owe it to you to continue providing pertinent information. Second, I am still alive in my ESPN league, battling in the semifinals. But even if I wasn’t writing, or playing fantasy football, I wouldn’t close the book until I had taken stock.

Taking stock means to review and make an overall assessment of a particular situation. In other words, it’s an attempt to learn from your mistakes. In this column, I am going to take stock in my home-league season that just ended and share with you what went wrong. I am going to focus on my mistakes. You can use this information as a template to take stock in your season.

I have identified three important mistakes that I made in managing the above-mentioned team. We all make mistakes, but it requires humility to admit our mistakes. It takes wisdom to learn from our mistakes. I’ve been a financial advisor for more than thirty years, and I’m still learning things. In finances and fantasy football, you need to know what works and what doesn’t.

I’m going to share the three mistakes I made in ascending order of importance. Mistake No. 2 and Mistake No. 3 were mistakes I made in the draft that would come back to haunt me. Mistake No. 1 was a mistake that I made throughout the season that caused me to start the wrong players and keep productive players on the bench. This happened on a few occasions.

MISTAKE NO. 3: UNDERVALUING THE QB

The third biggest mistake was underestimating the importance of an elite quarterback. I wrote in the preseason about what a deep position this was and how foolish it was to spend an early-round draft pick on a quarterback. I bragged about playing quarterback chicken to pick up my quarterback as late as possible. As it turned out, the position wasn’t as deep as I thought.

A fantasy manager in my ESPN league drafted Patrick Mahomes with the 12th pick in the draft.  He finished the regular season 11-2 and is the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. I finished the regular season 9-4 to qualify for the second seed. But I was lucky. Employing my late-QB draft strategy, I waited until the end of the 12th round and was still able to pick up Josh Allen.

Mahomes is the No. 1 fantasy quarterback through 14 weeks, with a 25.3 PPG average. But Allen is fifth, with 23.6 PPG. Mahomes delivered what his manager had hoped when he drafted him early in the second round. But Allen delivered tremendous value for me with the 120th pick. Again, I’d like to take credit for this value play, but there was some luck involved.

I wasn’t as lucky in my home league. I drafted Daniel Jones in the 13th round and dropped him before the first games. Then, I started streaming quarterbacks, adding and dropping them as frequently as Zsa Zsa Gabor married and divorced husband. I picked up Cam Newton off the waiver wire, rode him for a couple of weeks and then traded him for Tom Brady.

Brady was like the little girl with the curl in the Longfellow poem. When he was good, he was very good. But when he was bad, he was horrid. Brady, ranked 10th, has a PPG average that’s 4.0 less than Allen. But there’s more to it. Brady had three games of 30 plus, but he had seven games below his projected total. His floor was just 2.36, while Allen’s floor was 12.46.

After Brady’s 2.36 contributed to a loss in Week 9, I dealt a wide receiver for Lamar Jackson. I bought low on Jackson, who was a second-round draft pick, by trading Will Fuller V for him. Fuller was an eighth-rounder. The difference between Jackson and Brady, similar to the difference between Brady and Allen, is the much high floor the running quarterback provides.

Meanwhile, another fantasy manager in my home league, selected Kyler Murray in the seventh round. I drafted Murray in the 11th round for my home-league team quarterback in 2019, and he returned value. But he returned more value in 2020. He’s currently the No. 2 fantasy quarterback, with a 25.1 average. The manager who drafted him is the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.       

MISTAKE NO. 2: UNDERVALUING AN ELITE TE  

I had decided to draft my tight end in the seventh round, and I was able to draft Darren Waller in the seventh round of every mock draft I participated in. But on draft night, Waller went at the end of the sixth. Three picks later, I selected Tyler Higbee. Nearly all of the analysts and pundits liked Higbee because of the way he finished 2019. But 2020 was a different story.

The same analysts and pundits who touted Higbee were also convinced tight end would be a much deeper position this year. I had my doubts, based on recent history, but I passed on Travis Kelce and George Kittle, who both went early in the third round, and waited until the middle round. This was a mistake. Kittle was elite before he was injured. Kelce was a monster.

Kelce leads all pass catchers in the NFL with 1,250 yards. D.K. Metcalf is second, 70 yards behind him. If you compare Kelce to all running backs and wideouts, he ranks as the fifth-best PPR player in fantasy football. His 20.6 average is 4.8 better than Waller, the No. 2 tight end. He’s totaled 109-yards in five of the six games. Let me repeat. Kelce is a monster.

The fantasy manager who drafted Kelce knocked me out of the playoffs. He lost Saquon Barkley in the first game of the season but battled back and managed to score more total points in my home league than any other manager. Kelce was the primary reason for his success. If he wins the championship, he will invite Kelce to stand in the winner’s circle with him.

If I had drafted Kelce in the third round instead of James Conner, my season would have been different.  If I had drafted Kelce in the third round, I wouldn’t have drafted Higbee, who was a colossal bust. If I had drafted Kelce, I wouldn’t have been scouring the waiver wire looking for the tight end flavor of the week. If I had drafted Kelce, I would still be alive.          

MISTAKE NO. 1: OVERVALUING FANTASY ADVICE

I subscribe to a couple of fantasy football advice services, and I read a great deal of free advice from analysts across the industry. The information they supply from their research is valuable. But their advice is frequently wrong. Relying on consensus picks before the draft and when making decisions on setting your starting lineup are mistake that cost me dearly.

Higbee was a darling of the advice community before the draft. The pundits couldn’t get enough of him. Here’s what one pundit wrote in his tight end preview about Higbee. “His modest TE7 ranking and 72-719-5 receiving projections do not reflect the players that erupted down the stretch (in 2019) as the No. 1 tight end throughout the fantasy playoffs.”

The “experts” were patting themselves on the backs after Higbee put up 28.4 fantasy points in Week 2. I was happy he was in my starting lineup that week, but I wasn’t awed by his six targets and five receptions for 54 yards. Higbee scored three of his four 2020 touchdowns in that game. Since then, he’s had one double-digit game. In 12 games, Higbee has a 34-379-4 line.

An even more costly mistake for me was relying on consensus advice occasionally when setting my starting lineups. I wound up with a team populated by players who were good but not great. This made the sits/starts calls difficult each week. After I did my own research on players, I was often left scratching my head. So, I’d look at what the pundits said.

Last week, I was trying to decide between starting Brady or Jackson. I was leaning Jackson, but my peer group (other analysts) liked Brady. When I say like, I mean love. So, I started Brady, who put up a 15.64, and left Jackson on the bench. The Ravens quarterback rushed for 129 yards and two touchdowns and passed for another TD on his way to a 34.92 game.

Jackson joined T.Y. Hilton (25.6) on my bench. I seriously thought about starting Hilton in place of Robert Woods, who had a tough matchup against New England. But all my peers ranked Woods, who put up 8.10, higher than Hilton. Woods was projected to score 16.08, while Hilton was only projected to score 11.73. In the end, I succumbed to peer pressure. 

As a financial advisor, I’m know all about peer group risk. Peer group awareness is a major driver of stock selection by mutual fund managers across the industry. If everyone likes Apple, and a manager is underweighted in Apple stock, he is going to look bad if Apples explodes. His fund is going to be ranked lower than others, and he’s likely to lose his job. 

Peer group risk is born and bred in competitive environments like the financial services industry and the fantasy football industry. The real truth is that agents of the various systems fear the scenario of standalone failure. As John Maynard Keynes quipped: “It is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.”

The truth is that fantasy football analysts and pundits are all influenced by the opinions of others. Learning how peer group risk applied to this industry was a lesson learned by me in 2020. The fact that there is a consensus opinion on a player does not mean there’s a greater chance the player performs better than another in a given week.

“Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to error that counts,” says Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni Jr., an American poet, educator and activist. This is a valuable insight for fantasy managers. I know I’m going to make mistakes in fantasy sports, just like in other areas of my life. But I don’t want to make the same mistakes twice.     

 Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

It’s playoff time

For most of us, the fantasy football playoffs start this week. If Christmas is a magical time of the year, with wide-eyed children, decorated trees, eggnog and mistletoes, the fantasy playoffs is no less magical. And if you’ve been good, Santa Claus might even bring a belated gift – a league championship – and put it in your stocking on the morning of December 29th.

For some of you, there are no playoffs in 2020. Perhaps, you have a chance to play in the consolation bracket in your league, but it’s just not the same. Frankly, I have never had to play in a consolation bracket in fantasy football, but I suspect it’s similar to playing in a YMCA league. When he was ten, my son received a participation trophy for playing YMCA football and tossed it his trash can.   

If you want to play in the consolation bracket, I’m not judging you. But I will judge any commissioner who allows consolation bracket teams to have waiver wire priority over teams in the championship bracket. Two years ago, my brother-in-law complained when a consolation bracket team manager’s claim for Derrick Henry was processed ahead of his claim. He lost in the championship game. 

If you’re in the playoffs, you need to know how fantasy football playoffs work. Generally, the teams with the best records will make the playoffs. In some leagues with divisions, they work similar to the NFL in determining which teams make the playoffs. The team with the best record in the division will advance, even if it doesn’t have one of the best overall records. This doesn’t seem fair to me.

In leagues with divisions, there will usually be two wild-card teams that will earn their positions from win/loss records among the rest of the non-division winners. Division winners always have a higher seed than wild-card teams. The team with the best record will be the first seed in the playoffs. A divisional winner with the next best record will be the second seed, and then wild-card teams.

Tiebreakers are important in determining who makes the playoffs and seeding. In my very  competitive home league, my 7-6 record was good for a third seed. Two other teams with an identical record were seeded lower because they had less overall points scored for the season. That’s the first tiebreaker. The sixth-seeded team in our league finished 6-7 but had the highest point total.

While our league has six playoff teams, four teams make the playoffs in many leagues. Typically, the first seed will play the fourth seed, and the second seed will play the third seed. The winners of these two matchups will advance to the league championship, while the losers will play for third place. In my ESPN league, the semifinals and finals last for two weeks each, going through Week 17.

In my home league, the six-playoff team format necessitates a need for bye weeks. Bye weeks are similar to the NFL playoff bye weeks. The first- and second-seeded teams will not have to play in the first round. Instead, they advance to the second round and will play the winners of the first-round matchups. This is an advantage because teams with a bye only have to win twice to win a title.  

I have found most leagues omit week 17 to prevent unfair play from NFL teams resting players as they prepare for the real playoffs. The fantasy manager playing in the 17th week can have his playoffs ruined by NFL teams resting players. For example, if Patrick Mahomes is on your team, your fantasy football championship can be decided by having to scramble for a backup quarterback.

It’s fine to have the fantasy playoffs continue to Week 17 – as long as everyone knows the rules when the season begins. This is a commission decision. My son, who has been the commission in my home league since I joined in 2017, has always had the season end in Week 16. But I have no problem with playing in Week 17 in the ESPN league because I will prepare for the possibility of resting players.

FANTASY FOOTBALL PLAYOFF STRATEGY

If you have made the playoffs, you need to continue to monitor and adjust your lineup weekly if you hope to win your league’s championship. Weekly matchups, weather, and players on teams fighting for playoff spots should be factored into your planning and setting your lineup. This is where having a deep team is an advantage. You can sit good players because of bad matchups, or bad weather. 

I won my Week 12 matchup with the No. 1 team in my home league to clinch the playoffs. I clinched last week, partly because my opponent left Julio Jones in his starting lineup. Jones was scratched less than an hour before the noon kickoff. He didn’t notice this had happened until after lineups were locked for the early games. I had Jones in my ESPN league and had anticipated him being benched.  

NFL injuries impact fantasy football on a weekly basis, and timely information is critical. You must have the latest news on your players or you could wind up with the dreaded zero points for a player you thought would contribute fifteen or twenty points for your team.  Updated injury reports are easy to find, but you have to search out the information. This assumes you actually want to win.

But injury reports are only one piece of the puzzle. For instance, the Steelers activated James Conner from the reserve/COVID-19 list prior for the Week 14 game against the Bills. That should be good news for me and anyone who owners Conner. But I won’t start him. The Steelers have relied heavily on the passing game for the last several weeks, and Conner’s fantasy numbers have been lousy.

Raheem Mostert looked like a top-five running back in the first two games of the season. But the talented 49er was injured in the second game and has missed six games this season. Since his return in Week 12, he has looked nothing like the explosive back we have seen in the past. Yet, a manager in my home league is starting him against a tough Washington defense. He may regret that.

Playing his second game since returning from injured reserve, Mostert got off to a good start early but ended up splitting carries with Jeff Wilson (seven rush attempts) almost evenly while also becoming a victim of game script. The 49ers were forced to turn to the pass in the second half due to a multi-possession deficit, helping lead to Mostert’s second-lowest rushing workload of the year.

On the other hand, Giovani Bernard hasn’t been very effective since Joe Burrow’s injury. But prior to that injury, he scored more than 20 fantasy points two weeks in a row. Burrow isn’t returning, but the Cowboys are coming to Paul Brown Stadium. Did you see Gus Edwards looking like an elite running back against Dallas? The matchup makes Bernard worthy of consideration as a flex starter.  

Memo to all managers. The fantasy football playoffs start this week. If you want to make your name, step up the game. Step up your game and success will step up to you. Wake up with determination and go to bed with satisfaction. Find a way to win, don’t find an excuse for losing. Don’t hate on another person’s success like you don’t have the same 24 hours in your day. So just do it, player. 

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

The Elliott Dilemma

I was sorry we ate an early Thanksgiving Day meal last Thursday because Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys made me sick to my stomach in their embarrassing loss to the Washington Redskins. No one can doubt that Jerry Jones is an outstanding businessman because he has made the Cowboys into the most valuable sports franchise in the world. But it’s clear that Jones doesn’t know much about professional football.

Exhibit A is the hiring of Mike McCarthy. McCarthy, who was fired by the Packers before the end of the 2018 season, was an old-school coach who was no longer effective. During his time in Green Bay, McCarthy was only able to win a single Super Bowl during Aaron Rodgers’ prime. That was in 2011. But the Packers were only 7-9 in 2017 and had slipped to 4-7-1 in 2018 before he was fired with four games left in the season.  

But Elliott also needs to shoulder much of the blame for the Cowboys’ disastrous season. I drafted Elliott despite my doubts three months ago. You may have done the same thing. After all, the pundits said he was the third-best player fantasy football player behind Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley. I seriously considered selecting Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, or even Derrick Henry instead of Elliott. I should have trusted my gut.     

Six running backs were drafted with the first seven picks in nearly every fantasy draft three months ago. They were McCaffrey, Barkley, Elliott, Kamara, Cook and Henry. McCaffrey and Barkley have missed most of the season with injuries. Cook and Henry are the top two running backs in fantasy. Kamara was No. 1 but has been sliding. More on him later. Elliott is the only one of the Big 6 that has been a non-injury bust.

That’s right, I said bust. People can make excuses for Zeke, but the truth is the $15-million-per year running back is a fantasy and reality bust. He’s had single-digit production in four of the last five games. He hit rock bottom last week with 10 rushes for 32 and one reception for seven yards. That’s 2.9 fantasy points. I was lucky to win with him in my starting lineup. At this point, I’m planning on benching him in Week 13.

Let’s go back to the Thanksgiving Day game. The Cowboys were trailing by only seven points when they were suddenly given a boost by a Jaylon Smith interception that set them up inside the Washington 5-yard line. Zeke owners came alive because Elliott leads the league in goal-line carries. But after he lost two yards on first down, McCarthy’s ran a failed reverse and then Andy Dalton threw an incomplete pass. The Cowboys settled for a field goal.

With first and goal at the 5-yard line, the Cowboys had no confidence their star could put the ball in the end zone on three, or even four attempts. So, 20-16 was as close as Dallas would come, and the aforementioned failed red-zone drive was proof the Cowboys have lost confidence in Elliott. They went to him only once and then ignored him for the remainder of the series, just as they did in the second quarter on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1. 

You can’t blame the Cowboys for making that decision because the two-time rushing champion has been more of a liability than an asset. Granted, they miss quarterback Dak Prescott and are operating without 80 percent of a starting offensive line that was one of the best in football last season. But great running backs make plays – even when their team is imploding around him. Elliott once was a great running back, but he’s not great anymore.

Elliott would benefit from more support, and he did before the Prescott injury. But a player with the most valuable contract in the NFL at his position needs to be capable of overcoming poor quarterback play, questionable play-calling and a lack of offensive line continuity. Instead, the 25-year-old’s sixth fumble of the season set the tone for a nightmare second half for a Dallas team that couldn’t recover, literally or figuratively.

Those miscues have killed the Cowboys. But it’s not just the fumbles. It’s a lack of effort from Elliott, who is averaging just 3.7 yards-per-attempt average. Among 45 qualifying backs, he’s one of just 13 with a sub-4.0 average. Elliott has gained 20 yards on just one carry all season and that carry ended with a fumble. I thought runs of 18 and 15 yards last week in Minnesota were encouraging, but now it only proves the Vikings can’t stop anyone.  

Prior to Week 12, Elliott ranked 25th or lower among qualified backs in terms of yards after contact per attempt and attempts per broken tackle, and those numbers won’t be better after his last game. The Cowboys simply aren’t getting what they paid for when they handed Elliott a six-year, $90 million contract with more than $50 million guaranteed last September. And those who drafted Elliott third (like me) aren’t getting what they paid for.

So, what do you do if you drafted Elliott? That’s an important question if you’re in the fantasy playoffs – or in contention – heading into what is probably your final regular season matchup. My recommendation is to find an alternative. I was fortunate enough to pick up Latavius Murray off the waiver wire before Drew Brees went down with an injury because I knew Kamara was prone to injury and missing games late in the season.  

Murray’s stand-alone value was marginal before the Brees injury. He was getting as much rushing volume as Kamara, but not the targets. But without Kamara in the lineup, I figured I’d have a winning lottery ticket. Now, I’m beginning to believe that I might have an RB2 – even if Kamara continues to start for the New Orleans Saints. That’s because Kamara had only 10.6 fantasy points in Week 11 and 6.2 in Week 12.

ALVIN KAMARA

If you drafted Kamara in the first round, you are concerned. A few weeks ago, Kamara had more fantasy points than any running back in PPR leagues. But he clearly generated a lot of his fantasy value through his passing down role. Unfortunately, he’s caught just one pass in two weeks since Taysom Hill took over at quarterback. Consider that Kamara was averaging 28 PPG in the games before Hill and only 8.5 in the last two games.

Hill plays a different game from Drew Brees. The 41-year-old future Hall of Famer will only run if his life depends on it. When the pocket collapsed, Brees would dump off to Kamara. This is why Kamara caught 81 passes in each of the last three years. That’s 81 PPR points. But Hill will run out of the pocket, or even run on designed plays. This has meant a huge reduction in Kamara’s passing volume and fantasy production.

To put this in perspective, Kamara was averaging 19 touches per game before Hill replaced Brees at quarterback. Since that time, he’s averaged just 12.5 touches per game, and he’s scored just one of the Saints’ rushing touchdowns. Kamara’s worst running back ranking with Brees calling the signals was eighth. But in the last two weeks, he’s been ranked 25th and 29th. In other words, Kamara has dropped from a reliable top RB1 to a RB3.

So, what do you do if you drafted Kamara? I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the importance of owning the backup for key running backs like McCaffrey, Kamara and Cook. If you did the right thing, you already have Murray rostered. If you didn’t check the waiver wire. Murray’s ownership percentage was 60 percent in Yahoo leagues and 46 in ESPN leagues heading into Week 13. If he’s available, add him to your roster immediately.       

CLYDE EDWARD-HELAIRE

When Damien Williams opted out of the 2020 season because of the COVID risk, the value of the rookie running back went through the roof. Playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, the best offense in the NFL, it seemed like the sky might be the limit for Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Add the fact that he was also playing for Andy Reid, a very RB-friendly head coach in terms of fantasy production, and he was a first-round pick in most drafts.

Edwards-Helaire (CEH) has not returned first-round value. He is currently averaging only 13.5 PPG. Since Le’Veon Bell’s arrival, it’s 11.5 There have been good games and bad games. In Week 11 he had 20.2 points against Las Vegas. However, last week he had only 4.9 points. That didn’t surprise me because I know Tampa Bay has the sixth-best running back defense. CEH looked a lot like Zeke, averaging only 3.7 yards per carry.

CEH’s value was depressed from its lofty preseason value before the arrival of Bell in Week 7. But the rookie has had only had two single-digit games for the season and is still a fringe RB1. His volume dropped dramatically after Bell’s arrival, but it’s now trending in the right direction. With favorable matchups the next two against Denver and Miami, I wouldn’t be too worried about CEH – especially if he’s your RB2 at this point.

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

Fantasy in the arena

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”                                Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena”

Theodore Roosevelt gave what would become his most famous speech of his career more than a century ago. The former president—who left office in 1909 – had spent a year hunting in Central Africa before embarking on a tour of Northern Africa and Europe, attending events and giving speeches in places like Cairo, Berlin, Naples, and Oxford. He stopped in Paris on April 23 to deliver a speech called “Citizenship in a Republic,” which would come to be known as “The Man in the Arena.”

A sickly child with asthma, Roosevelt overcame his health problems with a fiery disposition. His exuberant personality and a vast range of interests and achievements made him a character who was bigger than life. Two years after he gave this speech he was shot in the chest by a saloonkeeper while campaigning in Milwaukee. He assured his friends and political cronies he was fine, in spite of the blood, and delivered his speech.  He spoke for 90 minutes before accepting medical attention.

I want to be like Teddy, living my life in the arena, striving with my last ounce of courage until the battle is won, or lost. At the end of my life, my feats will pale in comparison to Roosevelt. But I want to be remembered as a man who didn’t quit in spite of the obstacles and hardships I face. I lost my wife when I was 32, and I raised two small boys as a single parent after losing my job the same year. I started a new career and a new business the following year. Somehow, I stayed on my feet.

So, three paragraphs into this column, you might be wondering what these ruminations have to do with fantasy football. If you’re competing in a league in 2020, it’s almost certain that you’ve had to overcome significant setbacks this season. For me, it was the quick decline of Ezekiel Elliott, beginning in Week 6, which came two weeks after Nick Chubb hit the IR. That’s my top two draft picks doing little, or nothing, respectively for my home league team for more than a month.

Somehow, I made it to 6-2, but then I suffered three straight losses. Everything seems to be going wrong. James Conner, my third-round pick, had three straight clunkers as his volume dropped sharply. The reason was his quarterback began throwing the ball more than 40 times a game. Ben Roethlisberger inexplicably threw the ball 46 times in each of the last two games – in spite of holding huge leads in games against the Bengals and Jaguars. The key word is inexplicable.

It wasn’t just my running back woes that led to the longest losing streak I’ve suffered since 2017. Calvin Ridley, my WR1, got hurt in Week 8 and didn’t return until last week. My quarterback, Tom Brady, managed only 2.36 fantasy points in Week 9. I benched him in Week 10 after acquiring Lamar Jackson, but Terrific Tom got the last laugh. He put up 31.84 that week. That same week, Robert Woods had 8.60 points, so I benched him in Week 11 and he put up 30.60 points.   

Woods is not the only unpredictable wide receiver on my team. Look up the definition of unpredictable in the fantasy football dictionary, and you’ll find a picture of JuJu Smith-Schuester. I benched him early in the season after two single-digit games. That was back when Big Ben only threw the ball 25 or 30 times a game. With the ascent of Diontae Johnson and Chase Pool, there were too many mouths to feed. After two straight 20+ games, I put Smith-Schuester back in my starting lineup last week, and he got only 5.9. With the air full of footballs, JuJu was targeted only five times.

You get the picture because you have your own war stories to recount. Perhaps, you drafted Saquon Barkley with the second pick of the draft and lost him in Week 2 to a torn ACL. Or, you drafted Christian McCaffrey and have been blessed with his presence in your starting lineup only three times this season.  My son drafted Elliott, Joe Mixon and Austin Ekeler in the first three rounds of a draft and has been scrambling to find players to fill his running back slots the entire season.

If you read this column, you know I’m a huge advocate for hitting the waiver wire. I have worked the waiver wire the same way Lyndon Johnson told his constituents to vote – early and often. In Week 10, I had Duke Johnson at flex, and he had 5.40 points. I benched him in Week 11 and dropped him after another single-digit game. I picked up Travis Fulgham on the waiver wire in an ESPN league and enjoyed some good games before he inexplicably put up 1.8 points the last two weeks. 

Whatever has happened to you, so far, has happened. But if you’re no worse than 5-6 right now, you are still standing. But what you do now matters most. Don’t panic. If a player with a proven track record has underperformed, you need to understand why he’s underperformed. For example, Elliott had four subpar games in a row after Dak Prescott went down with a season-ending injury. But things stabilized a bit last week with Andy Dalton, and Zeke put up 19.4 points.

It’s possible that your war stories haven’t been that bad so far. Notice that I said so far because the season isn’t over yet. Last year, I played a team in the finals in an ESPN league that wYas 12-1. My team was 8-5 during the regular season, but I beat him easily in the two-week finals because my team peaked at the right time. If you’re on top in the standings, the last thing in the world you should do is get complacent. Always be looking for ways to improve your team.  

You are standing right now in the arena of fantasy football. Your face may be covered with sweat and blood. Don’t give up! You must keep a calm head and continue to strives valiantly until you have won the championship, or have been eliminated in your effort. There’s no time to work, or play, or sleep. Grab a cup of coffee and make those difficult roster decisions for Week 12. If you come up short, you must only fail while daring greatly in your quest for the Holy Grail.                                 

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter at ThomasLSeltzer1.

Volume matters most

If you play fantasy football, or any fantasy sport, you know how important statistics are. But with all of the data out there, it’s important to know what stats and metrics really matter. Do total rush attempts by a running back carry the most weight, or should you be looking at broken tackles? Does a player’s touchdown total translate year over year, or are targets a more stable indicator of future production? What are the most predictive stats when it comes to fantasy football?

Most fantasy analysts agree volume matters most. Every player’s fantasy upside is inextricably linked to the number of looks he gets. For receivers, the metrics that correlate strongest with PPR fantasy points are receiving yards, receptions, targets, yards after the catch (which is basically a subset of total yards), and touchdowns. For running backs, total yards correlate most strongly to fantasy scoring, followed by snaps, then touches, total touchdowns, and rushing yards.

On draft night, everyone was fighting over the same players in the early rounds. You wanted receivers who were expected to be focal points of their passing offenses, and you wanted running backs with clear three-down potential—the few remaining “bell cows” in the league. The more basic counting stats players can rack up the better. Now, it’s Week 11, the trade deadline has passed, and your roster should be set. If you’ve done your job, your decision is only about roster management.

Let me use my own home league team as an example. I’m scratching my head now, trying to decide who I will start and who I will sit in the running back positions, the wide receiver positions, the tight end position and the flex position. I lost last week because I made some bad decisions. I started Robert Woods (8.60) and Jerry Jeudy (10.80) but left JuJu Smith-Schuester (22.70) on the bench. I started Lamar Jackson (21.46) but left Tom Brady (31.84) on the bench. You get the gist.

This week, I must choose two running backs from the following list: Nick Chubb, Ezekiel Elliott, James Conner and Duke Johnson. Chubb is in as my RB1, and Johnson is benched. Neither Elliott, nor Conner is trustworthy, both having single-digit scores the past two weeks. Right now, I’m leaning toward Elliott – even though Conner has the better matchup – because I have no idea what’s going on in Pittsburgh. Conner only had 13 carries last week, with Ben Roethlisberger throwing 46 passes.

My wide receiver picture is even more murky. If Calvin Ridley returns, he’ll be my WR1. I may start Smith-Schuester in the WR2 spot after two straight 20 plus weeks. The once-steady Woods has scored in single digits in two of the past three weeks. This week’s matchup is against the Bucs, who have allowed the ninth-fewest points to wideouts. Jamison Crowder has a decent matchup against the Chargers and their bottom-10 secondary, but he had only two receptions last week.    

If I start Chubb (RB1), Elliott (RB2), Ridley (WR1), Smith-Schuester (WR2), that leaves Conner, Woods and Crowder as options for the flex.  It’s hard to sit Woods, but he’s been at five catches or less in four of his last five games. He’s also been held to 36 receiving yards or less in four of the last six. To make matters worse, he may be covered by a formidable cornerback in the Buccaneers’ Carlton Davis. I may go with Conner in a good matchup and potentially good game script in Jacksonville.

I also have a choice to make at quarterback.  I’m going to roll with Jackson because I don’t like Brady’s matchup against the Rams. Brady was fantastic in Week 10 against Carolina, and he’s now scored at least 23 Fantasy points in three of his past four games. But he’s had some struggles, including three games since Week 4 with 18 points or less. This is a tough Rams defense that that just held Russell Wilson to 248 passing yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions last week.

At tight end, I have Rob Gronkowski and Dallas Goedert rostered. I started Goedert last week, and he got six targets, four receptions but only 33 total yards and no touchdown. That was 7.3 points. Gronk got less targets (3) and less receptions (2) but more yards (51) and a touchdown. That was 13.1 points. Brady’s favorite receiver has 10 end-zone targets in 2020, which is only one less than end-zone target leaders Tyler Lockett and Mike Evans. Gronk gets the start on my team.   

When you’re making your own roster decisions this week, you have to consider matchups, weather and other considerations. But volume matters most. With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the stat leaders after 10 weeks. You will have some of them rostered, and this may influence your decision on starts and sits this week and going forward. Take note of the scoring leaders because some of these players will be available on the waiver wire and may be worth adding.     

TARGET SHARE LEADERS:

1. Adam Thielen  — 27.8%

2. Darren Waller — 27.5%

3. Keenan Allen — 25.8%

4. Stefon Diggs — 24.6%

5. DeAndre Hopkins — 24.4%

6. Travis Kelce — 23.8%

7. Robby Anderson — 23.6%

8. Allen Robinson — 23.2%

9. Alvin Kamara — 22.9%

10. Terry McLaurin — 22.8%

TARGETS PER GAME

1. Davante Adams  — 11.5

2. Keenan Allen — 10.8

3. Stefon Diggs  — 10.1

4. Allen Robinson  — 9.6

5. Jamison Crowder  — 9.6

6. Terry McLaurin  — 9.6

7. DeAndre Hopkins  — 9.5

8. Amari Cooper  — 9.2

9. Alvin Kamara — 9

10. Cooper Kupp — 8.9

AIR YARD LEADERS

1. DK Metcalf — 989

2. Stefon Diggs  — 956

3. Tyreek Hill  — 910

4. Calvin Ridley — 895

5. Allen Robinson — 895

6. Jerry Jeudy — 843

7. Robby Anderson — 801

8. Adam Thielen — 783

9. Terry McLaurin — 776

10. D.J. Moore — 775

RED-ZONE RUSHING LEADERS

Red-zone rushing attempts leaders

1. Derrick Henry — 44

2. Todd Gurley  — 42

3. Josh Jacobs  — 37

4. Darrell Henderson — 30

5. Dalvin Cook — 28

6. Ezekiel Elliott — 27

7. Kareem Hunt, Kenyan Drake, Alvin Kamara, James Conner, Ronald Jones, Jonathan Taylor  — 26

GOAL-LINE CARRY LEADERS (INSIDE THE 5)

1. Ezekiel Elliott — 16

2. Todd Gurley, Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry  — 13

5. Darrell Henderson — 10

6. James Conner, David Johnson, Alvin Kamara, Josh Jacobs, Antonio Gibson, Jonathan Taylor — 9

RED-ZONE TARGET LEADERS

1. Tyreek Hill — 25

2. Mike Evans — 24

3. Davante Adams, D.K. Metcalf  — 23

5. Tyler Boyd  — 22

6. Stefon Diggs, Calvin Ridley  — 21

8. Darren Waller, Brandon Aiyuk — 20

10. Tyler Lockett — 19

END-ZONE TARGET LEADERS

1. Tyler Lockett, Mike Evans — 11

3. Adam Thielen, Calvin Ridley, Rob Gronkowski — 10

6. T.J. Hockenson — 9

7. Mark Andrews, A.J. Green, Tyreek Hill, Mike Williams, DK Metcalf— 8

END-ZONE THROW PASSING LEADERS

1. Russell Wilson — 41

2. Tom Brady — 35

3. Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert  — 28

5. Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan — 27

8. Josh Allen — 26

9. Lamar Jackson — 23

10. Patrick Mahomes, Gardner Minshew — 22

TOP FANTASY SCORERS (WEEKS 6-10) 

Quarterbacks (top 12): Kyler Murray, Justin Herbert, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen, Tom Brady, Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Carson Wentz.

Running Backs (top 24): Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey (hurt), Alvin Kamara, Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry, James Robinson, D’Andre Swift, Josh Jacobs, Antonio Gibson, Giovani Bernard, Kenyan Drake, Kalen Ballage, Nyheim Hines, Joe Mixon (hurt), Ronald Jones, Myles Gaskin (hurt), Todd Gurley, Miles Sanders, Wayne Gallman, Kareem Hunt, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, J.D. McKissic, Boston Scott, James Conner, Devontae Booker, Chase Edmonds.

Wide Receivers (top 24): Davante Adams, Julio Jones, Tyreek Hill, Keenan Allen, Tyler Lockett, Christian Kirk, Justin Jefferson, Terry McLaurin, Tee Higgins, DK Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Curtis Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Diontae Johnson, Will Fuller, Tyler Boyd, Stefon Diggs, Jakobi Meyers, DeAndre Hopkins, Calvin Ridley, DJ Moore, Brandin Cooks, Deebo Samuel (hurt), JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Tight Ends (top 12): Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski, Hayden Hurst, Logan Thomas, T.J. Hockenson, Darren Waller, Irv Smith Jr. (hurt), Trey Burton, Richard Rodgers, Harrison Bryant, Eric Ebron, Evan Engram, Jared Cook, Anthony Firkser, Hunter Henry.

Defenses: Miami, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Los Angeles Rams, New York Giants, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Arizona.

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter. ThomasLSeltzer1.

Roster management, 2

In the first part of my two-part series on roster management, I told you that this fantasy football season, unfolding in the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic, was challenging. And that’s an understatement. I went on to say that roster management is more important than the draft in determining the outcome of your season.

Last week, I provided some tips that can help you come back from a slow start. This week, I’ll offer tips on how to manage your team going forward with a mediocre or fast start. Please keep in mind that the following scenarios assume that your team’s record is an accurate reflection of the strength of your roster. This is not always the case. 

In part one, I told you that in addition to working the waiver wire, you should be prepared to cut bait on players you can’t envision helping your team. A.J. Green has been a big disappointment this season, yet the name value alone has kept him around on many teams. If you’re in need of points and a win, don’t be afraid to move off big-name talent on your bench.

I have had problems of my own with big-name talent that has disappointed. My first-round draft pick was Ezekiel Elliott. Zeke had been good player to have rostered on fantasy teams most every year since he led the league in his rookie year. The one exception was 2017, when he was suspended for six games for violating the league’s Personal Conduct policy.

Elliott was off to a fine start before Dak Prescott went down with a season-ending injury. But in the last four weeks, he’s averaged 8.8 fantasy points. I actually started trying to trade Zeke after Week 4 when his stock was still high because I saw his volume dropping as Prescott passed more to his trio of talented wide receivers. But I had no good offers.

With the fantasy trade value approaching, I’m still trying to trade Elliott. But no one wants to pay anything, and I can’t blame them. So, I’m stuck with him. While I probably won’t drop Elliott, I will probably bench him when he returns from his bye week – if Nick Chubb returns from IR. There was a reason why I drafted running backs in the first three rounds.

It’s likely that you have had you own challenges. If you drafted Christian McCaffrey, like I did in one of my leagues, you’ve been struggling without him. If you drafted Saquon Barkley, you’ve been trying to fill a big hole in your starting lineup for nine weeks. If you drafted McCaffrey, Barkley or Elliott, and you’re still in playoff contention, you can take one victory lap.

Okay, let’s not call it a victory lap but a survivor lap. Now, it’s time get back to work because you’re going to have to make those difficult roster decisions in the next few weeks. Who can you trade to make your team better? This is a priority because the trade deadline in your league is probably this week. Or, who can you pick up off the waiver wire to improve your lot?   

MEDIOCRE START (5-4, 4-5)

One of the hardest decisions in fantasy football might be for the manager whose team is on the brink of a playoff berth, but has been far from dominant. Is it best to stay the course, or take some risks that could pay off, or leave you on the outside of the playoff picture looking in and yearning to be part of the postseason fun? Let’s try and answer this question.   

Many fantasy football managers believe that if you can get to the playoffs, then anything can haippen. From a mathematical perspective, this is true. But in reality, one of the teams dominating your league at this point is probably going to be winning the championship. The question you must ask yourself whether my team realistically win it all?

If the honest answer is no, I’ve got to find a way to turn my average team into a championship team. Like the team that is struggling, if my team is just mediocre and I have a chance at a hot waiver pickup, I’m happily dropping a middling starter and spending all of my free agent budget in the hopes of landing the next fantasy playoff superstar.

You should also be looking to trade with anyone trailing you in the standings. A team that is looking up at you likely has holes to fill. If you’re 6-3, or 5-4, and another team is 3-6, or 4-5, the manager is more desperate for a win then you are. A waiver wire acquisition with a good matchup in Week 10 might be traded for a player who can help you more in later weeks.

If you have a surplus of talent at any position, you should be looking to trade. For example, I was deep in wideouts and traded Will Fuller for Lamar Jackson. This came one day after I watched Tom Brady, my only quarterback, put up 2.36 fantasy points. Keep in mind that I have Calvin Ridley, Robert Woods, JuJu Smith-Schuester, Jerry Jeudy, Brandon Aiyuk and Jamison Crowder rostered.

FAST START (9-0, 8-1, 7-2, 6-3)

If you’re off to a fast start, with a first-round playoff bye possible, you’ve done the work necessary to build a good team. That doesn’t mean that you should become a spectator, though. Again, the key question you must ask yourself is whether your team is good enough to win it all. A good way to determine this is to compare your total points scored to others in your league.

In my home league, I am alone in second place at 6-3 but fourth in total points scored. This tells me my team today is only good enough to make it to the semifinals. It’s no surprise that my big need is running back help. Unfortunately, this is the position where the demand far exceeds the supply. My best chance is to have Chubb come off the IR and pick up where he left off before his injury.  

However, I’m not going to stop there. I just sent a trade offer to a manager who’s 4-5. He is a rare bird because he’s loaded with running backs: Derrick Henry, James Robinson, Miles Sanders and Raheem Mostert. I’ve been trying to get him to trade Mostert for more than a month. I pointed out to him that his team weakness is tight end, with only Eric Ebron rostered. Maybe, he’ll bite. 

Depth is always important, but it’s less important after Week 11, with bye weeks mostly behind you. But you can’t wait until Week 11 to trade unless your trade deadline is later than most. Unless you are confident you have a starting lineup that can win a championship, you should be willing to sacrifice team depth. This might mean trading two good players for a really good one.

If you have players on your bench who are putting up good numbers, dangle a couple of players out there for a team hurt by injuries and desperate for a win. If they need a couple of good players, they might part with a stud. I’m not talking about Alvin Kamara or Dalvin Cook. But perhaps they’ll trade McCaffrey this week for Joe Mixon and Todd Gurley and Terry McLaurin?   

THE PLAYOFF PUSH

There are a few strategies that all managers should be implementing as the playoffs near. If you’re matched up against a team that is projected to beat you by ten or more points, you should start volatile players with high ceilings. You might start Tyler Lockett, who will give you anything between 6 and 53, points, over a steady player like Allen Robinson.  

When gearing up for the playoffs as a big underdog, you can extend this concept to your entire roster. Stock up on volatile, high upside players. If things break just right, you could be the team that barely gets into the playoffs that everyone thinks got lucky on a championship run. Usually the best fantasy managers create their own luck.

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, at ThomasLSeltzer1 on Twitter.