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.
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.