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.

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