Fantasy lessons learned

It’s time to wrap things up for the 2021 fantasy football season. If you won your league championship, congratulations! One of my three teams advanced to the championship round this year, but it was not my beloved home league team. In that league, my sister-in-law, Candace Ridinger, made a statement for women playing fantasy football across the country, defeating my son, Nathan Seltzer, in the finals.  

It was Nathan who got me started playing fantasy football just four years ago. He was able to invite me in his work league since he was the commissioner. The league later became our home league. In that first season, I lost my first four matchups and then won eight in a row. I had a first-round bye even though I lost my final matchup against Nathan. I won in the semifinals and finals to complete the unlikely season.

Since that time, I have managed multiple teams and have never missed the playoffs until this year when I missed the playoffs in one of my public leagues. I have won a total of six titles. While fantasy football is fun, it can also be frustrating. The past two years have been the most challenging with the cloud of COVID hanging over us.  Entering Week 16 of the NFL season, there were 241 players on the COVID-19/Reserve list.

In the past few weeks, I have shared some specific strategies I’ve employed in managing my fantasy football team. Now, I’m going to broaden the subject to include some of the lessons I’ve learned this season. No matter how long you’ve been playing this game, you should always be learning. I’m going to focus on six players who were on my home league team. Hopefully, you can apply some of these lessons to your team next season.  

NAJEE HARRIS, RUNNING BACK

I drafted the Steelers rookie in the second round with the 17th overall pick. In the first game, he carried the ball 16 times for 45 yards and caught one of three targets for four yards. Granted, Pittsburgh’s opponent was Buffalo, but I had a case of buyer’s remorse. The following week, he carried the ball only 10 times for 38 yards and caught five of five targets for 43 yards. One of those receptions was for a touchdown, which helped him get 19.8 FP.

After the second game, I was ready to move him. At that time, I feared he was going to be a bust.  Candy offered me Chris Carson, and it took a New York minute for me to hit the accept button on that trade. The Seattle running back was RB17 in 2020 in only 12 games. The previous year, he had been RB9 and had rushed for 1230 yards and had been targeted 47 times. In 2018, he also surpassed 1000 yards and had been targeted 46 times.

That trade turned out to be one of the worst ones I’ve ever made. Harris is currently RB7, while Carson is on injured reserve and hasn’t played since week 4. Injuries are difficult to predict, and no one knows how Carson would have finished the season if he had been healthy. But the point is that I was wrong about Harris. The fact that he didn’t gain many yards between the tackles had nothing to do with his ability to be a fantasy asset.

MYLES GASKIN, RUNNING BACK

Heading into the season, I loved Myles Gaskin and was thrilled to draft in the sixth round. The 24-year-old had come out of nowhere to be the lead running back for the Dolphins the previous year before he was injured. He had also targeted 47 times in only 10 games. Heading into the regular season, there was already concerns about him being mired in a committee in Miami. But I wasn’t worried because cream rises to the top.

My fears of the committee were well-founded. After four games, he had carried the ball only 29 times. In week 4, he had two carries for three yards and wasn’t targeted. That was worth 0.3 FP, and I dropped him. Ironically, he garnered 31.9 FP the following week, catching 10 passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns against Tampa Bay. I spent one-third of my FAAB dollars to claim him off waivers the following week.      

This was just the beginning of my strange love/hate relationship with Gaskin, who seemed to be good every other week. At one point, I traded him to Nathan for Matthew Stafford. Later, Nathan traded him to Candy and then I traded to get him back several weeks ago. Needless to say, his stock has dropped dramatically in the last three weeks. Miami is one of the most unpredictable backfields in the NFL, and I will avoid it in the future. 

JULIO JONES, WIDE RECEIVER

I drafted Julio Jones in the seventh round in my home league. Frankly, I couldn’t believe he was still on the board when I made the 64th pick. Granted, he was WR44 in 2020, but he had also played only nine games. Following his rookie season in 2011, he’d been no worse than WR7 in every year except 2013 when he played in only five games. Playing for a new team (Tennessee), I knew he was going to be a starter for me – if he could stay healthy.

In week 1, he drew six targets but only put up 5.9 FP. The next week, I started him against Seattle, and he had 6 receptions on 8 targets for 128 yards. That was 18.8 FP without scoring a touchdown. I was a genius. But since that time, he hasn’t put up double-digit points in any of the seven games he’s played in. And he missed five other games because of a hamstring issue.  I finally dropped him heading into his bye week four weeks ago.  

The lesson I learned with Jones is one worth noting. The NFL is a brutal place to make a living, and injuries take their toll. In 2017, my inaugural season playing this wonderful game, Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell were the top two running backs in fantasy football. Neither one of them is 30 yet, and both of them are washed up. Jones is 32, and he’s lost a step. If he was still getting separation, Ryan Tannehill would have been targeting him more. 

JAYLEN WADDLE, WIDE RECEIVER

I drafted Waddle in the 13th round, but I didn’t fully appreciate the ability of this rookie, the sixth overall draft pick in the 2021 draft. When the Miami rookie posted his third single-digit game in his first five outings, I dropped him. He’s had only one single-digit game since then. He’s WR22 on the season and is averaging 16.0 FP per game. He’s proficient at gaining separation from defenders and has chemistry with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.  

My decision to drop Waddle was based on a faulty assumption. The assumption was that he wouldn’t be successful because there were too many mouths to feed in Miami. After all, there was Devante Parker and Will Fuller V now on the roster. Parker exceeded 100 targets the two previous years, and Fuller had just arrived in town after a career year. If I had known Fuller was only going to make cameo appearances in two games, I would have help Waddle.

There was another faulty assumption that I based my decision on when I dropped Waddle in early October. If you read my wide receiver preview columns back in August, you might recall that I predicted the wide receiver position to be “extremely deep” in 2021. At that time, I believed there would also be an abundance of good fantasy options on the waiver wire. I was wrong about that, and I was wrong about Waddle.

BUY LOW, SINK LOWER

If you play fantasy football, you’ve heard it a thousand times – buy low, sell high. In reality, this is easier said than done. If you buy low, your player may never rebound. I learned this on two different occasions with trades I made on my home league team. The first one was buying low on Allen Robinson. I won’t spend a lot of time on him because I wrote a column on him back on October 28th, and you can look it up in the archives.

The second buy-low player I traded for was Terry McLaurin. I mentioned that I had traded Candy for Gaskin several weeks ago, but I didn’t mention that McLaurin was in that trade. Candy had been trying to get me to trade Keenan Allen all season, and I finally offer Allen in exchange for McLaurin and Gaskin. At the time, I thought this was a good trade because Allen’s target share had been dropping and McLaurin had a high ceiling.

Once again, I was wrong. If I had held on to Allen, I would have had a very solid WR2 to start each week next to Stefon Diggs, who I had traded for around that same timeframe. Instead, I wound up with a wideout who has posted five straight single-digit games through week 16. Rest assured that I started him in every one of those games, which mean that I had Amon-Ra St. Brown on my bench in pivotal week 15 when I lost my quarterfinals matchup.

As we close the book on the 2021 fantasy football season, I hope you will take to heart these lessons and my advice to learn from your own mistakes. As long as you’re playing fantasy football, you will make mistakes. It’s just like life. My belief is that mistakes are unavoidable. The difference between a successful person and an unsuccessful person is that the former learns from his mistakes and the latter continues to repeat them.

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

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