And just like *that* it’s a new year.
Hindsight is, naturally, 2020. We learned a lot of lessons — whether we wanted to or not — about a lot of things last year. From becoming in-home barbers and bakers, to commissioning leagues with added IR spots and managing half-filled rosters … we zigged and zagged and then zigged some more.
The tumult of a season that simultaneously flew by and dragged on can’t be downplayed. There was an unprecedented amount of chaos kicked up over the past four months. Some will advocate for wiping the slate clean and forgetting that it ever happened, explaining that such an anomaly is devoid of actionable data. Others will look back at how they faced and mounted unexpected challenges, pocketing the accidental nuggets that materialized over 16 weeks.
That second group is going to crush in 2021.
Last Sunday — as King Henry broke records and MVS dropped another would-be score — I thought about my own teams. The ones I was proud of. The ones I’d rather not discuss. I wondered if everyone else was feeling as reflective so I reached out on social media and asked what other managers had gleaned in a season like no other. There were a fair amount of folks like Josh, who was reluctant to give this year’s outcome(s) too much weight. A good number of people used the opportunity to voice their frustrations over various players (hint: Joe Mixon has made his way onto plenty of Don’t Draft lists).
Almost everyone, however, offered up genuinely personal takes that resonated with many of my own findings. I’ve winnowed them down to three major takeaways.
Lesson No. 1: Quarterback legs > arm
The “When to draft a QB” debate is nothing new. Using the feedback I received on social, managers remain split on either prioritizing or waiting on the most important position in football. For example, on Instagram, one user stated, “QBs need to be made a top priority when drafting” while another answered, “You don’t need to worry about drafting a top tier QB early.”
The evolution of the position, in tandem with the infusion of young talent, has injected excitement into the virtual game, causing fantasy fanatics to rethink their approach. It’s too early to honestly tell you when I plan on adding a QB in 2021, but I can tell you what kind of QB I will be adding.
The follower who replied, “Running QB … Never not a running QB.” nailed it (insert “100” emoji).
We saw this change coming on the literal heels of Lamar Jackson’s historic 2019 season. Despite 2020 being different in almost every other way, the proliferation of dual-threat signal callers continued to dominate fantasy stat sheets. Eight of the top-ten FF producers at the position recorded at least 230 rushing yards on the season. Four of the top-five logged at minimum 420 rushing yards on the season. In 2019, the rushing floor was also around 230 yards, but only three QBs (Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, and Josh Allen) cleared the aforementioned 420-yard benchmark.
Not surprisingly, only Aaron Rodgers (QB3) and Tom Brady (QB7) were the two most productive outliers who managed fewer than 40 rushing attempts on the season. To that end, there's little coincidence that the majority of NFL starters who were among the top-ten in rushing attempts per game were also fantasy studs (Cam Newton and Daniel Jones were the only exceptions). Jalen Hurts — who started the last four games of the year and averaged 4.2 rushing attempts per contest (QB8) — was the FF QB9 over the last five weeks of the season.
The NFL’s next generation is ushering in a new dawn, and the cheat codes are in their legs … and there’s nothing “contra” about that POV.
Lesson No. 2: Patience is a virtue — but decisiveness is key
We’re told that good things come to those who wait. And that’s true to a certain extent. But time is of the essence in fantasy football. A drumbeat in late July does not guarantee the emergence of an UNT DAVE GROHL PROJECT come September (or even October). Often, rookies — who garner a lot of buzz over the summer — are attached to this waiting game debate. Lots of folks talked about this idea of patience, but one user hit a nerve when mentioning “patience with rookie RBs” in particular.
The past six months have been fraught with victory laps and cricket memes and then more victory laps, all centered on three specific rookie backs: Jonathan Taylor, Cam Akers, and JK Dobbins.
Each of these first-year players was highly graded by scouts (and talked-up by savvy sports media members), selected in the second round by their pro teams, and, therefore, expected to shoulder robust workloads. Despite the abbreviated offseason and absence of a preseason, a large number of fantasy aficionados remained confident in these players' ability to ROI with alacrity.
I will fully admit that I told my husband to draft Cam Akers, resolute in my belief that the FSU product would separate himself from the Rams cadre of RBs. I was right … but not soon enough.
That’s the thing. Fantasy is a win-now proposition. Occupying a roster spot (especially in a year full of unexpected absences) with a player because of what *might* happen hinders maneuverability and optionality in the moment. Jonathan Taylor became a beast down the stretch, averaging over 20 touches and 116 scrimmage yards between Weeks 11 and 16. I’m sure he won more than a few titles for people with his five consecutive top-15 efforts. I’m also sure he didn’t begin the season on those championship teams.
Fantasy certainly requires patience. It also demands staying present and nimble. If that aforementioned drumbeat doesn’t build towards a crescendo then it’s time to change the station. Kudos to the Instagram follower who wrote, “Stop planning the end of the season so early in the season.” Yes. THAT.
Lesson No. 3: Going with your gut is different from playing with your heart
The head and the heart are often at odds. There seems to be some confusion, however, between acting on instinct and catching feelings. For example, I advocated for Jeff Wilson in Week 15, not because I adored the Mean Green product and his story (though I do) but because I was unconvinced Raheem Mostert would last four quarters without aggravating his ankle. Trusting a player’s floor is different from hoping for his ceiling.
Of course, adoration for a player is normal and fun and why jersey sales exist. But if the objective is to win ... then fantasy managers best not draft “heart players.” Doing so muddies the waters between playing for today and gambling on what could/should be.
That being said, not everyone drafts to win. Some people actually enjoy the thrill of the hobby over the grind of the game. I had a favorite post-draft squad, led by three players whose skill sets left me simultaneously stanning and swooning on the regular: Dak Prescott, Nick Chubb, and Austin Ekeler.
I’ll be honest … my virtual team’s season ended when Dak was carted off the field.
I knew I was supposed to spend all my FAAB on Andy Dalton and find a way to trade for Melvin Gordon. After all, as one Instagram user reminded me, “Leagues are won on the waiver wire and not the draft.” But I didn’t want to. Not because I was lazy but because those players just don’t do it for me. I discovered that the thrill of crushing the competition wasn’t enough (in that particular league, at least). I wanted to take home a title led by athletes who made me feel like I was in on something special.
Did it work? Nah, I already told you I lost. And I also already told you ... I was comfortable with that.
The sinking of that specific team taught me that a sharp mind and keen intuition can win you a ‘ship … but only if your heart’s in it.
Join the conversation with Liz on social @LizLoza_FF