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A fellow FFL owner asked me what the biggest 2015 takeaways were this Fantasy season. My answer was simple and trite: It is better to be lucky than good.

Not exactly light of God revelation, but it’s based upon finally taking home the Lombardi trophy in my longtime hometown league. Yes, my team was good top to bottom. There were no glaring weaknesses and it managed to weather the injury “situations” to Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, and Thomas Rawls amongst others. But I will be the first to acknowledge I got lucky, especially in my schedule:

1) I had one of the lowest opponent point totals this year. 2)The two teams I got to play twice had less total wins than I did combined. 3)I got to play the Gronk and Brady owner in Week 4, i.e. the Patriots bye 4) Had I played any team in Week 15 other than the one I did, I would have lost.

So you can understand that of all the 2015 takeaways, this was personally the biggest.

However, here are some less personal 2015 takeaways from this past fantasy football season and what each means going forward.

2015 Fantasy Football Takeaways

2015 Takeaways–Zero RB Theory buries Stud RB Theory

I have talked about this multiple times this year and I am not going to rehash the details. In summary, the Stud RB Theory flopped again this year given the extremely high number of busts amongst the first dozen running backs typically picked. And with the number of late picked or possibly undrafted RBs powering to the top (Devonta Freeman, DeAngelo Williams, and David Johnson are all Top 10 RBs this year, yet none were typically drafted in the first five rounds), the Zero RB Theory was a great strategy to employ this year.

You should expect to see WRs dominate the early picks this upcoming year, especially at the top of the first round. I’ve already seen a number of experts mocking next year. Not one mock had more than two RBs in the Top 5 and most have five WRs gone before even three RBs get picked. One even had receivers as all first five picks.

Despite the success of the Zero RB Theory this year, I do offer some caution. If you follow the herd, you are likely to step in manure. If I drafted today and the first four or five picks are all wide receivers and I’m picking next, I am NOT going wide receiver.

But that’s not the only early peek at my cheat sheet for next year….

2015 Takeaways–“Facts of Life”: Blair not my top pick

Blair Walsh might have made the most FGs this year, but he’s nowhere near my top kicker next year. If you’ve read me before, you know one of the hallmarks of my analysis is that I don’t confine my analysis to the “skill positions”, so this will not be the first time I have discussed kickers. But before you roll your eyes and skip ahead, be aware that this year did present a first for kickers that I have never seen in the more than 30 years that I’ve been playing fantasy football: Only five starting kickers who had at least 20 attempts (four had less than 20) were perfect on extra points.

That is a precipitous drop from the 26 kickers that did it last year, the 26 the year before and the 27 the year before that. I think I’ve made the point—the extra point is no longer automatic.

Something to consider for those of you who stream kickers, or those of you who grab the teammate kicker of your opponent’s stud player to nullify the damage he might do. What this really does is underscore how good Bailey, Crosby, Bryant, Gostowski, and Tucker are. Care to guess who the top five kickers will be on my cheatsheet next year?

Before I get into the skill positions, one other 2015 takeaway that struck me….

2015 Takeaways–“There’s enough bullshit in the media for Texas to open a branch office!”

Few like the late, great George Carlin to help us encapsulate the situation. We know that the flow of information has changed dramatically over the years, but success this year often seemed dependent on the information available. As reporters tried to scoop one another with their Twitter posts, reports often conflicted or were incomplete. Ain’t that right Eddie Lacy owners?

We’ll wait for the seven second delay to cover the profanity being spewed now…..Okay, owners of other players probably had similar issues (Yes, yes I hear you my fellow Alshon Jeffrey owners. I know it’s not limited to Lacy. Let’s just agree that it was league wide), but the amount of information or possibly lack of information around Eddie Lacy was maddening and typical. First he’s the starter….Wait, why is Starks getting so many carries?… All right, so now it’s a split backfield…Hold on, Lacy’s injured?…Then he’s healthy but not the starter….Then he is the starter but doesn’t get starter reps…James Starks is the guy, okay great…No wait, its John Crockett…No, wait now it is Lacy again?

Or ask Andrew Luck owners how many times the severity/duration on his injury changed. Ping pong matches have less back and forth.The bottom line is to be prepared.  Have depth on your roster to make a move if necessary (or petition your commissioner to expand rosters citing the examples above) and value guys you know are going to play, and hopefully produce. I think New England running backs for example can be extremely valuable assets, but you will never see them on my teams. They are just not worth the aggravation and headache that the Evil Hooded One will give you.

Enough BS; let’s get to a more eye-opening skill position 2015 takeaway…..

2015 Takeaways–The Academy should award another Baldwin

2015 fantasy football takeaways

Photo Credit: Pedro Vera

One of the reasons I was able to secure a title in my auction league was a player I bought for the minimum: Doug Baldwin. But I was not alone in my Baldwin ownership as millions who rode Baldwin also saw similar success.

Sure, I was one of the few who liked Baldwin in the preseason, but except for two decent games in weeks 2 and 10, he didn’t really explode until week 12 when he proceeded to score 11 TDs in five weeks, just in time for the playoffs and playoff push. Does that sound familiar?

It should.

This is now the third year in a row that a wide receiver who was either undrafted or taken late probably made a huge difference in your league results. Last year it was Odell Beckham, who produced well in weeks 7 and 10, but then exploded starting in week 12 with a five week run that saw nine TDs and an insane 48 receptions. The point production was very similar to the year before Beckham exploded when Josh Gordon had a few decent games, but then became an absolute receiving yardage machine starting in week 12 as he put up 813 receiving yards in five weeks.  To put that into perspective, only 33 WRs had more yardage that year all season!

The takeaway here is watch for receivers who have that big breakout around week 12 as good chance they’re lurking on your waiver wire. But a few points each of these situations had in common worth noting:

One, the week 12 breakout does not come out of nowhere, as each of the above receivers already had a couple decent games beforehand.

Two, each was on a team that in the preseason was expected to be one of the run heavier teams.

Three, each of these players were able to do so because of injuries to big name players. Okay, maybe Bernie Kosar was the last big name Brown player. However, the loss of Jimmy Graham for the Seahawks and the loss of Victor Cruz for the Giants the year earlier for example helped paved the way for our fantasy league altering player.

Of course any wide receiver is dependent on his QB, and…

2015 Takeaways–Year Two is the year to grab young QBs.

Derek Carr and Blake Bortles both were worthy of QB1 status this year. Carr saw his fantasy points per game (FPG) jump more than a TD this year while Bortles saw his FPG more than double this year.

(NOTE: Before you flood my inbox, I will acknowledge the percentage increases or amounts might be different depending on your league’s scoring. My analysis was based on six points for a passing TD for example, but the directional trend I discuss here is the same across all leagues).

Many saw his season as a failure, but Teddy Bridgewater also saw his fantasy points per game jump by ten percent over last year. Even the John Daly of football, Johnny Manziel, saw a huge jump in his FPG average from year one to year two. Okay, Zack Mettenberger saw his production drop from year one to year two, but that can happen when his team uses the #2 overall pick on a QB. And if you drafted Mettenberger, you either play in an extremely deep league, are an idiot, or both. But if anything, Mettenberger is the exception that proves the rule.

Put another way, I will definitely be looking at both Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston in my drafts next year. I will even go one step further and say this to those of you playing postseason fantasy games: If you are using the excess capital to spend elsewhere, Bridgewater might be a great cheap alternative, given that he is coming off one of his strongest months ever, highlighted by his five-touchdown-day a few weeks ago.

It’s these under the radar performances worth noting. And speaking of under the radar….

2015 Takeaways–Post Hype or No Hype always beats Hype

I think you’ll agree that the following entities were highly hyped this offseason: the entire Eagles offense, Ameer Abdullah, Melvin Gordon, Carlos Hyde, Travis Kelce, Davante Adams, and the list goes on.

Meanwhile, over in the no hype/post hype camp: Devonta Freeman, Bortles, Michael Crabtree, Travis Benjamin, and Gary Barnidge to name a few. And again, I’m cutting the list short.

Of course it’s always easy to cherry pick in hindsight. Amari Cooper for example did a pretty good job living up to the hype. Despite a high probability of Arian Foster getting injured, very few liked the other RBs on the Texans roster and they matched the low expectations. But, how much did those on the hyped list cost us FFL owners and how much did those on the second list cost?

Value is obviously important and that makes post-hype candidates superb targets. But I’m diminishing my case by only talking about value as those on the second list actually produced more than those on the hyped list regardless of draft spot.

And that is why Abdullah, Gordon, and Hyde will all be higher on my draftsheet next year than others. I even like Sam Bradford as a post-hype candidate (I’ll take 741 yards from my QB in weeks 15 and 16 anytime). If nothing else, their schedules should be softer next year which brings me to one other takeaway….

2015 Takeaways–De-Fense? De-pendably bad.

The worst three defenses this year were 49ers, Saints, and Bears respectively.

And how bad were they did during the fantasy playoffs? See below.

Team Week 14 Rank Week 15 Rank Week 16 Rank Week 17 Rank
49ers 14th 13th 30th 29th
Saints 26th 29th 19th 15th
Bears 18th 32nd 16th 22nd

 

Perhaps you might have rolled out the 49ers since they had the benefit of getting AJ McCarron’s first road start and Johnny Manziel’s return to the starting lineup by default, but those three horrible defenses were consistently bad during during the potential fantasy playoff weeks (I wasn’t going to even include week 17, but it shows the continued ineptitude).

The takeaway here of course is not that you don’t start a crappy defense. It is to point out that come playoff time, we have a good idea who the worst defenses are by that point of the season. So I wouldn’t advocate making a draft decision based upon playoff schedule, and you always hear “Start your Studs”. However, if you are torn with a last minute line-up or add/drop decision, look at the defensive matchup.

I mention this, because I made a lineup decision that could have been very costly….learn from my near mistakes! Despite facing Miami, who had allowed the second most fantasy points to RBs to that point in week 16, Gore ended up on my bench. Well, two touchdowns and 85 yards rushing later I was dreading my decision. Fortunately, my late game players made the difference, but I could have avoided a lot of anguish.

Speaking of Frank Gore….

2015 Takeaways–Old Doesn’t Mean Decrepit

Just when you think Gore is done being a fantasy asset, he puts up the aforementioned 85 yards and two touchdowns during week 16, aka fantasy super bowl week. He’s not this good you say. But look at the season stats and sure enough, there he is as the 14th best RB this year, and that includes his week 17 dud of “just” 76 rushing yards and no touchdowns. Remove that and he suddenly becomes a low end RB1—not bad for a guy you probably got in the 5th round or later. He’s not a sexy pick, but the Colts should use this offseason to upgrade their defense, which means Indy should get blown out less next season. Let’s just say I’m happy to take Frank Gore as a 5th round pick again.

But Gore is not the only old player I like. Tom Brady finished as the #2 fantasy QB and is 38. Drew Brees and Carson Palmer were born two years later and they rounded out the Top 5 QBs this year. Of course older QBs atop the fantasy rankings is nothing new and owners rarely shy away from QB because of his age.

However, I see time and time again players afraid to take a WR for example because he’s “old”. Owners were afraid to invest in the “seasoned” 31-year old Brandon Marshall whose ADP was nearly end of the fourth round while Larry Fitzgerald, the ancient 32 year old that he is, had an ADP in the 90s or the eighth round. Grabbing those two players would have burdened you with the third and seventh best wide receivers this year. And you’d have to deal with watching lousy clips like this one:

 2015 fantasy football takeaways

Just remember that when you consider two receivers who contemplated retirement this year in Steve Smith and Calvin Johnson. Okay, the former got injured, but his pace through eight games would have made him a WR1 as the 12th ranked WR and would have just beat out Calvin Johnson, who was the 12th best WR this year.

Maybe you can apply some of these takeaways as you create your postseason fantasy football team. Which reminds me, I need to go create mine. Come up with your own 2015 takeaways.

Mark Strausberg

Mark Strausberg remembers making Jerry Rice his first round selection as well as taking a flyer on a young pitcher named Doug Drabek. His Fantasy analysis has spanned multiple sports including football, baseball, basketball, and even golf. A FSWA finalist, his fantasy analysis has been featured in various outlets including but not limited to SI.com, USA Today national magazines, Yahoo! and RotoExperts.

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