1. Rankings are a guideline, not a blueprint.
The Kelly criterion is a mathematical formula that, at its roots, stresses to avoid betting the house. Even a 60-40 edge is merely an edge, thus it makes sense to wager accordingly and forego risking ruin and returning to zero altogether. With that in mind, we shouldn’t be afraid to draft worse players (or those we perceive to be worse) from time to time. Even if I truly believe Calvin Ridley outproduces A.J. Brown 10 times out of 10 this year (and I do), selecting Ridley anytime both are available in the fourth round would be putting all of my eggs in one basket and streamlining a potential catastrophe. Mixing in Brown (or Allen Robinson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Robert Woods, etc.) on occasion is clearly the safer approach, as investing in more options means alleviating risk. We shouldn’t target everyone, of course, but working from an assured pool as opposed to living and dying by rankings every time we’re on the clock allows for a wider net to be cast. All for the sake of avoiding ruin from the get-go. (Obviously an easier accomplishment in Best-Ball leagues than your classic season-long formats.)
2. Ranges matter.
This thought was admittedly poached from Davis Mattek’s piece on identifying variance, but much like the time I saw Arrival in theaters, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. As Mattek notes, Mike Williams’ (FFPC WR48, per FantasyMojo.com) “range of outcomes includes far more seasons with 10+ touchdowns or 1,000+ yards due to his average depth of target and size” compared to Jamison Crowder’s (FFPC WR44). The latter could absolutely finish with more targets (especially in an offense with the third-most targets missing from last season’s production) but ultimately has no shot of matching Williams’ output at an 80th-percentile projection. Along those same lines, Tarik Cohen (ADP RB41) may have finished as the overall RB27 in PPR leagues last year, but it’s crippling to prioritize his 10.2 fantasy points per game over Latavius Murray’s (RB46) or Tony Pollard’s (RB47) ceilings for the sake of being comfortable with a floor. If we’re looking to win (and we are), we should be drafting as such.
3. Have (more) skin in your priors.
It’s common to avoid players for a lack of confidence in their personnel or involvement, but we should be taking those beliefs a step further and positioning ourselves in the best possible spot to maximize winning if/when our priors are confirmed. Those that consider Ryan Tannehill’s career-high 7.7 percent touchdown rate from last year to be unsustainable, for example, should not only drop him in rankings but also prioritize Darrynton Evans (FFPC RB57) later on since any cliff for Tennessee’s offense would entail the rookie being thrust onto the field for his work on passing downs. Projecting Tyler Higbee (TE7), Cooper Kupp (WR17), and Robert Woods (WR18) to keep soaring off boards inside the first seven rounds? Get higher on Jared Goff (FFPC QB16). Same goes for Ben Roethlisberger, the overall QB17, who’s engineering an offense with the softest-projected schedule of any team this year while two of Pittsburgh’s receivers continue being drafted as weekly sure-fire starters. In short, you’re limiting your own ceiling by leaning on a single crutch. You can have your taek and eat it, too.
4. Weighing Week 1 is an edge.
Most will weigh strength of schedule as a whole but fail to isolate it into actionable doses. That could prove costly for this year in particular since a number of touted players are projected to open with dubious roles.
There’s a case to be made that reaching on Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB14) or Jonathan Taylor (RB18) for their alluring upside could prove profitable at season’s end, but that strategy far too often consists of depending on the player immediately (despite their questionable usage in Week 1) rather than fortifying their ceilings with successful bridge players.
The Browns won’t run the ball to David Njoku’s side of the field when Austin Hooper, the superior blocker, is lined up on the other. (Well, Freddie Kitchens might have.) On that same note, fantasy players shouldn’t leave themselves out to dry whenever usage for an individual is unequivocally suspect. Obtaining a band-aid with a reasonable opening schedule (Mark Ingram, Tevin Coleman, Sony Michel) is a simple solution that typically costs middling capital to achieve. Fantasy players would obviously have to start Edwards-Helaire over any of those options in re-draft leagues (where weekly lineup decisions are made), but it isn't out the question that one could provide insurance and trump the rookie as educated assistance in Best-Ball formats.
If high on Joe Burrow but not his nightmarish matchup against the Chargers in Week 1, gift yourself an ‘out’ with Jimmy Garoppolo, who totaled 741 yards and eight touchdowns in two games against the Cardinals (the Niners’ opening opponent) last year. Re-draft managers can also kill two birds with one stone by using Henry Ruggs’ up-tempo opener against the Panthers as both a matchup-based FLEX play and a one-week report card of his usage among Las Vegas’ new-look cast. Darren Fells (TE34) is another player that comes to mind if only because, in partaking in the annual Thursday opener against the Chiefs, the 34-year-old offers a ‘free’ look at the end of your bench, potentially saving yourself a boatload of FAAB if a multi-touchdown performance were to occur — with the only consequence being his release back to waiver wires.
Those are just a handful of examples (with numerous others untapped) that could help fortify long-term outlooks.
5. Expect more injuries.
I initially took to this offseason with the belief there would be fewer injuries given the lack of mandatory camps and activities but have since come around. The absence of team workouts will essentially force players into extended reps during the preseason, constraining cold bodies into abnormal training regimens. As Yahoo’s Andy Behrens notes, the hurry-up to return to the field following the 2011 lockout resulted in an immediate bloodbath, seeing 10 Achilles’ tendon injuries over the first 12 days once training camps opened. Players will likely face a similar schedule this year, being allotted six weeks to accomplish everything from learning each other’s names to slapping together a presentable product in time for the season opener. Fortunately, that also means ...
6. There’s never been a better time to zig.
A few of this offseason’s common tropes include drafting running backs early — as RotoViz’s Jack Miller points out, running backs have never flown off boards like they are this year — rookie wide receivers are poised to fail without organized reps, and constant harping for the same handful of players (Miles Sanders, Diontae Johnson, Adam Thielen) that will graduate from ‘sleepers’ to bullseyes in the coming weeks. All logically make sense, but they’re also common conclusions. And if it feels like an echo chamber, it’s because it is. We’re in the midst of an unprecedented hiatus, with nothing of consequence occurring on the field for at least another month, hearing similar analysis often regurgitated since, again, nothing of consequence has taken place on the field since April. The news is ongoing, and coaches are sporadically leaving tea leaves at our feet, but Denzel Mims isn’t going to usurp Breshad Perriman on Zoom.
That’s why there’s never been a better time to take on the herd.
Michael Pittman and his peers have undoubtedly experienced a unique offseason that could lead to shoddy rapport with their quarterbacks in year one, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all will stumble out the gates. That same mindset could be used to pivot away from running backs in the first five rounds, as any other approach would at least allow for distinction (especially if more injuries were to occur). Remember, the opinions we’re hearing now will only intensify until training camp since this offseason has and will continue to be evergreen until something, anything occurs. You’ll be on an island with a combatant approach, but better to be incorrect on your own than right with the masses.