How do you define a fantasy season? What is success?
I think I’ve had a good year. Six of my seven traditional teams made the playoffs; the collective qualification rate in those pools is around 45 percent. I made the Fish Bowl and Razz Bowl playoffs. That’s good. Of course, none of those six seasonal teams won a title, and I didn’t hang long in the Fish and Razz playoffs. That stung.
Perhaps some of that poor timing was paid back to me in the Best Ball world, where I somehow won 5-of-11 leagues I signed up for. My participation in Best Ball was way down, though — Covid and all (normally I’d grab about 25-to-40 teams). I ran well at the end of the year, moving up in a couple of leagues in Week 16. That’s fortunate. Book the win.
My Darts (against the spread picks) have sucked, the second losing year in a decade. That’s bad. You have no idea how much that frustrates me. But I’m likely cash in two other handicapping things, where we pick all the games. So that’s good. Bottom line, I’ll make a fantasy profit in 2020, and that’s always fine with me. A few seasonal and award props are going to click, too.
I’m not sure there are a bunch of common threads to my better teams, and even if I could easily recognize them, I’m not sure you want to hear about them. “Where I screwed up” seems to play better to me than “Where I nailed it” — especially if we can get a learning moment from the whole process. So let’s see if I can figure out what mistakes I made, and how to spin them forward.
The good news in this fantasy racket, overall, is that you can be wrong a fair amount and still make a profit or have a successful year, however you define that. You just need to be a little more right than the average bear in your league, and stay the course with a good process.
Enough with the preamble. Let’s try to learn something from my 2020 messes.
Strike 1: I wanted no part of Stefon Diggs and DeAndre Hopkins
This is the glaring screw-up from my 2020 resume, the biggest mistake, the most costly decision. I was worried that Hopkins and Diggs would need significant onboard time in their new cities, and not confident things would be smooth in the awkward preamble to the season.
At least this was a beat-the-traffic special — it revealed itself as wrong right away. Hopkins threw 14 catches at the Niners in Week 1. Diggs might wind up on the All-Pro team, where only two wideouts qualify. But by that point, it was too late. Someone else sailed to glory, and I had to sit it out.
My longtime friend Michael Salfino has a theory on why receivers often struggle initially with new teams — loosely paraphrased, it’s because the team-jumper is asked to jump one rung in importance. A third receiver might be miscast as a No. 2, a secondary target might be the presumed alpha on his new team. When the move is lateral, according to Mike, it’s not a big deal.
I think Salfino's right. It’s certainly not a perfect frame — wake me when Odell Beckham Jr. clicks in Cleveland — but it would have steered you to Hopkins and Diggs.
A funny thing about Diggs, one reason why I avoided him (despite his route-running chops) was tied to Josh Allen’s erratic accuracy through two years. And yes, I still landed a bunch of Allen, because I liked his fantasy draft price and his stance as Buffalo’s de-facto goal-line back. It can be argued I was right on Allen but for the wrong reasons. I certainly didn’t see him taking a major step forward, which he has — if the NFL had tiered MVP voting, Allen would finish third.
Speaking of Allen and his game, let’s jump into the second regret . . .
Strike 2: I didn’t proactively draft enough running-threat quarterbacks
The value of the running fantasy quarterback, that’s nothing new. I’ve shrugged for 20 years and said, “It’s just algebra.” Industry pillar Rich Hribar has offered the pithiest packaging, referring to a running quarterback as the “Konami Code” — a cheat code. Anyone with a whit of fantasy experience has picked up on the utility here.
And yet, somehow, I wound up with a bunch of non-running or medium-running quarterbacks on my teams. I let others step up for Kyler Murray — correct, in retrospect — while I felt sharp for letting Russell Wilson cook on my teams. Wilson still has occasional rushing juice, and he was a blast for about two-thirds of the year, but he’s finished poorly (perhaps not all his fault) and he was unquestionably a mistake versus Murray.
Boring value on Matt Ryan? I scooped it up. That’s a bogey. Maybe Tom Brady was a par at discounted draft prices, but he also has little rushing upside, save for the occasional sneak touchdown.
I went into the season open-minded to running quarterbacks, but I’m not sure I prioritized it enough. That goes down as a mistake. Now, I want to correct this, of course, but then again, if the market seeks a major correction, maybe I’ll try to live in the Ryan Tannehill area, a pass-first quarterback who still has some rushing equity. We don’t need to lock in on 2021 things right this minute.
Strike 3: I landed zero Travis Kelce shares
There are dozens of ways to say it: Kelce has been one of the seismic difference-markers in the 2020 fantasy season. The margin between Kelce at TE1 and Robert Tonyan at TE3 is roughly the same as the drop from Tonyan to Nick Vannett, the TE64. Good old Nick has 14 catches, 95 yards, and a touchdown. Kelce was a key driver to many fantasy championships.
I don’t have Kelce anywhere. I’ve been a big fan for years and usually have some shares, but I’m bageled this year. This has not been fun.
Was it realistic to see Kelce putting a career year together at age 31? Perhaps not. The Chiefs have also gone to a much more narrow usage tree this year; only three players have consistently made fantasy managers happy this year. Maybe you could get to that ahead of time, maybe not.
But my main reason for avoiding Kelce was that I wanted to tee up Mark Andrews a few rounds later. I thought he’d see a bump in opportunity with Hayden Hurst gone (hasn’t happened at all), and although I expected some passing regression from Lamar Jackson, I didn’t think he’d be a problem (for several weeks, he actually was a problem, though lately, Baltimore looks terrific).
I got Andrews wrong. And even if Kelce played closer to his career average, he would have been a valid draft investment. I also think that my salary-cap teams (where you divvy players by salary offers, not snake drafting) probably needed to pay an eyelash more attention to a stars-and-scrubs build.
Before we exit tight end, let me say one last thing: I’ve seen some respected pundits (many of them good friends of mine) suggest we nix the tight end position in future years. I think that’s a mistake. While I’m always banging the drum for more flexes, and I’m also open-minded to scoring reform at DST (and if you want to delete defenses, that’s okay too), I like tight end as a position. It’s just an unusual position. We need to solve it. This is actually a good thing, not a bad thing, even as 2020 was a horrible year for the group.
Strike 4: I faded Deshaun Watson and Will Fuller
I made it clear before the year that my Watson fade was a case of loving the player, hating the setup. Hopkins, of course, was gone. I didn’t trust Bill O’Brien. I thought the Texans might have taken on damaged goods in Brandin Cooks.
I was right on O’Brien, of course, but he was sacked early. Cooks wound up being fine. And I grossly miscalculated what a healthy and present Fuller can do for an offense. (Again, my fade was never a knock on Watson, it was a knock on his help.)
Fuller got through Week 12 before his suspension, but he goes down as an enormous fantasy profit, a 53-879-8 smash. He was useful in 9 of his starts, a very high hit rate. Watson also retained his proactive running style, and seemed unfazed by the turmoil around him.
I think I was too focused on what could have gone wrong for Watson this year. I should have focused on what could go right. And he only needed a few months of an engaged Fuller to make a big impact — and heck, Watson has still been solid (average week: QB7) since Fuller departed.
There are more screw-ups in the file, but eventually, you have to hit send. Catch me on Twitter, let’s have a chat.