Here is the first 2020 Draft Kit post. It covers my two primary fantasy football talent acquisition rules.
Fantasy football talent acquisition rules
Rule No. 1 - Talent is plentiful and you can always upgrade your team
An underlying mindset in every edition of my draft guide series stems from something Tony Dungy once said: More NFL games are lost rather than won.
This can be interpreted in many ways but what Dungy meant in a general sense is that turnovers, physical mistakes, unforced mental errors, and other gaffes tend to decide the outcome of well over half of football games. Dungy knew that avoiding these errors was paramount in getting a team on a winning path.
So how do we apply this to fantasy football? These contests are usually won by fantasy managers who do the best job of talent acquisition, so it starts with finding ways to keep from losing this part of the battle.
One way to do this is to realize just how much talent is actually available to fantasy managers. A baseball reference provides some useful insight here.
Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack won five World Series and more baseball games than any skipper in MLB history in part because he figured out just how much replacement level talent was available to his club.
Major league players in that era aimed to protect their jobs by convincing front office personnel, the press, and fans that MLB-caliber talent was very rare and hard to find. Mack looked into this and eventually realized that a significant percentage of major league players were readily replaced by minor league talents.
Once Mack came to that conclusion, it allowed him to approach team building in an entirely different and much more confident fashion. Mack knew that elite players were few and far between and worth the effort to acquire, but a large percentage of the rest of the team’s roster could be substituted with a modicum of effort.
Fantasy managers should take the same mindset with a large portion of their rosters. The blue-rated players like Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, and Christian McCaffrey are very difficult to find, but the large majority of the rest of a fantasy football roster is made up of players that are much easier to acquire via draft, trade, waivers, or free agency.
This may seem obvious to some fantasy managers, but it should have seemed just as apparent in Mack’s day and yet many other MLB teams did not understand this and made personnel moves under the premise that major league talent was every bit as rare as the big league players wanted them to think it was.
Most fantasy leagues operate in much the same way. Some managers will start to complain about a lack of talent once the draft hits the midway point, but savvy fantasy managers who have done their homework will know that there is still plenty of value to be gained in the later rounds and in the post-draft waiver/free agent transactions. They will be fully prepared to use this knowledge disparity to their advantage and tap into talent reservoirs that many other managers in the room don’t even know exist.
That is why my Draft Guides have always concentrated on identifying high percentage candidates. Building a roster with players of that caliber vastly increases the odds that a fantasy manager's squad will stay in contention under most circumstances.
Rule No. 2 - Don’t have any Doug Flynns on your fantasy roster
It’s not just a matter of knowing that talent is available, as apathy in this area can ruin a fantasy team’s championship aspirations.
Let’s consider another baseball analogy to highlight this point.
The late 1970s/early 1980s Montreal Expos might have been the most talented MLB team in that era. They boasted three Hall of Famer players (Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, and Tim Raines), a Hall of Fame manager (Dick Williams), and one of the best starting pitchers in the National League (five-time All-Star Steve Rogers) and yet only made the playoffs one time and never made it past the divisional round.
So why didn’t they capitalize on this elite personnel opportunity? As Bill James pointed out in one of his classic Baseball Abstracts, it was because the Expos didn’t realize the damage that someone like Doug Flynn could do to a roster.
Flynn did win a Gold Glove in his career, so his fielding was solid, but Flynn was so bad at the plate that, per baseball-reference.com, in 1983 he posted an atrocious minus-27.9 in the site’s Adjusted Batting Runs metric. That figure was so damaging that it nearly offset the 28.6 Adjusted Batting Runs posted by Raines that year in what was arguably the best season of his career.
There was no need for the Expos to settle for the performance that Flynn gave them, as there were higher percentage fill-in players available that would have provided batting totals that didn’t nullify a Hall of Famer’s best season and might have helped keep Montreal from finishing eight games out of first place in the NL East Division.
The lesson to be taken here is don’t ever be satisfied with the quality of your roster. Complacency is your enemy here, because if players of the level of a Doug Flynn end up in your lineup, they can cost your club fantasy wins in a hurry.
For those who don’t think it can happen, consider a fantasy football manager who has to auto draft late and ends up with Cole Beasley as a WR6 in a 12-team league (which is entirely possible given his current ADP in many leagues).
At first glance Beasley might seem like a solid candidate. He saw 106 targets last year and has a reasonable chance of posting another triple-digit target volume given his place in the Bills passing offense. Beasley did score six touchdowns last year and has averaged 4+ receptions per game in three of the past four seasons. Why not just keep him on the roster and hope that the TD total repeats?
That’s the kind of flawed mindset that kept Flynn on major league rosters for over a decade. Consider the huge volume of negatives for Beasley.
The addition of Stefon Diggs will move Beasley from second to third on the Bills passing target priority list. Last year was Beasley’s first 100+ target season and his TD total was a career high, so both of those areas are likely regression candidates. Beasley has a low matchup points total (33 out of 100) and is a dink-dunk WR on a low-powered, run-first offense Buffalo offense that likely won’t be getting into too many high scoring contests. Add those to this being Beasley’s age-31 season and it shows that he is a classic Doug Flynn-candidate who, to quote the famous Bill Walsh phrase, is just good enough to get your team beaten.
You can and should find higher percentage candidates to fill out the bottom of your roster and as the WR cheat sheet page from the 2020 Draft Guide listed above highlights, an aggressive fantasy manager will be able to find multiple WR6 candidates that are better percentage plays with higher upside ceilings than Beasley has to offer.
That type of move by itself certainly won't win leagues, but do enough of those upgrades at every level and they will add up to markedly improved fantasy football teams.