So here we are. We’ve slogged our way through 4 weeks of nonstop camp updates, injury updates, and meaningless-backups-in-preseason-games updates. We’ve all made great picks at the fantasy draft table, been snaked a couple of times, and yes, probably made a bad selection (or two) as well. Voluminous quantities of Samuel Adams Octoberfest have been consumed (well, by me, anyway). We stand on the edge, the veritable night before the NFL season actually begins and the world makes sense once again.
As I was completing my final draft (our FST Expert League) I was struck by a thought: After following the preseason obsessively for the last month, what have I learned? That’s the point after all, right? Trying to gain some native intelligence we can use to demolish our fellow owners? Did we learn anything at all, or just click ‘Draft Player’ a whole bunch of times? Here are my musings on the NFL Preseason.
Rookie WRs look to be really important this year
I can’t remember a year when there were so many potential breakout rookie WRs being drafted. The entire industry generally frowns on rookie wideouts, as they have a hard time adjusting to NFL speed, playbook complexity, and the overall physicality of the game. But have you seen these new kids? Brandin Cooks looks like a bolt of lightning. Kelvin Benjamin is just massive, and looks much more polished than I expected. Mike Evans has put up some highlight reel tape against opposing starters. How about this Cody Latimer character in Denver, or Jordan Mathews in Philly, or Marquise Lee in Jacksonville?
You know I didn’t forget Sammy Watkins. The point is, the trend is to ignore rookie WR (with good reason) but I just feel like this year is different. If some of these guys are floating around your FA wire, put ‘em on your watch list – there are always some busts and overhyped guys, but I really believe there are a couple of top 25 WR lurking here.
The RB position is changing more quickly than ever
A couple years ago, the top say, 15-20 RBs taken in a fantasy draft were all workhorse backs. Guys that played all three downs, took all the punishment all year long, and you knew you could count on them to get 15+ touches every game. Not anymore! You know what I mean, too: When you’re sitting at the draft table, and someone picks Zac Stacy (RB15 off the board) you mentally go “Ah crap. All questionable RBs from here on out”. Because it’s true. Teams are investing less and less into their backs, because everyone knows the numbers on how short the NFL running backs shelf life is.
Teams are also employing RBBC (Running Back By Committee) to attempt to split up the pounding on their RB and keep them fresh. The implication here for fantasy owners is that there are now many more RB splitting up a similar (or lower) number of touches than ever before, making these split-duty guys less effective in your roster spot on Sunday. Which brings us to…
The NFL wants to be an even more pass-happy league
It won’t ever be confirmed anywhere, but it almost seems like the NFL stiffened its pass-defense penalty rules as a direct result of the physical style of defense that Seattle plays. Big physical corners, who jam the WRs at the line and beat them up all over the field. I’m looking at you, Brandon Browner. Roger Goodell hates that – He wants the 49-42 shootout overtime game, not the 23-0 beat down. Referees this preseason were calling penalties on DBs for breathing, and I expect the emphasis to continue into the regular season. Can you imagine trying to cover an NFL WR, with sub 4.4 40 time, without touching him?
Passing yards, and passing TDs, are going to go nuts this year. 4,500 yards by a QB should almost become the norm as offenses realize how high their upside is if they throw more than ever. I think this is going to happen across the board, however, leading me to believe two things: There are going to be more ‘stud’ WRs than ever, and less ‘stud’ RBs. To me, this places a massive premium on the aforementioned workhorse RB – the guy you pencil into your lineup knowing he’ll be in there on all the 3rd down, and at the goal line as well. Is that a crazy thought? In the year of the WR, the man who has the stud RB will be king.
QB has become almost as irrelevant as Kicker
(Pre-Disclaimer: I drafted a ton of Aaron Rodgers this year, so clearly my thoughts and actions didn’t match up here. I could be in a for a long season.)
Yeah, I said it. Hold on a minute though, before you shut me down. I think we can all agree there’s a top 3 tier of QBs (Manning, Brees, Rodgers) that will, on average, give you a slight advantage every week. But how about the rest? You have to down to QB17 (Carson Palmer) before you find a QB that, on average, scored less than 16 points per game. Looking down further, there are two guys that were hurt (Rodgers, Cutler) and another who was coming back from injury (Griffin III) who would have certainly eclipsed this mark with a full healthy season. In your average 10 or 12-team league, that gives us close to 20 viable QB, depending on who you talk to and who you like. Some of these guys (Rivers, Big Ben, Dalton) are going undrafted in 10-team leagues! Since they’re all mostly the same (save an elite few), it seems like it almost doesn’t matter who you grab! Sort of like….Kicker!
(Post-Disclaimer: I’m actively trying to trade Rodgers for a king’s ransom in all leagues. So far, it isn’t going well.)
Streaming defenses: Pros vs. Cons
I’m generally a big proponent of the streaming defenses approach. If you look at the year-to-year values of D/STs, about the only thing you can really glean is that Seattle is very steady, and as for the rest, change at the top is the rule as opposed to the aberration. On top of that, there are 32, and only 10-14 will actually be owned in any given week, so you have plenty of options. But here’s what I’m thinking about: Is this the fantasy year where the solid defensive units really begin to separate themselves, fantasy-wise?
I feel like offense is going to wild this year, and with the way that D/ST scoring is set up, higher points totals against mean lower D/ST scores. I suppose you could say throwing more will marginally lead to a higher rate of interceptions, but perhaps not with the new penalty situation in place. If you take that a step further, do you really want to stream defenses this year if it means that instead of a standard 6-7-8 points you want from your streaming defense, you’re going to get 3-4-5 (or less) instead? Yeah, you get to grab a depth / flier guy instead of a top 10 D/ST in round 12/13, but don’t you end up cutting most of those guys by week 3 anyway?
There were 7 D/ST last year that averaged over 10 points per game, and you guessed it, exactly 10 D/ST that averaged over 9 points per game. The drop-off after that is sharp. In a game where you’re trying to find just a tiny bit of value that will separate your team from the pack, could we be ignoring a potential advantage point in order to grab a WR7? I’m not sure, but I think it’s an interesting thought, and one that I’ll be watching as the season progresses.
Thanks for reading my novel, folks. If you want to discuss any of this further, reply at the bottom (I will respond) or check us out on the FST Fantasy Football Forum. Good night, and good luck!