Embed from Getty Images

Four Fantasy Football Factors for Draft Day
There are a lot of different strategies to drafting players for your Fantasy Football team.  You can look at player rankings, create and run metrics, or read up on players and what makes them pop or drop.  In baseball, it's called sabremetrics.  Look at how many homeruns your team needs to score to win and build your team around that.  In basketball, there are 82 games and each player has their own playing style, so there are enough games to draft off of a player's statistical averages.  Football in general is a bit different.  There are only 13 games in the regular season of fantasy football and a player's performance doesn't depend only on his own will to win.  His productivity also depends on the performance of his team.  Hopefully, this piece will give you some food for thought before your draft, and give you the edge in your Fantasy Football league.

The importance of an offensive line cannot be more stressed.  They have one job: block.  They need to keep the pocket clean so the QB can throw clean passes, get downfield to protect the receiver on short screens, or open up running lanes.  If the offensive line doesn't do its job, quarterbacks can't throw, receivers can't catch passes that the QB doesn't throw, and running backs don't have room to run.  Flashback to October 3, 2010, Chicago Bears at New York Giants.  Cutler got hung out to dry when the game plan asked him to take 7-step drops and air it out in a timing-based offense.  Michael Strahan and company "spot-rush" (meaning they attack a certain spot on the field knowing the quarterback will be there) Jay Cutler, sacking him 9 times.  Cutler left the game with a concussion.  An argument can be made for the successes of Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Aaron Rogers, and Ty Montgomery, but these are the exceptions where the player fits the system (we'll get to that later on).  Unfortunately, players like Andrew Luck, Matt Stafford, and Sam Bradford struggled and/or took a beating when their offensive lines could not protect them.  Mike Wallace made his money because his offensive line gave him time to get downfield and gave Big Ben time to throw.  He's struggled these last few seasons because his quarterbacks are on the ground by the time he gets downfield.
Pro-Bowlers Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson were also major fantasy disappointments in 2016.  Peterson got hurt, and both struggled to find running room because they ran behind two of the worst offensive lines in the NFL in 2016. 
If a QB and wide receiver are not on the same page, they will not be productive.  The 2016 campaign of Sam Bradford and Adam Thielen illustrate this point nicely.  Stefon Diggs was on his way to superstardom after a successful 2015 season.  Unfortunately, Teddy Bridgewater suffered a season-ending injury during the 2016 preseason and Diggs didn't necessarily live up to fantasy expectations after Bradford took snaps under center.  Another example is Brian Hoyer and Cam Meredith.  After Cutler got hurt, Alshon Jeffery saw a slump in production.  Meredith became the Bears' leading receiver in 2016 because he was Hoyer's preferred target.  Golden Tate was listed as number one on the depth chart, but life without Megatron took some getting used to.  Stafford and Tate finally got on the same page during the second half of the 2016 season.  Tate became fantasy-relevant and rewarded patient owners with some nice numbers and playoff berths.  Coby Fleener was supposed to be the Saints' new downfield threat and Jimmy Graham's replacement.  Instead, he struggled to learn the system and never quite clicked with Drew Brees.  Cooks and Thomas became targets of opportunity.  
This often gets overlooked.  A player could be an offensive juggernaut the year before, but he won't be successful if he plays in a system that doesn't feature his skillsets.  For example, if you get a burner wideout that takes the top off of defenses, he probably won't be successful in a dink and dunk system, or in a system that has a QB with a weak arm.  If you get a running back who needs a slight runway to get moving, he might struggle a bit in a zone or option scheme.  This is what happened to DeMarco Murray in Philly.  He was a force to be reckoned with as a Cowboy.  His struggles as an Eagle came out of nowhere.  What happened?  Well, his running style didn't suit the zone run option-based offense.  He struggled to get to the edge, and gaps just didn't open up for him.  Moreover, the Eagles used Chip-Kelly's option-based, uptempo scheme that just didn't fit Murray's running style.  Fortunately, Murray played (and currently plays) in an "exotic smashmouth" system which has allowed him to return to form.  
One would think that Jeremy Maclin rejoining Andy Reid as the featured receiver in a familiar system means that Maclin would have a career-best year.  If you hung onto the "start your studs" mantra, Maclin probably cost you your season.  Reid ran a very conservative dink and dunk offense that worked in favor of players like Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware, Tyreek Hill, and QB Alex Smith.  Maclin was seldom used to stretch the field, so his fantasy numbers suffered.  
On the flip side, Wilson and Rogers are both mobile quarterbacks who play "schoolyard ball."  Both play in systems filled with running and receiving options, and they can find the open man to throw to.  Their receivers know how to get open and/or come back and help out their quarterback.  
One could say that coaching affects the performance of any team or individual player. However, the best ones always adjust like a prize fighter reacting to his opponent's punches.  Every player and every team has weakness, big and/or small, whether it's how a wideout breaks coverage, a QB throws off his back foot, a secondary can't cover deep, or a coach that falls into their own habits during certain game situations.  Fantasy players will succeed if their coaches put them in a position to do so.  Tom Brady has been an elite quarterback for over a decade now partially due to the fact that the Patriots run five different offensive schemes.  Their players aren't elite all-around athletes (Brady once said "so this is what it's like to have tall receivers") but they play their roles well.  Having 5 offensive schemes to choose from allows them to take what the defense gives them.  Yes, some of the Pats' wins are controversial, but there's no denying that they're well-coached.  

No comments:

Post a Comment