What lessons can we learn from Fantasy Football MVPs of 2017?

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/teams/kan/" data-ylk="slk:Kansas City Chiefs">Kansas City Chiefs</a> receiver <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/29399/" data-ylk="slk:Tyreek Hill">Tyreek Hill</a> is among the players most commonly associated with winning fantasy teams. (EFE/EPA/LARRY W. SMITH)
Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill is among the players most commonly associated with winning fantasy teams. (EFE/EPA/LARRY W. SMITH)

Looking at the Yahoo Fantasy MVPs, the players “who appear most often in the top 500 public league teams,” some patterns emerge.

But before we dive in, to clarify we aren’t looking to cover every player since some stories are obvious. The emergence of rookies Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara has been a fantasy boon. The same goes for Todd Gurley’s turnaround season. And while top picks like David Johnson and Odell Beckham Jr. saw their seasons cut way too short, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown (up until Week 15’s unfortunate injury) delivered on expectations.

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With that out of the way, the first one that jumps out at me is the Jacksonville Jaguars defense, owned by 25% of these top teams. Note Baltimore’s defense is just behind that at 23%. So should we back away from the more conventional method (one that I subscribe to) of streaming defenses based largely on the quality of the offense they are facing?

A key to this approach is the understanding that generally, offense is more in control of outcomes in offense vs. defense matchups than the defense. Think of it as about 60/40 offense. But of course there are exceptions that do not disprove this rule. If you see the 1985 Bears or maybe the 2017 Jaguars, you try to get them on your roster off of waivers and then hold them and, gasp, maybe even hold them through their bye.

But what makes these defenses predictable? Sacks are the least random thing about a fantasy defense. Jacksonville is at 11.1% and well above second-place Pittsburgh (9.5%). From this comes fumbles (18% of all sacks result in one) and rushed throws that have a greater likelihood of turning into a pick.

TAKEAWAY: I still plan to stream defenses next year since very few could have predicted the Jacksonville defense was going to be this kind of fantasy monster. But when they land on your roster, be flexible about keeping them.

A receiver who stands out is Tyreek Hill at 19.2%, above Adam Thielen (17.2%), who has been long (and widely) praised this year as a “right answer,” championship-making player. However, it’s Hill who is averaging over 11 yards per target on 98 targets with seven TDs. I was very late to Hill this summer, turning to a buyer only the last week of preseason based on effusive praise from opposing players. Since there is no reason for opposing players to go out of their way to say how good a guy on another team is, respect this. Talent knows talent.

TAKEAWAY: Most importantly, environment is a huge key to success. The Chiefs have elite players at the line of scrimmage in Hunt (who many of us thought in the aftermath of Spencer Ware’s injury would be very good-to-great), TE Travis Kelce in the seam/intermediate zone and Hill over the top of the defense. You never know which thing the opposing defense will focus on in a game or series or even play to play. Hill is very good at converting his opportunities because he runs through deep passes and races into the end zone with the ball rather than leaving his feet in over-eagerness to just make the catch, which most deep-threat wide receivers do.

Josh Gordon is at 15.4%, but why? He hasn’t done much. My theory is he correlates to a very engaged and forward-thinking owner. So it’s not about Gordon but rather the type of owner who would generally proactively roster Gordon.

TAKEAWAY: This shows aggressiveness on the waiver wire, looking to make a league-winning move. So assume more moves were made with the thought of what could go right, not what can go wrong.

Russell Wilson is at 32.4% due to a completely fluky share of touchdowns on an offense that has problems, as many expected in August. But the TAKEAWAY here is the lack of QBs after Wilson and Carson Wentz (22.2%) with Cam Newton the next in line (11.8%). QBs just don’t matter that much. So don’t sweat them in your draft preparation unless you are playing in a very deep or super-flex league.

TAKEAWAY: QBs should never be a summer focus and you should never pay a premium price for one. Remember, the key with QBs is that variance is relatively low because all QBs get great opportunities to score points. So the pool of top 10 fantasy quarterbacks is always going to be 15 or 17 players deep. Try to give yourself a chance to get lucky.

Jarvis Landry at 10.4% has gotten tremendous target volume with a number of different quarterbacks and there really was no good reason to think this would change with Jay Cutler, and it has not. Also, with no obvious red zone target in Miami, Landry’s touchdown ceiling was too bearish. He was in the 4-to-8 range, most reasonably, vs. the standard projection of four. Plus, half-point PPR allows him to make up touchdown ground on a lot of WRs.

TAKEAWAY: Landry is owned by the person who does not subscribe to the herd mentality on a player like Landry, historically productive and in the prime of his career but still seeing value inexplicably sinking like a stone as draft day approached.

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