2018 Fantasy Takeaways: Top lessons, mistakes and fads to come

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Whether you’re basking in glory or wallowing in defeat, the 2018 fantasy season is officially in the books. Because owner minds never rest, the Yahoo Fantasy crew looks back one last time and then ahead to what the New Year may hold. Today, we’re tackling 2018’s top lessons, mistakes and fads to come next season.

What was your biggest fantasy lesson in 2018, whether it’s tied to drafting, in-season moves or otherwise?

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Andy: Once again, we saw second-year quarterbacks make huge leaps in performance and/or deliver value for fantasy owners. Patrick Mahomes was almost unfair throughout 2018, Deshaun Watson gave us a terrific sophomore campaign, and Mitchell Trubisky was stunningly useful.

A key to team success in today’s NFL is to get extreme value from quarterbacks on rookie contracts. Next season, there’s a very good chance we’ll see either Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold (or both) produce QB1-level numbers. 

Dalton: I’m going to stop being so ageist when it comes to running backs. Adrian Peterson finished fifth in the NFL in carries, while 35-year-old Frank Gore remained a feature back most of the season, and LeSean McCoy wouldn’t go away. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to suddenly draft 30+ year old running backs, but I need to stop being so flippant, expecting them to give way so easily, with medical advancements.

Matt: More than ever, 2018 reminded us that running back production is so deeply tied to situation and coaching decisions. The great David Johnson was gaged in a miserable offense down in Arizona with a coaching staff that could never figure out how to use him, despite the 2016 season offering an optimal example. Popular breakout candidate Kenyan Drake was never deployed as a feature back, just as Adam Gase alluded he never would be all offseason.

I was out on Joe Mixon this year and he made that prediction look foolish as he was the only game in town. Royce Freeman was quickly made irrelevant as the coaches’ eyes fell for fellow rookie Phillip Lindsay. My philosophy of being a running back talent agnostic leads to its fair share of pitfalls, as all theories will in this volatile sport, but I’ll continue to believe situation is the first thing we must consider when analyzing this position.

What mistake do you regret in 2018 that you won’t be repeating next season?

Dalton: I regret not taking preseason usage more seriously and in particular, not moving Christian McCaffrey up my rankings more. Deciphering coach speak can be tough, but given Carolina’s words and actions (CMC dominated preseason snaps), it was clear the Panthers were going to give him a ton of touches. My fantasy teams really suffered from missing McCaffrey shares, and I won’t be overlooking preseason usage moving forward as a result. 

Matt: Not having a more concentrated portfolio of targets in the draft. All my good 2018 teams had a similar combination of players. Diversity is nice, especially when you do an unreasonable amount of drafts all offseason. However, if you have a strong feeling about a handful of players that will vastly out-kick their draft cost and they end up hitting, you’re more likely to build the juggernaut needed to take down first place. And honestly, who the hell cares about getting fifth?

You win, or you fade into meaningless fantasy obscurity. I wish I had more Mahomes, Lockett, McCaffrey and Kittle teams. Those were primary targets of mine in drafts this past season but I should have been more confident in those predictions and made sure my redraft teams were at 75 percent or greater exposure. The draft is overrated anyway; hitting on waivers and making good lineup choices are more important factors in a championship. So you might as well leave the room with the players you are most confident in.

If you had Christian McCaffrey on one of your 2018 fantasy teams, you probably had a successful season. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
If you had Christian McCaffrey on one of your 2018 fantasy teams, you probably had a successful season. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Andy: I had a relatively successful fantasy season, so I can’t say I have a laundry list of complaints. But I do regret not owning more Christian McCaffrey shares in season-long leagues (I repeatedly chose Hunt when McCaffrey would have been the more profitable pick; for a little while, it seemed as if I’d made the right choice).

CMC’s year was obviously phenomenal, as he demonstrated that he can handle 330-plus touches with no elevated injury risk. He carved out a significant goal line role, too. McCaffrey has a clear shot at a 1000/1000 season in 2019.

What’s going to be the big draft fad in 2019 that people should think twice about?

Matt: Selling out to draft a tight end high. I get it; the position is the stone worst among the big-four in fantasy. Its unpredictable nature will certainly lead to owners ready and willing to pay up for All-Stars like Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and George Kittle. If you lose that sweepstake, fear not. We still saw a handful of late round tight ends emerge to be, for the most part, every-week starts.

Jared Cook and Eric Ebron benefitted greatly from changing conditions and were the TE5 and 4, respectively. The great Kittle himself was a double-digit round pick. It’s excruciating to think about it now, but there will be a small handful of late round or waiver tight ends who emerge as big-time players in 2019. We’ll debate who they are later but just don’t assume you have to leave the draft with one of those tight ends — or your season is sunk before you cast-off.

Andy: Patrick Mahomes was a fantasy league winner in 2018; an absolute revelation. I have nothing bad to say about him. But when you read the first piece from a fantasy tout suggesting that he needs to be selected in the first round — or perhaps first overall — the only appropriate reaction is to roll your eyes and recognize that we’ve been down this path many times.

Drafting a QB in the first round wasn’t a good idea when we did it with Kordell Stewart or Daunte Culpepper or Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Michael Vick or Andrew Luck or Manning (again).

Even if you’re convinced Mahomes is actually the single greatest player in the history of his position, you still have to realize that he is not going to consistently produce a TD rate anywhere near 8.6 percent, nor will he consistently average anything close to 9.0 yards per attempt. Those things simply don’t happen consistently, year after year, for any player. Mahomes will enter 2019 as the consensus No. 1 fantasy QB, but it would be a massive mistake to assume he’ll again outscore the No. 2 player at his position by 4-6 points per week. 

Dalton: With two good responses above, I’m not left with a ton of options, but if taking wide receivers with your first few picks (and not running backs) becomes a thing again, I won’t be part of it. Even in a pass-happy NFL landscape that just set a record for league-wide YPA, running backs will remain the position to choose for your early round picks.

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