Trying to find lessons in fantasy analyst's disappointing 2018

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/30123/" data-ylk="slk:Patrick Mahomes">Patrick Mahomes</a> was one of Fantasy Football’s right answers in 2018 (AP)
Patrick Mahomes was one of Fantasy Football’s right answers in 2018 (AP)

My fantasy football playing experience dates back to the early 1990s, and I’ve noticed some personal patterns over that time.

Most of the time, for me, September is about survival. Then October, when adjustments settle in, is usually a terrific month. November you get into position to get into position, and then in December, a few bounces willing, you take down some cake.

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So I really didn’t know what to think when September 2018 turned into my best September ever. I was in first or close to first in a ridiculous amount of leagues, and even my MFL portfolio was 90 percent filled with Top 3 teams. The Darts were clicking at a strong rate. I took it all in stride, of course; no one wins a trophy in September. But it was a fun feeling, for as long as it lasted.

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I don’t know if I let my guard down somewhere, but I’ve been hit by some uppercuts since. Two of my highest-scoring teams were upset in the playoffs last week (both of my teams had their lowest scores of the season). My two entries in the 396-pick best-ball league, which ran so well in September, fell into slumps and injuries. I continued to pound the waiver wire for front-door and secondary pickups for my seasonal leagues, but didn’t hit on enough guys to make a difference. It’s possible I won’t win any of my seasonal leagues this year.

September’s fast start doesn’t mean much now; even with a likely MFL profit and a few other contending teams, I’m going to be close to a break even this year. Yikes, I might even lose money. (Was it something I did? Was it something you said?)

Anyway, it was Wednesday morning, I was having a bagel and some caffeine, and the question popped into my head. Did I learn anything? What should I have done differently? What’s the takeaway here?

I’m still fleshing all of this out, so take it with the requisite grain of salt. But I can’t help but muse like Mike Damone once did — “Woke up in a great mood, and I don’t know what the hell happened.”

2018 fantasy self-evaluation

— I wonder if I’ve become too agnostic in my draft process, too willing to take values where they show and not as focused on getting players I want to proactively draft. In Fantasy Baseball, it’s more an accumulation of good things that lead to a fantasy title. It doesn’t take many big bounces to swing a Fantasy Football season.

I had a see-the-light moment on Tyreek Hill in the preseason and made him a target player, and he was on several of my stronger teams. But for some reason I didn’t do the same thing with Patrick Mahomes — and Mahomes would have been a lot easier to get if I had him prioritized.

The answer to most fantasy questions is “it depends” and “it’s all contextual” and you know how that goes. And I still want a sturdy floor player with my first-round pick. But next year I’m going to shift to upside quicker, and give more weight to taking what I want, not what others do not (because the value is so good).

— I need to decide what I want to do with NFL game rewatching. There’s been years where I rewatched every game every week, but in an effort to get it complete, I wonder if I left too much detail unexamined. This year I’ve been more particular with my watching, but it’s exhaustive if you’re going to review plays several times. And how much does this help my evaluation process in the first place?

— I know I need to be more focused on NFL Sundays, which is not easy. I found myself checking in-progress scores far too early this year, and trying to land 15 planes at once when it just leads to a scattered experience. I need a more streamlined game-day routine next year.

— I did most of my lineup walkthroughs and DFS lineup setting on Sunday morning, which made that a very crowded day. I think I need to go back to making that a Saturday/Sunday split, for better flow and workload management.

— I underestimated what Freddy Kitchens could do for the Cleveland offense. I could also fairly say I was a quick adopter to Kitchens, but by then, it was too late to do actionable things about it — at least in my leagues.

— I kept trying to be open minded to a sleeper on the Jets, when the entire team was asleep.

— I was underweight on Rob Gronkowski this year, but I regret having any of him. He’s an attrition player, the type of player who often doesn’t age well. And he’s the type of battering ram I’d prefer to fade a year early rather than a year late.

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/teams/nwe" data-ylk="slk:New England Patriots">New England Patriots</a> tight end Rob Gronkowski is a player to stay away from in drafts next season. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is a player to stay away from in drafts next season. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

— I could have been proactive about Josh Allen’s return, a nod to his athleticism and his willingness to run. I understand the importance of minding the gap between real-life and fantasy value, but there was an opportunity here that I missed.

— I regret ever expecting Kirk Cousins to play well against a good opponent. Maybe he’s just Andy Dalton 2.0 and I need to accept it.

— I regret taking too many “boring value tight ends” on my Colorado best-ball teams, where there are no roster requirements. That position has too high of an injury rate.

— I thought Le’Veon Bell would come back but was lucky to avoid his slot most of the time. Whatever you asked me on Bell in the summer, I’m sure I told you the wrong thing. I liked James Conner just fine and have some — I probably made a profit on him. But he would have been a terrific player to be fully in on.

— I need to reevaluate Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan, two coaches I was petrified of in the summer. In one key league, I went with Alvin Kamara over Ezekiel Elliott, a mistake. Granted, I don’t know how I could see ahead of time that Dallas would finally be proactive throwing the ball to Zeke, but it’s made a huge difference. And Garrett and Linehan have turned Amari Cooper into a star again, an instant transformation I saw as an impossibility.

— Too many times in DFS, I fell for the siren song of the cheap, opportunity-boosted running back. The rare bell cows have lofty floors and are essential building blocks. Paying down is more reasonable at other positions.

— I was pro-Melvin Gordon and that goes down as mostly a win, but I should have seen that pro-Gordon did not necessarily block fantasy value from Austin Ekeler.

— It was a weird year from Chicago, where Matt Nagy looks like a winning hire but the usage tree is super-wide and the skill position guys are hard to trust weekly.

— I have a lot of George Kittle, definitely over average on that one. I can’t see how anyone could have all the Kittle, he was too revered in the summer. This would be a crowded victory lap. At least it underscores that the important angle from Kittle’s rookie year was his production down the stretch, not his snap counts. Maybe you can’t always assume rational coaching, but I’ll assume it with Kyle Shanahan.

— This was the last time we could get JuJu Smith-Schuster for a discount, and I have very little of him. I felt like I liked him enough in the summer, some players just don’t slot to you in the early rounds. But this could be a case where I needed to be target-driven and be willing to go out and get someone.

— At least Injury Optimism was fairly reliable again. Doug Baldwin was a must avoid in the summer when his price hardly budged, and he’s done almost nothing. All the injury-tagged Eagles were inconsistent, if not complete flops. Andrew Luck is the converse of this, though I think he’s in a slightly different category.

— Cooper Kupp was one of my better portfolio hits, and sorely missed down the stretch.

— Adam Gase can’t be trusted to mobilize his best players. It’s funny that Kenny Stills and Kenyan Drake were both involved in Week 14’s miracle, because they were criminally underused during the season.

— The Fade List was sharp again, but that’s not good enough. You can’t “power fade” your way to the winner’s circle. You need to hit on players, too. You can’t just make 18 pars like Nick Faldo.

This list is a work in progress. I might add to it. I might tear it up. And in approximately 24 hours, I’ll be setting some more lineups. Let’s make good decisions tomorrow.

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