“This game’s over.”

That was my tweet at 7:44 PM EST Super Bowl Sunday as the Falcons pulled out to a 21-0 lead.

I’m not that naïve/stupid enough to truly believe the game was 100% over, but that was my way of saying the Pats were in big, big trouble. And when the Falcons scored another TD in the third quarter, still confident in my position, I tweeted the following:

“This game’s still over.”

In case you missed it, the game was not over.

Granted, making bold NFL predictions is a hobby of mine, and it took arguably the greatest comeback in NFL history for me to be wrong, but I was taught yet another lesson in Super Bowl 51, as my continuing education of the National Football League rolls through its third decade. Honestly, I wasn’t that surprised to be proven wrong because it was not only the NFL in play, it was the Patriots. I’ve long said that there’s a correlation between their dominance against opponents and my inability to consistently project and predict what they will do. If I ever get to the point at which I’m able to accurately predict how the Patriots will play – their RB usage, their run-pass ratio, how they use their DBs, etc. – then I can probably stop writing this article every year because I’ll have solved the NFL’s Rubik’s Cube.   

But don’t worry; you can count on this essay every February because I’ll never manage to consistently anticipate how the Patriots will roll, and I’ll never stop being wrong in my NFL evaluations and fantasy predictions. The best I can do is learn from every mistake I make and try to make fewer of them, and that’s what this article is about each year.

2016 was actually a good year, as the league cooperated a little more than usual by being a little more predictable. But even though things were a little easier this past year, I still learned plenty of lessons that I believe will help me be a better fantasy analyst and player, and these are the ones that stand out.

 

It's all about being ahead of the curve.

Being proactive is important, and we have to be careful not to overrate recent history. If you reacted to Cam Newton’s monstrous 2015 season by drafting him in 2016, you were not ahead of the curve, for example. Being ahead of the curve with Cam, in retrospect, was understanding his previous body of work, which clearly made 2016 stand out as an outlier season for Newton. If you thought Doug Martin was good-to-go in 2016 after a strong 2015, it’s probably fair to say you placed too high of an emphasis on the recent past. Martin’s shaky history scared us off of him, so we quit while we were ahead with Martin after pushing him as a strong value in 2015. And trust me: we’ll have a whole off-season to ponder just how much the Falcons’ production will be falling off after losing OC Kyle Shanahan and while dealing with the dreaded Super Bowl hangover – because Atlanta’s production will be falling off.

One of the first group of players I look at each year for our annual list of Values & Players to Target for fantasy are the players who are proven, if not previous studs, but are coming off down years or aren’t getting their usual level of hype, and that’s the other part of this lesson. A solid example this past year was Aaron Rodgers, who fantasy players weren’t as high on this past summer as usual coming off a season in which he was only 17th in our default scoring system with only 22.2 points per game. We had him as our #1 QB for almost the entire off-season season, and he finished first at 27.6 points per game. Mike Evans had a disappointing sophomore campaign in 2015, dropping to only 27th in PPR points per game, but after seeing his hands improved in the preseason, and knowing his overall strong body of work in his short career, we pushed him as a player to target and ranked him in our top-12 at WR. During the season, with Marvin Jones going nuts the first month of the season averaging 20.8 PP/G in PPR, the #4 WR over that span, I kept harping on how Golden Tate was a great guy to trade for. Jones’ run was unsustainable, as was Tate’s futility (WR89 with only 5.7 PP/G). When it was all said-and-done for the season, Tate was a top-20 guy in PPR and Jones finished 45th.

I’m not saying that, when something unusual happens in the NFL, it’s wise to assume the opposite will happen the next, but I’m close to saying that. And when it comes to the regular season and especially with DFS, I think I am saying that. We’ve all heard of “chasing points” in fantasy, and I felt that phenomenon was a little more prevalent in 2016. Playing daily fantasy more than ever in 2016, and with great success, I was struck by how important it was to be ahead of the curve. I usually do like rolling with the hot hand, at least in season-long, and it’s a viable move on a case-by-case basis in DFS. But more often than not in DFS, chasing points is a bad idea because a lot of other players will be doing the same, and if a guy is going off, his opponents know that and will be more focused on stopping him. Take Minnesota’s Adam Thielen, for example. He destroyed the Packers in Week 16 with 12/202/2 on 15 targets, so he appeared to be an appealing DFS play with a large role in the finale – but he had 1 grab for 7 yards. It’s a dramatic example, but a very good one.

In terms of fantasy drafts in the summer, we want to draft off of the next season’s cheat sheet – like taking Ezekiel Elliott in the top-5 in 2016 – while being careful not to glace too often at the previous year’s actual leaders, like 2015’s top QB, Cam Newton. In general, whether it be preseason or in-season analysis, we want to fully understand what has happened, but we can’t count on it happening again. We want to use that historical information we have to help us predict what will happen, but in many cases what has happened and what will happen are very dissimilar, and we need to play fantasy football with that mindset.

And by the way, our Players to Trade and Trade for is one of our most popular articles, and it’s been pretty darn good the last few years in particular for one reason: I’ve focused heavily on being ahead of the curve.

 

Fantasy evaluations can be counter-intuitive.

This lesson is in line with how we need to be ahead of the curve, but there were some key examples of how we should have reacted somewhat illogically in 2016. For example, Cam Newton had 45 total TDs in 2015 without his top wideout Kelvin Benjamin, so it made a lot of sense to believe Cam could at least approach his ’15 production this past season with Benjamin in the fold. Nope. There were plenty of factors involved that slowed Cam down, and regression was inevitable, plus I’m always skeptical of QBs coming off career seasons, but if you ignored the recent facts and avoided Cam at all costs, you made the right call in 2016 (hopefully we convinced you to do that).

In another case, Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins was coming off a season in which he put up 100 or more yards the year before with four different QBs – and four bad QBs at that. Therefore, it made sense to believe that Hopkins would at least have a strong season with the position (seemingly) stabilized with their big free agent acquisition of Brock Osweiler. Sure, we didn’t think Osweiler was very good, which is why we didn’t push him at all even on the low-end. But for him to be worse than with the gruesome foursome of Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates, and Brandon Weeden was pretty crazy, and Hopkins’ production was down 40% in 2016.

I like to use logic as a crutch in my fantasy analysis so at least if I’m wrong I can say I was “wrong for the right reasons,” but there are times when you throw logic out the window, as mitigating factors take over. That’s usually why I avoid QBs coming off career years. It’s generally counter-intuitive to believe a player coming off a career year will be undesirable, like Gary Barnidge this year. But career years are called such for a reason: They’re almost never duplicated. These are cases of something unusual happening, which usually means the opposite will occur in the near future.

 

I have to take more of a long view in the preseason

Howard's not the kind of back who'll impress you without the pads on, and he had only 3-4 weeks' worth of padded practices under his belt by the time the season started.I could argue on both sides as to whether or not player performances in exhibition games means anything, but this lesson was more about getting a handle on the depth charts and expected player roles. The example that jumps out to me was Jordan Howard of the Bears. In May, I was convinced that he was going to have a large role right out of the gate alongside Jeremy Langford. But as August ended, other than a great showing in the preseason finale against many soon-to-be-cut players, Howard wasn’t really on anyone’s radar. And after Langford played 96% of the snaps in Week 1, many who took a flyer on Howard had him queued up as the first guy to cut for Week 2 waivers. I did take note of his productive 11 snaps late in Week 2, but it took only another week for him to truly emerge (75% of the snaps Week 3), and the rest was history. Incidentally, I had a long conversation with Howard’s agent in Houston at the Super Bowl this week, and he made an interesting point that could be related to his slow-ish start: Howard’s not the kind of back who’ll impress you without the pads on, and he had only 3-4 weeks’ worth of padded practices under his belt by the time the season started, which could explain the lack of hype in the preseason. There’s another lesson learned.

In my effort to leave no stone unturned in the preseason, I think I can at times overrate what we’re seeing in August and early September by focusing too much on the present (Langford) while failing to account enough for the future (Howard). It’s easy to say now that the results are in, but when I was thinking about Howard’s role in May, I took the long view; in August, my vision was clouded by the events of the present, and I didn’t give Howard enough love. It’s a long, long season, and what we’re thinking in the preseason can change quickly.

Another solid example was Jay Ajayi in Miami. Back in 2015, we ranked Ajayi pre-draft as our #2 RB behind Todd Gurley and over, most notably, the more-heralded Melvin Gordon, so we never questioned his talent. And in addition, I had been very vocal about how I felt Arian Foster was done dating back to 2015. But Ajayi looked pretty terrible in the preseason, and since I was placing probably an unhealthy emphasis on what I saw in the preseason, we couldn’t push Ajayi as an appealing sleeper, as we did earlier in the year, or even an attractive value. Granted, I think we were on him a little earlier than most as a WW pickup early in the season, but this was another example of placing too high an emphasis on preseason happenings.

In many ways, I view the preseason as an opportunity to “cheat on the test” in that we’re getting a legit glimpse of what’s going to happen in the upcoming NFL campaign, so I’m still going to harp on every detail that emerges in August. But I’m also going to make sure I’m understanding the long view with young players like Howard and Ajay because, in many cases, being down on the depth chart in the preseason can mean nothing for a younger player.

 

A draft plan is not a specific design.

I do the “Draft Plan” article every summer, and it’s one of the more popular preseason items we have on the site, but over the last 10-15 years, it really hasn’t been incredibly specific in terms of mapping out an unbending course of action. In my mind, having a “plan” is understanding the landscape and that flexibility is key. And if I do have a predetermined draft plan, it’s to focus on balance by acquiring at least one high-end player at each position. That’s been my focus over the last decade or so, but I’m not married to that, either.

There are many paths to a championship, even “Zero-RB,” but even the more earnest Zero-RB supporter should be willing to stray from that approach, as our guy Joe Dolan did in a staff draft we ran early in the summer. Drafting at the end of Round One, Dolan, who was very much into going WR-heavy early in drafts, couldn’t pass on David Johnson in the first round. And when he was up for his second pick, he couldn’t pass on Ezekiel Elliott, who slipped to him. Joe had no idea he would do it before the draft, but he wound up kicking it old school by going RB-RB. It worked out well.

In last year’s version of this article, on the heels of a dreadful season for the RBs, I wrote about how I was still not averse to taking a RB or two early in drafts, noting how productive the top backs were the year before, in 2014. And sure enough, in the cyclical NFL, the backs were generally money in 2016.

Ironically, I might be more about the WRs in 2017 than some would expect (remember, cyclical), but my approach will depend on where the ADPs shake out this coming summer because I’m still all about letting the draft come to me and finding the best values, almost regardless of position. It worked out well in 2016, since many of the RBs we really liked were available in the 3rd and 4th rounds (like DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy), and that may be the case in 2017 – but for the WRs.

 

Good offenses matter.

This is elementary, but it’s usually worth mentioning here each year. There are always exceptions, like Jordan Howard on the Bears this year, and sometimes we’re okay with our QBs, pass-catching backs, and receivers being on bad teams because we still do love garbage time production (looking at you, 2015 Blake Bortles). But good offenses matter, as we saw in Jacksonville in 2016. Sure, it’s tough to know for sure which offenses will be very good (Atl) or very bad (Jac), but if we’re pretty sure an offensive unit is strong, that’s where our search for players to target begins. We’ll eventually find ourselves giving love to some players on bad offenses at the bottom of the barrel, as we don’t entirely discriminate in the preseason, but in the case of Isaiah Crowell, who we did give love to this summer, once I saw how bad the team was, I advised to get out there and sell, even though Crowell was performing quite well. Crowell did still have his moments in the second half, but more often than not, he was a victim of his bad team.

In terms of your draft, at the very least, it’s wise to avoid bad offenses early-on, and when it comes to the Waiver Wire, the strength of the offenses should be your tie-breaker (in the draft, too). And don’t forget this very simple point: Good offenses usually start with the QB, as do bad ones.

 

On the WW, just skip directly to youth and talent.

I’ve written this here before, but we saw this element come to the forefront yet again in 2016. I recall being on the TV set Week 1 watching Keenan Allen go down, and it was my responsibility to isolate the replacement pickup for the WW segment at the end of the broadcast day (DIRECTV’s Fantasy Zone Channel). It came down to the veteran Dontrelle Inman, who had two seasons and 47 catches under his belt from Philip Rivers, or Tyrell Williams, who had one season off-and-on the practice squad and 2 catches on his NFL resume. I didn’t think too long about it because I’m all about upside and playing to win, so I went with Williams. I knew he made a big play in the 2015 finale, flashed in the preseason, and that he had size and could run, and that was enough for me to give him the nod over Inman, who was less impressive physically. 

It’s not always going to work out when you’re aggressive like that, so I’m always trying to strike a balance between level-headed coverage and analysis and swinging for the fences, but in terms of my own personal teams, and how I’d advise you to run your own personal teams, I say, be aggressive.

Another good example this past season was Cam Meredith in Chicago. I wasn’t exactly inclined to go all-in on him the Monday after his breakout performance in Week 5 (9/130/1) because I wasn’t loving the QB situation and knew there were other guys, namely Marquess Wilson, who would likely be in the mix. But then I actually watched the game mid-week and was pretty blown away by the talent on display. And he wasn’t a flash in the pan.  

One thing I love about larger, 14 or more team fantasy leagues, is that you can always find cheap contributors who may not be overly consistent or incredibly productive, but who have clear value, like James White or Tyler Boyd. But those types tend to be a dime a dozen, so they’re not very hard to find and are usually readily available on the WW in a 10 or 12-team league. And that’s exactly why it’s important to start your WW search each week by looking for players who truly have the ability to be difference-makers. Usually, the players who fit the profile are young, so you have to take a leap of faith. But if they also have talent, that leap is totally worth it.

 

Continuity and familiarity are key for QBs.

I told [Kirk] that continuity was a big reason why I was so optimistic.Not that this was a revelation, but “continuity” is a word I used a lot this summer on the site and on the radio when I talked about Kirk Cousins. I had a chance to say hello to Cousins this week at the Super Bowl in Houston, and after I told him that I was a proponent of his for fantasy this summer and gave him props on his solid season, I told him that the continuity was a big reason why I was so optimistic. Heading into 2016, Cousins was in year three with HC Jay Gruden, and having two full seasons for QB and the HC Gruden, a former QB, to get on the same page was appealing. Cousins completely agreed, and the play on the field showed why; Gruden had a good feel for how to design his offense with Cousins the triggerman, and Cousins had a good feel for the offense and its personnel, so the passing game hummed along nicely all season with few speed bumps.

But an even better example of continuity at the QB position, of course, was Matt Ryan in year two with Kyle Shanahan. I was probably biased against Ryan and the Falcons because I did a weekly radio show last year with Roddy White, who was phased out of the offense and discarded like a piece of trash, but talking to Roddy all year, I can tell you that he wasn’t the only offensive player who was unhappy with the offense – we even had Julio Jones on the show and his frustration was evident – and Ryan’s struggles were on full display in 2015. And as insane as it sounds now, the vibes with Ryan were shaky this preseason. In fact, I wondered aloud in August if Ryan was on the decline and if we had already seen the best of him in the NFL. I know there were a few savvy guys closer to the situation who were optimistic, like Atlanta radio host and former NFL receiver Brian Finneran. But I also polled some Falcon beat writers a month or so into the 2016 season, and they were stunned by how well Ryan and the offense were doing. Ryan admitted in 2016 that he was “overwhelmed” with the offense, so in addition to better continuity, he simply had more familiarity with the system.

Every case is different, and we have recently seen offenses enjoy success in year one of the system or with an offensive coordinator – Adam Gase has done it twice the last two seasons with the Bears and Dolphins – but we learned in 2016 that when there are doubts about a QB heading into a season, we should closely examine his familiarity and comfort level with his offense and offensive coaches before making a determination. This will be worth noting when examining the 2017 offenses for the Chargers, Rams, 49ers, Broncos, and Raiders, since these teams have all made significant changes to their offenses and coaching staffs this year.

 

If a QB can play, you can tell quickly.

I’ve made some bad calls on unproven QBs in the past based on stellar preseasons, like Matt Hasselbeck, whom I loved in 2001 but who was not ready for prime time that year. That same year, I remember being very high on Trent Green, and he crushed those who took my advice and drafted him. But both guys eventually proved to be quality players, and I firmly believe that you can tell very early on if a QB is going to be good.

That was the case with Dak Prescott this year. Prescott was certainly in an ideal situation in Dallas, but his play this past summer reminded me greatly of Russell Wilson in his rookie 2012 preseason. In both cases, it was pretty obvious that they had the poise and the physical tools to handle the NFL game, if not star in it. I don’t think I could have possibly given Dak a better endorsement this summer, especially on the radio when I proclaimed Dak a solid NFL starter for the next ten years before he took a regular-season snap, but I still wish I pushed him harder and ranked him a little higher. I have to maintain a level of responsibility with the projections, and it wouldn’t have made a lot of sense to rank Prescott 75 overall when his ADP was probably 175, but the next time I see a young QB quickly show an ability to play at a high level, especially if he has a strong supporting cast like Dak did, I’m going to emphasize more the potential buying opportunity for fantasy.

 

Running QBs are nice but…

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with running QBs for years, and right now I’m on the hate side. I love the production, but I hate relying on it, and we typically do rely on rushing production for guys like Cam Newton, and usually for a guy like Russell Wilson. More often than not, I’m critical of the running QBs coming out of spread systems in college. I find the current college game, outside of some pro-style offenses, to be a tough watch. I just don’t like the game being based on deception, as it is for many teams running the zone read. I guess I’m old school because I loved watching guys like Bernie Kosar sling it all over the field from the pocket when I was a kid, and I hated having to rank a guy like Colin Kaepernick high in 2016 – due almost entirely to his rushing production and potential.

I’ve been critical of these types in this article in the past, even last year, so I’m not going to delve into why QB’s need to “win from the pocket” if they’re going to be consistent performers like Drew Brees. The lesson is simply this: you can’t truly rely on the rushing production from a running QB. Rushing TDs, in particular, can be fluky, but with guys like Newton and Wilson, the problem is injuries. Cam’s been getting the crap beaten out of him for a half a decade, and the residual effects are becoming more clear. And while I still think Wilson is a top-10 QB in NFL and fantasy, his 2016 injuries robbed him of a lot of his fantasy juice, and he was an overall fantasy buzz kill. It’s due in large part to these running QBs that I’ve undersold a guy like Philip Rivers for years. Rivers has fallen off late in the season the last 2-3 seasons, but he’s really balled out, so it’s painful not to give him more love. The problem projecting him is that it’s hard for him to stack up high when his total rushing production on the season is in the teens. Maybe not as hard now, though.

In addition to the injuries, the other problem that often arises when looking at running QBs is that their passing simply leaves a lot to be desired, likely at least in part to their reliance on running. I was quite high on Tyrod Taylor two summers ago as a deep sleeper, but after watching him play in 2015 and seeing how highly he was being rated by many in 2016, I was not on board with him even though our ranking and projection for him was actually very close to being exactly right. But imagine if Taylor didn’t get those fluky six rushing TDs? He would have really stunk for fantasy and we would have ranked him too high. It worked out this time, but maybe not next time.

When it comes to this element of rushing production from QBs, I usually like to find some compromises, which is one of the reasons I’ve given Andrew Luck major love from day one, and Aaron Rodgers is another good example. Even Kirk Cousins has 9 rushing TDs the last two seasons (fluky, I know, but they can’t be ignored).

In short, if you can win from the pocket as a passer and augment your fantasy production with your legs, that’s the ideal fantasy QB.

 

I’m never taking a RB nearing or over 30 years old in the 1st again.

Appropriately ranking a guy like Adrian Peterson was one of the hardest things to do this past summer. First of all, he’s Peterson, and the guy was coming off a 347-touch 2015 season in which he averaged 4.5 yards a carry. Plus, until Teddy Bridgewater went down very late in the preseason, the offense was looking good. It didn’t work out. My former radio co-host LaDainian Tomlinson once told me that it’s a RB’s age, not his workload, that is more worrisome, but with guys like Peterson and Jamaal Charles, there were red flags on both fronts, since they’ve been in the league since 2007/2008 and have touched the ball a lot.

I’ve never been a “zero RB” guy, but when it comes to aged RBs at the top of a fantasy draft (let’s call it the first 25 picks overall), I’ll probably be drafting zero of them from here on out. I don’t have all the data on aged RBs handy, but I don’t need it: If you use a top-25 pick on a back near or over 30 who has 1500-2000 or more touches, it will more likely than not be a decision you regret. Heck, I loved my guy LT back in the day for fantasy – and I wound up overselling him the year he fell off a cliff for fantasy. Even with Peterson in 2015, when he paid a solid return on his first-round investment, he wasn’t that great, ranking as the RB7 in PPR with 16.7 points a game. And keep in mind he touched the ball only 23 times in one game the year before, which definitely helped him.

And if all the young-to fairly-young RBs are off the board, the prudent course of action is to take a wide receiver – or simply anyone but the old guy.

 

RBs on bad teams shouldn’t be first-round picks.

My biggest regret of the 2016 season will always been the fact that we ranked Todd Gurley ahead of David Johnson in the preseason. I certainly signed off on Johnson as a top-12 pick overall, but the Gurley/Johnson ranking was – and still is – painful. Granted, everything went perfectly for Johnson, whose team lost a player in Chris Johnson, who was going to be a factor, and whose passing game came crashing down to earth, setting up an even larger role and a greater reliance on David. And on the flipside, everything went horribly for Gurley, whose OL regressed and whose passing offense was just as bad as it was the year before, despite their using the #1 pick overall on a QB. I gave Gurley the slight edge in talent over Johnson – which looks bad after his poor showing but was a viable position in August – but the main element that prompted the Gurley ranking was a huge and clearer role. I certainly knew the Rams weren’t going to be offensive juggernauts, but I didn’t worry too much about the “bad team” factor because it should have 100% guaranteed a huge role for Gurley under run-heavy coach Jeff Fisher. Gurley was 5th in the league in carries and with 278 and snaps (he played a strong 74% of their snaps). In fact, his actual involvement was in line with Johnson’s (involved in 35% of the plays versus 38% for Johnson), so role was obviously not the problem for Gurley.

The numbers guys, like our own Graham Barfield, were pretty fixated on Gurley’s lack of work in the passing game and how his production fell off toward the end of the 2015 season, and it’s hard to say they were wrong. The work in the passing game is critical because a RB can still be very productive on a shaky or even a bad team if he’s dominating the touches, as Melvin Gordon and Jordan Howard were. Believe it or not, though, Gurley finished a respectable 15th in RB catches this past season, which was actually more than we projected, so the receiving work wasn’t a huge problem. And yes, the old “stacking the box” argument was a factor for Gurley with little support, but the bigger problem was simply the fact that I though the Rams would get better on offense, but they got worse.

It’s possible that I’ll be very tempted to rank a young, pass-catching back on a bad team in the first round again, especially if it’s a guy in line for 200+ carries and most of the receiving work. But after seeing the futility of the Ram offense and the overall running game cause Gurley’s game to suffer noticeably, I’m going to be very careful not to overrate a player whose team might ruin him, especially if that team has a shaky starting QB, as the Rams did. Basically, if it looks like things could get truly ugly when the bullets are flying for real, which it never really did for Johnson’s Arizona Cardinals despite their shaky preseason vibes, we should be concerned.

 

Time off or a lack of usage for RBs the year before is big.

One of the main reasons I gave when explaining my disdain for Arian Foster the summer of 2015 was the fact I felt his strong 2014 season was largely a function of his missing a half a season the season before in 2013, and sure enough, Foster played only four games and averaged only 2.6 YPC in ’15. And one of main reasons I didn’t like DeMarco Murray in 2015 but did in 2016 was because his touch total went from 450 in 2014 to only 238 in 2015, so I felt he would be a lot fresher, which he was (his improved OL was also a huge factor in my analysis and it was also good).

In fact, I believe one of the reasons why 2016 was such as good year for RBs is because 2015 was so bad. There were several productive 2016 RBs who didn’t touch the ball as much the year before, like Murray, LeSean McCoy, Melvin Gordon, Carlos Hyde, and even Ryan Mathews. So in line with the main theme of this year’s “Lessons Learned” article – how understanding the cyclical nature of the league can help you stay ahead of the curve – there are some RBs I’m going to be a little skeptical of in 2017. The first guy is, not surprisingly, Murray, whose touch total was up to 346 this past season. Others include Gordon, LeGarrette Blount, and Lamar Miller. Conversely, I’ll probably be higher on guys like CJ Anderson and maybe even Doug Martin next year.

 

WRs have availability issues, too.

I personally do all the projections for FantasyGuru.com – but I’m not a dictator with them, and I constantly invite feedback from our staff on preseason and weekly projections for the site. Most of the time, I’ll adjust based on the feedback, especially when there is an overwhelming disagreement with one of my projections. But there are times when I take a stand, like I did with Keenan Allen this past summer. I’ve always liked Allen and even managed to tip readers off on him a week before he blew up back in 2013. But while I was convinced he’d easily be a top-10 guy in PPR if he played 14-16 games, I suppressed his ranking and projection because of his alarming history of injuries. On the quantitative side, Allen’s huge role and production when he’s played warranted a very high ranking, higher than a guy like Brandin Cooks, and that was our data guy Graham Barfield’s contention when we hashed out our preseason projections. Graham and I disagreed on a number of interesting wideouts, including Sammy Watkins and Alshon Jeffery, so we did a whole podcast in the summer to debate our positions. It was an interesting exercise, and I totally understood where Graham was coming from on guys like Allen and Watkins. But I did overrule him and other staff members on Allen. I obviously didn’t expect such a dramatic end to Allen’s 2016 season, but I have found that if a WR has had multiple injury concerns in the past, his durability issues usually don’t disappear. That’s been the case with Allen, a little bit with Jeffery, and definitely with Watkins, who we also ranked lower than most this year due to his availability issues. Two other players of note whose projections going forward will likely be suppressed by us due to injury concerns are Stefon Diggs and DeVante Parker.

We’re making great strides with the site when it comes to quantitative analysis, thanks largely to Graham, but I’m always going to strive for a balance between what the data says and what my eyeballs, common sense, and my instincts tell me. It’s that type of approach that I believe enabled us to finish first out of 140+ fantasy experts for 2015 preseason rankings and third place in 2013, and that approach, I believe, will help us finish high again in 2016.

 

A WR should not be drafted in the first round unless you’re totally sold on his QB.

I loved Allen Robinson this summer because he really fit the profile of a player poised to ascend to superstardom. He was a rising young star with an insatiable competitive drive, and he was teamed with a young QB who was seemingly on a similar upward trajectory (although not nearly as impressive). As it turned out, Blake Bortles hadn’t yet arrived, and not only did his forward progress as an NFL QB stall, he took a huge step back. As regular readers of the site may recall, I’ve never been a DeAndre Hopkins guy, and after his unimpressive rookie season, I was really down on him. But it was impossible not to be impressed by how he balled out in 2015, and how he did it with a collection of mediocre-at-best QBs. Hopkins is the better example of the two, since we really didn’t know what we had in Brock Osweiler. It turned out we had a guy who wasn’t any good.

If you take a close look at the preseason consensus top-25 WRs in 2016, those who disappointed – Robinson, Hopkins, Brandon Marshall, and Alshon Jeffery – all had something in common: crappy QBs. Some wideouts can overcome it, like Hopkins in 2015, but with the RBs likely getting more love in fantasy drafts in 2017, it’ll be important to be a little more skeptical of the wideouts.

The best tip I can give you here is if you’re going to take a WR who has a shaky QB high in drafts, the guy had better be poised to dominate the targets, like Hopkins was in 2015.

 

If you know what you’re doing, don’t be afraid to back a player who’s burned you.

I’d like to think that I “know what I’m doing” compared to most, since I do nothing but cover the NFL for fantasy football. And since I do follow things closely and have a good handle on a player’s skill set, role, scheme, etc., I’m not afraid to back a player who’s burned me in the past. That’s why I can’t quit Ryan Tannehill (look out in 2017!).

Sure, I do worry about looking like Charlie Brown with Lucy and the football on some players, but in the case of Kyle Rudolph, whom I have incorrectly given love to for a number of seasons, I just had to go to the well yet again in 2016, and it finally worked out. The reason it worked out is because I was right to give him love in the first place: the guy’s pretty good. Over at least the last 1-2 seasons, anyone with a clue knew that Travis Kelce was very good, but there’s no question I had overrated him at least two years running heading into 2016. I certainly didn’t beg people to take Kelce this summer, but I was still targeting him, despite the presence of noted “Anti-Gurrite” Alex Smith. To me there’s nothing worse than giving a guy like Kelce love for 2-3 seasons and then bailing despite his balling out but underwhelming for fantasy only to see him blow up, which is what he did in 2016. Basically, what you saw from Kelce in 2016 was what I had in mind for him in 2015 and even going back as far as 2014.

Basically, if you’re truly dialed in, your favorites will eventually come through, especially when your love for them is based mainly on talent.