Fantasy Football Intelligence: Crisis on Infinite Earths Edition

Anyone still playing in week 17 saw a rollicking week with a lot of scoring. The Red Zone Channel set a record for most TDs scored in one show (helped by the lack of Thursday and Monday games outside their window).

For those whose season was already over and not paying attention, here’s an interesting takeaway. Jonathan Taylor, J.K. Dobbins and perhaps David Montgomery made strong cases for first round, RB1 status. Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey will be back in the mix next year. Throw in Derrick Henry who punctuated his monster season with an exclamation point, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, Nick Chubb, James Robinson, Aaron Jones, Antonio Gibson, Miles Sanders, Josh Jacobs, Cam Akers, and DeAndre Swift and that’s 16 RBs that should command a solid amount of touches and deliver good production. Ranking will depend on your rules, but that’s a pretty good size class without even considering Zeke Elliott, Chris Carson, Raheem Mostert, Kenyan Drake, Ronald Jones Jr. Myles Gaskin, David Johnson (over 1,000 total yards and 8 TD in 12 games) a Chiefs RB or any draft picks. We need as many as we can get at RB, but that is as much depth at the position as we’ve seen in years.

Scoring was up this year. As I hypothesized before the season, home field advantage was diminished by the lack of fans. Covid also forced more players into the games than in previous years and many were exploited. More injured players were allowed to return from IR. While scoring may take a step back next year if we have a normal season, the long term trend in the game is more offense.

There is also a fair amount of depth at WR, and while QB remains the most streamable of positions (other than defense), taking advantage of the depth at RB and WR, in ’21, we expect to pursue a QB a couple rounds earlier than in years past in order to secure the floor of a mobile option from among Mahomes, Allen, Jackson, Wilson, Watson, Prescott (?), or Murray. Obviously Rodgers and Herbert are viable too, along with Tannehill (33 passing TD, 7 rushing). Tom Brady accounted for 4,600 yards, 40 passing TDs and 3 rushing TDs in a season in which his receivers had multiple injuries and he learned a new system at age 43. I’m not writing him off – he was QB8 in standard scoring this season, but Herbert, Jackson and Prescott should pass him next year. Brady was QB11 in average points per game. Obviously this gets fine tuned much closer to the season, but we are considering that 2021 may not be the year to be the last to draft your starting QB – a tenet of expert leagues for many years.

Crisis on Infinite Earths you say? What’s with that headline?

It’s a reference to a superhero storyline involving the multi-verse – the concept that there are multiple earths with doppelgangers for each of us existing in multiple timelines. It’s a bit like what was going on in Avengers: Endgame, but you’ll see more of it in the next wave of DC movies, especially The Flash, once we can go to the movies again. It was also adapted in the CW’s Arrowverse in 2019, but I digress further.

One of the rules I’ve stuck to with this blog is that there is nothing someone wants to hear less about than someone else’s fantasy team, so I’ve tried to keep any references to my own experiences infrequent and brief. I want to make an exception at the end of this year to discuss a strategy, which while not brain surgery, I had not seen used before. It is specific to dynasty (keeper) leagues and my point in sharing it is to offer serious fantasy players a non-traditional way of thinking that might come in handy someday if you have the stomach for it.

I play in a 12 team, small roster (12 spots, 9 starters) expert league that requires a full lineup each week. We can retain one keeper for multiple seasons and trading future draft picks is allowed. The keeper is generally a running back, though one team kept Michael Thomas and another Patrick Mahomes last year. If you don’t keep someone, you add a player in the supplemental draft before the season. The keepers and supplemental players comprise the first round on draft night. Scoring is standard, no PPR. Often the top few teams will trade future picks at the deadline to strengthen themselves for a championship run. This year, as a result of reduced draft capital (from a high finish and trades) plus injuries, while I found myself at 7-3 after 10 weeks, I was 7th in the league in points with at least three teams significantly better than mine on paper. It was the week of the trading deadline and I looked into options to improve my team via trade, but I knew the teams ahead of me would likely do the same. It was easy to see trading away a future pick only to be in the same relative position once the other teams made their deadline moves too. I was convinced that while my team could win any given week, the likelihood of winning three weeks in a row against good teams was minimal.

In this league, money is paid out to the champion and the runner-up and the third place team breaks even. I was not going to get a bye and unless I won at least two playoff games in a row, the best I could hope for was to break-even in the third place game. It occurred to me that at 7-3, I could probably make the playoffs, try to steal a game and end up in a similar position even without my best WR and RB. I could trade them to the contenders that were already better than my team and bring some of the players’ value into 2021 in the form of better draft picks rather than have them turn into pumpkins at the end of an unsuccessful season because I wasn’t going to keep either one.

My two marketable assets were Davante Adams and Chris Carson. (Note: Adams, great as he is, wasn’t going to be kept because I would more likely grab one of the RB1s discussed earlier with a supplemental pick and then get a WR1 or RB2 with my first draft pick.) Tom Brady was a good player too, but teams rarely trade for QBs in this league because other than the top tier, the waiver wire will have a comparable option for any given week thanks to the small rosters. So at the deadline I shipped Adams to the #1 team and Carson to the #2 team for future picks that will make me very tough to beat next year.

I proceeded to make the playoffs, steal a game in the first round, get blown out by the #1 team in the semis and win the third place game to break even financially. The Crisis on Infinite Earths reference comes in because I painstakingly evaluated the ramifications of my decision by reviewing scores. Had I not made the trades, my team would have lost in the first round of the playoffs with Adams and Carson in the lineup. In another scenario, if I had finished higher in the regular season, played the 6th place team and won with Adams and Carson in round one, I may have also won in the second round, sending me to the finals this week. There I would have lost to the #2 team. While that would have put a couple of bucks in my pocket, that team would have won their first league title in 22 years, breaking an 0-4 Fantasy Bowl curse, and I would have been the one responsible. The whole league would have been bummed because we love busting his chops about his futility record. Instead, he lost to the #1 seed, I broke even and I’ve got some nice future picks to look forward to. There was no viable scenario in which I win a championship.

The moral of the story is, be realistic about your team and consider all your options from all angles. That’s what the GMs of the real teams do. Clearly some do better than others, but that will be a topic for another day.

For the last song of the season, let’s dedicate this one to the NFL for getting through a full season without one canceled game. Those of us living for fantasy football are especially grateful. I’ve picked this cheesy number just for our old friend Roger Goodell. I hope he has to hand Brady another trophy.

 

Lee Benjamin

Lee Benjamin has been a football fan since Jim Plunkett was under center for the Patriots and his first ever fantasy football pick was a young Jerry Rice. He’s won more championships during Tom Brady’s career than Tom Brady, though unfortunately, they pay a lot less. His blog, Fantasy Football Intelligence, is published regularly on the WTPL, WTSN and Frank-FM sites. Lee spent over 25 years in New England media. He now resides in South Florida and enjoys freelance writing about sports and politics.