Winning owners are always on the lookout for advice regarding new tips, strategies and techniques. They aren’t satisfied to rest on their laurels, and they definitely do not cultivate a know-it-all or been-there/done-that attitude. In addition to entirely new ideas or data, it is always good to bone up on ideas that are time tested. In the pitched heat of fantasy football triumphs and defeats it is just too easy to forget what you already know and has worked in the past.
During this last week, most owners have either finished their season or been eliminated from their fantasy playoffs. Now is the perfect time to reflect on the year that was, and walk away from it with some valuable lessons. These lessons come courtesy of some of this year’s surprising fantasy football performers.
Lesson Learned: Don’t underestimate the motivation of revenge. An acquaintance of mine lends the following appropriate advice – The best revenge is living well. Well, Brees has been living plenty well this season. He was forced to raise his game the last two years in San Diego, and he did. He was let go in favor of Philip Rivers this off-season, and has turned around not just the normally sorry Saints franchise, but also a lot of fantasy owners’ seasons. Seek out players with the proverbial chip on their shoulder.
Lesson Learned: The best player plays, period. It doesn’t matter if you have over 10 years of pro football experience (Bledsoe), your coach (Parcells) has won with you before or if he favors veteran players. Due to the extreme pressure in today’s NFL to win today, there is no time for loyalty, and the hot hand gets shaken. Romo has cooled of late, but his ascendance illustrates that owners can take proactive steps to select stars that forge during the heat of the season. Romo’s own teammate, Marion Barber III, is another such example. Julius Jones was the bigger name, but not the better fantasy player.
Lesson Learned: You must consider a player’s entire repertoire of production. Every year fantasy owners underrate Vick because he does not throw for a lot of touchdowns. And every year he is a valuable fantasy commodity. This year was an especially good year. He broke the record for most rushing yards in a season by an NFL quarterback with over 1,000 yards and one game yet to pad that record. In case you missed it, he is currently ranked as the 19th-best player in rushing yards this year. That is better than Willis McGahee, Ronnie Brown, Shaun Alexander and Carnell Williams, all guys who were likely first-round picks in drafts this year. To top it off, Vick has actually passed for a number of touchdowns this season. If Michael Jenkins could catch the deep accurate ball with consistency, Vick would have about five more passing scores.
Lesson Learned: A winner is a winner. Like Brees above, Young simply has that extra spark of something that makes him a winner. Young has been winning of late with astonishing heroics. He did it in college, and he’s doing it now. If you just know that a player has talent, stash him on your bench and wait for the breakout. Owner who have Young now are likely starting him over their other quarterbacks.
Lesson Learned: Health makes all the difference in the NFL. At the University of Miami, Gore was held in high esteem, and won the starting tailback job not once, but twice during his time there. Unfortunately, he also sustained two major injuries. Healthy this year, and in sole possession of the starting gig in San Francisco, Gore has proven his worth, which was much more than most owners and experts expected this season. To see this impact clearly defined elsewhere, one need only look at the Philadelphia Eagles. Brian Westbrook, known for big plays and terrible wounds, stayed fit this year and therefore gave fits to opposing defenses. His quarterback, Donovan McNabb, was having a monstrous statistical season until he suffered his third career season-ending injury.
Lesson Learned: Many fine backs are just an injury away from stardom. Unlike quarterbacks, there are a number of backup running backs in the NFL who likely could perform just as well, and in some cases perhaps better, than the men in front of them on the depth chart. Guys like Adrian Peterson, Mike Bell and Michael Turner are one stuck cleat away from playing. Many owners lost all hope when Clinton Portis went down for the season, but Betts has shown his own colors in Portis’s stead.
Lesson Learned: It is unwise to discount any player because of physical stature. Jones-Drew is only five feet and seven inches tall, so some fantasy owners, not to mention NFL scouts, overlooked him this year. Instead of staying on the sidelines, this compact (212 pounds) bowling ball of energy has been a huge success, even while Fred Taylor has been healthy and productive himself. Steve Smith is another example in this category. When it comes to short playmakers, watch production and heart, not height.
Lesson Learned: Eventually, the cream of the crop rises to the top. Chad started this year with only 482 yards and two touchdowns through seven weeks of the season. That amounted to almost a 69-yard average per week. Fantasy owners were cursing him left and right. Many were trading him, and others were cutting him from their squads outright and also trading and sometimes even cutting him. Over the next three weeks he gained 573 yards and five touchdowns, good for averages of 191 yards and 1.6 touchdowns per game. His late surge may have come too late for some owners, but you should never ever cut a star of his magnitude unless he is placed on injured reserve.
Lesson Learned: Second-tier receivers can be a bargain. Everyone has heard about Reggie Wayne, Terry Glenn and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. But no one could have seen Mike Furrey coming. Still, he brings to the forefront the known fantasy treasure trove of second wide receivers on some premier passing offenses. Mike Martz was expected to come in and make the Lions roar through the air. Roy Williams was a popular value pick because a lot of people expected him to explode. Though Williams did improve his production, Mike Furrey was the real value on that team. To date, he has only 222 fewer yards than Williams, and is tied with Williams for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with 5 apiece.
Lesson Learned: Attitudes don’t matter on the field. For all the hoopla surrounding TO’s every move this year, what fantasy owners need to bear in mind is that for fantasy purposes, only what happens on the field really matters. And what has happened for Owens with one week left in the regular season? 1,063 yards and a league-leading 12 touchdown receptions. With that kind of production, you can jeer your fellow owners as you pass them by in your league each year.
Lesson Learned: Don’t devalue rookies based on their low draft status. You cannot discount rookies or any other player just because they came from a smaller school or were drafted in a lower round. NFL franchises constantly make the mistake of awarding fat contracts to first-round draft picks, or veteran name players who have not performed in the pros, or not performed well in a while. Colston was a few picks from being Mr. Irrelevant this year in the NFL Draft, but he has been about as relevant as you can be for a Saints team that now has a bye week in the playoffs. When you see a player suddenly gaining statistics that warrant fantasy consideration, snap him up then and see if he is worth starting later. You’ll kick yourself if you miss out on a prospect like this, but will never be annoyed if you just have to said player later.
Joe Levit provides fantasy football presentations for corporate outings or client appreciation events. Go to www.FantasyFootballSpeaker.com and find out what this service is all about. Joe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.