Fantasy Football Lessons Learned From the 2019 Season

The fantasy football season is over for the vast majority of leagues, which means it’s time to start preparing for 2020. Whether you ended your year with a championship or if you’re looking to take back the crown, there is always something you can do better in the upcoming year. Let’s take a look back at the top fantasy football lessons from the 2019 season and how we can apply those lessons to 2020.

Fantasy Football Lessons Learned in 2019

Don’t Buy Team Hype

Each and every year, one team receives an undeserved amount of hype and all of their players ultimately end up getting overdrafted. In 2019, that team was the Cleveland Browns. After finishing the season on a high note and acquiring Odell Beckham, the fantasy stock of everyone on the Browns went through the roof. Beckham was the WR4 based on average draft position, and Baker Mayfield was the QB4. This obviously blew up in everyone’s face, as fantasy owners didn’t fully appreciate that it takes time for a new coaching staff and new weapons to work in unison.

2020’s hype team will almost certainly be the Baltimore Ravens. Make no mistake about it, Lamar Jackson is one of the most electric players in the league and their offense should be one of 2020’s best units. However, the league will eventually figure out how to slow them down, at least a little. There’s no way to duplicate that type of efficiency, so make sure not to reach for 2019’s results.

Don’t Buy the Offseason Injury Dip

In what seems like an annual tradition, a big-name wide receiver suffered an offseason injury and saw his draft stock plummet. Back in July, A.J. Green suffered an ankle injury early in Cincinnati’s offseason workouts and was expected to miss the first two or three weeks of the season. This sent Green’s draft stock plummeting, and most fantasy football players were able to grab him in the sixth round or later. The thought was that carrying Green on your bench for three weeks was easily worth it considering his WR1 upside.

That didn’t pan out. Green never recovered from his ankle injury and missed the entirety of the season. Most fantasy football owners held on far too long, as Green was reportedly close to a return on multiple occasions. By the time owners finally gave up on him, it was much too late. Green ultimately was a complete waste of a roster spot and may have prevented certain owners from drafting Jarvis Landry or picking up guys like D.J. Chark on the waiver wire.

This wasn’t an isolated incident, as the same thing happened with Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin in 2018. It’s obviously too early to tell who this player is going to be in 2020, but whoever it is, make sure you stay away. I guarantee you, the upside isn’t worth it.

Buy Last Season’s Injury Dip

Fantasy football owners have a short memory, so it’s easy to capitalize on players coming off a disappointing season. In 2018, Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette were supposed to be two of the best running backs in fantasy. However, both players underwhelmed thanks to hamstring injuries which sidelined them for the majority of the season. Both players managed to come back and stay on the field for the end of the 2018 season. However, with these injuries in mind, Cook fell into the second round and Fournette fell into the third round of most 2019 fantasy football drafts.

The two players became two of the biggest steals in fantasy. Cook entered Week 16 as the RB2 in PPR scoring while Fournette sat at RB7. Injuries can happen to any player and, assuming they’re healthy entering the season, it’s a bad decision to hold previous injuries against relatively inexperienced players.

One player who I could easily see experiencing a similar drop in 2020 is Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen. Thielen is one of the most talented receivers in the league and is capable of putting up huge numbers. He’s going to have Kirk Cousins for another year, and these two have demonstrated an ability to set the world on fire together. However, Thielen missed the majority of the season with a hamstring injury and could easily see his stock drop come draft time. If he doesn’t have any setbacks throughout the offseason and he sees his draft stock slip, make sure to pick him up.

Opportunity, Situation Matter More Than Talent

In a perfect world, each and every last one of your fantasy draft picks will have an ideal combination of opportunity and talent. However, that’s not the world we live in. There aren’t enough star players in good situations to go around, so filling out your roster comes down to finding those diamonds in the rough. Based on what we saw in 2019, it’s better to bet on a player in a favorable situation than a player you deem to be more talented.

Nobody thinks Leonard Fournette is a top-seven running back in the NFL, but he’s currently the RB7 due to his ridiculous body of work. He doesn’t do anything efficiently, but his dependable role in the passing and running game makes him one of the best running backs in fantasy. In a similar vein, DeVante Parker finally broke out in large part due to the fact that he was the only good wide receiver for Ryan Fitzpatrick to target.
On the other side of the coin, Juju Smith-Schuster’s talent went to waste with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges throwing the ball. Juju’s situation should be considerably better for 2020 (assuming a healthy Ben Roethlisberger), so he should be a good buy-low candidate in fantasy drafts.

Draft A Quarterback Late

If you’re playing in a one-quarterback league, there is no reason to take a quarterback in the early or mid rounds. While some quarterbacks are obviously better than others, we are at a point where there are enough quality starters that you can easily stream the position and get by. Given the right matchup, even Andy Dalton is capable of going off for 396 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. Additionally, each of the past two seasons featured a late-round quarterback ultimately becoming the best player at their position. Lamar Jackson was obviously the star of 2019 but Patrick Mahomes did a similar thing as a late-round pick in 2018.

If you’re looking for 2020’s breakout quarterback, you could easily make the case for Kyler Murray. Murray had a solid season for the Arizona Cardinals and, much like Jackson, should only improve during his second season in the league. Arizona boasts a high-speed deep passing attack, which is great for fantasy, and Murray’s rushing ability should provide a safe floor in every game. It’s obviously too early to know where he’ll end up going in 2020 drafts, but I could picture him being a late-round steal that ends up becoming a key piece on most fantasy rosters.

Running Backs Get Old, Fast

We’ve established opportunity matters more than talent, but all NFL players still need to reach a minimum talent threshold in order to stay productive. It’s typically easy to know when to bet against an untalented player (Kalen Ballage), but it’s harder to overlook the superstars of yesterday. Unfortunately, 2019 taught us that running backs get old fast and you shouldn’t draft players based on who they used to be.

David Johnson was one of the first running backs off the board in 2019, primarily due to his complete control of the backfield and how good he was in 2016. In theory, a new coaching staff and scheme could revitalize his efficiency and make him one of the more dependable fantasy options in the league. Unfortunately, it looks like Father Time caught up with Johnson. The former third-round pick looked slow and was outplayed by both Chase Edmonds and Kenyan Drake down the stretch.

A similar thing happened to Devonta Freeman. While he never got benched, he looked like a shell of himself for the entire season and was one of the bigger draft busts in fantasy. Playing running back is hard, and the human body can only take so many hits before slowing down. Heading into 2020, you’ll probably want to steer clear of older running backs like Le’Veon Bell.

New Coaches Don’t Have to Adapt to Their Talent

O.J. Howard was one of the biggest busts in fantasy, and it’s easy to see why in hindsight. First-year head coach Bruce Arians has a noted affinity for targeting wide receivers in the passing game, and he had a great duo in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Most assumed that Arians would incorporate a talent like Howard into the passing attack, but that ultimately didn’t come to fruition. Arians stayed true to his scheme, targeting Evans and Godwin at a high rate while leaving the tight ends as an afterthought. It’s only when both Evans and Godwin suffered injuries that Howard became a key cog in the offense.

This is going to happen again in 2020. New coaches have no loyalty to players acquired from a previous administration, so they won’t feel compelled to dramatically overhaul their scheme if they don’t have to. Keep this in mind as the inevitable hiring and firing process takes place over the coming weeks.

Don’t Be Afraid To Move On

No matter how hard you prepare for the fantasy football draft, you’re going to be wrong about at least one or two things. Preparation is important, but there are too many uncontrollable variables in fantasy to possibly get everything right. Whether your first-round pick suffers a Week 1 injury or you gambled on an untested player, bad things are going to happen to your team. The most important thing you can do is stay fluid, accept your mistakes, and do your best to correct them.

Some poor soul out there drafted O.J. Howard, Juju Smith-Schuster, Odell Beckham, and A.J. Green this past season. Drafting these players could mean death to your fantasy team if you didn’t pivot, make trades, and get all the best moves on the waiver wire. It’s entirely possible to win a league with a bad draft as long as you acknowledge you messed up early enough in the season. Perfection is impossible, and acknowledging you’re going to be wrong is the best way to easily identify your mistakes when they happen.

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