If we get out our field glasses we can see the start of the 2016 fantasy football season.
For some of us, a primer on July 31 or Aug. 1 is laughable. We’ve been diligently studying stats, running mock drafts and turning on Twitter notifications for our favorite NFL and fantasy writers.
But before Chinstrap Ninjas delves deep into 2016, I felt it necessary to discuss a few key points about last season, this season and the industry as a whole.
Some people didn’t even bother clicking on this article because they don’t need a primer. It’s their loss. It puts you one up on them going into this season.
2016 ADP rankings: Overall 1-20 | 21-40 | 41-60 | 61-80 | 81-100 | 101-120
Here are seven key lessons to get you started on the path to a fantasy football championship in 2016.
1. AB is the new LT, draft accordingly
It’s the era of the wide receiver in the NFL and if you’re not getting at least one stud WR and stocking up on WR sleepers you’re going to have a difficult time.
This movement didn’t happen overnight. NFL rule changes have made the passing game more effective. More long touchdowns means more points, which means more tickets, TV ratings and money.
I’m a curmudgeon. My first fantasy football pick was Barry Sanders back in 1996. That’s my kind of football. However, I recognize our situation. Last year was my most successful season to date. I had big gains in daily, had a championship winner and a couple championship contenders — almost all of them powered by Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown, Doug Baldwin, DeAndre Hopkins, Dez Bryant, Michal Floyd, I could go on. Those players were supplemented by free agent pickups like Chris Johnson, Dion Lewis and Thomas Rawls.
Zero running back is the buzzy draft strategy this year. It entails waiting until round six or so to pick your first running back. Late-round quarterbacks have been en vogue for a long time. And nobody picks kickers or defenses until the final rounds.
If you want to win, your strategy should be zero everything except wide receivers.
Running backs are the new wide receivers and Antonio Brown is the new LaDainian Tomlinson.
2. Opportunity is the most important thing …
You can think the world of a player like Arizona RB Kerwynn Williams, but starter David Johnson is primed for a huge season. If he needs a breather or gets injured, Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington will pick up the slack. That means a whole lot has to happen for Williams to get opportunity.
That’s an extreme example, but it illustrates my point: During your draft you want to focus on players with opportunity or a relatively clear road to opportunity — think Seattle backup running back C.J. Procise and the apparently fragile Thomas Rawls.
Players who become new starters are the kinds you want to target in your draft. Detroit WR Marvin Jones has put up some stellar performances with limited opportunities as the No. 2 or 3 option in Cincinnati. Now he is the likely starter on a Lions team that will have plenty of targets to go around after future Hall-of-Famer Calvin Johnson retired in the offseason.
Which running backs are in position for the most touches and a significant number of touches in the red zone? Which wide receivers could lead the NFL in targets? These are the players who will have the most opportunity to succeed in 2016.
Being able to recognize player opportunity or the potential for it is essential for success on draft day and in-season when you’re making waiver wire moves, trading or setting a lineup.
3. … But skill prevails in many cases
New stars burst onto the scene every year. Injury opens the door in many cases, but it’s the most skilled players who will blow through that door, taking down the door jamb with them en route to stardom.
Determining which players have the most skill can be tricky, but being able to recognize it and act as quickly as possible is essential to success.
So, where do we look? Previous performance and NFL Scouting Combine are pretty much all we have to go on. However, that isn’t an awful thing.
Fantasy baseball guru Ron Shandler says that when a player displays a skill he owns it. That means a 30-home run hitter can at any point in the rest of his career have a reasonable opportunity to hit 30 homers again.
Football players have a shorter shelf life, but the same thought process holds true here.
There are few a more factors that go into a running back scoring 12 touchdowns — from weather conditions to health of teammates to the wear and tear a 16-game NFL season has a human body — than what goes into the one-on-one hitter-pitcher interaction that leads to a home run.
But if a player puts up eye-popping numbers in college, or shines in the last quarter of his sophomore NFL season, we need to make some assumptions about a player’s skill and take calculated guesses about what they’ll do if they earn more opportunities.
4. Start with Fantasy Pros rankings
Let me say it again, start with fantasypros.com’s rankings. That is, literally, what I do.
Last season, I developed a set of spreadsheets that helped me determine my weekly rankings. They pushed me into the top 15% of players in the flyweight division at Rotogrinders.com, one of the premiere daily fantasy sports sites, and as I said above, led me to money in a couple season-long leagues.
The primary drivers in my algorithm are fantasypros.com’s rankings. I insert them first, then let the number-crunching begin.
They’re out there. They’re free. They’re the best in the business. You’re hurting yourself if you’re not using them or at least using rankings that are based on them, like ours.
5. Twitter is fantasy football insider trading
Stop. I see you shaking your head. I know you don’t care about Twitter, but the bottom line is that news and information flows quickly on the social media platform.
You follow the right people and news organizations and you’ll never miss an injury, a late scratch or rumors about game plan changes.
Yes, you have to deal with some photos of dogs, some photos of food, some complaints about random stuff. But if you’ve ever wondered how some of your leaguemates end up with that hot waiver wire prospect the week before they blow up, it’s probably because they got an inside tip from an NFL beat writer on Twitter.
Some of these lessons deserve their own articles later and I’ll certainly expand on this one, but for now, here are three must-follows during fantasy football season:
My Twitter is @epcn. I post about sports and news and video games and pieces of cake laying on the ground in parking lots.
6. Keep an open mind and always be consuming
Preseason and in-season, you want to wash your brain with as much fantasy football as you can stand.
Understand — really understand — as much about the sport and the game as you can. Read websites and twitter, listen to podcasts, watch videos.
Some people see brilliance as the ability to connect seemingly unconnected things — that’s how we got clocks with a built in alarms and clocks we can wear on our wrists. Having a wealth of football information allows us to connect the dots faster. It helps us decide when we should zag instead of zigging during our draft and which No. 3 wide receiver is going to go ballistic this week.
Even read contrarian pieces that maybe you don’t agree with. Go into it with an open mind, too, you might have a change of heart. If not, leave a comment and explain why you still disagree.
The websites writers and readers would appreciate the added perspective, no matter how unconventional it is.
7. Fantasy football is more fun when you win
I live for the draft, ninja. I do mocks until I fall asleep at my computer. I play daily fantasy mostly because I get an opportunity to “draft” multiple new lineups each week.
That’s enough for me, really.
There are others who would rather pull off three blockbuster trades — and five other three-way deals to acquire the necessary pieces for those blockbusters — than win. Sure, they tell themselves they’re trading to make their team better, but for many the fantasy football season is all about the art of the trade.
Still others live for those one or two matchups each year with that co-worker two stations over who they share lunch with.
Those moments make this pastime fun. But if you’re one of those people, you’re on this site and you’ve read this far, you want more out of your fantasy experience.
Or if you’ve been playing long enough you’ve had success, you know how fun it is to win and you’re looking for an edge against a veteran lineup of leaguemates.
Still others have been readers for a few years now. Welcome back.
I exhaust quite a few hours in the preseason and in-season to give myself every edge possible. Then I regurgitate the key bits onto these pages for you.
Thanks for reading and for visiting our site. Leave a comment below. Tell us how you found out about us or why you’re excited about the 2016 season. Happy drafting.