2017 Dynasty Lessons Learned (Fantasy Football)
After each season it is important to take stock of new trends in the NFL to stay ahead of changes in the dynasty marketplace. Here are four key lessons to draw from the 2017 season.
Cellar Dweller Offenses Rebound
Offseason narratives drive a lot of fantasy football value. One of the most common narratives is to assume bottom tier offenses are going to be bad two seasons in a row.
Familiar narratives in 2017 included that Jared Goff was a bust, mocking the New York Jets, and that poor quarterback play would hamper Houston and San Francisco’s offenses. Betting against all these narratives would have been a profitable endeavor six months ago.
In 2017, the teams that finished in the bottom eight of scoring in 2016 rose on average 43.5 points and improved an average of eight spots in terms of NFL scoring rank. This includes the Los Angeles Rams who were led by Jared Goff (who was labeled a bust after the 2016 season).
The bottom quarter of scoring offenses in 2017 were Cleveland, New York Giants, Indianapolis, Chicago, Miami, Denver, Cincinnati, and Arizona Cardinals. The New York, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Arizona will all have new coaches in 2018 and represent good target teams to find value.
Wide Receivers Still Take Time to Develop
The 2014 rookie wide receiver class changed fantasy football changed fantasy football in profound ways. The rookie years successes of Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr., Kelvin Benjamin, Brandin Cooks, and Allen Robinson changed reshaped the top three rounds of dynasty startup valuations.
Perhaps more importantly than the individual players, the 2014 rookie class changed the expectations of the wide receiver positions. Before 2014, targeting “Third-Year Breakout Wide Receivers” was a popular strategy.
After 2014, dynasty owners have grown impatient with your wide receivers. If a wide receiver is not producing like a top 24 receiver by the midseason of their second season, they get labeled busts.
The past two seasons have been a good reminder that wide receivers still take time to adjust to the NFL. Recent third-year breakouts include Davante Adams, Devin Funchess, and Nelson Agholor, all three of whom were a punchline entering their third seasons. This was despite the fact Adams struggled with injuries, Funchess was a positional convert, and Agholar was a first-round NFL pick.
The 2016 and 2017 wide receiver rookie classes have mostly fallen flat. Will Fuller, Corey Coleman, and Josh Doctson headline the likeliest version of third-year breakouts, but there are other later values. Laquon Treadwell, Leonte Carroo, and Tyler Boyd all had promise entering the NFL but have yet to produce. They are cheap options late in startup drafts or to acquire as a small part of a bigger trade in the offseason.
Similarly, the 2017 class has seen slow starts from Mike Williams and John Ross. They have each plummeted multiple rounds of startup value since August, and represent cheap bets on draft pedigree and a developmental view of the wide receiver position.
Fluctuating Positional Values
The wide receiver position has dominated dynasty positional values in recent years particularly in the wake of the 2014 wide receiver class. Strength at the receiver position with relatively weaker and older top running backs made investing in wide receivers a sound strategy.
Since 2015, there has been a growing resurgence at the running back position with the addition of Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Devonta Freeman, Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, and others combined with the 2017 class. This has been combined with three classes of lackluster receiving prospects which created a market where the elite running backs are on par with the elite wide receivers.
As a result, if you are drafting a startup team in 2018, you are likely to see running back values in the first five rounds of drafts where historically receivers were better options. The strength of running back and the influx of fantasy relevant tight ends have created a dynasty market where it is crucial to be very selective at wide receiver.
From 2015 through 2017, it made sense to target wide receivers early and be lean at the position while using the middle and later rounds on the quarterback, running back, and tight end positions. With the changing marketplace, targeting running backs and tight ends early can allow you to be selective but deeper in your wide receiver selections in the middle rounds of drafts.
Have a Backup Plan at Quarterback
The 2017 season was a bad year for injuries at the quarterback position, with Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Carson Wentz, Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill, Deshaun Watson, Josh McCown, and Sam Bradford all ending up on injured reserve. That represents 25% of NFL teams who had to deal with a starting quarterback on IR.
While 2017 may be an outlier regarding injuries, the season was a reminder that quarterbacks do not progress linearly. Entering 2017, Jameis Winston, Derek Carr, and Marcus Mariota were largely viewed as franchise quarterbacks entering their prime, yet each had a turbulent fantasy season and enters 2018 with questions about their future.
In start one quarterback leagues, it is attractive to roster one “franchise” type quarterback while using the waiver wire to cover bye weeks or injuries. 2017 is a cautionary tale about how easily the approach can go wrong.
Developing a reliable option as a second quarterback can be done at a low cost and insures against injury and poor play. Even if your starter is healthy and playing well, your backup will be worth starts in the season as streaming matchup plays.
Jordan McNamara is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jordan, check out his archive and follow him @McNamaraDynasty.