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15 Things We Learned This Season (2019 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Dec 28, 2019

Lamar Jackson is going to be in the first-round discussion next year

There will be articles leading up to the 2020 season that highlight “things we learned last year” but why not do it while everything is fresh on the mind? There are many takeaways from the 2019 season, but some should severely impact the way we draft in 2020.

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No, not things like copy/paste production from this season and automatically think it’ll happen next season. The topics below are things that fantasy owners may overlook or forget about as time goes on, myself included. My advice would be to bookmark this page and reference it prior to draft season. Maybe glance at it from time-to-time, then reach out to me and tell me when I’m about to break one of my own rules.

Think of this as my personal diary that I sat down to write after the conclusion of Week 16 in 2019, highlighting things that I can do better in 2020. We aren’t going to be perfect, but here are the 15 things we learned during the 2019 NFL season.

1. Don’t try to stream the running back position.
Do you play your fantasy championship in Week 17? No, right? Well, streaming the running back position is relying on complete randomness to get the job done. Waiting on a big injury? So is everyone else. Snagging running backs who were in a timeshare or third-down backs off the waiver wire used to be simple. Get someone like Chris Thompson who would give you a 6-8-point floor and not lose you the week. They were available all the time. Not anymore, though. I write the article “Weekend Waiver Wire Stashes” every week and believe me when I say that it’s hard to find a running back less than 40 percent owned who will offer a stable floor.

2. Don’t take a competent quarterback for granted.
I’ve been someone who’s thought Ben Roethlisberger was a tad overrated in recent years, but I’m here to tell you that I was wrong. Does it mean he’s a Hall of Famer? He might as well be to fantasy owners with the way he supports fantasy wide receivers. We watched JuJu Smith-Schuster go from an every-week starter to someone who finished outside the top-50 in points per game. So, the next time you think that Philip Rivers going away might be a good thing for the Chargers receivers, think again.

3. Waiting for the golden ticket on the waiver wire didn’t work out.
I’m extremely guilty of this myself, as I’m often looking to hit a home run once an injury strikes. The biggest lesson here is that you should be willing to spend your FAAB dollars or waiver priority early in the season because that’s when there’s the most uncertainty. Think about it for a moment. Last year, it was Phillip Lindsay. This year it was D.J. Chark. Just because we think they’re further down the depth chart than they produced in Week 1, it doesn’t mean they actually are. Take your shots early in the season.

4. Lamar Jackson isn’t just a quarterback. He also isn’t just a quarterback who just rushes the ball. 
Sure, he threw for a league-leading 36 touchdowns through 15 games, but his rushing totals are those of a running back. He finished the year with 1,206 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns. In a 0.5 PPR format, his rushing totals alone would’ve finished as the No. 20 running back. If you removed all his rushing totals from his fantasy points scored, he would rank as the No. 9 quarterback. So, by slotting him in as your quarterback, you’re essentially getting a top-10 quarterback and a top-20 running back. He’s not someone I’d be willing to spend a top-five overall pick on, but I won’t fault those who want to. If he remains healthy (the biggest concern), it’s hard to see him not returning first-round value.

5. Freddie Kitchens will destroy all Browns players.
Editor’s note: Kitchens was fired on Sunday night.
If Kitchens remains the head coach of the Browns, it’s going to be incredibly hard to justify spending any draft equity on the talented skill-position players on the roster. It’s one of those situations where you want to write it on a napkin prior to entering fantasy drafts next year. The note to myself would read: Kitchens will hurt you in the end. Don’t do it. Odell Beckham will be a prime bounce-back candidate, as he’s too talented to continue struggling, but if Kitchens there, you shouldn’t overpay for him. Looking into the future, I’d be willing to select Beckham in the third-round if Kitchens is still there, which is where I’d consider him a decent value as the risk/reward combo is worth it. Before then? Nah.

6. Just because a coach says he’s going to run 80 plays per game, it doesn’t mean anything.
Remember when everyone was talking about Kliff Kingsbury’s air raid offense coming to take the NFL by storm and that they were going to run 80-plus plays per game? Well, their offense scored 22.5 points per game, which ranked 17th, while their 62.6 plays per game ranked 21st in the league. The NFL is a completely different monster, so just because a coach did something in college, it doesn’t automatically translate to the NFL.

7. Wide Receiver is becoming less and less predictable. It’s also allowing some to come out of the woodwork and making the position easier to stream.
If you play DFS, you know where you’re spending money each week. The running back position. Why is that? It’s because it’s the one constant; the one position you can predict touches week-in and week-out. If you did spend up at the wide receiver position, it was for Michael Thomas, who scored 90.8 more PPR points than the closest wide receiver. The distance from the WR7 to the WR26 was just 48.2 PPR points, or 3.2 points per game. Going back 10 years ago, the distance from WR7 to WR26 was 97.6 PPR points, or 6.5 points per game. Why is this happening? Because the NFL’s offenses are so much more spread out running three- and four-wide receiver sets. With so many wide receivers viable, attacking running backs in the early rounds makes too much sense.

8. There are more than a few tight ends that are reliable.
We viewed the tight end position as one that was very shallow this year, though it didn’t really pan out that way. Sure, there were just six tight ends who scored 180-plus PPR points while no other ones scored more than 155 PPR points, but when you factor in the missed games, there would’ve been more. There were 10 tight ends who averaged at least 11.9 PPR points per game, a number that went up significantly from 2018 where there were just six tight ends who topped 11.5 PPR points per game. While taking Travis Kelce in the late-first/early-second won’t hurt your fantasy team, it’s also not completely necessary.

9. Defenses are still unpredictable.
Every single year, fantasy owners want to talk themselves into drafting a young defense that’s going to repeat what they did the prior year. Heading into 2018 drafts it was the Jaguars (who finished 12th), then heading into 2019 it was the Bears (who finished 17th). Meanwhile, the Patriots have had a top-10 defense in nine of the last 11 years now (most in the NFL), yet they always fall in drafts. Stop spending valuable equity on DSTs.

10. Bruce Arians cannot be trusted.
I’ve been trying to find the term to coin here, but ultimately landed on “Arians-d”, though I’m open to change if someone has something better. Just when we think Ronald Jones has done enough to snag the starting job, Arians tells us he did, then proceeds to give Peyton Barber 12-plus touches that net something like 35 yards. Drafting O.J. Howard also seemed like a good idea until we found out that Arians’ offense didn’t seem to fit someone of his skillset. Did you know that among the 33 tight ends who saw more than 40 targets, the only ones who averaged more yards per target than Howard were Jared Cook, Jonnu Smith, George Kittle, Darren Waller, Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, and Hunter Henry?

11. Just because a superstar leaves one team to go to another, it doesn’t automatically equate to more production.
Many (myself included) thought to themselves, “If Odell Beckham crushed while in New York with Eli Manning, what’s possible with Baker Mayfield in Cleveland?” Before you scoff at Mayfield, his ADP was QB4 in drafts this year. The issue is that going from one team to another creates a lot of variables in a player’s projection. The chemistry with the quarterback, the lack of time to develop said chemistry, and most importantly, the offensive scheme he’s going into. Freddie Kitchens proved to be too much for the Mayfield/Beckham combo to overcome, leading to a lot of disappointment. Now go back and read the No. 5 thing we learned.

12. Adam Gase holds his players back.
Do we really have to go in-depth on this one? We can talk about Kenyan Drake, Devante Parker, Le’Veon Bell, Ryan Tannehill, and more. We don’t know if Robby Anderson will stay with the Jets, but we didn’t see him have much/any consistency under Gase. If he does stay with the Jets, you have to dock him for the Gase factor.

13. Not all targets are created equal.
It’s time to embrace analytics, guys and gals. You may not believe in everything they say, but air yards have more correlation to success than targets. A target 40 yards down the field is worth much more than a target near the line of scrimmage. Some may be saying “duh” but we now have data thanks to sites like NextGenStats and to help quantify these statistics and use them to our advantage.

14. Christian McCaffrey isn’t just a running back.
We all know McCaffrey is a weapon that won fantasy championships but considering he’s still someone who’s not universally owned in DFS tells me that some need to hear this. If you were to take only his receiving stats of 109 receptions, 933 yards, and four touchdowns, he would’ve finished as the No. 13 wide receiver in PPR formats. Over the final six games of the season, he saw 72 targets. There were just 53 wide receivers who hit that mark during the entire fantasy season. Oh, and if we were relying on just rushing production from running backs, his 1,361 yards and eight touchdowns would’ve been No. 1 among running backs. So, you’re getting the RB1 and a borderline WR1 when you start him.

15. Situation can mean a lot more than talent.
This kind of combines a few of our points from above, but I wanted this to be the final one you read in hopes that it sticks. I get into disagreements with dynasty enthusiasts about this all the time, but situation matters almost (if not) more than talent does. In the NFL, every player is extremely talented. They were all superstars at their high school. Sure, there are elite players who can make that slightest bit of difference, but most of the time, it comes down to opportunity and the offense they play in. Some coaches are willing to promote players who are buried on the depth chart while others are stubborn and refuse to change, even when things clearly aren’t working. Le’Veon Bell is still the same running back he was in Pittsburgh. Think about that for a minute. Had he started his career under Gase in this Jets offense, you’d think of him as simply a “volume back.” Meanwhile, Kenyan Drake went from someone who averaged 11.5 touches per game in the Dolphins offense to someone who was getting 19.4 touches per game and winning fantasy championships on the Cardinals offense. Situation matters a lot more than most think.

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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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