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How to Evaluate Trade Deadline Fallout (Fantasy Football)

Feb 22, 2020

Trades can make or break your fantasy season — just like they can help or hurt an NFL team’s Super Bowl hopes. Teams have until after Week 8 each year to move players around, and big moves often come right down to the wire.

As an example, two big-name receivers changed teams right before the 2019 deadline: Mohamed Sanu and Emmanuel Sanders. Although neither player lit it up for their new team, they had chances to do so, and their departures opened up opportunities for guys on the teams they left.

So how do you best evaluate sudden changes at the trade deadline? Here are a few surefire strategies to keep in mind.

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1. If it sounds like someone is getting dealt, buy their backups.
When a team moves on from a player, their replacement(s) are going to get a serious boost in playing time. Although some teams may opt for a committee approach, which would hurt an individual player’s upside, you can usually snag these guys from the waiver wire. Often, a team that chooses to send a starter away at one position has confidence in the players under him on the depth chart, so they may even be passable fantasy starters once they hit the field.

That said, a team may not have a clear replacement waiting in the wings behind their starter. If that’s the case, use snap counts from that week to determine who saw the most usage. You can use FantasyPros’ handy snap counts tool to do this during the season. You’ll want to buy the player who gets the most volume for future weeks, and that’s even if someone else scores a big touchdown instead of them. Big scores like that are fluky; usage remains relatively consistent.

2. If it sounds like a team is buying at a position, sell their starter.
This rule is the opposite of No. 1. The player getting replaced is about to lose serious playing time, and no matter how much confidence you have in their abilities, teams can only put so many men on the field. The exception is at wide receiver, a team may acquire a complementary piece to take the pressure off their stud option, but this is rarely the case at running back or tight end. See if you can get value based on name recognition before you run out of time.

Like with rule No. 1, things may get a bit murky when a player gets traded. Again, use a team’s snap counts to gauge how much usage a player gets once they’ve made it to their new team. Some teams limit a new player’s initial workload, and you can use that to your advantage, as it can give you an extra week to sell the player they’re about to replace.

3. Sell wide receivers high on the post-trade hype…
I’ll go against the grain here. More often than not, the fantasy industry is going to hype up even a small move. Recent examples, like Mohamed Sanu, Zay Jones, and Emmanuel Sanders in 2019, Golden Tate and Demaryius Thomas in 2018, and Kelvin Benjamin in 2017, all suggest that receivers moved mid-season are unlikely to live up to expectations.

Worse, in those three years, every starting receiver traded in the month of October had a worse fantasy finish than what they were on pace to achieve (there was one exception, however, but I’ll talk about that below).  Sanders went from the WR26 to the WR29, Sanu, from the WR47 to the WR74, Tate, from the WR19 to the WR58, and Thomas, from the WR33 to the WR56. Benjamin plummeted from WR27 to WR80.

4. …unless they’re going to be the stud receiving option.
The one counterpoint to my case against wide receivers moved at the deadline? Amari Cooper in 2018. He ripped off a WR11 finish during his time in Dallas after struggling in Oakland and putting up WR55 numbers. What made Cooper different is that the Cowboys planned to use him as their featured wideout, while all the guys above were complementary additions to competitive teams.

But how can you, as an owner, anticipate when a newly-acquired wideout is a clear-cut starter? That’s easy: their price. The key piece that differentiates Cooper from the field is that the Cowboys gave up a first-round pick for him. A team isn’t going to pay a first-round price for a player they don’t intend to feature.

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Isaiah Sirois is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Isaiah, check out his archive and follow him @is_sirois.

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