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15 Lessons From 2019 Draft Season: Part 1

@ekballer analyzes the 2019 draft season, assessing hits, misses, and some thoughts to improve our process moving forward

Hola, Herders!

I’m always trying to improve as a fantasy player. Surely, you are as well, or you wouldn’t be reading this. Who doesn’t want to get better, beat your friends, and make money? 

Part of my process to improve is to take a hard look at my drafts, assess what went right and what went wrong, and to use that data to make better decisions moving forward. This year, I’ve broken all my takeaways down into 15 bullet points, and I’ve written them out to share with you all.

Enjoy, and I hope you find something beneficial in here!

Part 1

  1. Sometimes coaches mean what they say 
  2. Listen to players talking about players
  3. Listen to beat reporters 
  4. Chase volume, not efficiency (in skill positions)
  5. Buy the role 
  6. ACL tears are a two-year recovery
  7. Pay attention to coaching tendencies, for good or for ill

Let’s break ‘em down!

1. Sometimes the coaching staff means what they say

This one plays out in a few different ways.

First, the negative: Dante Pettis.  

Some of us spent all summer convincing ourselves that the criticism about Dante Pettis was coach speak and motivational tactics. Now it’s looking more like Pettis was legitimately in the doghouse and has been underperforming. 

To be fair, Pettis showed us plenty of evidence last year that he’s a capable wide receiver, so I don’t think it was a crazy idea that he would be a good player this year, but those that listened dodged a bullet. In the offseason, coaches heap praise indiscriminately, so it should stick out when a player is getting negative feedback. 

credit: San Francisco Chronicle

On the other hand, if you listened to the constant love that John Gruden had for Darren Waller, you picked up one of 2019’s best sleepers. Gruden was effusive throughout the offseason, saying things like “Since the time he walked in here, he’s been one of the most impressive guys on our team,” and “He’s the best-kept secret in the NFL.” Well, four weeks into the season, he’s not a secret anymore; he’s tied for 5th in the NFL in targets.  

The third situation I wanted to touch on here is Chris Godwin. Arians’ praise of him this summer was excessive. “He’ll never come off the field,” “He fits perfectly,” “He’ll be close to a 100-catch guy.” These things have all been true through the quarter-pole, and, if you took Godwin in a startup this summer, what felt like a reach then has quickly turned into a value pick, as Godwin leads all WRs in TDs and is third in yards.  

The final player I apply this to is Chris Carson. Pete Carroll might literally be the most unreliable coach in terms of what he says to the media being accurate, but he told us this one all summer, as did the rest of his staff. Despite the draft capital they threw at Rashaad Penny- and I’m sure they wish they had that one back- Chris Carson is and will stay the lead back in Seattle. With nearly 20 attempts and 84 rushing yards a game, he’s done investors right so far in 2019.  

2. Listen to players talking about players

When Mike Evans says that he and Chris Godwin are forming a 1a / 1b situation, or that “Obviously, we’re competing to be the number 1… That’s how highly I think of him,” it should give you cause to pay attention. By now, we all know that the situation played out just as Evans said. 

Another example of this is Aaron Rodgers talking about Marquez Valdes-Scantling.   

A frequent debate over the summer was, “Who is the Packers’ WR2?” It was MVS vs. Geronimo Allison, with takers on both sides.  

But Rodgers told us who the #2 would be: “He’s been a leader in that room, and obviously he’ll be a starter for us,” he said. “He listens, he cares about it… he puts in the time.” The hype for MVS was all the more conspicuous for the absence of hype about Allison; I started the offseason high on Geronimo, but by August had switched my tune, as the camp reports had made it clear that MVS was the guy to own. Apt observers caught on that LeFleur was drawing off his Kubiak roots and playing more 12 personnel, and then during the preseason, it became clear that MVS was getting the snaps in two-wide sets.   

photo credit: Dairyland Express

Through four weeks, MVS hasn’t yet made a huge difference on your roster- you can thank the newly-run-heavy GB offense for that- but he’s 22nd in the league in air yards. That’s great for a guy you drafted as a WR4. Big games are coming for MVS.  

3. Listen to beat writers

Sometimes we get the most high-quality offseason reports not from coaches but from the beat writers, as they have no incentive to fluff up players. They’re reporters; they mostly want to be accurate and interesting. Smart players follow beat reporters to get the off-season news when it’s fresh. Hit me up on twitter, I’ll share the follow list with you. 

Some good tidbits that were floated by beat reporters long before the season:

-DJ Chark was demonstrating a solid rapport with Nick Foles. It was also reported that he “really understands” the offense (quoting a wide receivers coach.)

-Ronald Jones is bigger and stronger, was making big plays in camp. TB’s most improved player

-Darren Waller was “unguardable” throughout training camp

-Curtis Samuel was “light-years” ahead of last season

-Matt Breida shined in the preseason (didn’t hear much about Coleman’s play)

I could go on about this for pages, but the point is that it’s worth soaking up all the camp hype and digesting it to see what makes sense/matches up with other assessments you have on players. You don’t want to buy it all at face value, but when you start to see the confluence of camp hype, role, and talent, you should take a hard look at that player. 

4. Pay attention to volume, not efficiency (with skill positions)

This is something most of already know (opportunity metrics are king!) and yet sometimes it’s still hard to implement. 

O.J. Howard has been incredibly efficient. Through his first two years, he averaged 16.6 y/r. Over his career, Rob Gronkowski averaged 15.1 y/r. 

Last year Howard dominated for fantasy teams, averaging 12 ppg despite two duds due to injuries. He was a late-round gem at TE until hitting the IR.   

He’s also averaged just 3.5 targets per game for his career. That’s not great. 

Now his fellow tight end Cameron Brate is back- he’d been out for most of Howard’s 2018 dominance- and Howard is underperforming. Players that drafted him as a top 5 TE are suffering. Some are pointing to Bruce Arians as the reason Howard isn’t getting play, but that’s not that strong an argument; Howard’s only seeing a small downturn in targets (3 targets a game for 2019).

The truth is that chasing efficiency is a fool’s errand. Draft volume, not efficiency.  

5. Buy the role!   

When we have changes in personnel or coaching, a great strategy is to buy the player that fills a known role in the offense.  

Chris Godwin, who we’ve talked about aplenty, is a great example of this. He fit perfectly into the Larry Fitzgerald / big slot role in Bruce Arians’ offense, and that has yielded excellent results. 

Photo Credit: The Pewter Plank

Another example of “buying the role” is Damien Williams / LeSean McCoy and the KC backfield. Here, you bought the role of “Andy Reid RB,” a role while we’ve seen filled by the likes of Jamaal Charles and Kareem Hunt.  

Although Damien Williams owners aren’t happy with the draft cost- if you drafted him this summer before the McCoy pickup, you overpaid for what you’ve gotten so far- the process was still correct. 

Through four weeks the 1a /1b in that backfield has produced 117.1 points. On any given week, you’ve been fine if you started either of the players in that timeshare (so long as you didn’t fall into the Darwin Thompson trap when D-Will was out). 

A third example of this is Austin Hooper. A talented prospect who had a mini-breakout last year, Hooper slotted perfectly into the TE1 role in the Dirk Koetter offense. Koetter is the one that made Howard a star last year, and in his previous run as Falcons OC he had Tony Gonzalez going for at least 80/875/7 in the two years they worked together. Through four weeks, Hooper is the TE2.  

Again, this is a point I could spend twenty pages on, but I’ll give you one last example: Darren Waller. Waller has filled the role that Jared Cook played in the Oakland offense last year, and he’s played the role better than did Cook. He sits as the TE5 going into week 5, and that is without a TD. 

6. ACL tears are a two-year recovery (unless it’s AP)

When a player tears an ACL, it’s a 6-8 month “recovery time.” That’s a minimum time until they can actually play. 

For another year after that, the athlete is still recovering strength, speed, and explosiveness. They are at high risk of recurring injuries, particularly if they come back too quickly, whether that is swelling and soreness in the knee or hamstring injuries from the body compensating. 

So when Dalvin cook tears an ACL in 2017 and misses half of 2018 with hamstring issues this is par for the course. It doesn’t make him “injury prone.”

Photo Credit: Daily Norseman

When Derrius Guice tears an ACL and is hurried back, we shouldn’t be surprised that he misses time. 

When Allen Robinson suddenly looks like his old self two years after his knee injury, this makes sense. 

Use that first year when a player is “recovered” but not yet playing at a peak level as a buy-low window. If you bought Dalvin Cook this past summer, you’re probably winning your league right now. 

Guice could be that player next year. Hunter Henry is another player that had a 2018 ACL injury & is experiencing complications in his recovery. 

Buy-low on recovering players. Let other managers fall victim to the myth of the “injury-prone” label.

7. Coaching Tendencies Matter

With all the head coach / OC changes, this concept is playing out all over the NFL.  

We touched on Arians and his love for the slot receiver above; we could also point out the long history of disuse of the TE by Arians as an additional reason we should have faded Howard at ADP.  

John DeFilippo bringing the Jaguars toward a more balanced attack is another example that many players saw coming. If you’re Tom Coughlin, you don’t hire the guy that just got fired by the Vikings for passing too much unless you want an offense that works through the air.  

Through four games, that’s come to fruition: Jacksonville’s 2019 pass % of 59.4 is almost a full 10% higher than last year. The pass-catching core has benefited, as have fantasy managers who invested- particularly those who took a shot on second-year receiver D. J. Chark. 

DeFilippo also has a history of utilizing backs in the passing game- see Davin Cook’s 40 targets through 10 games in 2018- and Leonard Fournette has produced as a receiving back, catching 16 balls in four weeks. 

Speaking of the Vikings, Stefanski/Kubiak is another good example. They dumped the pass-heavy OC because they wanted to beat opponents into the ground with Dalvin Cook. That’s been good for Dalvin; it’s been not-so-good for Theilen and Diggs. A quick look at the play calling from the end of 2018 when Stefanski took over for DiPhillpo, and one could see this coming.  

Darrell Bevell taking over in Detroit provides another excellent case study. In Bevell’s previous stint as the Seahawks OC, he had four consecutive years of his team ranking top-4 in rush attempts per game. This streak was broken in 2016 largely due to the offensive line falling apart.  

It should be no surprise that the Lions offense ranks 4th in rushing attempts so far in 2019. A less obvious effect has been Bevell pushing the ball downfield on passing attempts, but this is also consistent with his play-calling in Seattle.  

My final example, about whom we’ve talked a bit already, is Dirk Koetter, who has returned to play-calling duties in Atlanta. We’ve already talked about his love for the TE. It’s also noteworthy that his passing attacks have generally been potent, while his rushing offenses have been less so. This might be largely a function of personnel, as he did put together a strong rushing attack behind Doug Martin in 2015. Still, it’s worth noting that his previous season with Devonta Freeman was Freeman’s worst and that Freeman broke out the following year. This trend could apply to Ronald Jones, who seems to be amid his own second-year breakout with Bruce Arians’ revamped Buccaneers. 

Ok Herd! That wraps up part one. Happy football watching, I hope you all win money, and feel free to hit me up with any questions or comments on twitter at @ekballer! 

Look for 15 Lessons: Part 2 to drop next week.  

Look for my weekly start/sit columns as well, and feel free to tag me or DM with any lineup questions, I’ll help whenever I can.

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