Tom Brady in a Bucs uniform should have been the strangest sight this football season.
But ordinary was not to be as we face empty stadiums, rapid testing and other waters so uncharted that we don’t know if the season will start, and if it does, whether it will be completed. The NHL and NBA are doing relatively well in their bubble settings. Baseball has had more problems, but they seem to be slogging through. Given the larger rosters, more contact and intent of teams not to fully isolate, the NFL season is on perilous ground. We love the real game as well as the fantasy version, so just as the NFL has put new rules and protocols in place in order to safely play, so too should your league. We move forward with cautious optimism.
All fantasy commissioners should be considering some combination of expanded rosters and IR slots so teams are not decimated by COVID. Fantasy owners need the flexibility to make moves if a player tests positive or a game is rescheduled without having to decimate their roster.
Any league that has money involved should agree before the draft what will happen if the season is not completed. Matthew Berry suggests that if the league is stopped after ten or more weeks the top point getter should win, but that takes away from the head-to-head game. Other recommendations would be to refund the money or donate it to COVID relief, depending on your circumstances.
Followers of this blog know that the Fantasy Football Intelligence system takes a top down approach by looking at macro trends on the league and team levels and then carrying them downstream to the players to predict opportunities and performance. Before deciding on an individual player’s value, consider how he will be affected by the unique conditions of this season.
The abridged training camp means no exhibition games, no joint practices and less than three weeks of contact. Rookies looking to beat out veterans will be at a disadvantage early. So will players switching teams who have a serviceable starter in front of them. More than in seasons past it may be necessary to carry someone for a few weeks or even months before they deliver full value for your team. Similarly, in a league with smaller rosters, you may need to watch the waiver wire more carefully than usual and take chances on guys a week or two before their big breakout game in order to maximize your roster. FFI is about mitigating risk but this year will have more opportunities than usual to take a chance; champions will have to take a couple of big swings.
In football, sometimes the greatest ability is “availability”. Keep track of who has already recovered from COVID. Monitoring the COVID list isn’t sufficient. Not everyone on the list actually has the virus. Matt Stafford, for instance, was on the list, but was asymptomatic and it was deterimined his test was a false positive. Ezekiel Elliott on the other hand, contracted and recovered from the virus. He’s easily a top five back. All things held equal and depending on the rules of your league, I’d bump him up as he is less likely to get sick again. (Don’t @ me…I’m not going to discuss epidemiology and antibodies in this space.) This requires diligence throughout the year, but may pay off if someone isn’t paying enough attention. Team cultures will be important too. Each team is only as safe as their biggest idiot.
Be extra wary of players with injury histories. The transition from camp to full speed games will be abrupt and soft tissue injuries will be more common than in years past. Players like Will Fuller carry even more risk. While Hopkins departure for Arizona opens up targets in Houston and Fuller may be a prime beneficiary, I would drop him a bit from his ADP. Conversely, a reliable player like Jarvis Landry gets a bump because he rarely misses a game – he is the only WR to play in all 96 games the last six years.
Another byproduct of the atypical preseason is that traditional high volume guys like McCaffrey, Elliott and Barkley may get eased in a bit more than in years past and existing committees may take longer to sort out. This is a very important year to “handcuff” your starting running backs by owning their backups if your roster size allows. There are a number of rookie RBs in the league this year who could be bench warmers in September and league winners in December.
Continuity is important. Teams with returning coaches and QBs have an advantage over those that have to implement a new system under these circumstances. Brady and his fabled work habits may be an exception to this theory, but I’m leery of the situations in Carolina, LA Chargers and Washington for sure. I’m not high on Chicago either, whether the starter is Trubisky or Foles. The Patriots have an interesting year ahead of them, but hold off on any predictions until the season gets closer and we see a little more. They could win anywhere from six to eleven games.
This will also be a good year to stream or platoon defenses. Without crowds, home field advantage will be less important and with fewer practice opportunities and players coming in and out of the lineup, making decisions on a week to week basis will work better when done right. Pick defense late and use your earlier picks to load up on RBs and WRs. More on that in weeks to come.
It will be a season like no other, but Fantasy Football Intelligence will be right here to help you navigate it.
Oh, and I still like the occasional music video, so here’s one for the weirdness.