So you’ve done your due diligence before your draft and you’ve targeted all your breakout players. You went and executed an expert strategy on draft day. Week One is about to kick off and all your hard work is about to pay off… or is it? Pre-season prep and draft execution will only take you so far, and are only a small part of the battle. Your weekly preparation and roster moves will be the difference between fantasy glory and a lost season. If the draft is one-night stand, the season is your long-term relationship. It’ll be some hard work and a lot of luck to work out, but if it does, it will be amazing.
PART III: The Regular Season
AKA “If You Aren’t Churning You Aren’t Trying”
The most nerve-wracking part of your entire fantasy football experience comes five minutes to kick-off of the first game on Sunday. You’re guessing. The guesses are educated, but ultimately you are making educated guesses. You check the defense, you check the weather, you check their last few games, but still, you’re guessing. That fear is at the crux of the fantasy football, and the joy comes when your calls are right.
While the draft is important, it is really your in-season roster management that will make or break your season. Again, this won’t tell you who to pick up—it’s too early for that—instead this will give you the weekly grind and the best things you can do to maximize the talent on your roster.
Weekly Roster Management
This will be a big one. This is how you will get your new players after the draft, and it’s key that you keep players moving onto your roster if it becomes abundantly clear players already on your roster will not be contributing to your team in 2016. After the games process on Sunday and Monday, and the week turns over, most leagues put all the players not on rosters on waivers that process in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. There are two types of waivers: FAAB and priority.
FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget) is the most egalitarian, but the most difficult for a new person to do well in. Every week, players bid on free agents to acquire. Everybody starts with a budget for the season (usually $100 or $1000) and they bid weekly on free agents as they go through waivers. The high bid wins the player. Your league may play by a “vickrey” bidding system in which the highest bidder pays the second highest bid plus $1. So if I bid $25 on Tom Savage and the second highest bid was $12, I get Tom Savage for $13 (note: do not have Tom Savage on your roster). In a lot of leagues, $0 is a valid bid, just don’t think you’ll get a hot new player with it.
Priority Waivers: There are two types of priority waivers, “rolling” waivers and waivers that change based on record or performance. Whoever has the higher priority receives the player. Rolling waivers have the priority change with usage, and are usually in reverse of the draft order. As rolling waivers are used, the person’s priority drops down to last. Record or performance based waivers give teams in last (or who performed poorly the week before) the first crack at players who broke out the week before.
If you don’t get the player you want, don’t worry. In most leagues, the players go to first-come, first-serve free agents, where they can be freely added and dropped from your roster. Most leagues lock these players as their team starts. If the Seahawks play at 8:25 PM Eastern on Thursday, then Tyler Lockett gets locked and cannot be picked up until after Monday Night Football, but because the Cardinals don’t play until Monday Night Football, then J.J. Nelson will still be available to pick up for free until that game starts a full four days later.
That brings me to the next thing you’ll need to know…
Thursday Night Football and Bye Weeks Screw Everything Up
Until a couple of seasons ago, there were only a handful of Thursday Night Football games that would muck up weekly fantasy football transactions and roster placement. Fantasy football is no longer a Sunday/Monday proposition. Remember on Thursday afternoons/early evenings you need to check your roster not only for inactives, but also to ensure that there are no Thursday Night Football players in your flex spot. As players get hurt or are questionable for Sunday, having a player in your Flex spot makes it more difficult to work your bench players onto your roster as needed. This is a simple tip, and an easy way to ensure roster flexibility.
As for the Bye weeks, they were intentionally left out of the draft primer. There are many draft strategies surrounding Bye weeks (where teams take turns getting the week off, meaning your players aren’t playing), but ultimately the best strategy is to ignore them completely. They will make a mess of things when it comes to weekly transactions, but the best piece of advice for making sure the Bye weeks don’t get you into a bind is looking two weeks ahead of time. This way you can have more time to think through your decisions and if you need to get someone off the wire, you can potentially get them without overpaying in FAAB or burning a high waiver priority. This will keep you in better position to get actual breakthrough players because the worst thing you can do is make a middling transaction and waste a ton on it to fill a temporary roster gap. Do you want to burn your waiver priority grabbing a tight end for your TE’s Bye week? No, the answer is no.
You also don’t want to go and burn one if your player is out for the week or is unlikely to play. How will you know if he’s not playing?
In order to make sure there is a level playing field because of all the preparations that go into a weekly game plan, the NFL mandates that teams report any injuries. For fantasy football, you need to use this to your advantage. In the second half of the week, injured players will get one of the following designations in your fantasy football client: P, Q, D, O, IR.
P: Probable – The player is dealing with some minor dings. Without a major setback on Sunday, the player is more than likely to play and you should monitor the injury report just in case.
Q: Questionable – The player is moderately injured and it’s unlikely the team or the player will know until the day of the game if he will play. This designation will take up most of your weekly handwringing, since it’s almost exactly a coin-flip whether or not the player plays. You should have a backup ready to go, just in case.
D: Doubtful – It’s highly unlikely the player plays this weekend. Players with the Doubtful designation are severely injured but not to the point they can’t practice. It’s likely that even if they do play they will be limited or they will perform poorly.
O: Out – The team has already determined the player will be out for that game.
IR: Injured Reserve – The player has been removed from the active roster and is unlikely to return this season. The team can only bring back one player from IR, and that player must be out at least six weeks. Depending on the player’s quality, the time left in the season and the severity of the injury, the player is likely on their way off your roster.
For the record, as you monitor your injured players on Sunday, the inactives (players who are designated as ineligible to play) are due 90 minutes before the game starts.
What happens when you drop that IR player, or any player off your roster?
Churn and burn
Ideally, the NFL season would be long enough that you could be patient and wait for trends to develop, like you can in baseball. However, a 16-game sample size is far too small to get in on a player after it’s already clear they are already going to break out. The end of your roster is for getting ahold of players who have a chance to break out. The bottom of your roster is for churning these high-upside players in-and-out of your lineup. This can take different forms: a talented backup RB you pick up Sunday morning just before games start only to drop if the person ahead of him doesn’t get hurt, a wide receiver who has been getting increasing targets in recent weeks or a quarterback who has some good matchups coming up. The name of the game is building up the talent on your roster by getting weekly starters out of your last spot.
Make Trades… But Not For the Sake of Trades
Don’t do challenge trades. Challenge trades are trading two players of the same position of the same talent level for each other. There’s no real point in doing them. For example, do not trade Dez Bryant for A.J. Green. They’re functionally similar, and if you trade the player who separates himself from the other, you’ll only find heartbreak. There is no upside to a challenge trade; don’t do them.
If you’re doing a trade, try to make it a two-for-one. Trade away two players to consolidate their talent into one person. That brings the talent to the top of the roster, creating a roster slot you can use to churn and burn. Always move the talent upward, especially after Bye weeks.
Trades are important parts of improving your team, but don’t do it unless it improves your roster. Making moves for the sake of making moves is a fool’s errand.
Play the Matchups, but DON’T SIT YOUR STUDS
One of the biggest issues is who to start out of the marginal players on your roster. You’ll want to check to make sure you’re not starting a marginal running back against a top run defense, or a quarterback taking on a ball-hawking secondary. This is why players in your league complain on Monday morning about how their player “stunk it up” the day before. They didn’t play the matchups.
However. Do. Not. Sit. Your. Studs! Studs should be considered matchup proof. Remember people worrying about Odell Beckham against Josh Norman? And he went out and got six catches for 76 yards and a touchdown? You sure felt smart when he was on your bench, right up until you didn’t. Don’t sit anyone drafted in the first few rounds, ever, unless they are hurt. You drafted them early for a reason, why are you giving away production?
That does it! Go forth and dominate your leagues, newbies. Impress the regulars who thought you were easy money. This will give you the tools to make the right decisions in your league, year in and year out. Sleepers, breakouts and busts will come and go, but the tools you learned in these 4,000 words will give you the perfect base to become a fantasy football champion.