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THE PROGNOSTICATOR: 2016 Draft Plan

Welcome my fantasy brethren to another edition of The Prognosticator, may this 2016 Draft Plan be the boost that gets you into the winner’s circle. Each season I put together the meandering thoughts of what we’ve come to call a fantasy expert on how you should approach your fantasy football draft and hope that some of it actually comes out coherent. I’m humbled by how many of you rely on this plan each season to mold your draft strategies, truly, thanks for reading. I’ve been doing this a long time, let’s leave it at that.

It’s a Pass Happy League

As I have been saying for many years, the NFL is a passing league and if you have been reading this plan over the years, you’ll know that it has molded itself to match the passing league that the NFL has become. I analyze drafts and possibilities (as well as exercise those outcomes) against all the big name experts that you can think of in a variety of leagues, in a variety of formats and over the last number of years, the strategy has skewed heavier and heavier to the WR position. In Fantasy Sharks’ forum a member recently mentioned that I was a pioneer at drafting WR-heavy early and that made me think a little. I do actually remember a time when I had to apologize for not recommending a stud-RB theory like all those around me, so maybe I was early to the WR bull rush but the pioneer moniker seems a little aggressive to me.

Be Flexible

It has always been the numbers that have driven my opinion and not my opinion that has driven the numbers, as it is my belief that the landscape changes each year and you need to adapt your strategy to those changes. What I try to do is help identify those changes and map out a draft plan, that should help get you through your 2016 draft with a promising beginning. You have to analyze the player universe each year and never lock yourself into some this-or-that strategy. As I mentioned, the numbers always mold your strategy, you don’t mold the numbers. We look at each season as a new season and the structure of the player universe dictates how we approach our overall draft strategy each year.

Change is Slow

What you will begin to notice after a while, is that there is never a sudden shift year-to-year in how you should approach your draft, but rather, the NFL shifts gradually over time. Last fantasy season was the most WR-heavy year ever, so that won’t change overnight in 2016. It is still going to be a year where WR is very important but there are a few curious wrinkles creeping into the fabric. The wrinkles are some RBs that can compete with some of these big name WRs in the fantasy value department but once the handful of magic mushroom runners are gone (and they will be gone early) you need to collect WRs like Johnny Manziel collects super models on a rainy weekend. There are a few other wrinkles too, like Cam Newton and even Jordan Reed that should make you stop and go, “hmmmm…” in a draft and for all the right reasons.

The PPR Effect

You have to understand the difference between a PPR (Point Per Reception) league and non-PPR. In a PPR league, there are a number of RBs that you can add to your roster late like Danny Woodhead, Duke Johnson, Theo Riddick and even Bilal Powell or Darren Sproles. The NFL is such a pass driven league that many NFL teams are starting to add more value to what a running back that can catch can do out of the backfield. More and more teams want a good one and because of it, PPR leagues have a lot more options at RB, that leave you a lot more options late in a draft if you want to focus on some other positions early in your draft. If you are in a standard league that doesn’t award a point per reception, good RBs float up the value meter as there aren’t enough of them to go around and while WRs are still important, the value between the two positions equalizes so that you need to be focused on both positions equally in 2016.

Homework

Things to study up on this season..

One view point I want to share when evaluating players is that you should devalue how many touchdowns a player scored the previous year; it’s more relevant to create a view that’s primarily yardage based for player comparison purposes. Touchdowns year-to-year are a lot less predictable than yardage and it is worth the exercise to build a player universe view, according to your scoring system, to identify some players to target that others may not notice since most tend to evaluate players based on last years fantasy points scored but not all fantasy points were created equal.

Another recommended exercise is to look at the player universe taking into account just the last half of last season because again, certain players that your competition may skim over will bubble up as players who may have started slow but finished strong and often fly under the fantasy radar because of it. You also don’t want to just follow projections blindly, you need to be somewhat prepared for this. Learn the situations for each player, like which RBs are being pushed by others on the roster where there is a legitimate concern that they could lose snaps. Crowded backfields in general are a tough place to try and make your fantasy mark as the threat of your draft pick losing time is always amplified. Try to study up on the backfield situation for all the teams which will help guide you in your assessment of each expected RB1 for each team and how strong a fantasy RB1 he can be.

For receivers, it does help if you know who is playing in the slot, who is outside and also what the expected base offense for each team is. It helps you to determine who should see the most snaps and targets. I prefer outside receivers from teams with poor defenses and slot receivers from teams with good defenses. I realize most don’t have this kind of time to put into their draft which is why you turn to us as we’ve put in the time for you, that’s what we do. So you should be able to get through a draft fairly comfortably with what we provide but it does help if you can educate yourself about the players.

Opinion Is Only Skin Deep

Try to filter out opinion and news stories as there is always too much opinion wrapped up in a news blurb that tries to move the fantasy needle on a player.  Try thinking it through for yourself, think of the player, the offense, the supporting cast, the base offense, the coaching philosophy, where they play in that offense, who is on the depth chart behind them, their injury history, their suspension issues, their age, their height and weight, the more you know, the better you’ll be at this as you’ll be able to read a news story on a player and instead of most people who absorb the analysis as fact, you’ll be able to call some of it out as B.S., shake your head at how the analyst could ever think that way and be able to ignore the bad advice.

There is plenty of it out there, I shake my head at many of these fantasy staffs that create their numbers and opinions by some guy with an Excel spreadsheet and some hunches. You’d be horrified if you actually knew.. Most simply try and copy the consensus so that their numbers fall in line with what is considered a socially acceptable norm. I know some that will just start with a base set from another site and then move players up and down to mix things up a bit for their own. It’s not a coincidence that at the end of the season the final tally of who performed how, doesn’t ever come close to many people’s initial projection set, yet they release their projections every year, using the same methodology, and because people simply seem to agree that a list looks right that somehow manages to give it credence.

Just realize that there’s a reason most of your fantasy sources start to look the same over time as the preseason progresses, they each know that if their projections “fit the mold” they’ll actually have more readers and more users than the one site that cares purely about the numbers and will never compromise. That’s been us and continues to be us.  We used to get knocked around pretty hard for our projections because they didn’t fit what everyone else was putting out.  We would get email every year about some player that we may have ranked, say 20th, and all the major outlets have him in their Top 10. It was always interesting to me how we were immediately dismissed as the faulty number just because we didn’t always fall in line.  If I had a crystal ball and were able to post in order how the Top 100 scoring players in the NFL will finish in 2016 right now, before they’ve played a snap, and called those our projections, you’d X-out your browser and never return to this crappy site because of how way off our projections would look.  Just food for thought.

Curiously, complaints about our projections hardly happen anymore, sure we aren’t running at 100% accuracy but we can defend every number with fact and reason as to why a player should perform at the level we predict, there is science behind it and our conviction is pure.

Let’s get started on our 2016 Draft Plan, shall we?

About Tony Holm

Founder and President of FantasySharks.com. Five-time nominee for the Fantasy Sports Writers Association's Hall of Fame. Started publishing fantasy content on the web in 1993 and hasn't stopped yet.