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Fantasy Football 101

By Nick Guarisco
@NickGFantasy

To get you ready for your fantasy football draft, DIG’s fantasy football expert Nick Guarisco will break down every position with the best fantasy football insight around. Strap on your helmets and pass the chicken wings—it’s game time!

LATE ROUND QUARTERBACKS

This season there’s an obvious drop off after the two elite QB options—Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers (Read more about early round QB draft strategy here). Depending on the league format and how the board plays out, I’m open to selecting either in the mid-second round (picks 15-20), but I’m certainly in no rush whatsoever to take my QB if I miss out on them. I have Russell Wilson and Drew Brees as my QB3 and QB4, but I wouldn’t reach for either unless they slipped to round 5-6.

During your fantasy draft it is perfectly acceptable to stock up on other positions early and wait until the mid-to-late rounds to take your quarterback. Truth be told: you can win with any strategy if you pick the right players. Let’s discuss this more patient approach for QBs.

Admittingly, I’m not as high on Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning as most experts appear to be. Roethlisberger impressively finished as QB5 last season, but his bottom-line stats were arguably skewed by two insane games against depleted secondaries; Roethlisberger ranked as the 11th best QB if you exclude weeks 8-9—where he threw for 862 PAYD, 12 TDs and 0 INTs—from his gamelog and prorate his 14 games to a full season. He also beat up on a weak NFC South division in 2014, and he won’t have the statistical luxury of a favorable schedule this season.

As for Manning, I believe his decline started a few weeks before a quad strain that hampered him in the season’s final month. His offensive line projects to be one of the league’s worst, and the team has openly stated their desire to deploy a much more run-oriented attack under the conservative offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

I have 8th round grades on Roethlisberger and Manning and seeing as their ADPs are near round 4, it’s safe to say they won’t be on my teams this season. That isn’t to say either quarterback will have a bad season. More accurately, I believe I can get similar production from QBs going a few rounds later.

Speaking of Mannings (please do not throw quit reading after you finish this sentence), but I think New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning is actually a better pick than his older brother Peyton this season. Eli got more comfortable as the season progressed in the new offense OC Ben McAdoo implemented. Eli took the lid off defenses in the Giants’ last three games (QB1 in that span), parlaying his strong finish to a quiet top-10 option last year (30-14 TD/INT ratio). Now he enters 2015 in year 2 of McAdoo’s system with a dangerous supporting cast that includes superstar WR Odell Beckham, Rueben Randle, Victor Cruz and newly acquired pass catching back Shane Vereen. With a bad defense and soft schedule, the younger Manning QB is set up for success.

The same can be said for Tony Romo, who is annually undervalued by the fantasy community. Everyone loves to hate on the Cowboys, but the dude seriously finishes as a top-10 fantasy QB EVERY.SINGLE.YEAR. Loaded with a nice pass catching arsenal, the Cowboys will be forced to throw more now that DeMarco Murray and his 393 carries are gone, so I’d advise to do your best to avoid being “Romophobic.”

I also like Cam Newton to bounce back after a down fantasy season which resulted from multiple injuries limiting his effectiveness on the ground. Cam finished very strongly and faces a much easier slate of opponents this season.

Ryan Tannehill gets better every year, and although he remains an inconsistent “real life” quarterback, he looks the part from a fantasy perspective playing in Bill Lazor’s (a Chip Kelly disciple) fast-paced, QB-friendly offense. His wide array of weapons includes former Pro Bowl TE Jordan Cameron, Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, and Jarvis Landry. Let’s just hope that shaky offensive line holds up (debatable).

Because there are quite a few late options I like at QB, one strategy I’d suggest is pairing two back-end starters (like Newton & Eli). It’s a sneaky alternative to spending high capital on an early round QB when all the quality RBs & WRs are going, and the strategy can provide you with equal or near equivalent payoff as the premium QBs. Not only does this increase your chances of hitting on a breakout QB, but if you play the NFL schedule right, you can play matchups each week and have more opportunities to start QBs with favorable opponents.

Feel free to execute this pairing strategy with whatever QBs ranked in that 8-14 range you like, or whichever ones fall. We’re talking any combination of Newton, Romo, Brady, Tannehill, and Philip Rivers in rounds 9-10.

For more traditional backups, I like Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, and Carson Palmer, in that order. After those guys, I think you’re just drafting bye week replacements for backups.

If you draft an early QB and really only need his bye week replacement, here are some suggestions:

  • Pair Andrew Luck with Joe Flacco (plays JAX during Luck’s BYE week), or Teddy Bridgewater (OAK).
  • Pair Rodgers with Alex Smith (PIT) or Philip Rivers (@OAK).
  • Pair Russell Wilson with Colin Kaepernick (ATL) or Jameis Winston (NYG).
  • And lastly, pair Brees with Sam Bradford (TB), Winston (@PHI), Stafford (OAK) or Bridgewater (GB).

DEFENSE

The “pairing” approach can be used for defenses too but with a schedule-oriented shift. The idea is to draft “defensive complements,” and it’s all about resisting any urge to draft a highly ranked (but annually unpredictable) defense before round 12 in favor of two later defenses that have favorable or complementing early season schedules.

This season, the Miami Dolphins early schedule sets up nicely; the quarterbacks they face in the first 7 weeks of the season include Robert Griffin III, Blake Bortles, Matt Cassel, Geno Smith, Marcus Mariota, and Brian Hoyer. That’s attractive. Other potential bargain bin defenses include the Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos.

KICKERS

Mike Singletary infamously once said, “I want winners!” Could it be possible that he was in fact referring to fantasy football kicker strategy? Tough to confirm, but of the all the kickers who finished in the Top 12 in the last two seasons, 22/24 of them have played on teams that ended up with an 8-8 record or better.

Take advantage of this, and not only draft kickers on good offenses who play for winning teams, but also only start kickers each week who are projected to win their game. Why? It’s simple: teams that win more score more (and have more opportunities to do so, and chances to kick are everything for this lowly position). Plus, teams that are trailing in the second half of games are more likely “go for it” on 4th down or bypass field goals for TDs.

You can use the early portion of schedules to determine good / winnable matchups, at least initially. Kickers I’m targeting who fit the criteria (excluding the top options—don’t be “that guy”) include Mason Crosby (GB), Connor Barth (DEN), Graham Gano (CAR), Caleb Sturgis (MIA), and Josh Brown (NYG).

Follow Nick Guarisco’s Twitter feed @NickGFantasy for all the league-winning fantasy football takes you’ll need to dominate your draft.

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