Fantasy football draft prep: Breaking biases

Fantasy football draft prep: Breaking biases

Draft Strategy

Fantasy football draft prep: Breaking biases

All too often, advanced fantasy football gamers included, owners allow the past to dictate future draft plans through cognitive biases. Even full-time fantasy players need to remember from time to time that the game changes year over year and requires a press of the reset button.

In a sport where 11 constantly moving chess pieces work in harmony against a matching defense trying to stifle any plans of a checkmate, all it takes is a small change to make a huge difference.

I’ve written a number of times about expectations and how we perceive players based on what we think they will do on the field, whether it be weekly or annually. All it takes is being slightly wrong in our view of a situation to see those projections fall apart. We cannot control injuries, and life throws extenuating circumstances into the mix, but recognizing our own biases about teams and players absolutely can be controlled.

Objectivity is arguably the most important element in creating a fantasy championship. Luck always factors in, and remaining on top of the news is thoroughly important, as well. Just as being armed with a reliable set of rankings is pivotal, checking emotions and individual experiences at the door are paramount. A mental checklist of dos and don’ts should be on everyone’s brain as they prepare for a draft and evaluate talent.

(Greg M. Cooper, USA TODAY Sports)

What have you done for me lately?

Recency bias is a real thing. Fantasy owners get hung up on how well or poorly a player has done in relation to past ownership. We all have heard someone explain they chose a player because of familiarity and past success of rostering said player.

Some players are insanely consistent and productive, such as Antonio Brown. You know what you’ll get in most any situation. Fantasy owners fall in love with successes of the past and unfairly avoid players with whom they have had negative experiences for nothing more than the memory of an outcome.

It reminds of the friend who won’t go to a specific restaurant because one time they had a bad meal. There are a million conceivable reasons why the meal wasn’t up to their liking, but applying a blanket rule based on one experience deprives the chance of redemption and satisfaction. Think about all of the instances in your life where something pleasantly surprised you after a sour experience. It is mainly due to you letting go of cognitive biases based on past results.

In fantasy, so many changes year over year must be factored into player valuation. A change in coaching staff, surrounding personnel, player health, refocused dedication, off-the-field lifestyle changes … you name it. A few examples of players in these situations stand out this year. Gamers tend to be down on Marcus Mariota after he failed to meet their expectations last year. That isn’t necessarily the player’s fault; perhaps you establish far too lofty goals in a situation that worked against him. In 2018, he now has more weapons and an offensive system that will cater to his skill set, rather than one actively avoiding reliance on his athleticism.

Another guy coming to mind is Amari Cooper. Personally, I fully expected an explosion last year, but it is obvious in hindsight why this didn’t happen. He battled injury and a freshman playcaller who was in over his head. Bring in a proven offensive mind in Jon Gruden, make some tweaks around Cooper without overhauling the offense, and rededicate himself to improving his hands … all of this only helps enhance his natural talent.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins has dramatically changed his lifestyle. He overcame alcohol dependency — now sober two years, fitter, in a positive system, and determined to turn his career around. No one ever doubted his talent, but he was his own worst enemy off of the field.

(Stew Milne, USA TODAY Sports)

Homer vs. anti-homer

No one should be a homer, and no one should excuse this foolish sabotage. Doh! There often is an argument against fantasy sports that it removes fandom and promotes individuals over teams. It does, and all who play the game should embrace it!

No where in your league rules does it state having a player on your favorite team is rewarded with fantasy points, and if you’re using homerism as an excuse to pay closer attention to your team, it’s time to find a new hobby. This includes you, Mr. “I always draft my team’s kicker or defense because it’s just a kicker or defense” guy. Wasted points are wasted points.

The “anti-homer” is the person who refuses to draft anyone from a rival of their preferred NFL team. Ever meet the Green Bay Packers fan who never drafts anyone from the Chicago Bears or Minnesota Vikings? (Sorry, Detroit Lions fans, in Titletown that feeling is sympathy, not hatred.)

The unwillingness to roster players from an arch enemy is as bonkers as drafting players from your favorite squad for no other reason than they for said opponent. Every single player worthy of fantasy inclusion warrants consideration in a draft. No one is totally off-limits at the right price … sometimes drafts don’t last long enough for the price to be right, however.

(Ken Blaze, USA TODAY Sports)

But they’re the <insert team here>

Cleveland Browns. Admit it … you were thinking the same thing.

Ever meet someone whose stuck in the past with all of their stories? After a while, you’ve heard every … single … story they have to tell. They aren’t bad people, but they have no forward gears in their transmission. Only neutral and reverse — and mostly the latter.

In fantasy terms, neutral is the present time, but without the ability to go forward, coupled with a penchant for looking backward, it becomes extremely difficult to see the “what could be” of any scenario. Apply this to perennial losers, or even teams that have fallen on hard times. It becomes far too easy for gamers to become dismissive of the mere potential a team or player could turn things around at the drop of a hat after years of substandard returns.

Case in point: Last year, we saw similar things from the Philadelphia Eagles. Not only did they go worst to first and a Super Bowl title in real life, a few individual players emerged along the way. Nick Foles is the obvious example, even though he wasn’t much of a fantasy commodity after Carson Wentz went down. Fake football fans will remember the sleeper-bust-redemption swing of Nelson Agholor’s career. It would have been understandable to most owners to write off Agholor before giving him a chance in 2017.

A team-based illustration of this in 2018 could be the Browns. Look at how much has radically changed for the better. The head coach may be the same, but the offensive mind of Todd Haley is enough to dramatically change Cleveland’s fantasy fortunes. The Browns have upgraded across the board, whether stubborn gamers want to acknowledge it or not. Sure, they probably won’t win more than six games, but going from 1-31 in the past two years, consider two games below .500 a monumental moral victory. Long story short, don’t automatically ignore the potential of Cleveland’s skill players.

Inversely, the same concept should be applied to the Seattle Seahawks, particularly on defense. Stop assuming this team will look anything like what we’ve seen in the Pete Carroll era. No team loses that much personnel talent without missing a beat.

A major change by way of the offensive coordinator could have the Pittsburgh Steelers turned upside down this year. Don’t bet on it, but at least be open to the idea.

(Orlando Ramirez, USA TODAY Sports)

Those pesky labels

Use social media long enough and eventually you probably will be labeled something you are not. It’s an unofficial fact of life in 2018, and it also applies to fantasy sports. Players with injury history or off-field issues draw a label and generally cannot escape it. The thing is, though, most players do graduate beyond the genesis of the label.

Think back to Matthew Stafford’s third year in the NFL. He played only 13 contests in the prior to season and was widely called injury prone — even a bust. Gamers stuck on that label probably passed him by in 2011 drafts, and he went on to throw 5,038 yards and 41 scores.

This list goes on. Keenan Allen is the most recent example of a player finally staying healthy and living up to his potential. Julio Jones’ history of not scoring touchdowns has earned him a reputation. Josh Gordon could be this year’s guy to break the spell of a label working against him. Many gamers fear he will relapse and avoid him for this very reason. Other names, such as DeVante Parker, Jordan Matthews, Jordan Reed, Tyler Lockett, among others, could fall into the category of labels.

Someone is perceived as something until they are not.

Accountability is the key

Be objective. Be honest with yourself. Admit error.

The main lesson is to adopt a healthy skepticism and challenge the opinions you have formulated. Question if your belief is founded in fact over opinion.

Be willing to understand your notion of a player can be misguided, and allow their change of circumstances to prove you wrong.

For as cliche and unprofound as it sounds, every fantasy owners can use the reminder that all good — and bad — things come to an end, one way or another.

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