Fantasy football draft prep: Breaking biases

Fantasy football draft prep: Breaking biases

Fantasy football draft strategy tips and advice

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 number of defenders trying to stifle any plans of a checkmate, all it takes is a small change to make a huge difference.

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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, also the ability to check emotions and individual experiences at the door is paramount. A mental checklist of “dos and don’ts” should be on everyone’s brain as they prepare for a draft and evaluate talent.

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 was during his time in Pittsburgh. Until he wasn’t. 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 a bad outcome. Perfectly natural, but definitely avoidable.

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler burned gamers last year but is poised to rebound. He was a PPR monster in 2019 when Melvin Gordon was injured but then fell on hard times with injuries of his own a season ago, which could have some gamers afraid to take a chance on him again. However, a look at the situation suggests a return to similar production from ’19, provided he says healthy. Sure, risk mitigation is at play, but there can be a fine line between avoiding pitfalls and creating your own out of hesitancy.

It reminds of the friend who won’t go to a specific restaurant because one time they had a bad meal. There are dozens of 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. And, if you buy/sell/eat/drink, etc. enough of anything, you’re bound to encounter a problem.

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. Use the biases of others to your advantage.

It also works in the opposite direction. Take Saquon Barkley for example. No one doubts his freakish talent, but the reality is the last two years have been injury-marred disasters, and he’s still not ready for a normal workload to open the year. Tack on a shaky offensive line and a quarterback who appears to be regressing and we have even more reason to say maybe Barkley just isn’t a wise choice in 2021. He surely could come around as the year unfolds, but investing a top-20 pick in a guy who may give half a season of strong play requires so much else to go right in your draft.

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 extra 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, person who says, “I always draft my team’s kicker or defense because it’s just a kicker or defense.” 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 play for said opponent. Every single player who produces fantasy-worth stats 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.

But they’re the <insert team here>

Cleveland Browns. Admit it … you were thinking the same thing out of habit. Let’s go with the Houston Texans this year.

Ever meet someone who is 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. 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.

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 2019, 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. A more recent example would be people who watched the 2019 New England offense and said Tom Brady was “washed up” and ready for the pasture.

I suffered from this myself last year with Stefon Diggs. Previously to being traded to Buffalo, he was wildly inconsistent and would produce the vast majority of his points in a few short spurts scattered throughout the season each year. Until he didn’t and was an unbelievably consistent receiver.

You hopefully get the point. As simplistic as it is, 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. And even sometimes when it is based on factual data — like with the Diggs example — don’t let what has happened override your ability to see what could happen.

Be willing to understand your notion of a player can be misguided, and allow their change of circumstances to prove you wrong. When you identify a clear example of your error, own it and learn how to grow from the mistake or blind spot.

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


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