Fantasy Football: Everything We Learned from the 2013-14 Season

With the fantasy football season officially behind us, it’s time to look back on everything and reflect on yet another crazy year to see what can be taken forward into next season.

Some players had breakout years (Josh Gordon, Alshon Jeffery), while others took major steps back (Ray Rice, C.J. Spiller). 

But if there’s one thing we really learned, it’s that this is still an extremely unpredictable game. The best you can do is give yourself the best chance to succeed with calculated risks.

Here are 10 things we learned from the 2013-14 fantasy football season.

Don’t Draft Quarterbacks High

This strategy is something that people were preaching prior to this season (including myself), and we were certainly proven right this season.

The bottom line is that quarterbacks are really unpredictable. Just because they score the most total points out of all positions doesn’t mean they need to be taken highly in the draft. Nobody could have predicted Aaron Rodgers‘ injury, but there are plenty of other oddities worth mentioning.

Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck finished third and fourth in points. Andy Dalton finished sixth. Robert Griffin III finished 19th. Eli Manning finished 23rd. 

The point here is that it’s incredibly hard to predict which quarterbacks will be good, and you can get great value by selecting them as the last starter on your roster.

Rookies Can Be Bargains

Some people will take this too far, and don’t mistake me for saying that you should go after highly coveted rookies and take them early, which happens every year

Big names like Geno Smith, Montee Ball and Tavon Austin were disappointments this year.

But value can definitely be had in some of the later rounds, which was proven by Le’Veon Bell, Giovani Bernard, Zac Stacy, Eddie Lacy, Andre Ellington and Keenan Allen.

None of them were extremely highly regarded coming into the year for fantasy purposes, but they all still had talent and decent situations and then produced at extraordinary rates.

They ended up being six of the best values of the season, and there could easily be similar circumstances next season.

Wide Receiver Is Most Consistent Position

Look around at every position besides running back, and you’ll see a couple of random names at the very top of the list. You’ll also notice that a few major names who were at the top of the preseason rankings scattered among the top 25 or 50.

But wide receiver has held at surprisingly steady rates. This season, the (near) consensus top five wideouts were Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and Demaryius Thomas.

All five of those finished the season in the top seven in points, which is pretty remarkable. If it wasn’t for Josh Gordon, they would have finished in nearly the exact same order that many people had them ranked.

Other big names and highly rated players like Jordy Nelson, Vincent Jackson, Andre Johnson, Eric Decker, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon also ended up in the top 15.

If there’s one thing to take away from this, it’s that while you don’t need to spend a first-rounder on wideouts, they’re a really good investment in the second, third and fourth rounds.

Trust in Chip Kelly

He came to Philadelphia from the University of Oregon with his fast-paced offense and a whole bunch of critics who thought he was a gimmick.

Well, after one season, it’s clearly obvious that Kelly’s offense can not just work in the NFL, but absolutely thrive. Even more impressive, it seems like it can succeed even without the best personnel.

Both Michael Vick and Nick Foles were very productive as quarterbacks, and the Eagles also lost Jeremy Maclin before the year even started.

But suddenly, LeSean McCoy was the best running back in the league and Riley Cooper became a legitimate fantasy starter. Zach Ertz also flashed a lot of talent at the end of the year and will deservedly be a big riser for next year.

Jimmy Graham Is King

Jimmy Graham is arguably the most important player in fantasy football. The biggest reason for this is that he plays a position (tight end) that doesn’t typically score many points, and he’s so much better than everyone else.

Graham finished with nearly 80 more points than the second-highest scoring tight end, Vernon Davis. That type of point differential is massive, and I’m sure Graham was on a bunch of great fantasy teams this year.

He also would have been the fourth-highest scoring wide receiver, which is just absurd.

As long as Drew Brees is running New Orleans’ offense, Graham will be dangerous. If you get him in the second round, you’re getting yourself a value.

For next season, I wouldn’t be opposed to taking him in the first round. He’s that good.

Chicago Has Two Premier Pass-Catchers

A lot has been discussed about the value of having two good receivers on one NFL team. Does it help the other receiver because teams have to divide their attention, or does it take away potential targets and hurt them?

The answer to that usually varies based on the situation, but the Bears proved this season that new head coach Marc Trestman’s offense can sustain two top guys, despite losing Jay Cutler for the middle of the season.

Now Cutler is signed to a long-term deal, and the entire offense will have another offseason to work in Trestman’s offense with their two elite receivers.

Brandon Marshall was always looked at as a talented and steady wideout, and then Alshon Jeffery emerged this year as a legitimate weapon.

In his second season, Jeffery caught 89 passes for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns. He and Marshall will head into next season both ranked in the top 10.

Pass-Catching Running Backs Are Dominating

In an increasingly pass-happy NFL, we saw running backs who are good at catching the ball out of the backfield excel in 2013.

Jamaal Charles was the highest-scoring running back in any type of PPR league because of his unbelievable 70 catches, and Matt Forte was in the top three because of his even more unbelievable 74 receptions.

In 0.5 PPR leagues, five out of the top six running backs had at least 52 catches. Reggie Bush also had a really solid year despite missing time, and his receiving ability helped him thrive in Detroit.

Other less-heralded guys like Danny Woodhead, Fred Jackson and Giovani Bernard also really excelled and found themselves ranked highly at the end of the year in part because they racked up points by catching the ball.

There’s no reason to believe that this trend won’t continue next year.

Andrew Luck Is the Best Young QB in the League

There is plenty of young talent at the quarterback position in the NFL right now. Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Nick Foles are all very good players.

But Andrew Luck is clearly the best of them all. Besides just being a clutch performer and talented leader who has a 22-10 record in his first two NFL seasons, he also proved to be a reliable fantasy performer.

He was extremely consistent in his second NFL season, and he manages to get the job done nearly every week and puts in his share of enormous games.

He finished with 3,822 passing yards and 23 touchdowns to go along with 377 rushing yards and four scores. There’s no reason to think he won’t continue improving and putting up huge numbers.

Don’t Bother with Defenses or Kickers

I always shake my head when someone selects a defense before the second-to-last round. Even though Seattle’s defense was a pretty sure thing this year, they still were barely better than the next two defenses, Carolina and Kansas City, neither of which were projected highly at all.

Other top projected defenses like Houston, Chicago and Denver finished well below projections, while other surprising teams did a lot better than expected. This happens every year. It reinforces the fact that we just can’t predict them very well, and therefore it’s not worth investing a lot in them.

The same goes with kickers, which are even less predictable than defenses and actually have a smaller difference in points between the top guys and the middle ones.

Just don’t take them before the last two rounds. It’s much more worth grabbing an extra position player then.

Drafting RB-RB Isn’t Really the Best Strategy

A lot of people live by the old mantra that you need to select running backs in both the first and second rounds. This year, some experts were saying this was especially necessary because of the supposedly big drop-off between the top running backs and the middle tiers.

That proved to be absolutely false, as consensus first-rounders Ray Rice, Arian Foster, Doug Martin, Trent Richardson and C.J. Spiller ruined many a fantasy season.

There are plenty of great running backs around the league, and with the unpredictable and platoon-like nature of running committees in today’s NFL, a “top” back isn’t worth what he once was.

Who would have thought that Eddie Lacy, Fred Jackson, Le’Veon Bell, Giovani Bernard, Joique Bell, Danny Woodhead, Zac Stacy and Pierre Thomas would all have ended up in the top 20?

But the point remains that these types of values are easily found. With my previous point that wide receivers are actually the easiest to predict, maybe it’s time to start pushing the WR-WR draft strategy?

It’s been a crazy one, and I can’t wait to start all over again.

Until next season, everyone.

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