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Early-Season Fantasy Tips

Posted Sep 3, 2013


Congratulations fantasy football owners -- you made it. After seven long months without meaningful football, it's officially Week 1.

Chances are, you've looked at your fantasy roster(s) countless times since your draft(s), talking yourself into every player and ultimately deciding that you came up nothing but aces. Never mind what your Yahoo! draft grade is or what anyone else in your league says -- you didn't miss a pick, and you're going to win your league.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you're not holding all aces, you did miss some picks, and, while you might win your league, it's not going to be as easy as you think.

But that's OK. The fantasy season is going to be full of ups and downs, injuries and breakouts, bye weeks and bad matchups. You just have to be prepared and ready to adapt. And that starts as soon as the ball is kicked off in Denver on Thursday.

We'll break down some early-season strategy tips throughout this column, but before we do, here's a reminder to get your questions in for Friday's fantasy mailbag. Every Friday during the season, we'll tackle the best fantasy questions of the week and help you with roster, trade and strategy decisions. You can submit your questions here by 5:00 p.m. CT every Thursday. Please specify players with common last names (e.g. Davis, Jackson, etc.) and include the relevant scoring parameters of your league (e.g. PPR, passing TDs worth 4 points, etc.).

BE ACTIVE ON THE WAIVER WIRE

Like most things in life, working the waiver wire early in the season is all about moderation. Even though you love all those sleepers you took in the final couple rounds, they're expendable (with the possible exception of a few handcuffs). And that guy you've never heard of who has a big Week 1 and everyone in your league will make fun of you for picking up? Sometimes it's worth it to pick him up.

Sometimes it's not, but if you're giving up one lotto ticket for another, what do you have to lose? Yeah, you might look like an overanxious simpleton, but if the player you pick up really is a breakout player, then you'll have the last laugh.

You obviously don't want to go overboard. Sometimes your late-round sleepers are solid picks who just need a few weeks to emerge. An example might be found in Detroit this year. Popular preseason sleeper Ryan Broyles looks like he'll begin the year as a backup as he works his way back from a torn ACL. Rookie WR Patrick Edwards is in line to start, and considering the Lions threw more than any team last year, he could have a nice game. This doesn't mean you should drop Broyles, but it's not a bad idea to pick up Edwards if he gets a lot of targets.

Here's a bonus tip: Many leagues don't run waivers until the first games on Sunday kick off. That means the players from the Thursday game will be free agents for the following two days. So, if Denver TE Julius Thomas gets a bunch of targets or Ravens WR Deonte Thompson has a big game, you can grab them for free if you move quickly enough.

FOCUS ON LOOKS AND TOUCHES, NOT YARDS AND TDS

Fantasy owners tend to look at results, not process. While results are all that matters to your bottom line in a given week, process is more important for season-long success.

Most box scores now show targets next to receptions, so make sure you take that in. Let's say Arizona's Andre Roberts catches a 60-yard touchdown and Michael Floyd only has 38 yards. Clearly, it's going to look like Roberts is the better fantasy option. But if Floyd has eight more targets than Roberts, then he's likely going to be better in the long run.

With RBs, you want to look at snaps and carries – particularly when and where players are on the field. Who's in on third down? Who's in near the goal line? For handcuffing purposes, which backup comes in first? These are all important things to note. Obviously, you want to see a running back (and his offensive line) perform well, so results are important, too, but getting a better feel for how a team runs its offense will likely pay off later in the year.

Again, analyzing Week 1 results requires some moderation. Teams gameplan for the specific team they're facing on a weekly basis, so that might mean more passes to a tight end or a different approach in the running game. But usage patterns, particularly in key situations, are usually pretty telling, so they're still worth paying attention to.

LOOK AHEAD

It's not too early to start playing matchups with your D/ST. Perhaps you should have prepared for this during your draft, but it's fine if you simply selected the best overall unit. We can't say for certain how offenses are going to perform (especially in Week 1, when there are plenty of mistakes for even the best teams), but if you're worried about, say, San Francisco's D/ST against Green Bay, it's not crazy to grab the Bucs (@NYJ) or Chiefs (@JAC) and bench the Niners.

Beyond that, it's not crazy to start planning for Week 2 before waivers sets in after kickoff of the first wave of Sunday games. Seattle and San Francisco -- likely the top two D/STs drafted in many leagues -- play each other next week, and that figures to be a tough matchup for both defenses. Picking up a team like Carolina, who plays at Buffalo, or maybe Detroit, who plays at Arizona, might be safer. If you want to wait until you see how teams look in Week 1, that's fine, but it's probably not worth burning a waiver claim on a backup D/ST. Be ready to grab them as soon as the free agency period hits the following week.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Week 1 is notoriously fluky, so, again, it's important not to overreact to anything that happens. But if you're dropping late-round draft picks or filing away names/stats to track for the next couple weeks, then you're just playing smart.

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of football being back and just focus on the big plays and injuries, but if you want to have a good fantasy season, then a little homework is required. Winning a title at the end of the year can making the following, football-free offseason a lot more fun.

THURSDAY PREVIEW

Ravens at Broncos

Stat to know: Denver's RB situation is still unsettled, though Montee Ball is in the best position for early-season carries. Whoever gets the bulk of the RB touches could be in line for a nice performance. In last year's double-OT playoff game against the Ravens, Denver gave its RBs 40 carries, including 22 for Ronnie Hillman after Knowshon Moreno got hurt. With Baltimore losing several key defensive pieces, particularly to its LB corps, Ball is a legitimate flex option.

Sleeper: Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens. (331 yards, 3 TDs in last year's playoff game; no Elvis Dumervil or Von Miller rushing him this year.)

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