Many of you won’t remember this, but there was a popular show decades ago on ABC called Fantasy Island. It had nothing to do with fantasy football, of course. But they had several guest stars every week who were known from other shows and movies. Basically, it was a vehicle for actors on their way up in their careers, and those on their way down. The Love Boat did the exact same thing, on the same network with the same producer.
That mix made it a successful show, partly because Aaron Spelling picked the right mix of actors. Today, all championship fantasy teams do the same thing.
Nobody drafts a team full of players in their prime. Nobody. When you look back on a successful team, you’ll see it had guys who were very early in their careers, and others who were at the end of them. But the manager was able to choose the ones who were ready to break out past their draft value, along with some who still had something left in the tank when most folks had given up on them.
The first part, where you look for players ready for a breakout year, is the easier one. Cam Akers isn’t a secret to anyone playing the game. Everybody has Kyle Pitts and CeeDee Lamb on their radar. And there’s nothing about Najee Harris that says “sleeper.” All of those guys will likely be drafted as starters. The only question is how much you’re willing to pay, and that will determine who succeeds. If they’re still a year away from true fantasy success, the drafter will get burned, sometimes badly. But if they dominate at their position, they’ll look like a steal.
You also have guys like Justin Herbert and Justin Jefferson, where you have to bet on whether their second years look like their first. Again, no surprises here. The only issue is how badly you want them.
For me, the fun part is choosing the other guys. The ones on the downside of their careers. Do they have one more good year left? Will I be the genius who got one more good season, or the sucker who went to the well once too often?
In a related camp, you have the guys who had unusually-productive seasons, and you wonder if they can get close to that again. Is it a trend, or a fluke?
When we finally get those answers, we’ll know which fantasy teams had great years and which had disappointing ones. If you thought Tom Brady had something left last year (even if you didn’t expect 4600 yards and 40 TDs), you won. If you thought A.J. Green was a good play with a new-look offense, you lost. And you’ll get to make those same decisions again this year.
If you’ve read this column over the years, you know that I rarely forecast the prospects of specific players. Ian and Andy do a great job of that already. But, when discussing established veterans, I can tell you that I want no part of David Johnson. I don’t care for Jamaal Williams (even as a role player) away from the Packers. I don’t feel comfortable relying on volume to carry David Montgomery to fantasy prominence again. And I don’t know what the Cardinals were thinking when they picked up A.J. Green. I doubt I’ll have any of those players on my teams.
Other managers might have a different opinion, and that opinion might bring them a lot of success. Williams won’t be a regular starter, but he could help a team with bye week issues win a game or two. Montgomery could plod his way into winning lineups. Johnson might be the focal point of a very different Texans team, and a revitalized Green might make a difference in Arizona. Who knows?
The point is, those are choices you’ll have to make on draft day. You might not even get a shot at Cam Akers, but you’ll get several chances to select Ben Roethlisberger. Somebody in your league will reach for Pitts (and it might not even be considered reaching) but Zach Ertz will be sitting there round after round. So when you think of the ascendant players and what they can do for your team, give equal thought to the guys on the way down, because selecting the right ones is just as important to winning big in December and January.
Which veteran players do you think still have a solid year left on their resume? Are you targeting (or avoiding) anyone? What highly-touted young player doesn’t impress you? Did you know that Pluto TV has a 24-hour Love Boat channel? Share your thoughts below.