There’s a big secret to how people won their leagues this year. Wanna know it?
And if you believe that, I’ve got a 2021 league invite for you.
Bad news. There wasn’t some big secret to winning in 2020, but finding success this season was different from seasons past because of Covid-19. Availability remains the best ability when it comes to football, and staying on top of who was available was in and of itself a job. Managing around that as well as the usual injuries, benchings and coaching chicanery made this year more challenging than ever before.
What else did it take to win in 2020? A lot of familiar factors and nothing earth shattering.
On our podcast, we often talk about “league winners.” Guys who outperform the rest of their position, usually with good consistency. They can be first-rounders, they can be top-50 picks, or they could be unpopular and unheralded late-round selections or waiver-wire pickups. Those are theeee best ones.
James Robinson was the ultimate golden ticket. In a world where rookie prospects are judged by their athleticism, their NFL Draft position and their breakout age, Robinson was a table-turner. An undrafted, unheralded running back out of Illinois State, Robinson had the most important thing of all: opportunity. He impressed his coaches so much in training camp that they punted on Leonard Fournette before the season. And he rewarded those coaches, utilizing his elite-level vision and an otherwise good skill set complete with underrated receiving skills to finish sixth among running backs in PPR points per game (eighth in non-PPR).
A guy like that taken after pick No. 100 (or swiped off waivers) obviously gives Fantasy managers an edge over their competition. It’s much easier to say “go get that guy” than to do it because there are 30-plus players who profile as late-round sleepers every year.
Just remember the simple fact that he had an opportunity. Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Justin Jefferson, Mike Davis, Myles Gaskin, Justin Herbert, Brandon Aiyuk, Logan Thomas, Robby Anderson, Corey Davis, Jalen Hurts … they had their opportunities too. Would you believe it was Hurts who was on the most of CBS Sports’ 12-team non-keeper championship teams? Robinson, Jefferson, Aiyuk, Thomas and Jeff Wilson were on a bunch of them too.
It doesn’t always have to be finding theeee late-round gem, but someone who could contribute on a weekly basis who isn’t taken with one of your first six or seven picks. That’s always been the key to crushing it in Fantasy and it’s going to continue to be.
We start by updating news and notes, then look back at 2020 before projecting for 2021 on the Fantasy Football Today podcast. Listen below and subscribe at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts:
In 12-team non-keeper leagues on CBS Sports, Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, Kyler Murray, Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson were the five most-rostered Fantasy quarterbacks on championship-clinching teams in Week 16. None of them had an ADP higher than Round 4.
By now you should know that reaching for a quarterback in a one-QB format is a faux pas. Expect to see savvy Fantasy managers ignore advice about what round to specifically target a quarterback and instead prioritize value as a draft unfolds. Patrick Mahomes slides to Round 3 or 4? Dak Prescott gets overlooked and is sitting there in Round 7? Matt Ryan’s still there in Round 12? All good choices. Be willing to be flexible.
But there’s an exception: Every year there’s a quarterback taken late who becomes a superstar. This year it was Rodgers. The year before was obviously Jackson. The year before that? Mahomes. What do they all have in common? They were league MVPs. I’m going to take a long, long look at quarterbacks like Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts and even Trevor Lawrence in 2021 as mid- to late-round mega-values, and I’m probably going to take one even if I spend an earlier pick on a quarterback. That’s how badly I want to have this potential league-winner on my roster.
Target practice makes perfect
Reliable high-volume receivers were staples in Fantasy title-winning lineups. Nineteen players (17 receivers, two tight ends) had at least 120 targets in 2020. The two tight ends, Travis Kelce and Darren Waller, were obviously amazing. Of the 17 receivers, 16 finished in the top-24 in overall Fantasy points and 15 finished among the top-14 in PPR Fantasy points per game. Ten made the top-12 in overall PPR points and nine finished on a per-game basis in PPR in the top-12.
If anything’s surprising, it’s that there were actually receivers under 120 targets who finished top-12. Adam Thielen, Mike Evans and A.J. Brown made up for their less-than-ideal target volume with touchdowns, as did Will Fuller, who wasn’t even on-pace for 110 targets, much less 120, when he was hit with a suspension.
But it was really receivers with an ADP past Round 3 who made a big difference. Stefon Diggs, Calvin Ridley, Allen Robinson, D.K. Metcalf and Keenan Allen all had some concerns that kept them from rising higher on Draft Day. None of them have those same concerns heading into 2020.
Any receiver with 120-target potential must be in your Draft Day plans. It helps if they have a great quarterback, and it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if they were red-zone hoggers as well. Receivers like Tee Higgins is the best candidate to leap into the elite category in 2021, but he’ll be joined by a bunch of first- and second-year receivers. It’s going to be a deep position again.
Health is wealth
Between Covid and the crazy injury rate we witnessed in 2020, anyone who successfully danced around the injury bug probably had themselves a playoff team.
We know football is a tough sport where people get hurt all the time. Trying to figure out who will and will not get hurt is a fool’s errand. What was out there to predict that Christian McCaffrey was going to miss 13 games? Or that Derrick Henry, fresh off of a 409-touch campaign in 2019, wouldn’t miss even one game? Or that Will Fuller, who had missed gobs of time in his previous seasons, would only be absent for one week because of injury?
You’ll always draft players with the sincere hope they play at least 14 games. But even a casual football fan could get behind the idea of avoiding older players as well as guys in their mid-to-late 20s with a documented injury history.
The kids are alright
The 2020 first-year crop was incredible, particularly at running back. Their feats were even more astounding when you realize they didn’t have a typical offseason program or training camp along with exactly zero preseason games. There’s something to be said about the level of preparation the young crop had this year — and it’s probably going to be a similar story in 2021, hopefully with a normal camp and preseason.
And then there are running backs
So if stealing studs with late-round picks, getting quarterbacks at value, finding high-volume receivers outside of the first three rounds, avoiding injuries and picking up rookies were all that important, then what the hell was the right move in Rounds 1 through 3?
If you think the answer is “flood your roster with as many running backs as possible,” you’re wrong. In a look-back of the 14 teams that made the finals in the seven traditional-style snake-draft leagues I played in, only two spent their first three picks on running backs. But seven did take two with their first three picks, leaving five managers who took one running back before the end of Round 3.
And look, running backs are typically the highest-scoring of the non-quarterback positions, and you need at least two in your lineup each week. You know you need them to have a fighting chance each week. Finding at least one good one with your first three picks literally worked out for every single team in a Fantasy final in my leagues. And if you’re like me and you want many chances to have that kind of running back, if not more than one, then you’ll consider taking two early.