Welcome Back: 10 Things You Need To Know To Get Up To Speed

Sometimes playing fantasy football with a bunch of noobs can be enjoyable.

T.S. Eliot once said, “If you aren't in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” Without taking risks and challenging ourselves, we’ll never know what we’re truly capable of.

That’s deep, bro.

I play in “expert” fantasy football leagues because I do want the challenge. I want to see if I can win a league against the best. I want to know that the countless hours spent researching a game within a game hasn’t gone to waste. I want to push myself. No, it’s not pushing my physical limits like many do when they hit the gym, but it’s driving my mental boundaries. I want the challenge.

But you know, sometimes I just don’t want to think. I just want to win.

I suppose that’s the Alex Rodriguez mentality, and now he’s in a lot of trouble because of it. But it’s not like I’m taking PEDs to enhance my fantasy football performance. Rather, I’d equate it to being a big leaguer playing with a bunch of minor league players. There’s nothing wrong with that. After all, they usually invite me.

And look, this isn’t me saying, “I’m better than you.” I analyze fantasy football on a daily basis, guys. It’s probably the only thing I can brag about to my Ivy League friends. [Oh my. I think I’m about to have an existential crisis.]

But really, if I’m entering a more casual league, I always try to find NFL news and notes that these laid-back participants may not be aware of. Once I compile that list, I’m able to exploit draft day value. And instead of keeping this list to myself this year, I’ve decided to share it with all of you.

1. Chicago Now Has an Offensive-Minded Head Coach

The guy picking up a on football news during late-August may not be aware, but new Chicago head coach Marc Trestman is going to be tossing the rock all over Soldier Field this season. Well, not him specifically, but his quarterback, Jay Cutler, will be.

The average football fan doesn’t like Jay Cutler or his talent. And I’m not saying that I do, but I will say that he’s in a favorable offensive system this season. Advantage: you. Matt Forte, who I wrote about last month, has a chance to lead all running backs in receptions this season too. And Alshon Jeffery could be a legitimate sleeper.

Use that for your own gain. Others may not be aware about the mentality shift in Chicago, and you can benefit.

2. Calvin Johnson’s Touchdowns Were Limited in 2012

Let’s get the famous stat out of the way: Calvin Johnson was tackled five times on the opponents one-yard line last season. And he was tackled within the five-yard line another eight times. That’s a potential for eight more scores, which is, you know, 48 more standard fantasy points.

Casual pretend pigskinners will see Megatron’s 2012 performance as a possible outlier. That may be the case from a yardage standpoint, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to regress in terms of fantasy football production. Megatron will almost certainly outdo his mind-numbingly low five touchdowns from a season ago, making him a beast in the fake football world. Draft him confidently.

3. Quarterback is Deeper Than Atlantis

Sure, we all know this, but Jonathan from up the street may have no idea. In fact, he’s probably more willing to draft Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Colin Kaepernick in Round 3 even more than most fantasy owners. Quarterback is a sexy position, and people want sexy.

But you, Mr. “I’m reading fantasy content in April”, are aware you can wait. Quarterback value can be had towards the middle and end of your draft, allowing you to build up a nice running back and wide receiver library. Take advantage of the uninformed.

4. Patriot Running Backs Matter

People who think they know football but don’t often times assume the Patriots don’t run the ball well. False. Last season, New England finished 5th in adjusted rushing efficiency, and actually toted the rock more than any team outside of Seattle.

Now Tom Brady has fewer receiving options, making the running game even more important than one that just closes out games. Both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen should be relevant fantasy options this season, and your league mates may have no idea.

5. The Cardinals Offense Will Be Vertical

Bruce Arians is the Cardinals head coach now, and he’ll certainly be bringing a vertical offense to Arizona this season. Again, and I wrote about this previously, don’t assume that his vertical tendencies equate to a pass-happy offense. It doesn’t. What it does mean is that a player like Michael Floyd could end up being a big play receiver, and Larry Fitzgerald should be able to return to at least some sort of relevancy when compared to his 2012 season. The offense will be different this year - better than most casual fans think - albeit not as good as most experts make it out to be.

6. A Percy Harvin-less Russell Wilson is Fine

Here at numberFire, we were never overly high on Harvin or Wilson this season. But the casual fantasy owner may make the Percy Harvin news a bigger deal than it actually is.

Russell Wilson was great towards the end of last year’s fantasy football season. Really great. And he did it without the ex-Vikings pass catcher. Do we really want to drop him significantly far in our rankings?

Now, keep in mind: Wilson had a pretty incredible touchdown rate last season, making him a potential regression candidate. We have him slotted for 22 to 23 this season, which is less than last season’s 26. He should still be looked at as a low-end QB1 though.

7. The Chargers Aren’t the Chargers of Old

Gone are the days where Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson ruled the fantasy landscape. Philip Rivers still has Gates, sure, but Gates is also pushing 70 years old, I think.

Hopeful fantasy wideout Danario Alexander has a torn ACL, and now Rivers has two questionable receivers starting – Vincent Brown and Malcom Floyd – along with one of the most polarizing fantasy running backs in the history of the game, Ryan Mathews. Tag on the fact that their offensive line is borderline atrocious, and you’ve got yourself a potentially horrible offense.

Others may think the Chargers offense is still stellar. You, on the other hand, know that it’s not.

8. Elite Receivers Still Exist

Our own Alex Hampl pointed out last week that there’s a misunderstanding surrounding Calvin Johnson and elite wide receivers, and he couldn’t be more correct. Though standard Value Based Drafting principles devalue the top wide receivers in fantasy football, the one thing that often goes unnoticed is the lack of week-to-week volatility with said receivers in your lineup.

Because you’re in a casual league, you can afford to snag an A.J. Green-type in the second round, securing valuable running backs in the following rounds. After all, plenty of guys will go quarterback early, allowing for more value to fall in your lap.

9. The Colts Will Be More Balanced

New offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is bringing more of a West Coast style offense to Indianapolis, making the Colts more efficient through the air. This could mean better things on a real football field, but on a fake one, we could see a dip in volume from Andrew Luck.

Another thing to note is the fact that the Colts tight ends could get more play, so if you’re in a deep casual league, they could be late-round steals for you. Just be prepared for a more balanced Colts attack in 2013.

10. The Zone Blocking Scheme is Gone in Oakland

Remember Jonathan from up the street? He drafted Darren McFadden last season, and now he vows to “never take him again, no matter the cost.” This is a common problem throughout the minds of fantasy football owners, as they fail to realize that nearly every player has some sort of value somewhere.

You can hate on Darren McFadden all you want. Yes, he gets hurt. Often, actually. But it was clear - both on film and through our analytics – that DMC couldn’t run in a zone blocking scheme last season. Now that Greg Olson is offensive coordinator, the Raiders focus has shifted, and DMC has a chance to give you weeks of elite running back talent.

If he drops in your casual league, feel free to snag him as your RB3. There may be no better value at that point.