Elite Players Win Matchups
By Jesse Moeller via JMoeller05
Today is the day that football is officially back! We have our first matchup of the regular season between the Buccaneers and Cowboys. This week, I would like to dive into the weekly game theory in fantasy football, particularly redraft leagues.
What kicked off this idea in my head was seeing numerous individuals questioning whether or not to start Ezekiel Elliot this week against Tampa Bay after Dallas lost All-Pro guard Zach Martin for the week. Of course, the worry is legitimate, as losing a player of Martin’s caliber will affect Elliot this week. But, with the volume Elliot is set to receive, do you seriously consider benching Elliot?
In the long and short of it, the answer is no, and you do not bench him on 99% of fantasy teams. Now, let me tell you the game that forever changed how I view sit/start options. It was week 9 of the 2019 season, and the undefeated New England Patriots were facing the 5-2 Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots’ defense was on a record-setting pace in the first half of the year. They were averaging 22.62 fantasy points per game. To give you a perspective on how great this was, using FantasyPros, I was able to get back to the 2012 season. The most fantasy points a defense has scored in a season was 236 points. So the eight-game pace the Patriots were on would have scored 362 fantasy points over a year. That’s a CMC or Kelce type of advantage over your opponents.
I struggled all week deciding what to do with Lamar, as I was terrified the Patriots defense would put the clamps on him. I picked up Derek Carr as my insurance policy as the Raiders were facing the woeful Detroit Lions that week. That Sunday morning, I began to panic, and I did the unthinkable. I benched Lamar for Derek Carr as I convinced myself it was a perfect matchup for Carr and a brutal one for Lamar. Then I sat back and watched as Lamar shredded the Patriots on national television for 28+ fantasy points. On the other hand, Carr had a decent game, but it cost me in the matchup as I lost by four points that week. I knew in the first quarter that I had made a horrible mistake and decided to torture myself by watching the entire game. From that moment on, I decided that I would start my stud players almost exclusively.
Have you ever noticed that you have an uneasy feeling in your stomach whenever you bench an elite fantasy player? That is your body’s way of telling you that you made a wrong decision. So let me dive into this topic a bit and explain why you should listen to your body when it talks to you. When I referenced benching Zeke, and why I thought it was a bad idea, it comes down to who you have on your roster that you are comfortably replacing him with? Does that running back have an upside as high as Zeke? If you can make a legitimate case that the running back does, I am open to it, but why would you bench Elliot unless you have a Derrick Henry and Aaron Jones in your backfile along with Elliot?
Yards Per Fantasy had a great piece on why volume is King for running backs, and I agree with the conclusion they arrived at and why volume is what you want. Hence, How you find a Superstar fantasy running back is when you add efficiency to volume. Elliot is a volume play in week one as the Buccaneers will likely not give up many yards on the ground, being the only NFL to allow less than 1000 rushing yards last year. If Elliot is efficient this week, he will quickly become a top-five running back in week one. I guarantee the player you benching Zeke for does not have that in their range of outcomes.
As managers, we tend to overthink situations and matchups, as we love to do. We believe that we tend to know more than we do. Do not fall victim to galaxy brain thoughts with your team this week. If you are debating benching Zeke for Raheem Mostert, Gus Edwards, or Chase Edmonds in week one, you have played yourself. These players all have issues and are not as safe as we believe, even with the plus matchups boosting them up in week one.
When dealing with sit-start decisions, I have a few thoughts I run through to help clarify the situation. First, I consider the players’ role, the volume they will receive, and the upside if that player hits maximum expectations. Lastly, I examine the matchup to be more of a tiebreaker if I cannot decide between the two options. Following these guidelines has given me a more significant hit rate in my sit-start decisions from that regretful decision to bench Lamar decision back in 2019.
Given those guidelines, what are you doing with Zeke in your lineup? Are you even contemplating benching him? He feels exceptionally safe to me when you look at sit-start decisions through a different prism. If I were to boil this down to a simple “Start Your Studs” policy across the board, why that is important is upside wins you championships, and the stud players you drafted early were drafted early for that reason. They do what few other players can do for your team on a weekly and season-long basis. We can all get too cute from time to time, as we read too much into a situation to tell ourselves a story that does not exist. When all along, it would have made more sense to start the stud player instead of worrying about a problem that never existed in the first place.
I thank you for reading my latest piece. If you do not want to take my words for it, I present to you the comments of Ian Hartitz on the matter of starting the best players on your team.