Preparing for a new fantasy season has made me a little nostalgic, so I decided to look back at some ancient cheat sheets from yesteryear. It was fun seeing all the old names and remembering how much they contributed to championship teams.
Jamaal Charles, Alfred Morris, Eddie Lacy: Those were big names back in the Paleolithic Era. Can you imagine? Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant were top receiving options. Peyton Manning and Tony Romo were coveted quarterbacks. We were all so young and full of optimism!
That was from a Golden Oldie list way back in 2014. Just four years ago. That's the time between World Cups, or the Olympics, or a presidential election. But it's long enough to look almost alien to the 2018 fantasy owner. And if four years can change things that much, isn't one year a pretty big gap, too?
It sure is. So you might as well forget what you thought you knew last year. Free agency, the draft, coaching changes and Father Time have conspired to wipe the slate clean from 2017. While that sounds frustrating, and maybe a waste of the time you spent last year, it actually gives you an advantage headed into your draft or auction.
Many owners treat their fantasy knowledge like an app for their phone: A quick update on the fly and they're ready to go. Others go a little farther, but it's still like a new version of software on a laptop. They check the right boxes, don't bother reading the fine print and hopefully end up with something that works with what they already have.
And some owners treat a new fantasy season like a budget. Here's a fun topic for a fantasy football column: Do you know how governments usually set budgets each year? They take existing numbers, shave or add a little to each section (usually add) and there's your new budget. Never mind whether each department actually needs that much money, or how long they've been tacking on dollars from previous budgets. They spend it, so they must need it, right?
In fantasy terms, if you normally like to choose receivers over running backs, would that ever really change? Nah. Maybe tweak the lists a little, but pretty much leave it the same. That'll work forever.
Those philosophies are convenient, but none of them will help you win a title. Each fantasy season is different. It's not version 2.0 of what you did last year. It's not a matter of shuffling names on a list and saying you're done. Your best bet is to start from scratch and develop a strategy that fits your league and its scoring system.
I'm not saying to ignore previous data, of course. Spotting trends and trying to project what will happen this year based on what we've already seen is part of the fun. I'm saying that your approach should start from square one each year. Maybe the end result will look a lot like last year. Maybe you already have a good grasp of how things should look in September. That's great, and you should still take a fresh approach to the upcoming season. If you want to keep your car running smoothly you don't add a little new oil to your existing oil and hope for the best. You change the oil. Throw out the old stuff and start over with a fresh supply.
In accounting, it's known as Zero-Based Budgeting. Everything starts at zero and you have to justify why a player or position deserves the attention they get. It's more time-consuming, but it's also a more disciplined approach than just dropping Player A a few notches here and pushing up Player B a little there.
Look, there isn't much I can tell you in July that will earn you a trophy in December. It's still early and there are plenty of injuries, camp battles and pretend football games between you and your draft. Maybe even another suspension or two. But as you get ready for 2018, the best approach will be to start over mentally and look at things with a fresh pair of eyes. Don't let last year's biases (good or bad) influence your decisions. Don't punish a guy who burned you, or elevate a guy who rescued you. Start over and you'll start stronger than your competition.
And that's the thing about this approach. Most of your league-mates won't bother with it. They'll play basically the same game they did last year, but with a roster update (kind of like Madden). And for some of them, it will actually work. But for most, they'll wonder why things are turning out differently. And the short answer is, it's a different year.
Don't make their mistakes. You can't win your league in July, but you can screw up your chances to win it. Start at zero and build a winning strategy from the ground up. This is going to be a fantastic year, so let's start it out right.
How do you begin your fantasy preparations each year? Do you build on the work you did last year, or do you start from scratch? Welcome back, and share your thoughts below.