Fantasy Rule to Live By: Avoid All Bills

Paying attention during the year pays off in the end

Its not a glowing commentary on our culture, but a lot of people care more about fantasy football than the actual NFL game. Im always amazed at how many fantasy guides are on the shelves at the book store every July. Its enough to make you think theres more energy expended by American males reading up on fantasy sleepers than, say, the state of our national politics.

Anyway, I love fantasy sports, too. Im more involved in baseball, which is a more daily obsession and less random than football. But Im guilty of having one eye on the game Im covering and the other on my fantasy guys performance on a given Sunday. I had a fantasy feature in my weekly Tuesday column the last couple of years and Ill be doing even more on fantasy for the Maven.

Ive run a feature called Is He Owned?, in which I identified players who were still available in most leagues in a given week. It came in handy for my teams.

Two years ago, I wrote about Adam Thielen, picked him up in the media league after midseason, and won a title when he went off for 200-plus yards in my fantasy title game. Paying attention helps, as any fantasy zealot knows. The draft is only the beginning. Two years ago, I won my baseball league and more than half of my roster at the end was players I had picked up during the season as free agents.

Early on Friday, I got the good news that the media league will be operating again albeit without WKBW-TV reporter Joe Buscaglia. I celebrated by drafting a team on ESPN. I try to own three or more teams, which helps evaluating which players are still unowned in most leagues. This also gives me ample cause to procrastinate during the fall when Im supposed to be working. Of course, fantasy is work!

Heres the ESPN team I picked. I havent paid a ton of attention this summer, but you can trust your instincts and know youll get better as the year goes on by following the league and knowing whos available. One of the advantages of any fantasy league is other owners losing interest as the year goes by, which makes you stronger by extension. Im usually better later in seasons.

My first ESPN team: (its a 10-team PPR). Quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo, Phil Rivers. Running backs: Christian McCaffery, Royce Freeman, Derrick Henry, Carlos Hyde, LeGarrette Blount. Wide receivers Deandre Hopkins, Stephon Diggs, Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Mike Williams. Tight end Trey Burton. Kicker Boswell. Defense/teams: Denver.

I've had one rule in fantasy football for years: Avoid any Bills. It's generally a good idea. LeSean McCoy has been the one useful guy in recent years, but he's sliding down draft boards for a good reason. He's 30, his offensive line stinks, and he's not likely to stay healthy.

Sports Illustrated said in its preview that McCoy shows no signs of decline. But he certainly showed signs early last year, when he had several dreadful games. Without Richie Incognito and Eric Wood around to open holes on the left side, McCoy won't bust as many long ones.

The Bills' wide receiver group was historically bad last year. You could make a case for Kelvin Benjamin, but he's not a No. 1 receiver. He might catch 60-65 passes, but he's no breakaway threat and isn't likely to score much. Forget everyone else on that offense.

SI rated the Bills' quarterback position as 32nd in the NFL in its preview issue. That was written before Josh Allen's encouraging start to preseason. I still wouldn't touch him in fantasy. Oh, which QBs were rated 31st? The Browns. I had to laugh when I heard some national expert say Josh Gordon has never had a QB like Tyrod.

Back to my ESPN squad:

Im not sold on Garoppolo as a top 10 quarterback yet, but I backed him up with Rivers, who always seems to slide in drafts. He has thrown for 4,000 yards in nine of the last 10 seasons. Hes had 28 TD passes in four straight years. Hes solid, and this year I think the Chargers will be less conservative on first down and throw more. I see big things for Williams.

McCaffrey doesnt impress me as a runner, but in a PPR league hes a stud. Hell get touches and catch 80 passes and hes bound to take a step up in his second season. I think Cam Newton will have a bounce-back season. Im high on the Broncos with Case Keenum. I think the Denver offense, which was dreadful last year, will be much better. Keenum was terrific last year and he wont have a big dropoff. So theyll score point and Freeman is better than Booker. Keenum had a good chemistry with his tight end in Minnesota, and I think Burton will be good value.

Im generally deep at wideout. My strategy for years has been to load up there, find guys who are emerging and have a stud as the third guy and even the fourth. I like veterans, obviously. Jordy Nelson is value as my fifth WR. Hopkins was on his way to being the most productive wideout in the league last year before Watson went down. Diggs is a stud. Cooks was going a lot higher in drafts the last two years. Cobb will put up numbers with Rodgers. I like my wideouts.

I like Denvers defense, too, with an influx of great young talent. I think this team has possibilities especially when some of the losers in my league stop paying attention!

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