A few years ago I was playing in a redraft home league and my team got off to a bad start. I immediately began looking around to make a trade to try and fill in my perceived holes. One of my good friends and I began talking trade centering around my acquiring a couple of RBs and sending him a WR and a RB. As we got through the negotiations it came down to my choosing whether to trade him Devonta Freeman or LeGarette Blount. I ultimately chose to move Freeman because of his unclear path to playing time. This was of course the week before Freeman went off for 141 rushing yards and 3 TDs starting an epic run of fantasy success. My team ended up not making the playoffs that season missing by one game. As I reflected back at the end of the season I realized the only person I had to blame for missing the playoffs was myself for panicking early in the season.
From that day on I have set a rule for myself that I am not allowed to make a trade before week 5 of the season. What I realized was that in order to make a good decision on a trade you need to have a clear vision of who teams and players are for that season. Of course, with football, the reality of what things are changes in a blink of an eye. However, you can get a pretty good idea of where things stand after the first month. As Bill Belichick said a few years ago “I don’t think you really know your team until the middle of October. Especially now with limited training camp. I think we’ll see a lot of movement, a lot of adjustments in the first third of the season like we’ve seen historically here in the last few years.” As I thought about this quote it really made sense to me to take a similar approach in fantasy. While we always see a few early season surprises in the NFL, team-wise, it can be much easier to define what players roles are going to be by week 5. This is especially true of teams that have new coaches and new systems in place. Take the 49ers for example. Everyone assumes that Carlos Hyde is going to struggle in Kyle Shanahan’s systems and eventually lose his job. While this is possible he could also thrive, but this is the type of thing you will have a much better idea of come week 5.
Beyond having a better picture of what the NFL landscape looks like you will also have a much better understanding of what the strengths and weaknesses of your fantasy team are if you wait a few weeks. I remember in a league I played in during the 2010 season that I almost traded for Randy Moss early in the season. The other owner balked at the last minute and the trade didn’t happen. Well it turned out Moss got traded by the Patriots the next week and didn’t do anything of value the rest of the year. My team ended up breaking every scoring record in that league that season and waltzed to the championship. My panic trade early in the season almost cost me what became an epic season.
Patience is especially important in a dynasty league because your decisions not only could affect the current season but could have ramifications for many years to come. My suggestion would be to take the season in thirds.
Use this time to evaluate your team and the other teams in the league. See what rookies look like and are they going to be contributors, what do the veterans look like they, and what players are off to slow starts. Really this is the time though to do some self-scouting and dive deep on your team. Where can you use more depth? Is anyone injured? What positions are you deep at? Are there any players you have that are off to hot starts that you don’t think will last? Do you need to make a trade to make your team a contender? Is it time to rebuild?
Weeks 7 – 12
This is the time to get out and start trying to make some deals. Now that you have a good feel for what your team is and if you need to either add or sell. Look at what positions you have, where you have depth, and what other team might have a need for that position. Are you deep at WR but need a RB? Find a team that is deep at RB and needs a WR. If you are on the fringe of contention this is the time to find out if you can improve enough to have a chance to make the playoffs or if you need to think long term and sell some assets.
Weeks 13 – 17
At this point it is either time to start thinking about next season or gearing up for the playoffs. In most leagues it is probably too late to make any more trades so the only chance to add to your team is through the waiver wire. If you have done a good job up to this point there shouldn’t be much work to do.
Because fantasy football is such a week-to-week entity it is hard not to get too high after a good week or too low after a bad week. Those that are successful at fantasy football can compartmentalize every week as a singular entity and look ahead to the next week. The key is not to overreact either way based on any given week. Last season in my startup DSE league my goal was to get through the first four weeks at 2-2. This was mostly because my QB for was Tom Brady and he wouldn’t be playing until week 5. I felt like if I could get through that stretch at 2-2 or better I would be in a good position to contend moving forward. It ended up I went 3-1 and that momentum carried over to my finishing 11-2 and finishing 1st in the regular season in my league. The hard part for me was to evaluate this team without it being at full strength. It was difficult for me to not panic when my backup QB, Joe Flacco, cost me a game early in the year. However, I was able to tell myself to not panic until the whole picture came into focus. I was fortunate that things worked out but I gave myself a chance by not panicking. As we get ready to head to the beginning of the season the best thing you can do for your team is not to panic during the first four or five weeks. If you do, like me in 2015, you might end up looking back at the end of the year and lamenting a lost season due to a bad panicked decision.