In-season preview

What to expect from Stealing Signals for the next four months

I’m so damn excited for tomorrow, and I hope you all are, too. It was an incredibly fun draft season, even if I never did get that elusive 1.01 across nearly 20 higher-stakes contests, and only got three picks in the top eight. I have so much exposure to the guys I liked at the 1/2 turn, I really hope things play out favorably for them this year.

I’ve taken the last few days to finish up some preparation for the actual season and finish up some drafts. But as you haven’t heard from me for five days after getting emails from me practically daily over the past month, it makes sense I’ve gotten some questions about where I went. Let’s talk about the plan going forward.

For those of you unsure on what Stealing Signals even is, this was the first half of Week 1 from last year, which is outside the paywall and should be viewable for all. Every week, I spend hours upon hours on Monday and Tuesday digging into all the relevant data and writing about all the little nuggets I saw in the games on Sundays. Sometimes I’ll go off on tangents that are more related to real football stuff, sometimes I’ll talk at length about specific players, but at the end of each game there will be a nice breakdown of what I think was “Signal” and what I think was “Noise” about the previous week. Think of it as me recalibrating my rest-of-season expectations for every player, team, and situation, every week.

That article is what this newsletter was created for, and last year that was the one thing I did behind the paywall, with a few additional pieces thrown in from time to time. This year, likely because I did the preseason rankings and so much additional content leading into the season, I’ve been asked about in-season rankings and additional content. To be clear, I’m not planning anything. If that’s not what you thought you were signing up for, please let me know and I’ll be happy to issue a refund.

But to be honest, I tend to question a lot of start/sit stuff. One thing you have to know by now is I believe this to be a probability-based game, and when I play things like DFS I factor in ownership to an extremely high degree and try to remember I’m not sure of much of anything. We all have leans and predictions, but the reality in something like 75% of cases is if you’re asking me for an answer to a start/sit question, your answer is the probabilistic ranges of the two players overlap substantially.

When I make my start/sit decisions, the biggest things I try to consider are big picture, like the player’s skill and role trajectory, and then I will definitely look at their team and game context. Are they a running back at home as a big favorite? That’s something we know to be a positive sign for running back production, so it’s going to help me as a tiebreaker. Are they a secondary receiver in a game with a high over/under that has a chance to be a shootout, like the Thursday night opener? OK, now we’re talking.

Once we get the results on Sunday, we have a tendency to think that what happened was always the obvious answer, and that we should have seen it coming. The way I’ve tried to think in recent years is to recognize that what happened, even in hindsight, was part of a probabilistic range and sat somewhere between a bad and a good outcome. The reasons it sat anywhere along that axis could be because of one missed opportunity on a potentially big play, team or game context preventing opportunities to arise — which can be unexpected defensive touchdowns or turnovers in the red zone or whatever — or any number of other things. This is ultimately the crux of Stealing Signals — trying to identify what we should actually believe going forward.

But there’s a ton of great start/sit content out there, and to be honest I spend a lot of time on my own start/sit decisions such that I promise my quick advice to you isn’t the way I’d actually break it down. I had a friend message Thursday about a half hour before the game and ask “Evans or Thielen, don’t need an explanation.” He’s been doing this for years, and he always says he doesn’t need an explanation, but that’s because my response is typically “it depends” and I have clarifying questions about format and those types of things. In this case, my initial thoughts were:

  1. I have drafted neither of those players in any league, so if that’s the choice, you should ask someone who actually sees the bull case for them.

  2. I guess Evans because the game could be a shootout and I did have him ranked higher.

And so I quickly wrote back “Evan’s” so quick that autocorrect added an apostrophe and I went about my day. Turns out Evans was a bad call, but then he’s also about the only pass-catcher in that game — other than the injured Michael Gallup — who didn’t smash, so I’m not sure the process was terrible. If you told me Tom Brady was going to throw for 379 and 4 TDs, I would have said Evans even quicker.

And look, I know the thought behind many start/sit question is just curiosity about how an analyst who pays a lot of attention to this stuff might play it. But the truth is, if you ask someone else and they always have a quick answer for you, that’s probably bad advice. Or they are basically just flipping the coin for you on what is a 50/50. It’s a smart gig for an analyst because the more of those you answer, if you assume you’ll be right half the time, then you’ll have half the people thinking you know something you don’t. And then the next time, the same is true, and there are more people coming along, and the odds would say that if you’re doing dozens of these per week, you’ll have some people in that group where you’ve hit the right side of the 50/50 quite a bit more often than the wrong side, and the upside there is those people think you’re a genius while there’s really no downside on the wrong ones because those people just go away. Answering those questions is basically the most disingenuous thing I do, although some of you know that if you catch me on a good day I might write you two paragraphs back and explain all my reasoning, and that I think does have value in the sense that what you should really be trying to figure out is how to think through it yourself.

But that’s what the Discord is going to be for. I’ve gotten some questions for updates, and some great feedback on what it should look like. I think there will basically be three tiers:

  • An area that is no additional fee for all current subs, because some of you liked the idea of being linked to others in the Stealing Signals community to talk through things like start/sits. And I love that and want that to be available for anyone who wants it. The catch is I want to set the precedent that I won’t spend any time in that area. That likely won’t be totally true, as I’m sure I’ll pop in now and again, but it’s more for you guys.

  • The next tier will be fairly expensive, probably like $35/month, where I’ll do at least an hour every week on Wednesday after Signals has published on Monday and Tuesday, and possibly devote more time. Again, I don’t want to set the bar real high, because I have a lot of in-season obligations and a pair of kiddos going back to school this week. But this part of the Discord will be designed as a place where I can do sort of a group chat, answer questions, give lengthy explanations of any confusing points from Signals that week, discuss any long-term strategies, dig into more complex roster discussions or league parameters, et al. It’ll be a place I can give pretty personalized advice, but on my time.

  • And then there was a request for more personalized advice where I do some back-and-forths throughout the week or season. That request mentioned $100/month, so I’ll open that up, too. I’m hoping no more than like five of you want to do this, but if you want to pay me solid money to have sort of an ongoing DM and talk a few times a week, I’m happy to make that happen. I may have to cut this off if it gets to be a dozen or so people, though, because I’m only one person.

One big note is I won’t be active in Discord from Sunday-Tuesday in any capacity really. Maybe Tuesday night after Signals publishes, but otherwise those days are reserved for the long slog of research and writing, and my answers will almost certainly be covered in that week’s Signals. For there, the Discord will be a nice resource from Wednesday-Saturday to discuss the week as we look ahead.

So, to recap:

  • Your $8/month or $55/year sub is for the Stealing Signals column on Monday and Tuesday and I make no promises for any other content you might have come to expect from a more typical fantasy website.

  • If that annoys you or you don’t like that it’s like that, I’m happy to refund.

  • There will be a Discord with three tiers to dig into more complex topics but even that I’m making expensive and putting limitations on, although I hope the free part of that really gets popping, if I’m being honest.

Alright, that’s all for now. See all of you with paid subs on Monday afternoon with several thousand words recapping Thursday Night Football and all the early games from Sunday. Then on Tuesday, I’ll see you again with the rest of the Sunday games plus Monday Night Football.

If you haven’t signed up yet, you might not get as many free emails this year, depending on time, but I’d love to have you for the premium Stealing Signals posts at $8/month.

Good luck in Week 1!