Mailbag: What to consider with start/sits, trade talk, and more

Answers to good questions I've received this week

You guys are great. I mean it.

It’s extremely cool to have this cultivated group of people who love to dig very deep into the weeds about fantasy football, and I’ve had so much fun this season spending more time answering higher-level questions. The reality of the fantasy football market is that 90% or more of it is casual hobbyists. I play other fantasy sports casually, and even if my version of casual is still looking for numbers-based edges, I totally get the perspective of just wanting clear recommendations of what to do.

But fantasy football is and has always been different for me, and I really can’t express how great it is to have a group of readers who are right there with me. I often get ideas for ways I could improve Stealing Signals, which is natural and expected and has happened for years. Some talk about ways to streamline it, naturally, but in a hilarious twist there always seem to be more that want it expand. Look ahead to future matchups more, find ways to be more actionable with clear recommendations for different league sizes and types, etc. And I obviously get the appeal, but there’s a point at which I’m trying to do too much.

The way I’ve always approached Stealing Signals is I’m writing it for an audience that is already very engaged with fantasy football, and is going to be consuming other content and finding ways to leverage the information I’m giving for their own leagues, or for DFS, or whatever. It’s a ton of information, and I think of it like I’m walking you through my research process each week. That means sometimes I won’t always be explicit, and that’s partly because I won’t always get to a full conclusion so early in the week.

But I was told this week by a longtime reader that there are one or two things every week he can act on that he found in Signals and didn’t see anywhere else. And he made a point to say he finds these things despite being “aggressive” about seeking out content. That was probably the highest compliment I could think of. There’s so much information out there, and I expect that anyone reading a piece as long as Signals is also consuming a lot of that. So if those types of people — you — are finding anything in Signals that’s providing a small edge, I feel like I’ve done my job.

A funny side note on that is there’s a ton I miss. It might come as a bit of a surprise, but I don’t consume a lot of other content. I haven’t heard it yet this year, but there’s a piece of feedback I inevitably get every season that is something like incredulity that I missed a specific trend that was known around the industry. “How did you not know that?” An example of this might be a specific matchup note that I overlooked coming into the week and then failed to mention in my review of why a player struggled.

This happens because I sort of work in a bubble. With two kids at home, I’m usually either writing/researching or spending time with them. I probably haven’t listened to more than 15 minutes of a podcast all season. That form of media is just not something I find time to prioritize, unfortunately. I click on some articles later in the week each week, after I’ve had some time to decompress from the three-day sprint of writing Signals, and those are almost all DFS-focused. I’m a big fan of the work at places like Establish The Run, RotoViz, RotoGrinders, and FantasyLabs, and I seek out “believable” people as Jonathan Bales put it in his great Substack, Lucky Maverick.

And of course I spend more time on Twitter than I should, and I get a lot of information there as well, so I’m not saying I’m totally isolated. But it’s not uncommon for me to miss a note you’d expect someone paying attention to catch. I think the flip side of that coin is a pretty big benefit in that Signals may be less influenced by outside opinions than most other content in an industry where narratives and groupthink do impact us all, either consciously or unconsciously. And hopefully you agree and also find me to be a believable person in the areas I write about.

But I want to be clear I don’t see any of this as a badge of honor. I think the lack of other content I consume is a pretty huge downside for me that comes as a result of writing Signals. There’s a tremendous amount of incredible work in the fantasy industry, and I’m absolutely worse off for not consuming more of it. My recommendation to you will always be to get as many perspectives as you can, and my hope is Signals being a part of your process gives you a wider breadth of knowledge from reading it and then also consuming other stuff than even I have each week after writing it.

And this is a big reason I love feedback from you guys that touches on a blind spot I might have had. The first question today is a great example. And hopefully, if you do see me miss something obvious, you’ll know your first reaction that I’m an idiot who doesn’t know anything is right on the money. I absolutely am an idiot and I truly hope you realize this.

Onto some questions!

From Israel S:

You talked about Tua, and then about Myles Gaskin, but didn’t say if you think that Tua will impact Gaskin’s usage in the passing game. A decline would kind of fit into the “mobile QBs target RBs less” narrative. Do you think that will be the case with Gaskin?

This was a great question in the comment section of Tuesday’s piece, and something I failed to expand on in Signals.

What I wrote to Israel was I was thinking that Ryan Fitzpatrick is somewhat mobile too, and I didn't know how much Tua Tagovailoa would scramble, so I wasn’t sure if there would be a huge tradeoff. There are guys like Justin Herbert or Daniel Jones that have shown some mobility but don't take off and run enough to where they aren't still targeting RBs at a decent clip. Tua, for reference, rushed for only 340 yards across his college career. Both Herbert and Jones rushed for more. Tua profiles more like those guys than the Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, or Tyrod Taylor group where I get more concerned about RB target rates.

At the same time, the sheer fact that Gaskin has 4-plus catches every week and has caught 93% of his targets is cause for concern with a QB change. I didn't realize his seasonal catch rate was that high, so that was already likely to regress even if Fitzpatrick stayed under center. RB targets seem super easy to complete, but a QB change can really throw a back’s catch rate out of whack, and then you have at least some potential for a dip in his high target rate along with that, even if Tua isn’t scrambling much more or any more than Fitzpatrick was. So I would expect less consistency with Gaskin’s receiving and maybe some one- or two-catch games coming up.

From “Storm” via Twitter:

I'm sitting at 2-4 with Christian McCaffrey on IR. I've been trying to trade him but every deal I've looked at feels like I'm selling him short. What would be a fair type of comp I should look for?

I thought this was a great question from a theory perspective. I told Storm I wouldn’t trade him even at 2-4 right now. The reason is with players like this, I think you have to do one of two things, either sell immediately and let your opponent sit through the injury, or hold through it. I don’t think you hold him through his injury to this point to sell when he’s maybe one or two weeks away, because his value will probably rise again when a return is announced and definitely when he plays his first game.

It’s kind of counterintuitive, but the longer a guy like this sits out, it seems the less likely people are to pay full value for him. A couple of weeks ago, after Week 4, I recapped a full re-draft for the FF World Series, which chops the season into quarters. McCaffrey went 1.11 in that draft which only runs through Week 8 before we reset again. That pick was just on the hopes he might play one or two games this quarter, and it might seem aggressive in hindsight, but I can tell you my co-manager and I picked 1.10 (and also 2.03) and we spent plenty of time discussing whether we’d consider McCaffrey at those picks.

Obviously, the further we go, McCaffrey is only getting closer to a return. There’s some nuance here where maybe him being out longer than expected makes us more concerned about his ability to return at 100% from an injury that was perhaps more serious than initially known, but it would be hard to argue his value won’t still rise when a return date is announced. For players like him and Michael Thomas, selling now would be getting out right before a value spike. If you’re concerned about their ability to produce and absolutely have to make a deal because your roster is in dire straits and you need to prioritize winning this week, find other pieces to move now and then move McCaffrey or Thomas when he’s announced as back and you can get more out of him. Turning around a 2-4 season takes multiple things to break right, so maximize the value of each one.

From Ben Z:

In trying to make a weekly lineup decision involving two similar profile players, i.e. Antonio Gibson and D'Andre Swift, what factors do you weight the most in your decision making process outside of opposing defensive matchup?

This is a great question that, like my hurried answer to how to structure a fantasy bench last week, could be a book. But the short version would be that I consider a lot of factors you might hear about in DFS circles. Betting odds are a big one, and the implied team total. For anyone unfamiliar, the implied total is the number of points the combination of the over/under and spread are giving for each team. If a game has an over/under of 50 and a spread of 4 points, the implication is that game will finish with a 27-23 score (4-point difference, 50-point total).

For running backs with limited pass-catching roles, you want them to be favored so game script is more likely to be in their favor. This is less of a concern for what we’d call gamescript independent backs. In this case, Washington has a decent team total this week as a slight home favorite, but the Lions have a higher total as slight road underdogs. Swift does play in the passing game, but this isn’t a great way to break this particular tie this week.

Then there’s the stuff I talk about in Signals each week, and it can differ by position. For RBs, snaps/potential snap share and High-Value Touches both correlate very well with RB scoring. Gibson has a better or at least more defined role, and most projection systems like him more than Swift this week. For wide receivers and tight ends, targets, air yards, share of targets and air yards, routes, expected game flow, and team total again are all relevant factors. I hope to do a post at some point on what stats matter, and perhaps more importantly, which ones don’t, but that’s another complicated discussion.

Another big thing I will always add is some understanding of ceiling is important. Swift showed that last week, but I think Gibson has a similar weekly ceiling particularly because he has the athleticism to have the explosive plays Swift showed and his weekly HVT ceiling has been similar to Swift’s, even as J.D. McKissic’s role has been a bit of a headache for Gibson. There does feel like more of a chance Swift could break through to a higher snap share this week, though, whereas we’ve seen more of Gibson and his role feels a little stuck in the mud right now. But timing that type of thing can be tough.

That gets us to one last thing which is the “long view” stuff I discussed last week. Rather than trying to time everything or dig too deep into matchups or weekly fluctuations of usage, who do I think is good over the course of a full season? Who do I expect will finish this year having been productive? I was asked about these two this week as potential trade candidates — someone had a deal on the table where they would have to give up one or the other — and I had to consider it. Before last week, I think I might have leaned toward Gibson. Right now, I’d rather give up Gibson than Swift. Swift was the top pre-draft RB in this class for many, has been more efficient and productive overall, and looks like he’s on his way to a productive rookie season and eventually career. Similar things can be said about Gibson, but he’s in a slightly worse offense and hasn’t been quite as efficient yet. And we’re waiting on both teams to feature these guys more, with Swift being the one maybe trending more positively right now.

So there are a lot of things to consider! And that’s actually something I always try to remember after the fact. It’s easy to look at the results and say, “I made the wrong decision” because the guy on your bench scored more than the guy in your lineup. But the reality is the close decisions are often close to a toss up. Players have ranges of outcomes based on unknowable things like potential role changes but also how a game might play out, how script influences usage, etc. Last week, I sat Nyheim Hines for some sketchy RBs on some rosters where I’m hurting because it looked for all the world like the Colts would be in negative script and Hines would do nothing in a Jonathan Taylor game. They immediately fell way behind the Bengals. As it turned out, Hines still wasn’t great, but he could have had a game similar to his Week 1, and if I thought that was possible, I probably would have played him. It happens.

As for the Swift/Gibson decision, I’d probably ultimately side with the projection systems and go Gibson. The matchup with the Cowboys is great and Washington is rarely favored, so this seems like the time to use him. But it’s a good discussion, and I wouldn’t fault you if went with Swift for the upside shot on an expanded role.

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