Avoid Bye-Week Bloodbaths (2021 Fantasy Football)
With Redraft season starting to roll and bestball drafting season in full swing, a few realities are beginning to come to light. First, Zero-RB is a terrible name for only taking terrible RBs, and if given the chance, you should try it and see how awful your team can actually look. Apparently, Zero-RB teams look good once all the top-tier guys get injured, or so the mythology has been explained to me. Alas, absent any actual NFL football content occurring, we’re left to argue about the concept on social media.
Despite all this rampant offseason speculation, there’s only one thing we know for sure about the upcoming season; the NFL does not care about your fantasy leagues.
This has been unequivocally demonstrated by the NFL scheduling byes extending to a full 9-weeks and four teams with byes scheduled for Week-14 this season! (Week-14 has traditionally been the start of fantasy playoffs, for those of you following along at home.) This is of course due to the NFL extending its regular season to 17-games, and I have a prediction for you honey buns: they’ll change byes again when they increase it to 18 regular-season games in a few years.
That, plus the fact that Week-7 byes are going to be an absolute bloodbath, with a whopping six teams (DAL, MIN, BUF, JAX, LAC, and PIT) with their bye weeks scheduled for Week-7. That’s more teams than any other week of the season.
With 32 total teams and 9 weeks to schedule byes, one might think that each week would feature only 3-4. The league is surely mocking our fantasy endeavors with four teams having an idle week in five of those nine bye weeks. But for some unbeknownst reason the league is only having two teams on bye for three of the remaining four weeks. That leaves us with Week-7 to make up the difference.
Not only are six teams going to be idle Week-7, but the fantasy implications behind this are also fairly significant as each of those teams has at least three legitimate fantasy options including first-round options Dalvin Cook, Zeke Elliot, and Stefon Diggs, oh my! (This is according to Sleeper’s 1-QB PPR ADP.)
If you’re playing in an SF format, first-round QBs Josh Allen, Dak Prescott, Justin Herbert, and even Trevor Lawrence (going 12th overall in startup SF drafts according to Sleeper’s ADP data) all have Week-7 off.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Of the Top-50 fantasy players (Sleeper 1QB PPR ADP) a whopping 22% will be idle Week-7, more than any other bye week. The pattern continues late into the draft with 29 of the top-150, or nearly 20% of fantasy’s players, who’ll be absent Week-7.
Perhaps they’ll all travel somewhere nice. I hear that the Caribbean is nice that time of year.
So, what does all this mean for fantasy? I thought byes didn’t really matter? So then why all this blather?
Well, it’s because, as per my previous statement in the very first paragraph, it’s currently bestball season. In addition, this fantasy offseason stacking is all the rage fantasy season. Unlike managed leagues where you will have trades and the waiver wire to correct any imperfections in your roster; in bestball leagues, you’re going to need to have a functional roster with good roster construction by the end of the draft itself.
Therefore, I set up a few concepts that I’m considering before my bestball drafts:
Shy Away From Stacking Week-7 QBs
As much as a Diggs/Allen, Prescott/Cooper, or Herbert/Allen stack might appeal to you, I might caution you from investing too heavily in fantasy stacks from week 7. What I’ve found is that while the impact of those players being on bye the same week is probably negligible in and of themselves; having more than one player out in a single week so early in the draft will limit the players you can take in secondary or backup roles later in the draft.
As an example, if you were to grab either of those two stacks early in your draft this would make the Pittsburgh wide receivers, all three of whom represent a great ROI in fantasy this year, kind of hard to justify drafting. Are you really gonna start out with your QB and starting WR out in week 7 then add another liability that same week with your WR2? Sure, you could just pivot to another player. No biggie right? Of course, it’s not. But as soon as you choose to start down that Week-7 Lane, all the players available with a bye that week become inherently less valuable to your team specifically. They’ll be worth the same potentially dynamite ROI to every other manager, except for you that is.
Watch Your Backups Byes Closely
Perhaps the biggest area of concern here is at the quarterback position where you might only take two or perhaps three players total. Thus, it’s more important to not stack bye weeks at this position, at least without drafting a reliable third option. Trevor Lawrence represents an attractive late-round QB option in redraft leagues this year, and no I’m not referring to his blonde locks that flow like a golden river, bouncing gleefully off of his shoulder pads as he…*cough* Umm, excuse me, QB McDreamy got me all distracted from the task at hand, which is to tell you that TLaw’s starting gig is likely among the safer options amongst the other incoming rookie QBs making him a great low-end QB1 option or backup QB depending on your degree of emphasis on the position.
In Superflex formats, four Week-7 bye QBs are going in the first round (Allen - 4.5 SF ADP, Herbert – 6.6, Prescott 11.7, Lawrence 12), making it difficult to justify drafting fellow Week-7 bye QBs Kirk Cousins or Ben Roethlisberger in the late rounds as backups.
In bestball, roster spots are valuable. One of the main advantages to taking one of those top-tier QBs is that you can make it through the season with just two quarterbacks on your roster. If those two QBs happen to be Herbert/Cousins, you’re going to need to devote a whole extra roster spot to filling the QB position on your fantasy team for just that single bye week. That’s if you don’t punt of course…
Punting in Fantasy?
I don’t know about you, but I’m actually a very accomplished punter. Except instead of footballs, I punt fantasy football positions. In various drafts I’ve punted RB, the kids are calling that Zero-RB these days. I’ve faded WR too, apparently, the kids call that Zero-WR. Aside from the fact that the kids are apparently not terribly creative at naming things, punting the QB position, or employing the Late Round QB strategy (which is at least more aptly named and I’d humbly submit has some ring to it) has been a winner for me for decades.
I don’t stop there. I’m even perfectly willing to punt an entire fantasy week if it means less bye week hassle for the rest of my season, though I can’t say I recommend that you try this yourselves. However, if you feel you’re capable of drafting a competitive team even while punting a week, by all means, draft all the week 7 bye players you’d like. Just don’t call me on October 26th complaining about having had to start Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims week-7 because you drafted both Justin Jefferson and Keenan Allen, and chose to back them up with CeeDee Lamb and Chase Claypool.
Start Off on the Right Foot…Er…Byes
I’m not gonna lie, the impetus for writing this article comes from being stuck in the middle rounds of a bestball draft discovering that my options had dwindled significantly when it came time to pick my tertiary starters and backup players. The trauma of having to fade some of my favorite draft targets simply because I’d already painted myself into a bye-week corner was almost too much to bear. In my attempts at recovery, I have since focused my attention on early-round options that will give me more flexibility later. Grabbing players from weeks Wk-8, Wk-10, Wk-11, or Wk-14 is a prudent decision as on those weeks only 8%, 8%, 4%, and 4% respectively. This is as compared to the 22%, 15%, and 16% of the top-50 players that will be on byes weeks Wk-7, Wk-9, and Wk-13, respectively.
The disproportion of talent that will be concentrated on just those three bye weeks (Wk-7, Wk-9, & Wk-13) is astounding, with 27 of the top-50 (by Sleeper 1QB PPR ADP) accounting for a whopping 54% of the top-50 options. This phenomenon isn’t just a characteristic of the top few rounds as this pattern holds with approximately 45% of the top-150 in 1QB PPR, many of whom will likely be vacationing together in Barbados sipping margaritas with little paper umbrellas.
This means that I have more shares of Jonathon Taylor (BWk-14) than I do Dalvin Cook (BWk-7), and I find myself choosing Travis Kelce (BWk-12) instead of Zeke (BWk-7) at the end of the first round. It also means I’d be willing to reach a bit on players like Darren Waller (BWk-8) or Allen Robinson (BWk-10), especially if I’m drafting from one of the turn positions.
Later in the draft, you should have a good deal of bye-week depth. For the cost of acquisition, stacking more players with those troublesome bye weeks becomes far less of an issue in the later rounds, particularly if you have already secured the services of a quality starter at the positions with a complimentary bye week.
One last caveat before I let you all get rolling along. Recall for a moment all the delayed games in the 2020 season due to positive COVID tests. Well, I got news for you sugar plum, the pandemic ain’t over. It’s been “life back to normal” for so many of us we forget that the virus is still raging in parts of the world and even in parts of our own country. There are concerns about vaccination rates amongst players and it wouldn’t be shocking to see some positive COVID tests this NFL season. While I do doubt that we’ll see the delayed games and rescheduling changing the bye-week landscape as dramatically as occurred last season, but I do think it is a distinct possibility with a non-zero likelihood that COVID will impact the 2021 NFL season to some degree.
That being said, whether you are drafting with an eye towards bye weeks, or considering stacking receivers with their quarterback, it’s important to stress one of those fantasy truisms that people should repeat to themselves like transcendental meditation: don’t get frivolous with your draft capital. I.e. don’t overpay at auction to grab a stackable player. Or, for those still in the serpentine dark ages, don’t reach more than a round or two to grab that player you covet. You certainly don’t want to fade predictable “reliable” production so much that you’re drafting high-floor low-ceiling exclusively because of bye weeks or other contextual factors.
That being said, have you ever looked at predictions at the time they're made and think how rational and logical they are, only to look back on them with the virtue of hindsight and conclude how terribly naïve they had been? Realities change fast in the NFL, and as much as we try to predict the future, the realities in the NFL in late October could be drastically different from our prediction of how it could go from our vantage point today.