This week, we had a chance to sit down with scoutPRO’s resident expert Nelson “The Franchise” Sousa about what it is like competing at the highest levels of Fantasy Football. Fresh off participating in a high-stakes draft for the National Fantasy Football Championship (NFFC) at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, Nelson offered some insights on this year’s Fantasy trends, the approaches and strategies of top tier fantasy GMs, and his efforts to help answer owners’ toughest start/sit questions through scoutPRO’s weekly ‘Ask Nelson’ feature.
scoutPRO: You just spent a weekend drafting a roster against some of the most knowledgeable, experienced fantasy football players in the world. Can you tell us a little about the different draft strategies you saw in Vegas for this season?
Nelson: This year, I saw three pretty distinct strategies. First, there was a group focused on snatching up the elite quarterbacks. There are just a handful of guys at the very top of the game at the QB position – Rodgers, Brady, Brees… they play on teams that really emphasize the passing game, and they are bound to rack up points all season long. The second group recognized that the pool of Running Backs who should really contribute something this special is pretty thin; a lot of teams operate their running game by committee now, and run defenses are more intimidating than ever before. Focus on picking up the Arian Fosters, the Ray Rices, was pretty intense. Some of the players approached their ground game by ‘handcuffing,’ where you take multiple guys on a team that runs by committee to pick up credit on every down they play, or have a good backup plan in case one gets hurt. I personally fall into the third camp, where I follow the flow of the draft to try and get the best player available. Obviously I stay conscious of constructing a solid structure top-to-bottom for my team, but every draft is fluid, and I am comfortable focusing on getting the right guy in each round – I am looking for the talent that will make my roster deeper across the board.
scoutPRO: Are there any new or emergent trends you have seen in the NFL that have shaped the way fantasy owners think about roster construction and management?
Nelson: There are two that come to mind. First off, rookies are really making a big impact in fantasy football now. In years past, guys would come into the NFL and coaches wouldn’t really invest their full trust in the young guns. The progression used to be visible from a bench player, to maybe getting some looks on special teams, and slowly working your way into a role with the team. Nowadays, teams are asking guys like RG3 and Trent Richardson to come in and step into huge roles. We have real playmaking rookies who have shown that they can compete at the highest levels. It really changes the game for fantasy owners, because they are unproven, but drafting them can pay huge dividends.
Also, the emergence of the Tight End as a more valuable position has definitely changed the look of the average fantasy draft. For me, it all started in 2008 when the Patriots had Randy Moss and Wes Welker catching balls all over the field. Defenses became so focused on WR coverage that entering the 2010 season, Bill Belichick decided to change the game up and draft two stud tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez not only to open up the field for WRs, but to catch tons of passes themselves. They have thrived because the passing game is much wider open with tight ends on the field. The NFL is a copycat league, so other teams found success in giving tight ends a chance to contribute as well. Now guys like Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis can be serious fantasy point producers week in and week out.
scoutPRO: In our weekly ‘Ask Nelson’ feature, our subscribers get the chance to get your opinion on who to start and sit, advice on trades, and answers to their other fantasy questions. In Week 1, you foresaw that Tony Romo would be a better start than Philip Rivers against the Raiders, even though he struggled in the preseason and was up against a much better Giants defense. Your advice paid off. How do you find so much success in understanding the game and making smart predictions?
Really, my approach to making tough calls like that one is just based in watching games. I always approach fantasy football from a scouting perspective, rather than mulling over table after table of meaningless numbers. There is nothing an owner can do to learn more about the players than to watch them play. On Sundays, that means sitting down and watching games. Then, watching more games replayed either on TV or online. I always take the time to see what is happening. That way, when the time comes to make a call, I draw on my real knowledge. I knew that Rivers, in this case, was without the threat of injured Ryan Mathews, putting additional pressure on the pass game, and that Romo has real chemistry with the weapons on his team. Poor preseason aside, the call was clear. There is always some fortune involved in whether it turns out well, but I trust that scouting to help make the most educated guess.
Check back for part 2 of our interview next week to hear Nelson’s thoughts on week-to-week roster management, statistical analysis, and Super Bowl predictions.