And ... we are off.
Welcome, kids, to the 2016 fantasy football season. Take your shoes off, put your feet up and get comfortable. May I take your drink order?
Make no mistake (or, go ahead and make it, what do I care?), we've all been working for a while. For me personally, I went to the NFL combine, was part of ESPN's NFL draft coverage, wrote a ton for our ESPN Fantasy Football draft mag (on newsstands June 21), been doing offseason podcasts every week, my 2016 rankings have been up since February and the mock drafts, research and interviews seem to run into each other.
But as far as I am concerned, my 2016 fantasy football season kicks off with this column. I've written a version of it every year (and sometimes many times a year) for well over a decade now, and there's exactly one reason why I choose this column to start, as opposed to my Draft Day Manifesto or some other broader strategy column.
It's not that I'm procrastinating because the Manifesto is a bear to write, even though it totally is.
No, the reason I choose to do this one first is very simple.
Hopefully this is one of the first articles you read as you start preparing for the upcoming fantasy football season. Or, at least, this is one of the first articles you read from me.
Because it sets up every single thing I will write, say and present for the 2016 fantasy football season. It sets up what every single analyst will write, say and present for the 2016 fantasy football season.
As you read, watch, listen and research, it's important to understand one very specific hard-and-fast truth about what you are consuming:
It's all a lie.
OK, that's a lie, too. They aren't lies, per se, they're just half-truths. Partial pieces of the story presented as absolutes. They are just opinions, nothing more than one dumb person's opinion disguised as facts, as scouting X's and O's, as stone-cold facts.
It's not that they aren't true. Everything I write has been thought about for quite some time, is well researched and double-checked, is 100 percent true.
The problem is it's just not the whole story.
Consider these two running backs:
"Running Back A" is a flat-out stud. Since he came into the NFL, no running back has scored more rushing touchdowns. In fact, since joining the league there are only five active running backs with more total fantasy points. If half the battle is just showing up, as the old saying goes, it's no surprise this guy wins so often. He never has missed a game in his NFL career, even after a season in which it seemed as if every running back got hurt. A true chain-moving workhorse, only three running backs have more first downs during the past two seasons than our guy who is also tough to tackle. Among active running backs, he's eighth in total yards after contact since 2014. But it's not just between the 20s for Running Back A, as only one back has more carries in goal-to-goal situations since he came into the league. He averaged 7 yards per reception and is involved in every part of his team's offense -- no RB/WR/TE touched the ball more on his team last season -- and that's a good thing, since last season his squad was one of the 10 highest-scoring offenses in football. Per Tristan H. Cockcroft's always-helpful consistency rankings, only six RBs were a "stud" more often last season (A "stud" being defined as a top-five finish at the position for the week). So he single-handedly carried your team for a week a number of times last season. Super consistent, he has been a top-15 fantasy running back every single year he has been in the NFL, he's coming off a career high in both touches and touchdowns, and with the offseason losses to the team's passing game, expect them to lean on Running Back A even more this season, making him an easy selection early in your draft.
When talking about "Running Back B," you can't ignore how much of a disappointment he was last season. Of the 44 running backs in the NFL to get at least 100 carries, Running Back B was 42nd in yards per carry, averaging just 3.56 yards a tote. A true one-dimensional runner, there were 48 different running backs that ran more routes than Running Back B last season, including players like Antonio Andrews and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Clearly stuck in a committee, in eight different games last season our player started the game, finished the game (so not injury-related) and finished with six or fewer fantasy points. In fact, he had five different games last season with at least nine touches and two or fewer points. That's not a misprint. Basically double-digit touches and two or fewer points. Five different times. How bad was this guy? The "passing-down" back in this offense had only six fewer red zone carries than Running Back B and, in fact, he was the better RUNNER in the red zone, averaging 4.7 yards per carry in the red zone to our guy's 2.2. During the past two years, no running back in the NFL has lost more fumbles than Running Back B and everything is trending in the wrong direction, as he had career lows last season in total yards, yards per carry, receptions, receiving yards, and fantasy points, among many other stats. Ask anyone who owned this guy in 2015 and they will tell you, "Never again." Learn from their mistake and avoid this guy this year.
So ... everything I just wrote about each player above is 100 percent true.
Tell me, which guy do you want?
Before you answer, you should know that both players are Jeremy Hill.
You see? I can talk up or talk down any player I want. I just have to choose the right stats for the job. There's very little in this world at which I'm good, but one thing at which I am fantastic? Manipulating stats to tell the story I want them to.
I do it all the time, and so does every other person who gives any sort of analysis. There's a reason you've recently seen so many, um, let's call them "homages" to this column.
And it's not just in fantasy sports. Politics, pop culture, tech, sports ... whatever the subject, whoever is telling you something is NOT telling you the whole truth.
The reason is because there isn't enough time. Whether it's TV, radio, my podcast, this column ... whatever the medium, there is a finite amount of time people have to watch/listen/tolerate me. And even if you had all the time in the world, it's STILL impossible to get a true sense of every player. Is he hiding an injury? Maybe he doesn't even know he has one. Is he in a fight with the QB? Is he playing his guts out for a new deal or is he too nervous about it? Does he have an issue in his personal life? So many factors, er, factor into a player's performance and that's before you get to specific personnel groupings, schemes, play-calling, field conditions, game flow, whether the other 10 guys on the field at any given time will be doing their job exactly as prescribed and that the defense they are facing won't disrupt it. There are a million different things that go into any one player's positive or negative performance that it's impossible to get a full picture of any one player's fantasy value.
The same goes for any other subject as well.
So, we pick and choose. I do the number-crunching, the film study, call and text all my sources, consider everything I have at my disposal and make a decision. I then present to you only the information that supports the conclusion I have come to.
When you read, watch and listen to me this year, know that I have done this. Every single time. Same as everyone else you'll read/watch/listen to this year, even if they won't admit it.
There are crazy amounts of information about fantasy football these days. The hobby has exploded in a way that few, if any, could have predicted, and combined with social media and a 24-hour news cycle, you will be bombarded with way more info about players than anyone could possibly fathom. Finding the information is no longer the problem. Finding your way through all the data is.
Your job, then, is to parse all of it. Figure out what you believe and what you don't. Whom you trust and whom you don't. Question everyone and everything and then go from there. Because that's all any of us are doing. Taking one part of a bigger picture and making a call.
Everything that follows is a 100 percent, fully vetted, can't-be-argued-with, rock-solid fact. Some are about players, some are about teams, and not a damn bit of it tells the whole story.
Below are 100 facts you need to know before you draft. What you do with them is up to you.
1. In his first two games last season, Drew Brees threw just two total touchdowns, was intercepted twice and scored just 28 fantasy points. He was tied for 17th among QBs in ESPN standard scoring.
2. Brees missed Week 3 with an injury to his rotator cuff, when he could no longer play through the pain.
3. From Week 4 on, only Cam Newton scored more fantasy points than Brees.
4. For the fourth time in five seasons, Brees had at least four games with 340 passing yards AND three touchdowns. Last season, the top three scoring QBs (Newton, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson) combined for four such games.
5. Starting in Week 12 of this season, Brees will play five of his final six games indoors, including Weeks 16 and 17, the championship matchup weeks in ESPN standard leagues.
6. Brees has had at least 4,300 yards passing and 33 total touchdowns for eight straight seasons.
7. He is currently being drafted two rounds behind Ben Roethlisberger, who has never done that in his 12-year career.
7a. Seriously? I mean ... seriously?
9. Bortles' 29 such touchdowns are the most by a QB in a single season during the past decade.
10. Bortles also accounted for 15 touchdowns when down by 10 or more points, 25 percent more than any other QB in the league.
12. No quarterback scored more second-half (including overtime) fantasy points last season than ... Bortles.
13. No player had more passing attempts, and only one had more passing touchdowns, inside an opponent's 10-yard line last season than Bortles.
14. ESPN recently ranked the Jaguars No. 1 in terms of most improved in the offseason. The majority of the moves were defensive, including signing defensive end Malik Jackson, safety Tashaun Gipson, drafting rookies Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack, plus the return from injury for last season's first-round pick Dante Fowler. They also signed running back Chris Ivory, who has the fourth-most rushing attempts and is tied for the seventh-most rushing touchdowns inside an opponent's 10-yard line the past two seasons.
15. During the past five seasons, there have been just four instances in which a QB ran 100 times and threw at least three touchdown passes per interception: 2012 rookie of the year Robert Griffin III, 2015 MVP Cam Newton, 2015 Pro Bowler Russell Wilson and ... 2015 Tyrod Taylor.
16. Taylor was ninth in fantasy points per game last season (18.4 in ESPN standard scoring), just a tick below Carson Palmer (18.8) and Ben Roethlisberger (18.5).
17. While there were 14 QBs selected in our first 10-team standard mock draft this season, Taylor was not one of them.
18. Last season, in Week 8, the Detroit Lions made Jim Bob Cooter their offensive coordinator.
18a. The Lions had their bye in Week 9.
18b. From Weeks 10-17, Matthew Stafford ranked first in completions, second in completion percentage and had more than 310 passing yards OR multiple touchdown passes in all seven of his games.
19. From Weeks 10-17, Stafford was tied for third in touchdown passes, fifth in passing yards and threw just two interceptions. He was fourth in fantasy points during that stretch.
19a. If you think facts 18 and 19 were just an excuse to write Jim Bob Cooter's name, you're damn right.
20. From Week 7 on in 2015, Kirk Cousins had four different games with at least four total touchdowns.
21. That's the same number of four-TD games that Aaron Rodgers has had since the start of 2014.
22. There has been one quarterback during the past three seasons to throw for 4,100 yards and rush for five scores. His name is Kirk Cousins.
23. The latest to do it, before Cousins, was Andrew Luck in 2012.
23a. In 2013, Andrew Luck was the fourth-best quarterback in fantasy.
24. ESPN NFL Nation Redskins reporter John Keim's recent blog post about Kirk Cousins and expectations about his air yards per attempt included this nugget: "After the first Dallas game, the Redskins changed their offensive approach. Offensive coordinator Sean McVay knew he needed to stay more aggressive with the passing game."
25. The "first Dallas game" referenced in No. 24 was in Week 13 last season.
25a. Kirk Cousins from Weeks 1-13: 6.55 yards per pass attempt and 27 pass attempts per touchdown toss.
26. Kirk Cousins (Weeks 14-17): 9.67 yards per pass attempt and 8.57 attempts per touchdown pass.
26a. For comparison, Tom Brady in 2007, when he was the first QB to throw 50 TDs, put up 8.31 yards per attempt and 11.56 attempts per TD pass. And Peyton Manning, when he set the NFL record for passing yards and TDs in 2013, averaged 8.31 yards per attempt and 11.98 attempts per TD pass.
27. The offensive coaching staff and all offensive starters in the passing game return for Washington. Yet, like Tyrod Taylor, Cousins was not selected in our staff's first mock draft.
29. From Weeks 9-17 last season, Tim Hightower (who hadn't taken an NFL snap since 2011 prior to Week 9) and Ameer Abdullah (who didn't play more than 42 percent of snaps in any of those games) were among the 27 NFL running backs who had more rushing yards than ... Devonta Freeman.
29a. Freeman averaged 3.1 yards per carry in that time frame.
30. Hightower had 16 fewer carries; Abdullah had 32 fewer carries.
31. In that Week 9-17 time frame, Freeman was tied for fourth in receptions among running backs, but just 15th in receiving yards.
32. If you add in receiving yards, Freeman was 20th in total yards among running backs in that span.
33. Forty-six different players, including Blaine Gabbert, had a run of 40-plus yards last season.
34. Devonta Freeman did not.
35. Only one team in the NFL has an active streak of a running back totaling at least 1,000 yards rushing while also gaining at least 300 yards receiving in consecutive seasons ... the Dallas Cowboys.
36. They've actually done it for three straight years, or every season since starting center Travis Frederick was drafted.
37. Last season, from Week 6-13, Jonathan Stewart had eight straight games with at least 20 carries.
38. No other running back in the NFL had more than three straight such games in 2015.
39. That's the longest such streak since Fast Willie Parker had nine straight 20-carry games in 2007.
39a. Hint to young writers: There is no column that can't be improved with a reference to Fast Willie Parker.
40. Only one team in the NFL has run the ball at least 500 times in each of the past two seasons: the Seattle Seahawks.
41. Last season, on Thomas Rawls' first 10 carries, he averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
41a. On carries 11-20, Rawls averaged 5.8 yards per carry.
41b. From carry 21 on, Thomas Rawls averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
42. In the five weeks that Marshawn Lynch did not play and Rawls both started and finished games, Rawls averaged 18.4 fantasy points per game in ESPN standard scoring.
42a. Last season's No. 1 running back in fantasy, the aforementioned Freeman, averaged 15.4 points per game.
43. For the third straight season, Tom Brady's aDOT (average depth of target) dropped. Running backs accounted for more than 25 percent of his completions.
44. During the past three seasons, only four teams in the NFL have attempted more passes than the New England Patriots.
45. Dion Lewis had a bye in Week 4, missed Week 7 and was injured for the rest of the year in the middle of Week 9.
46. In the six full games Lewis played last season, he averaged 5.3 receptions per game. Only one running back (Arian Foster, 5.5) averaged more per game for the season.
47. In the six full games Lewis played last season, he averaged 17.5 points a game in PPR scoring, fifth best in fantasy last season, or just slightly less than Le'Veon Bell's 17.8 per game.
48. In those six full games Lewis played, he scored 73 points in ESPN standard scoring.
49. Last season, only six running backs scored more than 73 points in their first six games in ESPN standard scoring.
50. Lewis is being drafted outside of the top 20 at running back in some early drafts.
52. Gore logged at least 15 touches in 14 of 16 games last season.
53. He has not missed a game in five years.
54. In the final five games Andrew Luck played in, Frank Gore had more than 90 total yards in four of them and averaged 11.54 fantasy points.
55. Last season, 11.54 points per game would have been 10th best at running back, just behind Doug Martin (11.69) and ahead of LeSean McCoy (11.42).
55a. For the record, Gore finished 12th last season among RBs in fantasy points in ESPN standard scoring, which isn't all that interesting a stat or insightful, except that no one seems to realize that.
55b. He also, very uncharacteristically, fumbled twice at the goal line. If he converts those two scores, he finishes as the eighth-best RB in fantasy, five points behind David Johnson.
56. The Colts' offseason included hiring a new offensive line coach (Joe Philbin) and spending two of their first three draft picks on offensive linemen, including highly regarded center Ryan Kelly from Alabama.
57. Gore is being drafted in the ninth or 10th round in many early drafts, sometimes outside of the top 30 running backs.
58. Last season, the Houston Texans had four different running backs with 80 touches. Their highest-ranked fantasy back was 40th at the position in ESPN standard scoring. They attempted the 16th-most run plays in the red zone last season.
59. The Miami Dolphins ranked 26th in that category in 2015.
60. Since entering the league in 2012, no RB averages more yards per carry in the red zone AND has scored more touchdowns in the red zone than ... Lamar Miller.
61. In the six games last season in which Brock Osweiler played the entire game, 44.7 percent of his completions went to players that were NOT wide receivers.
62. During the Bill O'Brien era in Houston, non-wide receivers have accounted for 31.1 percent of receptions.
63. Lamar Miller's receptions by season since he came into the league: 6-26-38-47.
64. Since the start of 2014, Le'Veon Bell has 403 carries for 1,917 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns.
64a. Since the start of 2014, Miller has 410 carries for 1,971 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns.
65. In his two years under O'Brien, Arian Foster averaged 23 touches a game. That would work out to be 368 touches in a full 16-game season.
66. Last season, on 241 touches, Miller was the sixth-best running back in fantasy.
67. In the past 19 regular-season games T.Y. Hilton has played, 44.2 percent of his fantasy points (ESPN standard scoring) have come in ... three games.
68. If you include the playoffs, Hilton has scored a touchdown in just three of his past 21 games.
69. Since the start of 2013, including playoffs, Hilton has scored a touchdown in just 11 of 52 games.
70. In the first two seasons in which Calvin Johnson had at least 60 targets in both seasons, here are his cumulative stats:
126 catches (11 drops) for 2,087 yards and 16 touchdowns
70a. In the first two seasons in which Jordy Nelson had at least 60 targets in both seasons, here are his cumulative stats:
113 catches (6 drops) for 1,845 yards and 17 touchdowns
70b. In his first two seasons, Jordan Matthews had at least 60 targets each season. Here are his cumulative stats:
152 catches (8 drops) for 1,869 yards and 16 touchdowns
71. Last season, no qualified player in the NFL had a higher percentage of his team's goal-to-go receptions than Matthews (60 percent).
72. Here's the entire list of active players with at least 100 targets and eight receiving touchdowns each of the past two seasons: Brandon Marshall, Antonio Brown, Jeremy Maclin, Rob Gronkowski, Odell Beckham Jr. and ... Jordan Matthews.
73. Matthews is currently ranked outside the top 30 WRs; he's being drafted between three and seven rounds after everyone else on that list.
74. Last season, there were six wide receivers who had more fantasy points than Doug Baldwin.
75. There were seven wide receivers who had more catches than Doug Baldwin had targets.
76. During the Chip Kelly era (2013-15), the Philadelphia Eagles ranked third in average yards per catch (12.13).
76a. Chip Kelly is now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.
77. Since entering the NFL in 2011, 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith ranks third in yards per catch (17.29).
78. Since 2011, no player has averaged more yards per catch AND scored more touchdowns than Smith.
79. Smith has converted 70.8 percent of his career red zone catches into touchdowns.
80. DeSean Jackson (2013), Jeremy Maclin (2014) and Jordan Matthews (2015) each had one season as the top target in Chip Kelly's offense.
80a. In 2013, Jackson set career highs in targets, receptions, yards and tied his career high in touchdowns.
80b. In 2014, Maclin set career highs in targets, receptions (to that point in his career), yards and tied his career high in touchdowns.
80c. In 2015, Matthews set career highs in targets, receptions, yards and tied his career high in touchdowns.
81. If Torrey Smith sets career highs this season in receptions, yards and ties for his career high in touchdowns, he'll have at least 66 receptions for 1,129 yards and 11 touchdowns, which last season would have made him the ninth-best WR in fantasy, just one point worse than A.J. Green.
82. In a five-year NFL career, Smith has never missed a game.
83. He is currently ranked outside of the top 40 at wide receiver; he's often going lower than that in early drafts.
84. Antonio Brown is 5-foot-10 and 181 pounds.
84a. John Brown is 5-foot-11 and 179 pounds.
85. In Antonio Brown's first 31 NFL games, he had 111 catches for 1,717 yards and three touchdowns.
85a. In John Brown's first 31 NFL games, he had 113 catches for 1,699 yards and 12 touchdowns.
86. In the final seven weeks of the 2015 season, John Brown ran as many routes as DeAndre Hopkins.
86a. Hopkins led the NFL in routes run last season.
88. Since Bruce Arians became the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 2013, no team has a higher air-yards-per-pass-attempt mark.
88a. Last season, only six wide receivers averaged more air yards per target than John Brown.
89. In his past nine NFL seasons, during stints as the offensive coordinator in Arizona, head coach in Kansas City and offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, Todd Haley has had a tight end score more than five touchdowns just once.
90. During the past nine years, the entire position of tight ends under Haley has averaged 54 catches for 561 yards and 4 touchdowns a year.
90a. Last season, Eric Ebron had 537 yards and five touchdowns in 14 games and was TE13.
91. In nine games the past two years with Ben Roethlisberger as the starting quarterback, Haley as the offensive coordinator and without Martavis Bryant in the lineup, starting tight end Heath Miller had 38 catches on 51 targets for 378 yards and 2 TDs.
91a. Over the course of a 16-game season, that pace is 68 catches on 91 targets for 672 yards and 4 TDs.
91b. Or to put it another way ... TE12, just behind Antonio Gates.
92. Ladarius Green has missed five games the past two years.
93. From Week 3 on last season, no tight end had more fantasy points than ... Gary Barnidge.
95. No player in the NFL had more goal-to-go targets last season than Barnidge.
96. As our player card notes, 24 percent of passes thrown to Barnidge were qualified as "off target."
97. He is currently being drafted ninth among TEs, below, among others, Ladarius Green.
98. Last season, in Weeks 1-8, Zach Miller averaged 21 snaps a game. In Weeks 9-17, he averaged 49 snaps a game.
99. From Week 9 on, Miller was fifth in fantasy points among tight ends and seventh in receiving yards.
100. Last season, Martellus Bennett missed Weeks 12 and 14-17. In Weeks 14-17, Zach Miller was fourth among tight ends in receptions per game, seventh in targets per game and fifth in fantasy points per game.
100a. Bennett is now on the New England Patriots. And Miller is still ranked outside of the top 12 tight ends, and just one spot ahead of Bennett.