Have you ever wondered why some players excel with 1 team and only to fall back to reality with another?
Or how is it when a player gets drafted, has a few forgettable seasons, signs with another team and ends up looking like a different player?
A superstar signs a monster contract with another team or gets traded to someone else, only to fall below expectations.
And we are not talking about Odell Beckham, whose “down season” comprised 74 receptions and over 1,000 receiving yards.
We are talking about players like Le’Veon Bell, who, despite holding out an entire season, had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2019 after he signed with the New York Jets.
Before sitting out, he was one of the best fantasy backs in the game between 2014 and 2017.
Here are 4 reasons this occurs and what it means for your fantasy team:
1- The System Fits Their Attributes
The best example of this goes to John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens and his work with Lamar Jackson. In 2019, Jackson went from a fringe QB2 in fantasy leagues to a 1st round pick in larger leagues.
Instead of forcing Jackson to conform to a pro-style system as so many head coaches try with dual-threat quarterbacks with mediocre throwing mechanics, Harbaugh tailored the system to fit Jackson and he built the offense around his quarterback. The result was a 14-2 season and an MVP Award for Jackson.
While the Tennessee Titans may have found the blueprint to exploit Jackson and the Ravens offense, it also became a season where fantasy owners who drafted Jackson late, perhaps even in the last rounds of their drafts, inserted him as the starter. And many won their leagues and a nice cash reward.
It is always a little of a risk to draft old faces in new places for this reason. Can they emulate their success in their old cities because of the change in system?
As mentioned above, Le’Veon Bell had a tough outing. Sure, he can rebound in 2020 and many can state he was rusty in 2019 after taking a year off. Fair call.
One to watch in 2020 is DeAndre Hopkins, who was traded to the Arizona Cardinals. Will Hopkins succeed in a different system?
Another good name is Kenyan Drake, who also found himself traded to the Cardinals during the 2019 season.
Drake was an above-average back during his time in Miami. He never rushed for over 650 yards a season as a member of the Dolphins.
He came to Arizona and rushed for 643 yards in 8 games while making 28 receptions on 35 targets. He also posted his highest yards per carry average since his rookie season in 2016 with 5.2. Again, he may have just been part of the wrong system in Miami, and he found the right one in Arizona.
If you draft a player who has excelled in the same system for years and they are still part of that system, chances are they will succeed and you will succeed in your fantasy league.
Sure, they may still perform well, and they may continue to excel. But there is also a chance that they don’t fit the system and if that happens, expect a major drop-off.
Players like DeAndre Hopkins, as mentioned earlier, Austin Hooper, and Todd Gurley are just a few of many players to watch for in 2020. It’s not that you shouldn’t draft them, but know that the risk is there for them to falter.
2- The System Plays Them in the Right Position
You often see this with defensive players, especially at the ends. But on offense and in fantasy football, this is also the case.
The same goes for running backs. Some backs are natural pass catchers and are on the field in throwing situations. Other running backs are fantastic between the tackles and do not contribute often to the passing game.
A good example is Alvin Kamara for the New Orleans Saints. While his rushing statistics are decent, Kamara had 81 receptions per season since he entered the league in 2017. He is a brilliant pass-catching back.
But what if Kamara went to a team that likes to stretch the field and use the vertical passing game? And what if they like to launch passes downfield after they melt the defense with a 50-50 balanced approach?
Kamara has never had over 194 carries per season, so what if he were called on for 250 or more carries and fewer targets? Would his fantasy numbers be what they are?
The Kamara situation is hypothetical, but not uncommon with other running backs.
Arian Foster was a great running back for years. He got hurt in his last season in Houston, signed with Miami the next year, and you never heard from him again.
Peyton Hillis was the next big thing at running back after a year in Brian Daboll’s offense in Cleveland. After Eric Mangini, Brian Daboll, and the rest of the coaching staff was fired and Pat Shurmur brought in a new offensive system, Hillis was done.
You can write a book on this subject and it is far more than what a single article can cover. But you get the point. Guys like Hillis, Foster, and Kamara were in the right positions with their coaches.
Does Kamara go the same way if he goes to a system that has him playing a more traditional role at running back? And this question applies to most of your fantasy football stars.
3- They Mesh Well With Their Quarterback/Coach
The first name that comes to mind is a player who retired 5 seasons ago, Wes Welker. Welker had a stellar NFL career and he was one of the top receivers in fantasy football, especially in Points Per Reception (PPR) leagues.
Welker was on top of his game in New England, where he led the league 3 times in receptions.
Little known fact: Welker was a journeyman NFL player, who also spent time in San Diego, Miami, Denver, and St. Louis.
And while he had a career-high in touchdown receptions in 2013 with Peyton Manning while playing in Denver, he never even sniffed 1,000 receiving yards again.
Some players just mesh well with their quarterback and they form lethal quarterback-receiver duos. It was what you saw in Houston with Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins. You see it now with Michael Thomas and Drew Brees.
For some players, much of their success comes with just one quarterback or coach. And when they go somewhere else, that success falters. Again, it all goes back to the system.
When they play in a specific system and gel well with their quarterback or coach, going to another system is a process and some players can’t see it through.
And in fantasy football, as with the above points, the risk is always there when you pick a quarterback who just signed a hot deal with a fresh team. Even a quarterback lauded as the Greatest of All-Time.
While Tom Brady has weapons and finds himself as a QB1 once more in fantasy football, it will be interesting to see whether he continues the success he had in New England with Bruce Arians.
Brady will have a new system and a new set of receivers with the Buccaneers. He has one familiar face down there, though.
The same goes for players like Julian Edelman, who became a reliable fantasy football receiver, and Keenan Allen, who played only with Phillip Rivers in San Diego and Los Angeles.
Again, there is risk involved. Great players. And they scored fantasy points galore in the past when healthy. But for both, the jury is out.
4- They Played in a Similar System in College
Again, it shows the genius of John Harbaugh. Knowing his quarterback is a system guy, Harbaugh wasted no time fitting it for Lamar Jackson.
He turned Jackson into an NFL MVP. The same goes for Andy Reid, who went with a vertical attack in Kansas City to fit Patrick Mahomes’ style.
Reid, Mahomes, and the Chiefs won the Super Bowl. The franchise’s first in 50 seasons. And for those with Mahomes on their fantasy roster, he scored you a lot of points over the past 2 seasons and will continue to grow in the league as a passer.
But, it is not just quarterbacks.
Many wide receivers who enter the NFL playing in a simplified offense comprising bubble screens go routes, and crossing routes often struggle to adapt to the complexity in the NFL game.
And it results in a once regarded fantasy football sleeper or keeper for years to come flaming out after just a couple seasons.
Remember Corey Coleman? Coleman looked like a sure keeper after he posted outstanding numbers at Baylor.
He is entering his 5th season in the NFL and no one in fantasy circles is talking about him. He probably won’t even make a roster in 2020. And he was a system player. For receivers in college who have experience running NFL-caliber routes, they are more likely to succeed.
And the same goes for running backs. If you had a pass-catching running back excelling in college and now he is in a traditional system, will he succeed? He could, but there will be a learning curve.
It is always something to think about in fantasy football with drafting your team. Are these guys playing in a system that helps, or hurts their fantasy production.
If you wonder why your top pick in fantasy had a down season, it might be a change in system. Or, he may be with a new team whose system doesn’t play to his strengths.
Or, that no name you took a flyer on in the last round is excelling in his new city. Again, it is the system at work here.
When you play fantasy football and dig deep here, you find things your opponents overlook. Things easily overlooked.
DeAndre Hopkins was fantastic as a Texan. Does he do the same thing in Arizona?
On the other side of the argument, Kenyan Drake was so-so as a Dolphin but lit up the league during his first 8 games as a Cardinal.
Are there players who succeed regardless of different offensive systems? Let me know what you think in the comments.