ARTICLE | Props & Hops: Fantasy Football Expert Christopher Harris on Betting on Yourself

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February 20, 2021 12:37 PM

Here’s a taste of the top takeaways from this week’s wide-ranging conversation between Matt and ESPN veteran Christopher Harris, the host of the world’s biggest independent fantasy football podcast. Check out the full episode here.

 

The best bet you can make is often on yourself

 

It may be cliché, but Chris embodies it like few others in the sports business. He has an MBA and worked a corporate job for most of his 20s. He has an MFA and has published four novels, with a fifth on the way. So how did he also create the most popular independent fantasy football podcast in the world?

For starters, he aligned his writing chops with his interest in sports. He won a contest for the privilege to write about fantasy sports for free. Not long after that, Yahoo! Sports took notice and paid him to cover fantasy sports. And then ESPN took notice and offered to pay him more and also put him on TV. 

After eight years with ESPN, Chris craved a change and went all in on himself. Without a clear plan but buoyed by the large following he’d amassed and the prep he’d already put in at ESPN for the 2015 NFL season, Chris taught himself how to run a podcast and the Harris Fantasy Football Podcast was born.

Situation matters, but we grossly overrate our ability to predict it

 

The NFL changes so much from year to year. While it’s impossible -- and, frankly, ignorant -- to completely divorce talent from situation, Chris tries his best to prioritize each player’s talent over his team’s perceived situation.

Despite playing in largely undesired backfields, Jaguars RB James Robinson and Dolphins RB Myles Gaskin richly rewarded open-minded owners who quickly embraced this concept in the 2020 season.

If your league uses default settings, consider some simple improvements

 

Leading season-long fantasy sites such as Yahoo! and ESPN use default settings that have been the norm for a long time. As real football has evolved, the game has passed some of those settings by.

For example, most leagues only start one QB. Despite the position’s asymmetric value in real life, it’s becoming an afterthought in fantasy. Adding a second QB spot to lineups brings the position’s fantasy value closer to its real-world value.

Additionally, there’s more than enough variance in the game without rostering defenses or kickers. If you think skill deserves any weight in determining a winner, scrap those positions.

The same goes for point per reception, or PPR. The advent of PPR was a revelation during the LaDainian Tomlinson era, but as the league has become more pass-heavy, rewarding a full point for every reception has become frivolous. Half a point per reception is a fair compromise and a strong case can be made to disregard PPR altogether.

If your league starts two QBs, zero defenses or kickers, and rewards half a point per reception at most, it’s well structured for the modern era. 

Beware the temptation to overreact

 

When you suspect an overreaction by the masses, go the other way. This is Chris’s biggest piece of advice most people can apply to get better at fantasy football.

Chris notes Joe Mixon as an example: Mixon struggled for a month a couple years ago and was largely written off, but as those who had watched him play could attest, it turns out he’s not terrible at football.

You won’t always be right, but if you’re willing to zig when everyone else zags, you can carve out some healthy edges.

Carson Wentz to the Colts probably works - drafting David Montgomery probably won’t

 

Getting into specific players who can make or break the 2021 season, Wentz may well be primed for a step forward with his new team. In Chris’s words, “I don’t think numbers can capture what a freaking disaster that Eagles offense was.” When Wentz finally plays with a remotely healthy supporting cast again, the frustrations in Philadelphia should fade in the rearview mirror.

Shifting gears to Montgomery, his production in 2020 was largely driven by volume. And circling back on a previous point, so much changes in the NFL from year to year. When volume is a player’s ticket to fantasy value, drafting him can be playing with fire - especially when he has poor vision and acceleration like Chris sees with Montgomery. The best thing to do when a volume-dependent player like Montgomery helps you win a league one season is often to let others over-draft him the following year.