I’m sure there are academics out there who would say I’m besmirching Aristotle’s good name by using one of his defining works in a fantasy football article. To those tweed-laden, bespectacled folks, I say, “hey, it was you who introduced me to the idea, is not applying it to every aspect of my life an homage to your teaching?” I jest, but the truth of the matter is this: as a perpetually five o’clock shadowed 19 year old, I took my first and only philosophy course. Though I have long since forgotten Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals and Nietzsche’s ramblings on objective truth, I have never forgotten Aristotle’s Rhetoric, namely his modes of persuasion. They are the three appeals shown in the triangle above: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.
As I came to understand the concept, I found it explaining so much about the world around us. As the Internet continued to gobble up everything, including my Sunday afternoon NFL binge, I needed something to help me process everything. Since I’ll be spending the season talking and writing about fantasy football, I thought it best to explain this concept as it will inform all of my coverage. In this article, I’m going to walk you through the three rhetorical appeals. For each I’ll explain how it applies to fantasy football, how each can help, and, more importantly, the inherent dangers. It is critical to note that each of the three appeals is necessary and, for me anyway, it works best to consider all moves through each lens.
Ethos: Experts are Experts for a Reason
In the rhetorical triangle, Ethos refers to the speaker and, more importantly, their perceived credibility in the eyes of the audience. As it applies to fantasy football, think of it as the Matthew Berry’s of the world. Most of us do not have access to NFL practices. Most of us do not have inside sources. And, as is my case too, most of us don’t have the time to sit down and think about football all day. Putting off family and work obligations for fantasy football is not a road I plan on following. The only way to make it work is to read the work of others who do have all day for football.
Therein lies the value of ethos: the opportunity to hear from informed sources.
The Advantages of “Expert”
One must assume anyone who is paid to write and appear on TV knows at least a little bit about fantasy football. As noted above, they have the contacts within the league the rest of us don’t. So, no matter what, we need them and their input. Every season I start my draft prep by reviewing the fantasy rankings on ESPN. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don’t. It’s those rankings I don’t agree with I investigate first. Just this morning I was baffled by some of the quarterback rankings. Kirk Cousins ranked 9th, Jimmy Garoppolo ranked 11th, and Patrick Mahomes ranked 12th over Matt Ryan at 15, Dak Prescott at 17, and Jared Goff at 18 didn’t make much sense to me. Instead of leaving it at that, I ask myself “Why? Was there something I missed when I made my own list?”
If they have more faith in Cousin’s passing in the second half of games where the Minnesota defense is shutting out the opponent, I want to know why and will review their schedule. Or if they think Mahomes is actually ready to be a top-15 quarterback and won’t throw 15-20 interceptions this year (as I fear), or maybe I’m just plain wrong and this is the year Andy Reid finally runs more than he passes. Andy, if you read this, please remember you have Kareem Hunt and Tyreek Hill and let the kid ease his way into the league.
As for Jimmy G, maybe I need to take another look at their receivers since we’re far enough into camp to get a better view. On the flip side, maybe Ryan will pass the Falcons into the red zone and repeatedly fail to score again. Prescott and Goff might have a weakness NFL defensive coordinators found with a few years of tape to work with or maybe I need to reconsider how many touchdowns Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley will get this year. I certainly can’t answer any of those questions, but an expert might. So, I’ll take what they say under consideration.
The Dangers of Sheepdom
Okay, admittedly, “sheepdom” is neither a word nor a completely accurate portrayal of what I’m talking about here. The point I’m trying to make is that while the experts are necessary and while they usually are correct, they are still human. As such, it is impossible for them to always be right. To think otherwise is quite a bit ridiculous, yet I’ve seen it and I’ve heard it. Who hasn’t been in a league with a player who always makes the picks based on what the experts say? Or been in a league with someone who blames all their misfortune on bad advice from a talking head? Or, my least favorite, the player who puts their draft on auto-pick and trusts the algorithm and rankings to bring them a good team?
Algorithms and rankings are just prone to mistakes a humans. They, like a expert, can only tell you what they have to say. In order to have a chance, you also must consider how you feel and what you think from your own research. Hence the equal value of both Pathos and Logos . . .
Pathos: What Does Your Gut Say?
Pathos refers to the audience’s emotion or how they feel about information as it’s presented. In terms of fantasy football, we can use the more familiar terminology: your gut. Gut feelings are the most unstable of the appeals, especially in fantasy football. A team drafted solely on someone’s gut could be the very best team or the absolute worst team. Often, it does not fall anywhere in the middle. Still, it does come in handy every so often. And when you guess right, it does wonders for your confidence.
Therein lies the value of pathos: the ability to trust yourself.
Seeing What Others Can Not or Will Not
The best place to employ Pathos is in the later rounds of the draft or on the waiver wire. In these spots guessing wrong can hurt, however the pain is nothing compared to a poor guess in the first or second round. The lower rounds are always full of classic “all or nothing” players: young guys with inconsistent records, players coming back from injuries, players coming back from suspension, and, my favorite, forgotten veterans on new teams. Though, to be fair, they might only be my favorite because my gut lead me to LaGarrette Blount in 2016. I found him in what must have been the 13th or 14th round. I’d be lying if I said I knew he would end up my second running back that season. He was the 4th running back I drafted, thinking he could be a touchdown vulture. Certainly not a 1,000 yard rusher with 18 touchdowns.
This season, I’ve decided I’m going to reach for Michael Gallup in the middle rounds. I wrote an article on the Dez Bryant induced power vacuum in the Dallas’ receiving corp and I can’t get him out of my head. With Zeke Eliiot returning and Dak Prescott being allowed to throw to anyone who’s open without Bryant’s occasional wrath reigning down upon him, I have a feeling Gallup will emerge in the early weeks. The film I watched showed a receiver with a full grasp of the route tree, the ability to catch and run, and I even saw some back shoulder catches. These skills make him an ideal receiver in the play-action passing and RPO based schemes taking hold over the entire NFL.
A Terrible Case of Browns’ Amnesia
While my gut has lead me to some truly great picks and a few lopsided trades, it also has cost me dearly. In my case, it almost always leads me astray when it comes to Browns’ players. Just as my brain tricks me every season into somehow believing the Browns will compete, it has tricked me into believing said contention will be reflected in fantasy football stats. In 2013, I drafted Brandon Weeden as my back-up quarterback. The logic being he had a strong arm and would be playing in Norv Turner’s offense. This being a better fit than Pat Schurmer’s West Coast, heavy under center attack. I realized how wrong I’d been right around the time he threw his third interception in the first half of the first game . . .
Last season, I felt there was no way Hue Jackson would be foolish enough to let DeShone Kizer and a group of unproven receivers carry most of the offensive load. Certainly, I thought, Jackson would have no choice but to (no pun intended) run his offense through Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, right? Not even close. Crowell started all 16 games last season and went without a single game of 20 or more carries. Meanwhile Kizer lead the league in interceptions and the receiving corp struggled. If you’re wondering how I could have seen this coming, as it is so stupid in retrospect, I suggest you consider what the Browns have done since 1999. Thinking of it that way, the question becomes, “how could I not have seen this coming”?
Logos: Game Logs Over Yearly Stats
Logos, which those of you who know me or have heard my podcast, is my favorite of the three appeals. It is also the one I’d advise you to never bring up in a conversation as I will prattle and pontificate for hours on it’s importance. In short, logos means logic. It means the evidence and research that are used to persuade an audience. As you think of it for fantasy football, think of it as statistics and game highlights. In the digital age, all the information you need to do your own research is there at the click of a button. This research verifies ethos and informs pathos. It is the most important piece. Though, alas, the most time consuming.
Therein lies the value of logos: the information to think it out yourself.
Finding the Reasons for the Stats of the Season
Pro Football Reference is one of my all time favorite sites. Even before I started taking fantasy football seriously or writing about football, I used to get lost in the number for hours on end. When I did start to take fantasy football seriously, I immediately realized how useless seasonal stats are during the draft. The better information is housed in the game logs, as they tell the story of how a certain player arrived at the those numbers. Consider the case of DeAndre Hopkins. Simply knowing he lead the league in receiving touchdowns with 13 is just a starting point. The more useful information is this: 7 were thrown by Deshaun Watson, 6 were thrown by the back-up QB’s, and 3 came in one game against the Chiefs. From these numbers we can logically conclude three things: Hopkins and Watson have chemistry, Hopkins is a rare receiver who can succeed with below par quarterback play, and the Chiefs pass defense was atrocious last season. The last fact can lead us to another important, yet unrelated conclusion: if the Chiefs have not done a good enough job fixing that in the off-season, opposing receivers (especially those in the mold of Hopkins) will remain a strong play against them.
The biggest change I’ve seen in recent seasons is the larger access to game film. Not just the two or three minute clips of old, but entire sections of the game. My favorites being the “every throw from” videos on Youtube. These allow you to actually see exactly how a player ended up with their statistics. For example, if a team’s third or fourth receiver has a monster game (and is on the wavier wire), why did it happen? If it’s because the quarterback was clearly making a concerted effort to get them the ball, then take a chance. If it’s because the defense had two elite corners shutting down options one and two, then be wary. What does the rest of the schedule look like? If a similar game is not on the horizon, it’s unlikely the player will duplicate their performance. In that case, consider passing and looking at another player.
Don’t Be A Vulcan
I bear the Vulcans no ill will, but logic alone cannot always lead to the right move in fantasy football. Just as it could not always lead to the right move in Star Trek. Sometimes games don’t play out in a way anyone expected. Take last year’s Week 14 match-up between New England and Miami. If you’d told me a battle between Tom Brady and Jay Cutler would end with Cutler (25-38, 263 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs) outplaying Brady (24-43, 233 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs), I’d have laughed. That’s the NFL, though, isn’t it? Some nights the greatest enigma of the last decade outplays the greatest quarterback of the last two decades. Logic cannot see when those games come.
Logic also could not have foreseen Andrew Luck‘s 2015 season. Coming off of a statistical breakout season in 2014 (4,761 yard, 40 TD’s, 297.6 yards per game), logically he should have had a great season. What logic cannot account for here is: football is by nature a violent sport. Starters get injured, players don’t come back the same after massive injuries. In this case, no matter how great the quarterback, there is little they can do with a lacerated spleen. Nor is there much they can do playing behind a line that allow a hit so violent it lacerates their spleen.
Wrapping up what has ballooned into an epic piece of over 2,000 words, let me, for the first time in the article, be brief. I approach every choice, including fantasy football, with this methodology. As readers, I want to make sure you know where I’m coming from, and hope it helps you with your upcoming season. Unless, of course, we play in the same league. In that case, forget everything you just read.