How are you today?
If you’re like me, your life is the frothy mess of decisions that blasted out like magma from the delicious latte that slipped out of your hand that one time you ran into your ex outside Starbucks. Covered in the residue of a decision you thought would be good but turned out differently, this shirt is now going in the pile of “around-the-house-only” apparel, and these shoes are officially reserved for mowing until they fall apart.
Deep breaths. Maybe they didn’t recognize you. They did.
OK, maybe that isn’t you. But we have all been in a situation that felt like that. An innocent beverage that you intended to have warm your spirit and your belly just turned into a mess that you’re not even sure how to start addressing. See 2020 Christian McCaffrey/Joe Mixon/Michael Thomas owners – they feel your pain.
At that exact minute of that day, at that exact coffee shop, dropping that very beverage, you experienced just one of an almost infinite range of outcomes. Such is life. Such is fantasy.
Do I have time to grab a cup of coffee? Should I get out of bed today? Do I go on that big date? Which mask do I wear? Should we just get married and worry about a celebration with friends and extended family later? Do I have time to set all these lineups before the kids wake up? What music should I listen to while running/walking/writing? Can I skip that conference call or at least pass on coming on camera?
Those are just eight of the average of 35,000 decisions that we could be making each day (Eva M. Krockow Ph.D.). In fairness, humans execute most of these as pure reflexes. With 86,400 seconds in a day (and a decent amount of those spent sleeping), it’s fair to say that when one has a decision to make that is tough, many small decisions make up the big one.
When I chose to start listening to “With Roots Above and Branches Below” by The Devil Wears Prada (TDWP) to get started on the writing portion of this article, it wasn’t just one decision. Sure, I chose the album relatively quickly, but I had to go through a log of decisions to get there. Do I want something new or familiar? Familiar. Slow-paced or fast? A bit of both – got to love a good breakdown, am I right? Whole album or singles? Whole album. The list can go on and on, and I promise I’m trying not to do the same.
Most of these decisions feel like a reflex to me, and all of them are based on my system of beliefs and values. I know that if it is crunch time and I need to get working on something in a very serious manner, I need music that can be a backdrop to the chaos pouring out of my fingertips. That is what this album is to me after listening to it countless times.
So what is the point of all of this prose? The decision to grab that favorite beverage of yours was a good one when trying to solve the problem at hand: I want something warm and yummy to put a little pep in my step at this moment.
The fact that you spilled java lava all over yourself in front of someone with whom you have a sordid past is a bad outcome. Or, as you described it to your best friend, “The WORST!”
But the decision was still a good one. That is the point.
We also make many decisions throughout the fantasy football season. Many are good. Some…not so much. At the end of the day, the outcome is not always a reflection of your decision-making process.
My goal is three-fold. First, I’ll introduce the scourge that is hindsight bias. Afterward, you will see examples of what makes a fantasy football decision good or bad. Finally, I will show why hindsight bias is a waste of your time, and I’ll give you tools on how to remove your hindsight bias when evaluating your process.
Fantasy football Twitter was kind enough to supply me with tons of data on the “best” and “worst” decisions of the 2020 season. I highly appreciate everyone for contributing their examples to the cause. Now, let’s fill up our cups and use both hands!
What’s the Deal with Hindsight Bias?
Hindsight bias occurs when you let the results of a decision determine whether one’s process of making it was good or bad. When exercising hindsight bias, I don’t allow past-Mike’s information when making the decision to hold much, if any, value. It’s all about what the outcome was. I know we play a results-based game, but there is a real problem with this kind of thinking.
At the root, saying “drafting Dak Prescott early in my QB-scoring-heavy league was a horrible decision” is equivalent to saying that I shouldn’t have gotten that latte I mentioned in the intro. The fact that I dropped and spilled the coffee all over myself in front of my ex doesn’t make the act of getting the coffee in the first place a bad decision.
The coffee was a solid decision on a cold Ohio day when I was really dragging. Likewise, when I draft the guy who was fourth or higher in 2019 passing yards, completions and passing TDs early in the aforementioned league, it seems logical. An injury in Week 5 doesn’t make him a bad decision, just bad luck.
Our hindsight bias can obscure the gradation of the decisions we make. So let’s take a look at some players this year that many Twitter-folk passed comment on and some of the decisions made around those players in order to parse the true good decisions from the bad.
James Robinson, *Insert Your Favorite Emoji Here*
By the end of the season, Pro Football Reference listed James Robinson as a top 10 back in touches, rushing attempts, rushing yards, all-purpose yards, yards per game and more. The fun part is that most owners got him for peanuts.
When you think about the decision that many people made to either draft him late or grab him on waivers/free agency in the first couple of weeks, it seems like a no-brainer now. That is not what made obtaining Robinson a “good decision.” It was the fact that you were getting the starting running back on an NFL team for pennies on the dollar. Even if you didn’t believe he would be the starter for more than a couple of weeks due to Ryquell Armstead and Devine Ozigbo mending themselves, he was so cheap that it was very low risk for the reward possible.
Some folks elected to keep the likes of Boston Scott, Phillip Lindsay, James White, Darrel Williams, Zack Moss and Nyheim Hines at the beginning of the season. I would agree with the folks who submitted these as bad decisions. I believe that a starting RB holds more value – even as an unknown – than anyone who is keeping the pine warm. Even if Robinson had been lackluster this season, he still would have been the better decision.
What is interesting is the feelings of owners who traded him away after the Week 2 surge in points. Trading Robinson for a third-round rookie pick in dynasty in Week 1, Ezekiel Elliott later in the season, Thomas (the week he got injured), or just high in general is a bit more of a gray area. With infinite possibilities in his future, it is easy to take known quantities like Thomas and Elliott for a small sample size of James Robinson. I would define both of these or any other high-valued player as a good decision based on either the idea of known quantity or value.
The fact that Thomas and Elliott didn’t show their typical form the rest of the season is another dirty pile of bad luck. I would have held for a third-round pick, though. The frequency of picks working out after round two is pretty low. Take the fire you already have burning.
The Fabulous Justins
If I search my data for Justin Herbert or Justin Jefferson, I am bombarded by glowing self-reviews of people who drafted them both late in redraft or nabbed them up in rookie drafts when not in a position to grab the bigger names.
While both of these player outcomes have a degree of good fortune involved in them, it is hard to deny that their situations were anything but tantalizing: One behind a journeyman QB and the other filling the void left by a WR who has been nothing short of awesome in recent years. Grabbing either of these guys late or later than Average Draft Position (ADP) was a good decision. There a ton of upside based on team needs and the players surrounding them with relatively little risk.
What about the scenarios of drafting Denzel Mims over Herbert in superflex and sending Herbert for Jerry Jeudy and a second, also superflex? As my good buddy Shane Swager would say: “You will never get a quarterback cheaper in superflex than you will in the startup or rookie drafts.”
I understand that this take is based on my values. Grabbing a top-end rookie wide receiver is sweet, but having a long-term quarterback is just a bit sweeter in my estimation. There just aren’t as many opportunities to pull one that will be startable for a long time. I agree with my contributors that these were, indeed, bad decisions. Not based on the year’s total points but because of the value of QB in a superflex league.
Cutting Jefferson early was another theme found in people’s worst decisions. I have to agree that cutting any player that has the opportunity Jefferson had is silly, and I am just as guilty as the rest of you. I think it depends on who your option was at the time. If you chose someone with a steady role on the team that had a proven record of at least boom-bust performance, it feels like a bad decision but probably wasn’t. The complexity of evaluating what kind of chemistry QB/rookie WR groups would have with essentially no offseason is daunting work. This is a great reminder, though, that the status quo is a decision as well. Sometimes we just have to let rookies breathe a little.
Mixon up a CMC Cocktail with a Saquon Garnish
The feelings owners had about the outcomes of the season for Mixon, McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley are justified. And calling them bad decisions on draft day is a little over the top. With the high levels of talent and proven performance when on the field and healthy, these backs were all solid choices for 2020 teams, until they weren’t. If they showed their 2018 or 2019 forms again, we would have chalked it up to the known quantities that they are.
Alas, the injury bug hit hard. The outcome of your decision to take one of these guys may have tanked your season, but the decision was and is sound to draft them at their respective ADPs. It was not a “bad” one.
Finals victory in the balance, one data submitter started Giovani Bernard over Myles Gaskin as a bad decision. Bernard scored .7 Points Per Reception (PPR) fantasy points and Gaskin totaled 17.7 PPR points.
Going into Week 17, Bernard was coming off two solid efforts against Houston and Pittsburgh. He had a string of stinkers before that. Gaskin had been in and out the back half of the season due to nagging injuries and COVID-19, but he had just put up 34.4 PPR points on the Raiders and had no games under double-digit points since Week 4.
Result aside, who do you start? If you follow consistency – and I do – it’s still Gaskin. He had been a consistent feature of the Miami offense and the more-consistent player during a week you need to know most what your flex is going to do for you.
Hype surrounded Jonathan Taylor this offseason. It should come as no surprise that after 14.9 points against Jacksonville in Week 1 and 19 points against Minnesota in Week 2, he started in a lineup over Mike Davis, who replaced the injured McCaffrey. I mentioned earlier that I am all about proven talent over rookies, but I certainly wouldn’t label Davis as “proven” coming into this season. Though outscored in the next three weeks, the decision to bet on Taylor as the starter was not a “bad” one. It was a coin flip, and those weeks didn’t pan out.
Next submission for bad decision: Benching the monster that is Josh Allen this season for Jalen Hurts in the finals. Agreed. I don’t know if this was because of weather concerns or “getting too cute,” but even though their finals scores were close in most formats, Allen was the clear choice as a starter. Let me make something clear as well. Even if Allen was outscored by 20 points, he was the choice to start. When someone is electric all season, you ride the lightning.
The Power of Belief
Since I’m on the topic of Allen, let’s talk about the power of belief. When I cranked up the volume on TDWP at the onset of this article, I had a firm belief that those bludgeoning riffs and drums would be the catalyst for writing. In a very similar fashion, I had people talking about their beliefs in Allen, Calvin Ridley and veteran players on a potential bounceback over unknown rookies.
“Allen just needs some weapons” and “Ridley ascends as Julio Jones ages like fine wine” are beliefs one can get behind. If Ridley didn’t pan out this year, he will sooner or later: good decision. If Allen still had an efficiency rating that made you pray for more and more running plays, it wouldn’t have been a massive shock: a bad decision with good luck making the outcome favorable. His drastic turnaround is certainly the exception to the rule.
OK, so maybe A.J. Green and Jordan Howard didn’t pan out the way some had hoped. In Howard’s case, I would be alarmed if you had to invest much there. As for Green, he has been one of the best talents on the field of his era, but his ability to stay on the field has continually declined. Not a trend to go “all in” on. It’s easy to have high hopes for players like these. I get it. I want them to succeed, too. They just typically don’t.
Eliminating Hindsight Bias
It’s easy to see the result and think we made a “good” or “bad” decision. Many times outcomes align with decision quality, and sometimes they don’t. So how do you keep making good decisions and keep hindsight bias out of the way?
We are programmed as humans to like the things that look, sound, and think like us. I urge you to find people, all with fantasy philosophies that differ from yours, and form relationships with them in which you can exercise your differences in approach as constructive dissent. I have found that I have learned the most about this game (and life, for that matter) from those who think differently than I do. Plus, the world would be a boring place if we were all the same, right?
What I mean by this is to consider the past and future versions of yourself in making and reflecting on decisions. It’s easy to be swept up in the outcome of any decision, but where were you when you made the decision? Was the logic sound? Thinking about making another one? What are all of the future possibilities of the decision? Consider all of the scenarios, not just the one you have sold yourself on and what your next move would be if any of those play out.
Facts are facts until beliefs and frameworks are placed around them. When reflecting on decisions, consider what facts you had to work with and what came about after the decision was made (see again, Mixon/McCaffrey/Barkley).
Do your best to lift the blinders of hindsight. Because at the end of the day, given the information you had at the time, you would have made the same decision you have already made. If you could tell the future, you should probably have stopped reading a long time ago, but I appreciate you making it this far.
Make today a great day! And don’t forget to be awesome (DFTBA)!