Want to be 1st place early in your fantasy football league? Focus on winning September — here's how to do it

There’s nothing wrong with having big goals, ambitious dreams, grand aspirations. Close your eyes and imagine the fantasy championship you covet. Plan your parade route. Douse yourself in champagne.

But any large journey begins with small steps, and that’s my goal for today — small steps. I prefer to attack fantasy football with a microscope, not a telescope. It’s such a snow globe league, sure to look radically different in a few months. So my initial aim is to consider what I know right now and do my best in the short term.

I want you to win September. I want you to be in first, or pretty darn close to it, before the leaves hit the ground.

A fast starter in fantasy football affords you leverage, and with that comes wonderful things. Maybe you can shrug off a difficult bye week. Perhaps you can make some of those obvious two-for-one trades where you’re sacrificing depth to a desperate opponent and poaching their star. In the middle of the year, we can start shaping a roster that’s set up to dominate in the money weeks, armed with more reliable information on which defenses truly are horrible.

If you have leverage, you can let the game come to you. If you don’t have leverage, you often find yourself forcing things, pressed into an activity you would prefer to avoid.

How do we win September? How do we play for today? Here are some of my concepts to consider:

Recognize September All-Stars

Jamaal Williams was brought to New Orleans to be a short-yardage hammer, and he doesn’t have to share with Alvin Kamara for the opening three weeks. Williams has a Yahoo ADP slightly outside the top 100, making him a very affordable RB2/3 for the opening month.

By all accounts, the Javonte Williams comeback is on a slow trajectory in Denver. With that in mind, Samaje Perine could be another Mr. September. Perine might be as talented as Williams, and he looks like the Week 1 starter. A handy value with a Yahoo ADP of 118.5.

Don’t go looking for injuries

I’d prefer not to draft into injuries in August — I know injuries will find me soon enough in September. So when Terry McLaurin (toe) and Jerry Jeudy (hamstring) got hurt in August, they went tumbling down my draft board. McLaurin wasn’t really a target for me anyway, as I’m excited about Jahan Dotson’s breakout potential. I did have Jeudy shares, but when the context changes, often my opinion changes.

Injury optimism is rarely your friend in fantasy football. A hurt player might need a prove-it week or two before you feel confident starting him. Perhaps they’ll be on a limited snap count when they return. I’m not going to draft, say, Jameson Williams — it’s not just the six-week suspension, but the real possibility that his first few games back could be limited in assignment.

The picture takes too long to develop.

Work the schedule

Opponents don’t come into play with your superstars, of course — if you’re rostering Patrick Mahomes or Nick Chubb or Ja’Marr Chase, you’re rolling them out against all comers. But the matchups are critical at the lesser positions and the streamable spots. In most of my leagues, I’ll have a short leash for my DST picks and often rent them out, a week at a time.

I can’t promise you the Baltimore and Washington defenses will have long-term appeal, but both clubs are heavy Week 1 favorites; the Ravens host the Texans, the Commanders draw the punt-formation Cardinals. I’ve targeted both teams in summer drafts, knowing it could be a short assignment.

Conversely, the Jets have a formidable real-life defense, but the early season schedule is a monster: Buffalo, Dallas, New England, Kansas City, Denver, Philadelphia. Four Super Bowl favorites are in that mix, plus a tricky division game (New England) and a difficult road trip (Denver). And then a Week 7 bye comes calling. I’m not looking to draft the Jets defense, but maybe I’ll grab it off waivers later in the year when the schedule softens up.

Be proactive on the wire early

One of the biggest mistakes fantasy managers make is to overly fall in love with their bench. Obviously, it’s a season-to-taste thing; I’m not saying you have to recklessly cut players without a thoughtful moment or two first. But in-season information often means more to us than blind summer speculation.

Have you heard about the Monty Hall Problem? It’s a counter-intuitive logic puzzle that shows us that when we have additional information, it’s often in our best interest to change our mind.

Once the NFL starts playing real games, the Monty Hall Problem applies to fantasy football. (This is not to be confused with the 2014 Denver Broncos; that was the Montee Ball Problem.)