I’m cynical. I’m not a person who is especially optimistic, and I have trouble believing that good news is actually good. I usually find myself asking, “What’s the catch?” While this isn’t something that I’m necessarily proud of, I think it serves a purpose when I’m making decisions in fantasy football. It can save me from overreacting when a player has a good game, and it can guide me in resisting trades that aren’t worth it in the long run.

However, sometimes my cynicism really punishes me. For example, when I approached my 2012 fantasy drafts, I wanted nothing to do with Adrian Peterson or Peyton Manning. Both players had gone through significant surgeries and I was not hopeful for either player to bounce back in 2012.

Needless to say, neither player had a spot on any of my rosters, despite being available at an incredible discount. Did my skittish approach to either player compromise the success of my 2012 fantasy squads? No. But how good could my teams have been if I had taken a chance on Pey-Pey or All Day? With both players, I was valuing them based on something called Recency Effect.

Recency Effect is a simple concept, but it’s a concept that has taken over a large portion of the fantasy football community. Put simply and in fantasy football terms, Recency Effect (or Recency Bias) is when you form opinions and make decisions based on what a player has previously done for you. It’s valuing players based on the question “What have you done for me lately?”

I understand the logic behind Recency Effect. Hell, I’ve used that logic a lot in the past few years, but it has hurt me more often than it has benefited me. The problem with Recency Effect is that it has the potential to skew player values. It puts too much emphasis on the past and neglects the future. When we’re drafting, we’re picking players based on how they will perform, not simply on how they have performed.

Before we move on, I will point out that you’d be stupid to completely forget how a player has done in the past. This article isn’t trying to get you to avoid past performance. However, I think we need to shift our focus. Instead of succumbing to Recency Effect, we need to hone in on player values based on the circumstances of the upcoming season. The fact remains that any given player still holds some sort of value regardless of what happened last season. The value could be anything. A player’s value could be a bench spot, but that doesn’t mean he’s not worth anything.

Recency Effect can work in two ways: It can cause players to be both overvalued and undervalued. A good example of a player being overvalued is Arian Foster. Drafters are going to look at the last few years and see Foster’s incredible, consistent production and snatch him up as quickly as they can. However, if we look at Foster through a lens that’s rooted in upcoming circumstance, we can see that there’s a strong possibility for regression. It’s very possible that the wheels are just going to fall off of the Foster train.

Now, let’s remind ourselves that we aren’t completely shunning the past. We can only see the possibility of regression because we look back and see the incredible workload that Foster has carried during the last couple of years. This shouldn’t be news to anyone, but it should help put some flesh on what I’m getting at here.

We could probably end this discussion with that, but I think it would be useful to look at a player that will have value in 2013, despite underperforming in 2012. Honestly, we could talk about nearly every player in the NFL (considering Recency Effect can work in both directions), but for the purposes of this article, I’m going to highlight the player that best exemplifies the dangers of Recency Effect.

Smokin’ Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler is one of the most underwhelming quarterbacks in the NFL. With his downtrodden attitude and habit for choking at the end of games, he’s developed a bad reputation with fantasy owners and NFL fans alike.

When we look at Cutler’s past seasons, the numbers speak for themselves. He’s only thrown for more than 4,000 yards once (in 2008), he’s never thrown more than 30 touchdowns, and he’s thrown double digit interceptions in all but two seasons.

In the dark abyss of a suck fest that Cutler has been, there’s still hope. Denny Carter wrote a great article that explains how the addition of Mark Trestman has the potential to revitalize Cutler’s fantasy value. Trestman’s offensive system is designed to crowd the middle of the field and open up downfield throws. If there is one thing that Cutler can do well, it’s throwing the deep ball. As Denny explains, Trestman has also said that his first concern with Cutler is his mechanics. The new head coach is prepared to develop Cutler’s mechanics so that he will be an all around better quarterback. There are a lot of other reasons that point to why Cutler could have a good year in 2013, all of which are beautifully explained in the article.

All of these things considered, Cutler might be a decent fantasy quarterback in 2013. Recency Effect would tell us that Cutler has been pretty worthless for the greater part of the last six years. However, if we shift our focus to current circumstance rather than burying our analysis in the past, there’s actually reason to draft Cutler.

It is my belief that Cutler has every chance to end 2013 within the 12 best fantasy signal callers. In terms of value, I would say his value is a combination of QB1 upside, with a low-end QB2 floor. Clearly, there’s risk involved in relying on Cutler as your fantasy quarterback.

Before you start cursing me into the Great Beyond, you need to remember the crux of value. At this point, Cutler’s ADP is 150th overall. That leaves him available in the 15th round of 10-team leagues and the 13th round in 12-team leagues. Essentially, he’s free. It barely costs you anything to acquire his services.

In my opinion, that price tag is well worth the risk of Cutler continuing his streak of suck.

The key point when we look at Recency Effect is that many players still hold value after they’ve had a season in which they have underperformed. So, when you’re looking at players and asking “What have you done for me lately?”, you are forgoing the chance that the player can still be valuable. You’re doing it wrong. Your focus should be more on the future and less on the past. We need to be asking questions like, “What has changed recently and how does that affect this player’s value?”.

Approaching drafts with this focus will help you avoid missing out on value picks and give you a strong, dynamic roster. It also helps you avoid sacrificing an early-round draft pick on a player that ends up underperforming.

Most people (myself included) are relying on the Recency Effect far too often. But really, when the majority is acting one way, there is opportunity to act the opposite and gain an advantage.