Some would say Fantasy Football has become something of an obsession in my life. My wife would say it’s an addiction. She has in fact, banned the practice–or speaking of it–inside the household from the end of the Super Bowl through July 31st.
Anyway, this is my tenth year–a decade of playing fairy-tale football–and sadly, I love it. It’s fantastic: the ups, the downs, every Sunday a trial of excitement–the glory of triumph and victory–or alternately, of helpless disappointment. I mean sure, sometimes, by the end of the day I want to drink myself to sleep because my team has failed so utterly. But at least it’ s an excuse, either way, to watch football and drink beer. There are worse things, right?
Now, I’m not a dominant player, but I’ve won four championships (usually playing in two leagues per season), finished second five times, and generally make the playoffs at about a 70% clip–not necessarily any achievement in itself. But still, if you’re wondering why you should read the rest of this, let’s just say, I sort of know what I’m talking about–unless you follow my advice and lose, in which case… oops.
First piece of advice: don’t let the detractors get in your way of having fun. You know, the people who say, you’re just watching your players then, right–doesn’t that take away from the whole team thing? Or, isn’t fantasy football for nerds?
There are two possible answers to the first question, and in either case they’re the same.
A) “Merica.” and,
B) Yes, with some caveats. To begin with, you can absolutely root for your favorite teams as you watch Fantasy–I do (49ers… alas, no Harbaugh–a cautionary tale of a pissing contest gone too far), and so does almost everyone I know. Sure, FF makes you root for weird things because one’s team, after all, is composed of individual players on mostly separate teams. So you’ll blow a gasket when your running back blows through a hole and gains 20 yards but it gets called back on a holding penalty–even against your favorite team. Sure, you don’t want the other team to win, but that doesn’t mean your running back can’t get 80 yards, two catches, and a TD against them, right?
Worse is the touchdown vulture–you know, when Belichick, the biggest anti-fantasy coach in the world gets it in his craw that they’re going to throw to an eligible lineman for the touchdown from the 1-yard-line, instead of throwing it to Gronk? So yeah, you end up rooting for some weird stuff, but really, it’s all part of the fun.
As to the second point, about nerds, make no mistake: Fantasy Football is nerdy. I would argue that it does not, alone, make one a nerd, but it’s an act of unadulterated nerdery. We’re talking heavy numbers analysis, scouring lists, obsessing over minutiae, clutching one’s fingers like Mr. Burns, and in the end, playing a game that’s entirely made up. Le’Veon Bell didn’t actually score 30 points–ever. In reality, he ran for a lot of yards, caught a lot of passes, and scored a lot of touchdowns to help his team be successful. The points were made up by a Yahoo scoring system that our league set up to satisfy whiners (namely, me).
Now look, if you play fantasy football, AND do any of the following: play Magic, board games, Dominion, chess, Dungeons and Dragons, or watch Star Wars, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, etc.–then we’re talking full-on nerd. Alone, however, Fantasy is just heavy dabbling.
So no, you aren’t necessarily a nerd (but probably).
I digress. The point of this post is to help people understand some of the strategies and dynamics of Fantasy to help their team(s) be successful, so let’s get to it. Please keep in mind, this post is specifically geared toward the draft, and I play in a 10 team, PPR (point-per-reception, newbs), two QB league, so if I have biases that’s where they lie. Or is is it lay. Damn it.
Rule #1: Draft value over position.
At least for the first six or seven rounds. And what I mean by value is: getting the best player available at each pick. Is it possible you’ll have three WR’s or RB’s if you do this? Yes. But the risk is that if you go for position, you could end up wasting a pick on a guy who might have fallen to you anyway, and more importantly, rankings matter. You may need a QB still, but if the next best 10 guys aren’t QB’s, you’re sacrificing significant value–points in games–if you pick one at that spot.
If you need any proof, just today the best player in our league (won last two out of three–jerk) told me that his 2nd QB was probably the 17th or worse overall off the board–meaning he won with his position players.
At worst: if you end up with four good running backs, you can always trade them.
Plus, a bunch of early picks at one position can lead to a match-up advantage against opponents in your league. If your first three picks are WR, chances are you’re going to score more points at that position head to head than most everyone else in your league. That’s a great advantage. This, in particular, is why we’ve seen TE’s like Gronk and Jimmy Graham go in the first round in the last few years–because that one pick, with most leagues only forcing teams to play only one TE, the manager secures a match-up advantage over every other team in the league.
The exception here can be QB in a two QB league. I say can be, because it may still make good sense to draft value over position if you don’t like the QB’s available when it’s your turn to pick, but if you make that choice you just have to be OK picking up schlubs off the waiver wire and playing guys like Alex Smith as your no. 1. If you’re in a two QB league, as I am, it really helps to get at least one quality starter. Doesn’t have to be Rodgers, but it helps to have a guy in the top 10-15. No matter how great the rest of your team is, it’s pretty hard to win playing Alex Smith and Blake Bortles every week.
So how does one determine value?
Rule #2: Get good information, and by good, I mean, different and lots of it.
One thing that will set you apart from the rest of your league is where you get your information. My personal staples are Matthew Berry at ESPN and FFToday.com (especially Doug Orth). At those two sites you’ll find good perspectives on players–though I think Berry misses as much as he hits–and both sites offer decent projections (projections by the way, are rarely accurate–as Berry says, play your studs). Orth has an awesome post of the top 150 players, with matchups for each game included.
I’ll add that when it comes to projections and rankings, you should definitely check out those offered by whatever site your playing at, because they’ll be geared specifically to your scoring settings. Remember, there is a ton of advice out there. I mean, hell, I’m writing about Fantasy. But even so, the more information you have, the better.
Finally, look at and participate in some mock drafts. I know for a fact that CBS, ESPN, Yahoo, NFL.com, Rotoworld, and tons of other sites out there do mocks. Make no mistake: drafting well is a skill. There is a time limit, people are likely giving you a hard time (I remember picking Shonne Greene once pretty early… ugh, NEVER lived that down), and there are a ton of guys available at any point in the process. This is a great way to determine value. For example, if you notice that people are consistently passing on a guy poised to have a great season (according to whomever–you, preferably), see how far he drops before someone grabs him in the mocks.
Rule #3: Avoid injury prone players, if possible.
Some guys get hurt a lot. Danny Amendola comes to mind. That bastard. Or Sam Bradford, he of the glass knee.
And some positions take a pounding. Like running backs, for instance, a position that sees a huge dropoff in productivity after a player reaches his late twenties.
If you don’t have to: don’t. Guys that average less than about 12 games a year, or have missed multiple games (especially four or more) in consecutive years, or have missed more than one full season in a four or five year period, are pretty likely to get injured again, and it’s not because there’s anything wrong with them. Football is an unbelievably violent sport. People are going to get hurt if they play. Yes, there are exceptions, but some guys are more fragile than others, and in the NFL, it’s almost inevitable that the Amendolas of the world are going to go down sooner or later.
That’s just part of the game. Don’t pick guys that get hurt a lot–especially early.
Rule #4: Consult NFL.com for stats and Chuckingrocks for Offensive Line (don’t worry, I’ll do updates every four games “cough”–shameless self plug).
As far as NFL.com, it’s not what you think. I don’t look at their projections; or if I do it’s an afterthought. What I look at are teams. Specifically, since FF is an offense-oriented game, I look at a team’s overall offense, as well as the individual categories: passing, rushing, and scoring.
During the season, I use those metrics to analyze matchups, but for the draft, it’ll give you a good overall picture of what you can expect from guys. Obviously, a player on a high scoring team is going to have many more opportunities over the course of a year than a player on a low scoring team. Now for WR’s and TE’s, it probably suffices to simply look at the passing offense as well as the QB that’s throwing to them.
For RB’s and QB’s, I like to go a step further, and look at the single most important factor, arguably, on a winning football team: the offensive line. To determine which lines are best, I look at two factors: sacks allowed and rushing yards. By combining the ranks of both, we can come up a fairly accurate picture of an offensive line’s overall performance. Yes, I get it, sometimes a sack is the QB’s fault (which you certainly know if you’ve watched Jay Cutler for any length of time), but more often than not, it’s the line.
Here’s the rank of the best offensive lines from 2014… if you want to go further and look at trades, off-season coaching changes, etc., be my guest–but I’ve found the previous year’s data to be a pretty good indicator of what we can expect in the current year. Again, I’ll update these rankings quarterly.
6) Green Bay
8) New England
8) New Orleans
11) New York Jets
15) New York Giants
17) San Francisco
19) Kansas City
25) St. Louis
27) San Diego
32) Tampa Bay
Now look, just because Cincinnati and Houston had the best offensive lines last year does not mean you should draft Andy Dalton or whoever the hell the QB for Houston will be (Brian Hoyer for now, but we’ll see how long that lasts) above the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, etc. What it means is that those QB’s are likely to perform better than similarly talented players with worse offensive lines. The same is true for RB’s. So draft talent first, but if you’re on the fence about a player, consider his offensive line.
Rule #5: Follow your head, not your heart.
Two years ago, when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, a buddy in our league who’s a hawks whore picked those players almost exclusively when he had the chance. Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, whichever WR was hot, etc.
And he did really, really well. Because the Seahawks were awesome.
But that’s generally not a good strategy. Yes, fantasy is about having fun, but it’s not fun to lose, and no matter how cool it is to have your favorite players on your team, trust me, if your team sucks balls and you find yourself continuing to buy beer while getting made fun of, it’s not that awesome anymore. And you may find those guys (“FAILS!”) are no longer your favorite players.
Besides, that’s the beauty of fantasy. The guys on your team are your favorite players. I mean, other than people living in Buffalo, does anyone give a damn about the Bills? No, of course not. They’re bad. Almost always. And the Browns are even worse. But if you had Josh Gordon two years ago, you were tuned in to every game they played, because what he did for Fantasy owners was nothing short of magic (and by the way, who gives a damn if he smokes pot–it’s not exactly a performance enhancing drug).
And that’s what makes Fantasy so great. You care about teams you shouldn’t care about. Games you shouldn’t care about. Players you shouldn’t care about. But you do. And it’s fun. You develop an appreciation for the game that’s deep and complex, start analyzing game strategy… and hell, it’s a great excuse to drink beer with friends and watch football.
The wife may not like it.
But then, I’m not a big fan of our Nordstrom’s debit card.
Correction: originally I had stated that FF was banned in my home starting Jan. 1st, but my wife reiterated it was actually the Super Bowl that was the cutoff. Good clarification. Love you, honey!