So you’ve decided to take the leap and join a Fantasy Football league. Congratulations on branching out and trying something new! In part 1, we talked about what Fantasy Sports are and why it may be a fun hobby for you to get into. In this section of the article, I’m going to reach back through my almost decade of experience playing the game to help you dominate your redraft league. I’m also going to clue you into some of the resources I use to stay on top of the deluge of information leading up to and during the season. Hopefully, nobody in my league finds this article! (I’m kidding, none of those idiots are going read anything longer than a cocktail menu).
Set the Stakes
First of all, have some sort of stakes to your league. Even if it’s just a $5 buy-in or a silly punishment for the loser. Literally every single “just for fun” league I’ve been a part of has fallen apart halfway through the season (or less) as soon as people start to get frustrated with injured or underperforming players.
In my main league, we each pay $50 at the beginning of the season and the winner and runner-up get paid out at the end. We also have a “sacko” punishment (if you watched FX’s The League you’ll understand this reference) for last place. Those punishments have included performing as a mime on a busy street, taking a blowup doll on a date in the mall food court, and performing Missy Elliot’s “Get Your Freak On” at karaoke while wearing her costume from the music video. Your league can be more or less outrageous depending on your personal preferences, but it’s important to have both a reward for winning and an incentive not to give up as soon as the going gets tough. Every year, without fail, one or two people will have their team implode on itself and they will give up and make it boring for everyone else unless there’s an incentive not to lose.
Value, Value, Value
Don’t get dollar signs in your eyes looking at bottom line point totals for players. You need to make sure you’re taking into account scarcity of quality players at each position and factoring that into how much they should be valued.
A perfect example of this is quarterbacks (QBs) vs running backs (RBs). In general, QBs are going to net you 20-40 points per game. RBs, on the other hand, will be more in the 10-25 range. However, there are 10-20 QBs who will regularly score over 20 points on any given week, and in most formats, you can only start one. With RBs, once you get outside the top 15-30, you’re looking at guys who you will be surprised and overjoyed if they can even put up double digits. And standard formats require each team to start 2. So if you’re in a ten-team league, that’s just enough good RBs to go around. And that’s before you even start to factor in injury, suspensions, and all the other things that make the season interesting.
All this is to say that there’s not much difference between a QB you can get in the 2nd round versus one you can take at the back of the draft (or even off of waivers during the season). But the dropoff between RBs between even the 2nd and 5th rounds is enormous. There’s one person in every league who’s going to draft Aaron Rogers way too early and miss out on a sleeper RB or wide receiver (WR). Don’t be that person.
The Draft vs The Season
There’s an axiom in Fantasy Football that goes, “You can’t win your season at the draft, but you can lose it.” The easiest way to lose your season before it even starts is to overvalue and reach (that is, drafting someone way too early) to fill positions instead of taking the best player you can during the draft. In my league we have a guy–let’s call him “Smife”–who without fail drafts a QB 2 rounds too early and then wastes another pick on a backup QB. He does this instead of using those chances to take shots at more scarce (i.e. valuable) positions. He is also consistently trying (often unsuccessfully) to claw his way out of last place as we approach the playoffs.
Many people will take a backup QB and tight end (TE). If it makes you feel better to come out of the gates with those backups, that’s fine. Just know you’re using 2 of 16 picks (12.5%) on people you probably won’t use. I prefer to use those 2 picks to take a chance on more useful positions. I have even been successful streaming both of those positions.
“Streaming” means using the waiver wire (undrafted players) to fill positions on a week to week basis. I will almost always stream Defenses, Tight Ends, and Kickers. Tight Ends because there are only maybe 3 any given year who are worth anything and Defenses because those are largely matchup dependent. Kickers are dumb, pointless, and mostly random so who cares? Don’t have them in your league if you can help it.
Trades are also a great way to boost your team. You can only play so many players at each position. So if you took my advice and drafted wisely you may have 6 top tier receivers but can only start 3. Find someone who has a great player at a position you need but is lacking at WR and offer a trade. Last year I waited on QB in the draft and got someone who didn’t end up doing great in the first few games. But I had more WRs than I could use so I traded Cooper Kupp for Matt Ryan. Kupp got injured a couple of games later and Ryan finished the season as the #2 player of all positions.
Stay up with the news and always be hustling! Waiver pickups and trades can win you a championship where drafts cannot.
This is really the #1 rule of Fantasy Sports. Don’t like a player? Don’t draft them! I know people who you couldn’t pay to draft Tom Brady, even in his heyday when he was consistently the league MVP.
In my league in Indianapolis, people will consistently reach for Colts players because they want to cheer for them. I always know the one Vikings fan will reach for Viking players (this actually brings up another piece of advice which is “know your league”). I try to apply Vulcan logic to the point where I will probably end up with Tyreek Hill this year (he’s probably not a great dude). My justification is that having him on my roster isn’t putting any money in his pocket and I’m probably not going to watch him play. But the dude was the #1 receiver last year and he’s going to get me a lot of points and I will get him at a huge value. But if you don’t want to root for someone, don’t draft them. This is supposed to be a fun game!
There is no shortage of informational resources for Fantasy Football. In fact, I would argue there are FAR too many resources. This article is probably the 400,217th article discussing draft strategy published this year. And in the space I have, I can barely even scratch the surface of ways to make your team truly elite out of the gate. So I want to offer up some great places to go further in-depth.
Sports journalism is a really interesting (and more benign) microcosm of the 24-hour news cycle as a whole. I would even go so far as to say that learning to separate the signal from the noise in football journalism has made me a better consumer of news in general. Would the democratic world be a better place if everyone played Fantasy Football? I can’t definitively say, but the answer is a definitive YES.
Harris Fantasy Football Podcast
If I could magick up a homunculus that embodies the thesis of these articles about how nerds should play Fantasy Sports, it would be Chris Harris. This chronically single, finicky, pasty ginger sounds like he can create an Excel spreadsheet that’ll make you wanna slap your accountant. He has a face for radio and a voice for television. And he is the absolute Dalai Lama of Fantasy Football. So he’s got that going for him.
I really can’t recommend this podcast highly enough. Harris’ analysis is spot on and his sober treatment of the game is incredibly refreshing. This man’s advice is the Game Genie of Fantasy Football. These last few years of listening have made my drafts feel like I’m playing Titanfall 2 against someone whose last FPS was Doom 2.
I would also recommend buying his almanac. It’s only $17 (on the less expensive side for this kind of thing) and it’s 200+ pages of snarky but super detailed and insightful analysis. It’s been my one and only printed resource for the last few years which have been among the most successful of my Fantasy career.
The Fantasy Footballers
Mr. Harris might not be stoked about being mentioned next to these guys, but man are they fun to listen to.
These guys actually come from our world. They were game developers before they got into Fantasy Football as a career. And if their intro announcer isn’t Halo multiplayer voice Jeff Steitzer, it’s someone doing a fantastic impression of him.
The good news is that they’re independent of the major news networks (ESPN, FOX, etc.). The medium news is that they are often guilty of being part of the “echo chamber”. Much like most outlets who feel compelled to give you fresh news every second of every day whether there’s real information or not, they can sometimes be more noise than signal.
But for the most part, these dudes are great. They seem genuine, fun, knowledgeable, and the music drops would not be out of place in Doom.
Honorable Mention: Stephania Bell of ESPN Fantasy Focus Podcast
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So many takeaways from a beautiful day at #Niners camp…but here are a few: 1) Spirits are high with McKinnon off PUP today, Jimmy G healthy and very little drama on the injury front so far this year? 2) George Kittle is hilarious and has big plans for those who roster him in fantasy (and says don’t worry about all the team’s pass-catchers; that’s a good thing). He also tells me what it’s like to catch a ball from Jimmy G 3) Dante Pettis had thoughts in college about going into physical therapy…and he still might when this chapter is done. More Niners nuggets to come. Tune in to our FF marathon next week. ?
If we can find a way to isolate Stephania Bell’s medical analysis, I will re-subscribe to this podcast. She is an invaluable resource for understanding what injuries news means for your Fantasy team. The problem is that Matthew Berry (no, not the Friends guy) is like a comedy club owner dropping into his own open mic night. Everyone in the room clearly feels obligated to chuckle at his awful jokes because he’s the highest paid guy in the room. Matthew Berry is proof that we do not live in a meritocracy but success is rather largely about luck and circumstance. In a just world, Chris Harris, Jason Moore, Mike Wright, or Andy Holloway would have his career and Matthew Berry would be working on the script for Crocodile Dundee 4.
Mr. Berry, if you’re somehow reading this, I think you’re fine. But there’s a reason you’ve found success as a Fantasy Football analyst and not a comedian. I don’t usually like the “stay in your lane” line but you had your shots at comedy and Fantasy analysis. One is clearly your thing and the other is not.
Moral of this story is: if you have injury questions, see if you can find a take from Stephania Bell. She’s an actual sports medicine professional and delivers clear and concise reporting that helps you separate the signal from the noise regarding injury news. (Rule of Thumb: soft tissue injuries are what you need to worry about)
I hope you find this guide helpful and enjoy your foray into a new world! And please let us know how it goes below in the comments!
Billy is a freelance writer living in Indianapolis with his dog, BoJack. He enjoys TED talks, video games, sunny days, football, and the salty tears of his enemies.