A beginner's guide to fantasy football – the NFL version

Jay Asser 27/08/2018
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Nothing enhances the enjoyment of a new league season quite like fantasy sports, especially when it comes to the NFL.

Whether you’re an avid NFL fan or someone looking to get into the league this year, fantasy football is the perfect way to stay on top of what’s happening, while also giving you incentive to watch as many games as possible.

If you already do fantasy football – the Premier League kind – then the concept should be simple enough: put together a team that you feel will earn the most points and hope it’s good enough to top the standings by season’s end.

But that’s where the similarities between fantasy NFL and fantasy Premier League end, with the former a completely different animal.

So put aside your triple captains, wildcards and formations and get ready for a crash course in American fantasy football ahead of kick-off on September 6.

THE BASICS

The first thing you need to know is how you can put together a team. Unlike Fantasy Premier League, fantasy NFL usually features a draft in which players are selected in a snake order, i.e. if there are 12 teams, the team picking 12th will have the first selection in the second round.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can try an auction draft, which is exactly as it sounds: you bid fake money out of a set budget on players. As fun as auctions are, especially when they’re done in-person with a group of people who know each other, they are infinitely harder to prepare for than snake drafts because it’s much more difficult to predict bids on players than the order they’ll be selected.

Regardless of whether you enter a draft or an auction though, always be cognizant of the league settings, which can vary wildly.

Leagues fall into one of three categories: PPR, .5 PPR or non-PPR. PPR stands for point per reception, which means you earn a single point whenever your players catch a pass, regardless of how many yards that reception generates.

So you’re either in a league where you get a point for a catch, in one that gives you half a point for a reception, or one where you get no points for catches. Simple enough, right? Well, that one wrinkle can significantly alter the value of players, especially running backs whose work as receivers is supplemental to their ground game.

The other part of the league’s settings to be aware of is roster positions – as in how many starting spots there are for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, kickers and defences.

Usually, leagues will feature one starting spot for quarterbacks, tight ends, kickers and defences, while having multiple spots for wide receivers (two to three) and running backs (two). That’s fairly standard, but there are plenty of leagues which either force you or allow you to play two quarterbacks, or have ‘flex’ positions in which you can play either a wide receiver, running back or tight end.

The point is, know how many players at each position you can start because that will directly affect roster construction. If you can start more than one quarterback, for example, expect quarterbacks to be drafted earlier.

STRATEGY

Let’s be loud and clear about this: there is no one dominant strategy for success in fantasy football.

You can ask 100 people their preferred strategy when it comes to drafting and you could get 100 different answers. Some people are steadfast in their belief that you need to take running backs early and often because they represent the backbone of your team. Some people feel wide receivers are more of a known commodity and thus it’s better to load up there in the early rounds. Others want to grab a top quarterback to have that comfort, while even more will preach to wait on QBs because the position is so deep and you (usually) only have to start one.

This is largely dependent on what settings your league employs. For the purposes of keeping it simple, here’s a basic strategy for one-quarterback leagues which applies to both PPR and non-PPR.

If you’re picking in the top half of your draft this year, you have the advantage of being in a position to snag a top running back. Removing quarterbacks – the position that naturally scores the most points – the top point scorers are often running backs because they touch the ball the second-most of anyone on the field. Splitting the difference with PPR and non-PPR formats, running backs made up seven of the top nine scorers in .5 PPR leagues last year, with Los Angeles Rams playmaker Todd Gurley the high man.

Running backs who are guaranteed massive workloads are few and far between, which is why players like Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, Kareem Hunt, Alvin Kamara, Melvin Gordon and Leonard Fournette are all worthy of being the foundation of your team.

That doesn’t mean you should ignore wide receivers, though. Antonio Brown is arguably one of the safest players you can draft and someone you should look at in the middle of the first round, along with Odell Beckham Jr, DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones. But because wide receiver is so deep and offers so much value later in the draft, don’t be afraid to wait and target the position in the middle rounds.

Brown

Speaking of waiting, having Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady on your team may be too much fun to pass up, but because there are so many good quarterbacks, filling the single starting spot shouldn’t a priority. Rodgers may cost you a third or fourth-round pick, whereas someone like Kirk Cousins or Matthew Stafford can be had in the double-digit rounds. The difference could be a skill position player you would use in your starting lineup.

Tight end is a little more fluid than in recent years, with the gap between Rob Gronkowski and the rest of the field not as wide anymore. From the end of the second round on, feel free to take a tight end, which will mostly be based on preference after the top hierarchy of Gronk, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz.

Whatever you do, wait until the second-to-last round to take a defence and until the last round to take a kicker. Those positions are high variance and often unpredictable, so you’re better off rounding out your bench and taking flyers on players with upside.

This is just a basic outline for how to approach a draft. It’s imperative, however, that you maintain flexibility and identify value as the draft unfolds, because chances are, regardless of how much prep you’ve done, there will be picks by other managers that you didn’t see coming. So keep an eye on your rankings and see which players are going earlier than they should or falling down the draft board.

Lastly, have fun. Even for the most competitive fantasy players, this is supposed to be enjoyable. If there are players you really want to have on your team, take them. Whatever helps you come back every Sunday.

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Andrew Luck looks like himself again and other takeaways from NFL preseason Week 3

Jay Asser 26/08/2018
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With most starters across the NFL expected to sit out the final week of preseason, this past weekend was the final chance to glean anything of significance before the games start to count.

While several head coaches opted to play their first team for most – if not the entire – first half, others chose to play it safe and not play their starters at all.

Here’s a look at takeaways from this week’s slate of action.

COLTS IN LUCK

Indianapolis Colts fans can breathe a sigh of relief after watching Andrew Luck operate this weekend.

The quarterback, who was making only his third appearance since January 2017 due to an injury to his throwing shoulder, looked like himself against the San Francisco 49ers as he completed 8-of-10 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown.

The numbers don’t jump off the page, but Luck’s performance was his best of the preseason, in which he’s completed 20-of-32 throws for 204 yards, a touchdown and an interception for a passer rating of 83.1.

He also added 27 yards on four rushes, showing his willingness to extend plays out of the pocket and take a hit.

Not only has Luck come out of the preseason unscathed – it’s unlikely he plays in the fourth preseason contest – he’s also established some rhythm to make his transition into the regular season a smoother one.

Issues with the running game and offensive line mean the Colts still have plenty to worry about, but it seems the health of the franchise’s most important player is the least of their concerns right now.

CHIEFS D BEARS THE BRUNT

The Kansas City Chiefs’ starting defence continued a worrying trend in the loss to the Chicago Bears as they allowed a touchdown drive to a back-up quarterback for the third straight game.

Chase Daniel, who got the nod in place of regular starter Mitchell Trubisky, carved up Kansas City with four scoring drives on Chicago’s first five possessions, including trips to the end zone on the first three.

The Chiefs’ secondary looked like Swiss cheese as cornerbacks David Amerson and Orlando Scandrick were burned by a journeyman quarterback with a career passer rating of 81.1. Daniel finished 15-of-18 for 198 yards and two scores before exiting at halftime.

Kansas City’s offence has a chance to be one of the most explosive in the league, but it’s looking more and more like that will be a necessity rather than a luxury, which puts the pressure on first-time starter Patrick Mahomes to carry the load.

Even though Mahomes has been as good as advertised in the preseason, that’s asking a lot out of the young gunslinger.

PURPLE QB EATERS

One defence that has looked more than fine in the preseason is Minnesota’s.

Against quarterbacks Case Keenum, Blake Bortles and Russell Wilson through three weeks, the Vikings’ unit has allowed completions on just 24-of-45 passes for 282 yards, no touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 63.4.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise for a defence that allowed the fewest yards and points last season, but it serves as a reminder of why Minnesota are considered legit Super Bowl contenders this year.

With the Vikings’ defence in mid-season form, it should afford Kirk Cousins room for error to get comfortable in the offence and develop a rapport with his receivers.

SCRAP HEAP TO STARTERS?

Just two weeks ago, Adrian Peterson and Alfred Morris were both on the scrap heap as free agents. Now, they seem on their way to being starting running backs for Washington and San Francisco, respectively.

Peterson was signed by Washington to improve their depth in the backfield after the team lost Derrius Guice to a season-ending ACL tear. In his first chance to show he still has it, Peterson rushed for 56 yards on 11 carries this past weekend and looks in line to get regular first and second-down work.

Morris, meanwhile, had a strong effort against Indianapolis, amassing 84 yards on 17 carries. With Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida dealing with mild injuries, Morris has an opportunity to win a job and pay instant dividends in his reunion with Kyle Shanahan.

Peterson and Morris may not be major factors come October or November, but for now, it appears the veterans are once again in the mix.

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Philadelphia Eagles' offence has yet to take flight in preseason

Jay Asser 25/08/2018
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The Philadelphia Eagles offence hasn’t exactly picked up where it left off last season.

It’s only preseason, but the defending Super Bowl champions have looked woeful throughout August – a far cry from their dazzling playoff run this past winter.

The offence has struggled mightily to move the ball and produce points, and their abysmal effort in the third preseason game – which is supposed to serve as a dress rehearsal – continued to raise concerns.

It wasn’t just that the Eagles were shut out in a 5-0 loss to the Cleveland Browns, it’s how disappointing the first-team offence looked in the process.

Philadelphia’s six first-half drives finished in a turnover on downs, a safety, a lost fumble, an interception, a lost fumble and another interception.

After completing 13-of-17 passes in the contest, Nick Foles is now 16-of-26 for 171 yards with no touchdowns, two picks and two fumbles over two appearances in the preseason.

Foles hasn’t been nearly as sharp as he was in leading Philadelphia to a Super Bowl win, but the offence’s issues have extended beyond the quarterback, with the offensive line failing to provide much protection and the general execution lacking.

“First of all, I’m disappointed in the offense, not one player,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said. “So don’t put this all on Nick. I’m disappointed in the offence. It’s not what you want, obviously, in the third preseason week.

“When you don’t score and you play the way you played on offense, being an offensive guy, I’m not very jovial in [the locker room]. I’m not patting guys on the back.”

Philadelphia can take some solace in the fact that many of their key players have yet to take the field, including Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery and, of course, Carson Wentz.

However, with Wentz’ status for the season opener still up in the air, it’s possible a magic elixir may not be on the way for some time.

The Eagles held on to Foles this offseason instead of trading him to give themselves insurance in the event Wentz misses more time, but it’s not a certainty the back-up quarterback will thrive once again.

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