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

Jay Asser 19:53 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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