Full disclosure: the fantasy football league that I participated in for 20 years folded a few years back, allowing me the opportunity to watch football without the constant pressure of catching every statistical anomaly. I could go back to rooting for the Saints – and against the Falcons – while keeping a perfunctory eye on the other games rather than a compulsive addiction to watching every snap I could get my eye on, flicking the Direct TV channels between all the games every weekend.
Last year, however, my 11 year old was invited to join a league with some of the children of my college buddies. It was a last minute thing, and despite the fact that he had grown up watching Sportscenter by himself every morning since he was two, he knew little or nothing about fantasy football. Add to that the fact that he was at the beach with his friend the day of the draft, and he was sure to begin the season with a pretty poor team.
For fantasy novices, the first, and most important thing your team needs is a good name. If you come off too cocky with a name like Boner’s Champs or Steve’s Super Seven, and your team stinks, you will be mercifully teased by your peers. My son went with The Big Breesy (his name is Drew so it worked). But if you’re going to name your team after a player (like Team Megatron), then you’ve got to get that player on your team. That was my son’s first mistake.
Picking second, I advised Drew to select a running back. There were only a handful of running backs that didn’t share carries and the disparity between a number one back and say, Mark Ingram, was huge. Last year, according to the drafting sheet, Ray Rice was the top available RB. Unfortunately, he was also one of the biggest busts of the draft. Taking Rice meant that Drew Brees was long gone before my son had a chance to make his second pick.
With most of the top QBs now off the board, Drew selected Tom Brady with his second pick. For those that don’t remember, Brady, who is usually a fantasy stud, started last season with some real clunkers. With his third pick, Drew clamored for a Saint so he chose TE Jimmy Graham, which meant that The Big Breesys wouldn’t have a top ten wide receiver on their squad.
Needless to say, despite Graham’s studliness, his team started out 0-4 and Drew was a little dejected and losing interest. That’s when Dad stepped into action, pummeling those little eleven year olds into fantasy submission, leading the Big Breesy all the way to the Super Bowl.
That’s because most fantasy football leagues are won long after the draft. First of all, half the teams don’t even pay much attention to the waiver wire. Last year, Drew picked up Seattle QB Russell Wilson, Cleveland WR Josh Gordon and Green Bay RB Eddie Lacy shortly after the season began. That’s not to mention team defenses and/or kickers, who unless you get one of the top two or three, can be interchangeable throughout the season based on match-ups and recent performances.
At this point, you are probably asking yourself what this all has to do with the upcoming fantasy football season. Well, assuming you already have a team name and an established league, figure out which positions return the most points based on the categories of your league and draft accordingly. If it’s a QB-friendly league, set your sights on guys like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. If you can’t land one of the top three, wait a few rounds and try for guys with high upside like Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford. For a backup, take a flyer on young guys like Robert Griffin III or maybe even rookie Johnny Manziel.
If you’re going to use that first pick on a running back, make sure they are durable and that they don’t lose touches at the goal line. Try to shy away from guys that are coming off years where they carried the ball too much. Anything over 350 carries is a huge red flag because guys with too many carries usually break down the next season. Running backs like LeShon McCoy and Matt Forte have consistently put up huge numbers, but winning teams usually draft the next big thing. This year, that might be Denver RB Monte Ball, who leaps over the recently departed Knowshon Moreno on the depth chart. Or look for guys that are coming off non-career threatening injuries like Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin. And, there’s usually a break out rookie that you can steal late in the draft. This year, it might be Tennessee running back Bishop Sankey, who won’t have to compete with former Titans’ great Chris Johnson.
Often, fantasy leagues are won with a great receiving corps. Although guys like Calvin Johnson are great to have, it’s better to wait a few rounds and draft a deep group of consistent receivers that know how to score touchdowns. Often times, you just have to look at the top scoring teams in the league to find solid receivers. Denver’s Demarius Thomas, Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson and Cincinnati’s AJ Green come to mind, but don’t forget about the number two options on those teams. TE Julius Thomas, Randall Cobb and deep sleeper Marvin Jones.
One last thing, don’t pay too much attention to the bye weeks. Yes, you might have a few bad matchups, but by and large, it’s not worth skipping the best player available because he’ll be off the same week as your quarterback. Oh, and one other thing, is drafting Julio Jones really worth the evil look on your friend’s faces when your watching the big game?