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Fantasy Football 101

Stop drafting the hard way. Work smarter, not harder, right?

Indianapolis Colts Training Camp Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

I need to apologize to my readers up front. I was supposed to start this project last season and frankly, I was far too mentally stressed in other areas of my life to do what I feel like I was put here to do, to help other people do things I find relatively easy to do. This article, series of articles or whatever it becomes is aimed at all of us. If this is your first time drafting or you’ve been doing it as long as I have (or longer), my goal is have something here for everyone. I will not claim to be a master of this craft. I intend to have a dialogue with my audience so long as you’re not too tied to your opinions. Be malleable. Be coach-able. I will try to keep an open mind as well.

First timers, I want you to know that a fantasy football league isn’t nearly as daunting as it looks. There are a handful of important things you need to know going into a league. I am going to provide you with the exact tools you need to make sure you kick butt in your first draft. There is no “right way” to run your team. There is certainly a wrong way. We don’t talk about the wrong way here. As long as you take what I write seriously, I have the highest of expectations for your immediate success. It all starts with your draft. There are a handful of things you need to know up front before you go searching for a draft sheet, and we’ll get to those in just a few minutes.

- It would be ideal if you know the people you are drafting with, as knowing their tendencies and being able to manipulate those tendencies is a big key to winning on draft day. Bear in mind that most of the people that play fantasy football are doing it just for fun, have no idea what they’re doing and will lose interest well before mid-season.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t do anything “just for fun”. I play to win the game. That said, the data tells us that most of the time, we are drafting against complete strangers, so this advice only applies when you know Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton are going in the top 5 picks in your draft. Gotta love Colts fans and their high hopes, right?

- Once you know your enemy, it’s time to find out the details of the draft itself. Let me be very clear when I say that I can not remember a time when someone auto-drafted and also won that league, so it would be an honor if you would join us. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, Dan, but just missing your first couple of picks does not count as auto-drafting.

What this means is that you forgot about your draft or were unable to participate in your live draft and let a computer do it for you. Make sure that the draft you schedule doesn’t coincide with other obligations. Pretty easy, right? Make sure the kids are in bed, that your spouse isn’t going to make you get up in the middle of the draft to help fold laundry and that when the time comes, you’re ready for it.

I suggest having your drafts after Week 3 of the preseason and probably after dinner, all things considered. There are going to be exceptions, but if you want to win, you’ve got to be all the way in it.

- Now that you’ve nailed down your draft day/time, you need to make sure you know what scoring model your league will use so the draft sheet you seek out matches said model. Keep this in mind, ESPN’s default draft order does not change regardless of the scoring model your league chooses, so once you know the scoring model, then you can start looking at cheat sheets.

It didn’t used to be that difficult. When I started playing fantasy football however many years ago, there was only one scoring model. Standard scoring means there are no points given per receptions. Touchdowns are king/queen here. Now, there are point-per-reception, half-point-per-reception, and occasionally some high-minded commissioner will even tinker further with your league’s scoring rules (I see you, Chris).

Personally, I am an advocate of half-point PPR and this might be the only time I say this, but I will die on that hill. Frankly, standard scoring is too boom-bust and I’ve had PPR leagues with far too many ties for comfort. I do not recommend touching any other settings and unless you really care about that league, I would recommend vacating a league that changes multiple settings. Sure, you can play IDP, keeper, auction, etc. leagues, but come on already. Keep it simple, stupid.

- Now we know when our draft is and what the scoring model is. Here’s where it gets fun. First, you have absolutely zero, and I mean zero need to watch any fantasy football specials (I love you, Matthew Berry) until about a week before you draft unless you’re just dying to watch some football talk that will largely be rendered irrelevant due to injuries, holdouts, trades and general chaos.

Don’t stress yourself out with article after article and 4-hour long fantasy football specials and expert drafts. Bleh. Take care of yourself. This is not a game that can be beat by reciting Love/Hate data points. No one cares, Jared (this one is aimed at myself. I watch those shows, listen to those podcasts, read those articles and forget most of that stuff come draft day. Haha.)

- I will start looking at cheat sheets and maybe knock out a couple mock drafts prior to draft day about a week out nowadays. Most of you should be drafting in the next 2-3 weeks, hence the timing of my article. Mostly, I would pay attention to injury reports prior to draft day. Nothing is more disheartening that thinking you hit the jackpot only to find out such-and-such broke his leg getting out of his DeLorean.

Cheat sheets are everywhere. A Google search for “fantasy football cheat sheets” will probably be the most searched topic over the next month. I strongly recommend that you shop around and don’t pay for anything. Here’s the beautiful thing about the Internet. There isn’t a person or website that knows anything we all don’t have at our fingertips. Most of this is presupposition. None of us know what we are doing and all of us are just winging it.

- I strongly recommend avoiding drafting based on what your draft client is telling you (or ESPN’s default draft order). If you really have some time to kill, go ahead and find your draft sheet and change the default draft order to fit it (don’t do this right before you draft, though), that way you can draft with your cellphone from the toilet if that’s the only quiet place away from the triplets. No one wants to see you drag a laptop and a binder full of paperwork to a draft, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right?

- In terms of what I do every year (older/wiser etc. etc.), basically I just go to this website that produces a live draft sheet (seriously, you just click a player when they’re chosen and BAM!). You’re probably wondering where that data comes from and I have that for you as well. This website takes its data from notable fantasy football contributors such as:

John Paulsen,

Jeff Ratcliffe, Pro Football Focus

Justin Boone, theScore

Jake Ciely, RotoExperts

Mike Clay, ESPN

Patrick Thorman, Pro Football Focus

Sean Koerner, STATS

Sablich Brothers, 5th Down Fantasy

It also gets data from Fantasy Pros, which is probably second to ESPN in terms of number of drafts completed by actual people. In terms of reliability, the reason I use these two sources is because an aggregate is better than a single source, right?

Think about just watching Fox News. You’re probably not the most well-informed person, as opposed to a news aggregate like Yahoo! frontpage, right? The articles posted there come from reliable sources all over the Internet. I don’t even use Yahoo!, but you get what I’m saying. An aggregate is a compilation of data from several sources. I have no clue what I’m doing, but I know some people, right?

  • So that’s it. Know when your draft day is, know the scoring format, and then stop buying stupid magazines in July that will be irrelevant in a month. Stop paying for information. I just gave you the entire game. If you want me to tout my experience, last year I commissioned 20 leagues between paid leagues with colleagues and the free leagues I ran with Stampede Blue fans. I won 9 leagues and made the playoffs in 14 of those leagues. 70% to make the playoffs and 45% to win the entire league is not too shabby, kids. We can always get better, though. The first thing we can do is relax and let the Internet help us out.
  • My next article will cover how to actually draft on draft day. I intend to have that article out on Friday of this week. If any of you have drafts between now and then, find me on Twitter and I’ll fill in the unfamiliar.