(Philadelphia, Pa) – It is that time of the year again for everyone from the grocery store bag boy to celebrities like Jerry O’Connell — best known for playing “Ryan Leaf” wannabe quarterback Frank Cushman in Jerry Maguire — to ask the eternal questions “who should I take with my first pick of my fantasy football draft?” and “Has anyone seen the injury report for this week?”
What started out as a wacky rotisserie league concept for football by former Oakland Raiders part owner Bill Winkenbach and his friends Scott Stirling and Bill Tunnell in the 1962 has grown into its own subculture and is the passion of football fans and casual fans everywhere. Fantasy football is now part of the fabric that ties everyone together and gets people watching the NFL, (well at least the stat ticker at the bottom of the screen) which is by far the number one sports league in the world. Fantasy football leagues are all about one upping your buddies, having fun watching games (every game counts now or at least the stats), trash talking, and allows fans to experience the highs and lows of “legalized gambling”. The number of people involved in leagues are staggering with an estimated 15 million people participating in fantasy football leagues last season. Of that group the majority are males in the marketing bonanza demographic of between the ages of 25 and 54, but we are also seeing more women competing with the men for stat superiority. And when you talk about the dollars involved in fantasy football (approximately $250 million dollars spent on gaming services around fantasy sports), sponsors and advertisers start drooling.
In a recent interview Chris Nicholas, who heads the fantasy sports group at ESPN said “They’re a great target for sponsors,” and “These are folks who are comfortable online. From autos to credit card companies to shoe companies, they want to get in front of these people.” The growth of fantasy football is so immense that now every major sports news outlet and website including NFL.com have their own section and analysts dedicated to covering and analyzing America’s new past time. I believe the best website that keeps fantasy football economical and easy to run for your league and commissioner is CBS Sportsline.com (site has everything from breaking news, injuries, scoring, etc all tailored to your league). Football related television and sports marketing professionals now know that to generate dollars from average to non-watching people that fantasy football is paramount.
“How big is fantasy football”, you ask. Well it is big enough that every Sunday entire shows like “Fantasy Fix” on Comcast Sportsnet or large segments on national NFL shows like CBS’ “NFL Today” emphasize every aspect of fantasy football from who to play or not play to injuries to inside tips. “It started as a niche activity, and now it’s moved on to a mainstream passion,” said Chris Russo, senior vice president of new media and publishing for the National Football League in a recent article. He added, “It’s a community activity, where friends from college, from work or any walk of life get together and compete and keep in touch.”
Now that we know some history and tidbits around fantasy football, lets get to the Do’s and Don’ts of being a successful fantasy football player. I am not saying I am the ultimate fantasy football guru, but I know enough to help you get through your draft and be competitive in your league. BTW: That Cincinnati Wide Receiver’s name is pronounced hoosh-mand-zaa-deh as in TJ Houshmandzadeh.
Fantasy Football Do’s and Don’ts
- Pick your league’s commissioner wisely – This is of extreme importance as this is the individual that can make or break your league and fantasy football experience. Nothing is worse than a little “dictator” that has strange rules and has an agenda. Go with a person that you believe is fair, can take care of $$$, and knows the rules.
- Know your league’s rules – This is the most cumbersome part of being in a FF league. We all know rules are a pain in the a__, but they can also save you too. Knowing how much yardage kicks in a particular bonus, how much a missed field is worth, lineup restrictions, floaters (extra WR or RB in your lineup), etc is invaluable to staying on top.
- Agree upon the ground rules of your draft early – Where are you holding the draft (Some people like bars and others like a quiet basement), Draft Order, League fees and dues for the year, What are we eating and drinking (This is the most important, because you need to be relaxed – I vote for beer and pizza), The League Trophies/Prizes, How many rounds the draft will be, How much time between picks, Number of required players at each position, etc. Once the ground rules are set, stick to them or be prepared to be “busted on” the entire draft.
- Have a Good Attitude (This could be your year) – I always hear naysayers talk about their draft is coming up, but they have no chance. Just because you are a rookie or an 11-year veteran of fantasy football who has never won or won it 10 times, it doesn’t matter. Every year starts fresh for your entire league (unless you are in a keeper league, which I hate) and everyone has a chance to be the “big cheese” for the year.
- Arrive early for your draft – By doing this, you can pick your seat, have all of your notes, cheat sheets, pizza, beer, and everything else you need in place for a good selection process. Nothing is worse for a group of people to wait for a “Johnny Come Lately” who is unprepared or even worse someone calling in their picks on a cell phone.
- Make a “wish list” with rankings – Once you know your draft spot, a “wish list” will be your best friend. By knowing where you think a player will be targeted and scratching off their availability, as your draft progresses, you will be able to quickly find and select the player you want. Some magazines and websites now have foldouts that you can have right at your fingertips (no reading though, See Don’ts).
- Know who is injured – This is extremely important, because every year there is a FF player that has no idea who was put on I\R for the year and selects them to the delight of all of their buddies. Make sure that you check the injury list and roster cut down list right before the draft. This same rule definitely applies during the season when setting your roster for the week. Nothing is worse than finding out at game time that you have a player in your lineup that won’t be playing on game day.
- Know your “Bye” weeks – Just like injuries having conflicting players on your roster can kill your team. When you make your draft wish list make sure that you know when your players are off, so you don’t pick players that will both be out at the same time. This same rule definitely applies during the season when setting your roster for the week. Nothing is worse than finding out at game time that you don’t have a position covered in your lineup, because of a bye week.
- Get your stud early in the draft – I recommend looking for a running back to build your team around early (maybe two), then quarterback, and wide receivers should be your last first pick option in the draft. Running backs are fantasy football scoring machines with their ability to run, catch, gain yards after the catch, score touchdowns, and their big play potential. For example in 2006, LaDainan Tomlinson was like two or three players in one by scoring 31 total touchdowns (receiving, running, and even throwing).
- Remember rookies when drafting – More than ever rookies are having a higher impact in the NFL (35 rookies offensively and defensively started in 2006 not counting kickers and punters). FF owners were very happy from 2007 impact rookie NFL Rookie of the Year Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (1,341 yards – first in NFC – with a 5.6 yards per carry average, 12 rushing touchdowns, and one receiving touchdown). Plus let’s not forget his mind boggling NFL record 296 rushing yards and 3 TD’s in week 9 versus the Chargers.
- Be willing to talk trade – There is nothing worse than a league participant that holds onto all of their players like little pieces of platinum and doesn’t talk trade or even return emails or phone call offers. If a player offers a “reasonable” trade in your opinion take it and keep going forward. However be smart in your trade offers, know your player’s value, status, and your trading partner’s history (some guys are known to try and fleece new players, so beware).
- Use the waiver wire – Usually after the first 6 weeks or so pending on your league’s rules, you will have the opportunity to grab players that were not selected in your draft (beware some leagues charge for waiver wire picks). The waiver wire can help you fix mistakes and replace non-producers/injured players. Every year some grabs a stud player off the waiver wire and it will always be a feather in their cap. I still remember in 1998, quarterback Brad Johnson was slated to be the Vikings starter and he got hurt early in the season opening the door for Randall Cunningham, who I happily grabbed off the waiver wire and he went on to have a huge year including 34 passing touchdowns.
- Have Fun!!! – This is the most important part of fantasy football!! FF Leagues offer you a chance to talk, have bragging rights for the year, bond, trash talk, and hangout with your friends. It also gives you the fan the chance to be the Head Coach and General Manager. You will win or lose based on your decisions who to play, who not to play, injuries, game time decisions, trades, etc. But also remember that most champions are built on the luck of the draw (draft position and player health).
- Don’t panic at the draft – If the player that you want to select was taken right before you pick, don’t sulk, just follow your wish list. It happens to everyone, but you have to pull the trigger when the player you want on the board is available.
- Don’t sit at the table reading a Fantasy Football magazine – If it was up to me I would recommend that you leave the Fantasy Football magazine at home, but make sure that you know your material. Nothing is worse than sitting at the draft waiting for someone to find a player for a position that needs to be filled on his or her roster.
- Don’t drink too much at the draft – This is a good rule of thumb for any activity, but especially when you are building your team for the upcoming season you don’t want your judgment clouded by too many brews. I was at a draft once where a guy drank too much whiskey and wanted to quit the next day when he saw his roster.
- Don’t get catch in a position run situation at the draft – I have seen it too many times where one team makes a splash for a particular player at a position that doesn’t warrant another guy from that same position being selected afterward (Think TE Tony Gonzalez being taken in the 3rd Round and someone reaching to grab Denver TE Daniel Graham – 6th round value). I always like to say, “Trust your list”, you know where a guy “should” go and you should stick to your plan. A basic plan is in Rounds 1-3 think RB first then QB, then WR; Rounds 3-6 Continue with the aforementioned strategy and add in TE’s; After Round 6 fill in your roster needs, but don’t forget Defensive Teams and Kickers.
- Don’t forget about defensive units and kickers – These two areas are must areas, but are often overlooked because they are not the “pinball” machine numbers creators like quarterbacks or running backs. However having a solid defensive unit and a kicker that can put up points adds up is essential to having a championship FF team. You never know when you will need a point here or there to get you over the top. On defense look for a team that gets turnovers, defensive touchdowns, and sacks (Bears or Ravens in 2006). I have to admit that I am not a “kicker guy”, but an accurate kicker that can put it in from long range (40 yards or more), can help carry a team during a slow week. Also factor in dome and non-dome kickers in your selection or non-selection.
- Don’t become too focused on teammates – When I first started playing FF back in the day, a veteran said that the key was to get a receiver and quarterback on the same team. That works fine if you have the best quarterback and receiver for that particular season (Think Manning and Harrison, 2004), but I like to have a diversified roster of guys in different divisions and team, so I can guard against when a particular NFL team has a bad couple of weeks. I have also seen where a FF player reaches to grab second tier wide receiver just because they have that WR’s quarterback.
- Don’t cry over last year – Every year I hear people in my league complain that so and so always wins and that they have no chance. Well if you don’t want to compete then do us all a favor and quit. As I stated earlier every year is new and everyone in a league has an equal chance based on the luck of the draw (good drafting and roster health are pluses).
- Don’t be a quitter – I have seen it year after year, where someone has a bad draft or gets behind after a couple of weeks and packs it in. I know most leagues try to guard against this by having playoffs, rules, and other incentives, but quitting should not be an option. Always submit your lineup and try to do you best till the end of the season, you never know through waiver pickups and trade you could get back into the game.
Now that you have the basics, I have included a teaser list of my top 10 fantasy football picks for 2008 below.
2008 Fantasy Football Top Ten List
1. San Diego Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson – 1,474 rushing yds and 15 TDs in ‘07
2. New England Patriots QB Tom Brady – NFL record 50 TD passes in ‘07
3. Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning – 4,040 yards passing and 31 TDs
4. Philadelphia Eagles RB Brian Westbrook – Over 1,200 yards rushing and 90 catches
5. Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson – 1,341 rushing yds w/ 12 rushing TDs
6. New England Patriots WR Randy Moss – NFL Record 23 RD catches in ‘07
7. Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo – Over 4,000 passing yds w/ team record 33 TDs
8. Indianapolis Colts QB Joseph Addai – 1,072 rushing yards and 15 Total TDs
9. Washington Redskins RB Clinton Portis – 1,262 rushing yards w/ 11 TDs and 47 rec
10. KC Chiefs RB Larry Johnson – Comeback season after 559 rushing yds w/ 3 TDs
Best of the Rest
St. Louis Rams RB Steven Jackson (holdout), New Orleans Saints RB Reggie Bush, San Francisco 49ers RB Frank Gore, Carolina Panthers WR Steve Smith, Cincinnati Bengals QB Carson Palmer, Pittsburgh Steelers RB Willie Parker, Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, Dallas Cowboys WR Terrell Owens, Green Packers RB Ryan Grant (unsigned) and Indianapolis Colts WR Reggie Wayne
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)