Fantasy Football for Dummies: I Wouldn’t Draft Michael Sam Either

As great and powerful as the NFL has become, there is one entity of the game that seems to have become bigger than the league itself. That entity is actually a simple game: Fantasy Football. From the hype and popularity of the NFL draft, to the billions of dollars spent during a season, and ultimately to the unofficial national holiday that is the Super Bowl; the National Football League is big. I mean really big. Games are now being played overseas, stadiums are popping up each year at price tags in the billions, and the sport seems to just get more popular.

We cannot seem to get enough of the NFL. With as big as the game is, the game within–that is, Fantasy Football–is thriving as well. These giant stadiums are being

built with the fan experience in mind. This experience is based around the idea that, not only do fans want to see their beloved team on the field, but they want to know how their beloved fantasy team is doing off the field. The NFL and TV networks are doing all they can to cater to the desires of the fan to be able to enjoy both teams each Sunday… Or whatever day of the week they are playing. From newcomers to the game, to the casual player, and even to the champion himself; the following words may bring some sort of sensibility to your fantasy football experience.

Maybe you have played this silly game before, or perhaps you are one of the few who have not. There are some who will claim to be experts, but do not believe them. No one is a fantasy football expert. No One. It is an elusive game that begs about as much expertise as a game of Monopoly. In fact, the two are quite
similar: cutthroat games of strategy and ownership where one person does all they can to destroy the others, and upon winning, realizes that no one else really cared as much as he/she did. (At least that is what they say) However, both require minimal skill, but maximum luck and a bit of cunning genius. Now, this is where I come in. Not the genius part; the Monopoly part. You see, I have never lost a game of Monopoly. I am undefeated and will forever remain that way. I have played many games, and I will never lose. Therefore, for the purpose of this article, I am entirely credible.  So, without further ado, Ladies and Gentleman, I give you:  Fantasy Football for Dummies.

To start, here are some quick, miscellaneous notes.

  • Most of what you do with your team will not matter in a casual league
  • If you are playing with women, prepare to lose. They are Fantasy Football sharks. I am not being sexist so get off my back. Simply put, women tend to win these things.
  • Your entire league may act like they don’t care, (refer back to the Monopoly analogy) but deep down inside it is in our nature to want to win our fantasy football leagues.
  • Play for money. Even if it isn’t much, you should always put money in. If you don’t like to bet, you are not betting. You are paying to have fun. If you win, the money is compensation for your
    efforts. The lottery takes zero effort; Fantasy Football takes one effort…maybe two.

And so we begin.


Genesis: The Draft

In the beginning, you create your team. This is done through by taking a witty name of a coach or player and mixing it into a well know phrase. After your team name is established you will build your team through a draft. There are different types of fantasy drafts, but all advice in this article will be with standard drafting in mind: for auction drafters, sorry Charlie. A standard draft puts each team in your league in a specific order and then swaps that order between rounds. Leagues can also vary in the number of teams involved. I will refer mostly to a standard 10 team league format. In a 10 team draft you may feel lucky right off the bat and have the first overall pick. You will then be able to choose any player in the NFL. However, once you have picked, each team will chose after you and then in the second round you will get the last pick. This is the swapping in order I was referring to. Swapping from first to last and last to first allows for a “fair” draft. The fairness will depend on the quality of players each year. So, while the number one pick may sound great, it does not always mean that you have a particular advantage over the rest of your league. In fact, I tend to prefer the last pick in the first round paired with the first pick in the second round.

Overall, the draft is a pretty fun event. You can do a draft online, or even meet together as a league where you can strangle the opposing team owner that takes the guy you wanted. But enough about what a draft is. Here comes the advice.

Take it somewhat seriously

I get it, fantasy football is not life. But it is also no fun for those involved if you don’t put some effort into it. Taking Tim Tebow and Aaron Hernandez for your first two picks is cute and bound to get some laughs. Save it for the last two rounds where you will get just as many chuckles. No one likes the guy that shows up to pick up basketball and messes around the entire time taking half court granny shots because he is too embarrassed to look bad while trying. It isn’t life at pickup basketball either, but you go and do what you can. This goes for the entire season, not just the draft.

Know who the players are

As your draft comes, do not worry about too much preparation. If your league is composed of casual guys and gals you should be good to go with just a list of pre-ranked players. Yahoo!, and ESPN are great sources for pre-ranked players which will give you an idea of what order players generally get drafted. At least look at a list before going in so you are familiar with names and positions.

DO NOT draft your favorite players…

…Unless they make sense.

Do not pick Michael Sam for some political statement. He plays defense…or special teams…

Do not pick Ryan Fitzpatrick in the first round because you wish you could have gone to Harvard too.

Do not pick Troy Smith in the first round because you loved him at Ohio State.

Do not pick Chase Daniel because he signed your football once.

Do not pick Tony Fiammeta because your sister dated a guy that was roommates in college with his coworker’s cousin.

Do take yourself if you are him. You have every right to take yourself whenever you want if you are in the draft.

Your Team: Insert Witty Team Name Here

The players that you draft fill in specific positions. In standard leagues you need to draft a specific number of players to start for your team at those varying positions. This is how your team will look.

Quarterback (QB) 1 4
Running Back (RB) 2 8
Wide Receiver (WR) 2 8
Flex (RB/WR/TE) 1 N/A
Tight End (TE) 1 3
Team Defense/Special Teams (D/ST) 1 3
Place-Kicker (K) 1 3
Bench (BE) 7 N/A



Draft Day

Once you have read this article and prepared for your draft, it is time to talk strategy. There are many strategies that you can have going into your draft. Start by following these rules and then we can talk specifics.

        Don’t worry about bye weeks

  • One of the main stats that are shown during online drafts is a player’s bye week (the one week a year that a team/player does not play). They don’t matter; trust me here. Yea, sure some metric could tell you that you want to do the best you can every week. All you want to do is make the playoffs and have the best team there. If all of your players have a bye week then you don’t have to think about your team that week: hooray! There is no need to pass up on someone who is better than another because of a bye week.

        Wait to draft a Kicker

  • The short explanation is this: Just wait until the last round. Period. Or not at all…
  • The long explanation is this. You will not draft a kicker in any round that will be so much better than a kicker you can get in the last round that justifies this move. All kickers are created equal in fantasy football.

        Draft a defense late as well

  • There are statistics to back this up. Similar to the kickers, the difference in defenses is not enough to warrant reaching out and grabbing one early. Very few times has a defense scored in the top 5 of fantasy defenses and repeated the same thing the next year.

Considering that you have read and given heed to the counsel so far, this is where you get to be creative. Pretty much every position has a player you can draft in the first round this year. If you look at the pre-rankings then you should consider about the top 12 guys having a chance to go in the top 10. You may think, that is not mathematically possible, and I say that you are too literal. Usually you don’t want to dip lower than the first 12 or 13 guys when you are in the later parts of the first round and you should be considering a top 5 guy at the beginning of the round. No matter what round it is, no matter what pick you have, you should always be drafting for value. There is little room for reaching for a player you like in the third round when you could get him in the 5th, 6th, or any later round. The farthest you should reach is a round unless you have personally talked to the player and he has told you that he has developed invincibility over the offseason.

No matter what round it is, no matter what pick you have, you should always be drafting for value.


A popular strategy, especially this year, is to either be the first to draft a quarterback or the last. Strategies change year by year for each position depending on how many good players are at a position. The quarterback position is unique this year because there are a few really really ridiculously good quarterbacks that are considered the “top tier” guys. They will get you crazy amounts of points, but then you sacrifice not getting great players at your other positions. The guy that would rather wait on a quarterback is assuming he can get a great running back or two while filling in the rest of his needs, and then there will still be good enough quarterbacks at the end to get a couple and see who does better. This same owner will most likely be looking week to week to see which quarterback is playing a bad defense. Either strategy can work.

I suggest going with who you like, but do it at the right time. Peyton Manning is a very smart pick anywhere in the draft, and if you like Tom Brady-I do feel sorry for you-but you can wait a while, stack up your other positions, and end up with a good quarterback as well; just not as good as Manning.

Running Backs:

For many years the strategy with running backs was to draft them early and often. Most years you would have wanted to draft two running backs with the first two picks. This strategy can still work well for you, but is starting to fade a bit as the NFL becomes more of a passing league. It is important to get a couple of running backs that start for their team and do a lot throughout the year because you need two of them (as opposed to the one quarterback), they make a lot of consistent points, and you have that FLEX position that you need to fill.

I suggest getting one star running back. A guy in the first round or two would suffice, but the ideal situation would be to get a top five guy and then fill the rest with value guys, or younger running backs that you may like later in the draft.

Wide Receiver:

These guys are generally a dime a dozen. Calvin Johnson is well worth a look in the later part of the first round, and then there is a small group of guys that do very well over the next couple of rounds. After that it is a crap shoot. There is not much history of strategy at this position that I have seen.

I suggest a strategy much like that of your running backs. Get an elite guy early, maybe even two. Receivers can score you big points, but you don’t have to go all out. The problem with not getting elite guys at the top is you have less of a chance at guessing who is going to have a great year. You need more receivers than anything so gathering great talent if it is there is ok. Plus, many owners in your league will have to deal with injuries and if you have an excess at the WR position, well…capitalism comes to play.

Tight End:

I have never been able to master the tight end position. I have always gone with the strategy of waiting until near the end of the draft and getting a guy that you hope turns out good. This position is a bit like QBs. There are only a few worth getting early, and after that just don’t worry about it. However, Tight ends are even more extreme than quarterbacks. Jimmy Graham is almost worth a late first round pick, and then you can wonder if Rob Gronkowski is going to be healthy. You could make a case for Vernon Davis, but after these guys, you can get better value at other positions before getting a couple of tight ends that will keep the position afloat. Imagine those three guys I named being an 8 out of 10 or above and the rest being 5s.

My suggestion: I would love to have Jimmy Graham but he always seems to go a bit too early for my taste. This year, I would go for him at most selections and I suggest doing the same. If you get him then you have a huge advantage at the tight end position. Don’t be afraid to grab him, but then you might want to start grabbing running backs and receivers like they are falling from the sky because those positions will be unfilled for you.


This is one position that you may be moving guys in and out of throughout the year. Back when dinosaurs roamed and just about every team had a worthwhile running back, it was a no brainer to plug a RB in here with two others starting at your RB spots. Again, it is different today. You can go with another tight end if one you like is sitting around and you already have Jimmy Graham, you can go with another receiver, or you can get a running back that you have some faith in. This spot does not have to be reserved for your worst of these positions. If you want to go all out and get four amazing receivers, then your FLEX may end up being better than your running backs.

My Suggestion is to not overload a position unless the draft feeds you great player after great player at the same position. Let’s say you get Adrian Peterson, and then in round two you have a shot at Demarco Murray, and suddenly you are in round three and for whatever reason Zac Stacy has fallen as well. You should feel very comfortable getting the best value pick and filling in your FLEX spot. In the real world you will probably not get so many great values falling to you and you should fill out your positions until you find a guy that fits well into the FLEX spot.


Your bench is like your extended FLEX position. If you can get value, keep getting it. Don’t draft seven running backs before you get a wide receiver, but do draft tons of running backs and receivers as you fill your roster. Your bench should feature young players that have a chance to breakout this year, perhaps even a rookie or two that you find out will be starting. If you did a waiting strategy for TEs and/or QBs then you will have one or two of them on the bench. If you get a great QB and another pretty good one just so happens to slip quite a ways and you want to grab him, go ahead. Injuries happen. Follow the kicker and defense rule even up to this point. Fill your bench with the best values you can find. You could grab a defense in your bench filling time, but not a kicker. In leagues that don’t require you to fill a position at the draft, you could even get another promising RB or WR instead of a kicker and then drop anyone who doesn’t pan out for your kicker when week one comes. You never know who is going to break out and have a great season and if everyone else is grabbing defenses and kickers, you have a better shot at the guys that could very well win you the whole dang thing.

My suggestion: draft for value

That sums up the draft. Don’t forget to make fun of people that make dumb picks, and bring a good poker face as to not give up who you may be drafting. If someone knows you are wanting a guy then they will jump the gun and you will miss out. Remember Monopoly: be cutthroat, demeaning, and downright lucky and you will look like a genius. Stay tuned for more advice as the season gets started so you know what to do with the beauty you just created.


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