The End Zone: Fantasy Football 101

So, you finally gave in to those incessant office e-mail chains and decided to play fantasy football. Congrats! Welcome! It is now socially acceptable for you to spend the next 13 weeks not moving from the couch on Sundays, so at the very least, there’s that. Oh, but you also don’t want to come in last place and have to deal with Darryl from Accounting’s smug face for the other 39 weeks of the year? Then we better start talking about what you need to know for your fantasy draft.

First of all, it’s fantasy football. Sure, you can spend the next few days obsessively reading everything on Football Outsiders, Rotoworld, and doing more math than you’ve done since high school calculating cross-positional values of different starters, but honestly, unless you’re in a hyper-competitive league (in which case, quit), you’re just wasting your time. Who you draft is important, absolutely, but how you draft will significantly increase your chances of taking home that tacky championship trophy and year-long bragging rights. (If you are in a league that doesn’t hand out tacky plastic trophies, again, quit.) And to know how to draft, you need to know a few basic things:

How does your draft work?

Chances are you’ll be doing a basic snake draft – the draft goes down the list of teams, and then snakes back up. Snake drafts are a crapshoot at best. It’s helpful to be either near the top or the bottom of the draft order, versus right in the middle, so that you can get two picks pretty close together each time you’re up to draft, but it’s so inconsequential, your team will be fine even if you end up right in the middle of the damn draft order like I do, every damn year. If you’re in an auction draft, things get a little more fun: you get to bid on players each round, and while it may be tempting to spend half of your fake money on Aaron Rodgers in the first round, you have another 15 or so rounds to go, so those parental lessons of “don’t spend your allowance all in one place” will finally start to pay off.

How does scoring work in your league?

If you don’t know how scoring works, you won’t know how to draft. It’s that simple. While you don’t have to get involved in the intricacies of every way to score or lose a point, it’s helpful to know who has the most value in your league out of quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers. As a general rule, you want to draft running backs first: you get points for both rushing yards, and when they score, and they’re usually the most valuable players in most leagues. (The addendum to this is if you are in a Points Per Reception, or PPR, league, in which receivers who catch are rewarded for each reception – in which case, you’ll want to rank wide receivers and tight ends with equal value, if not more, to your running backs.)

As for quarterbacks, do your quarterbacks get very few points for passing yards (generally, 3, 4, or 6 points per passing touchdown)? If it’s on the lower end, you want a quarterback who runs more often than he passes – a Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers, or a Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks. If it’s on the higher end, you’ll want a quarterback who takes to the air more often, like Peyton Manning on the Denver Broncos, or Drew Brees on the New Orleans Saints.

Do positions matter?

More than you know — and I’m not just talking about football, but that’s neither here nor there. Now that you know the basic value of players in your league, let’s talk about how you draft. Just because you’re taking a running back first, doesn’t mean you want to carbo load on a bunch of running backs in each round. Spread out the wealth a bit, and mix up who you take in each round. Got a couple RBs already? Move on to your QBs. Took Aaron Rodgers in the first, even though I already told you not to? Start looking at those WRs. It’s pretty easy to spread it around – and if all else fails, just pay attention to which positions are being drafted by people slightly in the know, and behave accordingly. Don’t take a kicker or a defense before you take bench players, no matter how good the Rams defensive line looks this year (and the answer to that is real good, you should draft them if you can), and for the love of god, do not autodraft. Even if you know nothing about fantasy football, autodrafting is for wimps, and may your team be cursed with the W-L record of the Houston Texans if you do. (It was 2-14. Really not great.)

Pay attention to bye weeks.

You’re basically a pro now — you’re welcome! — but before you go frolicking off to pick players willy nilly, pay attention to the bye weeks of the players you’re drafting – especially if you’re in a larger league, and thus have fewer available players to pick up from free agency. The last thing you want is a season resembling my injury-plagued 2012, where five of my 10 starters all weren’t playing on the same weekend. This is another place where your bench players come in handy – not only are they useful when one of your starters gets injured (and one will get injured, it’s just a fact of NFL like and the fantasy football gods), but they’re good to slot in on the occasional bye week. But having to sub in almost your whole bench because you forgot to check that half your starters were on a bye in week four? That’s a rookie move, my friend.

Who should you draft this year?

I can’t give you advice on exactly who to draft (though if you have an early pick, LeSean McCoy and Adrian Peterson are great running backs to start with, who will give you lots of points), but I will suggest that you don’t adhere entirely to the top 300 rankings, and solely pick the highest ranked player available at the time. If you’re drafting in ESPN or Yahoo Fantasy, you can see little notecards next to each player that will give you a few basic insights – they’re a little silly, but in a pinch, are a good barometer. I like to go with a mix of gut, and slightly underrated players, because the season is long, and slow and steady does often win the race.

As tempting as it is, don’t draft a bunch of players from the same team (see again: bye week hell), and for god’s sake, definitely don’t draft a bunch of players from your favorite team, unless you want to end up hating your favorite team for reasons that have little to do with their actual gameplay, and a lot to do with the fact that your idiot league commissioner made touchdowns only worth three points. Good players are important early on, but when you get into your bench spots, have a little fun. It’s always fun to take someone completely random, just to mess with people in your league, especially if you pair it with an air of complete superiority, as if you knew exactly what you were doing. Mind games win championships. (Sometimes.)

That’s really about it! If you start there, you’re guaranteed to have a draft that won’t leave you embarrassed, and a team that’s solid week to week. All that’s left is to work on your trash talk, because the best part of Fantasy is crapping all over everyone else in your league. Look out, Darryl.

The End Zone, The Frisky’s new weekly football column by Beejoli Shah, is sponsored by Smirnoff Ice. Smirnoff Ice is not a sponsor of the NFL.