So, you want to play fantasy football? The latest studies estimate there are close to 60 million people who play fantasy football each season, a number that is likely to grow. There is a reason so many people are joining friends and co-workers in becoming a pretend general manager. Simply put, it is a lot of fun.
Keep this in mind as you are preparing to play: fantasy football should be fun. As you read different articles, it can be stressful deciding what do in your fantasy draft. There are dozens of different strategies, and everyone believes their strategy is the best. The truth is there are a lot of different ways to field a winning fantasy team. Find what works for you, and this will help make the experience more enjoyable.
Here is a breakdown of everything you need to know to play fantasy football
What Is Fantasy Football?
Let’s start with the basics. Fantasy football at its core is people selecting players to form their own (fantasy) football team that competes with other teams in the league. The two most popular ways to select a team are an auction, where you bid on players, or an actual draft where you are assigned a pick each round to select your team.
Your team then competes with your league mates each week. Most fantasy football leagues use a head-to-head format, which means you get a win if you score more points than your opponents, or a loss if you score less points (just like real football). You only need to do better than your opponent on any given week. There are also a small number of leagues that go by total fantasy football points scored for the entire season. I recommend finding a league with a head-to-head format as it gives you a much more engaging experience on a week-to-week basis.
Scoring is where things get more complicated. Most leagues use some combination of yardage and touchdowns to score points. PPR leagues are becoming more and more popular. In PPR leagues, players are given one point (unless otherwise stated) for each reception in addition to the yardage gained.
Standard scoring is the moniker given to standard leagues who only use touchdowns and yards to score points. You will want to note the scoring format once you join a league. It could slightly alter the way you approach your fantasy drafts.
Finding a League
My strong recommendation is to play in a league with friends. Playing with people you know will cause you to want to dive deeper into learning about fantasy football, and make the overall experience more enjoyable. Nothing is better than texting back-and-forth with your friend you are playing against on Sunday as big plays happen.
Chances are you know a friend or someone at work who plays fantasy football. Start by asking the people you know if they are aware of any league openings. Don’t be afraid to start your own league if you are unable to find any existing openings. There are dozens of sites where you can host a league for free including ESPN, Yahoo, CBS Sports and NFL.com.
Sometimes, it is not always possible to do a league with people you know. Whether you moved to a new city or your friends are not interested in sports, there are plenty of ways for you to join leagues. One of the great things about the internet is it has made fantasy football more accessible.
There are all kinds of different leagues. From your most basic to different themed leagues like Star Wars or Game of Thrones. Reddit has a page devoted to those looking to fill leagues ranging from your most basic to highly competitive leagues.
Sites like ESPN, NFL.com and a host of others have free leagues drafting every few minutes. When you sign up, click the option of joining a public league which will not require a password. If you are looking to play for money, My Fantasy League does a great job of organizing a range of different leagues.
What to Do in a Fantasy Draft
Now that you have found the perfect league to fit your needs, the next thing on the agenda is drafting your team. Draft day is the best day of the year as you get to unwrap new presents like really fast wide receivers and running backs. If it is your first fantasy draft, it can sound overwhelming, but remember the goal of fantasy football is to have fun.
Read a few articles to prepare yourself, find your favorite beverage and settle in for your draft. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the draft software your league will use. If it is on a major site like ESPN, you can do a mock draft which will show the exact layout on your computer (or phone) that you will see during your actual draft.
Mock drafts are just practice drafts, and you do not keep your team. In addition to familiarizing yourself with the software, it helps you know the range players are being drafted.
Make sure to check your league rules and lineup requirements. If the league you joined happens to be one where you start two quarterbacks, quarterbacks become much more valuable come draft day.
Keep in mind the rankings on the particular site you are using will greatly influence the draft results. People tend to follow the rankings that are showing up on their screen when they are drafting. Using rankings from a different source can help you find good values.
Heavy will have you covered with updated rankings, and Fantasy Pros has a list of consensus rankings which averages the rankings for top sites. Feel free to also come up with your own rankings to use.
The only rule I will give you is to avoid drafting a kicker or defense until the later rounds. Drafting a defense in the fourth round of your draft is a dead giveaway that this is your first time playing fantasy football. We want your league mates to respect your fantasy prowess from the start.
Setting Your Fantasy Football Lineup
The dirty secret no one tells you when you sign up for fantasy football is the majority of leagues are won after the draft. You want to make sure to set your lineup by Thursday of each week to account for the Thursday Night Football games.
The best thing you can do is set your lineup early in the week then come back to it on both Thursday and Sunday to check for injuries. Sometimes a player is scratched at the last minute, and you want to avoid getting a zero at that position. Rotoworld will be your friend during the season to help you keep up with injuries and a player’s potential usage in the upcoming game.
When setting your lineup each week, ask yourself a simple question, “What is most likely to happen?” Could the backup Lions quarterback score more fantasy points than Aaron Rodgers? Sure, but it is unlikely to happen. You want the odds to be in your favor. There will be surprises, and you will make the wrong decision at times.
More times than not, starting your best players is the smart move. One quick note, the players we think are going to be the best at the beginning of the season do not always turn out that way. As you get more comfortable in fantasy, you might decide to start a breakout player over the projected “stud” running back who is having a bad season.
There are no shortage of rankings available to make your weekly lineup decisions. Your league site also likely shows the projected points of each player to help fantasy owners make decisions on who to start. Those who have been playing fantasy for a while will sometimes go away from those projections in their start/sit decisions, but it is okay to use the projections when you are starting out.
What Is a Waiver Wire
The best advice I can give you has nothing to do with your draft, it is playing the waiver wire each week. The waiver wire is where players who were not drafted sit as available players. There are different formats for how waivers are conducted. Some leagues have an order based on team records. Others use FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget) dollars where players are awarded to the highest bidder.
It will take some time get acclimated to how your league works, but many leagues are won based on a couple key in-season pickups. Injuries are an unfortunate part of football, but it leads to new players emerging who no one would have thought to draft. Fantasy owners can overcome a poor draft by making smart waiver wire moves.
Now, Go Win a Fantasy Championship
You have read our beginner’s guide to fantasy football and are armed with all the info you need to become an expert fantasy football player. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @JonDAdams with fantasy football questions or leave a question here in the comments section. Happy drafting.