Is this your first fantasy football rodeo? Are you strapping yourself onto a high-octane bull, having never ridden a merry-go-round? Well, I am here to help!
The first thing you need to know is that, no matter how much the other drafters pretend they know, they don't really know. You can go against seasoned fantasy football veterans and wipe the table with them, with very little effort. I'm not saying this game is all luck, but there are only 14 matchups before the playoffs. A lot of players are flying around and knocking each other out. So remember, you are in this game, even if you are a rookie.
So you are in a league. Woohooo! Now check out the scoring and settings. This is the most important thing you can possibly do. Yes, Aaron Rodgers is good but, if the scoring shows that quarterbacks get negative four points for each touchdown pass, well, you'll want to draft Kevin Kolb.
For the most part, standard leagues will have 12 teams, one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, a flex player where you can choose between a running back and a wide receiver, a kicker and one defense/special teams.
For scoring, you'll see something like this:
Touchdown Pass = 4 points
Interceptions Thrown = -2 points
Every 25 passing yards = 1 point
Touchdown Rush = 6 points
Every 10 rushing yards = 1 point
Touchdown Reception = 6 points
Every 10 receiving yards = 1 point
Each Fumble Lost = -2 points
These settings are the norm, so if you see something wildly different than this, you'll know that more research is needed.
Here are some quick tips for more specialized leagues.
Two Quarterback Leagues
These leagues are becoming much more popular, so you may run into them. With one quarterback leagues, the fact that only 12 starting quarterbacks are needed means that you can wait on them, or at least wait until you are out of the first round.
But, in two quarterback leagues, there is no waiting. You need to jump on the studs as soon as possible. Quarterbacks have the highest scoring potential out of any position and, when you expand that player pool, you don't want that 24th starter.
Two Tight End Leagues
Tight ends are becoming more specialized pass catchers and are putting up bigger numbers than ever before, which is making it easier to find 24 fantasy startable tight ends. Just like in two quarterback leagues, you'll want to go after them early. Yes, there are more to choose from than in the past, but you still don't want to be throwing a dud out there as your No. 2 tight end.
I do believe there is more "sleeper" potential in tight ends than there is in quarterbacks, so waiting a few rounds until you grab your second guy isn't the end of the world. But don't get scooped on your sleepers, either. I would be happy with players like Jared Cook, Coby Fleener, Kyle Rudolph and Greg Olsen as my number two picks.
PPR leagues are almost the norm for most people who have been playing fantasy sports for a while. You will see either .5 or one point given for every reception a running back, wide receiver or tight end makes.
These extra points really help out running backs like Darren Sproles, Ray Rice, Matt Forte, Arian Foster and any running back who stays in the game on passing downs. Players like Michael Turner, Beanie Wells, Mark Ingram and LaGarrette Blount, who often leave on third downs, lose a lot of value in PPR leagues.
Of course, the receivers and tight ends also split in value. Wes Welker and Roddy White are the kings of PPR, while players like Vincent Jackson and Greg Jennings lose some value because they catch less passes, but for more yards.
Six Points Per Passing TD Leagues
As you can see, the standard leagues usually call for four points per passing touchdown. The extra two points can help widen the gap between the elite and the not so elite. But, even with the extra points, it does not boost quarterbacks up like two quarterback leagues. Your league still will only start 12 quarterbacks, so don't go crazy. The value will still be in running backs.
The biggest concern with these types of leagues are running quarterbacks. Players like Cam Newton and Michael Vick lose some value here. In standard leagues they have a leg up, so to speak, on the other quarterbacks, because rushing touchdowns are worth six points compared to four points for passing touchdowns. The extra two points is not a huge difference, but enough to knock rushing quarterbacks who don't throw for as many touchdowns down a notch.
Return Yardage Leagues
These are a bit more rare but are out there, so make sure you check. Players who start on offense and also return kicks and punts get a boost in value here. And, if you couple that with a points-per-reception league, you might as well give the title to the owner of Darren Sproles.
Ten Or 14 Team Leagues
For the most part, these leagues will play out the same as 12 team leagues, but with one exception: quarterbacks. In 10 team leagues, you will have a much larger pool of quarterbacks to choose from. Right now, Peyton Manning is going off the board as the 10th quarterback. That's not too bad a consolation prize if you wait on quarterback.
But, in 14 team leagues, the opposite is true. Starting quarterbacks are a much hotter commodity and you don't want to get stuck with the dregs. Right now, Robert Griffin III is going off as the 13th quarterback in drafts and, even though I love his upsides, I'd much rather he was my backup than my starter.
Okay, so you've figured out what you're getting yourself into. Now you just need to figure out who you're going to draft.
Draft A Whole Bunch Of Bench Running Backs
Good second and third tier wide receivers are much easier to predict than running backs. They often stay healthier than running backs because running backs touch the ball more, which means they get hit much more often. Productive waiver wire receivers are easier to find than running backs.
The right late-round running back is like having a fantasy football golden ticket, but without that crazy chocolate river boat ride.
Would you rather have Isaiah Pead or Michael Crabtree as a bench player? Both are going in the 11th round.
Say Steven Jackson and Randy Moss are injured on the same day and Pead and Crabtree are on the waiver wire. Who do you put your claim on? That was rhetorical. Grab your starting receivers, then stock up on bench running backs.
Reach For Players You Want
I learned this the hard way last season. I, like a lot of people, was pretty high on Matthew Stafford, but I always seemed to just miss out on him in my drafts. Don’t play it safe. Don’t worry about league mates deriding you for "reaching." Pick the guy you want.
Draft A Backup Quarterback
Quarterbacks are easily injured. It happens. I’m not usually a proponent of drafting backups with a high pick, but if you end up waiting on a quarterback like Matt Ryan or Peyton Manning, then it’s a good idea to grab another high upside backup like Robert Griffin III or Jay Cutler. This gives you a little breathing room at quarterback and you don’t have to spend a high pick on one.
Don’t Draft According To Bye Weeks
Byes are always the easiest thing to forget while you are in the middle of the draft, and that’s not the end of the world. Football hasn’t quite caught up with baseball, so we are stuck with head-to-head leagues. You do need to win as many weeks as possible, but if the value is there, draft the best guys and sort the rest out later.
No, not All Day Peterson. But, if you do know him, that’s pretty cool.
I’m talking about Average Draft Position. You may have the inside scoop that Kenny Britt will be suspended for a decade and you are going to jump on Kendall Wright, but when? Make sure you check out ADP, and especially the ADP from the site you are using if that’s possible. Right now Wright is going in the 11th round. If you want him you can still reach for him, but in the ninth, not the seventh.
Use A Cheat Sheet
This can be one you’ve made or one from a site or expert you like, but be prepared. There’s nothing more annoying than having that draft clock ticking down and you have absolutely no idea who to pick. I made up this Non-PPR Tier Sheet that I use for myself and keep updated. You can use it if you want. I don't mind.
Don’t Draft A Defense or Kicker Until the Last Two Rounds:
This is really a no-brainer, but there are always those managers who reach for defense and sometimes even kickers. Fantasy defenses and kickers change so much from year to year that wasting a pick, even a round or two earlier, is a for real waste!
I sometimes don’t even take a kicker and sometimes even a defense, especially if the draft is before or during preseason games. If you can take a late-round flier on a player who could win a position battle and be worth more than someone you picked earlier, you can be ahead of your league mates. Picking up a new kicker and defense each week is entirely feasible.
Mock Draft As Much As You Can
Many of your run-of-the-mill fantasy leagues have very few bench spots because people have to mow their lawn or take the dog out to poop, and it is often difficult to make up for bad draft picks with late upside bench players. So, you need to feel comfortable drafting from different positions.
There are tons of places to find mock drafts, but don’t waste your time on mocks that don’t fill with real people. We play fake football, but not with fake people.
Don’t Buy A Fantasy Football Magazine
Yes, they have glossy pictures and your plane was delayed and you don’t want to read about the election, but really, fantasy football magazines are out of date before they are printed. The internet is instantaneous.
If you have done enough research, you should have a good idea of the players you want, so don’t be too rigid and don’t follow some dumb rules someone puts on the internet. I mean, really. The more you know, the easier it is to be flexible.