Fantasy Football 2013: The Complete Newbie's Guide to the Game

Alessandro Miglio@@AlexMiglioFeatured ColumnistAugust 19, 2013

Fantasy Football 2013: The Complete Newbie's Guide to the Game

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    So you finally decided to get into fantasy football, eh? Welcome to that wonderful realm, where you will experience euphoria in victory and rage in defeat. You might also experience cold sweats, nausea and manic depression.

    You need a primer. Beyond this slide, you will find the basics of fantasy football. Consider it a codex to unlock success on the fake gridiron.


    What is Fantasy Football, Exactly?

    Piling Up the points

    The Draft

    Setting Lineups



    Information Overload

    Tips for a Successful Season

What Is Fantasy Football, Anyway?

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    What exactly does "fantasy" mean when it comes to fantasy football? Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum it up.

    Like anything labeled "fantasy," there is a basis on reality in fantasy football. As you may or may not know, there is a professional football league called the NFL. Fantasy football largely stems from there, unless you live outside North America where soccer is encroaching on the "fantasy football" name.

    Of course, fantasy football can be associated with any football league—there are such games for the CFL, AFL and even NCAA, if those tickle your fancy—but for our purposes here, we will go with the popular choice: NFL.

    Hopefully, you know a thing or two about the real game before you dive into fantasy football. The word "touchdown" rings a bell, yes? If not, you might want to take a remedial course before continuing.  

Piling Up the Points

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    Players earn fantasy points based on the statistics they pile up in real life. But like a double-rainbow, what does this mean? 

    Given the litany of statistics littered throughout the NFL, the possibilities are endless. Luckily, there is a method to all the madness.

    Thankfully fantasy football has, for the most part, standardized scoring systems. There are some variations, of course, but there are generally two flavors to your typical fantasy league: standard and points-per-reception (PPR) scoring. 

    The difference is a simple one—you just add one point per reception to standard scoring—but it dramatically changes the dynamic of the league. Here is an overview of typical scoring settings in standard leagues:

    PassingRushing and Receiving 
    1 YardTDINTRec. (PPR)1 YardTDFumble
    0.04 point4-110.16-2

    Basically, quarterbacks get one point for every 25 yards passing, four points for a passing touchdown and a negative point for an interception. Both rushers and receivers get a 10th of a point per rushing or receiving yard and six points per touchdown.

    Then there are kickers and team defenses, which are an unnecessary evil in fantasy leagues. The positions persist despite the random nature of their scoring, however, and thus they must be accounted for.

    Kickers are pretty basic—you get three points per field goal. Some leagues give you more points for longer field goals or negative points for misses.

    Team defenses are a bit more varied when it comes to scoring. Typically, your defense will start off with 10 points or so, the amount they are awarded for a shutout—the game is tied at zero to start, right? Points will be deducted as the defense allows more points, but the defense will gain points for things like sacks, interceptions and return touchdowns.

    Some leagues award points for return yardage on special teams as well.

    If you're bored reading about kickers and defenses, good—the positions should be abolished from fantasy football. (Note: That is a personal preference, not necessarily the opinion of Bleacher Report. But it should be.)

The Draft

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    You've got the gist of it. Now to organize a team for fantasy activities.

    All fantasy football teams are put together by some sort of fantasy draft. Ever play one of the Madden video games or watch the NFL draft? That is, once again, the basis on reality for which fantasy drafts exist. For the uninitiated, there are "rounds" within which each team gets one draft pick, to start. In a typical fantasy league, there is no trading within the draft.

    Traditionally, fantasy drafts are conducted in "snake" fashion. What that means is—contrary to the NFL draft, where the draft order resets at the beginning of each new round—the draft order is reversed at the beginning of each round. 

    If you have the first pick in the draft, that means you will have the last pick in the second round.

    You will use the draft to fill your roster. Each team gets a certain number of roster spots—usually nine or 10 starters and a bench of varying size. You will want to draft backup running backs and receivers for sure. Drafting backups at quarterback and tight end depends on preference—you can get by without backups at those positions because there are so many readily available on the waiver wire (see: Waivers slide).

    Do not draft a backup kicker or defense unless you have an incredibly deep bench (i.e. 10-plus spots).

    Every major league-hosting site will have draft tools for you to peruse. There, you will be able to see things like the latest news, analysis from the site's experts and the latest draft trends on those sites.

    The other major draft style takes on an auction format where your league bids on players until every team is filled. This kind of draft takes a bit of getting used to, but it eliminates the luck factor present in traditional snake drafts.

    How? Well, because you aren't limited by the luck of the draw in your draft position. If you wind up with the last pick in the first round by random drawing, you have zero chance of landing the top player in the draft.

    In auction drafts, you can spend all the money you want on that top player to ensure you get him.

    Well, that's not entirely true—you, and every other owner, are limited by a draft budget. You typically get $200 to spend filling your roster. For a bigger primer on fantasy auctions, go here

Setting Lineups

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    Once you have your team together, it's time to pick a starting lineup. 

    You will have to look at your league settings to see what positions you must start, but typically, it involves at least one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers, one tight end, one kicker and one defense. Depending on your league, you will add either a wide receiver or what's known as a "flex" option to that as well.

    A "flex" spot means you can start one of multiple positions in that spot.

    The No. 1 thing to remember when setting your lineup is this: Always start your studs. Generally speaking, that means always start the guys you drafted with your first few picks—barring injury, of course.

    There is no reason to sweat starting Adrian Peterson over Reggie Bush in Week 5 because someone told you the Vikings are playing a tough defense. Why would you even consider playing Carson Palmer over Peyton Manning? Do you understand the words that are coming out of my keyboard?

    Beyond that, however, there is plenty to consider.

    The biggest concern you will have from week to week is if players aren't playing, whether it's because of an injury or a bye. Generally, you won't have to worry about that during the first few weeks of the season, but injuries can strike at any time.

    Worried about who to start among your less studly players? You can always look at weekly rankings on a site like Fantasy Pros. Your host site usually will also have opinions on players on a weekly basis.


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    Injuries happen. So do bye weeks and terrible players. Outside cursing your bad luck, there's no need to kick yourself if you are in a bad spot because of these fantasy realities. Suck it up and get on the waiver wire.

    What is the waiver wire, you ask? It's a magical land within the fantasy-football realm from which you can add new players to your roster. This land is from whence guys like Michael Vick and Russell Wilson came in 2010 and 2012, respectively, season-saving additions for teams that dared pick them up.

    Essentially, the waiver wire is populated by players who are homeless in the fantasy world. Each week, these players will be available to you on the wire, where you can submit a claim. You will likely have to drop one of your current players unless you are purposely playing one man short to claim a player on the wire.

    The waiver wire is one of the more diverse league settings across fantasy football—there are a variety of ways to set up the waiver process. Most leagues have a traditional setup, though.

    Normally, you will have to submit claims on players by Wednesday or Thursday of each week. Teams are awarded their claims based on a waiver priority—a number initially assigned to each team based on draft order. In other words, the team with the first pick in the draft will start with the lowest waiver priority.

    Once you are awarded a player, your waiver priority goes to the back of the line, so to speak.

    After the waiver period is over, it's a free-for-all—players become "free agents" able to "sign" with any team. If you really want a player, you don't want to let him go to free agency.


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    Ah, trades, those tricky transactions that can make or break your season and cause marital distress in those cases where spouses and significant others play together.

    A trade in fantasy football is quite simple; you swap players with another fantasy owner. There can be any number of players on either side of the trade, but bear in mind you will have to drop excess players if you are taking on more than you are giving up.

    Trade negotiations are simply offers, counteroffers and angry rejections from offended owners. They can be utilized to your advantage if you have a hole on your roster that the waiver-wire talent isn't capable of filling. If you can swing it, you can upgrade at a position if another owner needs to plug some holes in their lineup and you have something they lack that you can afford to cut loose.

    The fantasy trading floor can be a dark, dangerous place, though. Owners will be cutthroat. They might think they can take advantage of you for being new. If you don't like a trade, don't be bullied or sweet-talked into accepting.

Information Overload

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    Once you dive into the fantasy-football universe, it might be easy to feel overwhelmed. It's a nuanced game fraught with pitfalls and surrounded by an ever-increasing buzz of advice.

    The phrase "paralysis by analysis" is apropos here.

    You will want to listen to the experts, to be sure. But who to choose? Outside the fine minds here at Bleacher Report, of course.

    There are the aforementioned fantasy experts on the site that hosts your fantasy league. That's a good place to start. But one of the best resources in fantasy football today comes in the form of Twitter, where you can tailor your experience. No two fantasy analysts are the same.

    Create your own constellation of fantasy advice with social media.

    Beyond that, there is a veritable cornucopia of fantasy sites from whence to quench your thirst. From Football Guys to PFF Fantasy, The Huddle to Football Diehards, there is just a wealth of knowledge and opinion out there. A lot of the more advanced stuff requires a subscription, so be warned—it's worth it if you want to take that plunge.

    You can't possibly take it all in, or you will drive yourself mad. Choose whom you like to follow, and don't overthink things.

Tips for a Successful Season

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    Always Be Closing

    You want to win? Draft with your mind, not your heart.

    That doesn't mean you should take all the fun out of it, but don't be a "homer." There are owners who avoid players on rival teams—don't be that guy or gal.

    Practice, Practice, Practice

    This takes on an even greater meaning if you have never participated in a draft, but the best way to prepare for a draft is to participate in mock drafts. A lot of mock drafts.

    The more you mock, the better you are able to anticipate what your opponents might do. You will also develop a thicker skin as you build up those callouses in your mind.

    Draft Running Backs Early and Often

    The starting requirements at running back, coupled with a relative scarcity at the position, mean you should aim to fill those roster spots early. This advice rings truer as league size grows—in 12-team leagues, running backs dry up quickly.

    Wait at Quarterback

    This has been a popular mantra among the fantasy-analyst community, but there is no reason to draft a quarterback early in your fantasy draft. Unless you're playing in a less common "superflex" or two-quarterback league—where you start multiple quarterbacks—you can wait until the sixth and seventh rounds and still find a top-12 option.

    Let the other owners overpay for a quarterback while you stockpile talent at other positions.

    Jimmy Graham and Everyone Else

    The tight-end position is one big, muddled mess. That is, of course, unless you are talking about Jimmy Graham.

    The New Orleans stud has somehow gotten through the treacherous preseason unscathed, and he sits alone atop mount tight end. He is the only tight end worth taking early—even in the late first round in PPR formats. Anyone else is a dime a dozen.

    Draft Kickers and Defenses Last

    This cannot be stressed enough, even if you've heard it before. Kickers and defenses provide the most random fantasy scoring, so there is little value in taking them before the last couple of rounds in your draft. It might be tempting, especially when a fellow co-owner inevitably drafts the 49ers in the ninth round, but don't do it.