The X's and O's of Fantasy Football: A Beginner's Guide For 2010

John ZaktanskyCorrespondent IAugust 16, 2010

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 07:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts looks to pass against the New Orleans Saints during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Once upon a time, a young person’s place in the grand scheme of things wasn’t determined by the number of Silly Bandz owned or how many friends he/she had on Facebook.

Hard to imagine, I know.

The key to success at one point had more to do with sports cards. Collecting baseball cards and football cards actually meant something back then. It wasn’t a matter of how many you owned, but which cards were in your possession and which players you could call your own.

For me, the prized possessions included a 1988 Topps Bo Jackson rookie card and a 1989 Donruss Ken Griffey Jr. rated rookie.

I would line football cards up along my bedroom carpet in various formations and slide them around to represent plays. It didn’t matter which team a player was on or what year was printed on the card. I had Warren Moon handing off to Barry Sanders, who would juke around an interior blitz from William “The Refrigerator” Perry, before finally getting tripped up by Lawrence Taylor.

Football cards sparked my imagination. I was equal parts Bill Walsh, Mike Ditka, and Vince Lombardi, designing plays and calling the shots.

Two-plus decades and some advanced technology later, we have online fantasy football. No more rug burn for my valuable sports cards. No need to meticulously scan through the Monday morning newspaper while calculating stats like the sport’s founding fathers.

Just like collecting sports cards, fantasy football allows you to “own” your own group of NFL talents. It puts you in the place of owner, coach and fan—all at the same time.

Plus, playing fantasy football gives you a reason to watch highlights from fringe teams and players that you normally would overlook. Fantasy football helps you become a better real-life football fan.

The Basics

Fantasy football, in a nutshell, is where you compete against a league of friends, families, co-workers, and/or total strangers by selecting a group of NFL players to be on your team. Each week of the NFL season, those players score points for you based on their real-life, on-the-field statistics.

For example, if Donovan McNabb throws a 25-yard touchdown, in many traditional scoring formats, he’d net you seven fantasy points (six for a touchdown and one for each 25 yards of passing).

Each of your running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, quarterbacks, etc., score points in similar ways. At the end of the weekend, if your team has more points than your fantasy league opponent for that week, you win the matchup and move up in the league’s standings.

Throughout the season, you manage your team by making trades with other squads in your fantasy league, selecting players from the free agent pool or off waivers, and deciding who to start and sit each weekend.

Types of Leagues

A fantasy football league includes a group of people using the same NFL player pool during the season. The number of owners in a fantasy league varies, but typically includes 10 to 12 people.

These leagues can vary in format, but typically fall into one of the following three categories:

Redraft leagues are those where, each year, you choose all your players from scratch. Every active NFL player is available in the player pool, and you select them knowing that you’re only looking at their projected performances for the next season. After that, you’ll start all over again with a different batch of players.

Owners in dynasty leagues keep all their players from year to year, drafting only rookies and unowned veterans each summer heading into the season.

Keeper leagues are a meshing of both dynasty and redraft mentalities. Each season, you keep a certain number of your players (typically three or four) and the rest become available in the drafting pool.

Types of Drafts

Each league has a draft day and time where owners get together, either in person or online, to select their NFL players. In-person drafts can be as extravagant or simple as you’d like.

Usually, getting together with friends and family for a fantasy draft each summer is a highlight for many, and can include barbecues, picnics, sports and other social fun.

Serpentine (or snake) drafts are the most common. Owners are ordered randomly from one to 12 (or to however many number of people are playing). Each manager then selects a player based on that order for the first round, and then the inverse order in the second round, and so on. Each time you are up, you choose a player for your team until all the starting roster spots and bench positions are filled.

In auction drafts, owners are all given a set salary cap (typically $200 to $300 of imaginary or play money). Everyone then starts bidding on players, with each NFL player going to the highest bidder. You keep drafting in this fashion until your roster spots are filled, or you run out of money.

Managing the Roster

Once you have a team (typically at least one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker and a defensive team, along with a set number of bench spots), the real fun begins.

Each week, you select your starters and face off against another owner in the league. Smack talk and friendly jabs help spike the competitiveness of the matchup.

Scoring systems can vary widely from league to league, so be sure to check this closely before committing to certain starters. Standard leagues allow six points for touchdowns, one point each for 10 yards rushing, 10 yards receiving, 25 yards passing, minus-2 points for an interception or fumble, three to five points for field goals depending on distance kicked, various points for defensive touchdowns, interceptions, fumble recoveries, points allowed, etc.

Players that weren’t drafted will wind up on waivers or free agency—meaning they are available to anyone who wants to try to claim them throughout the season. Carefully watching available players and noticing any upward trend in stats can be a great way to add needed support for your team.

Trading is another way to improve a squad during the season. Each league may vary in trade settings, but typically you can deal anyone on your roster, or a group of players, to another team for their players.

Both sides needs to agree to the trade before it goes to the league for approval. If there is any sign of collusion (cheating where one owner knowingly gives up more talent than they receive in an effort to help another squad), trades should be, and typically are, voided.

For more info

Many people purchase a fantasy magazine from local newsstands to help them better gauge player values and overall fantasy football strategies. However, be aware that many of these magazines are already out of date in terms of player news.

The best source of information and assistance is online at websites that offer up-to-the minute updates and advice. Some sites charge a fee for their services, others don’t.

At, we offer a variety of writers sharing their opinions on players, strategies, and trade options. You can communicate directly with the writers for their input on your specific team.

Another forum-based free fantasy football site is It has a variety of categories and places to receive and give input. In-depth player updates can be found for free at, along with some league strategy and trade suggestion posts.

Fantasy football is a great way to meet new people, keep in touch with friends and family, and follow your favorite players, teams, and sport. It is definitely something every football fan should try at least once in his/her life.

For more on this topic, go to the original post.

To check out our growing list of rankings, sleepers, busts and predictions for the 2010 season, go here.

For all your hard-hitting fantasy football advice, go to


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