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Newbie’s Guide to Fantasy Football, Part I

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Everyone who has played in a fantasy football league has been there, and I mean literally every single person. Matthew Berry, Evan Silva, and all the other titans of the landscape have been there:

Their first fantasy football league.

These days, fantasy football leagues are used as ways to keep high school or college friends together, build office camaraderie or even bring families closer together. What happens if you’re invited to join a league? How can you avoid being the sucker that funnels all his talent to the other teams? If you’ve never played fantasy football before, or you fear you’re the league sucker, then this three-part guide is for you. The guide is divided into three parts: pre-draft preparations, including league settings, the draft itself and in-season management. If you’re looking for sleepers or a list of players to draft, this isn’t the article series for you. If you’re looking to gain tools to succeed yearly, then read on…

AKA “Figuring Out Who to Draft and When”

League Settings:
The first thing you will want to know about is your league settings. Basic settings are one point per every ten yards gained rushing or receiving, one point for every 25 yards passing, four points for passing touchdowns and six points for receiving and rushing touchdowns. Turnovers (fumbles lost and interceptions) dock your player two points.  There are variants of this, but this is the basic scoring settings. Defense and Kickers have completely different settings, but as you’ll learn, you don’t have to worry too much about them in the pre-draft process.

Let’s translate a couple of stat-lines from the Super Bowl into fantasy points:

Cam Newton:
265 yards passing, 1 interception, 2 fumbles lost, 45 yards rushing
265 yards passing / 25                    10.6 fantasy points
3 turnovers x -2                                 -6.0 fantasy points
45 yards rushing / 10                         4.5 fantasy points
Total Fantasy Points                          9.1 fantasy points

 C.J. Anderson
90 yards rushing, 1 touchdown, 4 catches, 10 yards receiving
90 yards rushing / 10                        9.0 fantasy points
1 touchdown                                       6.0 fantasy points
10 yards receiving / 10                     1.0 fantasy points
Total Fantasy Points                        16.0 fantasy points

A couple of takeaways from these two stat-lines, you can see how Cam Newton not passing or rushing for any touchdowns greatly hurts his score. You can also see how the three turnovers also greatly hurt him. On the flip side, C.J. Anderson’s touchdown gave him six of his sixteen fantasy points, or just under 40% of his scoring. The league settings are very important to your player selections. There are a couple of “standard” variants, including six-point per passing touchdown leagues and point-per reception (PPR) leagues. Since Newton did not score a touchdown, his six-point per passing touchdown leagues score would not change, but C.J. Anderson’s score would have gone up to 20 points, with the four additional catches.

Some leagues do not have decimal scoring, but if you’re playing with friends, push for it. Whole-point scoring leagues end up with ties, and nobody wants that.

The rosters in most leagues follow one of a couple formats, but you will usually start a quarterback (QB), two running backs (RB), two or three wide receivers (WR), a tight end (TE), one or zero flex players (where you can start one of any RB/WR/TE on your roster), a kicker (K) and a team Defense/Special Teams (D/ST). The bulk of your roster spots will go to quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs and tight ends. Your weekly goal is to score more points than your opponent based on the scoring above.

There are two types of draft: snake and auction. Snake is traditional drafting, where the teams select players in order, reversing the order every other round. In a ten team league, for example, the #1 team will pick, and everyone will pick in order until the #10 team picks. In the next round, #10 picks first and the continue to #1. The zig-zag pattern looks vaguely like a snake, hence the name. In an auction draft, owners have a budget and players are nominated in order. Owners then bid on that player until everyone else taps out. This allows every owner a chance at any player they want. I would not recommend this for your first league.

Who to Trust:
In short, no one and everyone.

When you follow one particular set of values directly, you become a slave to their potentially incorrect opinions and analysis. FantasyPros.com tracks the most accurate experts, and in the most accurate cases, experts are right about 60% of the time, meaning they are slightly more accurate than flipping a coin. If you go only by their rankings, then your team will only be as good as they were. Instead, go with aggregate rankings. FantasyPros.com also aggregates expert rankings, customizable to include only the experts you trust. When you do this, it allows you to “smooth out” the players that are drastically under-valued or over-valued in a particular set of rankings, making you less likely to follow their pre-draft pitfalls.

Get your rankings from aggregators like FantasyPros, but consume everything you can about the thoughts that went into those rankings. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Stay up to date on news at Rotoworld.com, listen to podcasts. Just consume. You’re going to have to catch up to the rest of your league. There are a lot of names to know, and there’s no better time to start knowing them than now.

How to Prepare
Mock. Mock. Mock. I don’t mean practice your trash talking (but practice that, too). Every site has mock drafts where you complete a fake draft with other users. The draft doesn’t mean anything, you don’t play the league out, but you get an idea of where players are going and you can try out different draft strategies. Want to see how going WR-WR-WR shakes out? Go for it. Planning on drafting Gronk? Try it in a couple of mock drafts first. As you complete your mock drafts, the sleepers you discovered from your studying will become targets, and you can start to figure out where players generally go to try to extract value.

Where a player usually goes is their “Average Draft Position” (ADP). ADP is valuable because it is how you build a contender. You want to maximize your ADP value at every pick, since the inefficiencies in ADP is how the great players build their team. If your players only match their ADP (the #50 pick is the 50th best player, the #100 pick the 100th best player, etc.) then you’re going to end up in the middle of your league. Mine the ADP for value picks. Use the mock drafts to find these values.

Use the aggregate rankings from FantasyPros to find the values in your draft. The analysts that work for the site where you draft create the ranks. These ranks then drive ADP, so you can use aggregate rankings to find value in your draft.
For example, Coby Fleener.

Fleener has an expert consensus ranking of 94.5 overall.
Fleener’s ADP on Yahoo! is 121
Fleener’s ADP on ESPN is 62
Fleener’s ADP on CBS is 86

By applying the expert consensus ranking as a “smoothed out” ranking of the player, you can see that Fleener is a player to target on Yahoo! since he will be a value at his ADP. He can be acquired at value on CBS and is greatly overvalued on ESPN. Use this type of analysis to find the value players on your site of choice.

The pre-draft process is where you do the majority of your work to prepare yourself for the season. Read, listen, learn and practice. Those are the keys to doing well at the draft. You don’t want to be the guy who doesn’t know who is being drafted or who drafts Peyton Manning in 2016. Be prepared. Start now.

This is part one in a three-part series. Part Two can be found here. Part Three, here.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com