Fantasy Football: A Beginner’s Guide
-by Ben Winegard
So it looks like I’ve been drafted again, tapped to become commissioner of yet another league. While others may shy away from the responsibility, I relish the opportunity to be in control, fine tuning the league exactly to my specifications in order to make sure that this machine runs smoothly all season.
This new league intrigued me on another level, besides just control. See, I’ve been in charge of two other leagues for a few years now, and that’s on top of the other two I am in as a player. These leagues are filled with “seasoned veterans”, meaning at the very least we all feel as if we know what we are doing. This gives me less and less to do as commissioner. I no longer need to monitor every trade and acquisition or worry about tiebreakers for single season games. My league mates are all capable, and I have fine tuned scoring to solve these other issues.
In this new league however, I am offered something that I have not had in my other leagues in quite some time: new players. Fantasy owners new to the game, who understand football, but not what makes it Fantasy Football. These new players who will take Aaron Rodgers first overall, because they have “heard of him” or take one player over another based on his picture on the draft website.
These players, my friends who I am eager to share one of my favorite pastimes with, are the reason why I am writing this article. This is a beginners guide, from the very basics of the game, to the ins and outs of maintaining success all year. While this article may not be for our veteran readers, I still implore you to check it out or share it with newer members of your leagues, and to look back fondly to the first time you played fantasy football.
In fantasy football, you pretend to be a general manager, the person that gets to put together the team that takes the field every week. Your job is to select players from any and all teams around the league and create the highest scoring team, week in and week out. Players recieve points based on their stats for the week, and while these change from league to league, there is a lot of common ground between fantasy leagues.
To start, leagues typically participate in a draft. This is your time to pick players to fill out specific roster spots on your team. There are different types of drafts, I’ll discuss them later, but regardless of your format, you are looking to build your team to be ready for the start of the season. But that’s just where the fun begins, now it’s time for the real work.
Just because you’ve completed your draft doesn’t mean your job is over, in fact, the season is the time to be most active. Every week, you’ll need to ensure your lineups are set and that you have the best possible line-up. This ranges from making sure all of your players are playing to picking which player you think you should start. Maybe you think one player will do better than another this week, go ahead and put them in, its your team. On top of setting a line-up, you will need to continue to make roster moves throughout the season. Trades and waiver moves are a big part of that, and both will continue to help your team grow. Your roster should never be set in stone, no matter how good your draft is.
There are many different types of leagues, with many different versions of rosters, each tailored to a specific style of play. I am going to start with the most standard format and mention some other formats later, if your league decides to try a different route.
In a standard league, roster construction typically looks like this:
- 1 QB
- 2 RB
- 2 WR
- 1 TE
- 1 Flex (RB/WR)
- 1 Team Defense and Special Teams
- 1 Kicker
- 6 Bench spots
When you are building your team, you are looking for the best player in each position. Quarterbacks touch the ball more, so they have the highest chances to score more points, but because of this they score less points (see below for scoring breakdowns). Skills players (running backs, wide receivers and tight ends) all recieve points based on yardage gained and touchdowns scored. Defense/Special Teams is based off picking an entire teams defense, and getting a score based on what they accomplish during a game. Kickers are scored based on their scoring plays, so getting one from a good offense that can’t efficiently score touchdowns is a decent bet.
Another method of roster construction is called 2 quarterback leagues. In this league, instead of your standard flex player that is either a running back or wide receiver, you have the option to play a quarterback. Typically teams will opt to play 2 quarterbacks because they are among the highest scoring players in the league.
Scoring is usually consistent amongst most leagues, with some leagues opting for small differences between them. For skill players (running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends) points are usually scored based off yards and touchdowns. Skills players receive 1 point per every 10 yards they accrue (sometimes broken down decimally instead) and 6 points for every touchdown they score. In points per reception league, they also receive 1 point for every catch, or reception, that they get, no matter what the yardage is. This will change the value of a player, usually seen in where they are drafted or how hard it is to trade for them, depending on the format you play in.
Quarterbacks, as mentioned above are typically the highest scorers in the game, mainly because they touch the ball on every play. Because of this, they receive less points per yard and less points per touchdown. Quarterbacks get 1 point for every 25 yards received (again sometimes broken down decimally at .04 points per yard) and 4 points per touchdown thrown. Quarterbacks still receive the same points for rushing and receiving, as rare as the latter is, so there is more value in a quarterback who runs well or scores a lot of rushing touchdowns.
Defenses and special teams are a whole different game. They are the only team that starts with points, and the one that loses most as points throughout the course of the game. Defenses can get points for scoring touchdowns, either from kickoffs and punt returns or from defensive plays, but they also get points for their team performance, typically in the form of point brackets. The less points a defense gives up, the more points they get. Same goes if they give up fewer points. Sacks, interceptions, and fumble recoveries also score points for a defense, usually around 1-2 points.
Kickers, the last piece of the puzzle, only receive points for their scoring plays. These are extra points (worth 1 point) and field goals, worth anywhere from 3-5 points, usually dependent on distance. If a kicker misses, he loses 1 point.
What to expect when drafting
Typically leagues will engage in a snake draft. This means that you go in order (let’s say 1-10) in the first round and then flip the draft (in this case 10-1) in the next round. This lets all teams have a chance at parity as the team with the best player does always get the top player in every round.
When drafting, it’s best not to worry about filling out your starting line-up right away, or worrying about a teams bye-weeks or their schedule. Go for who you think is the best available wherever you happen to be at in your draft. Best available doesn’t always mean first on your cheat sheet or the rankings the website gives you, You will have to make that decision for yourself. Maybe best available is a running back that you need, or a defense, even if people are telling you “it’s too early to take a defense.” Remember it is your team, and only your team. Also remember that your team is not done after the draft.
There are also auction drafts, where team owners get a set amount of money, and have to build their teams based off of a budget, with each owner bidding on the players they want. The nice thing about these drafts is that you have a chance to bid every owner since they are all available to the whole league, so you have a chance to get the exact team you want. The downside is, teams typically seem to be less equal, with one player potentially being able to grab three top 5 picks. But every team in an auction has its advantages and disadvantages. Spend a lot on the top talent, then you have no money to spend on the rest of your team. Don’t spend your money early, miss out on the big names, but have a more well rounded team.
my draft is over, what now?
Congratulations, you can just sit back and watch the rest of the season. Just kidding, now the real work begins. First of all, it will be your job to set your lineup every week, picking the players that you think have the best chance to win. But setting a lineup is just the beginning. Football is a dangerous sport for its players, and your players will get injured. While you may have drafted someone who you can play in your lineup and replace him, you might need to start looking around for additional help.
Trading is always a viable option in fantasy. You give up a set of your players for a set of another owners. The real fun of drafting comes in negotiating with the other owners in your league. Everybody values players differently, your favorite player might be worthless to someone else, and the guy you hate, might just be the gem of another players team. It is important to remember to communicate with the other owners in the league while trading, and to also make sure you come up with a trade that works for both teams. Fantasy football is no fun when others take advantage.
If trading does not work, or is not an option, there is always the waiver wire and free agency. This is where all the players that were not rostered go. Just because these players are not owned by another team in your league, does not mean they are not valuable. Players have different values at different parts of the year. It is important to keep an eye on who is available, and which players will have the best time to shine, maybe due to an injury on their team, or just because they are beginning to play at a whole new level. First, any undrafted player goes to waivers. This is a system that awards players to owners who claim, or pick them. Most leagues award these players based on need, the teams with the worst records get first pick. There are other leagues that use a budget, where owners bid on player, with the top bid winning that player. Once waivers are over, or clear, players go to free agency. This is a first come first serve system, where owners are able to pick-up any player they want.
It’s Just A game
Even with all of this information, I leave you with one piece of advice: It is just a game. It can bring joy, and sorrow, anger and disgust, but most importantly it can bring comradery. It allows us to make new friends or expand friendships with people who may have just been acquaintances. I’ve had seasons end on week 1 as well as on championship weekend, and both bring a whole different set of emotions. And even with the roller coaster of an experience I’ve had with fantasy football, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world, because I have made new friends from this as well as making deeper friendships with those I was already close to. I hope for anyone reading this, they have the same experiences that I did.
So to all of the new folks, welcome to our wonderful game, and I wish everyone the best of luck!
Hear more from The Fantasy Backups in our latest podcast episode – The One with the Other Alex (NFC North and AFC North Breakdown). Check it out here!