So you decided to join a fantasy football league. Or maybe you’re already part of one, but you want to improve. Or maybe you’ve been playing for years, and you want to stay at the top of your game. No matter what your knowledge base and level of experience, there are 5 fundamental considerations to acknowledge before you even begin to set your draft board. (And, yes, I fully expect you to have a draft board, but more on that later.) So commit yourself to these 5 rules:
1. Own Your Decisions – There are a multitude of options for you to cull fantasy football advice on a weekly basis: the Fantasy Gurus, your know-it-all co-worker who’s in six different leagues, your 12 year old neighbor who’s a statistical genius…. There is one thing they all have in common: none of them can predict the future. Every one of them will make the wrong call at some point. I’m not just saying this as a personal disclaimer, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t take anyone’s advice. Just find the sources you think tend to make the most sense (I like Matthew Berry at ESPN and footballguys.com), and weigh their advice with your instinct. Remember that the advice you’re getting doesn’t consider the specifics of your league–the scoring rules, how your competitors manage their teams, the other players on your roster–so if you don’t filter the advice through those specifics, even if it’s good advice, it could be wrong for you. The decisions you make in managing your team are your own, and if you don’t accept that or let anyone sway you otherwise, it will be detrimental to your team.
2. Understand Your League – First and foremost this relates to scoring rules. Are you awarded points per reception (“PPR leagues”)? Are rushing touchdowns worth more than passing or receiving touchdowns? Do you get bonus points after a certain number of yards per game? These details can dramatically effect the value of different players. Expert rankings are generally based on a consensus point projection for a specific player, and if you’re looking at a rankings list that scores differently from your league, you may be missing out on players that could have a greater value, or you may be overvaluing players that are unlikely to rack up as many points as you think. For that reason, rankings lists are definitely useful, but they need to be taken with a grain of salt.
Secondary details like the number of teams in your league or whether you can keep players from year to year are also crucial to your decision making. With 10 or fewer teams in your league, there will be plenty of solid players in all positions to go around. Predicting who of those players will be the most solid becomes essential to winning games. With 14 or more teams in your league, there is very little depth at each position and unearthing valuable sleepers or correctly analyzing weekly match-ups will be key.
Finally, understanding the other managers in your league and how they make decisions is the most nuanced way of achieving success. Who likes to hoard running backs? Who’s most likely to be the first to draft a defense? Who can’t live without at least two Patriots on his team? Who is most eager to make trades? It takes time to get to know your league well enough to see these patterns, but once you get to this level of understanding, your competitors will be putty in your hands. Watch and observe.
3. Mitigate Uncertainty – “Lineup Nirvana” is a phrase I first heard on FX’s The League (hilarious show, btw), but it’s a feeling that anyone who’s played fantasy football can identify with. It’s the sense of calmness before the first games kick off, knowing that you are fielding the best possible lineup from your roster that you possibly can. It’s not easy to achieve, given that the typical lineup includes 1 QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE, 1 flex RB/WR, 1 DEF and 1 K and leaves five players on the bench. Nothing is worse in fantasy than losing a game by a handful of points, and then noticing that one of your bench warmers had a freakish 100-yd touchdown play. It can drive you insane worrying about it. And the more you worry about that, the more you second guess yourself. And the more you second guess yourself, the more wrong decisions you make. Which is why I do everything I can to eliminate uncertainties.
The best way to eliminate uncertainty in your lineup is by drafting/picking up as many number-one, team-won’t-win-without-him players as possible. Easier said than done, right? So start by narrowing it down by position. To me, quarterback is the most important place to eliminate week-to-week stress. I know it’s a controversial opinion, but if I can get Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Tom Brady, I’ll take ’em. Of course, I haven’t been in position to draft a top-three running back in the last five years (in any of my leagues), and there’s certainly been reliability at that level, but I like targeting one of the big three QBs with my first (or early second round) pick, since one of them is typically available throughout the first round. Of course, if you don’t draft one of those guys, there are still other fairly reliable QBs available in later rounds, but the bonus of taking one of the top three is that you won’t end up on the wrong end of a run on QBs and have to deal with a Ryan Fitzpatrick/Matt Cassel platoon situation all season.
4. Prep for Success – Do your homework. Read preseason scouting reports, watch preseason games, get to know as much as possible about as many skill position players as possible. However, unless this is your full time job, there will be plenty of players outside your scope of knowledge. Avoid them. This is not to say you’ll be able to field a whole team with the same top-50 players everyone else knows about, but use your depth of study wisely. Focus your “sleeper” studies on players on teams whose games you’ll likely be watching frequently. The post-game statistics won’t tell you if one of your bench players got 50+ yards negated by a couple bogus, opposite-side-of-the-field holding calls. Watching the games is the best way to see early on how and if one of your less obvious guys is being used, so avoid players who you don’t know much about and are unlikely to get to know throughout the season.
5. Be Flexible – Finally, after committing to following all of these rules, be prepared for the times when you’re forced to stray from the plan. The draft will never go exactly as you anticipated. Someone will get to the waiver wires before you. Players will get hurt. Opponents will make lopsided trades. Whatever happens, don’t panic and NEVER throw in the towel. No one likes the manager who gives up halfway through the season, throwing games by not fielding a full roster. Consider back-up plans for every move you want to make–sometimes plan B can turn out better than plan A. Even if you draft the team of your dreams, don’t think for once that exact squad will take you to the end. As I’ve mentioned before and will mention again, no one can predict the future–your fantasy season will be full of twists and turns. The key is to stay on top of what’s going on and manage your team throughout the season.
One last rule that should go without saying…have fun!