Part 1: League Basics
One of my main goals when I created Starting Fantasy Lineup was to teach new players to be more competitive and to help them make their decisions for the right reasons. For simplicity’s sake I will only discuss the most common league formats and scoring systems.
How the League Works.
Your team will consist of (in the majority of leagues) Quarter Backs (QB), Running Backs (RB), Wide Receivers (WR), Tight Ends (TE), Kickers (K), and Defensive and Special Teams (D/ST). Note: you chose a combined defense and special teams unit, not individual players. Each week you can only “start” a limited number of players at each position, you will need to see the league commissioner for the specific details of your league. Generally speaking, many leagues have fantasy owners start 1 QB 2 RB 3 WR 1 TE 1 K and 1 D/ST. Also, it’s common in many leagues to have what is known as a flex position. A flex spot can be filled by multiple positions for example, RB/WR/TE. Some leagues only allow RB/WR for the flex spot and others only WR/TE (again, the exact criteria will need to be obtained from your league’s commissioner).
Your fantasy league will likely run very much like the NFL in terms of “team” match-ups. You will have an opponent each week and you will face them head-to-head to determine the winner. When you set your starting lineup each week you will be picking the players who can potentially earn points toward your weekly total. The amount of points a player gains you is based off of their statistics for that week. The following is a breakdown of a Standard Scoring System:
6 pts per rushing or receiving TD
6 pts for player returning kick/punt for TD
6 pts for player returning or recovering a fumble for TD
4 pts per passing TD
2 pts per rushing or receiving 2 pt conversion
2 pts per passing 2 pt conversion
1 pt per 10 yards rushing or receiving
1 pt per 25 yards passing
-2 pts per intercepted pass
-2 pts per fumble lost
5 pts per 50+ yard FG made
4 pts per 40-49 yard FG made
3 pts per FG made, 39 yards or less
2 pts per rushing, passing, or receiving 2 pt conversion
1 pt per Extra Point made
Defensive/Special Teams (D)
|10||pts for 0 points allowed|
|7||pts for 2-6 points allowed|
|4||pts for 7-13 points allowed|
|1||pt for 14-17 points allowed|
|0||pts for 18-21 points allowed|
|-1||pts for 22-27 points allowed|
|-4||pts for 28-34 points allowed|
|-7||pts for 35-45 points allowed|
|-10||pts for 46+ points allowed|
3 pts per defensive or special teams TD
2 pts per interception
2 pts per fumble recovery 2 pts per blocked punt, PAT, or FG
2 pts per safety
1 pt per sack
After the NFL’s stats are final for each week (Tuesday mornings) a winner is declared. At the end of the regular season the teams with the top records enter the playoffs, the number of teams that go through is determined at the beginning of the season by the commissioner of your league.
Are you worried yet? Well you shouldn’t be. Calm down, you don’t need to remember all this quite yet. However, it is good to be aware of exactly how the points are calculated.
Part 2: The Draft
Today we take a look at the most important part of Fantasy Football… the draft. This is where it gets decided which players are on which teams. Also, this is your biggest opportunity to get an advantage over your opponents. Skill at drafting comes from experience so my first piece of advice is to do as much preparation as you can before hand and be very organized. The draft works in one of three ways:
Live draft – participants meet in a physical location and are limited to pre-prepared materials to assist in making draft choices. This is the purest form of draft and makes the participants rely on skill and preparation.
Online draft – participants meet (typically) on the website that will manage the operation of the league and use their software to facilitate the selection of players. It has become a common practice for these sites to include in-depth stats and analysis on each player so prior preparation is not as pivotal.
Automated draft – typically only for free public leagues and participants are able to set rankings for players to determine who the computer will select. An automated draft can be a good idea for your first season doing fantasy football, however you should never miss an opportunity to gain draft experience so I do not typically recommend this to anyone.
Both Live and Online drafts will usually work in what is called a snake rotation. The draft order is chosen at random and starts with number one, then two, and so on. After the last participant has made his selection for the first round it is then his turn again right away to start round two. You then proceed in reverse order till all players have chosen for the second round, and start round three with the person in the first position. This continues for a varying number of rounds. (Depending on how many players are in your starting lineup which is decided by the Commissioner of your league.)
When you sit down at your first live draft and look at the player rankings you printed out before hand you still can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of players on these lists that you have not heard of. Don’t worry, most people can’t name three wide receivers for every team in the league, just do your best to have a balanced team based off the material you have available to you.
What position should you draft first?
It is common practice to select a running back (RB) first, in fact the first 6 or so picks are typically all running backs. (In the next installment of this guide I will discuss why running backs are the most important players on your team) Most drafts only see two or three non-running backs taken in the first round and they are typically the best quarter back (QB) and wide receiver (WR) that particular year.
Most picks are based off of which player available has the most value at a position you need. If we assume that you did indeed take an RB first you want to attempt to get an elite player at either QB or WR but do not force it if other people beat you to them. If need be take a second solid RB and move on.
After this point it is terribly difficult to plan or predict what will happen in any given draft. Focus on filling out your starting lineup first with any needed players of the three positions mentioned. After that the primary three positions (QB, RB and WR) are filled you typically want to take a backup at both RB and WR. At roughly round 7 or so the first tight-end (TE) is usually taken and then somewhere near round 9 some of the top defenses (D/ST… you select the entire defense and special teams units for a given team) are taken. My advice to new players is to not be the first person to take a Kicker (K), tight-end or a defense or special teams, while you miss out on getting the best possible option at each of these positions the value of these players is very difficult to predict, and most seasons the top projected player at these positions does not live up to their expectations.
What should I try to avoid?
Two mistakes that new drafters often fall victim to are forgetting about bye weeks and relying on name recognition. Bye weeks are about the most important bit of information you can have on each player. New drafters often ignore this information and end up accidentally drafting 5 players all with the same bye week. You don’t want to ever lose a game, and spreading out your bye weeks is crucial to a successful regular season. Also, new drafters rely on name recognition far too much. Just because you know his name does not make him the best option.
What should I do to get better?
Practice, practice, practice. It makes perfect… Many websites currently allow users to log in and sign up for a mock draft. These results do not matter in the slightest as there won’t be any league to participate in, but the results can be emailed to you and you get the feel for how things work so that fewer elements of the drafting process will surprise you.
Part 3: The Regular Season
Now that the draft has ended, you will be able to do the following things:
- Add and drop players
- Set your weekly lineup
- View the schedule of your opponents
- View the league’s standings
First of all, let’s discuss adding and dropping players. As stated above, this can be done in a couple of different ways. The fairest and most common method is what is called waivers. This a method of allowing everyone in the league a chance to make a claim for a player, and after a certain amount of time, the player with the highest waiver priority that made a claim gets the player. This is where it gets a little tricky; waiver priority is decided (primarily) in one of two ways. The first way is after each week, the player last in the overall league standings has the highest priority, and the player first in the standings has the lowest waiver priority. The other way to handle waivers is to start the beginning of the season in reverse draft order, and then when someone makes a claim off waivers they become the lowest priority. (Note, this is how it works throughout the course of the week for the first waivers system however with this method the priority would not reset from week to week.) You should be adding players to improve your team wherever possible. Many people think that if their team is winning or doing ok they shouldn’t try to fix what is not broken, however that truism does not apply here. Making smart and responsible waiver claims on a weekly basis can help you make the playoffs, or can help you win in the playoffs. Have any of you heard of Miles Austin?
The next thing to worry about is setting your lineup. This and making roster moves go hand in hand, when a starting player is on bye week or injured you do not always have a capable backup ready to go. While the core of your lineup may not change on a week to week basis, this does not mean that the 2nd or 3rd players at running back or wide receiver should not be changing. If you have done a good job drafting and managing your roster then you should have multiple options each week for some positions. The following is a breakdown of what you are looking for and should expect from each position on your team:
QB: The quarterback position is important, but not crucial. Unlike real football, you can have a weak player at QB and still be successful. A typical game for a QB is 200 yards or so and 2 touchdowns. For this position look for consistency rather than potential for a big game.
RB: The running back position is the most important by far. Just about every team in the league strives for a consistent and effective running game, and a good portion of teams have one feature back that will touch the ball 20-30 times each week. Because of the large number of touches that a feature back will see, they are a threat to score large points every week. In addition if they are the primary short yardage running back, they will see the goal line touches as well.
WR: The ranking of wide receivers varies significantly from week to week. This is not typically the case for most elite receivers, but for most all of them it is. The position is not known for its consistency, and the rankings are often heavily impacted by the quality of the opposing defense. The wide receiver position is one of the most difficult to predict, however with the nature of the passing game big game potential is a big factor when choosing who to start.
TE: The tight end position is very difficult to predict, when considering matchup your primary concern is the opposing defense’s linebackers and to a lesser extent safeties. With that said Tight Ends are a relief valve for their QB and adept and creating mismatches in the passing game. Play the most talented guy you have at the position and do not over think it.
K: Kickers are realistically not all that important. When deciding which kicker to draft, try to pick one that is on a team with a good offense. This will ensure that there are more opportunities to get opportunities for your kicker.
D/ST: The Defense and Special Teams unit is a pretty important spot on your team. Consistency is essential at this position. The Steelers, Vikings, and Ravens are very possibly the best three fantasy defenses of the decade because of their ability to stop the run and rush the passer. Each of these teams has had a LONG streak of games without allowing a 100 yard rusher.
Preparing for the Playoffs
As the end of the season rolls around, you are in one of three scenarios. The first of which is that you have done pretty poorly this year, and have no mathematical chance to make the playoffs. In this scenario the wrong thing to do is to ignore your team and stop setting your lineup. This will destroy the integrity of the league, you need to remain active in free agency and embrace the role of spoiler. No one should make the playoffs because you started an injured quarterback while you weren’t paying attention and gave someone a free win.
The second scenario is that you are still in the running but have not secured your spot yet. This is the most common scenario and whether you are on the outside looking in or clinging to the one of the last spots available, your strategy will not change. Every game is a must win. Each week you do whatever is necessary to win the next game. You can’t win in the playoffs if you do not make it there, pick up any backups that are starting for one week if need be. If your opponent has a high scoring team you need to take some chances with sleepers.
The third scenario is that you have secured your spot in the playoffs, and you have the chance to use the waiver wire to improve your chances in the playoffs. At the end of the season a new term gets used in fantasy football, it’s the word “handcuff”. A handcuff is a backup at a position with a stud player. By picking up backups to your own best players you ensure productivity even in the event of an injury. Also, be on the lookout for backups that are very talented that may not be able to see the carries from the number two spot to be super productive. This past season the handcuffs that paid off due to injury were Ricky Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Another great example was Chester Taylor as a handcuff to Adrian Peterson. Taylor is a very skilled back capable of handling a feature back’s workload.
Part 4: The Playoffs
The key to success in the playoffs is preparation and conservative decision making. In the previous part to this series I discussed “handcuffs” and how they are crucial to playoff success. This is true because of inevitability and unpredictable nature of injuries. Of course certain players are injury prone and should be devalued for that reason, but like everything else in football… anything can happen (or not happen for that matter). This is especially true come the end of the season when players start to wear down physically.
In order to know how many teams make the playoffs in your league, you will need to see your league’s commissioner at the beginning of the season. The playoffs are typically taking place in the last 2, 3, or 4 weeks of the NFL regular season. In most leagues the last week of the regular season (week 17) is not used for the super bowl, week 16 is. This is done to ensure that nobody loses their fantasy league super bowl because a feature player on a team that has already clinched a playoff birth is being sat by their NFL team. Peyton Manning owners can attest to this frustration as the Colts are notorious for resting players late in the year.
In leagues where 6 teams qualify for the playoffs, three weeks would be needed so the playoffs would take place in weeks 14, 15 and 16. In this scenario the top two ranked teams would have a bye in week 14. Pairings are typically handled just like the NFL playoffs, with the top ranked team playing the lowest ranked team and so on down the line.
For all my playoff decisions, I try to imagine how I would feel a month after if I made the wrong decision. It is impossible to make the right choice all the time, thats the beauty of this game, anyone can lose any given week. I just try and make sure I won’t hate myself for making the wrong decision, should it backfire. For example, you are a Peyton Manning owner and it is week 16. The Colts cannot improve their playoff standing at all over the next two games and declare that they plan to only use their starters for the first half of the game. You now need to make a decision about whether half a game from the best QB in the league is better than a full game from your backup ranked 17th on my player rankings. My general thought is that Manning is likely to get two TDs anyways and far less likely to throw multiple interceptions. It might cost you a few points in yardage, but by playing it safe you give your team the best chance to win. Also, you won’t often be upset with yourself for trusting Peyton in the Super Bowl… win or lose.
Thats all the advice I have for you, please keep an eye open for upcoming eBooks, blog posts and as always, I answer every last question that I have time to… so don’t be shy.