Beginner’s Guide to Fantasy Football

Fantasy Football 101

Welcome to the insanely addictive world of fantasy football!

This guide is for Fantasy Football rookies and anyone looking for advice to improve their fantasy football skills. Here you will find an explanation of the game, tips to guide you through each phase of the game and links to additional fantasy resources on the web.

The NFL season is here so start learning how to play fantasy football. Follow the tips below and lead your team to a fantasy football championship!

What Is Fantasy Football?

Fantasy Football is a game where you can manage your own dream team of NFL players and compete against other teams in your fantasy league. Your score each week is calculated using your players’ actual NFL stats for the week (rushing yards, touchdowns, fumbles, etc).

In most leagues, you will play head to head against another coach each week. Whichever team scores the most points gets a win. At the end of the season, the teams with the best records face each other in the playoffs to determine the league champion.

Fantasy Football Basics

A typical fantasy football league (FFL) has 8 to 14 teams. Each team roster typically contains 15 players made up of 9 starting positions and 6 bench positions. These numbers and the specific starting positions vary from league to league.

The season starts with a draft where managers select real NFL players to build their roster. Each NFL player can only belong to one team in the league at a time. Drafts can be either live or online. For a live draft, all managers get together in person. An online draft is conducted online via the service used to manage your league.

During the season, you will manage your roster by deciding who to start and who to keep on the bench. Only your starting players can score points for you. To improve your team, you can also trade with other teams or replace an existing player with a free agent or a player off of the waiver wire.

Each league has one coach who also serves as the league commissioner. It is the commish’s responsibility to set up the league, schedule the draft and resolve any disputes that may arise in the league.

Before You Start Playing Fantasy Football

Playing fantasy football will affect how you watch real football.

You’ll soon know the names and stats of players you never heard of before. When watching a game on TV you’ll start paying close attention to the player stats ticker at the bottom of the screen.

You’ll find yourself wanting your favorite NFL team to win, but hoping that the other team’s #1 receiver has a big day because he’s on your fantasy team. Even worse, you may hope that your NFL team’s running back doesn’t have a good day (and the rest of the team picks up the slack, of course) because he’s on your fantasy opponent’s team.

And you’ll be ok with all of this. You’ve been warned…

Pre-Season Advice – Tips to prepare for the draft.

  1. Research – Find a good source of player stats, injury information and other NFL news.
  2. Read Your League Rules – Every league has its own rules and scoring method. Now is the time to read them and raise any questions or request a change. Once the draft starts, it’s too late to request a rules change.
  3. Decide on a Draft Strategy – There are two basic draft strategies for a standard draft format, value based and rank based. In a value based strategy, you rank each player based on how they outscore other players at the same position. A rank based strategy ranks each player against every other player, regardless of position. I tried pure value based and didn’t have great drafts. My draft results improved using a hybrid of the two strategies. If your league does an auction draft, please read the Auction Draft Strategy Guide.
  4. Rank Your Players – You can either use rankings from another source or determine your own. Make sure to use your league’s scoring rules when determining rank. For example, RBs that make a lot of catches should be ranked higher if your scoring gives points for receptions.
  5. Build a Cheat Sheet – This is your list of player rankings with their position, bye week, projected points, etc. It is your guide and game plan for the draft. My advice is to have two cheat sheets: one listing all players together and a second with players grouped and ranked by position.
  6. Test Your Connection (Online Draft Only) – Your online draft site should have a way to test your connection and download any required plug-ins in advance. Do this well before the draft to make sure that you can connect through your firewall, spyware blockers, etc. with enough time to adjust any settings if needed.
  7. IDP League Draft Advice – If you are playing in an IDP league, read this IDP draft primer. The player references in it are dated, but the strategy is still sound.

Draft Day! – Tips for the draft

  1. Check For Injuries – The last thing you should do before you head to the draft is check the web for injury updates. Don’t be the one who drafts a top ranked guy that just broke his leg in practice that morning.
  2. Show Up On Time – The rest of your league probably won’t wait for you and you’ll be stuck filling your empty roster slots with junk from the free agent pool afterwards. If it’s an online draft, the computer definitely won’t wait and you’ll be left with whatever it picked for you.
  3. Be Prepared – Bring your cheat sheet and a working pen or pencil with you. Your cheat sheet should include each player’s bye week. Don’t show up with a fantasy football magazine you picked up on the way over and expect to draft a great team. It was out of date when it hit the newsstand and will prompt the other coaches to laugh at you.
  4. Beware the Last Minute Draft Pick Trade Offer – Before the draft begins, someone may offer to trade his 1st round pick and a later pick for a higher (or lower) 1st pick and a later pick (ex: “I’ll trade anyone with a higher 1st round pick my 1st and 5th round picks for your 1st and 8th picks”). Depending on the offer and your respective draft positions, this deal may be good or bad. But the guy making the offer had lots of time to think it through and you have about a minute before the draft starts. I’m skeptical of any last minute offers.
  5. Stay Somewhat Sober – You’ve heard of Beer Goggles? Well, they have the same effect on your view of fantasy football players as they do for members of the opposite sex.
  6. Pay Attention to the Byes – Don’t let yourself be surprised at the end of the draft when you realize that none of your studs are playing in week 4.
  7. Watch Who Has Been Drafted – Don’t get distracted by what’s on TV or the cute server if your draft is at a bar. Pay attention and scratch each player’s name off of your sheet as you hear them called. Otherwise, you’ll waste valuable time looking at players who aren’t available when deciding your next pick.
  8. Have Fun – Relax. Enjoy yourself. Talk some smack. Think your grandmother can catch better than that receiver the guy next to you just drafted? Let him know it. Think someone made a bad move using their 2nd round pick on a kicker? Tell him. Also remember to congratulate a coach who does make a great pick.

The Regular Season – Tips as you play through the season.

  1. Don’t Judge the Whole Season by the First Game – Some players will do well and others not so well right out of the gate. Don’t panic. Stay calm, pay attention and look for opportunities when other coaches panic.
  2. Set Your Lineup – Seems obvious, right? Well, I’ve seen more than one coach forget to bench their bye week players and start someone with a chance of scoring points that week.
  3. Watch Your Byes – Plan ahead and know how you’re going to cover your byes at least a week in advance. That will give you enough time to scout free agents or seek out a trade if needed.
  4. Start Your Studs – If one of your stud players is going against the NFL’s top defense, you may be tempted to sit him. Don’t. He’s a stud for a reason and could still put up big numbers. This tip will help you more times than it will hurt you.
  5. Pay Attention to Real Football – Watch the games. Follow the NFL news, especially injury updates. Successful team management is all about paying attention to what is happening in the NFL. Keep your eyes open for “no name” players that start getting the ball more during games (or former stars that are fading).
  6. Use Your Waiver Wire Priority Wisely – Don’t waste your waiver priority on a kicker to fill an open bye.
  7. Be Careful of Multi-Player Trade Offers – If a coach offers you two or more of his players for one of your studs, do your homework first. At least one of the players offered is probably junk thrown in to make you think you’re getting a deal. Remember that you’ll be giving up a top guy and you’ll need to make room on your roster for the 2nd player. I prefer ‘1 for 1’ or ‘2 for 2’ trade deals, it’s easier to judge the value of the deal (unless it’s me offering 2 for 1).
  8. Have Fun – Watch the games and cheer on your fantasy players. Talk smack with your opponents and enjoy your victories.

The Playoffs – Tips for the fantasy post season.

Congratulations on making the playoffs!

  1. Keep Up The Good Work – The trade deadline has already passed long before this time in most leagues, so pay attention to the injuries, match ups and free agent list. Don’t spoil a great season by getting lazy at the finish.
  2. Have Fun – You’re in the playoffs! The championship is in sight and yours for the taking. Crank up the smack talk!

Online Fantasy Football League Sites

Most fantasy league sites are free and provide the basics of stats, scoring, league and team management, message posting, online drafting, etc. They usually offer a premium (pay) package as well with additional features that may include cash prizes.

Yahoo! Sports
The one I’ve used for all of my leagues. Good features and easy to use. They also have a Fantasy Profile section that provides a history for all of your fantasy sports (football, baseball, auto racing, etc) teams over time.

CBS Sports
CBS Sports’ fantasy home page. I’ve heard good things about this one from friends.

FOX Sports
Fox Sports’ fantasy home page.
The NFL’s official fantasy football game.

The Fantasy Football Rap

A little entertainment to get you ready for your fantasy football season…

Was this beginners’ guide helpful to you? How did your first fantasy football season go?

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