Football Fantasies

by Hal Bent,

Since I am in--and have been in for a number of years--numerous fantasy sports leagues and have somehow ended up in five fantasy football leagues this fall (of all different types and rules at different sites), it seemed to make sense to add a feature here to feed the hungry beast of fantasy sports opinion, information, tips, and news.  Especially with fantasy football, the Internet has opened up the game to numerous new fans who watch all the network games all day Sunday, Monday night, and Thursday night in order to see how "their players" are doing each week.  Watching the games on TV and following along with the laptop open to the various leagues has long been a tradition in the house, just as fantasy football and baseball draft nights, meeting up at someone's house for drinks and food with laptops in tow to turn the draft into a social event.  Making it a friendly competition, a money league, or just a fun social event, fantasy sports are huge and played by millions of male and female fans each season.

I just completed draft number one tonight, and am booked Sunday and Monday night as well to pick my teams, and after a break, again on Thursday and Friday night.  With this in mind, here are a few general tips to start off when drafting for fantasy football:

  • The running game is dead in the NFL, and should be kept in mind during the draft process:
    • Ten/fifteen years ago, the secret to winning fantasy football was to load up on stud running backs early and often.  A couple of pigskin-toters was all one needed to climb the ranks to the bragging rights of first place. The mad dash for the elite running backs was all the rage back in the 90s and early 00s.  Now, the Tom Brady/Peyton Manning/Drew Brees/Aaron Rodgers offenses have led to points in the air.  Most teams have multiple running backs splitting carries now, third-down specialists, and empty backfields.  The ground-and-pound offenses are looked down upon as dinosaurs of the NFL.  Even the New England Patriots, who won Super Bowls behind Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon as the bell-cows on offense, are now one of the most pass-happy teams in football.
    • When drafting, a starting quarterback and wide receivers need to be grabbed early and often.  Yes, if one of the few stud running backs left in the game is available (LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, Matt Forte), by all means grab him, but the days of 8 of the first 10 picks being running backs are over.  Quarterbacks Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers are a steal if you get them outside of the first five picks of the first round, ditto wide receivers Andre Johnson or Calvin Johnson.  Position yourself to get your starting receivers and quarterback set in the first five rounds.
  • Study your league set-up before the draft:
    • This seems like common sense, but it has bit me a few times in the past and I always keep up on the settings prior to the draft.  How many players are active each week. How many starting running backs and receivers do you need to play.  If you have four wide receivers and only two running backs, it has to affect your draft choices as compared to three wide receivers and three running backs; or three wide receivers, one swing (running back or receiver) and two running backs.  
    • Look at that swing position if you can have two tight ends or it has to be a wide receiver and running back.  You may find yourself with Jimmy Graham and Aaron Hernandez available to draft and only one spot to play a tight end.  Having Hernandez playing each week instead of your third running back or fourth wide receiver can swing the points each week to steal a few wins in a head-to-head match-up.
  • If you are in an auction league, never miss the beginning of the draft and have the system auto-pick:
    • Trust me, clear the conflict for the draft.  I have been DESTROYED by the auto-pick in an auction league.  If you absolutely have to be absent, go through the player values with a fine-tooth comb so you don't pay a dollar more than you want. With an auction league (for those unfamiliar) you have a set monetary budget for players who you bid for against your fellow owners. Highest bid gets the player.  With the auto-pick, I had the damned computer dump all my cash on two running backs one year, leaving me filling out my team with cheapo waiver-wire players no one wanted.  I chalked that year up to  a learning experience that I have no intention of repeating again.
    • Try not to over-bid for one player and fill in cheap. Losing your big money player to injury is not worth the risk.  Set your price and stick to it. If you miss out on Brees, Brady, Manning, and Rodgers, go to the second tier quarterbacks like Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, or Philip Rivers. Spread the cash out for some productive wide receivers or depth at running back.  Think of all the owners who paid mad money for the player injured early in the season and watched their team go down the tubes. Pay for depth in the auction league.
  • Kickers and Team Defense are a joke:
    • I make it a point to never draft a kicker or team defense until I absolutely have to in a draft (usually the last two rounds).  I have evolved to the point where there is so much random luck in who produces at kicker and what team scores defensive points, that I often find myself releasing the kicker and defense each week and picking up new teams and kickers based on the next week's match-up (in leagues with no-limit roster moves, that is!).  
    • The problem is, you never know when a kicker is going to get opportunity and defense points can be random each week.  Do they run back an interception? Block a kick? Safety?  How many weeks have I watched points disappear as a team with a big lead goes to a "prevent defense" and gives up some garbage time touchdowns?  A kicker can get five field goal attempts one week and none for two consecutive weeks afterwards.  It's frustrating as all can be, and my view has evolved to not wasting my precious draft picks on these bozos, let alone carrying back-ups for these positions.
    • With kickers and team defense, put in your research and review your league scoring settings. but focus your picks on big point producing positions like quarterback and wide receiver before plunging into the deep end of the pool for kickers and defense.
OK, now you're ready to get started on your fantasy football draft. Just to give an overview of how I did tonight, in my Yahoo Public League (1 QB, 3 WR, 2 RB, 1 K, 1 DEF - Head to head) here is how my draft went:

Tom Brady(NE - QB)
Jimmy Graham(NO - TE)
Greg Jennings(GB - WR)
Percy Harvin(Min - WR)
Brandon Lloyd(NE - WR)
Trent Richardson(Cle - RB)
Vincent Jackson(TB - WR)
Stevan Ridley(NE - RB)
Andrew Luck(Ind - QB)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis(Cin - RB)
Kenny Britt(Ten - WR)
Beanie Wells(Ari - RB)
Dallas Clark(TB - TE)
New York(NYJ - DEF)
Dan Carpenter(Mia - K)
In retrospect, I'd have liked a big time receiver, but like the depth and versatility at the position.  A lot of chances with youth and veterans coming back from injury on the bench and at running back, but those risks can pay off big. 

I hope Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck only plays for the bye week, ditto for some of the other bench players. Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Dallas Clark looked good so far this preseason and was worth a flyer for one week when New Orleans and tight end Jimmy Graham are on a bye.  Good health willing, that is all I need him for this season.

I almost took a chance on drafting Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker over Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings to really load up on the Patriots offense, but decided there are too many touchdowns in Jennings' future compared to Welker. Then there was Arizona Cardinals running back Beanie Wells coming off knee surgery but with little real competition for carries being available at pick number 113 overall seemed like a gift. I just don't believe in Ryan Williams at running back in Arizona and quarterback Kevin Kolb can't throw the ball(if he even ends up starting), so there should be plenty of carries available there.  Players like Beanie Wells with so much uncertainty are part of the interest in these late rounds. 

Last year, in one league I got Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson in the 15th round and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning in the 12th round.  Those two players carried me into the playoffs in the league.  Tonight, Nelson went number 11 overall as the first pick of the second round! That's part of the fun of the draft, and I've got four more to go this week.  I can't wait.  Thanks for the read, let me know if you like the fantasy sports feature, as I enjoyed writing it and would continue to keep sharing.