Fantasy Football has been around since the early days of the NFL, but the evolution of the game is what has been truly remarkable. If you have always wanted to play but felt intimidated, have no fear, we are here to help you.
A Brief History
This upcoming NFL season will be my 18th consecutive year playing fantasy football. It all started for me back in 2005 when I started playing in my family’s league at the age of 11. They assisted me, of course, and had been playing well before then. Back in ’97, the internet was still catching on and we did not have the robust league managing sites we have today. My uncle would wake up after the week’s games had been played, grab the paper, and tally up all of the scores from the week by hand. Then, each player would get a phone call to let them know the result.
This seems like ancient history, even when I started, the sites we used were very basic. However, the game is much older than that. Fantasy football actually dates back to the 1960s, when a few executives for the Oakland Raiders decided they wanted to create a game that allowed them to pick players from any of the league’s teams and compete against each other. The format for the league was much different back in the 60s, as the game has evolved at a rapid pace.
Since the rise of the internet, the evolution and popularity of the game have been explosive. There are so many versions of it available to NFL fans, giving them immersive experiences to simulate the management of a team, or allowing them to compete with co-workers. As long as the NFL is around, fantasy football is here to stay.
Fantasy Football Terms
So, you want to join a league, but terms like ADP and PPR are thrown around like hot dogs at a ballpark and you have no idea what they mean. Well, there are some critical terms and acronyms that will allow you to understand the language of the game.
- PPR (Points Per Reception): This is a method of scoring that allows receptions to count towards your score, boosting the value of receivers, tight ends, and pass-catching running backs in drafts.
- ADP (Average Draft Position): This is important for draft preparation. It tells you, on average, when that player would be drafted to help you strategize when you pick certain players.
- Sleeper Pick: Otherwise known as just “sleeper”, this is a player that most people are overlooking that could do well or breakout. The term can be used for a fantasy draft, or when setting your lineup for a given week.
- Flex: This position can be filled on your lineup separate from QB, RB, WR, TE, Kicker, or defense. It is essentially a bonus player that is typically an RB, WR, and sometimes a TE if allowed. There can be one or multiple flex players on a given roster depending on the league format.
- Super-Flex: This is essentially the aforementioned concept, except it usually allows a QB to be rostered in this position. Quarterbacks usually are the highest-scoring players in a season, so there is a lot of value here.
- Keeper: This is only applicable in some league formats, but a keeper is a player that is being held over on the roster from the previous year. Various rules can dictate how this is accomplished and there can be more than one in any given league.
- Boom Or Bust: This is a label given to a player that has no consistency and no middle ground. This player will either explode for a huge game or will barely score a point.
- Handcuff: This is a term typically used for a backup player, usually a running back, that you will draft to your team as a security blanket for another player.
- Mock Draft: This is a practice draft. Most fantasy football sites have mock draft capabilities to help you determine draft trends.
- Streaming: This is a strategy used when starting a player that is focused more on the matchup as opposed to the player itself.
When it comes to the type of league, there is a number to choose from. The traditional formats called for a QB, two RBs, two WRs, a TE, a Kicker, and a team defense. Scoring was calculated without any type of bonuses or PPR formatting, just yards, and touchdowns. While the scoring can vary a great deal within each of these formats, PPR or traditional, these are the essential league types: traditional, flex, and super-flex.
In traditional leagues, you have one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker, and a team defense. In most cases, these types of leagues will not follow a PPR scoring format and will stick to the old-school ways of fantasy football. Most leagues are turning to these next few formats.
The last two formats are flex and super-flex leagues. These two options will add extra players to the roster and lineup, and allow you more opportunities for scoring. In the flex league, you will have your standard lineup, in addition to one or more flex positions. Typically, these are skill position players and it is a position that has become more and more important as the NFL has evolved.
With the super-flex, this expands the option to QB. With all of the points quarterbacks are raking in, a super-flex league makes the QB drafting process a high-stress situation. It is already hard enough to secure a top-tier quarterback, and with this format, they will come off the board quickly. Enough about the leagues, let’s prepare for the draft!
There are a few draft types available, and with each type, comes its own strategy. The most frequently used is a snake-style draft. This allows each team to have a fair opportunity as the order for each round is the inverse of the previous one. There are also linear drafts (each round is in the same order) and auction drafts. In auction drafts, a player will be auctioned off to each team, and each team is given a budget so bidding must be done strategically.
Preparing for the draft is the best way to ensure you have the best possible team and it all starts with knowing the type of league you will be joining. The scoring, the format, and the draft type, all things are important to know when preparing your strategy. The best way to prepare is to supplement your research with mock drafts. These mock drafts will let you know where players are being selected and help you establish a strategy for when to draft certain players.
Some general tips for drafting each position:
- Quarterbacks score more than any other position. But if you do not have an opportunity to select one of the top six (Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, or Jalen Hurts) then it’s better to wait until the later rounds. Not a ton of difference between QBs seven through 20.
- Running backs that have a high number of receptions are more valuable in PPR leagues. However, after the top 10-12, the talent and consistency drop off quite a bit. Make sure to secure one of these backs early and always draft a handcuff for them.
- Wide receiver is the most plentiful position in fantasy football. If you get your hands on one of the top ten, great. If not, then numbers 11-25 will all offer similar production. You can grab starters as late as rounds seven or eight, so do not over-draft in this position.
- Tight end is the most difficult position to draft for by far. If you are not fortunate enough to land Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Mark Andrews, Darren Waller, or Kyle Pitts, you will have a hard time getting consistent production from this position unless you happen to draft a TE in a breakout season. Do your best to grab one of those five guys.
- When it comes to kickers and defenses, they are interchangeable outside of the top three. It may be your best option to stream this position based on the matchup. My number one fantasy football rule for any roster I put together is to get at least ten points from these two positions if I can help it. Makes a world of difference.
Create Your Traditions
Now comes the fun part, establishing your fantasy football league traditions. I am currently in three different leagues, one with my family that is going on its 18th season, a league with my college buddies that is entering its eighth, and a league with high school friends going on its fourth (they were late to the party despite my constant badgering). The thing that has kept these leagues together for so long is the traditions we have installed in each. It can be something as simple as drafting in person and throwing a big party, or it can be a punishment that the loser has to complete.
There are things like a “Toilet Bowl” where the worst two teams play each other for a trophy, money, or punishment, you can award the winner with their own championship ring, or you can get a perpetual trophy that can be passed on from champ to champ. There are so many things you can add to your fantasy football league to spice thing up and make it so everyone participating is dying for September to roll around.
Getting people together is the best part about fantasy football, hands down. Whether it is an annual rules meeting, a trophy presentation party, or a draft party, take advantage of any opportunity to build comradery within your league.
Check out some of Dan’s other Stadium Rant content here. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_tf40 and check in with his podcast The Fastest 40 on Spotify, Anchor, Apple Podcasts, & anywhere you listen to podcasts!