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NFL Fantasy: So, you want to play NFL Fantasy football?

Will an undistracted Ezekiel Elliott make Dak a better or worse NFL fantasy quarterback?
Will an undistracted Ezekiel Elliott make Dak a better or worse NFL fantasy quarterback?

Tens of millions of NFL fans around the world participate in NFL Fantasy football leagues. It is one of the fastest growing and most exciting games of today.

The premise is simple enough. Team owners, that is the people playing the game, select real players from throughout the league to be on their team. Each week, those players’ actual statistics become their fantasy statistics, with NFL Fantasy points accrued based on hitting performance targets.

The NFL fantasy league sets a schedule of head-to-head games. If your NFL fantasy players score more points than your opponent’s, you win. Sounds simple, right?

It’s not; at least not if you are playing in a serious league with no tolerance of mistakes and bad ideas. Some NFL Fantasy football players spend the entire off-season studying the players, coaches, the effects of the draft and free agency on the players and their teammates.

Some draft decisions are easier than others.
Some draft decisions are easier than others.

During the season, they weigh stadium effects, weather, locker room news, injuries, and the gravitational effects of the moon on Monday Night quarterbacks.

Okay… maybe I made up that gravitational effects thing, but you get the point. There are some very serious and dedicated players, especially when there is considerable money on the line.

Fortunately, there are leagues for every level of player. If you have never played before, you might want to dabble in a few free leagues offered by major sports platforms like ESPN and Yahoo. These are not as competitive but offer insight as to how different factors affect your outcomes without losing money.

If you feel you’re ready to step up to money games, you should look for one that matches your experience. I play in several standard money leagues, but still experiment with free web games in different types of leagues. (more on that later.)

Regardless of your experience, consider these factors before throwing money into a competitive league:

1. Know what type of league you are entering

There are three main types of NFL fantasy leagues: Standard, Points-Per-Reception (PPR), and Individual Defensive Player (IDP).

Standard leagues are the most basic. Players must hit yardage and scoring targets that translate into fantasy points. Most standard leagues give one point for every ten yards of rushing or receiving and every 25 yards passing. There are usually bonus points for milestones, like 100 rushing yards. If your player scores points in real-life, that adds to your standard score.

New Orleans has a potent running attack. Was does that mean for their perennial top-ten NFL fantasy QB?
New Orleans has a potent running attack. Was does that mean for their perennial top-ten NFL fantasy QB?

PPR leagues add a point (or half-point) for every reception. This changes strategies when it comes to picking players. Receivers, especially receiving backs, are worth more in PPR than standard leagues. Players who catch a lot of short passes are more valuable than players who run deeper routes, despite the yardage factor.

IDP leagues are for experienced player. They offer a standard or PPR offensive game and add individual defensive players, with points awarded for tackles, sacks, and turnovers. The point systems vary widely but are generally considered turnover-heavy or tackle-heavy. Only serious and experienced players opt for IDP.

The number of teams in a league is an important factor, too. Smaller leagues are easier to find skill players. 12 and 14-team leagues require more research on marginal runners and receivers.

2. Know the scoring rules

Large hosting sites offer a standard scoring protocol, but it can be tweaked by any league commissioner. This can affect your draft decisions dramatically. The most common variance is the points awarded for touchdowns thrown by a quarterback. Traditionally, they were worth 4 points each to make the quarterback less important. More leagues now award the full six points, which results in quarterbacks being drafted much earlier.

Tight ends are becoming less of a scoring entity recently. As a result, a few PPR leagues are giving 1.5 or even 2 points per reception by tight ends this year. Tight ends who catch short passes suddenly become a factor.

3. Know what type of draft you need to participate in

There are two major draft styles in NFL fantasy. The most common is the standard snake draft, where the teams alternate picking in order and then reverse order until the rosters are filled.

Undrafted Josh McCown was the QB-9 before a late-season injury, and a popular streaming option.
Undrafted Josh McCown was the QB-9 before a late-season injury, and a popular streaming option.

Auction drafts are more challenging and fun. In auction drafts, you are given a budget and have to pay predetermined prices for players. If you want a premier runner like Todd Gurley, you need to consider how he will impact the rest of your choices.

Commissioners can vary the rules, such as keeping the draft in order each round or shifting the starting player at each round. But the majority are snake and auction drafts.

There are also Dynasty and Redraft leagues, where owners keep certain players from last season and fill in the blanks this season. You probably don’t want to jump into one of those in your first year.

4. Know what players you need for your roster

Most leagues field one quarterback, a tight end, a kicker, and a defense, along with a pair of wide receivers and running backs each week. There are variables with this, also.

Many commissioners add a flex player, that is an additional wide receiver, rusher, or tight end, each week. There are also two-quarterback leagues, leagues with one or two individual defenders, receptions-only leagues, and more.

There could be rules for how many players at each position you can draft. Alternatively, you might enjoy some flexibility with maximum position rules. These rules assure that one team can’t corner the market on one position, such as grabbing six quarterbacks to prevent another team from finding an in-season replacement.

5. Have a draft strategy

There are articles that go into depth on draft strategies, but in general, owners might fill roster spots in a certain order or take the best available athlete in each round. There are pros and cons to both.

This season, we see an increase in the running-backs first strategy. This is based on last season’s powerful showing by rushers, as well as the slim variance in points-per-game among the majority of wide receivers.

You can't be sure about rookies until the games start... usually.
You can't be sure about rookies until the games start... usually.

NFL fantasy pundits might advise to wait on quarterbacks until the final rounds or grab a premier quarterback early. Some suggest loading up on wide receivers while others advise no more than four. I am generally picking up my third running back before my second wide-out.

Tier rankings provide an excellent visual that helps speed up decisions and prevent errors. Tiers work with the “best available athlete” strategy.

Your draft position will affect your draft choices. Owners drafting early or late have more distance between picks. This means you might have to draft someone ranked lower than your pick is worth because he might be gone before your next turn.

6. Do your NFL Fantasy draft homework

With the number of tools available on the internet today, you do not have to spend all year investigating and strategizing your draft. You should, however, find a little time to read about player trends, injuries, free agency and the draft, new coaches bringing new schemes, and how training camp is going.

At the very least, review a few of the numerous lists of “top draft picks” and follow current average draft positions of leagues already drafting. If the same names appear in the same positions across all boards, no one will laugh at you for choosing that player around that slot.

Don’t be a total slave to the “experts”. If you follow a team closely and have a hunch, go with it. That doesn’t mean use your first pick on someone no one else knows about. But in the final rounds, consider taking a flier on the new receiver a quarterback keeps talking about.

7. Don’t panic if you blow it.

Fortunately, even the worst draft can be salvaged during the season by surprise performances, injuries to other players, and dumb luck. By that, I mean, use the waiver wire to fix your mistakes.

Not many dispute aron Rodgers should be the first QB drafted, but... when?
Not many dispute aron Rodgers should be the first QB drafted, but... when?

In my biggest-money league last season, I realized too late that I was the only one abiding by a “wait on quarterbacks” strategy. I went into Week 1 with Andy Dalton and Eli Manning. I streamed quarterbacks every week and ran away with the points title.

Streaming means you check the waiver wire for a new player at a certain position every week. The player’s opponent, a recent trend, an injury to a teammate, or just a hunch might give you reason to pick up a player on waivers for the following game. Many experienced players stream defenses or other players each week.

Conversely, even the best draft can go awry. David Johnson’s broken wrist took away the top pick of most 2017 early-drafters. In a ten-team league, those owner’s “top pick” became a number 19 or 20 overall selection.

So, do your homework, join a league with simple rules, have a plan, and enjoy your draft. During the season, tweak your team regularly, but cautiously. Don’t give up a player with future value for a one-week fill-in. Remember, you have a bench you should look at first.

Look for more articles to help prepare you for your 2018 NFL fantasy draft right here. Then come back all season long for updates, trends, and waiver wire advice. You will be an NFL Fantasy Pro in no time.