Fantasy Football has grown from a niche game played by a small number of fans to a billion dollar industry with millions of followers and the support of every major sports news and entertainment company. Although fantasy football has gone mainstream, there are many people who are still sitting on the sideline eager to join in the fun, but are unsure on how to play or where to get started. This goal of this article is to provide a beginner’s guide of how to play fantasy football for those people on the fence.
What is Fantasy Football?
Fantasy Football is a game played in conjunction with live NFL games. If a player on your fantasy team scores a touchdown or gains yards in a real life game, you receive points for your fantasy team. The game enhances the overall appeal of watching NFL games because each game becomes more exciting if your fantasy player is playing. In addition, many leagues play for money or prizes, adding another element of excitement.
Fantasy owners play a fixed number of players each week in a head-to-head contest against another owner, with the winning team scoring the most points for that week. At the end of the regular season the top four or six teams participate in a playoff to determine the winner. A typical team includes one quarterback, two to three wide receivers, two running backs, one tight end, one kicker, and one defense/special team.
How to Join a League
The exponential growth of fantasy football over the past decade has resulted in the creation of hundreds of free fantasy football websites, including ESPN, Yahoo, NFL, CBS, and Fox Sports. Most of the larger sites like Yahoo and ESPN offer completely free leagues, including premium features like live drafts and real-time stat tracking. Although all website require that you create a profile that requires some personal information, most allow you to decline email solicitations limiting the chance of spam.
When signing up for a league, you are given the option to create a private league with friends or you can join an existing public league. Leagues typically range from 8 to 14 teams, with the majority of websites using a standard format of 10 teams.
There are two common draft types used by most fantasy sites: the snake draft and the auction format. With a snaking draft, owners take turns picking players in concession, with the first owner getting the top pick overall in the first round and the last pick of the second round. This format is by far the most common draft type; however it tends to reward those who are fortunate to get a high draft pick. To combat this issue, some leagues choose to go with the auction format, which gives each owner the same amount of draft money to use on players. Any player can be drafted as long as the owner is willing to spend the money, yet the finite budget prohibits any one team from stacking up on blue chip players. Although auction drafts are fun, they are somewhat of a challenge and I don’t recommend them for beginners.
When drafting, the most important rule is to use your first few picks on marquee players who provide consistent points. These players should be proven stars that will form the foundation of your team. The middle rounds are where an owner can choose supporting players, including second and third string running backs and wide receivers to compliment their star picks selected in the first few rounds. The final rounds of the draft should be used to fill in gaps in your roster, or to use picks on potential value picks or sleepers. Sleepers are unknown players who have little risk as bench players but may turn out to be studs.
Waiver Wire/Free Agents
Players that are not drafted are placed in the free agent/waiver wire pool. Free agents can be picked up throughout the year by any owner; however that owner is required to drop another player from their team to free up room on the roster. If a player is dropped, he goes under “waivers” for a few days depending on the league’s rules. The top player on the waiver priority gets first claim on that player. Waiver priority is typically set in the reverse order of the draft, with the last player given the first waiver priority rank. When a owner uses their waiver pick on a player, they are then moved to the end of the waiver list for future picks. Waiver priority can become crucial if a star player goes down creating a lucrative available player on the wire.
One of the most entertaining aspects of fantasy football is trading players and negotiating deals with fellow owners. Depending on how you draft, you may have a surplus of players at one position that will give you the leverage to make a trade to bolster your team by improving on a weak spot. Also, picking up available players on the waiver wire when their value is low and then trading them when they become valuable is another excellent way to improve your team.
Many new fantasy owners are fearful of trading because they are worried about coming out on the bad end of the deal. The truth is that most deals do turn out to be lopsided due to injuries or bad luck; however this should not keep a person from making a trade. It is fun to roll the dice on a trade in hopes of coming out on top, and it is a great way to strengthen your team by leveraging depth to improve areas of weakness.
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