Confessions of a Fantasy First Timer: Prepping for the Draft

I’m doing it. I’m finally playing Fantasy Football. I know, it’s crazy. How have I avoided it for so long? It’s actually pretty surprising, considering I am uber-competitive, have compulsive gambling tendencies, and love petty smack talk.  Now that I follow sports for a living, I figured it was finally time to take the plunge into the dark, twisted world of fantasy.

Me and the hubby at a Washington Redskins game.

Me and the hubby at a Washington Redskins game.

As expected, I’ve gotten pretty into it.  I’ve been reading articles about fantasy sleepers and busts, running analysis on last year’s data, and creating a giant excel spreadsheet with all my notes, the whole 9 yards. 

Here are my 5 (mostly) easy steps to prepare for your first Fantasy Football draft.


Step 1: Figure out how to play Fantasy Football

Ya, that’s how little I knew about Fantasy Football. Embarrassing I know. I bet the other people in my league are congratulating each other and thanking me for my league fee contribution right now.  I literally Googled “Fantasy Football for beginners” and read a bunch of articles, including “Fantasy Football for Dummies” (which I always hate doing), but it was admittedly really helpful.

In case you’re as clueless as I was, here are the basics:  Each person in the league acts as a General Manager to build their own football team.  Each week, you compete head-to-head against another member of your league based on the real life performance of the players on your team.  There are different point systems, but generally your score is based on a fixed scale for receiving yards, rushing yards, points scored, defense, and on and on… Throughout the season you can also trade players with other members of your league and pick up undrafted players on the waiver wire—we’ll get to some of that in later posts.  Near the end of the NFL’s regular season, the top teams duke it out in the fantasy playoffs to name a winner.

Knowing those basics, I obvi felt pretty ready to join a league. Did I mention I’m pretty self-assured? Hubris is a big help when you’re a fantasy first timer.


Step 2: Join a League

Just as I was venturing out on my little experiment, one of my husband’s friends from college, Rob asked us to join a couples league.  Perfect, we were in.  Our league has 5 couples, and one makeshift couple of two dudes whose significant others decidedly did not want to participate.  I believe their exact responses were as follows: 


Fair enough.


It seemed like a perfect starter league for a beginner like me. There were other ladies involved, and it wasn’t insanely high stakes like some of the guys’ other leagues where the loser has to take the SAT and report back their scores. (True story).

I was patting myself on the back for joining such a chill, not stressful league for my first time, when one of the other GMs, Elise posted this intense photo to Instagram.  Game on.


Step 3: Intimidation

As I mentioned, I am hypercompetitive. It’s always good to intimidate your opponents—even if you know nothing about Fantasy Football and literally had to Google the rules. I went with a team name to exhibit my dominance “The More Powerful Brower” – yea that’s right. I’m looking at you hubby. Whatcha going to do about it? Grrr….


Step 4A: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

This is where I hope to one up the other teams.  For all my lack of experience going in, the one thing that I have to my advantage is time. My day job is to write a daily sports newsletter summarizing the major sports news of the day, so researching players and draft techniques is all part of my job description.  While all of you are hiding your laptop screens to secretly read fantasy articles at work, I get do it for hours on end, because I have the coolest boss ever. Me.

This is where I started getting kind of intense, so if you don’t want to hear about math plug your ears, yell “LALALA,” and skip to Step 4B. 

As a former management consultant, I put my training to work and started collecting last year’s data.  I used a makeshift Value Based Drafting technique to compare players that play the same position. I found the average and standard deviation for each position and ranked them against their projected Average Draft Position (ADP).  Then I went through and started researching players for recent news, particularly injuries and suspensions that might adjust my rankings up or down.  If it sounds obsessive, it totally was.

Turns out, I got a bunch of interesting data.  For example, the standard deviations for kickers, defenses, and quarterbacks are the lowest, meaning that there isn’t a huge difference between the best placekicker and the worst one.  That’s why the conventional wisdom in Fantasy Football drafting is to pick those positions in later rounds of the draft.  The highest standard deviations are for running backs and wide receivers, which is why they usually go first.

That said, those are just generalities. People say to wait until at least Round 3 of a standard 12 person draft to start picking QBs.  But someone like Panthers QB Cam Newton scored 6 points more per game than the average QB, and nearly 3 points higher than the next highest QB last year (Tom Brady).  He’s basically a statistical anomaly and freak, so he’s definitely worth getting if you can snag him.  Conversely, someone like running back David Johnson is projected to get picked about halfway through the first round of the draft.  Based on last year’s data that seems aggressively high. He only scored about 2 points more per game than the average running back, and based on incremental relative value to your team he shouldn’t go until the 3rd or 4th round of the draft.  Of course, that doesn’t account for the fact that he improved near the end of last season and has a high ceiling (or so analysts say), but moving him up 20+ slots seems a little aggressive to me.

Anyway, I won’t get into all the nitty gritty details, because I don’t want to bore you, but mostly because I don’t want to give away all my secrets. WAHAHAHA!


Step 4B:  Prepare Less

If you’re not a complete psychopath with endless amounts of time, you can always use one of the many cheatsheets that have been developed by the endless sports media outlets.  Here are just a few resources:


Step 5:  DRAFT DAY

Our draft isn’t until next Thursday.  Stay tuned to see whether all my meticulous research paid off.


Do you have any Fantasy Football tips for me?  Tweet at me. 

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