The Draft

Just like in real football, each year fantasy football leagues have a draft (note: in dynasty leagues, this normally consists of NFL rookies only), in which each team drafts NFL players. These players are kept unless “dropped” (aka become free agents) or are traded. In most leagues, no player may be owned by more than one team, (although some leagues do allow for this).

There are essentially two types of drafts. In a traditional “serpentine” (aka “snake”) draft, owners take turns drafting players in a “serpentine” method, i.e. the owner who picks 1st in the odd rounds picks last in the even rounds, in the interests of fairness. In an auction draft, each owner has an (imaginary) budget which he must use to purchase all his players in an auction format, ie players are nominated and bid on, and the owner who bids the highest on each player receives that player (reducing their remaining budget accordingly).

It is widely considered that draft day is the single most important day in the fantasy football season, despite the fact that no games are played.

Destination drafts have now become routine as many fantasy football managers have moved to different locations over time, but still enjoy competing against the same managers. With the internet sites moving fantasy football to a virtual event, many still crave the excitement of being all together during a draft. Locations usually involve a restaurant, casino, or large meeting space and some leagues conduct large, extravagant drafts that last multiple days.

Free agents and trades

Free agents and trades are integral components to maintaining a competitive roster throughout the duration of a season. Free agents exist in fantasy leagues that do not allow multiple teams to have any one professional athlete. In these leagues, free agents are professional players that are not currently on any league members’ rosters. You can add, or claim, players anytime during the season.

Some leagues have trade deadlines that are set, and others have a waiver period before free agents can be picked up. This really depends as to how the league is set up. When a trade is proposed and accepted in some leagues there can be a voting period which will allow the league to decide if the trade is acceptable or not.

Fantasy trade referees

Often within fantasy football leagues trades are made that cause controversy and are considered unfair by many other members of the league. These disputes are often settled by fantasy football trade referees. These third party sites feature experienced fantasy players who rule on trades and offer an objective third party opinion.

You may not need to use trade referees if your league uses the voting system in which the league can approve or decline the trade that has been placed. In some leagues if there is a voting period and a trade referee in place, the trade referee can over rule the league voting and this can cause controversy as well.

Team rosters

Each team is allowed a pre-determined number of players on its team, as well as a specified number at each position that can or must be used in each game (the “starters”). Owners for each team then determine each week which players will start (within the rules) and which will be “benched”. Just like in real football, bench players can become starters for various reasons: due to other players’ injury, poor performance, or if another player’s team has a bye.

Each week, owners choose their starters for a game before a certain deadline. Whether to sit or start a player is usually based on strategic considerations including the player’s past and expected performance, defensive match ups, and so on.

Starters

Each team owner must designate which players from the team roster will be starters each week – i.e. the only players who will “score” any points. The following example is similar to many common formats required for a starting lineup:

There are of course many variants on this. Some leagues use individual defensive players (IDPs) (and in some cases a punter) instead of or in addition to a combined Team Defense/Special Teams. Some other leagues use separate Defense and Special Teams. Another variant is the “flex” position, which can be filled by a player in one of several positions. Flex positions are often limited to “WR/TE”, “RB/WR”, or “RB/WR/TE”. Traditionally, this flex was required to be an RB, WR, or TE, however, some leagues allow any position to fill this flex slot as an “OP” (any Offensive Player). Although rare, some leagues do also have a 2 quarterback requirement for a starting lineup, yet providing another twist into the complexity of different scoring systems and lineups (Hendricks, 2007 Fantasy Football Guidebook pg 21-44).

Scoring

Players earn their team points based on their performance in their weekly games; for example, each touchdown counts as 6 points, a certain number of yards gained counts for points, and so on. In almost all cases, players earn points for passing, rushing, and receiving yards. Passing yards (sometimes touchdowns as well) typically earn about half as many points as rushing/receiving yards, since QBs normally get many more. Negative points are also usually given for turnovers, and kickers earn points for field goals and extra points (sometimes negative points for missed kicks). Bonuses can also be given for exceptionally good performances, like a QB throwing for over 300 yards, or a kicker making a long field goal. Team defenses earn points for things like sacks, turnovers, safeties, etc. Individual defensive players typically do not earn points for team-wide stats such as keeping the opponent under a certain score or yardage total, but rather for tackles or turnovers made.

A typical scoring format follows. Again, there are many variations used:

  • 1 point for 25 passing yards
  • 1 point for 10 rushing yards
  • 1 point for 10 receiving yards
  • 6 points for a touchdown
  • 4 points for a passing touchdown
  • -2 points for every interception thrown or fumble lost
  • 1 point for each extra point made
  • 3 points for each 0-39 yard field goal, 4 points for each 40-49 yard field goal, and 5 points for each 50+ yard field goal
  • 2 points per turnover gained by defense
  • 1 points per sack by the defense
  • 2 points for a safety by defense
  • 6 points for each touchdown scored by defense
  • 2 points for each blocked kick[2]

An alternate scoring format is the “pure yardage” league, in which touchdowns are ignored, and each player’s passing, rushing and receiving yards are totaled. Some yardage leagues also convert defensive stats into yards (ex., 50 yards for an interception, 20 yards for a sack), whether for a team’s defense, or individual players. Another scoring system counts only touchdowns, touchdown passes, and field goals for points.

Individual defensive players

Many leagues have now incorporated Individual Defensive Player (IDP) play into their scoring systems. IDP play typically has roster space for three groups of defensive players: defensive linemen (DL), linebackers (LB) and defensive backs (DB).

One possible scoring system:

  • 2 points per solo tackle
  • 1 point per assist
  • 6 points per defensive touchdown
  • 2 points per safety
  • 1 point per pass defended
  • 2 points per half sack
  • 2 points per fumble recovered
  • 2 points per forced fumble
  • 2 points per interception

Strategy

Many Fantasy Football players are passionate about their hobby and are always looking for ways to gain an advantage over their competition. Magazines, websites, books, and software are available that provide fantasy players with the information they need to make better decisions. Many of the most experienced Fantasy Football players subscribe to the “RB early and often” theory. This strategy places emphasis on landing 3 or 4 starting RB’s. The logic behind the theory is that a superstar running back generally provides much more value over the course of a season than a replacement-level running back, especially when compared to other key positions. This coupled with the fact that most leagues start a least 2 RB means the value of having many top tier RB’s outweighs having top players at QB and WR.

One secondary theory that emerged from the RB early and often theory is the idea of handcuffing star players to their backup. Handcuffing is the drafting of two players from the same team in the same position to protect the investment in the top player. For example, if one were to invest a high draft pick in a high performance, though injury prone RB, it would be wise to draft the backup to this player in the later rounds. If the star player got injured you then automatically have a new ‘starter’ who will often be in position to put up numbers similar to that of the starter.

A final strategy consists of drafting QB to WR combo’s. This is good for players like Randy Moss and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, or Greg Jennings and Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. Any time one of the player scores, the points scored on the play in question double for your team. This is often called double-dipping. Fantasy owners should be warned though that there are some drawbacks to this theory. The first problem is if you have too many players on the same team you will have your good players on the same ‘bye’ weeks and will likely be unable to furnish your best team that week. Another drawback is that if you have a QB/WR combo and the QB has a bad week, it will result in both players not performing well on your roster.

During head to head league play, the Stojka Gambit is often used as a defensive tactic. The gambit consists of offsetting an opponent’s best player by countering with a teammate, such as offsetting a QB by playing his go to wide receiver. Often very effective, the gambit is nonetheless a risky tactic as it can often result in lower points for the team employing the tactic. Variations of the Stojka Gambit can be used with defensive players but it primarily is used in head to head league play.

Effect on spectatorship

The explosive popularity of fantasy sports, coupled with the availability of venues showcasing numerous live football games via satellite, has had significant effects on football viewing and rooting habits among participants. Fantasy sports players watch more game telecasts, buy more tickets and spend money at stadiums at a much higher rate than general sports fans. For example, 55 percent of fantasy sports players report watching more sports on television since they started playing fantasy sports. The NFL entered into a reported five-year, $600 million deal in 2006 with Sprint that was driven at least in part because of fantasy sports, allowing subscribers to draft and monitor their teams with their cellphones.

Critics charge that rather than supporting a favorite team in any one game, some fantasy owners may instead support the players on their fantasy rosters. Players are mixed on the impact of the effects of fantasy football on fans’ habits and preferences. In interviews withESPN, retired NFL QB Jake Plummer stated, “I think it’s ruined the game.” And, as retiredNew York Giants RB Tiki Barber noted about fantasy fans, “there’s an incongruity in the wants.” However, Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley plays in four fantasy football leagues himself.

For instance, a fantasy owner might have the quarterback from one team and the running back from the opposing team on his roster, and end up hoping both teams score frequently. However, he will only cheer passing scores from the first team and running scores from the second. As another example, if a team is up by many touchdowns, the “owner” of a running back on the losing team may be upset since the losing team will prefer passing instead of rushing for the score.

Often, a fantasy owner may end up watching a game he would otherwise have had no interest in, simply because he “owns” one or more of the players involved. Also, many longtime fans refuse to draft players who play for ‘their [real] team’s rivals, thus preventing the problem of cheering against their team. Fantasy football has had a net positive benefit in increased knowledge of players at all positions, not just the traditionally regarded “skill positions.” For example, there is a premium placed on knowing who the starting tight end is for every team in the league, or the backup running backs, or even available place kickers who may be picked up by a playoff contender. This has helped increase the popularity of the league, and given status to fantasy football fans who take the time to learn the sport.

(via Wikipedia)

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