What are Some Tips for Your First Fantasy Football Draft?

Dear Sports Fan,

I’m going to be taking part in my first fantasy football draft ever in a few weeks. Do you have any tips?


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Dear Sonja,

First off, welcome to the fantasy football club! As of 2010 there were over 30 million people in the U.S. and Canada who play fantasy sports. That fact comes from a Forbes magazine article which sited a study by the FSTA or Fantasy Sports Trade Association. You know, because there’s one of those. Which is all to say that you are in good company and you won’t be the only person new to fantasy football this year. Here are some tips on how to enjoy your first draft and maybe they will help you win as well.[1]

Tips for Your First Fantasy Football Draft

Have a Strategy

Whether you are a die-hard football fan or new to the sport, whether you are Nate-Silveresque in your statistical predictive abilities or flunked out of high-school algebra, you can come up with a strategy for your fantasy football draft. Having a strategy is key to enjoying draft day. Without a strategy, drafting is likely to feel like arbitrarily selecting items off a menu in another language. It doesn’t have to be a good strategy, a friend of mine once decided that he thought players who played in cold-weather would be better than players who played in the heat. Another of my friends has tried for years to get all of the Johnsons who play in the NFL on his team. It doesn’t have to be a good strategy as long as it’s not self-destructive. Here are some simple strategies you can use:

  • Use rankings from some other website than the one you are drafting on. Almost every league will draft using the web interface from ESPN, Yahoo!, CBS, or NFL.com. During the draft, you will be selecting players from an ranked list ordered by “fantasy experts” at that site. Lots of the owners in your league will be more or less making their choices based on these rankings but you don’t have to! Get a ranked list from one of the other sites listed above or from one of the many independent fantasy football websites out there like Fantasy Football NerdFantasy Pros, Fantasy Football Toolbox and use their rankings instead. There’s no knowing whose list is more accurate but using one list while the majority of your league uses the same one as each other gives you an inherent advantage.
  • Figure out players that are going to be more than normally unpopular in your league and take them. This means doing a little research about the people you’re going to be playing with. Are most of them Giants fans? If so, they’re likely to over-value the Giants players and be reluctant to pick players from the Giants’ natural enemies: the Redskins, Cowboys, and Eagles.
  • Take the boring players. People who play fantasy sports like to feel like if they win, they did it because they knew something that no one else did. They like to “discover” players who are about to experience the best year of their careers. So they tend to over-value rookies and players who have just moved teams or gotten new coaches. What they don’t like doing is drafting someone who has played well but not spectacularly for years and is likely to do basically the same thing this year that they did last year. This is where you sneak in and take the boring, reliable performers.

Enjoy Yourself

Fantasy football should be fun! It’s a hobby, after all. To the newbie though it might seem a little strange. Here are a few things that won’t help you win your league but might help you enjoy the experience.

  • Serious doesn’t mean not fun. You’ll probably be surprised at how seriously people take this hobby. Even some of the vocabulary around fantasy football shows this. People who play fantasy football are called “owners.” The guy or gal who runs the league is a “commissioner.” Everyone is seriously trying to win. None of this screams fun but it can be in the same way that a water gun fight or a game of tag is more fun if you suspend disbelief and buy into the idea that you really don’t want to be it or get hit by a tiny stream of water.
  • Go in person. Most leagues get together to do their drafts. Now that it’s so easy to run the process online it’s easy for people to draft from their homes but it’s not nearly as much fun as sitting together in a room with snacks and beer. If your friends and you can’t get together, do a conference call or a google hangout or some other technological solution that allows for banter. If you are in a room with beer and snacks, don’t get too drunk and end up with a team full of players with awesome sounding names who all suck at football.
  • Draft one player from a local team. Even if it is a mid-level tight end, the back-up running back, or a second or third wide receiver, having a player from the local team on your fantasy team will provide you a full fall’s worth of compelling entertainment because it gives you something to root for every Sunday.

At it’s worst, fantasy football can seem like a strange form of voluntary self-flagellation (how could I have thought that Alex Smith would have had a better game than Aaron Rodgers…if only that second tier running back hadn’t fumbled in the fourth quarter of a blowout victory…etc.) but at its best it forms close, consistent communities that continue for years.

Good luck!
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. For full disclosure, I am dating this particular fantasy football newbie. So while I want her to enjoy her first fantasy football experience, I might not actually want her to win the league. A close second is about as high as I can, in good faith, wish for Sonja.

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