Last year I talked with a former co-worker that had never played fantasy football but was really interested in doing so. After convincing her to go for it and guaranteeing that she’d have a lot of fun she signed up for her office league. The day before her draft we carved out a half hour in which I shared with her a summary of my philosophy. We’d already covered the basics like scoring, lineups and the waiver wire. What she really needed was actionable advice that she could take into the draft. The thing that she worried about most was her lack of knowledge of players without names like OBJ or Antonio Brown. She laughed at the first piece of advice I gave her and I imagine that a number of experienced players would have as well. Nonetheless, I think it’s one of the most important things a fantasy football owner needs to recognize.
Players don’t matter. Well, okay, of course they matter on some level. But really they are a secondary consideration. What is more important is developing a sound strategy and understanding the specifics of the game that you are playing. I will take this belief to the grave and have as much conviction in it as is possible for something that’s just a game. Player evaluation is the second step in the larger fantasy process. If you skip the first, you’re going to need a fair amount of luck and your long-term success will be greatly compromised.
How can I make such an outlandish statement? Because it’s true. Fantasy football is a game of strategy. I’d be open to the argument that daily fantasy football may contain more luck, but if you tried to tell me that redraft is not a game of skill there’s a good chance I’d quickly become irrational. And I’m a person that, in general, will go to great lengths to avoid confrontation. I’ll apologize if a waiter brings me the wrong order, stand there twiddling my thumbs if someone cuts me in line and just nod my head while someone educates me on a subject they clearly know nothing about. But when it comes to this particular notion and how it relates to fantasy football I can easily get belligerent. So for the purposes of this article, let’s take the idea that fantasy football is a strategy based exercise and run with it.
As fantasy owners we need to recognize that we are playing fantasy football; a game that is entirely different from real NFL football. Quarterback is arguably the most important position in all of sports. Yet for many fantasy players, QB is the position that they sink the lowest amount of investment into. This is because within the confines and context of the game it provides your team with a marginal benefit when compared to others. Said differently, in the broader context of many optimal fantasy football strategies the utility provided by the position is marginal.
Ultimately, in a very long-winded fashion, I’m trying to drive home the point that what matters most in fantasy football is having an understanding of your league, recognizing that you are playing a game and building your team with these ideas in mind. You need a context into which your player evaluation can be placed. My friend could have known every detail of every player in the draft but if she didn’t understand the game she was playing it wouldn’t have mattered. As she had no preconceived notions and was entirely open to my suggestions we were able to work out a strategy that worked for her league. Essentially, it boiled down to waiting on QB and TE, filling her roster with WRs (in her PPR league 4 could be started vs. 2 RBs) and giving her a list of tiers to follow. She made the playoffs and lost in the championship game.
Of course, her league wasn’t particularly competitive and a number of owners had no idea what they were doing. But the takeaway here is that we can’t focus solely on player evaluation and we don’t need to. We need to understand the high level attributes of each player for sure (encompassed via the tiers I gave her), but if we don’t have a plan for how to use them we’re not really playing the game. I promise you that I’m not trying to highlight how awesome I am. I just wish I had understood this concept when I first started playing. And though entirely anecdotal, the story not only provides a frame-work for the concept but it also demonstrates the strides we can make when we have an open mind.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that there’s some magic formula for every league or that if we sat down for 30 minutes I could lay out a sure-fire road map to victory. I’m simply stressing how important this planning process is to your long-term fantasy success.