OpinionAugust 5, 2011

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Fantasy Football for Beginners

By Michael Hawes

Fantasy Football is supposed to be challenging, rewarding and, most of all, fun. It is an easy game to play but a very hard game to be good at, let alone master. We all play this game for the same reason we play any game, because we enjoy it. Here are a few tips from nearly 20 years of experience in fantasy football to help you get started and to make the most of your time in the world of fantasy football.

Study – It’s an easy thing to do. Read, read and then read some more. I consider myself a pretty hardcore football nut and fantasy player, I have played in 17 leagues in a single season. I still learn something new every year — several new things, in fact. I also utilize a dozen sites or more to do my research and try to get better at this game. It all comes down to how much you want to know and how much time you are able to devote to the game. The Cafe is where I started when the game of fantasy moved online and I am still here, eight years later, thanks to the Cafe’s knowledgeable member base, intelligent mocks and accurate rankings (some of the best in the business by the way), as well as the general acceptance of new players into it’s community.

Cheat Sheets/Rankings – Every year, prior to your drafts, make a cheat sheet. Almost everyone I know has moved to doing this in an Excel file where it is easily manipulated. I am old and still prefer graph paper and a pencil (eraser mandatory!) but that is just my preference. Print out a few rankings from some of the more reputable sites on the net and start building your own master set. A cheat sheet is the single most important tool come draft day. You can make your sheets as basic or as complex as you want them to be. A simple list of names ranked 1-50 for each position is just fine if that is what you like. As you get deeper into the game of fantasy football, or if you are uber-competitive, you can go as in-depth as a player name, your rankings, each of the other five sites rankings you used and then an average of the six sets of rankings on your single cheat sheet. Add to that his current ADP, projected points, bye week and you can go on and on. I have seen cheats sheets 20 columns wide. How you do your cheat sheets will come down to what information you find valuable and how much you value readily available information on draft day.

Mock Drafts – A mock draft is simply practice for your real draft. I use Fantasy Football Calculator as it is a simple interface for drafting, runs 24/7 and mocks start every few minutes. Mock drafting is a tremendous tool to get you accustomed to what a live draft will be like, and it gives you an idea on where players are being drafted. Strategies can be perfected or thrown to the scrap heap before the “live draft” point of no return. It’s impossible to do too many mock drafts; every single one of them will help you iron out something. During a season that I am in several redraft leagues I can mock up to 100 different drafts just to get the flow of how the season is drafting, figuring out when I need to take key players I want and honestly, just because I love drafting fantasy football teams.

Join a Community – The Cafe has one of the best group of forums devoted to fantasy games anywhere on the net. You can post questions specifically about your team or generalities, get tips on sleepers, read up on strategies or simply just join in conversation about football or fantasy football. Over the years the Cafe members have taught me a lot of what I currently know. My first keeper league, dynasty league, PPR and IDP leagues all came about because I was involved in a community and was invited to try new things beyond what I was currently playing in fantasy football.

Try Different Leagues – I started fantasy football in 1992 with some buddies after reading an article about it in some magazine. Lots of laughs in a basement with a big board and a marker (there may have been a fridge there filled with, um, pop) and I had completed my first fantasy football draft. I went online in the early 2000’s playing in Yahoo public leagues but wanted more of a challenge and less hassles so I joined the Cafe in 2003. Here I learned that not only was fantasy not a nameless online game, it has thousands of people wanting to talk about every nuance of the game but also that there were literally an infinite amount of combinations of the game that could be played. By simply changing scoring, roster requirements and rules you could create the league you always wanted to play in yourself. After years of playing in every kind of league that came along I found that the dynasty format was the one for me. I now play exclusively in dynasty leagues although I certainly will take on the right redraft or keeper league if ti comes along. I found out that studying rookies (MJD in the 2nd round of a rookie draft), finding that hidden gem (stashed Michael Turner for two years on my bench) and building that roster, piece by piece, into the team that will dominate for years to come is what I loved about the game.

Draft Players You Like – I have never drafted Terrell Owens. I don’t like him, can’t cheer for him and couldn’t cheer for him on my team. While I don’t draft just my favorite players — that would be fantasy suicide– I will pass over the guy I am ambivalent about for the guy I really like if I have them closely ranked. It makes my Sundays much more enjoyable to cheer for a team of players I drafted that I really like as players.

Figure Out What You Enjoy – It won’t come to you immediately but when it does, it can convert you into a life-long fantasy football player. It is that simple; if you really enjoy the game, you will play it as long as you can. Try as many different league formats, websites and communities as you can until you feel all the pieces starting to fall into place. You don’t need to do this all at once — there is a ton of information and formats to digest and if you take it in too fast, it may cause indigestion. Take your time, enjoy each format and team you play as you go and try to move forwards tweaking what you want from your fantasy experience until you achieve your ultimate goal in fantasy football.

Michael Hawes is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. Nearly 20 years of FF, had to have learned something in that time. You can catch up with Michael in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of bungle613.
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