In 2006, the Pew Research Center out of Washington D.C. estimated that 5 percent of all adults play fantasy sports, two-thirds of whom played fantasy football. Fantasy sports may lend credit to baseball for its origins, but football reigns as the Mack Daddy of them all.
These imaginary leagues spring to life every August as NFL training camps open. For most, the official start to the regular season traditionally commences on the Sunday after Labor Day. For those who own a fantasy team, or a half dozen, the season starts once the trash talking begins; that’s on Draft Day.
You know the joke: Fantasy Football is just Dungeons & Dragons for jocks. It’s cosmic karma for all the times popular athletes mocked and ridiculed the geeks huddled in the back corner of the high school cafeteria. How the tables turn as balding fat men past their athletic primes gather in bars conjuring 5-star quarterbacks to lead a team they named after off-color jokes that would land them in human resources.
Focus! You need to prepare yourself for the trash talking that will inevitably ensue. To arm yourself, don’t turn to a thesaurus. You’ll only hurt yourself. Instead, you need to concentrate on building your team.
The average fantasy baller plays in a single season draft. No dynasty, or carrying players over from previous seasons. It’s a one-shot deal where you don’t need to concern yourself with how many years a player may have left in the tank. (However, in my opinion, dynasty leagues add layers of enjoyment, expanding the experience from a few months to an entire year.)
There are your Tier One, Tier Two, Tier Three and Tier Four players. For the sake of this conversation Tier One represents the elite. Opinions and home team affiliation aside, there are only three players worth being called “elite” in any given year.
Consider your standard bell curve. Of all the players to choose from, 16 percent are out of consideration. These are the players most magazines won’t bother to list. Another 68 percent are average players, half of whom you will choose from towards the very end of the draft. With that said, we’ve just eliminated 1,425 players you will not consider drafting.
Your average bell curve states 16 percent of your data field as high performers, that’s 271 players for you to choose from. In a 16-team league, that’s fodder for the first 16 rounds in the draft. The elite player represents the top one-tenth of one percent. In years past, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers were the elite players whose ability to garner points was head and shoulders above their peers.
We talked about four different tiers of players. Tier Two consists of roughly 33 players, representing the Top 2 percent of the field. Unless you have one of the first three picks of the draft, you should be landing two Tier Two players. Not bad, when you consider you’re likely to be picking two of the best players from any given team here: Jamaal Charles, Adrian Pedersen, Calvin Johnson, Odell Beckham, Jr – they will give you something to cheer about during Sunday night highlight reels.
Tier One: 3 players
Tier Two: 33 players
Tier Three: 237 players
Tier Four: 577 players
There is a fine line between a Tier Three and Tier Four ballplayer. A touchdown a week may be the difference between the two calibers, but that’s nearly 100 points over the course of the year. Most leagues reward a point for every reception, making those obscure third-down backs valuable towards the end. A starting tight end may catch three balls balls for 60-yards and give you nine points. A third-down back back who runs for 50-yards and catches five balls for 40-yards gives you 14. An accurate assessment of a player within this group can serve to make a difference between a losing season and making a playoff run.
Most leagues have you choose a team for defense and special teams. By default, roughly half of your teams fall under Tier Three. That’s a conservative approach. Truly, more than half of the teams to choose from fall under Tier Four. Many of the more successful fantasy GMs out there will draft two, Tier Three defenses, leaving their competition out in the cold.
And, that’s just one strategy that will reveal itself on Draft Day. Controlling supply in a “supply and demand” environment is a business approach well suited for fantasy football. Get the best players off the board. If that means you come out looking like Matt Millen picking six wideouts before you choose a quarterback, so be it. That’s six very good wide receivers the rest of the league doesn’t have, creating trade leverage for you.
Championships are not won on Draft Day alone. You have to be willing to trade, and trade effectively. Don’t be that guy who only offers up players you don’t like. Let’s put it this way; you know that player you nearly cut? He stinks. And, the rest of your league knows it.
You also need to pay attention to the waiver wire. Victor Cruz, T.Y. Hilton, and Julian Edlemann are names from past years that emerged only after the season started, and wound up being huge assets for teams down the line. Remember, those last few picks from Draft Day will only pan out to be Tier Four performers. Dropping them for a potential star is absolutely worth the risk.
At the very least, pick a player or two you like. If you can at least root for a ballplayer from your favorite team, it gives you something to look forward to each Sunday.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.