A Newbie’s Guide to Playing Fantasy Football

Fantasy football can be enigmatic, even to players who have been doing it for a few years. Playing fantasy football well does take skill, but a lot of success is just pure luck. The NFL only has 17 games a season, compared with 82 for the NBA or NHL, and 162 for MLB. Because of that, fantasy football is subject to more severe year-to-year deviations.

Yet, within those seemingly random deviations, one can figure out patterns that emerge. While these tips won’t help new players dominate right away, they will be able to keep their heads above water against more experienced players.

It is also important to note that these are guidelines. A player that is good enough will be someone a player can buck the trend with. For now, though, a new player should memorize these five concepts.

No QBs in the first round

New players come into fantasy football thinking that if quarterbacks score the most fantasy points, why aren’t they the first to go off the board?

Of course, the answer to that question is simple, but not intuitive for the beginner. Quarterbacks do score the most fantasy points, but they’re a better value later on in the draft. After the top five or so, quarterbacks score about the same amount of points all the way down to 25th. In other words, you can have someone like Kirk Cousins or Jimmy Garoppolo and score decently.

Other positions, like running back, are hard to come by. After the top five backs, the talent level drops off significantly. This increases the importance of getting a top-tier back early on. Hence, running backs are a better target than quarterbacks or receivers in the first couple of rounds.

There are exceptions, though, as Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen may be worth a first-round pick, especially in leagues that have 14 teams or more.

No QBs that are 35 or older

Older players in general are a gamble. Even though they’re a known quantity, the quality of play they offer can drop off at any time. Worse off, a player’s quality will drop off much faster the older a player is.

Picking a quarterback aged 35 or older is a slot machine to avoid. Even with players like Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, talent could fall off very quickly and without warning. Stick to QBs that haven’t gotten that old, yet.

An example of this is Peyton Manning’s twilight years. In 2014, Peyton Manning was QB4 and showed only modest signs of decline. By 2015, though, Manning had fallen off the face of the Earth. His arm and neck had given in, and he would have to be relieved by Brock Osweiller. This led to him going from QB4 to QB34.

The reason why this happens is easy to understand. Schematically, a coach will plan around his player’s weaknesses. At first, this looks like a subtle game plan change. Yet, as arm strength and touch continue to fade, the coach cannot run the same plays or offense anymore. This puts a team at a crossroads; either play like the older QB is used to and risk him losing the game, or play differently.

Most coaches will dance with the one that brought them, though.

Grab the youngest back possible early on

Running backs fall off very, very quickly. By their late 20s, most backs are washed, and picking them up is a recipe for disaster. PFF recommends that dynasty fantasy football players trade any back over the age of 25. The position is brutal on a back’s body, and moderating their touches must be done the older they get.

Hence, go with the youngest back possible who can still be a quality starter, and do it early. It seems odd to pick a rookie or a second-year player, given they haven’t proven themselves yet. But, running backs are fairly easy to project even before they play a down.

For example, Saquon Barkley is a perfect case study, as it was obvious he was going to be special. As a rookie in 2018, he ran for over 1,300 yards and got into the end zone 11 times. By 2021, though, he ran for only 593 yards and two touchdowns. Players who drafted Barkley in 2018 came out much better than players who drafted him in 2021. At 25, his peak looks to already be well past.

If one can find a back that is projected high and is under 25, that is the best course of action. Avoid picking anyone over 27, though, like the plague.

Kickers can be worth a 10th or 11th round selection

Nerds would call the kicker position a market inefficiency. Kickers are often overlooked in fantasy football, as it isn’t the sexiest position, and they can be erratic from week to week.

However, a top-five kicker is worth a high-end double-digit round draft slot. In 2021, the top five kickers averaged 9.7 fantasy points per contest. That point total is equivalent to the 25th ranked running back, or a top 15 receiver. This is also a guaranteed starting position, too, so it will deliver production nearly every week.

Kickers are also age-resistant, so don’t feel hesitant to draft 37-year-old Nick Folk with an 11th or 12 round pick, if you can.

Do not pick anyone with any consistent injury history. Ever.

This is arguably the most important thing to learn.

Injuries are common in football. When we talk about injury history, we aren’t talking about the minor bruises and sprains that a player can play with. Instead, if a player has any sort of injury history that has kept him off the field more than one time, pass on him. Even if that player is Christian McCaffery, taking him is going to open a novice up to the variance that can demolish new players.

But, players should also give lesser priority to players that have been hurt seriously just one time. These players don’t have to be avoided outright, but avoiding them if possible is a prudent decision.

While these tips are not going to help a newbie win their fantasy league in year one, they are useful pitfalls to avoid early on. Ultimately, these tips can help someone playing fantasy football gain skills in it for the future, and be a building block to winning something down the road.

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