Jamal Black is a co-host of the Two Tone Crew podcast and has been playing fantasy football for more than a decade. Jamal uses statistics heavily in projecting players' future success and attempts to look at football from many different angles to come to the best conclusions.
For more thoughts on the NFL and Fantasy Football, follow him on Twitter @Jamalisms
That's an interesting word – "research." Some people think it is a one-time thing, but it's not. One doesn't just prepare and move on. Situations change daily in the NFL. There is a lot of fluff, a lot of fake news stories, and a lot of cloak and dagger performed by coaches as they attempt to project favorable hope for the upcoming season. You can't just read news articles one day and be done... and certainly not on the day of the draft.
You aren't searching for answers, you are researching. The inherent assumption is that it is done multiple times.
I've been playing fantasy football for more than a decade, and results are good. I play in two leagues with family and friends, and you have to go back 5 or so years to find a season that I didn't either win the playoffs or earn the top seed during the regular season. I'm an information junkie when it comes to the NFL, and over the years I've gotten quite good at it. I search, research, and then re-research. It isn't an act so much as a way of life ... and the underlying motive behind most of my media consumption.
If you are new to fantasy football, go buy a $5 Fantasy Football magazine and schedule an extended visit to your mancave (toilet). If you are a draft room veteran, battled and bloodied, don't buy the magazine. You already know it was written in February and expresses nothing useful, unless you are coming in completely green. Whichever you are, greenhorn or old hand, please allow me to share a trade secret: Check out this new thing called the internet.
There are numerous websites covering fantasy football, replete with rankings and emerging daily analysis. Figure out contested camp battles and dig into those stories. Monitor them and try to get a leg up on your competitors by taking an educated and informed guess on the winner. You may not always be right, but your educated guess compared to their blind shot in the dark is exactly how adept fantasy footballers separate themselves from the pack.
Everyone knows Aaron Rodgers is good. Not everyone knows about that undrafted rookie who has quietly been impressing at camp.
2. Hydrate Wisely
Depending on the size of your league, how deep your rosters go, how loosely defined your rules are regarding how long each person has to make their pick (see: stall so that they can research during the draft), and how buggy your respective ESPN/Yahoo/NFL draftroom is... these things can be a marathon. Keep snacks and refreshing beverages handy. Hydrate, friends, hydrate... just make sure it's water, soda, or Gatorade – not beer.
Harry's Chocolate Shop in West Lafayette, IN will sell you a t-shirt with their famous slogan "Go Ugly Early." Wise words indeed. Unless you are independently wealthy in looks, you'll probably get drunk and go home with that "ugly" girl later anyway. So why not save the time and money, right?
Jamal's Chocolate Shop of Fantasy Football tells you it's wrong. Dead wrong. That girl you crudely called "ugly" probably has some other endearing qualities, and if you are wise you'll take the time to get to know her. Looks aren't everything in life... but they are in Fantasy Football.
The last thing you want to do is wake up the day after the draft to find Cedric Benson cooking you eggs with nothing but an apron on. No morning after pill will erase that, and I won't tell you what the bad taste in your mouth is from ... apart from assuring you that it will have been well earned.
Enjoy your fantasy team after it is assembled, not during construction.
3. Study The Point System
Unless you are an abysmal and depressing pessimist with no faith in humankind, like me, you would not believe how many leagues are created by known morons. I can't explain why people who failed third grade math and who can't balance a checkbook think that they should screw around with complex point systems, but I can assure you that it happens.
Any fantasy football website worth a spit, (I'm partial to Yahoo!), will have a section where you can review previous years' results based on the point system elected by your league's commissioner. Go there and click around through the most recent few years. Keep your head on a swivel because gems of gleaming knowledge are hidden therein.
You might not notice right away, but players are likely sorted by default rankings. Never, ever, give weight to those rankings unless you are using a default point system. Sort that stuff, man.
Click on the total points column and sort in descending order, then take note of what position(s) seem to have risen to the top. If you doubt the intelligence of your league commissioner, I can pretty much guarantee one position scores way more than it should... and given recent trends, it is probably QB's. Now take a look and see where the other main positions (RB and WR) show up in those rankings.
If something is way out of line, consider telling/asking/forcing the commission to adjust the point settings. I promise you that it won't be fun if half of your points come from a single player.
Consider counting how many of each position will start in your league. If you have 10 teams and each team starts three WR's, that's 30 WR's starting. Do a few things like seeing what the top 15 WR's average point total was, compared to the top half of starting QB's and RB's. Do you notice a trend? How about the best non-starting WR's (in this case that would be WR's 31 through maybe 40) compared to the best non-starting RB's and QB's? Which position has the best backups? Which doesn't?
In some leagues, kickers are slightly more valuable than a stale fart in a mitten. In other leagues, kickers are worth at least twice as much (they're never worth very much). Team defenses are the same. How do they score, and if they don't score much... do you really care to try and nab a top one?
If you do, go start a league and invite me. I could use another trophy.
4. Create Your Own Rankings
This should be obvious if you just went through point No. 3 above.
The simple fact is that too many people rely on rankings produced for mass consumption, when such rankings should (at most) be used as a gut check for comparing players within a position... and that ignores the fact that too many places don't even update their rankings on a regular basis. Remember what I said about situations changing daily? Months old rankings are about as useful as that pile of crap you made while reading your $5 magazine.
Stop and think about those trends you just noticed in your (abjectly broken and futile) point system. You'll soon realize that rankings for a standard league don't make much sense for you.
Make your own rankings. Even if you just develop a mental totem pole of positional importance, you'll come out ahead. Just keep in mind that fantasy football fortunes are won and lost with mid- and late-round picks. Unless you completely whiffed in the first few rounds, your second and third WR's will cement your legacy more than the top guy.
Like I said, everyone knows who Aaron Rodgers is ... and they know who Larry Fitzgerald is too. Do your research and dig deeper into those mid-tier guys. Also, don't forget to go back and read up on guys who missed sizable amounts of time due to injury. Not all of them will come back and dominate as they did before, but some might. Be of the educated, not the ... um ... not ... educated?
They're called sleepers, but that's because everyone else is sleeping, not you.
5. Keep Things In Perspective
Recognize, fool, recognize. If you are in a league with me, back the eff up from "my" players.
6. Top Secret Post-Credits Scene For True Fans
If you've stayed to the end of this movie, thank you.
Q: What is in a Fantasy Football team name, dear friends?
A: Every. Thing.
There is a reason actors assume a stage name – to impress commoners and riffraff. Now, you may be asking yourself who there is to impress in a fantasy football league. You may want to know what the purpose of impressing others would be, even if you managed to pull it off. What is the point, after all?
I'll see that doubt and raise you... professional card players who wear sunglasses. Those guys are playing against the best of the best – people who eat, crap, and breathe cards. Their competition is made up of the least likely people to be intimidated or psyched out by cheap parlor tricks and Oakley shades ... yet they sometimes are. Players have choices to make, and part of that involves gauging what the other guy is doing. I'm not going to promise you extra winnings if you devise a Hall of Fame team name, but I will remind you of the effect sit/start decisions can have on a rosters' success. The more your opponent second guesses who to start at WR3 because he wants to make sure he beats that guy with the creative team name and mocking avatar, the more likely he is to make a mistake.
Besides, if you don't buy that argument... even if you are a bland and boring loser, there is no reason your team name should reflect that. Treat your team like a band and come up with something original. Your inevitable groupies will appreciate it.