Better Late than Never: A Beginners Guide to Fantasy Football

It was Christmas Eve, 2017. Nissan Stadium on the Cumberland river, just across from downtown Nashville. Just over sixty thousand fans were in attendance for the 1pm game to see the Rams secure the NFC West title over a desperate Titans team. Tennessee was fighting for their division, but couldn’t secure a victory and would end up settling for a Wild Card bid.

The game was exciting, with the score tied at 20 entering the closing quarter. Following a Titans field goal 14 seconds into the 4th, Cooper Kupp scored the final touchdown of the day on a pass from Jared Goff with 11:51 remaining in the game to put LA up for good.

But neither of them was the hero of the day.

Todd Gurley finished the game with 22 rushes for 118 yards to go along with 10 receptions for 158 yards and two touchdowns. It was a spectacular game, and one that Rams fans were ecstatic about. But they weren’t the only ones celebrating. He’d just won thousands of people a bundle of money.

Even if you’ve never taken part in a league, you’ve certainly heard about fantasy football. Once a pastime only for the dedicated number crunchers, online services and smartphone ubiquity have allowed for explosive growth of this hobby over the past 10-15 years. In 2005, around 13 million players took part in fantasy sports, a number which has grown to nearly 60 million in 2017.  It’s almost a certainty that if you’re not a player yourself, you know someone who takes part in a league.

But how does it work? It can be a bit complicated for newcomers, even those familiar with the NFL. You may know the basics, that players scoring in real life gets you points if they’re on your team. But then you may hear about ‘auction drafts’ and ‘PPR’ and ‘keepers’ and start to tune out completely. But it isn’t as complicated as it may seem!

The basic premise is simple. You and one opponent choose which players you think will score the most points in that week from your roster of drafted NFL stars. Then you move onto the next opponent in the following week, with your goal to win as many matchups as possible against your fellow owners. This leads to a playoff with the best teams entering a tournament to determine the champion.

The format is relatively universal, although there are plenty of variations that can be added. Most leagues will have you drafting some combination of Quarterbacks, Wide Receivers, Running Backs, and Tight ends. You will have dedicated roster spots for these players, with a ‘bench’ to keep the rights to players you aren’t using that week.

The players generally score based on their yardage, with rushing and receiving yards netting 1 point for each 10 yards, or 1 per 25 passing yards for QBs. You will also score when the players notch TDs, typically 6 points for rushing and receiving touchdowns and 4 points for passing. A solid score for a player is usually around 15 points, meaning they gained about 150 yards or had a combination of around 90 yards and a touchdown.

Now, let’s apply these parameters to Mr. Gurley from earlier. His scoring breakdown is as follows:

118 Rushing yds – 11.8 pts

158 Receiving yds – 15.8 pts

2 Receiving TDs – 12 pts

Total – 39.6 pts

That is an example of a huge scoring day in fantasy. But the context is important too: Since everyone doesn’t play in the postseason, fantasy seasons end before the NFL playoffs begin. Many leagues are set up to play their championship game in week 16, which just happened to be the week Todd Gurley visited Nashville.

Since he had been doing very well all season, and especially in the two weeks preceding, many Todd Gurley owners had made their league’s playoffs and won their way into the championship. Gurley’s performance was the Christmas present they were all hoping for.

But how did they all get him on their team? The other important piece of fantasy football is the draft. There are two main types of drafts, but we’ll focus on the standard format. Each team owner is assigned a position in the draft, and they each take turns selecting players to their roster. The draft happens in what is called ‘snake order’, where the last to choose in a round picks first in the next.

Once all roster spots are full, the draft ends and all the unselected players are put into a pool of ‘Free agents’, where they can be picked up later by teams who want to replace players on their roster who may be underperforming or injured, or possibly because one of the free agents is showing promise.

If you are interested in the NFL but haven’t given fantasy a try, you should consider joining a league. You’ll likely learn quite a bit about players you would not have followed otherwise, and you’ll be participating with friends who will bring out your competitive spirit. It’s all about having a great time while watching football.