According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, an average of 40 million Americans participate in fantasy football every year. Figures from the same group indicate that fantasy football owners spend an average of 9 hours a week on fantasy-specific tasks, like research and roster shuffling.

Football is not just the biggest sport in the country in terms of TV viewership, it’s also the most popular fantasy sport. It’s really not all that surprising since NFL betting alone (whether its online or in Vegas) is a multi-billion dollar a year industry!

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Back to the Basics – Fantasy Football Edition!

The game of fantasy football puts players in the front office, drafting players, creating rosters, arranging trades, and staying up late at night worrying about interceptions. Players join leagues (made up of friends, an office pool, or even total strangers), participate in a draft, and compete against the other fantasy owners in the league based on real-world NFL statistics.

Fantasy Football Rosters

Though private and custom leagues can (and often do) change these rules, there is a standard roster makeup for fantasy football. Generally, rosters are made up of 16 players, broken up into the following positions:

1 QB
2 RB
2 WR
1 Flex (RB/WR)
1 TE
1 Team Defense
1 K
7 Bench Spots

You’ll notice right away that this roster alignment favors the passing game – five of a player’s sixteen roster spots are taken up by positions that either throw or catch the football. That’s a symptom of the modern pass-happy NFL, and it’s also why top receivers are so heavily-valued in the fantasy world, often more than they are in the pro game.

Some private and custom leagues are known to include defensive positions and scoring for defensive stats – this makes for a much more complex fantasy season and requires a lot more research, not to mention a deeper draft and even more potential roster and injury concerns. Playing in a so-called “defensive league” is best left up to owners with a little experience.

How Does Fantasy Football Work?

Several popular platforms exist online that offer fantasy football in what is essentially a point and click interface. These platforms (Yahoo, ESPN, etc.) offer public leagues made up of strangers as well as the ability to create a private league.

Players get special invitations to join private leagues, otherwise all play is against the general public. Fantasy sports these days are played for fun, though there is a growing interest in playing for cash. In some cases, big private leagues or existing fantasy sports betting services reward hundreds of thousands of dollars to champions.

Step One – Join a League

Because there are so many types of fantasy football leagues, choosing the league that’s right for a player’s individual needs is important. We discuss rule and scoring variations below, to help beginners understand what type of league they’d be interested in joining.

Step Two – Prepare for the Draft

The draft is the highlight of the fantasy sports year. A good draft requires a lot of preparation. Fantasy owners need to deal with the impact of their draft position. They need to have a working knowledge of the skill sets of about 175-200 NFL players. They need up-to-date information about trades, injuries, and roster shuffles at the professional level. Few fantasy owners do all the homework mentioned above – the ones that do tend to be more successful.

Step Three – Complete a Draft

We said the draft was important – we think it’s so vital that we’ve turned it into two distinct steps. Taking part in a fantasy football draft for the first time can be intimidating. Fantasy mock drafts will prepare even the greenest owner for the way an actual draft moves. Staying calm and confident should take care of the rest.

Step Four – Compete

This step makes up a good chunk of the actual time spent “playing” fantasy football during a season. In fantasy football leagues, teams face off head-to-head on a weekly basis, with stats compiled from all players on a fantasy owner’s roster. The owner whose roster earned more real-world points wins the week. Like in the real NFL, the object is to win as many weekly contests as possible for a chance at the fantasy playoffs.

Step Five – Improve Your Team

The only way a player is going to make it through the entirety of a 13-week fantasy season (and the three weeks of playoffs after that) is if they learn how to improve the team they drafted. Even the best draft will have soft spots, especially in leagues with more than 10 teams.

Knowing how to gauge when a player is underperforming is one thing – knowing how to drop that player and replace him is another. Improving a roster can also mean dealing with injuries or players who lose their starting role. Maintaining a roster is probably as important as pulling off a good draft.

Fantasy Football Strategy

Because fantasy sports are such a rich blend of real-world statistics, private bartering, and independent strategizing, endless tomes could be written on the subject of how to perform better and win more often in your fantasy NFL league.

A beginner’s attempt at fantasy football strategy should include plenty of time for researching the players they believe will be a part of their league’s draft. It should also include the use of mock draft software to put themselves in different positions on the selection board and go through the fake draft to see how other owners will pick.

Beyond that, keeping up with the real-world game (the best fantasy owners watch hours of football and coverage on a weekly basis) and reading up on strategy and advice should keep newcomers to the hobby competitive, regardless of their league. Fantasy sports are difficult to master, but getting started doesn’t take a whole lot of effort. This is particularly true if fantasy football remains a hobby, something people do for fun.

As long as owners keep track of their rosters and do a little research on the side (including regularly reading up on fantasy football advice and strategy), they should enjoy their time as the owner of a fantasy NFL roster.