Fantasy Football 101: Experts chime in on new season

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It’s the time of the year where words like “flex position”, “sleeper player” and “start or sit” become common in the vocabulary of millions of people around the world.

With the NFL regular season nearing its start, thousands of fantasy football drafts are going to be held across the country in the upcoming weeks.

The Tri-Parish Times spoke to a couple of fantasy gurus this week who both touted that the upcoming season will be an exciting one for those who annually delve into the cyber sport.

“This is an exciting time of the year for us at our site,” said Joseph Dolan, the managing editor at esteemed fantasy football site “Everyone has all of their rankings made and we’re all waiting for the preseason games to start so that we can tweak before our drafts.”

Believe it or not, fantasy football has been around since the 1960s.

The concept started in 1962 at the Milford Plaza Hotel in New York City when two Oakland Raiders employees and a reporter teamed up to create the GOPPPL (Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League).

Since that time, fantasy football has gradually grown to become one of the most widely played games across the world.

That boom was sparked by the creation of the Internet, which allowed leagues and drafts to shift from paper and pencil to electronic software that allows players to play with their friends all across the world.

A study conducted in 2009 showed that more than 32 million people compete in fantasy football leagues each year.

Another study in 2011 showed that the number jumped drastically and more than 47 million players now take part in leagues.

So with the 2013 season now upon us, what do the experts say players should expect?

Dolan and head writer Mike Rodriguez chimed in this week to share their thoughts on the upcoming season.

The year of the halfback

Both Dolan and Rodriguez said that fantasy football players sometimes fall into a trap when making their teams.

Because actual NFL teams are so heavily centered around quarterback play, the experts said that fantasy players tend to try and pick superstar quarterbacks in the earliest rounds of the draft.

But Dolan and Rodriguez said this faux pas should be avoided.

They said that because there are so many quality quarterbacks in modern NFL, fantasy players should instead try and fill their cupboard with positions without depth – primarily running back.

“The No. 1 piece of advice I would give to anyone is that if you’re in a standard league, I think you need to realize that there is a lot of depth at the quarterback position,” Dolan said. “I think the biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone is to wait on that quarterback and to load up on running backs early and also wide receivers.

“There’s a decent amount of depth for running backs at that top tier, but I really think it drops off drastically once you get past the elite guys.”

Rodriguez couldn’t agree more.

He said that if the right situation presents itself in his drafts, he may use multiple top picks on halfback if the players on the board meet his value.

“Great running backs are hard to come by, so it is important that you do your best to add as many high quality backs as you can early on,” Rodriguez said.

So now that we know what position to take, who are the names to look for?

The consensus No. 1 at the position is Adrian Peterson, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards last season.

But Dolan also said to look out for Tampa Bay Buccaneers halfback Doug Martin and Baltimore Ravens halfback Ray Rice.

Rodriguez said he likes Kansas City Chiefs halfback Jamaal Charles because of first-year coach Andy Reid’s impact on the Chiefs’ offense, which will feature Charles as a runner and receiver.

Buy or sell?

Fantasy football is like the stock market – a team’s success is heavily predicated on who can get the best bargains in the later rounds of drafts.

Because the NFL preseason is only one game old, the two experts shied away from creating a deep list of “sleeper picks” for the new season – but they did hand out a few.

For fantasy football rookies, the term “sleeper” is given to a player that may not have historically had success, but could be prime for a breakout season.

“I think (Dolphins running back) Lamar Miller is a guy that you’ll be able to get pretty late that could have a really big year,” Dolan said. “He’s in an offense that will feature him, and he’s in a position to post some solid numbers. The big question with him will be health and how well he can hold up and stay healthy.”

“One player that I really like is (Saints receiver) Nick Toon,” Rodriguez added. “He is having an excellent training camp and is in a heated battle for the fourth wide receiver spot on the Saints’ roster. … It may be a little early to jump on the fantasy bandwagon, but if he has a couple of solid preseason games, I wouldn’t be surprised to start seeing him in the bottom part of fantasy drafts as a sleeper.”

As for players to avoid – some of the names on the expert’s list may surprise you.

Dolan said he is going to try and avoid New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady on his teams.

Rodriguez cautioned fantasy owners about San Diego Chargers’ halfback Ryan Mathews because of his injury history.

“This isn’t that I don’t trust Tom Brady or I don’t think Tom Brady is a great player – he may be the best quarterback to ever play,” Dolan said. “But when you look at his roster, his weapons are a bit depleted. Everyone knows about the Aaron Hernandez situation. Rob Gronkowski had surgery and he’s not on the field yet. They lost Wes Welker and a few of their receivers. They have something like 80 percent of their passing offense from last season gone. If anyone can do it, it’s Tom Brady, but I’m cautious.”

Where is best to draft

One of the biggest sources of excitement for a player in a fantasy football league is opening up a draft room and learning for your draft position.

This brings another statistical anomaly into play.

Both Dolan and Rodriguez said that despite popular opinion, drafting first doesn’t give you an advantage in your league.

That’s because if you draft first in the opening round, you are slated to draft last in the second round – a system that creates a huge gap in between your picks.

Both experts said that most successful players prefer to either be in the top-half of the first round or in the back-half of the draft.

“Personally, I like to be closer to the last pick,” Rodriguez said. “I like positions nine or 10. The advantage to being closer to the last pick is it allows me to be strategic with waiting on a player. If there’s someone I really like, I’ll look at the roster of players after me and project the odds of that player getting overlooked based on their roster.”

Following that advice, the two players also had advice on where to draft team defenses and kickers.

Their answers are unanimous.

“Draft them dead last,” Rodriguez said.

Dolan agreed and said he never picks those positions early in his drafts.

He doesn’t have any loyalty toward the players of that position and he actually mixes and matches them throughout the year based on matchups.

“A lot of the time, we would start defenses that played Oakland or some of the other bad offenses in the league because they gave up a lot of sacks and they just didn’t score many points,” Dolan said. “So with those positions, we really just sort of play the matchups and patrol the free agent wire to try and pickup some hot matchups for the week.”

With the month of August here, now is the time for fantasy football. A pair of experts lent their drafting advice to the Tri-Parish Times this week. In their tips, the experts said that taking an elite halfback is a top priority because of the lack of depth at the position. The experts also said that the New Orleans Saints have a roster full of players who hold tremendous fantasy value.