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It’s that time of the year again. NFL training camps have started. Everyone is excited about the upcoming NFL season.

It’s also the time of year to start thinking about your fantasy football team. Maybe you’re a seasoned veteran, wanting an edge for the upcoming season. Or maybe you haven’t played fantasy football before, but you got invited to join a league, and it seems like fun. (It is.) You want a primer so you can get up to speed.

9 Keys to Win Fantasy Football

I love fantasy football, and I’ve been playing for several years. But let’s get real: Fantasy football is MUCH MORE FUN if you win. Here are 9 keys to winning at fantasy football:

1. The Draft is Important

I’m going to spend a lot of time talking about the draft, because it is an important part of the season.

  1. Don’t autodraft. A lot of people just let the computer draft for them. This is a mistake. The computer will always draft one player from each position before drafting backups, which isn’t in your best interest. Also, the computer doesn’t have an overall draft strategy in mind, they just draft the best player available at the position you need. Finally, the computer sometimes isn’t up on all the latest football news (such as injuries).
  2. Use a list. It’s hard to keep track of all the players, even for someone like me who loves watching football. Take advantage of all the information out there on fantasy football. Download a list from one of the main fantasy football websites (e.g., FantasyPros.com, Yahoo.com, ESPN.com) and use it as a guide. You can deviate from your list if you like a player more or less than their ranking, but you have the list to use as a starting place.
  3. Know the scoring rules of your league. The main difference here is standard scoring vs. PPR (i.e., points per reception). PPR means that running backs and receivers get a point each time they catch a ball. The rankings for players are similar in both types of leagues, but wide receivers are ranked slightly higher (compared to running backs) in PPR leagues than in standard leagues. Also, running backs who catch a lot of passes are ranked higher in PPR leagues.
  4. Best player available. I don’t have a specific strategy that I use every time (e.g., always draft RB-RB in the first two rounds). All drafts are different, and my choices depend on who is available when my turn is up. But in general, I usually take the best player available to me at that time.
  5. Look to draft RBs and WRs early. In the first few rounds, I usually target high impact RBs and WRs. These are the key players who will be superstars on your team. If you want to win your fantasy league, it helps to hit on a few key RBs and WRs in the first few rounds.
  6. Wait on a QB. This might seem like a counter-intuitive strategy, but I usually wait to draft a QB until the middle or later rounds. Most people draft a QB early because QBs usually score the most points. Although this is true, the key statistic you want to look at when prioritizing a position isn’t who scores the most points overall, but rather the point differential between the top players and the middle-of-the-road players at that position. Even though QBs tend to score the most points, the point differential between the top QBs and the average QBs is relatively small. Because of this, I usually wait on drafting a QB.
  7. Don’t be afraid to grab a top TE. This is another counter-intuitive strategy. Most people don’t prioritize the TE position, because TEs don’t usually score many points. Although this is true in general, there are always a few TEs that do score a lot of points (e.g., Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce). If you can grab one of these players, you will have an edge over your opponents who didn’t prioritize this position.
  8. Wait to draft kickers and defense. Wait to draft your kicker until the last round. Wait to draft your defense until the second to last round. There’s too much variability at these positions to waste a higher draft pick on either of them.
  9. It’s a long season. Don’t worry too much if the draft doesn’t go as well as you wanted. The draft is important, but it’s not the end-all-be-all. The season is won on a week-to-week basis. If your draft didn’t go well, that’s okay. It’s a long season. It just means you need to do some work to improve your team. Every year, there are LOTS of players who go undrafted and end up being awesome.

2. Check Your Team Each Week

Many people are excited about their fantasy football team at the beginning of the season, but then forget to check their team as the season goes on. Don’t make this mistake! A lot of things change over the course of the season. Players get injured, and teams have bye weeks throughout the season. Check your team at least once per week to make sure all your players are healthy and playing that week.

3. Use a List

Just like you can use a list to help organize your draft, you can use a list week-to-week to help you plan your lineup. Again, you don’t have to adhere to your list religiously, but it can give you a place to start. Looking at a list each week can also help introduce you to free agents who might be available to pick up from the wavier wire.

4. Check the Wavier Wire for Free Agents

Every year, there are many unknown players who aren’t drafted, but end up being AWESOME (e.g., no one drafted Alvin Kamara last year, and he ended up being one of the highest scoring running backs). The key is to catch these players before your opponents. Here are two ideas for catching key free agents early.

  1. Look for breakout performances. Take a look at the top scorers each week. Just because a player has a breakout performance, it doesn’t mean he will necessarily be a great player going forward. (It could be a fluke.) But if a player has a breakout performance, his team is likely to give him more chances moving forward. It could be the start of something great. It can be a good strategy to put a claim on a player who had a breakout performance, and put him on the bench. If he has another good performance, put him in your starting lineup.
  2. Watch for injuries. Each year many key players get injured. When a player is injured, his backup gets a chance to shine. Sometimes he does. When a key player is injured, it can be a good strategy to put a claim on his backup, in case he ends up being great.

5. Don’t Stick With Struggling Players Too Long

One mistake many people make is sticking too long with players who are struggling. Maybe you spent a high draft pick on a player, but he isn’t performing. Or maybe he did really well early in the season, but he hasn’t done well lately and his outlook is trending downward. Don’t keep putting the struggling player in your lineup, expecting things to change. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Put the struggling player on the bench. Or cut your losses and pick someone up from the wavier wire. Fantasy football is a game of “What have you done for me lately?”

6. Consistency is Key

It’s hard to predict who will have an incredible performance (e.g., score two touchdowns) week to week. Instead of trying to catch fire in a bottle, look for consistency. What QBs are throwing for a lot of yards each week? What RBs are getting lots of carries each game? What WRs are getting lots of targets each game? Aim for consistent performers at each position. This will put you in a good position to win each week.

7. What Kicker Should I Choose?

The short answer is that it doesn’t matter too much. There is just too much variability in this position each week. Your best bet is to choose a kicker on a team that has a decent offense, so you know the team will be moving the ball and scoring points each week.

8. What Defense Should I Choose?

Each season, there are a couple of great defenses that are “matchup-proof,” meaning that they’re okay to start each week (e.g., Jacksonville Jaguars last year). If you were lucky enough to get one of these defenses, great, just start your defense each week. If not, look at matchups. Each week there are certain defenses available that are up against poor offenses like the Cleveland Browns. Pick one of those defenses and roll with them.

9. Luck Helps

It’s important to acknowledge that luck plays a big role in fantasy football. To win your league, you need a few balls to bounce your way. Put yourself in a good position to win each week, and leave the rest up to the players on the field.

Discussion: Are you excited about the upcoming fantasy football season? What is one tip you can implement moving forward? What questions do you still have about fantasy football?

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