When I started playing fantasy football, there was no such thing as podcasts. (And to check my line up I had to walk uphill, both ways, in the snow….) It’s really only been this summer that I’ve started listening to fantasy football podcasts at all, and, I have to say, I’ve really been enjoying it. I take my fantasy football pretty seriously, so the fact that I can multi-task and educate myself while on the subway or cooking dinner is heaven for a busy working mother, and it’s nice to get a little more color from the gurus than the edited down versions in their online columns.
So, browsing through podcasts, I recently noticed a new one on ESPN, available on iTunes or through the ESPN Fantasy Football home page, called “Fantasy for Beginners” and featuring Robyn Remick, VP of Events & Marketing for ESPN Audio. Though not a beginner myself, I was intrigued by the idea of an Fantasy Football League podcast hosted by a woman, so I figured it was worth a listen. Remick is a 20+ year veteran of the media industry who, for her last seven years at ESPN, has been itching to get into fantasy football, but has been somewhat intimidated by what she viewed as a research-heavy, mathematically oriented hobby. She has enlisted the ESPN fantasy football gurus to prove that is not the case, and, while her thoughts and questions come from a feminine perspective (which I like), the material in the podcasts themselves is decidedly gender-neutral.
Remick’s first podcast (8/9) features “The Talented Mr. Roto”, Matthew Berry, my personal favorite fantasy football guru. I was somewhat disappointed, as I found the content extremely basic, mostly to do with the mechanics of setting up a league and not as much beginner strategy as I would’ve liked, but I also understand that I’m not the target audience. Even a true beginner may find some of the history and fundamental set up of fantasy sports somewhat tedious information to cover. However, toward the end Remick and Berry do start to get into some useful beginner strategy. Some highlights I gleaned include:
- Remember that fame does not equal fantasy value – I feel like it’s a stereotype: the token girl in a fantasy football draft with the thought-bubble over her head, “[Tom Brady/Reggie Bush/Tim Tebow] is SO dreamy, I HAVE to have him on my team!” But, sadly, when I recently agreed to draft an FFL team for my sister, I was instructed by her to “get RGIII at all costs!” I wanted to shake her! Just because she’s a Redskins fan and she’ll be rooting her heart out for him, and just because he’s getting more hype than a summer blockbuster, does NOT mean she should draft him “at all costs” (ie, the first round). Reaching for brand names is always an unsuccessful strategy.
- Take who you enjoy rooting for – This is an especially helpful piece of advice for beginners. I’ve said it before too: when you like your players, it’s more fun to root for your team. Further, when your roster consists of players that you’re more likely to be watching on Sunday, you will get a better idea of their actual performance than just reading about it online. Of course, that said, avoid the trap of fielding only/mostly players on your home team or the ones you “just love” (as above).
- “Staying healthy is a skill” - Berry made this comment, and I thought it’s a useful one to remember (and a sentiment Stephania Bell echos in the second podcast). If a player has a decent track record of injury (in college and as a pro), it might be a good idea to stay away from him, especially for a beginner who may not be as practiced at working the waiver wire.
- “When in doubt, pick the highest on the list” – There are paid professionals who do FFL research for you. Yes, those more experienced in the league will try to gain an edge by adding their own opinion and analysis to edit the public rankings, but it’s not necessary in order to field a decent team. Print out the latest rankings ahead of your draft, cross people off as they get picked, and select the next highest name when it comes to you. Just don’t make the same mistake I made in my first year and select a kicker in the 8th round because all your other starters are set. Oy.
The second podcast in the series (8/16) brought in ESPN’s injury expert, Stephania Bell. Bell’s expertise is more specific, so Remick’s interview of her brought out information that may be more relevant to beyond just beginners. The initial part of the podcast is focused on Bell’s experience as an FFL participant herself (again, interesting to hear a woman’s perspective), but it goes on to discuss more specific advice on how to assess the health of your roster. Some useful tidbits from that discussion:
- Assume that your line up will change every week – Bell points out that all players are banged up after week 2 and will naturally go on and off the injury reports. Don’t panic, just keep in mind who on your team is worth dropping, and who might be available to pick up in order to fill a starting spot. Injury reports initially come out on Tuesdays of each week, with updates posted after practices on Thursday and Friday. She recommends setting alerts for players you might be particularly worried about and reading her Saturday afternoon blog post, which summarizes her thoughts on the severity of key players’ injuries. I’ll add that I follow her and other fantasy experts on Twitter, and Sunday mornings I always browse their feed for last minute inactives, etc.
- Don’t judge an injury by how the player leaves the field – What you see on tv can be deceptive. Carting someone off the field may be just a precautionary measure. Similarly, players have walked to the locker room with a torn ACL. Wait to hear the MRI results and official reports before you rush to drop someone.
- Don’t be too loyal to the players you draft – This is a trap that beginners and veterans alike fall into. You had your heart set on a player and snagged him in your draft, but (injury related or not) he’s not performing where you expected him to. It can been gut-wrenching, you actually get attached to some of these guys, but, as Kenny Rogers says, “you got to know when to fold ‘em.” Better options emerge from undrafted players who get their shot in the first few weeks thanks to injury or otherwise.
- Be attentive to the waiver wires – This is a tip I fully subscribe to as well. To expand on the above tip, the team that you draft is rarely the one you win with in the end. You have to be active in looking for emerging players to help upgrade your team. Also look out for when bye weeks kick in–your opposing players may have to drop someone they don’t want to to grab a fill-in. Always have an idea of who on your team you’d be willing to cut should someone with more potential become available.
When I joined my first fantasy football league, I thought my love of football would be enough to make me competitive. Boy was I wrong, and I made a lot of learn-as-you-go mistakes along the way. Fantasy football is fun and not too hard, but beyond a love of the game, there are some strategies and nuances that are helpful to learn so you can compete at a higher level. Robyn Remick’s podcasts will give a beginner advantages her competitors will assume she doesn’t yet understand, and, even as a veteran of FFL, I look forward to hearing what the final two podcasts in the series have to offer.