Adam Rank is a writer and analyst for NFL.com. He can be seen during the week on NFL Network’s “NFL Fantasy Live” as well as heard alongside Dave Dameshek on the “Dave Dameshek Football Program” podcast. His daily “Pick Six” column is one of the most popular features on NFL.com. When Rank is not spewing his fantasy knowledge, you can catch his comedic standups around the Los Angeles and Orange County areas.
I have had the pleasure to work with Rank over the last two seasons at NFL.com. I sat down with him to discuss his rise to the top of the fantasy football ranks as well as how fantasy participation amongst females is growing rapidly.
How long have you been playing fantasy football?
I hesitate to answer this, on the grounds that it’s going to make me seem really old, but I don’t think I can avoid that fact. I’ve actually been playing, I want to get the year correctly, since 1993. I know my first fantasy football team had Thurman Thomas on it. It was an auction draft and the first time ever doing it I wanted to bid the guy up. I ended up getting stuck with Thurman Thomas, but I also had Emmitt Smith, so it worked out. We’re closing in on twenty years.
What were your initial thoughts on fantasy football?
It sounded really cool. I was a guy who grew up collecting football cards playing a game called Strat-o-matic, where you used dice and it was a game with cards and if you rolled a 12 you would say, oh look four-yard rush or something like that, so that kind of geeky thing with numbers and things really appealed to me. So when somebody brought up the thing of playing fantasy football, it was like ‘Yeah, this is a fantastic idea.’ It allows me to follow some players and helped with my interest in the game because at that time the Rams, the team I grew up watching, were terrible. It gave me a reason to wake up for the 10AM games.
How has fantasy football changed throughout the years?
Just people becoming more savvy. It used to be a lot of guys just playing their favorite players, you know someone who was a Raiders fan would be drafting a bunch of Raiders or Chargers fans drafting Chargers, but now you see people being savvy, really paying attention to things like depth charts and rosters, and knowing who William Powell is. Ryan Williams goes out for the Cardinals and instantly people know who William Powell is, the backup running back. They’ve looked at these guys, they’ve wanted to have deep sleepers. Now everybody is trying to get so far ahead. You always hear on our show [NFL Fantasy Live], people will talk about a guy they’re trying to swindle right now, and it’s becoming nearly impossible to do that anymore. Even the most casual fantasy fan has a pretty good knowledge of the game.
How did you become a fantasy football analyst?
That’s a good question. I’ve had like a long career in the NFL, again not trying to date myself, going back to when I interned at NFL Publishing back in 1995,
writing about the league and everything. And back in 2008, there was an opportunity here to do a little bit more writing and I really just wanted to stretch my wings. Fantasy football was always something I’d been interested in, always been writing about it, and figured I could bring something that was a little bit different. If you read a lot of the fantasy experts out there, a lot of it is straight forward numbers like, you know the Cleveland Browns allowed the 4th most points to fantasy running backs, and that information is great, but I figured that I mixed a little bit of a blend of numbers and entertainment. You always have to have a little gut feel, kind of like when you’re playing poker. I know the odds, I know that I should be folding or throwing this into the muck but I just got a feeling, I want to play this out, chase something. I feel that I’m a little bit of a goofball too and can bring something new and different to the table. A couple of years ago we started with writing blog posts, and then it evolved into doing three-minute video hits talking fantasy football with Michael Fabiano and Lindsey Soto. And that grew into an hour and a half show every Sunday morning on NFL.com, which grew into a daily show on NFL.com/Network, to now an hour-long show on NFL Network, and it’s been just progressing ever since. I hate to be talking about being in the right place at the right time, but it was just something I pursued and something I really believed in, and stayed connected and stayed in touch with everything and it was a big thing, so I wanted to be apart of it.
For skeptics who believe fantasy football to be a waste of time and pointless, what would you say?
There’s gonna be certain people that feel that way. They are traditionalists and just like to root for their team, and that’s okay. I understand. There are people here [NFL Network] who just don’t have an interest in fantasy football, and that’s okay. I feel like there’s still enough for everybody to go around. You’re not going to win over everybody. But for someone like me who doesn’t have a football team here in Los Angeles, fantasy was a way for me to continue to be involved and still follow the sport. However, I will say to anybody who doesn’t want to do it, at least give it a chance. I feel like it’s one of those things where once you get hooked a little bit, as frustrating as it is, still something you want to be involved in every year.
Fantasy football is a way for females to be involved more with football. What kind of response do you see from women playing fantasy football?
There was a young lady who was tweeting the NFL Fantasy account, and I was manning it on a Sunday morning. She started asking questions, and asked a lot of them. She was new to the game and I really took an interest in what she was doing, how she was doing. At first she was doing one league and just trying to get it together. Fast-forward a year later, she’s now doing three leagues, including one with me. Now she’s a savvy fantasy football person. A year ago, she would have said, ‘Do I start Drew Brees every week?’ and now it’s, ‘Okay Ryan Williams is out, do I start Williams Powell or LaRod Stephens-Howling?’ She doesn’t need my help anymore, she knows what she’s doing. It’s been fun watching her grow.
How can fantasy football help women learn about “real” football?
That’s the cool thing about it. You can take someone who might just have a casual interest in the game, and turn them into a real fan. You’re out at a bar, at a party or something, you’re watching a little bit, you don’t know any of the players. Once you get into fantasy football, now you want to start watching to watch a player. You’re going to sit down and watch the entire Chargers game, and from that you’re going to watch Philip Rivers, Bobby Meachem, even on the other side of the football, Melvin Ingram and all these guys, and you become attached to the game. You’re going to want to watch it each week, and maybe you’ll become a fan of that team if you watch them enough. It just breeds interest in it to the point where you want to watch every game. There’s a Thursday night game and you say, ‘Oh I’ve got to go watch it I’ve got a guy playing tonight.’ You’re always going to be watching. So what it does is it gets people to watch games when they might not have otherwise watched them before.
Well first of all, don’t be intimidated. I think a lot of people don’t want to necessarily jump into it immediately because of the intimidation factor. It seems like it’s so much information, there’s so much stuff to learn, but realize, for most people not everybody is the hardcore, super player like I would be. Just get into it and try it. The only way you can do it is to sit down and actually do it. Just follow along and use the advice that people are giving out. Go online and read on NFL.com. We try to make it pretty easy to read up on the players. We’re really good at reaching out to people who have questions and answer everything. Avoid all the loud mouths, because every league has one, guys who like to talk and run their mouths, just ignore that stuff. Odds are the guys who talk the most are the ones who know the least. It doesn’t take as long as you would think. I would also suggest maybe not doing one with your friends right off the bat. There’s a lot more pressure when you know the people and they might make fun of you or tease you. Just do one discreetly on your own and don’t tell anybody. Slyly sign up, slyly have an account, and then next year, you surprise everybody and show up. You know what’s going on. Then you take over.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see repeated in fantasy football?
It’s a simple thing of just not paying attention. Someone sitting there and not setting a lineup and one of their players was on a bye, or Michael Turner was hurt and I accidentally played him. The biggest part of the game is just making sure you’ve got a guy each and every week, a guy who is actually going to be on the field playing, because once you get to that point, all bets are off. You can read the stats all you want, but on that Sunday, somebody can go out and throw for four interceptions, you know like Tony Romo did it the other night, even though it looked like a great matchup. You know those things happen, those things you can’t control. You just need a lineup of active players each week. You do that, you’re starting off pretty well.
Final question: What is the best fantasy football name you’ve come across?
I don’t want to too my own horn. But last year after Chad Henne went down, it was Oh my God, you killed Henne. I was pretty proud of myself.
Adam Rank can be reached @adamrank. He’d love to hear from you, so give him a shout!