My name is "Action" Jackson....and I'm addicted to fantasy football. There. I said it. The idea of building my own football team is something I've wanted since I was a kid, and now it's an annual tradition amongst my circle of friends. With the return of the NFL season (glory to God), we can all get back to our real passion: fantasy football and beating Eric from down the hall.
For those that don't know, fantasy football is an online system that allows any fan to set up their own leagues with their friends (approximately 10 to make up a good league), and in those leagues, each person creates their very own custom team from a fantasy draft of current NFL players. Like the graphic above, some teams would feature impossible team-ups, like a Bo Jackson, Marcus Allen, and Darren McFadden backfield. Custom teams play one another each week, and gain points based on the performance of their players, and the team with the most points wins.
Over the course of the season, team owners can pick and choose what players are on their teams based on the performance of each athlete. With the fantasy season on the horizon, many are wondering: "Who should I pick first?" "Do I need a kicker?" "Will my friend Max pick the Seahawks defense just because, or will they actually be good this year?" "Who will Chip Kelly cut this season?" I'm here to offer my top 3 insights to help you win your fantasy league this season.
The reliable running back is your best friend
Forget what every media outlet is telling you: the running back is not extinct, nor is it any less valuable to the team than the passing game. Any coach or coordinator will tell you that you run the ball to set up the pass, and you pass the ball to open up your run. The NFL may be infatuated with shotgun offenses and the passer numbers are increasing, but that's not because the run game is less effective. It's because defenders are less capable of open field tackles, and offenses know this. They pass more often because it's easier to move the ball that way. However, teams like the Los Angles Rams, Minnesota Vikings, and Dallas Cowboys are built to do one thing and one thing only: grind. Run the ball, make the opponent get tired, and get yards late in the game. All three of those teams have a workhorse carrying the ball for them, and those players are projected to be the top picks in fantasy drafts across the nation. Todd Gurley (LA), Adrian Peterson (MI), and Ezekiel Elliot (DAL) will likely be the first three players taken.
I hear you way in the back, friend: "I pick 5th overall! Which running back should I take if those three will be gone?" My answer: the starting running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, whether it's LeVeon Bell or DeAngelo Williams, would be an excellent and safe pick. Bell is easily the best running back not named Adrian Peterson. He is both a gifted runner between the tackles and a talented receiver out of the backfield, and he plays in a very pass happy offense. The sole downside: he likes marijuana, and the NFL knows this. As of today, Bell is suspended for the first 3 games of the season, making his backup DeAngelo Williams a smart pick. When Bell was hurt last season, Williams toted the rock for Pittsburgh, rushing for over 900 yards in only 10 starts. That's serious production, especially when playing in the always tough AFC North division.
My point: running backs are crucial. They aren't going anywhere, and they are essential to your fantasy team winning games, especially late in the year when teams tend to run the ball more as the weather gets colder. Draft wisely.
Be patient with the quarterbacks, for your own sake
I know exactly what you're thinking: "Cam Newton's the MVP! He should be my number 1 pick!" And my response: Nice try. That's cute. But despite what you and Mr. Newton may think, he can't do it all by himself. Super Bowl 50 showed us this. The quarterback is only as good as his supporting cast. Aaron Rodgers found that out the hard way last season. As sensationally talented the former Cal Bear and current Green Bay Packer is, losing star receiver Jordy Nelson for the entire 2015 season hurt not only Rodgers' numbers, but his team's ability to pass the ball and thus win games.
I say this to tell you to not pick quarterbacks high in your fantasy drafts. Get skill players first (WRs, RBs, TEs). They score the touchdowns. They do the cool dances. There's also a lot more of them. Of the 32 NFL teams, there are approximately 20 quarterbacks that I would consider "good", or capable of helping his team win a game, with 11 of them being considered "elite", or irreplaceable on their team. That's 11 players that need someone else's help to score a point versus 100+ players who can score from anywhere on the field and could positively affect your team's chances of winning. I'm not a math major, but it seems kind of hard justifying drafting someone that high when he needs a lot of help to even win you games.
Don't get me wrong; a quarterback is the most important position on the field. He is the field general. But he is human, and he needs help. Without an A.J. Green to throw to every other play, who is Andy Dalton, really? Yes, Russell Wilson breaks the mold as the very short and very athletic quarterback we all know and love, but would he have been Russell Wilson without the Legion of Boom on his defense and Beast Mode toting the ball and moving the chains? Yes, Tom Brady is arguably the greatest pure passing quarterback to ever breathe oxygen, but when he started out, he was a 6th round draft pick who barely started and had to utilize the run game and defenses to win close games. He didn't have Wes Welker, or Randy Moss, or Gronk. He had a good defense and running game. My point? Have a supporting cast drafted and ready to play before you use that #3 overall pick on Cam Newton. I guarantee he'll be there when you pick again at #12. Maybe #21. But he definitely won't be there by pick #126. Draft wisely.
Defense wins championships. Look at the numbers
It's an old coaching adage, but it's supported by fact: offense sell tickets in October, but defense wins championships in February. Super Bowl 50? The top offense played the top defense. The defense won, and won handily. Super Bowl XLVIII? Top offense vs top defense. Result? Defense hoists the Lombardi. Super Bowl XLII, when the 16-0 Patriots played the 9-7 Giants? Guess who won? The Giants. Guess who had the better defense? The 9-7 underdogs who no one thought had a chance. Defense, defense, defense. More often than not, the superior defensive teams will win the tight games, especially games in the cold in December and January when the game matters most (Playoffs).
For your fantasy team, this adage applies. Get a good defense or two to play all season long, and your team will pick up points and win some close games. Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, and Arizona Cardinals are three excellent defenses that I would recommend picking up as soon as they are available. All three have premier defenders on their roster, and all three force turnovers and sack quarterbacks at will, gaining you and your team valuable points. Some smart sleeper picks include the Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings, and Cincinnati Bengals. These latter three are talented defenses, but were flawed last season. They should improve this year, and if you don't pick them, your buddy George will, and George's team might just beat your team in a couple weeks thanks to a few extra points.
My point? Your team is only as good as the weakest part. Don't let your weak part be your defense. It's very important to fantasy success. If you think playing the Dolphins defense every week will help you win games, you live in another world where it's 1972 every season and Don Shula is prowling the sidelines once again. All seriousness, not everyone will be able to have Seattle's defense, but you can be smart and pick an up and coming one like Minnesota's and still be competitive every week. Draft wisely.
These are my fantasy football tips; good luck to you all! Connect with me on Twitter: @mrjackson__
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