Fantasy Football 101: Five Common Mistakes to Avoid

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Good morning, students. Please, take your seats and get your pencil and paper ready. What’s that? Well yes, it’s good to know your TPRRs from your aDOTs and YACs, but let’s slow down. All the advanced stats in the world won’t do you any good without a solid foundation.

Fantasy football is easy to play but difficult to master, and the randomness of the NFL (injuries, trades, weather) can ruin even the best-laid plans. However, there are certain principles to keep you from sabotaging yourself from the jump.

Consider this class your prerequisite to fantasy football glory. What follows is a beginner-level guide for avoiding common mistakes in fantasy football. Is there homework and further reading? Of course. Are there weirdly-specific metaphors from your favorite fantasy writers that connect fantasy football to real life? You betcha. And it all starts with the draft.

TL;DR – Make a plan, be a goldfish, stay in the know, and trust no one.

Mistake #1: Drafting Without a Plan

“Would you book a vacation getaway with your spouse only to end up eating at Arby’s every night because you didn’t make reservations ahead of time? Failing to plan is planning to fail. You aren’t that smart.”
-Kyle Borgognoni

It’s been said that you can’t win your league on draft night, but you can probably lose it there. No matter your league format, it’s essential to come to your draft with a plan for multiple players at various positions. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d recommend physical tools (pencil and paper) to make adjustments and mark off players as they’re drafted.

The best and simplest way to plan for your draft is by grouping players of a similar level into groups, or tiers. It’s called tier-based drafting, and it can protect you from the dreaded “draft tilt,” when you have your heart set on a player and he gets drafted one spot ahead of you and you freak out, or “tilt,” and take someone too early or who doesn’t fit your team. Tier-based drafting allows you to say, “I’m comfortable with any player in this tier,” and allows you to stick to your plan.

Screenshot of the Ultimate Draft Kit Cheat Sheet Creator

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Homework: Maybe I’m biased, but the Ultimate Draft Kit is the premier tool to plan for your draft. This year, the Cheat Sheet Creator got a major upgrade and is customizable to your league settings and your own rankings. You can also print one out with the default tiers. If you’re not ready to take the plunge into the UDK+, you can download the Fantasy Footballers’ free positional rankings and create your own tiers.

Further Reading: Tier-based Drafting by Julia Papworth.

Mistake #2: Not Knowing Your League Settings

Maybe this one should have been first. You have to know the rules and settings for your league. Are there two quarterbacks? How many points for a touchdown? Do tight ends get extra points for receptions? How many flex positions are there? Player rankings and draft strategy are wholly dependent on your league settings. Every legitimate fantasy football platform has scoring settings and roster settings you can view to familiarize yourself with your league setup.

Homework: Find your league settings and make notes of any idiosyncrasies. If anything is confusing or seems extreme, ask your commissioner.

Further ReadingThe “Ballers Preferred” League Format (and send this to your commissioner).

Mistake #3: Refusing to Adapt (a.k.a. #TakeLock)

It’s inevitable: you’re going to fall in love with players. Or, more to the point, you will fall in love with your initial opinions of players. Even for “objective” fantasy analysts, it’s easy to buy into a player narrative and stick to an opinion, or “take,” despite any and all evidence to the contrary. Consider the following examples:

Example 1: Kyle Pitts was drafted as a top-three tight end in 2022 but averaged only 6.16 fantasy points per game (0.5 ppr) in 10 games played. Yet it was almost impossible for fantasy managers to pivot away from Pitts.

Example 2: Remember the Drew Lock/Geno Smith debate? Smith was a reliable weekly starter en route to a top-five finish at his position, but how many managers chose to stick with “superstar” Aaron Rodgers despite him scoring 20+ fantasy points in ZERO games in 2022?

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Homework: Think about an opinion you hold that is untethered from reality. Change that opinion. Oh, and please don’t go on a darkness retreat.

Further Reading: Sunk Cost Fallacy and Confirmation Bias.

Mistake #4: Ignoring the Waiver Wire

So, you’ve drafted with a plan, you’re being a goldfish with your hot takes, and your season is underway. The final two mistakes to avoid involve how you manage your team during the season. As the saying goes, everyone has a plan until a running back goes down and punches your season in the face.

The waiver wire is the list of players that aren’t on a roster in your league. Season-long leagues are not the place to “set it and forget it” with your roster, no matter how much you like your drafted team. Or, as one of our illustrious writers Nate Henry would say, “Ignoring the waiver wire is like getting dressed for an interview but forgetting your pants.” It just leaves you exposed to the unexpected. Injuries, bye weeks, nebulous depth charts, and rookie breakouts can make or break your season, and the savvy manager will continuously be looking for players poised for fantasy relevance. Leagues have different settings for how and when these players can be added to squads, but the principle remains the same: watch the waiver wire and stay up to date on NFL news.

Homework:  Bookmark this page.

Further Reading: During the season, read The Fantasy Footballers’ weekly Waiver Wire article.

Mistake #5: Trading Quality for Quantity (a.k.a. the 2-for-1)

Imagine trading your Mercedes for ten bicycles. You’ve got a lot more wheels, but now you have to ride to work.
-Matt DiSorbo

For those newer to fantasy football, this is a big trap. It goes something like this: another manager offers you two, even three good players in exchange for one truly elite player. It feels like a chance to balance out some weak spots on your roster and build depth. You google “fantasy football trade analyzer” and punch those names into the text fields. The results come back positive. In fact, rAnDoMw3bSiteA thinks you won this trade! And of course, the other manager can’t even believe they’re offering it to you.

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While there are scenarios in which a trade like this might be a good idea, these are BAD trades for you in principle.  Here’s why:

  1. Online trade analyzers are notoriously poor at evaluating multi-player trades.
  2. Each roster spot can only be occupied by one player, so quality is more important than quantity. For example, Christian McCaffrey scoring 24 points in the running back position is harder to replicate than two players scoring 15 points in two different roster slots.
  3. Depth is nice to have, but elite players win championships. Full stop.
  4. Your fantasy opponents do not want you to succeed. No manager is a benevolent trader. Their offer is as shameless and disingenuous as someone who self-references an old tweet to brazenly attract more followers.

Homework: Follow, RT, and comment on that tweet. I promise it’s in your best interest.

Actual homework: Make a “Don’t Trade” list of your players post-draft. These are your best players that can win you a week almost single-handedly. Don’t trade them; or if you do, only trade them for players on the same level.

Further Reading: On the WARpath by Matt DiSorbo.

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Class Wrap Up

With the glut of fantasy football content available online, it can be daunting to know where to begin. My advice? Pick a trusted source as your main guide and keep things simple, but be aware of the echo chamber. Avoid these five mistakes, and you’re well on your way to a fun and successful season.

Class dismissed.

Want more like this? Check out more articles for beginners in our Fantasy 101 series.

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