Fantasy Football 101: Five Mistakes that Novice Managers Make & How to Avoid Them

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Every experienced fantasy football player can look back on their first season playing and point out mistakes that they made.  Like anything, practice makes perfect.  I personally started playing fantasy football a decade ago.  I have probably spent over 5,000 hours of my life on NFL or fantasy football-related things – podcasts, watching games, researching, writing articles, reading articles, etc.  (Bad boy life – NBD but KBD).  Naturally, I have a much better understanding of fantasy football now than I did when I started.  I believe that fantasy football is about ⅓ luck, ⅓ how well you draft, and ⅓ how well you manage your team during the season.  But there is a lot more to fantasy football than that!  This article is meant to stay high level and provide guidance to those that are new to or inexperienced with fantasy football.  Let’s get to it…Here are five mistakes that novice fantasy managers make and how you can avoid them.

1. Don’t stop paying attention

A lot of novice players feel overwhelmed or aren’t sure how to navigate through a fantasy football season.  Some new players will stop paying attention after the initial draft.  Some others decide to give up on the season if they have a losing record (i.e. 1-4).  Don’t be one of those people!  Regardless of how good/bad your draft was, you don’t win a championship on draft day.  Similarly, fantasy player value can change drastically and quickly.  Consider Christian McCaffrey (CMC) in 2020…He got injured early on in the season and only played one game from Week 3 onward.  Meanwhile, Mike Davis (backup RB) stepped in and provided pretty solid fantasy production for the remainder of the season.  Those who picked up Mike Davis off waivers in Week 3 were rewarded.  Meanwhile, those who rostered CMC but were too slow to grab Mike Davis were punished and likely did not do well last season.  As I mentioned in the intro, in-season team management is a critical part of winning.  But more important than winning, fantasy football is about having fun and connecting with others.  Even if you have the worst team in the league, you still have a shot to take down the league favorite late in the season.

There are many ways to stay on top of NFL & fantasy football throughout the season like podcasts, articles, Twitter, television, Youtube, etc.  My recommendation is to start listening to some fantasy football podcasts and pick one (or more) that you like.  The Fantasy Footballers podcast is packed with entertainment and astute fantasy analysis.  If you do nothing else than listen to the Fantasy Footballers episodes during the week (5 x 1 hr episodes + 1 Patreon episode), you will be in pretty good shape to be a contender in your fantasy league.

2. Know your league

It seems simple, but it gets more overlooked than you’d think.  Are you playing for fun or playing for money (and how much)?  What kind of league are you in (dynasty vs keeper vs redraft vs best ball)?  What is the scoring format (full PPR, non-PPR, TE premium, bonus points for long plays, etc.)?  What is the league format (Superflex, 2 QB, # of flex spots, how many bench spots, etc.)?  What kind of league-mates are you playing with?  What platform are you playing on?

If someone asks you to join a fantasy football league, ask a lot of questions!  Also, make sure to go to the league website/app and read through all the settings and information about your league before your draft.  I’ve been in leagues before where the commissioner set up special rules (3 starting WR + 2 flex) and didn’t tell anyone until after the (in-person) draft.  Also, fantasy football is a lot better when you’re playing with people that are fair, friendly, and active.  Don’t get stuck with a league where people cheat or don’t pay league fees.  On that note, league fees should be collected BEFORE the draft!  It’s far too common for commissioners, who spend a lot of time behind the scenes, to get stuck forking over extra money to the league winner because someone didn’t pay their league fee.

At the end of the day, fantasy football is a mechanism to compete with friends/family and stay connected.  It’s fun!  It gives you something to look forward to.  I think many of us – myself included – found that fantasy football in 2020 made the world seem a little bit more normal and fun at a time where there was a lot of chaos and negative things happening in the world.  Additionally, connections that you make in fantasy football can actually go a long way.  I legitimately might not be working for my current employer if I didn’t play fantasy football – as silly as that sounds.  My college friend recommended the company to me and advocated that they hire me, and we probably would not have kept in touch as closely without playing in the same league for ~7 years beforehand.  I’ve also connected with a lot of other interesting people that I wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to meet.

3. Don’t play it safe

I used to be very timid and safe in fantasy football.  For example, I would stick pretty closely to average draft position (ADP) during the draft, I was conservative with my FAAB bids, I didn’t want to make a trade unless I felt that I was a gigantic winner, etc.  Playing it safe is great…if you want to finish 6th in your league.  You can’t escape from the fact that luck is a gigantic factor in fantasy football.  Let’s say you play in a 12 person league… Even if you have the best team by far, you probably only have a 20% chance to win the league.  Like real-life football, anyone can win a week in fantasy football.  Any given Sunday.  I’d rather play to “win” than play to “not lose”.

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Fantasy football is more fun when you take a shot on a player that you believe in.  Go and get “your guy” in the draft.  Go trade for someone if you think they’re going to have a breakout.  Heck, overpay for players on the NFL team you root for.  It’s more fun when you get to cheer for the players you believe in rather than a random player that was up next on your cheat sheet during the draft.

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There is no single way to win in fantasy football, and the odds are against you…so you might as well have fun and go with your gut.

4. Be willing to change your opinion

Things change quickly in fantasy football.  For example, James Robinson went from an undrafted player to top-12 running back in 2020.  I, for one, did NOT predict James Robinson to be a contributor in the NFL – not mind a stud player on a terrible offense.  Those that made moves to acquire him early last season were rewarded with a super productive fantasy asset.  Conversely, pay attention to players that are underperforming.  An NFL player’s “name-value” can have a big impact on trade value or draft value.  A good example of that is Todd Gurley, who was the highest level of elite merely three seasons ago.  He was a fantasy MVP for a few years in a row…until he hit a cliff, and he fell HARD.  It’s really difficult to move on from someone like Todd Gurley, but those who can adapt and identify trends quickly do well in fantasy football (and in life).  One of the hardest things to do is to ignore “name-value”, but it’s one of the best ways to gain an edge over your league-mates.

Another thing you should be willing to change your opinion about is which players are best for your roster.  If you’re halfway through the season and your record is 6-2, you can start to make moves for players and defenses that have juicy playoff matchups.  However, if you’re 2-6…you should be focusing on winning the immediate matchup in front of you – at all costs!  If you have the best player in fantasy but have no other valuable players – think about trading that player for depth.  Conversely, if you have great depth – think about a 2:1 trade to upgrade a position player.  That’s why Andy, Mike, and Jason will frequently say “it’s team dependent” when answering listener questions.

5. Plan ahead

Savvy fantasy managers are always looking at their upcoming matchup (as well as next week’s) and adjusting their strategy accordingly.  This makes a huge difference over the course of the season.  Here are some examples:

  • If you have a player playing in the Thursday night game, put them in the RB, WR, or TE slot instead of your Flex spot.  This gives you more flexibility later on in the weekend if other players on your roster get injured, suspended, etc.
  • Plan for the full range of potential outcomes.  If you have Julio Jones playing on Monday night but he’s listed as questionable…Pickup a player (or trade) ahead of time that will be able to fill his role so that you’re prepared.  In this case, it would be beneficial to pickup a player that also plays Monday night so you have the ability to play Julio if he’s active.  If your “replacement option” plays Sunday night and there isn’t a Julio update yet…you will be left with a difficult decision about whether to gamble on Julio’s health.
  • Look at your opponent’s roster.  Do they have a QB on bye?  Does their Defense play against the KC Chiefs?  If so, you can play “defense” by going after the best waiver wire options to prevent your opponent from taking them.
  • If you’re streaming the QB position and don’t have a “plug and play” QB, you may want to look ahead at the upcoming schedule and roster two QB’s that compliment each other so that you can play the best matchups.  This strategy works well for defenses as well.  In some cases, I’ll pick up a defense or QB that I plan to use 3-4 weeks in the future if I have the bench space available.
  • If you’re a contending team that needs to win now, look ahead at your matchups against difficult opponents.  One of the most satisfying moves in all of fantasy football is outsmarting your rival with a bye week trade.  For example, let’s say your RB1 and WR2 both have a bye in Week 12 when you play against your league rival Amanda.  See if you can trade one or two of those players to Amanda a few weeks in advance so that you get an edge against her in Week 12!  Oftentimes, your leaguemates are only looking at their upcoming matchup and nothing beyond that.
Final Thoughts

There are a lot of ways to improve as a fantasy manager, and the most important is to just pay attention and stay active.  Hopefully this article provided some helpful suggestions for those new to fantasy or those that always find themselves losing in fantasy but looking to take a step forward.  The more time you invest, the better you’ll get!


Steve W says:

This is a great article – kudos to the author.

One thing I’ve learned in my 10 years of FF play is “You can’t win a championship on draft but you can certainly lose it”… For me that means lots of research and lots of watching college football. We all get bit by injury and in-season trades that hurt your team, I believe one of many tools a player can use is ‘forecasting’. Look at the match-ups for the next several weeks, If you like something and you feel confident, don’t be afraid to make a trade that ‘on paper’ most would say is not beneficial. For instance, I just traded Amon Ra St. Brown for DeAndre Hopkins (the Dhop owner accepted immediately, and I was happy he did). Did I know that St. Brown would get inured and leave the game in the 1Q – answer is no. What I didn’t like was the negative QB trend I was seeing from Goff, that coupled with the fact that it seems nobody in the NFL can cover Dhop, and he catches everything. :-)

Caleb Wittwer says:

Good stuff, stopped playing it safe and won my league this year. It really is a game changer. I’d rather risk it and come in 11th than sit around and lose first round playoffs.

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