Now is the time of the year that my sportswriter instincts come out. I want desperately to write a prediction article or series of articles for the season, spending hours poring over last year’s stats, depth charts, draft picks/recruits, and try to weave together a narrative that is both realistic and detailed, one that I hope will stand the test of the season. But no- I must resist, I will leave that to my colleagues at BSR. Luckily for all of us, Ross Gore has the data side covered. Instead, I want to talk about something more ubiquitous this time of year than the poor 1-AA teams that transform into a soft paste within the first quarter of a top 25 team’s opening weekend. That is, fantasy drafts.
My brother-in-law Alex has a fantasy league that his family puts together, and last year my brother and I decided to join in. I finished third while my brother Will missed the playoffs, and I noticed that I was getting way too engrossed in my team rather than on the actual game. I have a love/hate relationship with fantasy football, in that I find it fascinating but it kills my enjoyment of the games themselves because I want Frank Gore to get that touchdown, not his backup, and my focus on wins and losses throughout the league starts to wane. I will go back to it one year, but I thought it sitting this season out.
So my brother-in-law, who won the league last year, starts pecking me for who he should take with the #1 overall pick, initially being certain to pick Arian Foster then wavering between Adrian Peterson, Foster, and Jamal Charles before settling on Charles. Or so I thought. My brother, with the #3 pick, was asking me the same questions and naturally asking me who I thought Alex would take. Now, I was never explicitly told not to tell Will who he was going with, but Will is my twin brother, so of course I hinted that it wouldn’t be Rice. Will was determined to take Rice and thought he was worthy of the #1 pick. So what happens on draft day? Alex takes Rice #1 out of the blue.
But such is the world of fantasy football, where feeding information to possible opponents is simply how you do business, knowing I would probably tell my brother and thus throw his whole draft out of whack. They say that fantasy football is a means for people to become more interested in the game, but I wonder about that. Fantasy is about looking at the game in a different way than an average fan would. It isn’t about the clutch third down throw; it’s about the quantity of throws and yardage. There is no place in fantasy for a Troy Aikman or a dinking and dunking quarterback, and depending on whether you are a points per reception league or not Wes Welker is a better receiver than Anquan Boldin. Maurice Jones-Drew’s 80-yard run isn’t worth much if someone else gets in the end zone.
So while fantasy players seem to know every skill player on every team, they might miss the nuances that make a player truly better than another. But then again, is that what fantasy seeks to measure? Or does football merely serve as a more palatable vehicle for the same sort of gameplay that exists in strategy games? For my money, the thought process that goes into developing and continuing a successful fantasy roster has more in common with a game of Risk than it does a head coaching job. Not the most popular belief I know, but one that comes with plenty of experience with both in my case.
All of that said, it is fascinating to watch the drafts unfold, with theories abounding about who will do well or when you should take a quarterback or a defense, etc. Thank god we have Mark Brown for that, right? I am certain that my brother and brother-in-law will be very kind rivals this season, but I have to be honest- I think my brother-in-law has the edge. That said, I’ll be rooting for Will.