Living in Fantasy
Let’s start from the beginning. What beginning? My Fantasy Football history and how I got here.
The year is 1989.
In the beginning there was a draft. Ten people all huddled into a small living room, armed with pencils, pens and pieces of paper containing empty roster sheets, a list of players and the hopes and dreams to win it all.
The full rosters those days consisted of four quarterbacks, six running backs, six wide receivers, two tight ends, two kickers, two defense/special teams and back then two coaches. If the coaches won you were awarded 3 points. And believe it or not we still actually had stacked rosters. Amazing when you consider the NFL housed only 28 teams.
The NFL in 1989 is different from the NFL you would recognize today. The NFL had six Divisions, with AFC and NFC Conferences containing East, Central & West Divisions and as I mentioned only 28 teams. The NFL was headed by then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle, the Cleveland Browns were the original team, the Tennessee Titans were then known as the Houston Oilers, two teams in Los Angeles in the Rams and Raiders, the Cardinals were known as the Phoenix Cardinals, recently moved from St. Louis. Teams that did not exist yet consisted of the Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars. And the Seattle Seahawks were still in the AFC West.
There was no online draft, no rosters on the computer… everything was done by hand. Usually throughout my middle school and high school years, it consisted of me grabbing the USA Today Sports Section with the Box Score, a calculator and doing everything by hand during study hall.
There was no NFL Ticket yet, no Game Mix, no Red Zone Channel, no fantasy football stats being shown on the TV screen. In fact, back then I remember NBC, then hosting the AFC games showing a 10 minute ticker update. That was it. No Fantasy Football magazines, no TV shows, no websites.
Back then when you did your homework, you considered yourself a personal NFL Scout. You actually had to watch preseason games from start to finish, study your local paper, and attend training camp if you lived nearby.
You know what our best source for stats back then came from?
Football cards. Tops. Fleer. Score.
When you were a kid you put the football cards in those special sleeves to protect them. But a young kid starting his fantasy football career in the sixth grade, I started to put them in the protective sleeves backside facing up so I can read the stats. That was a lot of football cards back then.
And did I mention all the stale gum you can chew? Or should I say bite!
So a few years back while doing some spring cleaning, I found a pile of papers from high school and mixed in with them was a list of rosters throughout the years, including my very first roster. So if you want a good laugh, here is what my first fantasy football roster looked like from 1989.
Brooklyn Robins – Joey Rivaldo
1. Randall Cunningham – Philadelphia Eagles
2. Ken O’ Brien – New York Jets
3. Bubby Brister – Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Wade Wilson – Minnesota Vikings
1. Thurman Thomas – Buffalo Bills
2. Freeman McNeil – New York Jets
3. Marcus Allen – Los Angeles Raiders
4. Alonzo Highsmith – Houston Oilers
5. Greg Bell – Los Angeles Rams
6. Brent Fullwood – Green Bay Packers
1. Steve Largent – Seattle Seahawks
2. John Taylor – San Francisco 49ers
3. Flipper Anderson – Los Angeles Rams
4. Eddie Brown – Cincinnati Bengals
5. Louis Lipps – Pittsburgh Steelers
6. Drew Hill – Houston Oilers
1. Keith Jackson – Philadelphia Eagles
2. Rodney Holman – Cincinnati Bengals
1. Morten Andersen – New Orleans Saints
2. Gary Anderson – Pittsburgh Steelers
1. New York Giants
2. Minnesota Vikings
1. Chuck Knoll – Pittsburgh Steelers
2. Buddy Ryan – Philadelphia Eagles
I didn’t win my first year. I don’t remember much of the first few years of fantasy football. In fact, I don’t recall when I starting winning or making the playoffs either .That is not until two events took place in 1994.
Event number one was we changed the starting lineup options. At first, and I’m assuming here, like all leagues back then the starting lineup consisted of 1 QB, 2 RB’s, 3 WR’s, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 D/SP. We decided to change up the lineups between the RB’s and WR’s to account for bye weeks, injuries and a change of strategy for the individual teams. You can now submit a Regular Offense “2 RB’s, 3 WR’s” or a Wishbone “3 RB’s, 2 WR’s” or a Run n’ Shoot “1 RB, 4 WR’s” or a 5-Spread “0 RB’s, 5 WR’s”. The Tight Ends at this point in most of our leagues were combined with the Wide Receivers. This now changes not only your draft strategy but your strategy week to week throughout the year.
Again, to my knowledge, we were the first league to start doing this. Today this is known in most leagues as the “Flex Option.” But whichever name you chose to call it, this changed the Fantasy Football landscape forever.
Event number two was I won my first Fantasy Football Championship. Then repeated again in 1995, and again in 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. I got the injury bug bad in 2007, losing in the wildcard, became runner up in 2008. But rebounded and won in 2009 and then runner up again in 2010 and 2011.
Not bad. Not too bad at all.
And the kicker for me to show how long I’ve been doing Fantasy Football, no pun intended, does in fact come in the form of my kickers from two separate rosters.
1989 – Kickers – Morten Andersen – New Orleans Saints and Gary Anderson – Pittsburgh Steelers
2003 – Kickers – Morten Andersen – Atlanta Falcons and Gary Anderson – Tennessee Titans
Fourteen years apart and I drafted the same kickers. Not sure if that says more for two of the greatest kickers in NFL History or how long I’ve been doing Fantasy Football.
Maybe that’s something to be proud of, or maybe people will say I’m pathetic with no life. It may depend on who you speak to, like ex-girlfriends, wife or even my high school guidance counselor.
So, to make a SHORT story LONG, there you have it, my history in Fantasy Football and how I got here.
Now that we got all the formalities out of the way, let’s get to my top ten players lists and my top 5 strategies just in time for Draft Weekend
Top 10 Quarterbacks
1. Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers
2. Tom Brady – New England Patriots
3. Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints
4. Matthew Stafford – Detroit Lions
5. Peyton Manning – Denver Broncos
6. Cam Newton – Carolina Panthers
7. Eli Manning – New York Giants
8. Philip Rivers – San Diego Chargers
9. Matt Ryan – Atlanta Falcons
10. Tony Romo – Dallas Cowboys
Top 10 Running Backs
1. Arian Foster – Houston Texans
2. Ray Rice – Baltimore Ravens
3. LeSean McCoy – Philadelphia Eagles
4. Darren McFadden – Oakland Raiders
5. Matt Forte – Chicago Bears
6. Chris Johnson – Tennessee Titans
7. Steven Jackson – St. Louis Rams
8. Adrian Peterson – Minnesota Vikings
9. Maurice Jones-Drew – Jacksonville Jaguars
10. Ryan Matthews – San Diego Chargers
Top 10 Wide Receivers
1. Calvin Johnson – Detroit Lions
2. Wes Welker – New England Patriots
3. Victor Cruz – New York Giants
4. Jordy Nelson – Green Bay Packers
5. Julio Jones – Atlanta Falcons
6. Andre Johnson – Houston Texans
7. Percy Harvin – Minnesota Vikings
8. Steve Smith – Carolina Panthers
9. Roddy White – Atlanta Falcons
10. Eric Decker – Denver Broncos
Top 10 Tight Ends
1. Jimmy Graham – New Orleans Saints
2. Rob Gronkowski – New England Patriots
3. Brandon Pettigrew – Detroit Lions
4. Aaron Hernandez – New England Patriots
5. Antonio Gates – San Diego Chargers
6. Tony Gonzalez – Atlanta Falcons
7. Jason Witten – Dallas Cowboys
8. Jacob Tamme – Denver Broncos
9. Brent Celek – Philadelphia Eagles
10. Greg Olsen – Carolina Panthers
Top 10 Kickers
1. David Akers – San Francisco 49ers
2. Sebastian Janikowski – Oakland Raiders
3. Mason Crosby – Green Bay Packers
4. Dan Bailey – Dallas Cowboys
5. Matt Prater – Denver Broncos
6. Stephen Gostkowski – New England Patriots
7. Garret Hartley – New Orleans Saints
8. Robbie Gould – Chicago Bears
9. Jason Hanson – Detroit Lions
10. Rob Bironas – Tennessee Titans
Top 10 Defense/Special Teams
2. Baltimore Ravens
3. Chicago Bears
4. Seattle Seahawks
5. Houston Texans
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
7. Philadelphia Eagles
8. New York Jets
9. New York Giants
10. Denver Broncos
Top Ten Draft Sleepers/Steals
1. Eric Decker – Denver Broncos
2. Pierre Garcon – Washington Redskins
3. Andrew Luck – Indianapolis Colts
4. Doug Martin – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5. Rashard Jennings – Jacksonville Jaguars
6. Greg Olsen – Carolina Panthers
7. Danny Amendola – St. Louis Rams
8. Justin Blackmon – Jacksonville Jaguars
9. Robert Griffin III – Washington Redskins
10. Kevin Smith – Detroit Lions
Top 5 Draft Tips
1. Always chose a Quarterback over a Running Back in the first round. It’s a quarterback league now. The running backs aren’t what they used to be 10 years ago. And besides, you are giving up points if you do. Almost all leagues have the quarterback scoring more points than a running back. Take the league I’m in for example. The highest scorer in our league was Drew Brees with 582.60 points. He’s the top quarterback and top overall scorer in the whole league. The top running back in our league is Ray Rice with 390.90 points. So let’s say you have the 1stoverall pick and you chose Ray Rice over Drew Brees, you gave up 191.70 points. You just gave it right away. Now you just put yourself at a disadvantage for the rest of the year.
2. Always draft for a balanced roster. There are always going to be great players still left on the board at every position. But if you load up all at one position you’re going to suffer throughout the season, especially if you get the injury bug. Draft your quarterback first, he’s the centerpiece of your offense, then your running back, then get your wide receiver. Now you’ve got 3 solid centerpieces. Now start filling in the pieces. Go running back, then wide receiver, or vice versa, going back and forth until you have enough to enter a starting lineup, then start branching out.
3. Don’t draft a defense too early. Every year this seems to happen and when I go back and look at the numbers it has never added up to make much of a difference. The 49ers were the top ranked defense in our league, but only amassed 251 points. That puts them at 38th overall. The 2ndbest defense was the Seattle Seahawks with 230 points. Now ask yourself, going into the 2011 draft did you really have those two defenses ranked on the top two of your list?
4. Don’t stress the Bye Weeks. Every year after the draft you look over your roster and notice you have 5 players on a week 7 bye. My advice to you is worry about it after week 6. Injuries can change that; you may have some of those players on your bench anyways. Trades and free agency can help as well. Don’t sacrifice not getting a good player because of a bye week. Otherwise you’re risking not picking a very productive player you could have for the whole year all because you stressed out over one week.
5. Kickers will win you the close games. Most people wait till the last few rounds to get their kickers. But the top 5 out of my top 10 list will be the biggest difference makers, especially kickers who regularly kick field goals over 50 yards and it’s those high points that can make a kicker even out a top running back or wide receiver
By Joey Rivaldo
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