Fantasy Football Isn’t Scary! Here, Let Me Show You!

As you may already know, this September, sports gays like myself in offices and friend groups across the country need YOU to be one of the 4+ people on their fantasy football league. You may be apprehensive about this because you’ve never played before, you can’t differentiate football from soccer or rugby (an honest mistake), or you just don’t want to keep up with it. Never fear, this guide is here to give you the briefest overview of what you need to know about fantasy football so you can sign up and make your pal’s day, win your office league, and claim the clout you deserve.

Basic Facts to Get You Started and Impress Your Friends

Fantasy football is a competitive simulation where each member of the game (“the league”) drafts and maintains a “team” made up of real players in the NFL. A dungeons and dragons of professional American football, if you will. During a draft (that happens prior to the kick off of the first game of the regular season, this year before September 5), each person stacks their team with the best players to start off the season and a “bench” of backup players in case something happens to their team.

Throughout the NFL season, each player you pick gains points based on that real-life professional athlete’s performance. While the number of points varies based on your league rules, some examples of point-winning behavior are touchdowns (when your team scores 6 points because they run the ball into the end zone), passes, and defensive plays like sacks (more on that later). Each week, members of your game are put head to head to see which person’s team gets more points. At the end of the season if you have one of the top ranked teams, based on points accrued, you’ll head to “playoffs” where your team will be put to the test against other leading teams. During “playoffs” it’s generally a sudden death situation where if you lose one week, you’re out for good.

Winning in fantasy football is often about bragging rights, but sometimes, if you set the rules early in your league, you might even get some league-purchased swag, beer, or something even more exciting! You should play because it is a great way to build and reaffirm connections with people, an excellent opportunity to spark and continue discourse about the problems in American men’s football (racism, domestic violence, homophobia, lack of acknowledgement about the long term impacts of head injuries, pick your choice), and a cool way to have the ability to make small talk with people in elevators if you’re awkward and worried about that.

I Don’t Know What A Tight End Is, But It Sounds Like A Sex Thing and Other Need to Know Football Positions

The real “positions” you need to know to play fantasy football are: quarterbacks (QB), running backs (RB), wide receivers (WR), tight ends (TE), kickers (K), and defense/special teams (D/ST). Again, depending on your league’s rules (determined by a “commissioner” – see it’s cute, I promise) you’ll need to draft different numbers of players for each of these positions. For the sake of clarity, you can think about a team using my league’s rules, where we all draft 1 QB, 2 WRs, 2 TEs, 2 RBs, 1 K, 1 D/ST, and 7 miscellaneous players who can sit on the bench to sub in in case of injuries or The 2018 Le’Veon Bell Contract Negotiation Incident.

Quarterbacks essentially drive the football team. They get the ball at the beginning of every play and have the opportunity to throw it, run with it, hand it off, or get tackled if they don’t move fast enough past the starting line for the play (that’s what a sack is, when the quarterback gets tackled behind the line of scrimmage, see I told you it’d come back around). They’re often a lot of the personality of the team. For fantasy, they score points when they throw completions —someone catches what they throw — and score in the game. They lose points a lot when they get sacked or someone intercepts their pass. Notable quarterbacks you might know: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Tom Brady.

Running backs quite literally, run the ball. They’re speedy and work to get the ball out and down the field. Wide receivers are similarly intuitively named, they catch what the quarterback throws. They’re also speedy and have fast hands. Both positions are high scoring in fantasy because they rack up points for receiving passes and each yard they move the ball down the field. Running backs you may know: Ezekiel Elliot or Le’Veon Bell. Wide receivers you may know: Antonio Brown or Odell Beckham, Jr.

Tight ends are both offensive and defensive players — they’re a little faster than the average defenseman and a little tougher than the average offensive player. They play both teams. At Autostraddle, we might know a little about that. In fantasy, they can score the same points the offensive players can and also rushing and tackling points that defensive players can. The only tight end worth knowing is Mr. Julie Erzt  — Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles, Gronk (Rob Gronkowski, former New England Patriot) is okay too I guess.

Last but not least: kickers and the Kickers also literally kick the ball. They do this either after teams score a touchdown to get an additional point, when they are trying to score in general by kicking into the goal, or when teams have to pass possession to the other team. They get points by kicking. This is intuitive, I think. The main thing to know about kickers is that they barely appear on screen and coincidentally also the first woman who got a college scholarship to play football is a kicker. D/ST isn’t a real position. It’s just a way to accumulate all the points that the entire defensive line or special teams — which are on the field when the ball is kicked — into one position. You draft an entire team’s defense and special team. I think this is wack #justicefordefense, but it is what it is. You will know no people who are kickers which is a shame. I like to pick the Rams every year for defense, they’re solid, but do you, folks.

Draft Time and Not Like Beer

There are two ways to accumulate a team — through a snake draft or through an auction draft. Snake drafts work by assigning each person a number. If there are 8 teams in your league, you’ll draft players starting with person 1 up to person 8 at which point person 8 will pick again and you’ll go back to person 1 until you fill your teams. Auction drafts are just a little on the nose for a league that uses Black players as muscle and positions white players as leaders and pushes out leading players who draw attention to racial inequality in the United States, but they are an option. They work by assigning each player a dollar value and giving each team a total amount that they can spend on players. Not unlike those “here’s 5 dollars, build a partner” memes. Fantasy players “bid” on players until an auction ends; highest bidder wins.

There are infinitely many “cheat sheets” for who are the top players to draft, regardless of your draft method. I like ESPNW’s sheet, mostly because I don’t like when men talk to me about sports, but they’re all good in different ways. As a veteran fantasy player, I have to say though– your team will be better if you don’t study and just pick people at random, frankly. Things happen during the course of the season you couldn’t expect. Players shine when you weren’t ready for them to. Players get hurt. By not knowing anything about football prior to this, my dear reader, you aren’t burdened by the knowledge of a player’s entire career, their highs or their lows. Pick literally whoever you want. My not-football watching friends and I have a league and I always lose, even though they don’t keep up with it. That’s all I’m saying here.

After you complete your draft you can do literally nothing and let it play out. Sometimes your players will get hurt or will not be playing in a week and you can switch them out of your bench, but you don’t have to! Sometimes you’ll think a player isn’t performing and switch them out with someone on your bench and then they’ll get hot. Who knows in this world. I’m victim to this all the time and arguably I’m bad at fantasy football, I just play with heart. Regardless, the electronic tracker that people have selected for you to use (probably hosted by Yahoo! or ESPN but maybe not!) will keep up with the games if/when you don’t.

So, that’s all you need to know to get your fantasy team off the ground. It’s not too wild and it’s a really low bar to entry to talking about sports and all the things that come with it with the sports gays in your lives, and god forbid, the dudebros in your office. Who knows, you might even end up invested and ready to answer the call when someone starts a fantasy hockey league or a March Madness bracket challenge. Go forth, sports gays in training, make the consumption of professional sports a little more queer and a little more fun.

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Texas-raised. DC-based. Policy wonk passionate about sports, ace hardware, diy (the craft kind and the punk kind), and LGBTQ content. Notable they/them lesbian.

Charlie has written 1 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. I just wanted to share that our fantasy football team name this year is Peppa Pigskin (thanks to my toddlers’ obsession) and that is what I am most excited about this football season.

  2. I’m just going to use this space to air my grievances/brag about my wife – I’m the commissioner of a handful of queer-dominated fantasy football leagues, and have never won. My wife (who drafts players based on if their name is funny or if they’re smiling in their photo) beat me for the championship, secretly ordered herself a championship ring, and now sometimes wears it as a wedding ring. The next season I was undefeated every game, until losing the championship game to her. I was so upset about it that I never brought it up. MONTHS later I mentioned something offhand and found out she was paying no attention and didn’t even notice she had won. She’s the best and I mean that sincerely.

  3. I’ve been asking for more sports gays content for years and I love this!

    I’ve been doing fantasy football w my best friends from high school for over 10 years now, we have a trophy and try to meet in person every year to do the draft at a bar. I moved across the country so can’t make the draft in person but continuing to participate in the league gives us another avenue to stay in touch. I’ve made them promise we’ll do this forever.

    Side note: I won that league (finally) a few years ago in the first fall that my now fiancée and I were dating and I told her that I’ll never break up with her because of it haha.

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