Orfao: A guide to beating your friends at fantasy football

  • New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) runs through drills against linebacker Darnell Sankey (44) and outside linebacker A.J. Klein at their NFL football training facility in Metairie, La., Friday, July 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Gerald Herbert

  • Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey (22) runs as Shaq Green-Thompson (54) and Luke Kuechly pursue during practice at the NFL football team's training camp in Spartanburg, S.C., Monday, July 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) Chuck Burton

  • A man wearing a dress holds a sign after apparently losing at Fantasy Football during the first half of an NBA basketball game between the Charlotte Hornets and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton) Chuck Burton

  • Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce runs the ball during NFL football training camp Monday, July 29, 2019, in St. Joseph, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Charlie Riedel

  • TOP LEFT: New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara carries in the first half of Friday’s preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings in New Orleans. TOP RIGHT: Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce runs the ball during training camp in St. Joseph, Mo. AP photos

Monitor staff
Published: 8/12/2019 8:17:30 PM

There are things in life that are undeniably delightful.

Some people love nothing more than starting their morning with a sip of fresh coffee while watching the sun peek over the horizon. Others enjoy gazing into a starry night, wondering what else lurks in the unexplored universe.

I am neither of these people, but I do cherish the opportunity to demolish the rather large egos of my best friends by trouncing them in a silly game – and cultural phenomenon – called fantasy football. Members of the Dirty Pilgrim Fantasy Football League can tell you all about it.  

For the uninitiated, fantasy football is a game – and an industry worth billions – centered around building a roster of NFL players, who earn fantasy points based on their real-life production on the field. 

While building and managing a roster throughout the season is an enjoyable task for sports geeks such as myself, the true allure is camaraderie.

While living in Western Pennsylvania, I’d travel home to New Hampshire just to attend our NHEFL draft, which determines its order via obstacle course. Simply put, when a league is tight-knit and stays together for years, draft days become holidays. 

As our Christmas in August approaches, here’s some players to target during the draft to make sure you’re the one holding bragging rights – and maybe a little bit of cash – when a champion is crowned in December.

Who’s No. 1?

A month ago, the answer was Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott, but as of this writing, he has not reported to Cowboys camp and is threatening to hold out if he’s not rewarded with a lucrative contract. 

Alvin Kamara is my No. 1 after the first round of preseason games. He’s an ultra-talented running back and the New Orleans Saints – who should produce positive game scripts with a stout defense – have a long history of generating fantasy studs on the ground with Sean Payton and Drew Brees orchestrating the offense. 

Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey and Giants running back Saquon Barkley are also fine choices, but Cam Newton is always a threat to steal touchdowns from McCaffrey near the goal line and the lack of talent elsewhere on the Giants could limit the scoring opportunities for Barkley.

Stabilizing forces

After the first three rounds, I like to target consistency before taking my shot on potential breakouts later in the draft. 

Wide receivers like Robert Woods (Rams), Julian Edelman (Patriots), Chris Godwin (Bucs) and Tyler Boyd (Bengals) might not have the upside to score 12 touchdowns, but their roles in their respective offenses are secure and they should present a reliable floor for expected points. 

Running backs are more difficult to find as the draft wears on, but Chris Carson (Seahawks) in standard leagues and James White (Patriots) in point-per-reception leagues are good sources of solid, if not spectacular production.

Breakouts

The Seahawks love to run the ball under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and while Carson was just mentioned as an RB2 that a team can bank on, second-year running back Rashaad Penny will get enough carries to be a flex-worthy option now that Mike Davis has departed for Chicago. If Carson went down with an injury, Penny could be a top-15 RB. 

Miles Sanders, a second-round pick in the NFL draft, is a rookie to watch in Philadelphia and it would be wise to invest in the San Francisco backfield of Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida, who are tied to rushing game guru Kyle Shanahan. 

Receivers in the mid-rounds to target include San Francisco’s Dante Pettis, Arizona’s Christian Kirk and Carolina’s Curtis Samuel.

Late-round quarterback

If it’s a one-quarterback league, there’s no reason to reach for a signal caller. In the pass-happy NFL, it’s become easier than ever to find a competent QB with a favorable matchup on the waiver wire. The earliest I’ll consider a QB this year is in the eighth round, and that’s still probably too soon. Even quarterbacks who run better than they pass – Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, for example – are perfectly capable starters who offer significant upside. If things don’t work out, move on.

Elite or wait

As far as tight ends go, it’s best to grab Travis Kelce in the second round or just wait for your favorite among the hardly desired. Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz can give a team rare guaranteed targets at tight end, but the rest of the crowd is typically dependent on finding the end zone. Kittle and Ertz are great, while O.J. Howard, Evan Engram and Hunter Henry could all make the jump to stardom, but I’d rather add RB or WR depth where they’re being drafted.

Backup plan

If you’re among the brave who are taking a gamble on Elliott, Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon, then it should be a priority to secure their backups in case contract situations (Elliott and Gordon) or injury concerns (Gurley) get in the way. James Conner was a stud while filling in for Le’Veon Bell last season and we should remember that lesson.

Tony Pollard of the Cowboys, Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson (Chargers), and Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown (Rams) should be on the wish-lists of those who drafted the starters ahead of them. 

Remember, the draft is simply the first step in fantasy dominance. You’ll have to maintain your team via free agency and trades to make sure your friends are miserable. Good luck.

(Jason Orfao can be reached at jorfao@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JasonOrfao.)




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