Intro to fantasy football

A crash course on the basics of fantasy football and comprehending its foreign phrases.


Manasa Gudavalli

The upcoming Fall season brings with it a new Fantasy Football season as well. The classic football fan hobby is full of strategy and jargon. (Staff Illustration by Manasa Gudavalli)

Mitesh Shrestha, Sports Editor

To most, late August represents the start of school or the changing of the seasons. For some, it also marks the start of a new fantasy football season: an opportunity to defend their throne or avenge last year’s shortcomings. Fantasy football offers fans a definitive means to prove how much more dedicated they are to the sport than the rest of the community. From the outside it can seem to be a foreign, unintelligible world. Metaphorical walls deter those who don’t dedicate their Sundays to watching the National Football League or opt to not spend every second refreshing their fantasy football app. Whether you’re aiming to seem competent in the league you just joined or are driven by spite to outshine experienced league competition, this guide should serve as a crash course to the confusing world of fantasy football.

Five Minutes Before the Draft:

The league draft is about to start, and you’re panicking about what to do. This is the foolproof draft strategy; take the highest-ranked player in each respective category.

Round 1: RB. Just do it.

Round 2: RB is the priority. MAYBE consider taking a WR

Round 3: WR

Round 4: TE

Round 5: RB or WR is the priority. QB is now a real option.

Round 6: RB

Round 7-11: Prioritize WR then QB then RB.

Round 12-15: Earliest time to consider drafting D/ST or K. Fill any missing positions or the rest of the bench. Or just zone out and let the auto-draft feature do its job.

Deeper Dive:

Your Ultimate Goal: Score the most points. More specifically, assemble a team of real-world NFL players to score the most fantasy points each week based on their weekly statistical performance. Typically, you can expect a league comprising 12 different teams although this number can vary. Each team starts one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers, one tight end, one wildcard spot, one kicker and one defense or special teams.  

*Term: PPR*

PPR stands for points per reception. Each time a player on the offense (the team that is trying to score) catches a pass, they earn zero points in a standard league format, half a point in a 0.5 PPR format, or one point in a 1 PPR format. 

Technical Scoring Breakdown:

How the real-world statistics translate into fantasy points. 

Note: Different leagues and fantasy football sites may have some variations in how they determine this.

Passing yards: +0.04 per yard (25 yards = +1)

Passing TDs: +4 

2-pt conversion: +2 

Pass intercepted: -1 

Rushing yards: +0.1 per yard (10 yards = +1)

Rushing TDs: +6

Fumble: -1

Fumble lost: -2

Receptions: +0.5

Receiving yards: +0.1 per yard (10 yards = +1)

Receiving TDs: +6


Field goal made (0-39 yards): +3

Field goal made (40-49 yards): +4

Field goal made (50+ yards): +5

Point after try made: +1

FG missed: -1

PAT missed: -1


Defensive TD: +6

Points allowed (0): +10

Points allowed (1-6): +7

Points allowed (7-13): +4

Points allowed (14-20): +1

Points allowed (28-34): -1

Points allowed (35+): -4

Sack: +1

Interception: +2

Forced fumble: +1

Fumble recovery: +2 

Safety: +2

Blocked kick: +2 

Special teams TD: +6

Special teams fumble recovery: +1

The Basics of Each Position:

QB: Quarterback

The most important position on the field for any NFL team, but not from a fantasy football perspective. Avoid drafting a quarterback with your first pick to prevent season-long ridicule. Certain QBs are more valuable than others due to their proficiency in running with the football, which nets them more fantasy points through rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.

*Term: Stream/streaming*

Many players opt to “stream” QB, meaning they don’t prioritize drafting a QB in the early rounds and start QBs based on how favorable their weekly matchup is. A QB playing a team with the lowest ranked defense in the NFL is more likely to perform well and thereby score more fantasy points. This strategy can be applied to the later mentioned positions as well, particularly the kicker and defense positions.

RB: Running back

Despite QBs leading all positions in fantasy points scored, RB remains the single most important position in fantasy football. There is a drastic dropoff in the number of fantasy points scored by one RB to the next highest scoring RB; The difference in total fantasy points scored by the top  ranked scoring RB and the tenth ranked scoring RB was 137.8 points. In comparison, the difference in the same scenario for the QB position was only 59.8 points. Additionally, each team needs to start at least two RBs (compared to only one QB), which results in fewer possible available options. Target RBs early and often for the greatest chance of success. 

*Term: Workhorse*

Typically used to describe a RB that receives an extraordinarily high volume of opportunities to score fantasy points. They face little competition from other RBs on their real-world team.

*Term: By committee*

Running back “by committee” signifies the inverse situation of a workhorse player: the running backs of that specific NFL team share the opportunities evenly. This makes it difficult for fantasy players to determine which RB to target for their fantasy team. Fantasy players avoid starting running backs that are part of a committee.  

WR: Wide receiver

While a fantasy team is also required to start two WRs, this doesn’t lead to as great of a scarcity of viable fantasy options as with RBs. An NFL team can support multiple high fantasy scoring WRs; the presence of one great WR doesn’t threaten the fantasy scoring potential of another WR on that same NFL team. For example, the Minnesota Vikings had the fifth ranked and eighth ranked fantasy scoring WRs in Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. In certain cases, a fantasy player may emphasize adding the other WRs on an NFL team with a top ranked WR. The top ranked WR diverts more attention from the opposing defense, creating more opportunities for the rest of the WRs on that team. However, WRs are more volatile than RBs, as their fantasy points are highly dependent on the ability of their real-world QB. 

*Term: Stacking*

Stacking players signifies starting players from the same NFL team in fantasy football. Doubling down like this is a risky but potentially rewarding strategy. Scoring fantasy points and thereby winning that week’s fantasy matchup becomes significantly more dependent on the outcome of a single game.

*Term: Break out*

Used to describe players that are currently underrated and/or have moderate success thus far in their NFL career, that individual fantasy players believe will drastically improve their statistics from last season.

TE: Tight end

Tight ends are a hybrid of a player that blocks the opposing defensive players from disrupting the offense’s success (offensive linemen) and a wide receiver that catches passes from the quarterback. This position is often considered the most difficult to predict, making it a source of much frustration from fantasy football players. Some players opt to draft a top five ranked tight end early in the draft, which provides stability at that position. After the top five, there’s a drastic gap in reliability from the rest of the options at that position. Be prepared for disappointment.  

Flex: Wildcard slot

The flex position is an opportunity to start another RB, WR or TE on your team outside of their designated position. Typically, the flex is used to start another RB or WR. Avoid starting a player in the flex spot whose team plays earlier during the weekly NFL schedule as it limits your options later in the week.

K: Kicker

Kickers score points based on their accuracy on different kicks, with successful kicks from greater distances awarding more points. Typically, the kicker is the last position drafted and presents the greatest risk of volatility amongst all the different fantasy football positions.

*Term: Set and forget*

Used to describe a player that’s started each week with confidence due to their reliability. Set and forget players provide a semblance of mental stability amidst the unpredictability of fantasy football.

D/ST: Defense and special teams

D/ST is likely the most confusing fantasy football position for beginners to comprehend. It’s not necessary to understand, as it’s typically drafted in the final rounds. However, learning how D/ST works can increase your odds of succeeding in your first season.

Each D/ST represents the corresponding NFL team’s defensive and special teams performances.

Defense: The more an NFL defense can stop the opposition from scoring, the more likely they are to score fantasy points. The defense can stop the offense by different means. A defensive player sacks a QB when they tackle the QB as the QB is attempting to throw the football. An interception occurs when a defensive player catches a pass that the QB intended to throw to a receiver. The defense forces a fumble by knocking the football out of the hands of the ball carrier. A turnover, the term for an interception or fumble, can result in a touchdown for the defense if they’re able to take it into the endzone. 

Special teams: The group of players that are on the field during kickoffs, field goal attempts and PATs. A kickoff is a play in which one team kicks the ball to the opposing team and the opposing team is allowed to return the ball as far as possible to determine where their team’s offense starts with the football on the field. The team returning the ball has the opportunity to score a TD on this play, which results in fantasy points. During field goal attempts, the aforementioned kicker attempts to kick the ball through the goalposts that stand at the end of each side of a football field. The PAT, or the point after try, is a play that follows anytime a TD is scored in which the kicker attempts to kick the ball through the goalposts from a set distance. A D/ST can earn fantasy points if they’re able to block a field goal or PAT attempt.  

After the Draft:

*Term: Waiver wire*

Before the start of each fantasy week, a team is free to instantaneously add any player not rostered by any other team in the fantasy league. Adding players after the start of the fantasy week is done on the basis of the waiver wire system in order to decide which fantasy team a player with multiple claims will go. Similarly to the draft, each team receives a different numbered priority for selecting players. The highest priority team gets to add that player. However, once a team uses their waiver priority, they move to the bottom of the priority order. FAAB, or free agent acquisition budget is another system that determines claims. At the start of the season, each fantasy team receives a set amount of money to spend on adding players. Whichever team bids the highest amount on a player adds that player. The FAAB is a more strategic but more balanced system than the typical waiver wire. 

The outcome of a fantasy football season is still completely unknown after the draft. The unpredictability is a driving force behind what makes fantasy football so appealing. A seemingly perfect draft can fail to materialize success. Injuries are frequent in the NFL. Roster changes like the firing of a coach or trading players can drastically change the fantasy outlook of an NFL player. League winning moves are often made after the draft when fantasy players can swap out their team. Nothing is set in stone: A fantasy team that loses their first four games can run the table to win the championship. After a typically 13 game regular season, the path to the league championship is determined by a single elimination tournament of the top teams. Being the best team during the season is insignificant — all that’s needed is a little bit of luck. Remarkably, this is just a small insight into the chaotic nature of fantasy football, which draws both endearment and contempt. Regardless of how you finish, your first fantasy football league is sure to be an emotional rollercoaster.

Contact Mitesh Shrestha at [email protected]