The Most Important Positions in Fantasy Football

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Fantasy football is one of the most popular pastimes in the country, and it continues to grow in popularity. 

For people who are new to fantasy sports, there’s a learning curve, even if they’re familiar with the NFL and the actual game. There are differences between the NFL and fantasy football, particularly when it comes to which positions are most important. 

For example, if you’re new to fantasy football, you might not fully appreciate how important the running back can be. From scouring fantasy football player rankings to learning your league’s rules and scoring systems, there’s a lot you can do to set yourself up for success as a new fantasy football player. 

Below is a guide to some of the key positions in fantasy and why they’re relevant. 

The Basics of Fantasy Football

In fantasy football, players are owners and managers of teams. The teams are in competitive leagues, and they collect fantasy points. Those points are based on real players’ statistics. Most leagues are scored on a weekly basis, and then teams are matched up in head-to-head scenarios on rotational schedules. 

The teams that, in the end, have the best records go into the post-season, which is usually from weeks 14-17 on the NFL schedule. 

Your goal when you play fantasy is to gather the players who are most productive across various positions. 

If you’re in a standard league, your roster includes a quarterback, two running backs, a flex player, two wide receivers, one tight end, one team defense or special teams, and a kicker. 

Then, for the depth, you get seven bench spots. 

Fantasy leagues can set and follow whatever settings and rules they choose, but before you join a league, you need to understand these settings. You especially need to understand the roster and scoring settings in order to build a team that’s going to be successful. 

The draft is the start of the season in fantasy football, and it’s usually held in the weeks before the NFL season. You create your roster in the draft, with most leagues being made up of 10 or 12 teams. 

Your draft will usually follow a snake or auction format. 

Fantasy is entirely about numbers, so you want to choose players for starting positions who are going to maximize production. 

The Draft

When you play fantasy football, you’re taking on the role of owner, general manager, and coach. 

The type of draft your league is using is a big part of planning your strategy. The most common draft styles in fantasy include:

  • The mock draft is a time to practice your strategy. Most people who play fantasy do a mock draft, or more than one, to figure out who’s going where. 
  • Automated drafts don’t allow fantasy players to control their picks. The best player available is given to fantasy players based on an automated database. 
  • A linear draft isn’t commonly used in fantasy, but it’s most similar to the real NFL draft. In a linear draft style, there’s an order that’s followed each round. If you pick first in a linear draft, then you pick first in all the rounds. 
  • The snake or serpentine draft is most common in fantasy football. In this format, there’s a randomized order that every team drafts in. Each player takes their turn choosing an NFL player, who’s then taken out of the pool of available players until each of the 12 teams has chosen a player. That is the end of the first round, and the second round then starts. With a snake draft, every person picks in the reverse of what they used in round 1. Then, the snake starts again and keeps alternating each round until all the rounds are over. Basically, with a snake or serpentine draft, the order reverses back and forth between the person who picks first and then lasts each round. 
  • An auction draft is more complex. Every manager begins an auction draft with a pool of hypothetical funds. That’s usually $200, and this is what managers used to bid on players. Draft order doesn’t reverse every round, and you’re not only choosing a player. If you’re the manager who has the top pick, you nominate a player. Once you nominate a player, any manager can bid on them within a window of time (usually a minute). The manager bidding the most in that time gets to pick the player. The manager with the second pick nominates another player, and so on. With auction draft formats, you need to have a deep understanding of the worth of a player because you have to fill your roster but not go over budget. An auction draft guide will usually include average values for players, similar to daily fantasy. 

So which positions are the most important in the NFL versus fantasy?

The Most Important NFL Positions

In the NFL, some of the most important positions include:

  • The quarterback: The quarterback is touching the ball for every offensive snap, and they’re the triggerman for passing. In the actual NFL, there’s no other player who can do more to affect the outcome of a game than the quarterback. Quarterbacks need to have the accuracy, size, and arm strength, but also the ability to manage the complex offensive and defensive systems of the modern NFL, both before and after the snap. They also need a high level of athleticism. 
  • Edge pass-rusher: This position needs a player with a combination of moves, power, and speed. They can get to the quarterback and shorten the field. 
  • Inside pass-rusher: Offenses have to rethink how they protect quarterbacks in the face of a powerful inside pass-rusher. 
  • Offensive tackle: More athletic, smaller tackles are being used more in the modern NFL. Players who are explosive tend to be well-suited to the game as it’s played currently. They’re also important in the running game. 
  • Safety: Safety is becoming more valuable in line with the evolution of the tight end role. Teams are playing more flexible defenses, so a two-way safety can help improve against the run and the pass. 

So how are these important positions different from fantasy?

The Most Important Positions

The running back is often described as the most important position in fantasy. So why is that? Why the difference between fantasy and the NFL?

A running back is a player on the offense. The running back can catch passes thrown by the quarterback and run with the ball. There are three types of running backs—halfbacks, tailbacks, and fullbacks. 

The differences between the positions are based on their role, their strength, their size, and their position on the field. 

A halfback is close to the quarterback for running plays. They take the hand-off on running plays, and they’re typically smaller and faster than a fullback. For most plays, the halfback is the ball carrier. For offensive success in a game, many would say the halfback is one of the critically important positions. 

Tailbacks are running backs that are similar to halfbacks. They’re behind the quarterback, with the responsibility of catching and running the ball. Tailbacks have to be versatile, and if they’re in the backfield, they’ll often catch the ball. 

A fullback is a running position close to the halfback. They’re bigger than your typical running back, and they serve as a defense against the ball carrier to prevent them from being tackled. The primary role of a fullback is the protection of a halfback. The player in the fullback position needs to be fast and strong. They clear a path for halfbacks to get the ball through and then down the field. 

In fantasy football, most experts will say that you should focus on the skill positions in the early rounds of your draft and wait until the middle for positions like a quarterback. 

You want to draft for value first, so that means that your player is going to be able to go beyond what the consensus might assume. 

A running back, in fantasy, tends to have more inherent value than the receiving position. 

One reason that you should focus on your running backs early in your draft is because of the consistency in their workload, which is key to success in fantasy football. 

If you have a running back who’s getting 15 carries each game, you’re going to do better than if you have someone inconsistent with ten in one game and 30 in the next. 

It’s easier to project running backs than other players in different positions from week to week, and again, your good ones are going to be high scorers in terms of points. 

When choosing running backs, you want to focus on the upside rather than average outcomes, and you want to consider whether the upside is over-or undervalued compared to options that are available. 

Along with the running back, you’ll also hear a lot about tight ends in fantasy. You’ll probably want an elite option in your tight-end position if you want to be successful. 

You’ll often hear it said that things are upside down in fantasy versus the NFL because of the differences in which players are going to be most valuable for your success.