Reality vs. Fantasy Football

It is that time of year, Broncos fans... Fantasy football time. Yes, preseason is starting, too, but if you want a little distraction, living in a world of fantasy football is an enjoyable pastime. Every year, people participate in fantasy football drafts. You don't need to look far to see evidence of this. Just look through MHR's fanposts and fanshots and you'll see that many are involved in fantasy football and you could choose to play with MHR members, if you choose. 

So, with all of the talk surrounding fantasy football and the vast participation over the last few years, it begs the question... Is there a place for fantasy football in the minds of real football fans or is it just a distraction?

I know that many of you are fantasy football gurus, while many others are football purists who despise the word "fantasy". No matter which camp you fall under, I think it is very important to recognize the differences and similarities of reality and fantasy. Only when we determine this can we determine whether or not fantasy football has some deeper meaning than it holds currently as one of the nation's most popular games.

For the record, I am both a fantasy football nut and a football purist. I love both. In a way, I'm like a little kid with food on their plate. I don't want my green beans and ham sandwich to touch just like I don't want my real football and fantasy football to mix. Sometimes it can be difficult to keep fantasy football opinion and real football opinion separate because, let's face it, fantasy football and real football are very different entities. However, I believe that it can be done. You can separate reality from fantasy and enjoy both of them.

To enjoy them both, it's important to understand the boundaries of each. You don't want your fantasy football opinion to spill over into your real football opinion. So, to keep them separate, it's important to first analyze how they are different. We'll do that by looking at the responsibilities of each position, both in fantasy football and real football. What qualities are we looking for in a player when we go into our fantasy football draft and how is it different from what we are looking for when we examine a real football player?

Quarterbacks

For quarterbacks, in fantasy football, you want a guy that is going to throw a lot of touchdowns and gain a lot of yards. Wins don't matter, 3rd down conversions don't matter, and (sometimes, depending on your league rules) redzone interceptions don't matter. If you want a successful fantasy quarterback, you want a guy who is going to put up a lot of points and throw the ball all over the field. Your top tier passers are great for fantasy football. If you have a chance to draft Drew Brees, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers, you are probably going to have a fairly happy fall. Like I said before, though, wins (in real life) don't matter. That explains why gunslingers are still a great option in fantasy football (Jay Cutler, Brett Favre), especially if there aren't a lot of points taken away for interceptions. You don't have to win the game to get fantasy points.

For quarterbacks, in real life, you want a guy that is going to throw a lot of touchdowns and gain a lot of yards... without turning the football over. This is probably the biggest difference in fantasy versus real life. In fantasy, most leagues make an interception count for -2 points and a TD counts for +6. This means you can throw 2 TD and 5 INTs and still have a positive (+2)  fantasy football day. In real life, if you throw 2 TD and 5 INTs, your team probably didn't win. If you throw a bunch of interceptions, in real life, you don't win a lot of games. If you read The Dude's articles, you already know that.

 

Runningbacks

In fantasy football, you want your running back to consistently run for 100 yards and score as many TDs as possible. Adrian Peterson is the runningback that everyone wants to draft. However, after the top backs in the league, who should you look at in your fantasy draft? Well, you want to look for a guy who is a starter, first of all. You want a guy that is not taken out of the game when the offense goes into the redzone (scoring touchdowns is important). If you find a guy that is put into goal line situations and scores a lot of touchdowns but doesn't get a lot of yards (Mike Alstott type), draft him. Another very important thing to think about when drafting a runningback is the team he is on. If a team is terrible and falls to an early deficit, they are put into pass-only situations and the runningback won't be utilized as much. Preferably, your running back should be from a team that wins more than 6 games per year (the only exception, of late, seems to be Stephen Jackson because he is the rams' only source of offense).

In real football, you want your runningback to run for a bunch of yards and score as many TDs as possible, as well. However, it is still different than fantasy. You may have a different runningback for different situations. Perhaps you have a RB for first and second downs and then you have a different runningback for third downs. Some offenses even change runningbacks when they go into a goal line situation, also. The most popular trend in the NFL seems to be the two-back offense. Moreno and Buckhalter are a prime example from 2009. While neither of them was particularly outstanding in fantasy football, together they were able to accumulate a pretty decent rushing attack. The two-back offense is not ideal for fantasy football, which is why teams like Denver and Miami consistently upset fantasy owners, year in and year out.

 

Wide Recievers

In fantasy football, you want a receiver that can rack up as many yards and as many TDs as possible. This position is probably most related in fantasy football and real football, although I wouldn't dare say that they aren't totally similar. When drafting a WR in your fantasy football draft, you always want to take the quarterback into account, as well. For example, as dominant as Larry Fitzgerald is at his position, the loss of Kurt Warner to retirement may hinder fantasy owners from drafting him early in the draft. While he will still be a starter on most fantasy rosters, many people will think twice about drafting him in round 1 or early round 2 (depending on the size of your league). On the other hand, a quarterback like Peyton Manning can make a guy like Pierre Garcon into a weekly fantasy starter. 

The type of fantasy league scoring is also important, here. If your league counts receptions, then you may want to get a possession receiver such as Brandon Marshall or Wes Welker. If your league doesn't take receptions into account (only yards and TDs), then you would look for a vertical threat such as Percy Harvin or DeSean Jackson.

In real football, you are looking for a receiver that scores TDs, picks up first downs, and draws defenders to his side of the field. Unlike fantasy football, you have multiple wide receivers running the same offense. If a different receiver makes a catch in real football, you aren't upset because the offense as a whole will benefit from it. As a fantasy owner, if your receiver isn't making every reception then you get upset. So, the primary difference between reality and fantasy is depth. In real life, you want depth. In fantasy football, you don't want depth. 

 

Tight Ends

In fantasy football, you want a receiving tight end. Blocking will earn you no points. That really cuts down on the amount of tight ends that could have a fantasy impact on a week to week basis. In real football, you may want a number of different things. Some teams like to put tight ends right on the end of the offensive line and use them as extra blockers while others use their tight ends as a glorified wide receiver. Then there is a myriad of options in between. It really just depends on what kind of offense the team is running. Are they a running offense like a Baltimore or NYJ? Do they line up in the shotgun a lot like Indianapolis or New Orleans?

There is really no right or wrong answer on how to use a tight end in real football. It just depends on the style of football that you want to play. However, there is a very wrong way to draft a fantasy football tight end. If you are looking for a blocking tight end on your fantasy football team... well... you are welcome to join my fantasy football league. 

 

Kickers

For fantasy football, you want a kicker who earns a lot of points and, preferably, hits long field goals. Many leagues award 3 points for all field goals, 4 for field goals between 40 and 49 yards, 5 for field goals 50+ yards and 1 point for all extra points. Obviously, a kicker who can knock it through from 40 or 50 yards out is preferred. What I like to do when I am looking for a fantasy kicker is eliminate kickers outside the top 15 in accuracy. Then, I target a kicker who is on a team that has a decent offense but consistently stalls out once they reach the red zone. This ensures that you can still put 3 points on the board, but you aren't having to kick PATs all the time.

In real football, you just want accuracy. There is no two ways about it. Yes, you want a guy that can put it through the uprights from 40 or 50 yards away, but you aren't looking to consistently test out his leg. You want touchdowns and you want extra points in real football. If your kicker scores more points than your QB/WR/RB/TE, then you probably aren't doing very well on offense.

 

Defense and Special Teams

In fantasy football, you want a defense and special teams that doesn't give up a lot of points and also makes a lot of game changing plays. A fumble, sack, interception or defensive touchdown is what you want. Although, I have yet to see a league that awards points for 3rd down stops or passes defensed. 

In real football, you want your defense to stop the offense and you want your special teams to earn you some solid field position each and every time they are on the field. A turnover is great, but it isn't mandatory. Defensive or special teams touchdowns are great, but they aren't mandatory (that's what your offense is paid for). The defense and special teams are designed to give the ball back to the offense. If they do that by stuffing the run 3 times, that's a success in real life. In fantasy football, that earns you 0 points.

Winning the Game

In fantasy football, most leagues don't award points for winning the game. In real football, that's the main goal of every team. This is one of the biggest disconnects between reality and fantasy. Didn't Herm Edwards once say "You play to win the game"? Well, I always thought it was important, as well. I believe there should be some way that wins are involved. If Jay Cutler throws for 3 TDs and 4 INTs and loses the game while David Garrard throws 1 TD 0 INTs and wins, there should be some indication in the fantasy points. Maybe I'm just bitter because of my fantasy loss last year...

 

Final Answer 

Can fantasy football and real football coexist? I think they can. Although, understanding the differences between the two entities is very important if you are going to partake in both during the fall and want to keep your opinions separate. Just because you're a 2 time fantasy football champion doesn't mean you are an expert when it comes to real football and vice versa. They are two separate animals and they need to be treated as such. Yes, there are similarities, but they are few and far between.

After all these differences that I have listed, you may be wondering if there are any benefits to playing fantasy football. Well, I'll tell you the biggest reason that I play. Fantasy football makes you watch more football. The more exposure you can get, watching a football game, the more knowledgeable you will become as a fan. Fantasy football is a great excuse to watch more football and not turn off the television when the Broncos are no longer on. 

Draft wisely, my friends, if you're into that...

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