Fantasy football is big business. Conservative estimates put the number of people playing fantasy football in American at 30 million. Leagues are hosted by everyone from Yahoo! to CBSSPorts.com to ESPN.com. There is an entire cottage industry of 'fantasy' sports writers who tell you who to pick in what round.
For the uninitiated, fantasy football works a little like how owning an actual football team does, only it costs a few hundred million dollars less. A typical league consists of between eight and twelve owners. A fantasy draft takes place in which, over the course of up to eighteen rounds, each team drafts their players. The two types of most common drafts are the 'serpentine' draft, in which the owner who gets the first pick in round one picks last in even rounds, and an auction draft, in which owners bid money on players (each owner starts with a set amount of cash on hand.)
There are a number of different kinds of fantasy football leagues a person can join, which each league differing in their rules, point system, and means of calculating wins and losses. Two of the most common leagues are as follows:
- Head-to-Head leagues -- two teams square off each week, with the team generating the most points winning that week. The teams that generate the most wins advance into the playoffs
- Total points leagues -- League standing each week is determined by the top point getters each week. The teams that generate the most points throughout the season advance into the playoffs.
Okay, so now that we've got all that figured out, let's talk about the St. Louis Rams' Sam Bradford. All fantasy drafts have to happen before the season, which begins tonight when the New Orleans Saints travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers. In the past five to ten years, the list of high level fantasy quarterbacks has included a core group—Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers. Sam Bradford is now poised to rise to this level of 'fantasy' football star (editorial note; to be a fantasy football start, you have to also be a real football start, although you don't necessarily have to be on a winning team.)
According to one of ESPN's many fantasy football wizards, Brian Gramling, Bradford has a lot of things going for him coming into this season. Gramling correctly points out that Bradford is a physical specimen (6-foot-4, 228 pounds), and he's coming off a NFL record setting rookie season. Gramling also points out that Bradford's getting a helpful dose of quality receivers (his best receiver, Donnie Avery, was injured all of last season). For a quarterback to rank highly in fantasy football, he needs to throw for a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns, and minimize his interceptions (again, what is true for quality in fantasy is the same thing that's true in the real game, it's just unconnected to whether the player won his actual game for his actual team), and Bradford's 3,512 yards passing with 18 TDs last season is a very good omen for a rookie QB playing without any real weapons.
The bad omens for Bradford are how he got worn down by the end of last season, and has his passer rating dropped between the first quarter and fourth of his games. This can have a lot to do with a player not having a full arsenal of receivers to throw to, as well as the fact that Bradford was a rookie, playing arguably one of the toughest positions in any sport.
Does fantasy football even matter, you may ask? Could 30 million Americans be wrong? Wait, don't answer that. Fantasy football does matter for the sport in that it draws millions of people into each week's games, making them care about match-ups they wouldn't normally think twice about. So when the St. Louis Rams take on the Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday, there will be millions of people who couldn't care a whit about either team very interested in the outcome, and what Sam Bradford, the only Cherokee quarterback in the NFL, is doing on the field.