Friday, August 06, 2004

Dear Mr. Fantasy

It's that time of year. Fantasy football leagues are starting up again, which means that people all across the nation are gearing up for another season of trash talking and commitment-shirking.

New players can rest assured that they are in for a long season of cursing themselves over bad draft picks and wondering why their Jerry Rice selection in the fifth round didn't pan out.

It can be difficult for these fresh fish to make a splash in a league of established pros, but since I'm a charitable guy who likes to see the underdog slap around the cocky favorite every now and then, I have put together these rules of fantasy football:

1) Pay attention. If you don't log on to check your team at least two or three times a week, you're done. Trades and waiver moves happen every day, and you have got to be alert enough to take advantage when Dope McGuirk drops Marvin Harrison two weeks into the season.

2) Draft smart. If your league only has one slot for quarterbacks, it doesn't make any sense to have both Donovan McNabb and Peyton Manning, does it? Grab a top running back early, a couple of solid receivers, and try to get a premiere tight end (Shockey, Gonzalez, Heap). Quarterback is probably the deepest position. You can still get a very reliable QB even if you wait five or six rounds.

3) Find "your guys." As the season goes on, take note of which players are consistent performers, not just on your team but other teams as well. Look for guys who put up big numbers every week and don't fumble often or throw lots of interceptions. If you can find players like this who aren't superstars, even better. In future drafts, you should be able to grab them in late rounds. Plug them into your lineup and watch other managers fade into the distance.

4) Identify the weak link. Every league has one or two. These are generally teams run by 3rd graders who will trade you Michael Vick as long as you offer them a couple guys from their favorite team. If you're lucky, the deal you agree on will look just good enough to be approved by the league. Identifying and exploiting the bad teams in your league can turn a good squad into a great one.

5) Remember... Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest. Use your free time to periodically check whether any starting QBs or RBs got seriously injured. If so, pounce on their replacements. Some of the best fantasy players in recent years have been backups who emerged after teammates went down (Kurt Warner and Tom Brady are prime examples).

Now that you've learned everything I have to tell you, I have only one request: Stay out of my league.

E-mail me at presspass@newsday.com

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