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CHRIS ERSKINE / FAN OF THE HOUSE

Fantasy football draft: Tips (and empathy) for NFL fans gone wild

NFL fans get their fix before the first kickoff with fantasy football draft tips that are down to the minutiae of sleepers, defense and which coach plays reserves more.

August 09, 2012|Chris Erskine
  • Veteran receiver Randy Moss of the 49ers is not better than a 10th-round selection in fantasy football, according to some experts.
Veteran receiver Randy Moss of the 49ers is not better than a 10th-round… (Paul Sakuma / Associated…)

Descending into a Red Bull-fueled geekdom usually reserved for physics majors and fans of "Lost," I am now preparing to draft two fantasy football teams.

Not a record by any measure, in fact more of a setback in my attempt at any sort of normalcy, it's the psychic equivalent of getting a Betty Boop tattoo.

I have a pen pal — actually I have many, if you include inmates and Russian vixens seeking companionship — but one of them makes an excellent argument that baseball is to other sports what chess is to checkers.

I know where he's coming from, for baseball has a depth and whiskeyed resonance that transcend other sports. If it weren't for all that spitting, itching and scratching, baseball would be pure poetry.

But football, holy football, is the communal campfire of American life. Most men, including my barber Tony, are just coming out of self-induced hibernation now that football is back. And I'll admit to a certain stirring of the soul and spirit at those first few reports out of training camp: "It's scorching hot here in Flowery Branch, Ga...."

True, it's a merciless time to be playing a game that encases you in crash-dummy plastics. I'll never forget Bubba Smith in his rookie year, hoisting a giant jug of ice water and turning it over his head, an almost biblical gesture. Players were smaller then. Smith hovered around 270 pounds. Now the players' rear ends weigh that.

In any case, as with a grizzly's first hunger pangs in spring, football fans are back. And life begins anew.

There are storylines galore this NFL season, and the college game looks just as vibrant. Meanwhile, can you imagine Los Angeles with two NFL teams? It was already the sports capital of America before the recent Dodgers acquisitions and the Lakers added Steve Nash.

Down 'round Anaheim, they appear to have the next Mickey Mantle, Mike "The Catch" Trout. In the Coliseum, the Trojans will be playing for a national title. In Westwood, some dude who thinks he's Lombardi will be knocking heads and helmets. The Kings are defending champs. If you love sports, you live in the right place. If you don't, pick one; there's plenty of psychosis to go around.

This is the part where you may tune out, because it will become fairly serious about fantasy leagues, too long ignored in the mainstream media. Let me just note that if presidential races were so important, they'd have fantasy leagues too.

Me, I've had good luck with Yahoo's fantasy site, and if you're a free agent looking for a virginal fantasy experience, I might even have a couple of spots open this fall — though I'm not sure anyone would want to associate with someone who writes phrases like "virginal fantasy experience."

The ESPN website is also red hot, and notable for its portability on smart phones and other gadgets. Jason Waram, who quarterbacks such things for ESPN, says Yahoo and the NFL sites are competitors he keeps a close eye on.

Two other guys who really know this stuff are Jim and Eric Butz, brothers who host a talk show and run a fantasy league called Suicide Fantasy Football.

Their league, one of the two (maybe three) I will attempt this season, plays a hybrid version of the old suicide systems that make you draft a team each week, with the covenant that you can only select a player once per season.

They also advise fans on more conventional leagues. For that, they recommend such crucial tips as waiting until your last two picks to choose a defense and a kicker.

With your backups, they say to consider the coach and whether he gives reserves playing time. Mike Shanahan? Yes. Andy Reid? Not so much.

Other tips:

"The best advice is to know your league," says Eric, specifically citing the point system.

"One of the main factors is contract status," says Jim. "If they're in the last year of a contract, they're more likely to play through injuries and hustle."

All other things being equal, "I look at age as a factor," Eric says. "I'd rather take a shot at a younger guy who's about to become a stud, just for the motivation of it.

"That said, I love Randy Moss in about the 10th round," he adds.

Sleepers? Robert Turbin, who may very well end up being a starter at running back by the end of the year for the Seattle Seahawks. Running back Peyton Hillis of Kansas City in the seventh or eighth.

Rocket science? Obviously.

"I like Moss in the fifth round," says my buddy Scott, who's been playing these leagues for 18 years, all the way back to the days when some poor schmo (the commish) had to pencil out stats each week.

"[Fantasy leagues] totally muck up the way you watch football," confesses his sidekick Matt, the poor schmo. "You quit caring about the team you follow. All you care about is who does what."

So much for anything approaching whiskeyed resonance. Still, there's the popularity of "Harry Potter," "Hunger Games, "Fifty Shades of Grey" to consider.

Which is to say: These days, fantasy rules.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

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