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19 Things You Didn’t Know About Fantasy Football

LaDainian Tomlinson

LaDainian Tomlinson

Any fantasy football veteran understands that knowledge is power — the more you know about the players, the owners and the rules, the better off your team will be. But something that is often forgotten is the history of the game, as well as some of the statistics that have helped define the hobby. While some of these interesting facts might not directly help your 2017 fantasy football team, they can certainly be used as excellent distraction talk — while you swoop in on that ninth-round sleeper.

Athlon Sports 2017 Fantasy Football Preview

This article appears in Athlon Sports’ 2017 Fantasy Football magazine, available for purchase online and at newsstands everywhere

1. Just 23.5 percent of the highest-drafted fantasy rookies end up as the best fantasy rookies

In 12-team leagues, the first rookie drafted (according to ADP history on MyFantasyLeague.com) ended up as the best fantasy rookie at season’s end just four times in the 17 seasons dating back to 2000. That’s a success rate of just 23.5 percent. The only rookies to have the highest ADP and finish as the best fantasy rookies in that period were Cadillac Williams (2005), Knowshon Moreno (2009), Eddie Lacy (2013) and Ezekiel Elliott (2016).

Elliott’s performance as both the highest-drafted rookie and the fantasy rookie of the year in 2016, along with Todd Gurley’s big first season in 2015, will have owners drafting a rookie running back such as Leonard Fournette a little too high. Just remember — 23.5 percent!

2. The very first overall fantasy draft pick: George Blanda in 1963

Oakland Raiders part-owner Bill Winkenbach, along with Raiders PR director Bill Tunnell and Oakland Tribune sportswriter Scotty Stirling, created a set of rules in 1962 that loosely resembles what we now know as fantasy football. 

Blanda, the quarterback/kicker for the Houston Oilers at the time, was the first overall draft pick that season in the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League (GOPPPL). (Blanda wasn’t a sleeper; he posted one of the highest-scoring fantasy seasons ever in 1961, leading the AFL with 36 passing TDs and 3,330 passing yards, to go with 16 field goals and 64 extra points. Your move, Tom Brady!)

3. Jerry Rice should probably be considered the greatest fantasy player ever

In eight different seasons from 1986-95, Jerry Rice finished as the best fantasy wide receiver and a top-five fantasy player at any position. No other player in the fantasy football era comes close to that success. In 1987, he was the first wide receiver to score more total fantasy points than a running back in any season.

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4. Athletes and media members were anti-fantasy for years, until ad money poured in

In the mid-to-late ’90s, fantasy players were publicly shamed on sports talk shows by hosts and athletes who referred to them as nerds who didn’t know anything about the sport. Despite this, the hobby continued to grow in popularity. Eventually, advertisers began to understand the power of such a large group of sports fanatics, who are tied into every single game being played. Soon, announcers and players were suddenly huge fans of the hobby.

5. Ruxin was “The League’s” biggest fantasy loser

Rodney Ruxin, played by Nick Kroll, lost the most Shiva Bowls (four) and Sacko Bowls (two) in the history of FX’s “The League.”

6. Each NFL team had two bye weeks in 1993

The NFL introduced bye weeks into the regular-season schedule in 1990, and it was a big enough success that they decided to try two bye weeks for each team in '93. Fantasy owners did a lot of lineup juggling in those days! It lasted only one season, though. Then, from 1999 through 2001, there were 31 NFL teams, which meant at least one team had a bye every week of the regular season. Unconscionable!

7. The first online commissioner site launched Jan. 1, 1997

At 12:00:01am ET, on New Year’s Day 1997, five gentlemen who made up the company Daedalus World Wide, led by Peter Pezaris, officially launched the very first online fantasy commissioner service. That service would eventually be bought by the company that is now CBSSports.com.

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8. 58.8 percent of No. 2 overall picks in ADP since 2000 outperformed No. 1 picks 

Over the past 17 NFL seasons, 10 of the second overall picks (according to ADP) posted better fantasy seasons (using NFL standard fantasy scoring) than the players picked just before them with the first overall pick. Losing the draft lottery by one spot isn’t all that bad!

9. Not everyone loves flex lineups or PPR scoring

After polling several league draft sites recently, about half of all fantasy football leagues use a flex position (RB/WR/TE) in their lineups, and about one-third use PPR scoring.

10. LaDainian Tomlinson had the best fantasy football season ever in 2006

With 2,323 yards from scrimmage, 31 rushing plus receiving touchdowns and two passing TDs in 2006, Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson scored the most fantasy points ever — 427. His Value-Based Draft number (per Joe Bryant) was 269 at season’s end — 93 points higher than the second-best player that year, Larry Johnson (176 VBD). (VBD measures the difference in points between the player in question and a baseline, or average, player that season.)

11. The very first RotoWire NFL player update: Bengals WR Darnay Scott

RotoWire.com, which used to be RotoNews, has done nearly 350,000 NFL player updates since it started in 1997, according to RotoWire president Peter Schoenke. While Scott, the speedy Bengals wideout, was the first update, he’s not the most updated. That honor goes to Ben Roethlisberger, who has been updated 931 times in his 13-year career — just a few dozen updates in front of Tom Brady (889) and Anquan Boldin (750).

12. Fantasy sports’ popularity has doubled since 2009

Per the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, there were more than 57 million fantasy players in America and Canada last season, which is double the 28.4 million who played in 2009. The increase mostly came from the daily fantasy sports industry, but mainstream media continues to become fantasy friendly with more programming based around it.

13. Dickerson/Marino/Wilder were all worth first overall picks in 1984

In 1984, running backs Eric Dickerson and James Wilder, along with quarterback Dan Marino, posted amazing seasons — and all three finished with that year’s highest VBD number (180), which means they were all worth the first overall draft pick that season. Dickerson scored 14 touchdowns and rushed for an NFL-record 2,105 yards. Marino passed for a then-NFL record 48 touchdowns, and Wilder got his fantasy points on action based off of a then-NFL record 407 carries. The fourth-best player that year? Marcus Allen, who totaled an impressive 1,926 yards and 18 touchdowns.

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14. 237 rushing yards and zero touchdowns used to count for zero fantasy points

In the early ’90s, before computer software and the Internet made commissioners’ lives easier, league scoring rules mostly allowed six points for rushing/receiving touchdowns and no points for yards gained. In Week 11 of the 1994 season, Lions running back Barry Sanders trampled the Buccaneers for 237 rushing yards, but his TD-only fantasy owners got a goose egg.

15. Fantasy football costs employers more in productivity than the NFL’s total revenue

In 2016, the employment research firm of Challenger, Gray & Christmas crunched the numbers on fantasy players, full-time employment percentages and average hourly wages to discover that the hobby cost employers an estimated $16.8 billion in lost or unproductive wages. That number beats the $13 billion of total revenue the NFL reportedly took in the year before that.

16. Rookie tight ends might be better fantasy owners than fantasy players

Dating back to 1996, there have been just nine rookies who scored enough fantasy points to be top-12 tight ends. The only rookie tight ends to do it since 2005 are John Carlson (2008), Rob Gronkowski (2010), Aaron Hernandez (2010) and Hunter Henry (2016).

17. Emmitt Smith’s 365 fantasy points crushed all RBs in 1995

While Tomlinson and others have had better overall fantasy seasons, No. 22 led his position with 365 fantasy points in 1995. That’s 98 points more than the second-best running back, Curtis Martin. No other top-scoring RB has had that type of separation from his colleagues. Now that’s a great first overall draft pick!

18. If you could go back to 2008, you’d load up on RBs in your keeper league

While 2014 is known as the greatest NFL rookie class for wide receivers, and 1983 is known for the greatest class of quarterbacks, it was in 2008 when the young running backs started running wild. That rookie class supplied four of the top-20 running backs that season, and then in the 2009 season, there were six sophomores among the top 20 RBs. But it was in their third season, in 2010, when they really blossomed as a group: Six of the top 10 and 14 of the top 35 RBs were juniors. That 2008 rookie class included Jamaal Charles, Justin Forsett, Matt Forté, Peyton Hillis, Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden, Ray Rice, Jonathan Stewart and Danny Woodhead.

19. Former Redskins TE Chris Cooley once beat himself with three TD catches

On Dec. 18, 2005, Cooley caught three TD passes in a game against the Dallas Cowboys in fantasy Week 15. Unfortunately, his fantasy opponent owned him, and those three scores ended up knocking Cooley’s team out of the fantasy playoffs.

— Written by David Gonos (@davidgonos) for Athlon Sports. Gonos is senior editor for FNTSY.com and founder of SoCalledFantasyExperts.com.