Reflections, Lamentations, and Commendations: My First Year as a Fantasy Football Writer
If you would have asked me a little over a year ago what I thought I would be doing this fantasy football season, I probably would have given you a run-of-the-mill answer.
“I’m sure I’ll play in a few leagues. Hopefully, I make the playoffs in a couple of them, maybe win one…”
A year ago, that’s what I thought I would be doing. I was content talking to friends and co-workers about fantasy football, taking in a myriad of stats and injury reports just to assist someone with a once-in-a-while start or sit question at the bar. I didn’t think I had what it takes to be a content creator. “I lacked a platform. No one wants to hear what I have to say. I don’t know what I’m talking about,” I thought. Who would ever listen to someone like me?
It turns out, someone was listening to me shout into the void on Twitter. Ryan Hallam (@fightingchance), the Godfather of Fighting Chance Fantasy had somehow seen my 280-character outbursts, sometimes (most times) laden with profanity and a slew of extra punctuation. He, incredibly, saw something that he liked and reached out to me. My first “assignment” was to do a write-up on fantasy-relevant Week 14 matchups. I went all in, writing up a full 25 pages of predictions, sizing up matchups, owning my takes, you name it. Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop; the spigot was open.
I wrote my first ever football article (not just for Fighting Chance, but ever) for the 2020 Divisional Playoff round. Re-reading it now, the rawness is sort of endearing.
“The Cleveland Browns (yep, THOSE Browns) ended an 18-year playoff drought, and the Buffalo Bills ended a drought long enough it was about to get a discount on car insurance.”
I kept that tongue-in-cheek mentality throughout the next few pieces of my writing, keeping the tone that I held with the bar regulars and friends who, up until now, had been the only people I talked football with. In the off-season, however, the view around what I was doing changed. I don’t know if it was a product of more writing practice, a slight boost of confidence, or just the feeling of the fire underneath me as the season got closer. What I do know is that I resolved to learn more, to do more, to just BE BETTER. This fire led me to my first entry and a playoff appearance in the Scott Fish Bowl, a third-place finish in the Warrior Bowl, a win in a Fantasy Cares Eliminator league, a playoff appearance in the Wenis Together Charity League, numerous articles and podcasts, and a healthy appreciation for all the work that goes into this industry.
While I’d like to think that I have improved since this time last year, there is still much to learn. Learning is a process of reflecting on mistakes, celebrating achievements, and putting a plan in place to achieve the goals laid out after the assessment of the two. So where did my process lead me and what do I want to do better?
I liken the jump into the fantasy content world to a jump off a high dive as a child. The platform is so lofty, and you’re so much smaller than it is. You’re terrified up on that diving board. Then, you finally jump, and you feel invincible. You race to repeat, going up and down, up and down, up and down…until one day you run a little too eagerly and slip, smacking your face in front of everyone. This is what it felt like for me in the fantasy world. I was so excited that people were asking my opinion! “This is it! I’m doing it! People care what I have to say!” This is all well and good for a while, but inevitably, someone isn’t going to agree with you, and in the Twitterverse, their objection is put out for everyone to see. God forbid, maybe you’re even wrong on a take and someone keeps receipts and retweets you? Let me tell you, that first quote tweet with your take in a negative context really hits you. I started doubting myself.
“I can’t take this scrutiny. I’m damaging my credibility. If I get things wrong, people will think I don’t know what I’m talking about.”
This was the first mistake I made in my fledgling career. I thought I had to get everything right. By adopting that mindset, I was actually hindering my production. I overthought everything to the point where I couldn’t make a decision, let alone create. I was scared to post anything on Twitter, anticipating the dreaded joke at my expense. I couldn’t research, worried that I wouldn’t think critically enough, worried that I would overanalyze. I was letting my mistakes control me.
When rookie training camp started for the 2021 season, the buzz on fantasy Twitter was almost physically tangible. Everyone wanted to see the new guys in action, watch how their chemistry was with veteran players. While some people did this out of love of the game, most of us were trying to validate our takes one way or the other. The clips were rolling in, and the echo chamber was just getting started.
This was my second mistake. I took everything I saw from training camp and even preseason in a vacuum, failing to incorporate the real-life factors that go into a player’s fantasy success. I sometimes weighted talent more than situation and opportunity, which is fine to do in dynasty or some keeper leagues, but I was writing about the here and now. Terrace Marshall is the one who comes to mind and stings the most. He was reuniting with Joe Brady, the offensive coordinator from his college championship, and the Panthers had a quarterback who loved to throw to his slot receivers. Unfortunately, none of the off-season expectations came close to happening. The NFL regular season is a different animal than training camp, and so are the players.
As the season went on, I started getting offers to guest on shows and write additional articles. I’ve always been the people-pleasing type of person, and I’ve always felt that by simply saying “no” that I will irreparably damage the relationship and never be asked again. It’s this thought process that led me into my third mistake: taking on too much at a time.
As a first-year writer, I obviously hadn’t made a career out of it yet. I had a mortgage and various other bills, so I still worked a full-time job. I lived on a very specific schedule: this show is at this time, then in between work, I’ll write this article, then do this at this time and on and on and on. If I missed a deadline and had to double up on something, I rushed to complete it, sacrificing the quality of my work in the process. I half-assed my research just for the sake of getting it done. Quantity over quality became the new status quo. In some instances, I felt like I was obligated to do something I hadn’t agreed to, that I had agreed to an inch when the expectation was a mile. I was over-extended in a big way, and it showed.
One of the first lessons you learn in persuasive writing is to sandwich the less-flattering portions of your argument or position in the middle of your work. The premise behind this theory is that your audience will more or less “tune out” and forget those pieces and take away the pieces at the beginning and the end. That’s why the mistakes are before the successes. While I don’t want to completely forget the mistakes (because then how can you learn from them), I want to celebrate my success and growth more.
The first achievement, albeit small in the grand scheme of things, is the number of articles I wrote for Fighting Chance Fantasy this season. In total, I wrote 27 solo articles and contributed to two round tables, in addition to writing six for Fantasy Intervention. I went into this season with no idea of who I was as a writer, what strategy I was going to implement to even figure out who I was going to write about, and I ended feeling excited each time I finished an article. While I clearly did not get everything right, I found a process that made me feel like I can branch out to other topics and build upon next season. We all have to start somewhere, and I consider this year a solid foundation.
Before this year, I was basically unable to get on camera or do a live performance. I would freeze like a deer in headlights, and my mind would go blank. Some combination of anxiety and lack of confidence made my brain go into stand-by mode. That changed this season, with my first of what would become many shows. My second achievement is the number of live shows I was fortunate to do this year.
I got the text when I was in the middle of a field at Summer Camp Festival in August. Kevin Tompkins (@ktompkinsii on Twitter) texted me and asked if I had time to talk. I think my response was some incoherent jumble of words that read, “at show…in 20.” Kevin somehow deciphered by text and messaged me in almost precisely twenty minutes and asked if I was interested in doing a weekly start/sit show with himself and Gary Haddow (@haddow27). Looking back on it, being at a music festival at that moment was probably the best place I could have been because no one was going to look twice at a girl crying happy tears in a field when there were thousands of people on varying substances all around me. The show became “The Calm Before the Storm,” and it became a highlight of my week.
I was later invited into the weekly “Lighting Round” show with these two and Andrew Cooper (@CoopAFiasco). I also did a weekly waiver wire show with Chase Vernon (@ff_intervention), guested on a couple of Club Fantasy Life (ClubFantasyFFL) shows, and even was asked to be a guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio’s PFF show with Brian Drake (@DrakeFantasy). Considering how reticent I was to appear on camera at the beginning of the season in general, let alone give my takes live, the shows are something I’m extremely proud of.
I’ve always been a sucker for fantasy leagues; if you ask me, I’m in. The gravity of these leagues changed this year, however, as I was accepted to compete in the 11th Scott Fish Bowl. If you are unfamiliar with the SFB, it is the largest pro-am charity fantasy football league that allows industry analysts, pro athletes, and fans to compete together. It is a superflex, tight end premium league, with scoring penalties for incompletions, sacks, interceptions, and other negative quarterback metrics. If you haven’t played in a league like that before, let me just tell you…it is HARD. That’s why my third achievement is making the playoffs in the Scott Fish Bowl.
The draft began with 1,920 participants on July 5. There were no practice reports, no rookie reports, no word of anything. All you have to go on is your gut and your prior research. Admittedly, I completely botched the draft because of this, drafting Michael Thomas and Julio Jones as my first two wide receivers in the fourth and fifth rounds, and Trey Sermon in the sixth. (To be fair, this was before Thomas’ ankle injury was disclosed, before Julio was traded and before Sermon fell off the face of Shanahan’s radar.) I started the season with a dismal record, winning maybe one or two by the middle of the fantasy season, but I was determined to put up a fight. With some serious waiver moves, aggressive start/sit decisions, and just a little luck, I managed a winning streak, finishing 4th in my division and securing a spot in the playoffs. Going into this highly competitive league with little to no knowledge of the format and finishing where I did gave me a sliver of hope that maybe I do know what I’m doing…even if just a little bit.
So, after all that, what’s the plan to avoid these mistakes and build on the success of this season? While nothing is going to be perfect, you can set expectations, boundaries, and goals for yourself to make yourself better. These are the tenants I’m going to try and live by in future fantasy seasons.
-Don’t beat yourself up if your takes are wrong, but especially don’t beat yourself up if someone calls you out for it. You’re not a mind reader. As long as you can back up your opinion with research, that’s all you can do.
-Make time for yourself. Whether it’s the number of leagues you’re in, the number of articles you’re writing, the number of shows you’re doing, take time to recharge your batteries. Burnout is real and can severely affect not only your content but how you view the sport. Don’t let something that was once fun become a burden.
-Refine your process. It’s not all just stats and numbers. Sure, they’re part of it, but come up with a plan to put those numbers in context. Oh, was a particular defensive player out? Of course, the opposing player put up those numbers. Don’t look at things in a vacuum.
-Tune out the echo chamber and don’t be afraid to deviate from consensus. If there’s anything I learned this season, the crowd is rarely right about everything. And, if you were wrong…
-Know when to admit that you were wrong. It’s okay. You’re not going to be right 100% of the time. Being wrong isn’t necessarily the issue; it’s the failure to admit you were.
I have a lot to learn, but I have a lot to be thankful for. I’ve grown so much this season, and I look forward to growing in the years to come. Thank you to everyone who made this year possible, including those who followed me on this year’s journey. To 2022 and beyond!
Follow Britt on Twitter @Britt_Flinn