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Fantasy football now dominated by quarterbacks

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Millions of football fans anxiously await Thursday night’s kickoff of the National Football League season when the New England Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers. The rest of the league begins on Sunday.

Another matchup of importance only to this writer and one of Tallahassee’s prominent lobbyists is the Malpractice Squad hosting the Sweaty Gnats. Fantasy football is also back!

Many leagues have already conducted their drafts and are ready to go. Others wait until the conclusion of the pre-season to prevent drafting a key player only to have him go down with a season-ending injury. Good luck to those of you who drafted Jordy Nelson three weeks ago.

Unlike 10 years ago, today’s NFL has changed from a running league to a passing league. Ten years ago, fantasy “coaches” were deemed crazy if they did not draft a star running back with their first- and perhaps second-round picks. With today’s offenses, fantasy quarterbacks are now the king.

Last year, DeMarco Murray had a monster year for the Cowboys and was the top running back in the NFL. In most fantasy leagues, he was no better than the 13th leading scorer.

Twelve quarterbacks finished ahead of him. Even the much-maligned Jay Cutler of the Bears and Miami’s Ryan Tannehill scored more than Murray.

In fact, 18 of the top 20 scorers were quarterbacks. The highest- ranking wide receiver was Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown at number 22.

There are still some great running backs. Adrian Peterson returns to Minnesota in 2015 and Kansas City’s Jamal Charles is a beast. Detroit WR Calvin Johnson isn’t called “Megatron” for nothing. I still take Andrew Luck or Aaron Rodgers in the first round.

Another rule of thumb was to avoid drafting a defense/special teams unit before the eighth or ninth round. That is no longer etched in stone, either.

With some of today’s ball-hawking, turnover-inducing defenses and proficient special teams units, scoring is up. Last year, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Houston, Green Bay and St. Louis produced points similar to the totals of good receivers or average running backs.

They scored as well as Marques Colston of New Orleans and the Bucs’ Vincent Jackson. They were also as productive as running backs near the end of their careers like Steven Jackson and Fred Jackson.

The advice is to not go nuts. Do not use a high draft choice, but a top defense or special teams unit can be worth a 6th or 7th round pick.

As for kickers, not much has changed. Anything before a 10th- round pick is a waste. The difference between the highest-scoring kicker like New England’s Steven Gostkowski and Atlanta’s Matt Bryant in 12th place, was about 2 points per game. Good fantasy teams regularly score around 100 points.

An acceptable kicker will be there late. Choose one who, at least, plays for a team with a respectable offense.

Good luck.

(Bob Sparks is a two-time fantasy league champion and has made the playoffs seven of the last 10 years.)

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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