The difference between real football success and fantasy success couldn’t be starker than in the case of Sam Bradford. 2010’s runaway offensive rookie of the year contender took every snap for his young team and looked like a seasoned veteran in the pocket while leading his team to a six-win improvement over 2009… and yet he barely ranked as a second-tier quarterback in fantasy leagues. You can blame an ultra-short passing tree, or the absence of game-breaking talent in the WR corps, but the media accolades that Bradford received far exceeded his fantasy performance.
In fact, according to a ProFootballFocus study by Alessandro Miglio (@PFF_ZeroDev), only five players racked up fewer fantasy points per snap than the Rams’ rookie QB.
Fantasy football has evolved from a man-cave preoccupation with strat-o-matic scoresheets into a booming industry with tens of millions of players, and this explosion has changed the very way the game is broadcast and presented. Broadcast dollars, in turn, are the single-greatest source of revenue for NFL teams. In a financial sense, fantasy players are the tail that wags the dog.
Beyond that, however, the rampant popularity of Twitter among fantasy geeks (seeking up-to-the-second information on their sit/start decisions) and among NFL players themselves (some for the same reasons that social media appeals to any of us, others to build up mini media empires) means that players who stat well and those who don’t get to hear about it right away, direct from their “owners,” in volume.
When a player like Maurice Jones-Drew actively plays fantasy (and has drafted himself in multiple leagues), and tweets about his team’s successes and failures, you can say that the culture of fantasy has invaded the very sport itself.
Perhaps this is a reason why, when the players themselves were polled by the Sporting News, they emphatically chose Ndamukong Suh as their Rookie of the Year? Maybe not the only reason, but it could be a factor.
Fantasy heads are also leading the pack among those clamoring for the Rams to bring Josh McDaniels on board to replace Pat Shurmur. After all, Bradford has already shown that he has the arm and the brain; with the right scheme and surrounding talent, he could enjoy a breakout season in 2011.
If that happened, Bradford just might become as big a star in fantasy as he is in the real world of football.