Author’s Note: Before you dismiss this column entirely, know that I’m well aware that the first rule of fantasy sports is that no one wants to hear about someone else’s fantasy team. Bear in mind that this isn’t a blog about my personal fantasy strategy or who I think can help you win your league this year. Instead, it’s a look inside the personalities here at MidcoSN and the fun/unintended comedy a fantasy draft almost always offers up. Read on for all the details.
Let’s begin with this: the latest census projections approximate that there are 366 million people currently living in the United States and Canada.
Of that 366 million, roughly 57 million – nearly one in six – dabble in fantasy sports of some kind.
That’s a number that’s grown exponentially over the last 20 years since the industry has become more mainstream, but as I’ve witnessed from personal experience, that participation percentage is much greater within a sports television station.
The #FantasyLife has always been a big part of the culture here at Midco Sports Network, and our staff is constantly engaged in some form of fantasy sports competition, including – but not limited to – annual office staples like Fantasy MLB Home Run Derby, Fantasy PGA Golf, Fantasy English Premier League (and yes, that’s just Jay Elsen and I), and most prominently, Fantasy NFL Football.
Our MidcoSN Fantasy Football League started in 2011, and as our network has grown and evolved, so have our fantasy football ambitions.
What was once a standard 10-team operation among members of our Sioux Falls office has grown to include 24 MidcoSN employees spread across North and South Dakota, with the opening of our Fargo branch in 2016 leading to the addition of a second league to our ranks.
The champions of the two leagues – aptly named “MidcoSN North” and “MidcoSN South” – meet up in the MidcoSN Fantasy Super Bowl in Week 16 of the NFL season for ultimate office bragging rights and a traveling trophy that may or may not have been updated for a few seasons. (Shrugs.)
With the new NFL year starting tonight (!!), both MidcoSN leagues held their drafts on Wednesday, so just for fun, we’ve put together a running commentary on what transpired during the MidcoSN North League’s portion of Fantasy Draft Day.
You’ll know some of our staff members mentioned below from their time on camera, and while others might not be familiar names, you’ve seen the work they’ve done behind the scenes to get our network on the air, and over the next 1500 words or so, you’ll get to be familiar with that group as well.
So without further preamble, let’s pick it up on the morning of September 5, minutes before the start of Decision: 2018:
If you’ve been involved with a fantasy draft before, you know how things work on Draft Day.
You fire up your fantasy website of choice – ESPN, in this case – log in, and watch as the draft lounge starts to fill up with your competition.
Just like every league you’ve ever been in, some fantasy players in our office like to arrive early, fully prepared with their lists of preferred players and contingency plans for any situation.
Others will do neither, instead signing in at the last minute without much fuss and no real strategy to speak of.
The beauty – or the aggravation – of fantasy sports is that both parties have roughly the same chance of winning. It takes a blend of luck and skill to be successful, and I won’t try to put a percentage on which trait is more relevant.
In any case, the draft has begun to fill up with our MidcoSN North league members, a solid bunch of former champions, relative novices and a few that are planning on setting their profile to “Auto-Draft” and walking away, a bold strategy that’s actually worked for some in the past and allows for significantly more productivity during the work day.
Greg Enkers of our Fargo office – a league runner-up in 2017 – is one of the early ones. His name pops up on the group chat alongside the draft window, asking, “Where is everybody?”
Oh, we’re coming, Greg. We’re coming for you.
Shortly afterwards, two-time league champ Nate Aamodt, who serves as both MidcoSN North Dakota Executive Producer and our league’s commissioner, jumps on.
“I hate my team,” he deadpans.
We’ll see what Nate thinks once he’s actually assembled his roster, which should start happening…
NOW! The Monday Night Football theme blares from various laptops around our MidcoSN Grand Forks office, and we’re officially underway.
Technical director extraordinaire Toby McDonald – one of our auto-drafters this year – has pre-ranked a few players beforehand and takes Steelers running back/current malcontent LeVeon Bell with the first overall pick.
Promptly, Nate reminds everyone that Toby once took then-Denver kicker Matt Prater in the first round. #NeverForget
I’m up second and happily take Todd Gurley of the LA Rams – the same Todd Gurley who led our league in fantasy points last year and who is currently not embroiled in a divisive hold-out situation.
Life is good when things go your way.
We’re less than two minutes in, and we’ve already got our first taste of drama this morning. Our North Dakota high school expert Jody Norstedt and his wife Amy are in the process of touring day care centers in advance of their first child and had scheduled a tour for 10 am.
Meanwhile, Jody’s picking third and is currently on the clock. He has a minute to make his pick, or the computer will do it for him.
There’s a lull…
The group chat fires up again: “Day Cares and Draft Day?? Can Jody pull this off?”
Norstedt promptly signs in, takes receiver/Dancing With The Stars champion Antonio Brown ... and then signs back out.
Talk about silencing the doubters.
The next several picks are fired off in quick succession – “David Johnson! Zeke Elliott! Alvin Kamara!!” – with zero surprises among them. From a fantasy perspective, they’re all good picks, but from an entertainment/comedy standpoint, it’s disappointing.
Where’s the old Toby McDonald when you need him?
Producer Darren Lien’s up at No. 7 overall. Darren won the league in 2014 with a team that was auto-picked according to fantasy rankings. Nate threatened to put an asterisk by Darren’s name on our league’s trophy, but he ultimately backed down in the end.
As an aside, Darren’s team name is “chickenstrip special”, one of my personal favorites. After Darren beat me in Week 1 of last year, I changed my team name to “Chicken-Free Zone” out of disrespect, and our working relationship suffered greatly because of it … but I stand by my choices.
As Darren’s trying to make his first pick, our Grand Forks coordinating producer Mike Derman – who made the decision years ago not to participate in our (or any) fantasy league on “intellectual grounds” – starts asking him about some technical issues we experienced at the Alerus Center during a recent UND football broadcast.
Little does Mike know that Darren is in the middle of a difficult player personnel decision that could make or break his season, but the pride of Devil’s Lake, North Dakota, can multi-task with the best of them. While he’s answering Mike’s question, “Saquon Barkley - DRAFTED!” pops up on my browser.
To the shock of no one, die-hard Vikings fan Nate jumps on Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook at pick No. 9 and promptly changes his team name to “Dalvin and The Chipmunks”.
Not to be outdone, three picks later, reporter/producer Marty Mueller takes Jacksonville’s Leonard Fournette and changes his team name to “Little Red Fournette”.
If we all were in the same room, this is when the heckling would really kick into high gear … but sadly, we’re not, so they both get away relatively unscathed.
The first round’s in the books, and the second’s flying by without much in terms of talking points. When the pick comes to me, I take the ageless Larry Fitzgerald at the back end of the 2nd and get Denver rookie Royce Freeman at the top of the 3rd.
One old, one young. I’m trying to balance it out.
I know I said I wouldn’t discuss my fantasy preferences, but I was at Autzen Stadium when Freeman ran for a pair of touchdowns and 75-odd yards during Oregon’s 2014 win over South Dakota, and even though I haven’t followed his career all that closely since – I blame my day job – his performance that night stuck with me, and I think he’s got a shot to be really good in the pros.
Maybe it’s sentiment, but you tend to feel a little extra connection with the guys you witness in person. It’s one of the reasons why Carson Wentz will go a few rounds earlier in the Dakotas (and in eastern Pennsylvania) than in other parts of the country – another sign that personal experiences matter, even in the fantasy world.
Marty Mueller: “I don’t know anything about any of these guys. I don’t watch the NFL. I watch hockey.”
Maybe not shockingly, Marty had a robust 4-8 record last year, although he’s doing all right so far this morning. He proceeds to take the healthy, motivated Aaron Rodgers from State Farm with the first pick of the 4th Round.
Five rounds in, and I take my first New England Patriot, former lacrosse standout and current Tom Brady BFF, Chris Hogan – proving once again that it always feels good taking one of your guys from your favorite team. (#LFG)
It’s a strategy master control technician Quentin Coulter typically employs to great effect with the Broncos, although this year, he’s restrained himself – so far – and has only rostered Demaryius Thomas.
(My prediction? Five of Quentin’s fifteen draftees will be Denver guys. Mark it down.)
Darren: “Everyone’s scared of Dion Lewis, huh?”
Me: “Apparently. I think Derrick Henry’s the reason for that.”
Darren: “Forget it. I’m taking him. I’m just trying to do what auto-pick would do.”
I’ve just been burned for the first time this morning.
It’s Round 6, and I have my sights set on taking Denver wide out Emanuel Sanders to fill out my receiving corps. After Mile High Quentin passes on him earlier in the round, I feel more or less confident Sanders will fall to me … but three picks before I’m up, master scheduler/jack-of-all-trades/fantasy maven Travis Wagemann ends that dream.
There’s nothing quite like having to change course just before you pick, and as we’re all only half-paying attention to the draft at this point, I don’t really have much of a Plan B in mind.
I panic and take unproven Tennessee receiver Corey Davis, and immediately feel A) regret, and B) a strong surge of animosity towards Travis, his stupid haircut and his entire hometown of Aberdeen.
Fantasy football – it’s a rollercoaster of emotion sometimes.
Speaking of letting personal connections influence fantasy decisions, North Dakota alum Darren picks former UND receiver Kenny Golladay, now with Detroit. Golladay’s a break-out candidate this year, so the 10th Round feels like as good a time as any to fire him up, especially as he played for the program (for a few years, at least) that Darren covers on a daily basis.
As Darren’s got a Midco Mag shoot in Devil’s Lake to get to, this ends up being his last selection.
“Don’t screw this up for me, auto-draft,” he says on his way out.
It’s somewhere in the 12th Round.
Jody’s day care tour appears to be wrapped up, but he’s not signed back on.
Nate, Marty and I are having a group text conversation about hockey sponsorship details.
Darren’s left the building.
…And Toby’s still on auto-draft.
We’ve officially shifted our focus back to real life.
Quentin selects Denver’s defense, Marty takes Mr. Irrelevant Ty Montgomery, and with that, our 2018 Fantasy Draft is in the books.
A few final comments pop up in the group chat:
“Good luck this year, boys!”
“Done in an hour! Nice job!”
“I still hate my team.”
Another year, another typical MidcoSN Fantasy Draft.
Enjoy the start of the NFL season tonight, and may the fantasy odds be ever in your favor!