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Friday, August 31, 2001
How to draft the right fantasy football magazine

By Brandon Funston
Special to Page 2

As far as I'm concerned, until they come up with a functional and sanitary way to integrate computers into bathrooms, there will always be a need for magazines. And, if the subject matter deals with fantasy football, then the value extends even beyond a relaxing "private time" read. From the moment of purchase, my fantasy football mag becomes an inseparable summer companion, the foundation for my 2001 fantasy football education and, most importantly, the good buddy that has my back on draft day.

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I bought my first fantasy magazine (Fantasy Football Index) in 1988 -- assuming that '85 Madonna Playboy doesn't count. At the time, you could count on one hand the numbers of fantasy publications available.

Of course, I didn't realize just how much the fantasy magazine industry had mushroomed until recently. I was perusing the racks at Barnes and Noble and noticed that no less than 16 annuals were now available for my consumption. I'd always had a special relationship with the Index but, with such a wealth of selection, I wondered if my devotion was warranted, or had I turned a blind eye to the competition? So, at a cost of roughly one c-note, I toted them all home for closer scrutiny.

Through the years, I've come to expect certain standards in a fantasy magazine, which I'd never expressed in words until I decided on a complete fantasy football magazine market review. Here is what I deem to be the essentials:

Presentation: Color is a bonus, but not necessary if pages are accentuated with graphs and lists and are well-organized. The biggest concern is that vital information is not buried in block after block of text. Another key here is that it must function well as a draft day reference guide, meaning, if I want to quickly look at how many receiving yards Ahman Green had last year or who the backup to Fred Taylor is, it had better be easy for me to flip the pages and find them.

Ahman Green
Ahman Green's receiving yardage should be easy to find.
Uniqueness: What can I get from this magazine that I can't get from others, and does this unique perspective have value?

Insight: How intelligent and insightful is the content? Are the authors reliable and in the know? Do they make a stand and let their opinion be known? Do they tell me anything I couldn't figure out on my own?

Staples: No, I don't care if there are little metal things in the binding. I'm talking about the resource basics that every fantasy mag should have. These staples include draft rankings (cheatsheets, mock draft, experts polls), player profiles (three-year splits, last year's game log, distance of TDs scored, etc.), team profiles (depth charts, offensive and defensive tendencies, player commentary) and draft tips (sleepers, busts, strategy) and back-page stat tables for quick reference.

Giving a max of 2.5 in each category for a 10-point grading scale, here is how they rate, starting from first to worst:

(Note: For comparison's sake, I decided to list where each magazine ranked Aaron Brooks, who was entrenched in a QB battle with Jeff Blake when most of these mags went to press. Given the fact that the Saints offense has the potential to post Top 10 fantasy passing numbers, predicting that Brooks would win the job and ranking him accordingly would be a major win for any publication. Some did just that, while others took the easy way out and chose to downgrade both Blake and Brooks because of the early summer ambiguity. You'll see below who the risk takers were.)

Pro Football Weekly ($5.99)
Presentation: 2.5 -- Uniqueness: 2.3 -- Insight: 1.8 -- Staples: 2.5 -- Overall: 9.1

No. 1 ranked player: Marshall Faulk -- Where they ranked Aaron Brooks: No. 19 among QBs

Comment: PFW is easily the most visually pleasing and well-organized in this genre. They also get bonus points for covering all their bases, from keeper leagues to auction drafts to individual defensive player rankings. Their team pages not only include individual 2000 game logs, but break down what the team did as a whole in each matchup from a year ago. The analysis was most disappointing. The pages are riddled with "should," "might," "probably," etc. They seemed content to offer two sides to each argument and let you make the call, which explains Aaron Brooks' low ranking.

Fantasy Football Index ($5.99)
Presentation: 2.1 -- Uniqueness: 2.1 -- Insight: 2.4 -- Staples: 2.4 -- Overall: 9.0

No.1 Ranked Player (Yardage+TD scoring): Edgerrin James -- Where they ranked Aaron Brooks: No. 12 among QBs

Comment: Consider the rest of the market Pepsi or Chevrolet, the Index is Ford and Coke. They were one of the first on the market and were pioneers of the cheatsheet. They've survived their rookie prediction for Randy Moss -- "Moss may go down as the 1998 version of Rocket Ismail or Desmond Howard" -- and have consistently offered strong opinions backed with supporting evidence for their claims. They get high grades for a cheatsheet that manages to squeeze in individual 2000 stats, expansive expert polls, and well-designed 2000 player game logs. Downgrade them for their player profiles, which need corresponding three-year stat tables and an overall player ranking list that extends beyond the top 25 players. Despite finishing a close second, I'll remain loyal to the Index.

Sporting News Fantasy Football ($5.99)
Presentation: 2.3 -- Uniqueness: 2.0 -- Insight: 2.2 -- Staples: 2.2 -- Overall: 8.7

Aaron Brooks
Injuries have hampered Aaron Brooks' offseason.
No. 1 ranked player: Marshall Faulk -- Where they ranked Aaron Brooks: No. 10 among QBs

Comment: TSN is the Eddie George of fantasy mags, a big-name player with a strong and consistent track record. I particularly liked how they broke up players at each position by a class system (premier, notch below, run of the mill, reaches, and desperation picks). They also offer a pleasing presentation, and their analysis is pointed. I gave them a couple of strikes for lack of player game logs and a cheatsheet that doesn't all fit on one page.

Fantasy League Football ($7.95)
Presentation: 2.3 -- Uniqueness: 1.9 -- Insight: 1.8 -- Staples: 2.1 -- Overall: 8.1

No. 1 ranked player: Marshall Faulk -- Where they ranked Aaron Brooks: No. 18 among QBs

Comment: The self-proclaimed No. 1 rated fantasy mag is pretty solid, but they suffer slightly from an overinflated ego. I'm not ready to anoint them as my No. 1, but I was impressed with a clean and organized layout and a basic offering of all the essentials you look for. Of course, they get hurt for their lack of game logs -- of which, as you know by now, I'm a big fan. They do need a better name, but you could do a lot worse for content.

Fantasy Football Pro Forecast ($6.99)
Presentation: 1.5 -- Uniqueness: 2.1 -- Insight: 2.2 -- Staples: 2.2 -- Overall: 8.0

No. 1 ranked player: Marshall Faulk -- Where they ranked Aaron Brooks: No. 31 among QBs

Comment: It turns out that Fantasy Football Pro Forecast is just the mothership among a slew of football magazines produced by Fantasy Sports Publications, Inc. The rest of its fleet are more singularly focused than Pro Forecast and include Fantasy Football Experts Poll, Fantasy Football Draft Book and Fantasy Football Cheatsheets. Because Pro Forecast is essentially a combination of the others, that is what I based my analysis on. The Forecast apparently prostitutes out a lot of its space to industry insiders, offering website promotion for expert analysis and rankings; I enjoyed the many different perspectives. Their presentation leaves a lot to be desired -- lots of stark pages, although the player profiles added a little life. There was a lack of organization, as features seemed to be randomly stuffed in the pages like the contents of George Castanza's wallet. With the exception of team page hubs, though, it has just about everything you are looking for.

Lindy's Fantasy Football ($5.99)
Presentation: 2.3 -- Uniqueness: 1.9 -- Insight: 1.9 -- Staples: 1.9 -- Overall: 8.0

Marshall Faulk
Marshall Faulk topped the player lists of eight fantasy football magazines.
No. 1 ranked player: Marshall Faulk -- Where they ranked Aaron Brooks: No. 34 among QBs

Comment: Lindy's most unique characteristic is the full-page, full-color glossy player photos. I'm not too far removed from the days where I would rip this book apart and plaster those photos on my wall next to my Sports Illustrated covers. But, alas, my wife no longer lets me wallpaper my room with sports pics. The most unique fantasy feature offered is a page listing a grid of players who are on byes for each week. Week 9 jumped out at me when I saw that Kurt Warner, Daunte Culpepper, Corey Dillon, Michael Bennett, Marshall Faulk, Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Peter Warrick all sit. Good to know on draft day. In general, this is a good premier offering.

Rotowire Fantasy Football Guide ($6.99)
Presentation: 1.9 -- Uniqueness: 2.4 -- Insight: 1.9 -- Staples: 1.7 -- Overall: 7.9

No. 1 ranked player: Edgerrin James -- Where they ranked Aaron Brooks: No. 29 among QBs

Comment: The guys from Rotowire led the charge on the Internet to offer updated fantasy player information. I know them to be fairly shrewd judges of fantasy value and they offer solid insight. But what separates them from the pack in the uniqueness category is their college football individual fantasy player rankings and suggestions for creating your own college league and 11 ways to improve your betting success. Hey, why not? The core fantasy football player is certainly predisposed to these logical extensions.

Fantasy Sports Magazine ($4.99)
Presentation: 1.9 -- Uniqueness: 1.8 -- Insight: 2.1 -- Staples: 1.7 -- Overall: 7.5

No. 1 ranked player: Marshall Faulk -- Where they ranked Aaron Brooks: No. 14 among QBs

Comment: FSM publishes two fantasy football magazines during the summer, and purchasing the September issue buys you a more updated magazine than the competition. But, what you make up in timeliness, you lose in overall depth. Basically, FSM is a little more than 100 pages of player profiles, with some cheatsheets, depth charts and a couple draft strategy articles thrown in for good measure. Creative uses for stats, team tendencies and team page hubs are the most notable absent.

Fantasy Football Weekly ($5.99)
Presentation: 1.8 -- Uniqueness: 2.0 -- Insight: 2.5 -- Staples: 1.2 -- Overall: 7.5

No. 1 ranked player: Edgerrin James -- Where they ranked Aaron Brooks: No. 10 among QBs

Comment: FFW is actually published newspaper style, like the old Sporting News. It has the advantage of hitting the newsstands much later than the others and, therefore, has fresher cheatsheets and some training camp information. They are strong on player rankings and player profiles, but statistical support tables are nonexistent.

Preview Sports Fantasy Football ($6.99)
Presentation: 2.1 -- Uniqueness: 1.3 -- Insight: 1.4 -- Staples: 1.4 -- Overall: 6.2

Edgerrin James
Indianapolis running back Edgerrin James tops many fantasy lists.
No. 1 ranked player: Marshall Faulk -- Where they ranked Aaron Brooks: No. 35 among QBs

Comment: Other than some fantasy-slanted comments among the player profiles, this isn't much of a fantasy mag. None of the supporting stat tables offer a fantasy angle. In fact, instead of listing player game logs, they simply list every box score from last year, like you have time to wade through those during your draft to find out, say, what Eric Moulds did in the final four weeks of the season. The cheatsheet also lacks an overall ranking, although a top 100 is listed elsewhere.

Grogan's Fantasy Football Analyst ($5.95)
Presentation: 1.4 -- Uniqueness: 1.4 -- Insight: 1.6 -- Staples: 1.6 -- Overall: 6.0

No.1 ranked player Didn't name a No. 1 overall -- Where they ranked Aaron Brooks: No.38 among QBs

Comment: My only response was a yawn. I liked the team tendencies graph on each team page hub, showing the percentages that a team ran vs. passed, as well as how often a pass went to a RB, WR or TE. Their player profiles possessed some decisive commentary, but they lacked three-year stat tables and game logs. There wasn't much candy here for the eyes either.

Cliff Charpentier's Fantasy Football Draft Guide ($4.95)
Presentation: 1.2 -- Uniqueness: 1.2 -- Insight: 1.0 -- Staples: 1.6 -- Overall: 5.0

No. 1 ranked player: Marshall Faulk -- Where they ranked Aaron Brooks: No. 17 among QBs

Comment: Cliff Charpentier might lay claim to the first fantasy sports publication -- he's been publishing a paperback digest for 18 years and a magazine for five -- but that would be his only award in this genre. With milquetoast commentary, a 1978 look and feel and a cheatsheet that doesn't go beyond the top 15 at each position, it's safe to say this magazine is aging more like milk than wine.

Fantasy Football Advisor ($4.95)
Presentation: 0.9 -- Uniqueness: 1.0 -- Insight: 0.5 -- Staples: 1.0 -- Overall: 3.4

No. 1 ranked player: Didn't name a No. 1 overall -- Where they ranked Aaron Brooks: No. 36 among QBs

Comment: The Advisor claims to be the "most concise draft guide on the planet." Last time I checked, concise meant "to express in brief form." Hardly an endorsement for a fantasy football magazine. Basically, with a couple of hours to spare and a Kinko's nearby, you could reproduce something similar. And, although I've recently moved past requiring a book to have pictures, it would be nice to at least see one. But I understand what they are shooting for here. Remember when you used to get your textbook in grade school, they often issued a corresponding workbook? That is what the Advisor is trying to be. Plenty of room to write in the margins and lots of forms for writing in rosters and league member information. Ten years ago this would have been really cool, now it serves just the unconnected.

Fantasy Season Game Kit ($5.95)
Presentation: 0.9 -- Uniqueness: 0.8 -- Insight: 0.3 -- Staples: 0.4 -- Overall: 2.4

No. 1 ranked player: Didn't name a No. 1 overall -- Where they ranked Aaron Brooks: Didn't rank Brooks

Comment: Another workbook that is, ironically, more concise than the Advisor. We're talking fewer than 30 pages. Basically, you're getting a glorified place to write your roster down during the draft and some basic 2000 stats. At a price of $5.95, the Game Kit represents the biggest crime of capitalism against the fantasy football market. Save yourself the cash and settle for a pen and a piece of notebook paper.

Brandon Funston is Fantasy Games editor for ESPN.com.