Stefon Diggs scored big for the Lumberjacks when he breezed through the Packers secondary for nine catches, 182 yards and a touchdown on Sept. 18.
Jarius Wright’s fantasy football team, named after his Fightin’ Lumberjacks high school mascot in Warren, Ark., started strong in a free online league of random people unknowingly competing against a Vikings receiver. Diggs, whose 75 receptions rank among the most in the NFL, was Wright’s first overall pick.
“I got insight into the offense,” Wright said with a smirk.
Curiosity piqued for Wright the more he heard from social media followers about fantasy football, the backbone of a multi-billion dollar fantasy sports industry that has intensified many fans’ emotional and financial investment in the NFL, while also creating an extra layer of noise for the source of all the fun — the players.
Wright decided to “see what the hype was about” by joining a league this season. He became the latest online general manager to draft a roster and start a quarterback, running backs, receivers and a tight end, a kicker and an NFL defense, however short-lived.
“Earlier I was doing a little bit more,” Wright said. “It got old really quick. That’s my life, you know. Football is my life, so doing it on the outside — it kind of got old to me.”
Wright controlled one of the only fantasy teams in the Vikings locker room, where the secondary game creates both opportunities and headaches.
Through Mike Zimmer’s 23 seasons as an NFL assistant and head coach, fantasy sports have grown from whiteboards of offline office pools to millions of dollars spent on every-hour TV advertisements for weekly gambling leagues.
Zimmer slightly tilted his head when broached with the distant topic. Zimmer only knows of its existence, he said, because his daughter, Corri, sometimes picks his brain about players, whether on his roster or around the league.
“She’ll ask me about other teams,” Zimmer said. “‘Who would you pick, this guy?’ And I’m like, ‘Who do they even play? I don’t know.’ ”
A conflict is created for players, whose league profits from extra attention that too often turns into unwanted, angst-filled messages when a player doesn’t perform for someone’s faux team. Some, such as running back Adrian Peterson and former kicker Blair Walsh, have found direct ways to benefit via appearances on “The League,” an FX sitcom based entirely on a fictional group’s fantasy football league.
Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who has a case for receiving the most virtual vitriol on the Vikings’ current 53-man roster, employs a block-first policy on social media — denying naysayers a chance to follow his account.
The interactions most impacting receiver Charles Johnson weren’t caused by his own play, but an injury at the end of the 2014 season to Bengals star receiver A.J. Green. He recalled going to Green’s Twitter mentions to wish him well and seeing a deluge of “the n-word, calling him a pansy,” Johnson said, after Green was concussed and fumbled in the fourth quarter.
“For me, that was like ‘this fantasy got our whole game messed up,’ ” Johnson said. “I lost a lot of respect for that fantasy part. That’s what I think draws a lot of the bad on the offensive side.”
Like many young players, Diggs and running back Jerick McKinnon are active on Twitter, but don’t play fantasy football and are forced to sift through the noise on their digital doorstep.
Many choose to only pay attention to friends and family.
Running back Matt Asiata isn’t one for social media. Yet he still hears about a fantasy football team whenever former Vikings teammate Toby Gerhart starts him. Asiata last heard from Gerhart after his fifth rushing touchdown of the season in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day.
“I don’t know if it was for his fantasy points or just cheering,” Asiata said.
Last season, friends of fullback Zach Line drafted Peterson, knowing their buddy would lead block for the future Hall of Famer. Line quickly became known as “the vulture” after two 1-yard touchdowns in Weeks 2 and 3.
“That’s kind of how I knew about it,” Line said. “I feel it gives fans an extra incentive to pay attention to players, stay more involved. It definitely draws more attention to the game, so that’s always good.”