Giants understand the appeal of fantasy football – they just don’t need any extra motivation

The New York Giants may be eliminated from the playoffs, but some of their players will still be involved in championship-deciding games. That’s because this weekend is the championship round in most fantasy football leagues.

Just don’t expect the fantasy implications to add any extra motivation to players participating in the real games.

“I don’t care about fantasy,” wide receiver Sterling Shepard said.

Most of the Giants’ veteran players expressed a similar opinion. But they can’t ignore the fantasy football conversation because they receive a barrage of messages on social media about their performances.

“I definitely get a lot of tweets and (direct messages) and mentions,” running back Saquon Barkley said. “I think two weeks ago I definitely wasn’t helping anyone. I don’t know how to score these points – I probably had zero points.”

Barkley owners were certainly disappointed when he had just 14 yards on nine carries plus two catches for 23 yards in the Giants’ 24-6 loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 15.

Tight end Darren Waller said he heard from an angry fan who wished harm on a former teammate’s children. Waller, who has been open about his battle with drug addiction, said that after a bad fantasy performance, fans will reference his previous struggles in news reports.

“People do the basic thing: ‘Go do some drugs, go do some drugs,'” Waller said. “Fans are ridiculous.”

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The worst time for players to learn about the impact on a fantasy team is after they suffer an injury.

“I remember when I tore my ACL in 2020, people were like, ‘You ruined my fantasy team,'” Barkley said. “I thought, ‘Brother, I’m worried about surgery.’ I really don’t care about your fantasy team right now.’”

However, fan interactions surrounding fantasy are not always evil. Waller was the type of breakout star in 2019 — when he had 90 catches, 1,145 yards and three touchdowns in his first season as a starter — that could lead a fantasy team to a championship.

“In 2019, whoever picked me up on Hard Knocks hit the jackpot,” Waller said. “In my years of putting up big stats, that would have been exaggerated. Seventy-five percent of my interactions with people outside the building were, ‘Oh, fantasy team this, fantasy team that.’ I understand how important it is to people.”

Most of the Giants’ talented players have never participated in a fantasy football league.

“Even growing up, I had friends who did it, but I just never got into it because I played the game. That’s why I wasn’t needed,” said running back Matt Breida, who became a surprise fantasy star with the 49ers in 2018. “I feel like it’s not that interesting for a player because we’re actually playing the game.”

Wide receiver Darius Slayton played fantasy football in high school. He didn’t enjoy managing the weekly roster.

“It was annoying,” Slayton said. “I had a pretty good team, but it was stupid stuff. I would put a quarterback in and he would do terribly. I put the other guy on the bench and he did great. Flip them over next week and the opposite would be true. That was the last time I played.”

NFL players are allowed to play in fantasy football leagues but are not allowed to win more than $250. It is not worth the potential risk of serious game bans for active players if they participate.

“There are so many rules and regulations,” Breida said. “We just stay away from it, especially in recent years when guys have gotten in trouble for betting on their team. Maybe I’ll do it when I’m done playing.”

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Even if players aren’t into fantasy, they can understand the appeal for fans.

“You feel like you’re a GM in some ways,” Waller said. “It’s a way for them to feel like they have their own team, they can draft, they can be like an NFL manager and say, ‘I can put a team together.’ I understand why it’s appealing.”

This appeal is good for the NFL. With over 29 million fantasy football players in the United States in 2022, there is skyrocketing interest that is driving viewership and making more money for the league and players.

“They have people watching every game,” Waller said. “Someone in Atlanta is going to be tuned into the Cardinals and the Seahawks because they have Kyler Murray. It’s great for the fans to stay engaged.”

Barkley’s fantasy football numbers are wide-ranging. As a rookie in 2018, he scored the second-most fantasy points in the league. He took a step back in 2019 due to an ankle injury that sidelined him three games, but finished great, highlighted by 279 yards of offense and two touchdowns in the championship round, likely helping many teams to titles have. His 2020 season was wiped out by a torn ACL in Week 2, and he disappointed in 2021 as he struggled to return to form.

Barkley bounced back as a top producer last year and aptly described his fantasy performance this season as “decent.” He can make his owners happy if he comes through with big numbers in the championship round this weekend.

“I’m a competitor, so I love the fact that people are trying to build a team and try to beat their family members or friends in a fantasy championship,” Barkley said. “My goal is to go out there, compete at a high level and play for my team. If I can do that and it helps someone win a fantasy championship, then so be it.”

(Photo by Saquon Barkley: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)


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