Editor’s Note: I got my start as a fantasy writer in 1999 with the launch of Draft Sharks. But one of the people who I admired and who inspired me was Bob Harris, Senior Editor of the Pro Forecast Fantasy Football magazine. You’ll see why in this interview that he was kind enough to grant me recently.
- Lenny Pappano
LP: Bob, you are one of the pioneers of fantasy football writers. Tell us how you got your start.
BH: I was a graphic designer in the early 90s and playing with local buddies in Tucson, Arizona. I started doing a weekly newsletter to entertain the fellows in that league. Over the course of a couple of seasons, as more and more guys who were listed as probable in the newspaper earlier in the week ended up in street clothes on the sidelines, I started to wonder why there wasn’t more information available.
I suspected I was not alone. Certainly anybody playing Fantasy Football would be interested in knowing more.
So I started a service in 1993 called TFL Report. The TFL stood for The Fantasy League. It consisted of a weekly newsletter that I mailed out on Tuesdays. It also included a fax — the original FlashUpdate — that was sent on the subscriber’s choice of Thursday, Friday or Saturday afternoon. On that fax, we would have practice information for every team.
Shortly thereafter, in 1995, I started using the world-wide web to deliver the information and the evolution has been ongoing since.
LP: What do you think are the trademarks of a good fantasy writer/analyst? And how do avoid being a “hand holding” service for some guys?
BH: I think the keys are understanding the audience and remembering the mission.
First of all, the job is providing information to one of the most interested and engaged audiences on earth. You’re not going to fool these people. If you try, they’ll see right through you.
And for me, the mission is simple: Making sure my readers are the best-informed owner in their league at any given point in time.
It’s easy to get caught up in being an “expert.” My approach, however, has always been making sure I treat readers as the “experts” while focusing my efforts on helping them become that.
I realize the importance of delivering the information with sufficient personality and flair to set yourself apart from others. But in the end, I’m not the story. The information is the story.
LP: I remember a few years ago you and I were chatting, and I mentioned that I didn’t like NFL player interviews because too many folks would use what players said in order to form an opinion on how well a player would do. For example, a guy coming off an injury in a contract year isn’t about to tell you that his knee still hurts. I think I read that Jerome Bettis admitted to hiding an injury because he wanted his contract to get finalized. In any event, I recall you agreeing that player interviews were for entertainment value only? Have you changed your mind on that?
BH: Your points are valid. But I give the audience the credit for understanding them. The primary goal when I interview players is to get their perspective on our hobby. I want Fantasy owners to feel a connection with the guys they pencil into their lineup each week and finding out what a player thinks about our hobby helps make that connection.
Along the way, if I can probe a player in a way that helps Fantasy owners understand his approach to the game, his approach to preparation, his attitude. … I think all those can be useful.
Asking a player how many yards he’s going to get or how many touchdowns he’s going to score? Not very useful. I might ask about general goals but specific numbers aren’t of great interest, in part for the reason you suggest.
LP: On to some questions about 2010. Give us a guy who you think could be a First Round Bust this year.
BH: The guy who comes immediately to mind is Chris Johnson. He’s pretty much the consensus No. 1 pick heading into this season based solely on what he did last year. I’m not saying that’s a mistake; I’m saying that expecting Johnson to duplicate last year’s totals is a mistake… So given that No. 1 overall status, ongoing contract issues that some believe could run into training camp, and knowing that turnover among the Top-10 Fantasy running backs is high (more than 60 percent turnover in the five-year period I last studied — 2003 through 2007), I’ll count Johnson as a guy who is going to fall short of expectations.
I say all that realizing just how difficult it would be to pass on Johnson with that first pick overall. And yes; I would still pick him and hope for the best.
LP: Throw out a couple names of players who you think could have a breakout year.
BH: I think a player who is going to surprise a lot of people is Lions rookie running back Jahvid Best. There’s a reason Detroit traded back up into the first round to secure his services. With Kevin Smith’s immediate (and long-term) future in serious question, I think Best has a great opportunity — and the kind of speed necessary — to make those suggesting the Lions may have landed the player with the most potential to become the next Chris Johnson look smart.
And you won’t have to burn the first-pick overall to land him. …
I also think Joe Flacco is primed to pick up the pace. … Heading into his third season as a pro, Flacco worked hard to improve his arm strength, accuracy and durability while the Ravens added Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth at wideout and hired Jim Zorn as his position coach. Also worth noting: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron plans to “significantly” increase the Ravens’ passing game packages this season. Bottom line? Flacco appears to be ready to flirt with Top-10 status.
LP: Is Dez Bryant gonna have a Randy Moss-like rookie season, or is he an over-hyped first-year guy?
BH: How about somewhere in between? Not to cop out, but assuming a Randy Moss-like rookie season isn’t in the cards (69 catches aren’t unreasonable, but I’m not looking for 17 touchdowns), I do expect Bryant to be the Week 1 starter opposite Miles Austin. But playing in a high-powered Dallas offense works for and against Bryant. There are plenty of targets, Austin, Jason Witten, Felix Jones and Marion Barber, all better versed in the offense than the newcomer. Who knows? Roy Williams could even come on a bit stronger playing a different role. Martellus Bennett could also emerge as more of a scoring and play-making threat.
So. … I look for a solid but less-than spectacular season from Bryant.
LP: Which rookie RB will have the best year in 2010?
BH: Based on what we know for sure, San Diego’s Ryan Mathews will get every opportunity to be that guy. Chargers coach Norv Turner has made no secret of his plan to make the first-rounder every bit as important to the rushing attack as LaDainian Tomlinson was. Specifically, Turner has talked 250 carries and 40 catches when discussing expectations for Mathews.
And while Tomlinson has made his opinion — that poor blocking had more to do with his decline than his own eroding skills — well known, the Chargers obviously disagree. In addition to letting Tomlinson walk, the team selected one running back, Mathews, one tight end (in the seventh round) and no offensive linemen in April’s draft.
LP: Got a guy you like with your final pick this year? A super sleeper not getting much attention?
BH: I think there’s a rookie receiver I like with that last skill-player pick (I’m not counting kickers or defenses): Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams, who might be the second coming of Antonio Bryant — for better and maybe worse. Although the Bucs selected Arrelious Benn ahead of Williams (second and fourth rounds, respectively), those who follow the team closely report that team officials considered Williams the second-best receiver in the draft. Character issues are a concern (and the reason he lasted until Round 4), but it’s not hard to find those who believe the former Syracuse star is capable of emerging as the most explosive playmaker in this year’s draft. I agree — Josh Freeman willing.
LP: What new features do you have on the site or in your magazines this year?
BH: We are unveiling our new FootballDiehards.com Mock Draft site, I urge you to visit and give it a try. Lots of cool features I’m sure you’ll find very useful. We’re also going to be making all four of our magazines, the Fantasy Football Pro Forecast, DraftBook, Cheatsheets and Football Diehards available to readers in a digital format to go along with the standard newsstand edition.
And as we did last year, anybody purchasing any of the four magazines will receive our FootballDiehards.com premium content — the pre-season AugustUpdate and regular-season FlashUpdate — absolutely free of charge.