Sure, you could try to win your fantasy football league this year. But look, you probably won't. So wouldn't it be more fun to drive everyone in your league a little bit crazy?
Here's how: Draft a team full of the NFL players everyone loves to hate.
Now unfortunately, football is a sport where a lot of players have done truly criminal things. These goons are not the guys we're filling our "dark side" team with. That would be no fun at all.
This is about drafting a fantasy team full of players you and your opponents delight in despising — because of their obnoxious trash-talking, their impossible sustained winning, their apparent disdain for fans, or just these maddening players' unbearable faces.
For our ultimate love-to-hate-'em team, I've picked one starting QB, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, a kicker, and a defense — plus four bench guys. You'll never get everyone on this list — shockingly, the players we all love to hate are often really good at football — but grab as many as you can to make your fantasy football team the most enjoyably evil squad in your league.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots, QB
ESPN non-PPR draft rank: #57
— Entertainment Tonight (@etnow) August 13, 2015
Why you hate him: Tom Brady is the Voldemort of football players. He believes if he drinks enough water, he won't get sunburned. He claims, as a professional athlete at 6'4" and 225 pounds, to live off of fruit and seed smoothies, "a piece of fish," and bone broth. He smugly wears a Super Bowl ring on each finger. And Brady is
probably absolutely, 100 percent a cheater. Most maddening of all, he is still somehow great at the ripe old age of 41. No name in all of football is spat out with more justified contempt by fans around the country than He Who Shall Not Be Named.
Why you kinda like him anyway: He is the greatest quarterback who has ever lived, and maybe ever will live, and for that we should be at least begrudgingly grateful. However much you might hate him, Brady is a jaw-dropping player even in his twilight years in the sport.
What he brings to your team: The Philadelphia Eagles blessedly robbed Brady of his sixth championship earlier this year — the one good thing Philly sports have ever done for the world — but as a result, some people are claiming Brady is "human" and "not some sort of trophy-collecting robot." I'm not entirely sold by this argument: As Rotowire observes, "He only led the league in yards last season and finished top five in TDs, completion percentage, YPA, interception percentage, and a slew of other stats on his way to another MVP award." Folks, look, I also want Brady to drop off a cliff this year, but that's just not going to happen.
Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers, RB
ESPN non-PPR draft rank: #1
it’s so hard to be a hero in a city that paints youu out to be the villain.. pic.twitter.com/TBFAHTQJcm
— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) March 29, 2018
Why you hate him: Le'Veon Bell went all Batman-in-The-Dark-Knight-Rises during contract negotiations with the Steelers this spring, tweeting that "it's so hard to be a hero in a city that paints youu [sic] out to be the villain." To the dismay of Pittsburgh fans, Bell is still absent from training camp, after months of fighting the team over a long-term contract he clearly won't be offered. Critics are calling him "clueless about the finances surrounding the salary cap and the franchise tag," the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Why you kinda like him anyway: Bell is a seriously impressive running back, and as Deadspin puts it, "there's something really depressing about a player as talented and thrilling as Bell being unable to find long-term security in the NFL." He's a bit of a softie, too, writing music to express his side of the contract disputes ("just 'cause I play ball don't mean I can't make music") and teaming with PETA to oppose the fur trade.
What he brings to your team: Despite the long-running contract drama, last year Bell was the second most valuable running back in fantasy, and led the league with 321 rushing attempts for a total of 1,291 yards. He's been a top-10 running back in fantasy three of his five years in pro football, and there's no reason to expect his sixth to be any different.
Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons, RB
ESPN non-PPR draft rank: #17
Why you hate him: Every football team has exactly one job: Beat the Patriots. The laws of the universe state that a lifetime of shame should be brought upon anyone who gets in the way of this goal. Enter Devonta Freeman. The year is 2017, the date Feb. 5, and some 111.9 million viewers have turned on their TVs to watch The Good Guys win. And for awhile, it looks like it's going to happen! The score is 28-12 Atlanta with time ticking away in the fourth quarter. Then ... Freeman blows it. QB Matt Ryan suffers a strip sack after Freeman dances away from Dont'a Hightower, robbing Ryan of "likely connect[ing] on a wide-open long bomb to ice the game away," CBS Boston reports. If that wasn't bad enough, Freeman then had the audacity to tell Sirius XM that he would have gotten the game's MVP "if I would have kept getting the ball, if I would have stayed in the game. I don't know why I got out of the game actually." Oh buddy, we sure do.
Why you kinda like him anyway: He might be cocky and categorically wrong about Super Bowl LI, but Freeman is a lot of fun. Last year, he even made The Ringer's list of the best touchdown celebrations by teaming up with left guard Andy Levitre to mime a free throw in the end zone. It was an instant classic. More of this, please.
What he brings to your team: Freeman was the 13th overall running back in fantasy last year. In his last three seasons, he's netted an impressively solid 35 touchdowns and 4,357 total yards.
Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants, WR
ESPN non-PPR draft rank: #9
Why you hate him: Odell Beckham Jr. earned his spot on Sporting News' list of the 40 most hated players in the history of the NFL after just one full season, making him a pretty good example of how lonely it is up top. Unlike some of his counterparts on Sporting News' list, Beckham hasn't abused any children, been charged with murder, or participated in any dog-fighting rings. Instead, he landed on the list for "his reputation within the league as a complainer and instigator." I mean, there was that whole charging Josh Norman's helmet thing in 2015.
Why you kinda like him anyway: Like many players on this list, Beckham is hated in large part because he's really good at football, and it's always fun to watch someone who's great at what they do. But let's not forget he also heroically ignored Lena Dunham at the Met Gala.
What he brings to your team: Beckham is a top-10 fantasy pick, and many drafts are going to see him go in the first round, although there is some concern about him staying healthy through the season. Beckham is a phenomenal talent, though, having been on pace last year for 100 catches, 1,200 yards, and 12 touchdowns before he had to pull out for surgery.
Michael Crabtree, Baltimore Ravens, WR
ESPN non-PPR draft rank: #65
Why you hate him: Michael Crabtree isn't liked by plenty of football fans, but he's really disliked by some of the defensive players he lines up against. Richard Sherman called him a "sorry receiver," Aqib Talib famously went for the chain at his throat, and Josh Norman flatly said the WR "sucked" after facing him in 2017. Why so much hate for Crabtree? The Raider-turned-Raven is known to do some trash talking of his own — as well as being a physical player out on the field.
Why you kinda like him anyway: Crabtree was definitely the victim when Talib made the scary grab at his necklace, and his penchant for ending up in feuds seems to have lessened with age and maturity. During the preseason, he even met Talib on the field again, with the Ram declaring the beef between them "dead, bro."
What he brings to your team: Experts say Crabtree is expected to get 110 to 120 targets in Baltimore. Still, the Ravens had one of the worst passing offenses in the league last year so ... maybe don't blow a high-round pick here.
Brandon Marshall, Seattle Seahawks, WR
ESPN non-PPR draft rank: #225
Why you hate him: A lot of athletes get branded as whiners, but Brandon Marshall has really earned the reputation. In 2009, when Marshall was with Denver, Sports Illustrated wrote: "Citing his conduct detrimental to the club, the Broncos suspended Marshall Friday morning in a move that was both inevitable and totally counterproductive to his oft-stated wish of leaving Denver." Years later, Marshall was still whining about being a Bronco, reportedly telling police when he was arrested on suspicion of a DUI: "I hate this f---ing city" and "I hope I get traded." His griping didn't let up after he was traded, though: "Jets receiver Brandon Marshall kept complaining all afternoon — to the officials, to his quarterback, to Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell, and to anyone who would listen after the game," The Associated Press wrote after Marshall was thwarted by Maxwell on the field in 2016. When asked about joining the Seahawks this season, he said: "I didn't have a ton of options." This guy is insufferable.
Why you kinda like him anyway: Marshall has spoken candidly about his diagnosis with borderline personality disorder, and actively fought to destigmatize the condition and therapy. "I decided that I wasn't going to remain silent," he wrote for The Players' Tribune. "I had the revelation that it was my purpose to help bridge the gap in the mental health community, and football was my platform to accomplish that." He launched a Florida nonprofit, Brandon Marshall's Project Borderline, to "fight stigma, educate, advocate … and change the face and the future of this disorder."
What he brings to your team: Marshall is getting up there in years, and he's coming off of some below-the-knee operations. He might be a good bottom-of-the-draft pick though, especially with Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin already hobbling around with an injury.
Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots, TE
ESPN non-PPR draft rank: #20
All aboard the victory bus pic.twitter.com/GTp8KHoBi3
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) November 26, 2017
Why you hate him: Reason #1: He's a Patriot. Reason #2: See number one. Gronk, as you might have heard, is on a very good football team and he is on the receiving end of a very good quarterback. That means he has a lot of chances to be very good himself, which is extremely infuriating if you live outside of New England. If Gronk is happy, it can't possibly be a good thing.
Why you kinda like him anyway: The problem is, happy Gronk is just so much fun. He's ecstatic when his horse at the Belmont Stakes pulls from last place to second-to-last place. He bartends in support of Boston bombing victims while nursing an arm injury. He's a big giant goof, the evil henchman who's thrown in for comic relief, the Iago to Tom Brady's Jafar. His antics might rub you the wrong way, but sometimes you can't help but laugh.
What he brings to your team: Gronk hasn't played in 16 games since 2011, so the key here is getting a really solid backup since, spoiler alert, he's gonna get hurt. But when he's playing, no tight end can touch Gronk.
Robbie Gould, San Francisco 49ers, kicker
ESPN non-PPR draft rank: #187
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) December 3, 2017
Why you hate him: Robbie Gould was a Bear for 11 years, only to be cut on the eve of the 2016 season. Big mistake. Rising like Freddy Krueger to exact his revenge, Gould, now a 49er, humiliated his former team by scoring every single point in San Francisco's 15-14 win over Chicago last season.
Why you kinda like him anyway: That's hilarious.
What he brings to your team: Suggesting there's strategy to selecting a kicker is something of a charade, but: This vet went 17 for 18 from the 40-49 yard lines last year, Rotowire reports. He's clearly happy in San Francisco, and you definitely want to start him against the Bears.
Los Angeles Rams, defense
ESPN defensive players projection: #3
SOURCE: Marcus Peters did not agree with this penalty call pic.twitter.com/AWgbhSWpYF
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) December 3, 2017
Why you hate them: If you despise the Rams' defense, it might be because of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who ran one of the dirtiest lines in football when he was with the New Orleans Saints (approximately 10,000 years ago, when the "Los Angeles Rams" were not yet a thing). The Saints were downright dirty under Williams — in a way that was also downright unsportsmanlike. "Kill the head, the body will die," Williams instructed his charges ahead of a 2012 playoff game against the 49ers, where he also specifically told them to go after Michael Crabtree's ACL, and Alex Smith and Frank Gore's heads. While those days might be a thing of the past, the Rams defense is looking pretty suspicious ahead of the 2018 season thanks to the addition of defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, who the Los Angeles Times calls "arguably the dirtiest player in the NFL." Then there's Aqib "gonna grab the chain off your neck and at least contemplate also jabbing you in the eyes and afterwards maybe shoot myself in the leg" Talib. You have every reason to hate the 2018 Rams defense.
Why you kinda like them anyway: This is a team of supervillains, and honestly, how fun is that? In addition to Suh and Talib, football's Suicide Squad includes Marcus Peters, who last year threw an official's flag into the stands after being called for defensive holding. Sure it was an immature temper tantrum, but it also kind of ruled? Who hasn't wanted to stick it to The Man? This team is like a coiled spring of controversy, and you can't say that doesn't make it kind of exciting. The season ahead is totally unpredictable — buckle up.
What they bring to your team: The Rams will be one of the first defenses to go after the team loaded up on intimidating players this offseason. They only have the 18th easiest schedule, though, and RotoTrade gives them a "B" score overall, writing: "Rams are an average starting DEF. You probably should consider streaming defenses."
And now, the bench:
Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers, QB
ESPN non-PPR draft rank: #135
Why you hate him: Did you really think the most hateable face in football wouldn't make the list? Phil Rivers has the unenviable ability to throw a temper tantrum in full view of the cameras — bad enough — while simultaneously contorting his face into such an absurd expression that it's hard to choose between ripping out your own hair or making it into a meme. New Arena nicely summed up his irritating smugness by describing him as playing "the game of football like the coach's son does in Little League." He straight up refused to move away from San Diego now that the Chargers are the "Los Angeles" Chargers (still weird to write), but rather than giving his haters any schadenfreude by sitting miserable in L.A. traffic, he's paying $200,000 to make the 78-minute commute in a massive SUV with a 40-inch TV, refrigerator, and nicer seats than you've ever sat in in your entire life.
Why you kinda like him anyway: You kind of have to admire a guy who loves repping his city so much he refuses to leave when the team moves to a bigger, flashier city. While he might throw a wild hissy fit every now and then, you get the sense that it's because he really, truly puts his heart into the game, and takes every W or L personally. Plus the man is worth some $50 million, but he spent his offseason playcalling for his 10-year-old son's football team. It's disgustingly wholesome.
What he brings to your team: Rivers is around the 16th overall quarterback being selected, which means he is being grossly underrated — he was the 8th best quarterback last year. Another plus: If you're looking for reliability, Rivers is your guy. The man is a tank, and has the fourth-longest consecutive starting streak of any QB in NFL history.
Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders, RB
ESPN non-PPR draft rank: #55
Why you hate him: "Anyone else hate Marshawn Lynch more than any other athlete in history?" one sports forum user asked in 2015, and people basically haven't stopped raising the rhetorical question since. Beast Mode is no stranger to controversy, angering critics when he refused to answer questions at a Seahawks press conference, horrifying pearl-clutchers by grabbing his crotch after touchdowns, and making President Trump rush to Twitter by sitting for the U.S. national anthem but standing for Mexico's. If you aren't throwing darts at a picture of Tom Brady taped to the back of a door, you're probably fuming about Marshawn.
Why you kinda like him anyway: Lynch might be marching to the beat of his own drum, but it's quite the beat. "I'm just here so I won't get fined" was a refreshing — and totally harmless — break from the boring postgame interview everyone else is too polite to admit they don't want to be at, and he has a hilarious sense of humor, recently ribbing an undrafted Oakland Raiders rookie to welcome him to the team. He also hands out Skittles, his favorite food, to strangers, and who doesn't love free candy?
What he brings to your team: After retiring for the 2016 season, Lynch returned to football last year with the Oakland Raiders, rushing for at least 57 yards in each of his final eight games (he ended up finishing seventh overall in rushing yards). The Raiders have added running back Doug Martin, though, raising the question of whether he might dethrone Lynch as the starting RB. While Lynch is certainly still going to play, "I wouldn't expect to get very much more than he gave his fantasy owners last season," Anthony Corvine writes for Fantasy Pros.
Kelvin Benjamin, Buffalo Bills, WR
ESPN non-PPR draft rank: #72
I’m just crazy then !!! I was the one who buried my mom and skip the grievance process to get back and help that team .... let be real it’s was all fake .. and to be honest i was salty Who wouldn’t be .... I just ben holding it all in. And now I’m free. Hate me or love me ..
— Kelvin Benjamin (@kelvinbenjamin) August 4, 2018
Why you hate him: No one likes a guy who trashes his former teammates, and Kelvin Benjamin has done nothing but complain about being drafted by the Carolina Panthers and being subjected to quarterback Cam Newton. "I should've just been drafted by somebody else," he told The Athletic, adding: "If you would've put me with … any other accurate quarterback like [Aaron] Rodgers or Eli Manning or Big Ben [Roethlisberger] — anybody! — quarterbacks with knowledge, that know how to place a ball and give you a better chance to catch the ball." Other players have hit back at his comments, with retired Panther Muhsin Muhammad defending Newton and slamming Benjamin's "lack of knowledge and understanding of what it takes to play the quarterback position." Retired Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe took it a step farther, saying on Undisputed: "Was it Cam's fault that Kelvin showed up at 280 plus pounds as a wide receiver? This is what we know about Cam: He was rookie of the year without Kelvin, Cam won MVP the year Kelvin was hurt." So ... the Bills' season opener against Carolina ought to be fun!
Why you kinda like him anyway: You just have to feel for the guy after the ruling on that touchdown catch.
What he brings to your team: Benjamin is very promising. But the Bills suck. Still, you want those targets, so ...
Ryan Switzer, Oakland Raiders, WR
ESPN non-PPR draft rank: Not in top 300
Yall gonna stop hating on me because i have my Christmas lights up right now. Thanksgiving & Christmas go hand in hand.
— Ryan Switzer (@Switz) November 14, 2017
Why you hate him: The man puts his Christmas lights up in early November. November! And he's a Raider. Oh, and he has a lower-lip tattoo.
Why you kinda like him anyway: Ryan Switzer puts the "lovable" in "lovable villains." After being abruptly traded to the Raiders from the Cowboys, he confirmed to the press that the blindside felt like a "gut punch." But while his new jersey will earn him plenty of new enemies, he is dedicated to seeing the good in the world: He hosted a "Switz Skills Challenge" in Charleston earlier this summer, a sports camp for both abled and non-abled children.
What he brings to your team: FantasyPros calls Switzer a "very deep sleeper pick" — he was ranked #158 among WRs for PPR in this year's FantasyPros Expert Consensus, as of July. The issue is that Switzer barely played in his rookie year (he earned a mere three fantasy points), and it's not looking great for him getting a lot of time on the field this year, either, due to the crowded Raiders WR depth chart. Yet "I think there are forces at play here that might get Switzer into a 'shock' starter's role by Week 1, making him a possible 'shock' fantasy asset in 2018," writes R.C. Fischer.
Will Michael Crabtree find someone new to fight this year? Will Le'Veon Bell ever be happy with his contract? Will Tom Brady put his sixth Super Bowl ring on a new hand, or start stacking them?
These are the questions we are dreading having to answer this season — but also kiiiiind of can't wait to find out. You'll have a front-row view of it all when you unleash your team of lovable supervillains on your friends and coworkers. Warn them to expect no mercy. An maybe consider preemptively turning off group chat notifications.