Updated: Jun 12, 2020
By Jon McNabb
Fantasy Football Analyst
ID 135116573 © Chernetskaya | Dreamstime.com
The year was 2014. A buddy of mine and I were enjoying a beer on his back porch, catching up, when he started talking to me about an upcoming draft in fantasy football. I knew nothing about such a thing and asked him, what the F is that? He went into great detail about how this 12-team, Super Flex, .5 PPR, auction, redraft league was a lot of fun and can get intense and that everyone was very competitive. I began asking him a lot of questions. At the time, I was generally only watching New England Patriots' games and rarely knew other teams’ players. My buddy showed me his notebook, chalk full of players, ADPs, projections, his own rankings, prices and plenty of other scribble. A week later, the night before his draft, he asked if I wanted to join up because of a last minute dropout. It took some convincing but ultimately, I joined. The next night, I went over to his house before the draft and talked some strategy, looked at some of his notes, reviewed a few of my own notes, and then the draft began. I HAD NO F’ING IDEA WHAT I WAS DOING! My team went 3-10. Here is the first roster I ever drafted:
Needless to say, it wasn’t great. But I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons over the years. But let’s talk about you, the newbie to fantasy sports. The fantasy community is built up of an estimated 46 MILLION players in the US and continually growing. In this article, we will dive into some of the most popular formats, how to decide which format might be best for you, some of the scoring deviations and a few tips along the way. My first tip of the article: Just Have Fun!
Let’s start off with one of the most popular and easiest formats to navigate: redraft. Redraft leagues, are for the casual player who just want to dip their toes into fantasy football. At the beginning of each season, usually during the NFL preseason or just after, your league will hold a draft where you’ll select your players (roster), usually given 1-2 minutes per pick, compete for 14 weeks, your league's playoffs will typically be in weeks 15 and 16, and at the end of the season, that’s it. Rinse and repeat the following year. Minimal committment. The most common formatting of redraft leagues are typically 10- to 12-team leagues with (1) Quarterback, (2) Running Backs, (3) Wide Receivers, (1) Flex Position (in which you can start either a RB, WR, or TE), (1) Tight End, (1) Defense, (1) Kicker and 5-6 Bench spots. The 1QB format puts a premium need on top tier RB’s and top tier WR’s.
TIP: The reason that RB's and WR's hold so much value in a 1QB league is supply and demand. If you have to start two RB's, three WR's and one Flex (WR/RB/TE), but only one QB, then you clearly need more RB's and WR's on your roster. But, everyone else in your league will as well. For this reason, in the first few rounds of your draft you'll want to heavily target RB's and WR's.
In the last few years, Super Flex leagues have been gaining a lot of popularity. Unlike the 1QB format with a normal Flex position, the Super Flex spot allows you to start either a RB, WR, TE or a QB. This puts a massive premium on QB’s.
TIP: For me, drafting three QB’s in a Super Flex league is a necessary minimum. Typically, QB’s are the highest weekly scorers in most leagues, and during the bye weeks you’ll want to maximize your potential for more points. And, the more points you have on your roster, the less points your opponents will have on their roster.
The most common form of drafting is known as a snake draft, where the commissioner randomizes all the teams and you draft from the position selected. EXAMPLE: If you were randomly selected to draft first overall, you'd be drafting from the 1.01 spot, and your next pick would be the 2.12, then the 3.01, then the 4.12, and so on.
The more challenging redraft format is an auction draft. An auction is nothing like a snake draft because instead of simply waiting for your turn to choose your next player, players are put on the auction block. Thus, every owner has a shot to roster any player. Everyone has a set budget ($200 is common) and can bid on each player, with the highest bid rostering said player. This format does tend to take longer and adds additional strategy to the drafting process.
TIP: Do your research before the draft about auction price averages and have a plan/guideline as to what position and players you will spend your budget on. Additionally, if you play with close friends, learn their tendencies and favorite teams/players and when it comes to nominate players, put their favorites up first. They’ll likely bid more on their favorites, thus depleting their budget while giving you an advantage to get players that you favor.
Keeper leagues are very similar to redraft leagues in the sense of drafting, point systems, etc. The major difference is that they involve much more strategy than in redraft leagues because in a keeper league, you can retain a certain portion of your roster year after year. Therefore, they tend to have a longer-term commitment to the league as a whole, and to each owner's individual roster. Of course, keeper leagues vary in rules - depending on the commissioner - just like redraft leagues do. But the basic understanding is that, each year you hold your draft but at the end of the season or just before the following season you are allowed to keep some predetermined number of players on your roster.
EXAMPLE: League A allows for each team to keep three players from the previous season, and each player you keep is held to the draft position from the previous season. If a few years ago you drafted Christian McCaffrey in the 2nd round, then that is the draft pick you'd give up in any subsequent draft in which McCaffrey is on your roster. If you're not keeping any player that you selected the previous year in round 1, then you’ll be able to draft a 1st round talent - hypothetically, Michael Thomas - and you’ll be able to keep CMC in the 2nd round. That’s a pretty darn good stack. Whereas in other leagues you may be able to keep three players with no stipulations, and the commissioner simply assigns them to your roster and then you just draft as normal. I have seen some wild rules over the years for this format.
TIP: Be sure to completely understand the rules of any league you join and if you don’t, PLEASE ask your commissioner to explain it. If it doesn't go your way, relax. Sometimes you need to learn a lesson the hard way so that you'll do better next time. Keeper is typically implemented in a league where everyone needs an extra challenge. Ultimately, a good commissioner will change a redraft league each year to make it more fun, more engaging, adding challenges and getting people more involved. Keeper also tends to be the gateway league to dynasty leagues.
Dynasty leagues are for those of us who can’t get enough fantasy football. After my first season in 2014, I began researching stats earlier and earlier each year. By the end of 2016, I found myself addicted, not being able to get enough articles, enough stats and data, watching the NFL Network constantly, listening to podcasts, etc. At some point in 2018, I found myself somewhat active on Twitter, following some of the biggest names in the fantasy community, taking in as much information in as possible. After the season, in typical fashion, I was doing research for the 2019 season (it was March). I vaguely remember questioning articles that would talk about dynasty rankings and decided to find out what it was. Shortly thereafter, I joined my first dynasty league, a 12 team Superflex, 1 PPR, 1.5 PPR TE, Premium Empire League and then a few more after that.
Dynasty leagues are a year-round commitment in which your team is yours forever, or at least until the league falls apart or you leave the league. But even then, someone will probably take over your orphaned roster. With dynasty, you do the same initial draft, except instead of a traditional one-night draft, many startups will use a multi-hour timer. The draft can literally take days and sometimes weeks, mostly because a typical dynasty league will have 25-30 players on each team's roster. Obviously then, there is a lot that goes into this process. First, in one of the dynasty leagues I joined, we had guys literally all over the world. One guy was in California and another stationed in Germany, meanwhile I’m on the East Coast. For this league we had certain hours the timer would run and pause to keep it fair for everyone. One of the biggest differences about dynasty leagues is the rookie draft. During the initial startup, we drafted all the veteran players (a player who has been in the NFL for 1+ years) in a traditional snake draft. Shortly after the NFL draft, we held a rookie draft, where we picked only the rookies from the incoming class. The order of the rookie draft was set up to the inverse order of the startup draft order.
EXAMPLE: If you drafted from the 1.12 in the veteran draft, you'd be drafting from the 1.01 spot in the rookie draft, and it would continue as a snake draft, just like the veteran draft. The biggest difference was that in all subsequent years we would draft linearly, as opposed to using the snake format. In a linear draft, you draft from the same position in each round (1.01, 2.01, 3.01, etc.), just like the NFL does in their yearly draft. The order of the following years' rookie draft, just like in the NFL, would be determined by the previous year's standings. (If you won the championship, you’d draft last in next year's rookie draft. Whereas, if you finished last in the league then you'd draft from the 1.01 position in the rookie draft). This is all very traditional, but plenty of deviations exist.
The other parallel between dynasty fantasy leagues and the NFL is that you are allowed to trade your future draft picks for assets, which could include a player, a player and a future pick, or multiple picks. And some people will even add FAAB dollars in a trade. FAAB stands for Free Agent Acquisition Budget, and it is a waiver system in which you have a set budget ($100 is common) and when you want to target a free agent/player on waivers, you have to place a bid on that player. The owner who places the highest bid, wins the right to roster that player. Simple.
One aspect of dynasty leagues that many people may be unfamiliar with is the TAXI squad. This is like having an extra stash area where you can stick your rookies while they develop in the NFL. (Some leagues only allow first-year rookies on the TAXI squad, whereas other leagues will allow players with up to three years experience on the TAXI squad. Again, know your settings and strategize.) Another bench spot that is most common in dynasty but is used in many formats, is the IR spot. This roster spot is for injured players and again, settings vary in each league. The TAXI and IR bench spots are super valuable for dynasty rosters, so if you're considering starting up a dynasty league, I highly recommend that you employ these options in your league.
EXAMPLE: Imagine drafting someone in the first round of a dynasty startup, only to have them suffer a season-ending injury in week one. If your league includes an IR spot(s), you can stick this injured player there, thus keeping that high-end asset on your roster while also not clogging up your bench and allowing you to acquire free agents off the waiver or trading for a player to fill the void. Or to a lesser extent, let's say that one of your players suffers a minor injury just before the fantasy playoffs and you need to add another player. Again, the IR spot will allow you to free up a bench spot to get through a week or two without having to cut anyone and lose a solid asset.
For me, the best part of fantasy football is the draft. In best ball leagues, you draft 18 players and that’s it. Each week your best scoring players' points will be added up. The team with the most points at the end of the season wins. It is a pretty simple format, with little to no maintenance throughout the season. If you just love to draft and don’t want to have too much long-term commitment or don’t want to spend hours each week on waivers, making trades or setting line-ups, this one seems like the best fit.
A few years back, I started my own home league with a few friends and family members. Throughout those years, I have taken part in many different types of leagues: a traditional 1QB redraft league with a kicker and a defense; a 1QB league with no kicker, no defense and five IDP (individual defensive player); a Super Flex league with a defense (including premium scoring, which resulted in a DEF going off for 50 points one week!) and no kicker. The point I’m trying to make is that each league is different and the settings can vary. This also means that not every league is for every person. Each team orchestrator needs to be honest with the level of effort they want to put in. My hope is that from this article you'll have gained a generalized knowledge of what kind of leagues are out there. And hopefully you’ll find out for yourself that each league is customizable, and that if you aren’t having fun in one league, there may be another league out there just waiting for someone, just like you.
Fantasy football is a game, and games are meant to be fun. So don’t get too worked up, relax, and just roll with it. If one year you find that you don’t like certain settings or formats, be honest with your commissioner. Sometimes your league-mates may feel the same way and they'll vote or decide to make the very changes you had hoped for. Or perhaps you'll decide to start your own league. (Although being a commissioner is a subject for another article entirely.)
REMEMBER: HAVE FUN!
I’m always open to answer questions or chat about fantasy football on Twitter @JonMcNabb.
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