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Fantasy Football Beginner's Guide

Dipping your toes in the fantasy football waters for the first time? Want to know a little more about different league formats than you're used to? Here's everything you need to know before you start.

What is Fantasy Football?

Fantasy football … That thing everyone talks about around the water cooler. Well, fantasy football is a game that allows you to be the owner, GM and coach of your very own football team. Competing against your friends, you draft a team made up of NFL players and based on their on-field performance in a given week, you score points. For example, if you have Lamar Jackson on your team and he throws a touchdown, your team scores points. Add up all the points and the team with the most at the end of the NFL week is the winner. Not too complicated, right? Well, maybe, maybe not.

In addition to drafts at the start of the season, there are also auction leagues. This is another league type that will be further explained later. As the game has grown, the complexity has grown along with it. But at the end of the day, your team competes in a league typically composed of 10 or 12 teams. Each week, you go head-to-head against a different team.

If a player is struggling, you can release him, just like in the NFL. You can trade with other teams. And if no one has a player on their team, they are available to be added to your roster from the waiver wire.

Just like the NFL, your league has a postseason as well. The fantasy playoffs are usually played from Weeks 14-16. In the final week, a champion is crowned! You can play for fun, you can play for money. Either way, that’s fantasy football!

League Types

Redraft - This is the most common type of league. Every year, you draft a new team.

Keeper - In this league, the owners stick together and play together every season. Each owner keeps a certain number of players from his or her previous year’s roster. Let’s say that your league agreed to allow three keepers per team. You begin the league like a redraft where everyone drafts a team. In your second and every subsequent season, each owner selects three players from their team to hold onto for the upcoming season. So say, you drafted Patrick Mahomes as a rookie. You could theoretically keep him for his entire career! Players not designated as keepers become eligible to be drafted by any team.

Dynasty - Like a keeper league, the owners stay in the league for years. Instead of keeping just a few players for the upcoming season, you keep your entire team. In a Dynasty league, younger players have more value because they have the potential to play many more years than veteran players. This makes trading a lot more fun. Do you trade the productive but aging veteran?

League Formats

Head-to-Head: Two owners play against each other every week. The team with the highest score gets the victory. At the end of the fantasy regular season, the teams with the best records advance to the playoffs.

Best Ball: Each week, instead of making lineup decisions about who to start or sit, your team’s score is optimized. Your highest scorers at each position are automatically plugged in. Think of it as a “set it and forget it” type of league. There are typically no waivers and no trades. You draft and you wait to see how the season unfolds. This is for those who love to draft, but maybe don’t like (or have time) to manage multiple teams throughout the NFL season.

Rotisserie (Roto) - Leagues determine a set of statistical categories their teams will use as a scoring system. For example, touchdown passes. If there are 10 teams in a league, the team that leads the league in touchdown passes would score 10 points. The team with the second-most touchdown passes would score 9 points and so on. Every statistical category produces a number of points which are then added up to produce a total score. The team with the most points at the end of the season is the champion. This scoring system is very rarely used in fantasy football and is more commonly used in fantasy baseball.

Points Only - Instead of playing a different team every week, your squad’s overall point total is all that matters. The team with the most points at the end of the season is the champion. This scoring system is almost never used in fantasy football.

Draft Format

Standard (Snake or Serpentine) - There are multiple rounds in each draft. A drafting order is predetermined or randomly selected. Each team takes turns picking players for his or her roster. If there are 10 owners in your league, the team picking last in the first round would have the first pick in the second round (1 to 10, 10 to 1, 1 to 10, etc).

Auction - Mentioned above, auction players add an interesting wrinkle to a new league that a standard or snake draft can’t capture. Instead of drafting in a set order, each team starts with the same budget of “money” to bid on players, let’s say $100. Owners take turns announcing a player to be auctioned. Any owner can bid at any time as long as they have enough money to pay the winning bid.

Scoring Variations


25 passing yards: 1 point
Passing touchdown: 4 points
10 rushing or receiving yards: 1 point
Rushing or receiving touchdown: 6 points
Interception or lost fumble: -2 points

Extra point: 1 point
0-39-yard field goal: 3 points
40-49-yard field goal: 4 points
50-plus-yard field goal: 5 points

Point Per Reception (PPR) - Same as standard scoring, however one reception earns one point. These leagues make receivers, tight ends and pass-catching running backs much more valuable. There are also half-PPR leagues that award 0.5 points per catch.

Bonus Points - Many leagues add a certain number of bonus points for milestones reached. For example, if your quarterback throws for more than 300 yards, he gets an extra 3 points. This further rewards and incentivizes what should be considered a “good” game. Bonus points can also be awarded for big plays. A 50-yard TD reception could be given additional points based on your chosen scoring system.

Defense (DST): Fantasy teams can also score points based on defensive performance. In some leagues, you draft team defenses, such as the New York Giants’ defense. In this case, points are awarded based on the number of sacks, interceptions and fumbles the defense accrues. Some leagues also award points based on points allowed, yards allowed and more stats.

Individual Defensive Player (IDP): In some leagues, you also draft IDPs from different NFL teams. IDP scoring is purely based on the statistical performance of each IDP on your fantasy team. There is no standard system for scoring defensive points in IDP leagues. Every defensive stat (tackles, interceptions, fumbles, passes defensed, etc.) will typically have its own point value.

Roster and Starting Lineup Requirements

Standard - 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 FLEX, 1 K, 1 TEAM DEFENSE, 7 BENCH

2 QB & Superflex - Some leagues use two starting quarterbacks instead of one. Superflex allows you to play a QB at one of the flex positions. A flex position is typically reserved for RBs, WRs and TEs.

IDP - As described above, some leagues allow owners to roster individual defensive players instead of an NFL team’s entire defense. IDPs add fantasy points to your team with tackles, sacks, turnovers, touchdowns and other statistical achievements. This is considered a more advanced league type as it adds a new layer of complexity and increases the available player pool.

Waiver Wire vs. Free Agency

Waiver Wire - If a player is performing poorly or is injured, you can drop him and add a player from the free agency pool. In many leagues, the player you dropped cannot be added by another owner until he clears waivers, which usually takes 2-3 days. This is to prevent owners from adding a player simply because they were the first one to see the transaction. For example, if a running back is injured during a game, it shouldn’t be a race to your league site to add the backup running back. The grace period allows all owners to have a shot at acquiring a newly available player without having to check league transactions all day, every day. Owners can then put a claim in for a player on waivers. If multiple owners put a claim in for the same player, the owner with the highest waiver priority will get him.

At the beginning of the season, waiver priority is most commonly decided through draft order. The last owner to select in the draft would start off with the highest waiver priority, the second-to-last owner would have the second-highest waiver priority and so on. Then, as teams begin to use their waiver priority, the priority order is determined by league standings or by a continual rolling list wherein each owner falls to the lowest priority each time one of their waiver claims is successful.

In some leagues, each team is given a waiver budget for the season. This is called a free agent acquisition budget or FAAB. Let’s say $100. So let’s also say a coveted backup running back is going to be filling in for an injured running back who is now out for the season. Every owner wants the backup on their team! Well, every owner can make a bid for that player and the highest bid wins. This adds a layer of strategy since you have to make your budget last all season and owners must be mindful of their spending each week on the available free agents.

Free Agency - Instead of waivers, adding and dropping is simply first come, first served. Once a player is dropped, anyone can add him at any time.