Beginners Guide to Fantasy Football
Fantasy Football can be very daunting at first and I completely understand why one would be hesitant to jump in the pool, but once you understand it and get your strategies down, it becomes insanely addicting. One of the more common topics I see getting posted this time of the year are rookie fantasy managers asking the community for general advice on everything from basic strategies to general good-to-know information so I figured I'd just bundle it all up in one easy post so you can get started with an edge up. This... is the Wizards Guide to Fantasy Football for Beginners!
THINGS TO KNOW
HOW DOES FANTASY FOOTBALL WORK?
I'm going to keep this short and simple because fantasy football is as such. You're going to begin by drafting a team. This typically happens at the end of August or early September between week 3 of the preseason and the start of the regular season. You'll either meet up with your league mates in person or draft online and you'll take turns picking different players from the pool to assemble your team. There's different draft and roster setups but I'll touch base on those later. Once you have your team assembled, you'll set a lineup every week and your players will get points based on their real life performance. For exmaple, if you're in a standard league and your Runningback rushes the ball for 12 yards and a TD, you'll get 7 points (1 point for every 10 yards and 6 points for a TD). Every league has different scoring settings so be sure to check yours when joining but it's really as easy as that. At the end of Monday nights game, whichever team between yours and your opponents had the highest combined point total wins the matchup. You're also going to have to work a waiver and free agent system throughout the year to pick up new players and manage your team through injuries and bye weeks. Again, I'll touch base on that later but that's the sum of it. Not too complicated.
REDRAFT: This is the most common league type. Each year, a draft order is randomly decided and everyone starts with a fresh roster.
DYNASTY: A very popular league type and meant for those who intend to remain within leagues for years if not decades. There's an initial "startup" draft in which everyone drafts a roster as they would in a redraft league, however, these players will ALWAYS stay on your team from year to year unless you cut or trade them. Starting in year 2, the league gets together and has a short draft (typically 4 rounds) in which they can draft rookies or free agents. These are meant to simulate owning an actual franchise. What is unique and fun to a dynasty league is you can use future rookie draft picks to trade for players with other owners. KEEPER: Keeper leagues are essentially hybrids of Redraft and Dynasty. At the end of each year, you will be given a specific number of players you're allowed to keep for the following season. These keepers usually come at the cost of a draft pick based on their ADP. For example, if you have Antonio Gibson who has an ADP in the 3rd round, you could keep him but you won't have a pick in the 3rd round as he will act as your pick instead. Whatever players aren't claimed as keepers go into the pool and you commence with the draft as normal.
SNAKE: This is the most common draft type. The draft begins at the #1 position and once you get to the end of the round, instead of starting back at one, it snakes back and counts back down. For example, if it's a 12 team league, the manager who owns that 12th pick will make two picks (12th pick of the first round and 1st pick of the second round) then the 11th pick will go, then the 10th and so on until it gets back to pick #1 and snakes again. AUCTION: Another popular draft setup in which everyone is allocated an overall budget (typically $200). Managers then take turns nominating players and everyone places bids to acquire the nominees. These drafts are very time consuming and recommended for veteran fantasy players as they require an advanced degree of strategy in properly managing your budget. THIRD ROUND REVERSAL: An uncommon draft type that seems to be getting more popular. These drafts are the same as a snake except at the end of the third round, instead of snaking back, it goes from the #12 pick to the #1 pick again. The purpose of this draft type is to offer a little more balance to the overall draft order but the community is usually pretty split on whether it actually balances anything.
Rosters are pretty straightforward and are going to comprise of the following positions QB [QuarterBack] RB [Runningback] WR [Wide Receiver} TE [Tight End] K [Kicker] DEF [Defense] FLEX [A "free space" position in which you can plug any player in that your league settings allow. Most leagues allow RB/WR/TE in FLEX spots] So nothing too complicated. Each league is going to vary on how they have their rosters constructed. The following are the two most common you'll see though QB QB
DEF DEF It's important to ask what a roster setup is going to be before joining a league because it's going to play a heavy role in how you're going to approach a draft.
STANDARD: The godfather scoring system that has been the foundation of fantasy football. In this system, a QB will score either 4 or 6 points per passing TD and a point for every 25 yards passing. RB's, WR's, and TE's score 1 point for every 10 yards receiving and 6 points per TD. Kickers score like they do in real life, 3 points per field goal and 1 for an extra point attempt. Defenses get points based on how many yards they held the opposing offense to as well as interceptions, fumbles, sacks, and of course 6 points for defensive TD's.
PPR: The same as the standard scoring except players get a point per reception (P.P.R.). This helps add value to Wide Receivers and Tight Ends in an attempt to balance out the pass catching positions with Running backs 0.5 PPR: Just like it looks, it's PPR but players get a half a point per reception instead of a full point. This is the most popular system outside of standard and seems to be the consensus expert favorite as it provides balance without over compensating pass catchers.
2QB: Leagues that can use any three of the above scoring systems but also have two roster spots allocated for Quarterbacks. SUPERFLEX: Another system that seems to be gaining a lot of popularity in the community. This system provides a flex position that can be ANY position, even a QB. It provides the dynamic of a 2QB league while also letting managers be flexible and gives them breathing room if QB's are thin on the waivers.
The waiver wire is the system in which fantasy managers claim new fantasy players from the waiver or free agent pool and make the subsequent drops or modification to their current roster. There are two types of waiver systems in fantasy.
STANDARD: The more common waiver setup. Order each week is usually determined by reverse standings. So the player with the worst record each week gets to make the first claim and vice versa.
FAAB: A more advanced waiver system that is very popular with the community. FAAB stands for Free Agent Aquisition Budget and is similar to an auction draft budget. At the start of the season, each manager is allocated a specific dollar amount that they use to bid on waiver players. This budget has to last all year so you need to be very concious of how much your bidding and how much you'll have remaining. You can either end up getting a steal on a player or expending a critical amount of money that could leave you handicapped on future claims.
HOW TO STAY COMPETITIVE
There's luck to any aspect in life and fantasy football is no different, however, it won't win you championships. You might get lucky and win a week but you need to consistently win and put yourself in position to make a playoff run if you want to take that trophy home and the following habits are going to be crucial in making sure you're ready for that challenge.
Anyone can look at a cheat sheet and draft the best available player, but the advanced fantasy players understand the intangibles that you don't see on paper. Opportunity, coaching schemes, strength of schedule, target share, depth and even contract situations all play a critical role in a players value and knowing these intangibles not only gives you an edge on your league mates, but can help you snag sleepers that could help you win your league. That being said, knowledge of that level only comes with research and commitment. It doesn't have to be boring and you don't need to spend hours sifting through fantasy content during the months leading up to the season. There's a lot of incredible fantasy analysts that do that research for you and make a living off giving you that info. Check a few of them out and when you find a couple that you like, subscribe to them. Check out an article or two a day or maybe listen to a podcast on your commute to work. This will help create top of mind awareness on what's going on in the fantasy world and which players you need to keep an eye on. Some of my personal favorites are FantasyPro's, The Fantasy Footballers, and RotoWire.
PRACTICE AND PREPARATION
Everyone's favorite time of the year is draft day. It's exciting, it's fun, and you get to hang out, drink beer and assemble your squad that you're hoping takes you to fantasy glory. As fun as it is though, there's a lot of work that goes in to it if you want to come out the other end feeling like you have the week one advantage. It all comes down to practice and preparation. Now the prep work is going to come in the form of research section above, however, the practice is going to be your mock drafts. I can't stress enough how important it is to do multiple mock drafts leading up to the real one because it's going to not only give you an idea on what players you'll be staring down when your pick comes, but it's going to allow you to see how your team will form based on various strategies. Platforms like Sleeper and DraftWizard have the more in-depth AI that I feel reflects real life drafting but there's always going to be a manager or two that go against the grain of prediction. Nonetheless, I recommend a mock draft or two a week. Try going RB-RB-WR with your first picks and next time try RB-TE-WR just to see how different strategies form your final lineup. You'll be pleasantly surprised to see how untraditional strategies can sometimes land you a really solid roster but you won't know unless you practice. Once you've had enough mock drafts in, you can determine which strategy most consistently yielded the results your were looking for and that will be your game plan on draft day.
WORK THE WAIVER WIRE
There's an age old adage in the fantasy world and that is You don't win your league at the draft. I simply can't express enough how true this statement is and what I tell everyone starting fantasy is this: You win a head start at the draft
You win your league on the waiver wire
No matter how good of a draft you have, there are so many variables that can completely derail your team and you need to be prepared to overcome those hurdles when they present themselves. A prime example of this is Christian McCaffrey in the 2020 season. He was the consensus #1 overall pick in most drafts yet after sustaining a severe week 2 injury, he went on to only play in 3 full games all season. Managers of CMC had to work the waivers fast to snag Mike Davis if they hadn't already handcuffed him. It's not always protecting from injuries either. The waivers are where you're going to get those undrafted players that emerge as sleepers. Most championship rosters have sleeper players on them and often times, those players either emerge week 1 or show signs of sleeper potential. It's moments like this you need to be paying attention and prepared to jump on them. In 2020, a lot of managers were able to grab James Robinson after week 1 and he ended up providing round 1 fantasy value at the most valuable position. All in all, it's very important to maintain your reseach during the season and use that knowledge to make moves or gambles on waiver players. Your roster will constantly shift and reshape itself throughout the year and rarely will you finish a season close to the full team you drafted. The waiver wire will be your heartbeat and it'll be your job to keep the pulse consistent.
BE BOLD, YET SMART, WITH TRADING
Trading is one of my favorite things to do. When I was a kid, it was pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh cards on the playground, and today it's fantasy players among my various leagues. Trading is both exciting and addicting; It can help you aquire a player that got sniped from you in the draft and it can help you salvage your team if things aren't treading in the right direction. It can also, however, be a venomous sting that kills off any momentum your team had going and sink your championship aspirations. There's an important question I always ask myself before proposing a trade or when contemplating an offer I received: Does this trade make my team better than it was?
In other words, are you actually improving your team overall or are you giving up more than you should to have a shiny name that you feel good about? A lot of managers have hunches about players and end up over paying for them when it comes time to a trade. It's important to understand that a trade should always end in an ultimate benefit to you. If you're unsure of whether you're getting the good end of a trade, either use an analyzer tool or ask the community. When looking to trade in order to patch a hole at a position you have, a key strategy is to figure out who you would prefer to give up in return on your roster and look specifically for managers who are hurting at that position. If I'm loaded at WR but hurting at RB and there's another manager who's deep at RB but needs some WR depth, there's a good chance I can pair one starter with some bench players to aquire the RB I need and keep my roster more solid and in tact. If I offer a trade to someone who's also thin at RB, odds are I'll have to give up a lot more to aquire them and ultimately my team will probably end up washing out anyways. As I mentioned earlier, if you're on the fence about a trade, don't be afraid to ask the community. There are many fantasy forums with managers who are eager and happy to lend advice and opinions. I recommend r/fantasyfootball on Reddit but forums on ESPN, FantasyPros, and CBS can be helpful as well.
Between the basic fundamentals and the tips to staying competitive, I hope this guide has given you an easy read and insight into fantasy football. It truly is an addicting past time and has improved my love and knowledge of football well boyond what I thought it would be. It's obviously not for everyone but I hope that you find the excitement and thrill that comes along with the added dimension to the sport. Whether it's getting to shit talk your friends and hold that trophy at the end of the year or simply giving you a reason to watch every game instead of just your home team. Fantasy Football is incredible and something everyone can excell at with just a bit of effort and a hint of luck. To make life easier, I'm going to finish off this guide with an alphabatized Appendix of Fantasy Football terms, slogans, and references as a quick look up whenever the need may arise. Again, thanks for taking th time to read and I wish you the best of luck on your fantasy adventure!
The following appendix is courtesy of Sports Illustrated via their Fantasy Football Glossary. ADP (Average Draft Position): A report that lists NFL players by where they are being selected in fantasy drafts on average. ADP is a useful draft preparation tool.
Auction Draft: A type of fantasy draft in which owners obtain players through a bidding process. Each owner is given a certain amount of money to spend on players, and each player goes to the highest bidder. Owners take turns introducing an opening bid for a player.
Bench Players: Players you own whom you choose to not start. You receive no points for their performances as long as they remain on your bench.
Breakout: A player who improves significantly, becoming one of the game’s best, with an emphasis on how he performed previously during his career.
Boom-or-Bust: A player who could perform one of two ways in a season: really well or really poorly. It can also mean an inconsistent player who scores a lot of points one week, and very few the next.
Bust: A player who does not live up to expectations. This player may have suffered a season-ending injury, been suspended or simply was unable to perform well on the field.
Bye Week: Each NFL team plays 16 games out of 17 weeks during the season. The week a team is off is called its bye week.
Ceiling: The top of a player’s potential, whether it is scoring or his overall talent.
Cheat Sheet: A drafting tool that ranks NFL players in order of their projected fantasy point total. Since every fantasy league can have its own unique scoring system, make sure your cheat sheet is customized to your league’s settings.
Commissioner: The person who is responsible for maintaining the league, reporting the results of the fantasy matchups, running the draft, collecting entry fees and generally keeping things running smoothly. It is important for the commissioner to be unbiased, fair and honest.
Cut, Drop or Release: To remove a player from your roster.
Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS): Instead of playing in a league for a full season, contests are won or lost in one day or a very short duration.
Deep League: A league with more than 12 owners and/or rosters that are larger than normal.
Depth Chart: The depth chart is each team’s hierarchy. The starters at each position are listed first and followed by their respective backups. These players are also classified as first-string, second-string, third-string, etc.
Draft: Prior to the NFL season, fantasy owners select the players for their team. This can be done in one of two ways: an auction draft or a serpentine draft.
Dynasty League: A league in which you keep your entire roster from year to year. Before each season, a rookie draft is held to improve your team. Dynasty leagues are for more advanced fantasy owners and require a long-term commitment.
FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget): A waiver wire method where each team owner is given a budget for the season that is used to bid on players on the waiver wire.
FF or FFB: Abbreviation for fantasy football
Flex: A spot in your starting lineup that allows you to use more than one type of position player, most often running backs or wide receivers. However, some leagues’ flex spot allows an owner to use a tight end or even a quarterback.
Flier: An ambiguous term that generally means chance, as in “to take a flier on a player.” It can also refer to a player who is worth adding as a free agent or off waivers.
Floor: The lowest potential for a player, whether when evaluating his career or his in-game performance. See: ceiling.
FPPG: Fantasy points per game
Free Agent: A player who is not currently on any team’s roster. If the league has a waiver system, free agents are players who have cleared waivers.
Gamble: A player with both high potential and high risk. Players in this category are usually injury-prone, have a history of being suspended or are approaching the end of their career.
Handcuff: Drafting your stud RB’s backup to mitigate the harm if the stud gets injured. A modern example would be drafting James Conner after selecting Le’Veon Bell in the first round.
IDP (Individual Defensive Player): A departure from the team defense approach, some leagues require each owner to start individual defensive linemen (DL), linebackers (LB) and defensive backs (DB). The number of starters and the scoring settings for these positions varies dramatically by league.
IR (Injured Reserve): An option in some leagues, an injured player can be placed on IR for a certain number of weeks. The player cannot return to the active lineup and does not earn the owner any points until that number of weeks has passed. However, another player can be added to the team since placing a player on IR opens up their roster spot. Players placed on IR in the NFL will not play for the rest of the current season.
Injuries: If a player becomes injured, he cannot play and, therefore, cannot score points for his fantasy team. Prior to a game, each NFL team is required to submit an injury report that lists each of their afflicted players and the general nature of their injury (knee, back, illness, etc.). Each team is also required to give each of their injured players one of four possible injury designations — probable, questionable, doubtful and out. These designations tell you the odds a certain injured player has of playing in the upcoming game:
Probable (P): There is about a 75 percent chance that this player will play this week. It is rare that players listed as probable miss the upcoming game.
Questionable (Q): There is about a 50 percent chance that this player will play this week.
Doubtful (D): There is about a 25 percent chance that this player will play this week.
Out (O): This player will not play this week. This is usually accompanied by an estimate stating how long the player will be unavailable (Out: six weeks – ankle).
Each team is required to release an inactives report 90 minutes prior to its kickoff. This report shows which players are active and inactive for the game. Also keep in mind that, to maintain a small competitive advantage, head coaches may not always be fully honest about an injured player’s chances of playing.
Keeper League: A league in which a certain number of players can be retained from the previous season’s roster by each owner. The number of players kept can vary by league.
Mock Draft: A fake draft that is used to practice drafting strategy and gauge where players will be selected in actual fantasy drafts.
Owner: The person who makes decisions regarding his or her fantasy football team, including who to draft, cut and start.
Pickup: A player to potentially add to your roster.
PPR (Point Per Reception): In some leagues, owners earn a fantasy point for each reception their players produce during a game. In these leagues, wide receivers and pass-catching running backs are much more valuable than in standard leagues.
Projections: Often found on a cheat sheet, projections are estimations of player’s value in a week or over a full season. It attempts to guess the total stats for a player given a certain timeframe. Also found often on cheat sheets. See: Cheat Sheet.
QB1, QB2: In a 10-team league, a QB1 is a quarterback who ranks as a top-10 option, while a QB2 is ranked from 11-20 at the position.
QBBC (Quarterback by Committee): The QBBC strategy directs owners to pass on the big-name QBs and fill their roster with RBs and WRs before selecting multiple QBs in the later rounds. With some careful planning, you can draft two (or preferably three) QBs who have complementary schedules and greatly increase the likelihood that one of your QBs will have an advantageous matchup each week.
RB1, RB2: In a 10-team league, an RB1 is a running back who ranks as a top-10 option, while an RB2 is ranked from 11-20 at the position.
RBBC (Running Back by Committee): The RBBC strategy is being used by more NFL teams each year. Teams are having success using a fast, small back between the 20-yard lines and a large power back near the goal line. That goal-line player is also known as a “vulture.” Other NFL teams seem to rotate their RBs to keep them fresh. However, this creates difficulties in fantasy football since points are awarded for both yardage and touchdowns. Running backs who get the bulk of their team’s rushing yardage and touchdowns are becoming more valuable.
Scoring: Abbreviations include: TD = Touchdown; Yds = Yards; FG = Field Goal; XP = Extra Point; INT = Interception; Pts = Points. See: Basic Scoring and Performance Scoring.
Standard Scoring: A system where you receive points for yardage gained (as in 1 point for every 25 passing yards) in addition to the points awarded in a basic scoring system.
Superflex: A flex roster spot that allows an owner to start a QB, in addition the usual RB, WR or TE options of a flex spot. Since owners can start two QBs in a superflex league, quarterbacks are generally drafted much higher than in a traditional one-quarterback format. Also see: flex.
Snake Draft: A draft type that focuses on balance. In the first round, each team selects a player in accordance with the draft order (Team 1 through Team 10 or Team 1 through Team 12, etc.). The team that picked last in the first round would then pick first in the second round. The team with the first pick in the first round would have the last pick of the second round and the first pick of the third round. This weaving format continues for the entirety of the draft. Draft order is usually randomly selected by the league commissioner.
Sleeper: An NFL player who someone believes is going to have a breakout season but may be undervalued in fantasy drafts or is just not a well-known player.
Starters or Starting Lineup: The players from whom you receive fantasy points during a particular week. A typical starting lineup includes one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker and one team defense. Some leagues include individual defensive players (IDPs) in lieu of a team defense. See: IDP.
Stream (or Streaming): Instead of having a dedicated starter week-to-week, an owner may prefer to stream a position. For example, instead of drafting a kicker, an owner can opt to pick up kicker via free agency every week based on matchup. This can also happen if a team’s primary starter is injured and the owner must reevaluate the position each week.
Stud: A NFL player who has proven himself to be a top-scoring fantasy player at his position. These players should be started each week regardless of matchup and should be benched only during bye weeks and when they are nursing significant injuries.
Team Defense: Many leagues require each owner to start a team’s entire defense. You earn points when any player on the defense records a sack, an interception, a fumble recovery, a safety or a touchdown. You lose points when that defense allows its opponent to score. Some leagues also include special teams accomplishments, such as kick and punt return touchdowns, as a part of team defense scoring.
Team Position: Instead of earning points from one specific player at a position, you earn points from every player at that position on a certain team. For example, if you start the Philadelphia Eagles as your Team QB, you would earn points for what every Eagles quarterback does during a game, not just the starter.
Trade: Swapping certain players from Team A to Team B.
Transaction: A roster change. Some leagues have a transaction fee. See: Cut or Drop, Pickup and Trade.
Waivers: Players cut in most leagues do not immediately become free agents and available to any team. Instead, they go on waivers for a day or more. While on waivers, owners can make a waiver claim for the recently released player. Usually, the claiming team with the highest waiver priority gets the player.
Waiver Order: Each team begins the season with a waiver priority number that is most commonly the reverse of its draft spot. So, the team that had the No. 1 pick in a 12-team draft would start off with the No. 12 waiver priority. Conversely, the team that had the 12th and final pick of the first round would have the No. 1 priority. Once an owner uses his or her waiver priority to successfully add a player, their priority number falls to the bottom of the league.
WR1, WR2, WR3: In a 10-team league, a WR1 is a top-10 wide receiver, a WR2 is ranked from 11-20, and a WR3 is ranked 21-30.
Zero-RB Strategy: When an owner opts to “fade” or avoid the RB position early in the draft due to their risks (injury, overuse). Instead, the owner will select WRs early in the draft. More common in leagues where there are three starting WR slots (instead of two) and one or more flex slots.