The Beginners Guide To Fantasy Football

Fantasy Football Word Cloud Concept on a BlackboardSo you wanna play fantasy football huh? Well kiss your family goodbye until January because if you’re a sports fan then fantasy sports are an addiction like no other and once you start, you’ll be hooked for life.

All you really need to play fantasy football is a computer (or access to one), a group of friends, and a little knowledge about the NFL and its players. You and your friends take turns choosing players for your fantasy team, and you play against each other every week to see who has the highest scores.

Of course there’s a little more to it than that, but don’t worry… this article will walk you through the process step by step and before you know it you’ll have a fantasy championship trophy on your mantle.

Where To Play

Back in the day, playing fantasy football meant pulling box scores out of your local paper and calculating scores by hand, but thanks to the miracle of the internet, you can have a full site up and running with just a few clicks of your mouse.

Some of the more popular websites for playing fantasy football include

Yahoo Fantasy Sports
ESPN Fantasy
CBS Fantasy

There are others, but these five are by far the most popular. MyFantasyLeague is a little more advanced than the other four sites, but it can handle almost any custom rule that you can throw at it. That said, if you’re new to fantasy football MFL might be a little complicated to set up so I would stick to one of the other four until you’re more familiar with custom scoring setups… more on that later.

League Size

The first thing you’ll want to do is get a group of friends to join your league. Most fantasy football leagues have 10 or more players, and since there is a one on one matchup every week, you’ll want to have an even number of teams so everyone has someone else to play.

If you don’t have a group large enough to form a league, don’t worry, there are plenty of public leagues available on the bigger fantasy football sites, so they’ll find opponents for you, all you need to do is sign up.

The more teams you have in your league, the more challenging it becomes because more players in the player pool will get selected leaving less available as replacements. 10 Team leagues are considered to be “shallow leagues” because only a small percentage of players in the overall player pool get selected, and there will be a lot of good players available even after everyone has a full team.

If you’re just starting out, a shallow league is probably a better fit because it’s much easier to find a replacement player if your player gets hurt or simply under performs, but as you gain experience, most players prefer deeper leagues. The typical league size is 12 teams, but if you’re just starting out I would recommend joining a 10 team league.

Starters and Roster Size

Most fantasy football leagues require teams to designate starters at each position prior to the start of games that week. Most leagues require some combinations of quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, kickers and a team’s entire defense. Leagues usually allow a “flex player” to be started as well which can be either a running back or wide receiver (or tight end depending on setup).

The number of players started at each position can vary a bit from league to league, but most standard leagues will look something like this

1 Quarterback
2 Running Backs
2 Wide Receivers
1 Flex Player (RB or WR)
1 Tight End
1 Kicker
1 Team Defense

If you’re setting up your own league, you can do any number of combinations of starters. Some leagues start 3 receivers, others start 2 quarterbacks, and some leagues do double the number of starters just to make things more of a challenge. Prior to your draft you’ll want to make sure you know who to select for your team.

The size of your roster will depend largely on how many starters you have, and most leagues will give you a few extra “bench spots” to store players who serve as backups to your weekly starters. The number of bench spots allowed varies from league to league, but most leagues have around 6 or 7 bench spots. I recommend not using those spots to carry extra kickers and defenses, but I’ll get in to that in some strategy articles in the future.

Drafting – How Players Are Selected

At the beginning of each league year, there is a draft where players are selected and assigned to teams. In most leagues the players are awarded in a “snake draft” but some more advanced leagues select players via a player auction.

Snake Drafts

Snake drafts are the most common type of fantasy drafts. Everyone in the league is assigned a draft spot at random and team owners select players in that order. At the end of the first round, the draft order reverses and the last pick in the round becomes the first pick in the next round. Once a player is selected they are considered “off the board” and are no longer available to anyone else in the league. This repeats until everyone in the league has a full roster.

Auction Drafts

Since snake drafts can give an advantage to players who get an early pick, auction drafts are considered to be more fair for everyone. The way it works is that everyone starts with a set amount of salary cap (say $200) and all the owners bid on every player. Owners can spend as much as they want on a player, provided they stay within their cap budget, so everyone gets a fair chance to draft players they want. The process is repeated until everyone has a full roster. Auction drafts are a lot of fun, but they tend to take much longer than snake drafts, so if you’re doing one in your league be sure to plan some extra time.

How To Keep Score

The most important thing you can do prior to drafting a team is to understand your league’s scoring system. Players are awarded points based on what they do on the field each week and you’ll want your team’s combined score to be higher than your opponent’s.

Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends are scored typically scored on what the player does passing, rushing and receiving. Just like with roster construction, scoring can be customized however you like, but more common scoring formats will look like this:

Passing Yards: 1 point for 25 yards passing
Passing Touchdowns: 4 points (6 points in some leagues)
Interceptions or Fumbles: -2 points
Rushing Yards: 1 point for 10 yards rushing
Rushing Touchdowns: 6 points
Receiving Yards: 1 point for 10 yards receiving
Receiving Touchdowns: 6 points

PPR vs Non-PPR

Some leagues award points when players catch passes, these are known as point per reception or PPR leagues. Historically non-PPR leagues were more common, but over the last few years PPR leagues have become the norm. Typically PPR leagues award one point for each reception, but some leagues award a half point (or some other fractional point) for each grab. This is an important scoring factor to note because it can give a big scoring bump to players who catch the ball more frequently.

Let’s give some examples of scoring based on some sample player stats:

Peyton Manning – 300 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions
300 yards / 25 = 12 points
3 touchdowns x 4 = 12 points
2 interceptions x -2 = -4 points
Peyton Manning’s game total = 20 Points

Jamaal Charles – 120 rushing yards, 1 touchdown, 1 fumble
110 rushing yards / 10 = 11 points
1 touchdown x 6 = 6 points
1 fumble x -2 = -2 points
Jamaal Charles game total = 15 Points

Calvin Johnson – 115 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns, 8 receptions
115 receiving yards / 10 = 11 points
2 touchdowns x 6 = 12 points
8 receptions = 8 points
Calvin Johnson Game Total = 31 Points (PPR scoring) OR 23 Points (Non-PPR Scoring)

Fortunately if you’re playing online like 99.9% of people do, your fantasy site will calculate all of this scoring for you automatically, so you just need to sit back and enjoy the game.

Waivers and Replacement Players

Once your teams are drafted, the remaining pool of players is said to be “on the waiver wire” and can be added to your team later in the league year depending on your league’s waiver format. There are a few different ways to add players to your team.

Waiver Order

Most leagues have some kind of waiver order where teams are given priority on player pickups to keep things fair. Most leagues have a waiver order based on the reverse draft order, so whoever got the last pick in the draft gets first priority on future pickups. When teams select a player on waivers, they move to the back of the waiver order and everyone else moves up one spot, and so on.

Some leagues have players on waiver constantly, while others have only recently dropped players on waivers, while others are free to be picked up at any time. You can find this information in your league’s settings and rules.

Most leagues lock player pickups at the start of that player’s game, so they cannot be selected until all games are completed (usually Tuesday or Wednesday morning) so if a player has a breakout game on Sunday, you’ll need to put in a waiver request and hope you have a higher priority than your league mates.

Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB)

Instead of a waiver system, some leagues have a free agent acquisition budget (FAAB) for each team to add players to their team. FAAB is similar to auction drafting in that every team gets a set amount and can spend as much as they want on a player as long as they’re within their budget. This method is viewed as a little bit more fair because everyone gets a shot at waiver players, provided they spent their money wisely. Since injuries are very common in football, it’s a wise move to save at least some of your FAAB for injury replacements.

For example, if a running back has a 100-yard, 3 touchdown game and looks like the team’s new starter, teams can bid an amount of money to acquire them. If your bid is higher than the rest of your league, the player is yours.


Most leagues allow teams to trade players to one another throughout the season. For example let’s say Team A has two good quarterbacks but needs a receiver, and Team B is choc full of receivers but has a lousy quarterback, the two teams may trade a QB for a WR and make both of their teams better.

Trade Vetos

Trading can be one of the most fun parts of fantasy football, but it has also been known to cause problems when two owners collude to give one team an advantage, or one team gives up on the year and dumps players to their friends. As a result, leagues are setup to allow trades to be vetoed. Some leagues allow the rest of the league to vote on a veto, while others leave it to the commissioners.

Trading Deadline

Most leagues impose some sort of trading deadline sometime around mid November. Trade deadlines are another way to prevent collusion and player dumping and are usually done to prevent teams who are out of playoff contention from trading with teams who are heading in to the playoffs. If you’re setting up the league there are usually a few deadline dates you can choose from, or you can elect to shut it off entirely.

Advanced Leagues

Most football leagues draft new players every year (commonly referred to as “redraft leagues”) but some leagues allow you to choose players to carry over from year to year. These are known as Keeper Leagues and Dynasty Leagues.

Keeper Leagues

Keeper leagues allow you to keep a few players on your team. The number of players varies from one to nearly all of your team, but a portion of your team will be thrown back in to the draft. This allows teams to not only play for this season, but build for the future by selecting younger players who may be a year or two away from a breakout.

Some leagues allow you to carry players as long as you wish, while others limit the number of years a player can be kept, or have some sort of salary factor that prevents you from keeping top players for too long. This is usually done to prevent one team from becoming too good for the rest of the league.

Dynasty Leagues

Much like keeper leagues, players on dynasty leagues are held over from year to year, but typically your full team is kept in a dynasty league. Some dynasty leagues (like our own “D leagues”) have salaries and contracts assigned to players much like the real NFL. Since the vast majority of the players are already owned, rookie players are incredibly valuable in dynasty leagues, especially if you’re building for the future.

Individual Defensive Player Leagues (IDP Leagues)

Although fantasy football focuses more on the offensive side of the ball, there has been a strong push to include individual defensive players (IDP’s) in the mix as well. Most leagues start a team defense that gives stats for the entire defense, but in an IDP league you select single players at specific defensive positions and are awarded points based on their production as well.

Typically the standard IDP positions selected are Defensive Linemen, Linebackers and Secondary, though some leagues get more specific requiring defensive ends, defensive tackles, inside/outside linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks.

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