The best way to improve your knowledge of the NFL is to get involved in fantasy football. It’s a great way to monitor team and player performance, and to show off your knowledge of the game.
You can play with strangers and friends. You can play for money or pride. Your league can involve anything from 8 to 14 teams. Put simply, there are more opportunities than ever before to get involved.
Before you get started, you need to be certain of the type of league you are entering. NFL fantasy football is more complex than the Premier League. There are many different formats and sets of rules to keep an eye on. The endless jargon can put people off, too.
This is the purest form of fantasy football, and the perfect place to start if it’s your first year playing.
It’s called a redraft league because each team takes part in a total redraft at the start of each season. The draft tends to be “live” and should be at a time where everyone is free to take part. The draft takes place just like the real thing, only you’ll have less time to make your pick.
You need to make sure that you are available and ready to make your pick. Have a Plan B, because “your guy” could go before you get the chance to pick.
A thing to note: unless you’re in a superflex league (we’ll get to that later), quarterbacks don’t tend to be the first players picked. The QB is the most valuable player on any NFL team, and it’s the same for your fantasy team. However, your early picks should usually be at running back and wide receiver, because top tier players are less common in these positions. Don’t be the guy that picks Patrick Mahomes with the first overall pick.
The great thing about redraft leagues is that you can easily forget about a bad year in the league by starting afresh. If your running back decides to hold out for the entire season (like Le’Veon Bell did for me in 2018), you can bounce back the next year.
The main drawback is that you can fall in love with a player who then ends up on somebody else’s team the year after. Last season, it took me until Week 3 to stop cheering for Travis Kelce for that very reason.
Redraft leagues are the way to go if you’re just starting out. If your league is “superflex” or “PPR”, have a look at the jargon buster below before selecting your team.
Dynasty leagues are a step up from your usual leagues, and require a little more knowledge of the game. As a result, this attracts the more dedicated fans.
Unlike in a redraft league, you keep the members of your team from one year to the next. Younger players therefore increase in value. In a redraft league, it might seem crazy to select Drew Lock over Tom Brady. In a dynasty league, where you’re trying to build a team that can win one year to the next, it makes more sense.
Older guys like Brady and Drew Brees aren’t worth much to you in a dynasty team, because they’ll be retired sooner rather than later. Your job is to find “the guy” before he becomes “the guy”.
A draft will still take place every year though, only this time you’ll only be selecting rookies. If you’re an avid follower of the draft process, great. Your knowledge of individual players and how they fit into their new team’s roster will give you an advantage. If not, a dynasty league is a good way to make sure that you pay attention to players coming out of college all year round. If you like a rookie’s long term future, but don’t expect them to contribute straight away, put them in your taxi squad (see below).
The big downfall of a dynasty league is that it can take some time to improve a bad team. The upside to this is that the worst team picks first in the rookie draft the next year, just like in the real thing.
If your league has “IDP” instead of a team on defence, check the jargon buster.
This is a less popular form of dynasty league. Essentially, you only keep some of your players from one year to the next. If you have a team of 30 guys one year, you may only get to keep a certain percentage of them going into year two.
As players’ stocks rise and fall rapidly in the league, owners of teams in keeper leagues have freedom to cut players that just aren’t performing. Let’s take Baker Mayfield as an example. Coming into his second year, his stock will have been high as the result of a record setting rookie season. This summer, owners might be dropping the Browns quarterback from their keeper teams after a disappointing 2019.
This is the lesser seen type of league in the UK, and one that’s reserved for the risk takers. If you like a flutter on the Sunday night games, you’ll enjoy this.
In an auction league, players are auctioned off to team owners. Each side starts out with a set amount of money to spend, usually fictional. The player is then “sold” to the highest bidder.
This type of league needs attentive players with a deep knowledge of the game and an awareness of player value. How much do you need Saquon Barkley? How much are you willing to give up to get him? An auction league answers those questions.
Be careful – in the States, some high rollers literally play with money. It is rare but possible that people in an auction league can be playing with upwards of $500 of their own money.
Devy is short for development league, a form of dynasty fantasy football. Hardcore fans will not only watch the NFL, but college football too. In a “devy” league, you can draft players before they enter the NFL. They then join your team once they have been drafted into the league. Hardcore football nerds only. Casual fans need not apply.
IDP – “individual defensive player”. You’ll often see this in a dynasty league. Rather than select a team’s defensive/special teams unit, you select individuals. For instance, you might not want to draft the Houston Texans D/ST, who were ranked 19th overall last year. However, you might want to draft Whitney Mercilus, who led the team in sacks (7.5).
PPR – points per reception. This is usually 0.5 (“half-PPR”) or 1 point per catch. This improves the value of a pass catching running back like Chargers back Austin Ekeler, or a slot receiver like Jamison Crowder. In theory, a PPR league makes slot receivers more valuable, taking away the runaway value of a DeVante Adams or Julio Jones. Don’t overvalue your slot receivers, though – the most valuable skill position players continue to be those that score touchdowns.
Superflex – most leagues will have one starting QB per team, with multiple receivers and backs. A “flex” position lets you play a receiver, tight end or back of your choice. In a “superflex” position, you can start with more than one QB. This is the point where you start to ignore my earlier advice about not taking a QB too early. Only 32 guys can start behind centre in the NFL. If you can get two high-performing QBs, you’re onto a winner. I would usually guard against going QB in the first two rounds of a standard team, but with the “superflex” option, it makes sense to get a Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson before the end of the first round.
Taxi squad – this comes from an old tactic by the Cleveland Browns, whose owner employed future players as part of his taxi firm. Only rookies can go into your taxi squad, and they can only stay there for so long. There’d be no point drafting Jordan Love in your redraft team, but it would make a lot of sense to sit him in your taxi squad in a dynasty league. Players on your taxi squad are safe and cannot be poached by other GMs. Once they’re promoted from your taxi squad, however, they can’t go back. So when you decide to put a player in your starting lineup, make sure he’s ready for the leap.
TE premium – the Tight End position is one of the least valuable in fantasy football. Though some, like Travis Kelce or George Kittle, can produce numbers to rival a starting WR, most cannot. A league with a TE premium basically gives more points for TE receptions and yards. It is an attempt to make players respect the position more.