Fantasy Football: The Commissioner’s Guide to League Formats
If you’re thinking of starting and commissioning a fantasy football league, but are overwhelmed by all the different formats, settings, and styles, welcome to this nifty guide! We’ll go through just about every major format decision facing a new commissioner and help you decide what works best for you!
If you’re an everyman league member who wants to understand the rules your commissioner’s set up, this will be great for you too! Looking for a competitive league? Go to footclanleagues.com to find leaguemates willing to try any format with leagues starting daily.
To Keep, or Not To Keep?
If you’re following Fantasy Football in June, you’ve probably at least heard of keeper and dynasty leagues. Basically, a keeper league is a lot like your typical yearly fantasy football leagues (typically labeled redraft leagues), except that each team gets to keep a few players from their roster, rather than returning every player to the draft and starting from scratch. And a dynasty league is literally a keeper league where your whole roster carries over year to year.
Redraft leagues have been the most popular and recognized fantasy football format for decades now. They’re perfect for casual work leagues and new leagues with friends and are welcoming to every level of player, from beginner to veteran. They stay fresh and balanced every year, so they’re also the best option for leagues with a diverse skill cap (like family leagues with parents and kids).
Once you’ve played redraft for a few years, and especially if you’ve got an established group of dedicated players, keeper leagues are a great intermediate format to get the best of both the redraft and dynasty worlds. You’ll be able to build attachments to your favorite players and enjoy small stretches of dominance when you cultivate a perfect keeper corps, without breaking the league entirely.
You can set just about any number of keepers — I’d recommend three or four to start — and can choose to put a cost on those keepers (usually a draft pick the following season) or leave them free as a bird. For more content on Keeper Leagues, check out a recent Keeper Selection Strategy piece.
If you’ve played in a keeper league and thirst for the next step, or if you knew who Baker Mayfield was before the NFL draft, dynasty might be right for you. Typically, dynasty rosters are much deeper (20-30 spots), waivers are almost non-existent, trades are crucial, and the annual rookie draft is the main source of hype.
Dynasty is for the serious fantasy football player, and you should be ready for multi-year droughts of irrelevance to balance any miraculous back-to-back championships. But it’s also extremely rewarding to build up an actual dynasty through hard work and crafty management, just like in the real NFL. For a full write-up on An Introduction to Dynasty Fantasy Football, click here.
The Auction Option
Everyone is familiar with the standard fantasy draft, where you go round-by-round picking the player you like most from the remaining pool, and slowly waning from superstars to super sleepers. It’s the industry standard for a reason, as it is fair, familiar, and beginner-friendly.
But if you’re looking for something with a little more autonomy, strategic challenge, and pizazz, consider an auction draft! Auction drafts give every league member a set budget (usually $100-200) and allow everyone a chance to snag their favorite guys in a player-by-player auction format. Typically, one leaguemate will nominate a player for auction and the entire league will bid furiously to snatch that player (or just to run up the price on their rivals). Then the process repeats until everyone’s roster is filled.
While they can be a bit more challenging, auction drafts are an extremely rewarding format, as they give you the chance to build the team you want (within reason), instead of watching your favorite draft target sniped by the guy one spot ahead of you in a standard draft. You can also try fun strategies like blowing your budget on Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell and filling out your roster with sleepers.
Settling the Score
When it comes down to it, fantasy football is about scoring points. So the nuts and bolts behind those points are obviously pretty important! Here are a few key scoring settings to consider.
Non-PPR vs. Half-PPR vs. PPR
Counting catches towards fantasy football points is a rising trend in the fantasy community. Major league sites have started making the switch, and The Fantasy Footballers themselves use half-PPR scoring as a baseline for most of their content.
Basically, adding any variation of PPR scoring helps boost the point production of WRs (who typically score less than starting RBs), while increasing the depth of the viable RB pool to include third-down backs like Duke Johnson and Theo Riddick. They typically provide a bit more balance and flexibility to a league from a roster construction standpoint.
Of course, non-PPR truthers will contend that a catch on its own does nothing to advance an NFL team towards scoring and that it shouldn’t be rewarded in fantasy either. I’ll let you decide — but I’m personally partial to half-PPR.
4-pt. vs. 6-pt. Passing Touchdowns
This one’s not as hotly contested as PPR scoring, but passing touchdowns do carry different default values depending on what site you use. The four-point TD is a bit more common and is usually a more balanced solution from a scoring standpoint. However, the six-point TD does gain popularity whenever fantasy QB depth reaches more drastic proportions — like it has this year. When even a middle-of-the-road QB averages more than 20 fantasy points per game, it theoretically increases their value in the draft and keeps top-tier NFL quarterbacks from dropping to the 8th round.
Perhaps more importantly, though, six-point passing TD leagues significantly devalue the rushing quarterback, elevating the pocket-passers who are generally regarded as better real-world QBs. For reference, Cam Newton finished as the QB2 in 2017 in four-point leagues but dropped below Brady, Wentz, and Alex Smith in six-point leagues. If you prefer Peyton Manning over Russell Wilson, this might be the scoring setting for you.
Our last few format decisions to review revolve around your starting rosters, and how to construct them. There is a lot of variation to play with here, and we won’t cover every different combo, but we will touch on a few hot topics.
Do you take personal insult at Hall-of-Famers like Tom Brady and Drew Brees dropping in drafts to the area of Allen Robinson and Ronald Jones? Are you tired of leaguemates waiting until Round 12 to select a QB and still coming away with great starters like Philip Rivers or Matt Ryan? Then, oh boy is a 2QB format right for you!
Dedicating an extra roster spot to a second quarterback — or in the case of the Superflex format, a spot that can play a QB/WR/RB/TE, but almost always plays a QB — is just about the most drastic balancing move in fantasy football. Elite QBs jump from the middle rounds of drafts to the first couple, and nearly every signal-caller in the NFL gets drafted in fantasy.
This is one format option I really feel strongly about, as 2QB leagues are simply much more fun and challenging. If you haven’t tried it out, give it a long look before starting your next league! For a full article on 2QB and Superflex Strategy, click here.
Kickers & D/STs
Let’s all pour one out for the kickers and defenses, who are being increasingly excluded from fantasy leagues around the world. If you’ve only played in ultra-casual leagues, you may not have seen this exodus, but it is highly prevalent in more competitive leagues. Many view the “strategy” involved in drafting these positions to be elementary (mostly true), and the variance at these positions from week-to-week highly frustrating (also mostly true). As a result, many have begun kicking the kickers and defenses out of fantasy entirely (pun intended).
While kickers do take little strategy to select — and typically are completely unpredictable outside the top two or three — they add some flair to fantasy that many enjoy. As for D/STs, I personally believe that can involve a lot more strategy if you play the streaming game and choose your starters based on heavily-researched matchups.
There’s obviously a lot more to fantasy leagues and commissioning than we were able to cover here, but these are some of the big-ticket items. Feel free to send specific questions on your leagues to me, Andy, Mike, or Jason on Twitter, or even the Ask a Question page, where your question could make its way onto the podcast!