A Beginner’s Guide to Fantasy Football
Part I: What is Fantasy Football and Choosing a League
By David Rush
What is Fantasy Football?
Fantasy football is a system where participants manage a virtual football team. These teams are made up of active NFL players from any assortment of teams, drafted by participants. Fantasy football generally runs in league format, where a group of participants draft a team of NFL players at the beginning of the regular season and have their teams compete head-to-head on a weekly basis earning points based off their player’s performance in that week’s NFL games. Players will get points from game statistics such as rushing yards, receiving yards, and touchdowns among other action – through this the player’s true performance is reflected to a degree in fantasy. Near the end of the regular season, teams with the best record will compete in a playoff bracket to determine the league’s champions. Over the past few years though, daily fantasy sports (DFS) has become increasingly prevalent on platforms such as DraftKings and FanDuel. Unlike league-format fantasy, in DFS teams are chosen only for a single day or weekend and don’t often compete head-to-head with other DFS teams. Though DFS is still fantasy football, the differences between it and league format are significant – this article will be focused on league format.
Finding the league for you
Looking for a fantasy league can be an extremely daunting process for a first-timer. There’s a multitude of platforms to play on, varying league times, and an ungodly amount of abbreviations that can sometimes make it seem like you’ve clicked the wrong language setting on your browser. This article will help you make sense of the various options for fantasy football and assist you in finding a league that works for you.
Choosing a league type
One of the most common abbreviations you’ll find when searching for fantasy information is PPR, which stands for “Points Per Reception.” What this means is that each time a player on the field catches a ball, they get a fantasy point. You’ll typically see three variations of PPR in leagues – Standard (0 PPR), Half (0.5 PPR), and Full (1 PPR) leagues. The intended purpose of PPR is to balance pass-catching positions (Wide Receiver and Tight End) with Running Backs, who generally have more potential for fantasy points without PPR. My personal favorite is half PPR, as I find it the most balanced option of the three. However, if you’re just starting out I wouldn’t be too concerned about which of the three main scoring options you use – you’ll still get basically the same experience overall.
Some other terms you’ll come across while league hunting are dynasty, keeper, redraft, and IDP (Individual Defensive Player). While the more complex systems may be fun once you’ve got a handle on what you’re doing, for the first-time player I’d suggest looking for a non-IDP redraft league – the simplest and most common format. Non-IDP means that defenses are drafted as a team, rather than individual players. Instead of starting defensive players each week, you’ll instead just start a team’s defense. Redraft means that the league starts fresh each season and you’ll draft from all players in the NFL, as opposed to dynasty and keeper which carry players over on fantasy teams between seasons. As this is the most common format, many league listings won’t bother using the terms “redraft” or “non-IDP”, and it can be safely assumed if none of the other terms are listed that a non-IDP redraft will be the format for the league you’re joining.
Fantasy Football Platforms
One of the most common questions you’ll see crop up for fantasy beginners and veterans alike is “what’s the best platform?” There’s a wide variety of platforms for fantasy to choose from, each with their own upsides and downsides. Yahoo and ESPN have the most widely used platforms for fantasy, with others preferring smaller platforms like NFL.com, SleeperApp, Fleaflicker, and MyFantasyLeague. I won’t bother going into depth on each of them in this article, however I will say that SleeperApp is my personal favorite due to its slick design, customizable settings, and excellent newsfeed. For a first time player though, most differences aren’t so obvious on the surface level – just dipping your toes in you should be fine using any of the free platforms like Yahoo, ESPN, or NFL.com. Fleaflicker and MFL aren’t quite as user-friendly as the larger platforms, and can be a bit overwhelming if you’re not used to fantasy football. All in all the differences between platforms are fairly minimal and a league being hosted on a specific platform shouldn’t be a dealbreaker when hunting for a league.
Who you play with is likely going to be the biggest difference maker in whether or not you enjoy your fantasy football league. Many leagues are organized in-person, through workplaces, friend groups, doomsday cults, etc. Offline acquaintances can make the best leaguemates, as there’s nothing as fun as lording your most recent win over your friend’s head. However you might find your office filled with curling fans disinterested in the NFL, or scientology may reject your application, or you may spend so much of your time writing fantasy football articles that you’ve wound up with no friends outside of whoever runs the Chargers’ twitter account. Don’t fret, there’s still plenty of other options available. Just googling “find a fantasy football league” will bring up a large amount of sites with listings for any type of league you can imagine. My personal favorite for public league listings is reddit’s r/findaleague where those looking for leagues and hosting them post to try and connect. I’ll also do a bit of shameless self-promotion and plug the Fantasy Football Chat discord server, where we’re currently hosting free community fantasy football leagues among members.
Paid League or Free League
Both paid and free leagues are readily available for fantasy football. With paid leagues, generally each member contributes to a pot that is distributed at the end of the season, the bulk of the winnings usually going to the winner of the league. Buy-ins for leagues will range anywhere from $10 to (in rare circumstances) thousands. Free leagues don’t typically have any sort of monetary pot and are just for fun and bragging rights. Joining a paid league right off the bat may seem intimidating if it’s your first fantasy football league, but I wouldn’t count out paid leagues all together. Having a prize often keeps people invested, regardless if it’s $50 or $500. You’ll likely get better competition and more active leagumates with a paid league, usually improving the experience overall. If you’re playing with people you haven’t before, just paypalling someone and expecting them to pay you is a great way to get your money stolen. However, there are ways around this – the most common being LeagueSafe with the “majority payout” option. This program allows for league members to vote on who the payout is awarded to, and not leave the decision entirely in the hands of the commissioner.
This article is part one of a three part series.