Fantasy Football 101

Fantasy Football 101

One of the most popular and enjoyable ways to bet on football is Fantasy Football, or FFB for short. It is estimated that over 30 million people play fantasy sports every year and FFB accounts for over 90% of that total! If you are new to FFB, there are a few things you should understand before jumping in. Here is a step by step review of how to play and a description of some of the more common formats, rules and strategies:

1. Join a League

You can create your own league with family members, friends or co-workers or you can join an online league and compete against total strangers. Either way is great, but knowing the people you are competing against definitely adds to the fun!

Most leagues are comprised of 10, 12 or 14 teams.  This size is preferred because there’s plenty of prize money, there’s more parity (all teams usually wind up with strong lineups), there are enough good players left in the free agent pool to keep things interesting and teams wind up playing each other only once or twice. Just remember that larger leagues mean weaker lineups and a weaker free agent pool. For this reason, many prefer the 12 team format.

Whichever league you decide to join, you will create and manage one team and you will compete against one other team in your league each week.   Each league has a commissioner (usually the team owner that creates the league) who takes care of administrative tasks, communicates important information to league members, oversees rules enforcement, etc.

What Type of League Should You Join?

There are many popular types of Fantasy Football Leagues and the one you choose will impact your draft strategy. Here are a few of the more popular formats:

“Head to Head Match up Leagues”

In this type of league, your team plays one other team from your league heads up each week. The order of weekly match ups is set before the season starts and you will play each of the other teams in your league at least once. Each week you are only concerned with beating your opponent that week. A team’s total is the sum of all players’ fantasy points in the starting lineup and the team with the most fantasy points receives a win for that particular week. Points are dictated by the scoring system that is chosen by the commissioner.

The win-loss record is the most important statistic in head-to-head leagues, as teams with the best win-loss record advance to the playoffs (usually the top 4 or 6 teams will make the playoffs, but this can vary). If two teams have the same record, the tie-breaker is then decided by the total points scored in the regular season of the two (or more) tied teams. Further tie-breakers can be added based on league preference.

“Keeper Leagues”

Keeper Leagues allow teams to keep players from one year to the next. League rules will dictate the number of players that can be kept from year to year, as well as the ‘penalty’ for keeping a player. Rules vary, but the standard ‘penalty’ for keeping a player is the forfeiture of a draft pick two rounds earlier than the player was selected (for example, you would lose a 5th round pick if the player you are keeping was drafted in the 7th round). If you keep this player again the following year, you would lose a 3rd round pick. Identifying diamonds in the rough in later draft rounds is critical to success in this type of format and a little luck goes a long way!

Another variation of this is called the “Dynasty Keeper League”. In this format you will retain most or all of your players from year to year and the annual draft is focused more towards rookies with long-term potential.

“Auction Leagues”

This format is growing in popularity. During the draft, each owner takes turns nominating players to be bid on by all of the owners in the league. Each team has a salary cap (i.e. $200) that they can spend building their entire roster. You are best not to overspend on star players and try to round out your roster with good value picks. This draft format definitely requires some expertise and you should use mock drafts to get a handle on it.

“Total Points Leagues”

Total points leagues use cumulative point totals as their method of scoring. League standings are determined by the teams’ total points rather than their weekly win loss record. The teams that accumulate the highest total of points throughout the NFL regular season advance to the playoffs.

“Points Per Reception (PPR) Leagues”

This format awards points to running backs and receivers for each completed reception and was created to make wide receivers, tight ends and running backs that catch a lot passes more important to scoring. Most leagues award 1/2 point per reception or 1 point per reception. Possession receivers like Wes Welker and RBs like Darren Sproles are valuable in PPR leagues and your draft strategy must factor this in!

“Two Quarterback Leagues”

In this format, since each team can start two QBs each week, it places an emphasis on QB selection in the draft. You need to make sure to get your QBs early for effective roster building.

“Individual Defensive Player or IDP Leagues”

In this format, each team also drafts between 3 to 7 individual defensive players (such as 2 linebackers, 2 defensive backs and 2 defensive lineman) and receives points from those players for tackles, sacks, interceptions, fumble recoveries, etc. This format requires a whole new dimension of draft strategy and an expertise on players on both sides of the ball.

2. Name Your Team

Once you have joined a league you must name your team. Choosing a clever name is part of the fun. Names like “Kick Butkus”, “Revis and Butthead”, “Somewhere Over Dwayne Bowe”, “Corn on the Kolb”, “Rowdy Roddy White”, “The Boldin The Beautiful” are great examples so pick a good one and get ready to draft your team!

3. Draft Your Players

Much like the NFL, fantasy football leagues have an annual draft to create the team rosters. A typical team may consist of 15 roster spots so the league would have 15 rounds in their draft. Once you pick a player, he is yours and no one else’s and his stats contribute to your team’s total each week (more on scoring later).

It’s important to develop a pre-draft strategy and to identify the players you really want on your team. Try to decide what round you think they will go in and don’t reach too early for them. Also, try to decide what skill positions you want to be deep in (RB vs WR for example).

Before the draft you should also pay attention to player match-ups in weeks 14-17 (the FFB playoffs). QBs and WRs playing in cold weather cities against great defenses during the FFB playoffs might be risky, and when it’s a coin flip on which player you want to draft, this can be helpful in making that decision! Another popular strategy is to choose players from strong offensive teams and teams that play indoors (i.e., the New Orleans Saints).

As your draft unfolds, you should also pay attention to bye weeks of the players you choose in the early rounds of the draft. For example, if the QB you draft has a bye in week 10, you may want to draft a backup QB with a different bye week. This strategy will help you avoid having empty spots in your weekly roster and being forced to hit the waiver wire late in the season.

Once you have drafted your team, you keep your players for the duration of the season. In a 10 team league with 15 roster spots per team, there are 150 players “taken” in the draft. The rest are available in what is called the free agent pool or waiver pool. Throughout the season, you are free to drop players (due to injury or poor statistical performance) and add new players that are available in the free agent pool. Each league will have their own rules about adding and dropping players and you need to understand those rules. You are also free to trade players with other teams in your league and similarly, each league has their own rules regarding trades.

Fantasy Football Draft Formats

Now let’s look the different fantasy football draft formats:


Fantasy football drafts can be conducted in “live-draft” or “auto-draft” formats. As a team owner you need to think up-front about the strength of the draft at each position and plan your draft accordingly. List and rank the players you want at each position. Check off each player as you or other teams select them (there are many draft sheets available to print or download online).

Live-drafts require real-time strategy when selecting available players. For example, if you think WR is a position deep with many good players, you might want to wait to draft one and focus on RB or QB first. You should not draft “long shot” players in early rounds (commonly referred to as “reaching”) because chances are good that no one else will pick them up that early and they will still be available to you in later rounds of the draft. Pay attention to other team’s picks and be ready to react if you see a run on one specific position. If QBs are suddenly going off the board and you wait too long to draft one, you may wind up with a weak spot in your lineup at the QB position.

Each team is given a set amount of time to make their next pick (i.e, 1.5 minute “on the clock” format) so you have to be ready each round. Time between picks should be spent analyzing the roster you are forming, identifying which positions require immediate attention and making sure you know the players that are still on the board. The owners picking in the spots just before you will often grab the player you want, so you need to have a “Plan B” in every situation.

Most major FFB websites have Mock Draft rooms where you can simulate a live draft in the league format you intend to join. It’s a great idea to participate in as many mock drafts as you can prior to your actual draft. Choose a draft room with the same number of teams as your league will have. You are able to select your draft position in a mock draft, so make sure to change your position in each draft you join so you get a feel for who goes off the board and when. Try Pick Position 1, Pick 2, Pick 3 all the way down to the having the last Pick in Round 1 to get a sense of the team that you wind up with at the completion of each of those mock drafts. Believe me, this experience and knowledge will help you in your real draft!

There are two common types of Live Drafts:

“Live Snake-Draft”

In a traditional “snake” draft, owners take turns drafting players in a “serpentine” method, so the owner with the first pick in Round 1 picks last in Round2, picks first again in Round 3 and last in Round 4. Order of selection is usually picked randomly an hour or so before the draft. This keeps it fair and gives each team time to develop their pre-draft strategy once they know their draft position. Here’s how it works in a ten team league:

Round 1 Order of Picks

1 – Team A
2 – Team B
3 – Team C
4 – Team D
5 – Team E
6 – Team F
7 – Team G
8 – Team H
9 – Team I
10 – Team J

Round 2 Order Of Picks

11 – Team J
12 – Team I
13 – Team H
14 – Team G
15 – Team F
16 – Team E
17 – Team D
18 – Team C
19 – Team B
20 – Team A

Round 3 Order of Picks
21 – Team A
22 – Team B
23 – Team C
24 – Team D
25 – Team E
26 – Team F
27 – Team G
28 – Team H
29 – Team I
30 – Team J

Round 4 Order Of Picks
31 – Team J
32 – Team I
33 – Team H
34 – Team G
35 – Team F
36 – Team E
37 – Team D
38 – Team C
39 – Team B
40 – Team A


Having the first pick in the draft seems great right? You get to pick the best player! Just remember that you don’t select again until pick 20 and many of the top players will already be off the board. You do get two picks in a row for each remaining round though (see live-draft example above). Many people prefer to have middle draft positions. At the end of the day, drafting is part skill and part luck and preparation is key to your success!

“Live Auction-Drafts”

In an auction draft, each owner has an imaginary $ budget which he must use to purchase all of his players in an auction style format. Owners take turns nominating players for open bidding. The owner who bids the highest on each player receives that player and reduces their budget by the amount they paid. Auction drafts are often viewed as the more fair method since every owner begins on equal ground (no order of selection or draft position to worry about). The trick to the auction draft format is to not overpay for players. Some leagues use a combination of the two styles, selecting a portion of their roster via auction and the remainder selected through the snake method.


A simpler option is called the Auto-Draft and it’s popular with beginning players. In essence, you are letting the computer conduct the league’s snake-draft. In many ways it’s an easier format, but it definitely takes some of the fun and strategy out of the game. Live-drafts require more skill so beginners might be better off sticking to the auto-draft format.

Auto-drafts use pre-determined player rankings to automate the draft cycle and make the picks. You are free to customize these rankings prior to the draft and you should take advantage of the many online sites that discuss pre-season player projections. You should also figure out what settings you can control prior to the auto-draft. Most experts agree that you should only pick one kicker and only in the last round of the draft. If you can change your settings to accomplish this, do it!

Once your auto-draft is done, log in to see your new team. Look at the free agent pool to see if there’s an un-drafted player you prefer over one of the players drafted for you. Check out the other teams in your league and your weekly match ups. Go after your favorite players by making trade proposals to other teams in the league. The season is right around the corner so get ready!

4. Set Your Weekly Lineup

Each week you must decide which players from your roster will start and which will be “benched”. Remember, you only get points for the players you start. Whether you start or sit a player will depend on your expectation of his performance, his defensive match-up, injury status etc. Each week, you must set your starting lineup before a certain deadline (usually right up until game time).  

Inevitably, you will experience weeks where you start and sit the wrong players and there’s nothing worse in fantasy football than sitting one of your studs only to watch him have a monster week! Here an example of a standard weekly lineup:

1 Quarterback QB
2 Running Backs RB
2 Wide Receivers WR
1 Flex spot (either a RB, WR, or TE)
1 Tight End TE
1 Kicker K
1 Team Defense/Special Teams D/ST
6 Bench BN (no points awarded)

League lineup rules vary so make sure you check the rules prior to joining a league to ensure you get into your preferred format.

Some leagues add individual defensive players (IDPs) instead of or in addition to a Team Defense/Special Teams. Some leagues separate Defense and Special Teams (D/ST) into their own positions. Another fun variant is the “flex” position, which can be filled by a player in one of several positions (usually a RB, WR and TE or some combination of these positions). As we mentioned earlier, some leagues allow you to start two quarterbacks. Some even allow you to add the points from your top scorer from your bench.

Many people prefer “Standard Scoring” rules and feel that having too many scoring categories makes it complex and somewhat random. The great thing is that there are many different options for you to try. Ultimately you will choose what you like best!

What About Bye Weeks?

In short, you don’t start players that are on their bye weeks (unless you want 0 points from them!) and use your bench players to fill that roster spot. If you don’t have an eligible replacement on your bench, you need to drop a player from your roster and find a replacement in the free agent pool. See our full explanation below.

It’s always a good strategy to plan ahead for your bye weeks. If you already have replacement players on your roster, great! If you know you have holes in your roster in an upcoming bye week, you may want to grab someone a few weeks early before another team snatches him up. Just remember, the free agent pool gets pretty thin the further into the season you go. Un-drafted players that are having breakout seasons will get picked up quickly so try to spot them early and make your moves before you actually are forced to.

Adding Players from the Free Agent Pool or Waiver Wire

The Free Agent Pool lists all unclaimed players or “free agents” in your league. It’s important to pay attention to which players are available and when players are dropped by other teams. Most online sites allow you to receive alerts when other teams in your league drop players, so pay attention!

You can add or claim players anytime during the season. Each week after the Monday night football game concludes, owners can make waiver claims that are processed later in the week. Your waiver priority is usually determined by League standings, so the last place team gets top priority, second to last is next, etc. If more than one team owner claims a player, a team’s waiver priority determines who gets the player. The system is designed to help weaker teams get more competitive as the season wears on. Each year there are several un-drafted players who turn out to be monster fantasy players and it’s your job to identify them early before anyone else in your league does!

Making Trades

Most leagues allow you to propose and make trades with other team owners in your league. Many leagues set a trade deadline late in the season. This is often done to prevent losing teams from colluding with winning teams looking to make the playoffs. Many leagues also impose a trade review period. When a trade is proposed and accepted there is a review period which will allow the other teams in the league (or the commissioner) to vote on and ratify the trade.

5. Fantasy Football Scoring System

Your team earns points based on your starting players’ performances and statistical output in their weekly NFL games. Your players earn points when they accumulate rushing, receiving and passing yards, when they score touchdowns, etc. They can lose points by negative yardage plays and turnovers. Kickers score points with successful field goals and extra points and can lose points by missed attempts. The Team Defense/Special Teams (D/ST) position earns points through defensive plays like sacks, turnovers, safeties, and blocked kicks) and by limiting the points scored by opposing teams. Your D/ST can also lose points if they get blown out by their opponent (for example, if they give up more than 35 points).

Standard Scoring
Here’s a look at a typical standard scoring format:

1 point for every 25 passing yards
1 point for every 10 rushing yards
1 point for every 10 receiving yards
6 points for each rushing or receiving touchdown
6 points for each passing touchdown
-2 points for each interception thrown
-2 points for each fumble lost
1 point for each extra point made
3 points for each 0-39 yard field goal
4 points for each 40-49 yard field goal
5 points for each 50+ yard field goal
2 points per turnover gained by defense
1 points per sack by the defense
2 points for a safety by defense
6 points for each touchdown scored by defense
2 points for each blocked kick

Additional Scoring Formats

Points-Per-Reception (PPR) – fractional or full points are awarded for each reception Scoring Only Leagues – points are only awarded for touchdowns, touchdown passes, and field goals
Yardage Only Leagues – touchdowns are ignored, and each player’s passing, rushing and receiving yards are totaled.
Individual Defensive Player Stats (IDP) – points awarded to defensive players for tackels, sacks, turnovers, etc.
Performance Bonuses – point bonus when QB throws for over 300 yards, RBs rush for > 100 yards, WR/TE > 100 receiving yards

6. Fantasy Football Playoffs

The regular season calendar can vary depending on how your league is set up, and it’s important to know when your playoffs begin. A typical schedule would have the regular season running from week 1 to week 13 and the playoffs running from week 14 to week 17. FFB playoffs have to take place during the regular season when all players are still active each week. Some leagues have one week playoff match ups, others have two week cumulative score match ups where you play your opponent over a two week stretch. Some leagues avoid playing in the final week of the NFL season and set their championship game in week 16. The reason is that by week 17, many NFL teams bound for the NFL playoffs have nothing to play for in week 17 so they rest their starting players. It’s a shame for you to get all the way to the finals of your FFB league only to have your best players sit out in your championship game!

Most leagues award playoff spots to the top 4 or 6 teams and teams are seeded for the playoffs according to their overall records during the regular season. Some league formats award a bye week to the top teams in Week 14. Teams that do not make the FFB playoffs often compete in a consolation bracket in a single elimination format for the duration of the playoff period to determine who finishes third, fourth, fifth, etc.

We hope you find this useful and best of luck with your FFB teams!

Fantasy Football 101
Article Name
Learn How to Play Fantasy Football - ebetting101
This in depth article explains everything you need to know about Fantasy Football including league types, draft strategies, scoring formats and more.

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  1. JZ 4 August, 2014 at 17:51

    This is an awesome article. Very informative.

    Will you be posting any sleepers for this year? Latavius Murray? I have a feeling he will be the top producer for Oak this season.

    On a side note, I am still holding out hope for Mark Sanchez to make a comeback (butt-fumbles aside)… Do you think he gets the nod if Foles suffers another concussion?

    • Bill Lewis 4 August, 2014 at 19:31

      On Murray, from espn: “After injuring his ankle last summer, Murray sat out his rookie year. So right now, his reputation is built solely on his blazing 4.38 40 at his pro day last year. (Keep in mind that he’s 6-foot-3, 230 pounds.) To be fair, when you watch his Central Florida tape, Murray certainly comes off as a productive player, but he’s not a blur. Nevertheless, if he gets a legitimate shot at winning the job over the eternally questionable Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, consider us intrigued.”

      On Sanchez, don’t hold your breath . . . I do think he will play over Matt Barkley and Chip Kelly can get more out of Sanchez than the Jets ever did.

  2. Allen Davies 31 July, 2014 at 05:25

    Great article! I am new to fantasy football and was invited to join a league at my office. It’s a 12 team league that’s been going for 10 years. They use ESPN FFB to run the league and our live draft is being held on August 30th. Most of the articles I have read suggest choosing my D/ST late in the draft. I am a Seahawks fan and really want to grab their D. What round should I take them in?

    • Bill Lewis 31 July, 2014 at 05:45

      This is probably a common predicament for Seahawks fans! I know you want them in your fantasy lineup, but you would be best not to reach for them too early. In ESPN mock draft data found online, the current ADP or average draft position of the SEA D is 98. In a 12 team league that has them going in round 8. You may want to grab them in round 7 to be safe. If you don’t get them, remember that there were 3 other defenses last year that had similar point FFB totals (CAR, KC, CIN) and quite a few others that had great years too. Good luck this year!

    • Joe Stollensky 31 July, 2014 at 17:36

      I wouldn’t reach too early for any D/ST. Build up your WR/RB core first (maybe with SEA players like RB Michael or WR Kearse since having them will also keep you more interested). There are going to be plenty of good defenses to choose from a few rounds later.

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