I am what some might call an elitist snob when it comes to fantasy football. My fantasy football leagues must have the best settings as I see them or I’m probably not going to play. My goal is always to find the right balance of excitement and fairness.
Best fantasy football league settings
The single most illogical and unproductive argument you can ever make about anything is, “Well that’s how it’s always been.” I’m sure all of us have encountered this in debates before. It’s no different in fantasy football.
When I started playing fantasy football in 2003, continual rolling list waivers were the standard. No one thought anything of it. Then, in the early 2010s, FAAB (free agent acquisition budget) started to rise to prominence. While most of my leagues adopted it relatively early, there were some holdouts who just didn’t want change because “that’s how it’s always been.”
Well, times change. The NFL changes. And with it, fantasy football must change. Here are five of the best settings changes you can make to your fantasy football league more competitive and more exciting.
Add more starting roster spots
The default starting lineups on platforms like Yahoo and ESPN are like listening to music on a Walkman or playing Playstation 2. On most platforms, you’re starting 2 WRs, 2 RBs, and 1 Flex (along with the onesie positions of QB, TE, DEF, and K). That means most teams are done drafting starting WRs and RBs after the fifth round. That neither promotes skill nor fun.
One of my longest-running leagues initially had 3 WRs, 2 RBs, and 1 Flex. I was actually an advocate for removing a WR to reduce the size of the starting lineup about a decade ago. Looking back on it now, it’s crazy to think that I was that guy.
The reality is a change like this is necessary because the best fantasy football leagues change their settings with the NFL. If you were playing fantasy football in the 2000s, you really couldn’t justify even having a full Flex at all. My leagues with Flexes limited them to WR/TE because having three workhorse RBs was an unfair advantage. In 2003, 13 running backs had over 300 carries. In 2021, 2020, and 2019, there were just two.
The NFL in 2021 hardly resembles the NFL in 2003. More teams use two-man backfields. And with the modern NFL being more pass-heavy, there are more fantasy-relevant wide receivers than ever before.
To account for the changes in how football is played, your fantasy football league cannot start only 5 WRs/RBs. My preferred league settings are 3 WRs, 2 RBs, and 2 Flexes. I might even want a third Flex or fourth wide receiver.
More starting roster spots equates to more scoring and more guys to root for. In other words, more fun! Not only is it more fun, but it’s also fairer. If you hit on a wide receiver in the eighth round or grab a gem off the waiver wire in Week 2, your opponent shouldn’t be able to stream a guy just as good. Adding starting roster spots makes your league more skill-based and more exciting.
Implement the two-win system
Fantasy football traditionalists scoff at the notion of doing anything other than classic head-to-head. In actuality, there are many different ways to score the game.
I like the excitement of head-to-head, but man, it can be frustrating at times. Anyone who’s played this game long enough has experienced the misery of getting buzzsawed week after week. There’s not much that’s more frustrating than posting the second or third-highest point total of the week and still losing your head-to-head matchup.
Enter the two-win system. In addition to your head-to-head matchup, add a weekly win for finishing inside the top half in scoring. Assuming your regular season runs the usual Weeks 1-14, that means there are 28 potential wins available each season. Sleeper has this option as a league setting so it requires nothing other than your commissioner clicking a box when creating your league and the platform tracks it for you.
Maintain the competitive excitement of head-to-head while also rewarding the teams that perform the best week after week by adding a second win. Only one of my fantasy football leagues has done this, but it’s easily one of the best settings changes I’ve made.
I will admit I have not implemented this setting nor advocated for it in any league yet. However, I am intrigued by this relatively new concept.
Let’s start with the obvious: non-PPR fantasy football is awful. It overvalues touchdowns and increases randomness. At the same time, full PPR does reward empty receptions a bit too much. While half-PPR is an excellent compromise, tiered PPR scoring might be the wave of the future.
In tiered PPR scoring, the amount of points per reception is correlated with the length of the reception. Here is an example of how tiered PPR scoring could work:
- 5-yard reception or shorter: 0 PPR
- 6-10 yards: 0.25 PPR
- 11-15 yards: 0.5 PPR
- 16-20 yards: 0.75 PPR
- 21+ yards: 1.0 PPR
Catching the ball is a skill and receptions should matter…but only to the extent they actually matter in the NFL. The most efficient running backs in the NFL average 5 yards per carry. In full PPR, a catch for no gain is just as valuable as a 10-yard rush. Tiered PPR rewards players for receptions relative to how impactful those receptions actually are.
I love me some auctions. My fantasy football league distribution has reached a point where 50% of them now have auction drafts. Year after year, I can’t help but notice my best teams are consistently in leagues with auction drafts.
Why auction drafts? So many reasons. Too many, in fact, to get into in one section of one article. I can (and probably will later in the summer) do a separate article entirely on the benefits of auction drafting.
In sum, auction drafts give more control to each individual manager. In snake drafts, your draft slot impacts so much of what you have to do. The moment your commissioner publishes your draft order, you already know there are dozens of players you simply cannot draft. In auction drafts, the entire player pool is open to you. Go get your guys.
You also don’t have to build your team the same way as everyone else. In snake drafts, everyone has one round one-caliber player, one round-two caliber player, one round-three caliber player, etc. In auction drafts, you can open the bank for two or three first and second-round guys. Or, you can forgo the expensive guys altogether and build a roster loaded with round three to round five type players. We’ve all experienced seasons where we love multiple players with the same ADP…but we can’t draft them all. In an auction draft, you can!
You have so much more freedom to construct the team you want. There’s no such thing as “Ugh…well I guess I have to take him here” in an auction. Yes, it takes about double the time of a snake draft. But if you love fantasy football, this might be the single best league setting change you can make. What’s another couple of hours in early September for 17 weeks of fun anyway?
Award the final playoff spot to the highest scoring non-playoff team
This is a relatively new fantasy football league setting idea that’s been gaining popularity in recent years. The idea is as simple as the heading above suggests: the final playoff spot should go to the highest-scoring team not currently in the playoffs.
To alleviate any confusion, here is how it would play out assuming your league, like the vast majority of leagues, has six teams make the playoffs. The top two teams (presumably) would get the byes. Teams three to five in terms of record also make the playoffs. Then, the sixth and final playoff spot would go to the team outside the top five in record that finishes the season with the most points.
Most of us have been on both sides of the coin here. We’ve had a weak point total and squeaked into the playoffs at 7-6 due to favorable scheduling. We’ve also had a team finish top four in total points, sometimes even top two, but only have a 6-7 record due to bad scheduling luck.
This setting ensures that your league will never see the highest-scoring team miss the playoffs. If you somehow finish 5-9 but lead your league in points, you will get in the playoffs over that 7-7 team with a lower point total. Not only does this increase fairness, but it adds excitement over those final couple of weeks as securing that five seed and dropping a high point total become more important.