While redraft will always remain the most popular form of fantasy football, there’s no denying the relatively rapid rise of dynasty fantasy football over the past decade. The fantasy community continues to grow every year. Inevitably, a percentage of newcomers to the game will dip their toes into the dynasty realm.
If you’re looking to join a dynasty league for the first time, it’s important to choose the right one. Let’s discuss the optimal rules and settings for dynasty fantasy football league setups.
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Dynasty Fantasy Football League Rules and Settings
If you polled 1,000 fantasy managers and asked them each to craft their own league with their preferred rules and settings, there’s a very real chance you would get 1,000 different sets of settings.
There are fantasy football platforms out there with truly unlimited levels of customization. There’s no way I, or anyone, could cover every minute detail.
I know for a fact there are hundreds of thousands of fantasy gamers out there who have played in a wider variety of league formats than I have. But I’ve been around the block a time or two.
2023 marks the start of my third decade playing fantasy football. Yes, I am old. The game now is very different than it was when I began playing back in 2003. For those who have been playing since the 90s or even the 80s, you can’t even compare.
I’ve participated in over 100 leagues. Obviously, some of them are the same each year. But even those have undergone numerous tweaks and changes as fantasy football must constantly evolve with the NFL.
I’ve experimented with new formats and new settings. Some have been great, and I’ve advocated for their permanent implementation. Others have been outright disasters such that I would instantly leave a league if those rules remained. I don’t regret any of those experiences, as they’ve helped me curate my list of optimal rules and settings.
Please understand that the blow represents my preferred rules and settings for dynasty fantasy football leagues. Consider this a baseline or good starting point for you to figure out what you like. I am sure your preferences won’t be exactly the same as mine. That’s OK. If you can use what I like to figure out what you like, then I’ve done my job.
Basic Fantasy Football Rules
In modern fantasy football, there is a wide array of different types of leagues. When it comes to dynasty, there is a whole lot of nuance and extra management required to sustain a long-term and successful dynasty league.
However, at its core, it’s still fantasy football. That means even the most complex leagues still have basic rules for things that occur in every type of league, regardless of format. As far as I’m concerned, these rules should be universal.
All leagues should have at least 12 teams, exactly six playoff teams, use FAAB waivers, and end in Week 17. I fully acknowledge the popularity of 10-team leagues. I can endorse them for beginners.
When I was in high school, my main league was actually an eight-team league. I realize now that everyone had a super team, but the competition between friends served its purpose of teaching me how to play this great game. Once you’re enough of a veteran, though, if you truly want a competitive experience that rewards skill to the extent this game can, 12 teams really are the perfect amount.
If you’ve played fantasy football long enough, you’ve experienced the most frustrating defeat possible — the buzzsaw. Out of all the ways you can lose a matchup, scoring the second or third-most points in a given week and losing tops the list for me. It is this unavoidable circumstance that led to the birth of the two-win system.
This has become increasingly popular in recent years and openly praised by the Godfather of fantasy football himself, Matthew Berry.
The two-win system involves your traditional head-to-head weekly matchup, with a second win awarded if your team posts a top-half point total that particular week. Assuming a 12-team league, you can earn a win by defeating your opponent and also by posting one of the six best point totals in a given week.
Fantasy football is a game that inherently has a lot of luck and variance. We want to craft our rules to minimize the luck factor as much as possible. At the same time, we don’t want to just have it be raw total points over the course of a season because that removes so much of the excitement that comes from having a singular opponent and the weekly nature of the game. The two-win system threads the needle as well as possible.
Roster Size and Starting Lineups
Dynasty rosters will always be larger than redraft rosters. The only question you need to answer is to what extent? A common argument against deep rosters is it depletes the waiver wire. Since these are my optimal rules and settings, I can be candid about the fact that I think that’s a bunch of malarkey.
The waiver wire is there to supplement your roster. It is not meant to be your extended bench. If it is exceedingly easy to find starter-worthy players on your league’s waiver wire every week, then your rosters are too small.
I prefer rewarding fantasy managers for having more good players than other teams. As a result, I lean toward larger rosters. I prefer dynasty rosters of at least 25 players. Anywhere from 25-30 works for me.
As for starting lineups, I experience physical pain when I see the Yahoo or ESPN default lineups of one QB, two RBs, two WRs, one TE, one Flex, a kicker, and a defense. Redraft lineups should be much deeper than that. If your league doesn’t allow you to start at least six WRs/RBs (but really seven), you should look to add a Flex or two.
In dynasty leagues, deeper starting lineups are even more important. My ideal starting lineup would be one QB, two RBs, two WRs, one TE, and four Flex — no kicker or defense.
Deeper lineups reward managers that put together the best rosters. In dynasty leagues, trades are happening all throughout the season. If a lineup is too shallow, it hinders the quality of trades to be made.
For example, if you’re only starting two RBs, two WRs, and one Flex, that means, in theory, only the top 60 running backs and wide receivers are in starting lineups. The top teams in a dynasty league will have pretty strong players on their benches.
We don’t want that. We want those players getting into lineups. That way, there’s value in trading for an RB3 or a WR4. There’s value in upgrading your final Flex player because you can actually gain an edge.
The goal of a dynasty league is to build a dynasty. Stockpiling your roster with talented players should always be a benefit. But if you can’t start all of them, what’s the point?
Opponents of deeper rosters might argue that it hinders rebuilding teams from being able to rebuild. I posit that it also benefits the rebuilding teams. Let’s be frank here — a team that is rebuilding is not doing so through the waiver wire. That team needs to acquire young players before they break out and draft picks.
If you need to blow it up, odds are, you don’t have very many starter-worthy players. But if your league has deeper starting lineups, you can still move those players to contenders who may need that second or third Flex to fill a hole or cover an injury.
Having a juggernaut roster is fun, but a dynasty league won’t survive if the bad teams have no real opportunity to turn it around. With deeper starting lineups, managers have more maneuverability in terms of constructing their rosters, which promotes more transactions.
Balance Is Key, Though
A good way to view starting rosters is as if they are a bell curve. At the front end of the curve, you have extremely shallow starting rosters. That places a larger emphasis on luck and randomness. When everyone is only starting the best players in the league, it just comes down to whose players smash at the right time.
The more starting roster spots you add, the greater the benefit of having a complete roster. The top 3-4 players on each team may average a similar number of fantasy points per game, but if you have more starter-worthy players while your opponents are starting replacement-level guys, that’s where you get rewarded with an edge.
Of course, there is a limit. As you get to the tail end of the bell curve, you’ll find yourself with too many starting spots. That reverts the balance back toward the luck side of it.
It’s equally problematic to have only the top players in lineups as it is if you have everyone starting a bunch of real-life WR4s and RB3s. I’ve found that lineups allowing anywhere from 6-9 RBs/WRs are the sweet spot.
Every league should be some form of points-per-reception format. I prefer half-PPR, but full-PPR is fine as well. As long as your dynasty fantasy football setup isn’t non-PPR, you’re all good. With the NFL being a passing league, it’s just no longer viable to play non-PPR.
If you recall, earlier in this article, I mentioned that I haven’t played in every conceivable format. One of those formats I haven’t experienced is tiered PPR.
While I haven’t experimented with this particular scoring format just yet, the idea of tiered PPR appeals to me. The biggest criticism of PPR is it rewards players for essentially doing nothing. What exactly does a reception for no gain accomplish? And why should a player receive a full point for contributing nothing to his team?
Tiered PPR adjusts the points per reception to account for the length of the reception. It’s designed to reward players for productive plays.
An example of a tiered PPR format would be zero points for receptions that lose yards, 0.25 PPR for 0-4 yards, 0.5 PPR for 5-0 yards, 0.75 PPR for 10-14 yards, and 1.0 PPR for 15+. If you elect to go with tiered PPR, feel free to adjust these yardage brackets as you see fit.
Another tweak on this is PPFD (point per first down). I don’t think you need me to explain what that means. The idea behind PPFD is rewarding players when they do something productive for their NFL team.
A one-yard carry on third-and-1 is technically more valuable than a five-yard carry on second-and-10. However, PPFD does run into problems because that one-yard carry on third-and 1is more valuable than a 10-yard reception on second-and-15. I’m not there yet with this setting, but it’s something to at least be aware of.
Initial Startup Draft
Every dynasty fantasy football league kicks off with the initial startup draft. This is the only time when your draft will include the entire player pool. It will feel like a redraft league, except old players will have depressed ADPs. Still, there are two important decisions to make regarding the initial startup draft.
First, snake or auction? I prefer auction drafts in any fantasy format. When it comes to dynasty startups, I truly don’t think I would ever do a dynasty league that doesn’t use an auction.
If your dynasty league has the right people and is run well, in theory, it should exist for a very long time. You’re drafting a team of players that you may very well roster for their entire careers. It’s the ultimate test of predicting player performance. If you believe in a player, you shouldn’t be prohibited from getting him based on something as random as your name being picked out of a hat at the wrong time.
No one should be constrained by the limitations of draft position. You should have a fair opportunity to draft every player. Auctions provide that. Snake does not.
Second, there are two schools of thought as it pertains to when you should hold your startup draft. Some dynasty leagues will have their startup draft early in the offseason, perhaps even before the NFL Draft. Others will schedule it during the normal draft season in late August/early September.
I prefer to draft as late as possible. I’m sure there are longtime dynasty players out there cringing at the notion of waiting until everyone has all the information possible. I understand the desire to want to draft before depth charts are clear and ADPs are set. For me, I prefer not to be at risk of drafting players that don’t play football.
There are various different strategies managers can implement heading into Year 1. I would rather draft later to avoid managers being forced to punt the first season due to injuries.
One last decision to make about the startup draft is how to handle the rookies. There are two ways you can handle it:
- You can include the rookies in your startup draft, regardless of when you hold your draft. In this format, the rookies are in the player pool and can be drafted just like the veterans.
- You can have a separate rookie draft, which has to be a snake draft, at some point after the initial startup. This can be immediately afterward, or you can wait as long as you want (as long as you draft before the season starts).
In your initial startup, managers will be able to draft rookie picks as opposed to the players themselves. Using 2023 as an example, rather than drafting Bijan Robinson, you would draft the rookie 1.01.
I prefer to draft after the NFL Draft and include the rookies in the first year. Having a separate rookie draft can give managers an unfair advantage based on draft position.
If we assume the rookie draft would be the reverse order of the startup draft, whoever picks at No. 12 would have the benefit of 1.01. If you’re starting your dynasty league in the right (or wrong) year, depending on your perspective, you could essentially hand a team two elite dynasty assets. As a result, I believe rookies should be included in all dynasty startups, even if conducted before the NFL Draft.
Annual Rookie Draft
Now, let’s get into the rookie draft. This should be five rounds and in a linear format (non-snake) determined by the reverse order of the previous season’s standings (or some variation of this to prevent tanking).
Each year, the rookie draft will occur at some point during the offseason and will include that season’s incoming rookie class. This draft can occur before or after the NFL Draft. Obviously, the NFL Draft and player landing spots can heavily impact fantasy values.
As you may have guessed based on the previous section, I strongly prefer to have the rookie draft after the NFL Draft. While there is something to be said about predicting landing spots and how a player will perform, that’s not something I consider to really be part of the game. The goal of fantasy football is to predict how players will perform.
Every year, we know player situations when making decisions … except for rookies, at least for a couple of months. It’s an important input in evaluating player fantasy value, and I don’t subscribe to the notion that managers should be forced to guess where a player might end up.
The skill is in predicting performance, not getting lucky by a player landing on a team where he ends up with more value than expected. However, there is nothing inherently wrong with a league having its rookie draft prior to the NFL Draft. It’s purely personal preference.
Waivers and Rookie Drafts
In-season waivers are the same as redraft, which we already discussed above. The primary difference in dynasty leagues is some leagues have year-round waivers (or close to it). Even in leagues with a moratorium period, managers will be able to add and drop players throughout most of the offseason.
You can choose to turn waivers off in the offseason. A big part of the allure of dynasty fantasy football is the ability to manage your team year-round. I won’t fault anyone for sticking to this premise.
For me, I like detaching from after the championship in Week 17 until at least free agency in March, if not until after the NFL Draft. My preference is to put a moratorium on waivers until after the rookie draft, which should ideally be held sometime after the NFL Draft, but not too late into the summer.
I also prefer a rookie draft to be purely rookies. Unrostered veterans will remain on waivers until after the rookie draft, at which point everyone will have their rosters for the upcoming season and can add and drop players according to waiver rules as they see fit.
While there is the occasional unrostered veteran who sees a significant increase in value as a result of offseason NFL moves, it’s not common enough for me to want veterans included in the rookie draft. If that player is desirable enough, a FAAB bidding war will suffice.
Miscellaneous Rules and Settings
The above covers all the important areas for you to set up your dynasty fantasy football league’s rules and settings. Here are a few additional settings your league should have.
- At least four IR spots
- A five-player taxi squad (players that do not count toward your total roster size, but once you move them to your active roster, they cannot go back to the taxi squad)
- No regular-season trade deadline (but playoff teams cannot make trades during the three playoff weeks)
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