Dynasty Fantasy Football: Optimal Setup, Rules, and More

With so many different types of leagues out there, what are the optimal rules and settings for dynasty fantasy football league setups?

While redraft will always remain the most popular form of fantasy football, there’s no denying the increase in popularity of dynasty fantasy football over the past decade.

With each passing year, the size of the fantasy community grows as new managers enter the fold. Invariably, a portion of them will be introduced to dynasty for the first time.

If you believe you’re at the point in your fantasy football journey where it’s time to embark on your dynasty career, it’s essential that you do it the right way. First impressions are everything. If you don’t enjoy your first dynasty experience, you may never want to play again. With that in mind, let’s discuss the optimal rules and settings for dynasty fantasy football league setups.

Dynasty Fantasy Football League Rules and Settings

Imagine you assembled a group of 1,000 fantasy managers. You gave each of them a very simple task: Create your perfect fantasy football league.

There’s a very real chance you would get 1,000 different leagues. That’s not to say there wouldn’t be leagues that were very similar; they just likely wouldn’t be identical.

I bring this up to give you an idea of just how many possible ways there are to construct a fantasy league. 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 after 22 years, I’ve seen my fair share of league variety.

2023 marked the start of my third decade playing fantasy football. Yes, I’m old.

The game now is very different than when I began playing in 2003. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there who started playing long before I did, in the ’90s or ’80s. You can’t even compare the game then to the game now.

I’ve participated in over 100 leagues in my lengthy fantasy career. Most of them have been ongoing for many years. But even the ones that have the same people coming back year after year undergo changes every so often. As the NFL evolves, so must fantasy football.

Whether it be redraft or keeper, snake or auction, league size, starting lineups, waiver settings, or countless other possibilities, my leagues have made a large number of changes over the past two decades.

I’ve experimented with new formats and new settings. Did all of them stick? Absolutely not. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that some changes were one-and-done. They were just bad ideas, and we moved on.

On the other hand, some have been fantastic and are now permanent fixtures in nearly all of not only my leagues but others worldwide. I don’t regret any of my experimentations, as they’ve helped me curate my list of optimal rules and settings.

The most important thing to know before we get into the weeds is that what you’re about to read represents one man’s opinions. Out of the millions of fantasy managers out there, there are undoubtedly people who have the same preferences as me. But for 99% of you, there will be some things I like that you don’t. Just as there will be things you like that I don’t. That’s okay.

Consider this a baseline or good starting point for you to figure out what settings you want in your fantasy league. I’m sure your preferences won’t be exactly the same as mine. If you can use what I like to figure out what you like, then I’ve done my job. Without further delay, here are my optimal settings for dynasty leagues.

Basic Fantasy Football Rules

The options available to fantasy managers 20 years ago can’t even begin to be compared to what we have to choose from now. There have been so many innovations that it’s impossible to keep track of them all.

When it comes to dynasty, there’s 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. We will start with those.

All leagues should have at least 12 teams, exactly six playoff teams, use FAAB waivers, and end in Week 17 (or the second-to-last week of the season.)

I fully acknowledge the popularity of 10-team leagues. I’ve played in them before and can endorse them for beginners. There’s a reason the default public league size on platforms such as Yahoo and ESPN is 10 teams. They are designed to make things easier to enable quicker learning.

In fact, when I was in high school, my main league was actually an eight-team league. It felt super competitive at the time, and all of us really wanted to win. There was no money on the line — just pride.

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. If you can’t find more than seven friends to play with, any league is still better than none, especially for beginners.

If you’re new to fantasy football, the best thing you can do to learn is to play. Don’t worry about having the perfect league. Learn the game.

Once you’re enough of a veteran, if you truly want a competitive experience that rewards skill to the extent this game can, 12 teams are the perfect amount.

That eight-team league disbanded after the 2007 season, which was my second year of college. I played in a different 10-team league in 2009, which was the last time I played in a league with fewer than 12 teams.

I have experimented with 14 (one of my leagues is still 14 teams) and 16. Too many teams is better than too few, but 12 is just right.

The 2-Win System

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 running into the highest-scoring team of the week is the most painful.

It’s 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 scores in the top 50% of your league that particular week. In a standard 12-team league, you would be able to secure one win by defeating your opponent and another by scoring in the top six of a given week.

Ninety percent of the time, if you finish above .500, you will make the playoffs. You can’t control your head-to-head matchup, but you can control how good your team is overall.

MORE: Dynasty Rookie Rankings

If your weekly fantasy point total is in the top half of your league every week, that guarantees you can’t possibly be worse than 14-14. And let’s be real, here, you’re not going to lose every single head-to-head matchup. Adding a second win based on the league median helps ensure that the best six teams make the playoffs.

Fantasy football is a game that inherently has a lot of luck and variance. It’s impossible to completely legislate luck out of the game. There are too many variables. But we can craft our rules to minimize the luck factor as much as possible, without removing too many of the elements that make this game exciting.

The two-win system threads the needle as well as possible.

Roster Size and Starting Lineups

Dynasty rosters must be larger than redraft rosters. The only question you need to answer is how much larger?

A common argument against deep rosters is they deplete 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’s not meant to be an extension of your bench. It’s bad for the health of your league if you can add startable WR4s or RB3s off the waiver wire each week. That takes away from the teams that drafted well and already have those players rostered.

I prefer rewarding fantasy managers for having more good players than other teams. If it is exceedingly easy to find starter-worthy players on your league’s waiver wire every week, then your rosters are too small. As a result, I lean toward larger rosters, with 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 pretty much mandatory. The ultimate goal in dynasty is to build a juggernaut roster.

Imagine you spend two or three years making great rookie draft picks, savvy waiver wire adds, and beneficial trades. You pretty much get everything right, and your roster is loaded. If lineup constraints prevent you from starting multiple starter-worthy players, what have you actually gained? You should reap the rewards of your efforts.

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 who 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 WR4. There’s value in upgrading your final Flex player because you can actually gain an edge.

There are many different ways to construct rosters. Teams with five great players should not necessarily be better than those with eight good players.

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 half 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 the reverse is true.

Teams in need of a rebuild are not about to turn their fortunes around through the waiver wire. Those teams need to acquire young, ascending players and draft picks.

If you need to dismantle your roster and start over, you probably don’t have a ton of talent on your team. If your league has shallow starting rosters, the contending teams aren’t going to need what you have to offer.

But if your league has deeper starting lineups, those WR3s suddenly could be quite appealing to a team chasing a championship to start in their second or third Flex spot.

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

There is always a limit to everything. It would be wholly ridiculous to do a fantasy league where you could only start one RB, one WR, and one Flex. That’s the extreme of the shallow side. Naturally, the extreme exists on the other side as well.

A good way to view starting rosters is as if they are a bell curve. At the front end of the curve, you have the aforementioned 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 more you allow skill to shine through. 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.

As always, there’s a limit. Extremes are never a good thing. And extremely deep rosters are just as bad as extremely shallow rosters. It’s just a different type of luck and randomness.

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.

Scoring

Every league should have some form of points-per-reception format. I prefer half-PPR, but full-PPR is fine as well. As long as your dynasty fantasy 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’re a non-PPR truther, I’m not sorry.

Previously, I mentioned that I haven’t played in every conceivable format. One of those formats I haven’t yet experienced is tiered PPR. While I haven’t experimented with this particular scoring format just yet — and don’t necessarily expect any of my leagues to do so this year — the idea of tiered PPR is definitely intriguing.

The biggest criticism of PPR is it rewards players for essentially doing nothing. Fantasy Life’s Ian Hartitz (who is a fantastic follow on Twitter by the way), often posts tongue-in-cheek videos on PPR scoring. Here’s an example.

If you watch that video, you’ll see an impressive 14-yard run by Kyren Williams juxtaposed with a meaningless four-yard catch by Davis Allen. Yet, they’re both worth the same number of fantasy points.

Tiered PPR adjusts the points per reception to account for the length of the catch. It’s designed to reward players for productive plays.

KEEP READING: Consensus Dynasty Rankings

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 5-9 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 to reward players when they do something productive for their team.

A one-yard carry on 3rd-and-1 is technically more valuable than a five-yard carry on 2nd-and-10. However, PPFD does run into problems because that one-yard carry on 3rd-and-1 is more valuable than a 10-yard reception on 2nd-and-15. I’m not there yet with this setting, but it’s something to at least be aware of.

Initial Startup Draft

There’s only one way to commence a dynasty league, and that is with the initial startup draft. Now, there are multiple ways to go about this, but every dynasty league must start with a draft that consists of the entire player pool.

On the surface, this draft will look and feel like a redraft league. However, it most certainly is not.

The top of the draft will be mostly the same. The elite players go early because they score a boatload of fantasy points. That plays in all formats.

Where you see a major difference is in how the draft room treats rookies and old players. Rookie ADPs are inflated, while players nearing the end of their careers (even if still very good) fall much further than they will in redraft.

Still, there are two important decisions to make regarding the initial startup draft. The first is whether to have a snake or auction draft. I prefer auction in any fantasy format. When it comes to dynasty startups, for me, it’s a must.

In dynasty, there will only be one instance in which the entire player pool is available to every team. Once your startup draft is complete, that’s it. The only way to acquire veteran players is via trade (or if they are dropped).

I can’t imagine entering a league format where I only get one shot to build my roster from scratch and be subject to a random draw of draft position. I truly don’t think I would ever do a dynasty league that doesn’t use an auction startup.

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 and want to get him on your team, you deserve the chance to do so.

In snake drafts, your draft slot guarantees with 100% certainty there will be certain players you cannot draft. No chance. Not happening.

Given the stakes of picking players you will roster indefinitely, that shouldn’t be impacted by something as random as your name being picked out of a hat at the wrong time. You should have a fair opportunity to draft every player. Auctions provide that, where snakes do not.

Second, there are two schools of thought on when your startup should take place. 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 the first year of a dynasty league. 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, with two ways to do it:

    1. You can include the rookies in your startup draft. This can be done regardless of when you hold your draft. It’s just more difficult if you have your startup draft before the NFL Draft. If you opt to go this route, rookies are in the player pool and can be drafted just like the veterans.
    2. You can have a separate rookie draft, which has to be a linear 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).

If you decide to go with a separate rookie draft, then rookie picks must be part of your startup. By that, I mean at any point during the draft, and this includes nominating them in an auction, managers will be able to draft rookie picks as opposed to the players themselves.

Using 2024 as an example, rather than drafting Marvin Harrison Jr., you would draft the rookie 1.01. If you’re the team to do this, then when your rookie draft occurs after the startup, you have the first overall pick (which you would then use on Harrison).

However, I just prefer to draft after the NFL Draft and include the rookies in the first year.

Annual Rookie Draft

Now, let’s get into the rookie draft. This should be 4-5 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 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.

Situation and opportunity are a huge part of player analysis. We’ve seen plenty of objectively talented players get held back by poor offenses or poor coaching. On the other hand, several mediocre players get propped up by excellent situations and significant volume.

Every year, we know player situations when making decisions. Of course, we can and will be wrong about our predictions regarding situation, but we at least have the information.

The only subset of players we don’t have this information on is rookies before the NFL Draft. Given the importance of being able to effectively weigh situation and opportunity, I don’t want to draft until after the NFL does.

Predicting landing spot or likely landing spot for college players is not part of my idea of fantasy football. But if it is for you, don’t let me stop you!

Waivers and Rookie Drafts

In-season waivers are the same as redraft, which we already discussed above. The primary difference in dynasty is some leagues have year-round waivers (or close to it). Even in leagues with a moratorium period, managers will often be able to add or drop players throughout most of the offseason.

If your league includes unrostered veteran players as part of its rookie draft, then there won’t be any waivers from the time the season ends until after your rookie draft is complete.

You can choose to turn waivers off in the offseason. However, a big part of the allure of dynasty football is the ability to manage your team year-round. While I welcome the time away from thinking about my fantasy teams during the winter and spring, I won’t fault anyone for sticking to this premise.

Given that I like detaching from after the championship in Week 17 until at least free agency in March, if not until after the NFL Draft, I like having a moratorium on waivers until after the rookie draft. You don’t need to wait until redraft season to have your rookie draft. Conducting it sometime in May or June is ideal.

The way in which the rookie draft is connected to waivers is how your league handles unrostered veterans. You have the option to allow these veterans to be added and dropped throughout the offseason. Alternatively, you can choose to include them in the rookie draft. I prefer the former.

There is the occasional unrostered veteran who sees a significant increase in value as a result of offseason NFL moves, but 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 setting 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 don’t 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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