Dynasty vs. keeper leagues: What’s the difference between these fantasy football leagues?

Fantasy football leagues come in all different shapes and sizes. What are the primary differences between dynasty vs. keeper leagues?

Fantasy football has come a long way over the past two decades. While redraft remains the most popular format for fantasy football leagues, various other formats have gained traction over the past several years. For now, let’s focus on dynasty vs. keeper leagues and the key differences between two league types that are relatively similar.

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Dynasty vs. keeper fantasy football leagues

I imagine 99% of fantasy football managers start their careers in redraft. In fact, if there’s anyone out there whose first league wasn’t a redraft league, let us know on Twitter @PFNFantasy.

The typical career arc for a fantasy manager is to begin with a redraft league, then add keeper leagues to the docket, and eventually dive head first into dynasty leagues.

Dynasty and keeper leagues share a lot of commonalities. Even so, depending on the rules of your keeper league, it could be close to a dynasty league or nothing alike at all. Let’s discuss some of the key differences between the two formats.

The amount of players managers can keep

Every keeper league comes with a rule restricting how many players each team can keep from season to season. Here are some common keeper league formats:

  • Each team can keep a specific number of players (one, two, three, etc.) with no limitations — just keep your X number of best players.
  • Each team can keep a specific number of players, but not without some sort of draft pick associated cost. The most common system requires each manager to sacrifice a draft pick relative to where the player was drafted in order to keep him (for example, either the same round or an increase of a set number of rounds per season).
  • Each team can keep as many players as possible, but the keeper rules are set up in such a way that it’s impossible to keep your entire roster. For example, a player can be kept at the cost of a draft pick one round higher than the previous season. Trading picks is allowed, but the finite number of resources will force players back into the draft pool.

Keeper leagues will sometimes have limits on how many seasons a team can keep a player. For example, that limit could be three years. In that scenario, no player would be absent from the draft pool for more than three seasons.

How dynasty fantasy football leagues differ

The nature of a dynasty league is that teams can keep as many players as they want each season at no cost. This aspect of the format is what makes a dynasty league…a dynasty league. You can keep a player for his entire career. The only way a player ever leaves your roster is if you cut him, trade him, or he retires.

The annual draft

In most keeper league formats, there will be no shortage of veteran players available to draft each season. Depending on the keeper rules, the draft may play out just like a redraft league. There are plenty of keeper leagues out there where teams can only keep one player or where the keepers can only be from later rounds. Those drafts will look just like a typical redraft draft. The fewer players allowed to be kept, the more like a redraft league the draft will appear.

Regardless of the keeper rules, there will usually be a 15(ish)-round draft. Some of those picks may be predetermined based on keepers, but the draft won’t feel foreign to you.

How the draft works in dynasty formats

In a dynasty league, the annual dynasty draft only contains rookies. Some leagues will also include un-rostered veterans, but most don’t for the reason I will discuss in the following section.

The most common dynasty rookie draft is five rounds. One of the more notable changes is the draft mimics the NFL Draft in that it is linear (it does not snake). Typically, the draft order is determined by reverse order of the previous season’s standings.

Waivers in dynasty vs. keeper leagues

In keeper leagues, waivers operate the same as in redraft leagues. Each team starts with a set FAAB (usually $100) and player bidding occurs normally. Waivers usually process Wednesday morning with the remaining players becoming free agents until their game kicks off the following week.

There are, of course, variations your league can make to its waiver settings. Some leagues have continuous waivers (meaning players are never free agents). Continuous waivers process on specific days each week (or every day).

Other leagues use the grossly unfair and antiquated continual rolling list priority system (the default on Yahoo). Or even worse, some use the rolling waivers list that resets weekly based on the reverse order of the current standings (the default on ESPN).

Most importantly, once the NFL season ends, so do waivers. Some leagues have a moratorium on trading for a period of time following the fantasy championship. Regardless, the only way you can make any changes to your roster in the offseason is by trading or selecting players in the draft.

How waivers work in dynasty

This is a key aspect of dynasty leagues that really sets them apart from keeper formats. One of the primary differences in dynasty vs. keeper leagues is in the ability to add and drop players year-round.

As I mentioned above, some dynasty leagues may include veterans as part of the rookie draft, but most do not. Instead, waivers occur throughout the entire year (or at least for the majority of the year).

In dynasty leagues, the commissioner will determine when to turn the calendar over to the following season. It could be the day after the season ends. It could be a few weeks or months later. Whenever it happens, it won’t be too long after the NFL regular season ends.

Once the league year shifts over, your FAAB will reset and all un-rostered players will be available to add whenever you want (subject to your weekly waiver rules). The ability to make roster moves year-round is one of the most appealing aspects of dynasty fantasy football leagues. The game never stops! Just be careful not to burn through your FAAB before the season even starts.

Closing thoughts on dynasty vs. keeper leagues

There are millions of fantasy managers out there playing in dynasty and keeper leagues. But there are also millions of you out there who have never done anything other than redraft. For the fantasy manager out there considering whether now is the time to jump into a dynasty or keeper league, the most important factor to consider is your level of commitment.

Managing a dynasty roster is significantly more intensive than a keeper roster. If you’re the type of person who prefers to check out on football from post-Super Bowl until June or July, perhaps keeper and dynasty leagues aren’t for you. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I was that guy for the first 10 years or so of my fantasy football career.

If your reaction to an April text from a league mate about a trade is going to be “I’m not really thinking about football right now,” then stick to redraft. But if you’re the type who follows the NFL 24/7/365 and is counting down the days to the start of the season as soon as the Super Bowl ends, dynasty leagues might be for you.

Dynasty leagues really give you that NFL GM feel. When compared to keeper leagues, it’s more difficult to turn a bad roster into a good one, but you can also benefit longer and to a greater degree when you get things right.

Don’t feel any pressure to choose dynasty, keeper, or neither. Many people, including me, play in leagues of all different formats. But that doesn’t mean you have to as well. Just do whatever you find to be best for you. Remember, this game is meant to be fun. Play in the types of leagues that you find most enjoyable.

Jason Katz is a Fantasy Analyst at Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter: @jasonkatz13 and find more of his work here.

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