What Is Dynasty Fantasy Football? How To Get Started, Tips, and More

Dynasty fantasy football continues to rise in popularity. For those considering joining a league, here's a basic rundown of what it is.

It’s safe to say redraft will always be the most popular version of fantasy football. However, there’s no denying the rapidly increasing popularity of dynasty fantasy football over the past decade.

Each year, the fantasy community as a whole grows in size, with hundreds of thousands of people playing for the first time. More new players means more new fantasy managers looking for leagues. Many of them will be discovering the existence of dynasty leagues for the first time. If you’re one of those people, here is everything you need to know to decide whether you want to dabble in dynasty fantasy football.

What Is Dynasty Fantasy Football?

At its core, every version of fantasy football has the same objective: Build a roster of players that scores the most possible points.

When it comes to constructing an optimal roster, that changes based on league format. In redraft leagues, one season has no bearing on the next. Any successes or failures you have one year have exactly zero impact on what the following year may look like. Everyone starts with a clean slate.

Where dynasty leagues differ is that only the initial startup draft will allow each manager to select every available player. After that, every active NFL player will remain with the team that drafted him unless and until he is cut, traded, or retires.

Dynasty Fantasy Football Never Ends

I know what you may be thinking: “What do you mean by ‘never ends?'” Well, until your league disbands, it quite literally does not end.

The fantasy football season goes from September until the first week in January. After Week 17, a champion is crowned, and the season ends. That’s correct, and that isn’t going to change — well until the NFL inevitably adds an 18th game when they negotiate the next CBA, but that’s neither here nor there.

Dynasty leagues still run each regular season the same way as any other league. In redraft leagues, once Week 17 is over, there’s nothing managers need to do until it’s time to start preparing for the next year’s draft. Where dynasty leagues differ is your role as a manager doesn’t stop — ever.

If this sounds like a lot of work, allow me to disavow of any concerns about this being something you have to focus on 365 days a year. Much like the real NFL, dynasty leagues have downtime. Just because you can do something every day of the year doesn’t mean you will.

With that said, this is one of the most appealing features of dynasty fantasy football for those who participate. If you play fantasy football of any kind, you love football. But when you compare the length of an NFL season to the NBA or MLB, you can’t help but notice how much shorter it is. That’s not even accounting for the fact that those sports have games every day during their seasons, and the NFL does not.

MORE: Fantasy Football Draft Strategy

The NFL has managed to find a way to make itself relevant year-round. Between free agency, the draft, and the schedule’s release, the NFL has enough key events in the offseason to keep people talking, but fantasy football specifically — that’s 17 weeks, and there’s no way to change that.

If you only play redraft leagues, you’re really not doing anything from January to August. You may read articles, listen to podcasts, and keep yourself up to date on the latest news from the NFL, but you don’t actually have any players on your team to manage.

The main appeal of dynasty fantasy football is the ability to make moves and improve your roster — even when no football games are being played. The idea is to emulate being a real general manager to the greatest extent possible, building your team from the ground up.

How To Get Started in Dynasty Fantasy Football

There are dozens of different league formats, settings, and rules for fantasy football leagues. I certainly could not even dream of covering all of them in a single article. For the purposes of this primer, let’s stick with the basic tenets of dynasty leagues.

Choosing a Platform

This often goes overlooked as a relevant detail, but where you decide to host your league matters greatly. You need a platform with the ability to meet your league’s needs.

MyFantasyLeague remains unmatched in terms of customization, but it also remains unmatched in terms of how awful its user interface is. What do your league-mates care more about? Flexible settings or functionality? Are you willing to sacrifice the user experience in order to implement certain settings that don’t exist on other, more mainstream platforms?

If you don’t require any complex settings, a more user-friendly platform like Yahoo or Sleeper will suffice.

League and Roster Size

The most common leagues will have 12 teams. That’s certainly not a strict requirement, though. There are plenty of leagues out there with 10, 14, or even 16 teams. For true beginners, even an eight-team league is acceptable, although I would not advise that for dynasty.

As you gain more experience, you will inevitably want to expand to 10 or 12 teams. While it’s possible to add expansion teams just like the NFL has over the years, that comes with a whole host of additional issues you would rather not deal with if you can avoid it.

When I first started playing over 20 years ago, I did an eight-team league with some high school friends for about five years. Even though everyone had a super team, it was still a great way to learn the game. If I’m being candid, I didn’t realize how silly it was at the time, but that was a good thing because I cared as if it were as competitive as a 12-team league, and it helped me learn the game at a young age.

Now, I believe 12 teams to be the optimal league size. I occasionally dabble in 14-teamers, but never anything else. But by all means, do whatever it is that you find the most enjoyable. 16-team leagues exist, and even 20-team leagues exist. There is no objective measure of what you find to be fun.

The number of teams typically impacts the roster size. With more teams, you will likely have fewer roster spots. Regardless of league size, though, dynasty rosters are quite large. They typically range anywhere from 20-30 players.

Initial Startup Draft

Another common thread across all dynasty fantasy football leagues is the initial startup draft. You have to kick off your league somehow. This is the way you do it.

For your first draft, it will feel just like a redraft league (until you start drafting). It will either be in a snake or auction format.

The primary difference is while you’re drafting, you can’t only care about how a player might perform in the upcoming season. The next time you draft, the player pool will consist exclusively of rookies. If you don’t get a player you want, the only way you can ever get him on your team is via trade — unless he gets dropped, in which case you probably don’t want him anymore anyway.

MORE: Dynasty Rules

If it seems like the startup draft has a massive impact on the trajectory of your league, that’s because it does. How you go about drafting your team will set the stage for what you do over the next few years.

In this article, you can find different strategies to implement in your initial draft. It’s not as simple as just picking the best players for the upcoming season.

Rookie Draft

Depending on when your league has its initial startup draft, that year’s rookies may or may not be part of it. Either way, after the first season, the only draft you will have each year is the rookie draft.

Typically, the rookie draft is linear, just like the NFL Draft, and quite different from every other fantasy draft you’ve probably done. In a linear draft, the order of picks will be the same in each round — it does not snake. If you pick first in the first round, you will also pick first in the second round.

Most leagues determine the draft order by the previous season’s standings, with the worst teams getting the best picks. Much like the NFL, the idea is to give the worst teams the best chance at securing the players that can turn their franchise around. That is why the worst teams get to pick first in every round.

It’s important to the health of a dynasty league to give the bad teams opportunities to turn their fortune around. The quickest path to a dynasty league folding is for a couple of juggernauts to form early, with around 1/3 of the league drawing dead.

There are plenty of fantasy managers who enjoy the challenge of turning an organization around, but even the most hardcore of gamers won’t be having fun if they come in last year after year after year.

Of course, this must be balanced by discouraging tanking. If you can’t win, you don’t want your team to be merely bad — you want it to be the worst. In an effort to combat over-tanking, some leagues award the first overall pick in the rookie draft to the best team to miss the playoffs. This encourages everyone to try all season, but it also can result in legitimately bad teams having no real path to turning around.

Who you choose to play with in your league matters greatly. Depending on the type of managers in your league, it is up to you to decide how to balance helping bad teams become good while maintaining competitive integrity.

Rookie drafts typically span five rounds and consist exclusively of the players from the current year’s NFL Draft class. Some leagues opt to include un-rostered veterans in their rookie drafts, but most just allow veteran free agents to be added and dropped throughout the year.

I prefer rookie drafts to occur after the NFL Draft, but it is by no means a requirement. Your league is free to do whatever it wants. If that means scheduling the rookie draft before we know where these players will be playing, it just creates a different challenge. There are pros and cons to every decision your commissioner makes.

In-Season

The in-season play is no different than any other fantasy football format. Assuming your league is a traditional head-to-head format, you will have your weekly matchups, then the playoffs, and then someone will be the champion.

Why Should You Join a Dynasty Fantasy Football League?

Dynasty leagues are not for everyone. There is nothing wrong with being purely a redraft player. Perhaps you join a dynasty league, play a couple of seasons, and decide it’s not for you. That’s completely okay. Everyone has their own preferences.

I know people who don’t play in dynasty at all because they just don’t prefer it. I know people who do dozens of dynasty leagues and are joining new ones every year because they love it so much.

The beauty of fantasy football, especially the modern game, is the wide array of options to play.

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Whether you choose to play dynasty or not, there’s no denying what the appeal of dynasty leagues is. As managers, we want to “do stuff.” How many of you have played with that manager who just wants to trade — the person willing to make trades just for the sake of trading? Why do you think that is? It’s fun to “do stuff!”

Dynasty leagues reward managers by being able to manage for almost the entire year, even when nothing is going on in the actual NFL. Sure, trades aren’t going to be happening every day, but just the ability to follow the news, look at the waiver wire, and discuss trades can be enthralling for certain fantasy managers.

One of the main reasons I play in anywhere from 8-10 leagues every season is because I love fantasy football and want to be able to play the entire year. If I played in just one league and my team was very clearly terrible by mid-season, that’s it. I’m done.

In dynasty formats, there is no risk of being done. Whether your team is a championship contender or completely cooked for the current season, there is always something for you to do. That something just changes, based on which direction your team is headed.

In a redraft league, when your team is bad, you can try and make moves to fix it, but sometimes there’s nothing you can do. Even the best fantasy football players in the world can’t overcome a roster riddled with injuries or busts (or both).

Once you get to eight losses, that’s pretty much it. Typically, fantasy managers know when their team is buried long before they are mathematically eliminated.

In dynasty leagues, accepting defeat for the current season doesn’t mean you simply go through the motions of fielding a full lineup the rest of the year and wait for it to end. Instead, it just shifts how you manage your team.

Imagine you entered the season with a team you felt could make the playoffs and compete for a title. Unfortunately, things didn’t go your way. Your top player got hurt. Your sophomore breakout wide receiver failed to launch. A couple of your veteran stars declined. By midseason, you quickly realized that lifting the proverbial trophy was probably not going to be in the cards. You don’t stop playing. You just change the way you’re playing.

MORE: What Is ADP?

Rather than scour the waiver wire for potential spot starters, you can look for bench guys who are an injury or two away from possibly getting a chance. You take shots at young players. You trade away older, established veterans for younger players with more upside. The best part about dynasty fantasy football is the constant ability to play.

Let me preface this next statement with this: I love watching football. Yet, my favorite part of fantasy football is August. It’s the pre-draft process. I love diving into data and information on players to make the best predictions possible about what they will do in the future.

We can’t control what happens in the games. There is a ton of variance in the week-to-week nature of fantasy football. If the chips don’t fall your way, dynasty fantasy football allows you to continue the evaluation process throughout the season. The added bonus is if you do figure something out when it would otherwise be too little too late, you can still reap the benefits the next season.

If you hit on that breakout player in a redraft league, you will get to enjoy the fruits of your labor for one season. If you hit on that breakout player in a dynasty league, you may benefit from that for the next 5-10 years.

In 2017, Tyreek Hill was my guy. I drafted him quite literally in every league. As you may have imagined, that went quite well, but that was it. The cat was out of the bag. I reaped the benefits in 2017 (and a bit more in 2018 because people didn’t fully buy in), but then his price went up.

If I wanted Hill in 2019 or 2020, I had to spend a first- or second-round pick on him — except in my dynasty leagues. In dynasty, I’m still reaping the rewards of that great call in 2017 to this day.

If you read through this and decide it’s not for you, that’s perfectly fine. I’ve played in all different types of fantasy football leagues, and traditional redraft remains my favorite. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for dynasty formats. There are plenty of people out there who can’t get enough of dynasty fantasy football. If you feel up to the challenge, give it a shot, and you may just fall in love.

With the fantasy football season behind us, why not start preparing for your rookie drafts with our dynasty rookie rankings? Additionally, as you look to improve your team heading into 2024, our dynasty trade calculator can help you find the perfect deal to boost your championship chances.

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