Fantasy Football for Dummies, Part 1: How to set up your league

VENICE, CA - SEPTEMBER 03: Actor Rich Sommer attend the Microsoft Fantasy Football Draft Party at the Microsoft Experience on September 3, 2013 in Venice, California. (Photo by Ben Horton/Getty Images for Microsoft)
VENICE, CA - SEPTEMBER 03: Actor Rich Sommer attend the Microsoft Fantasy Football Draft Party at the Microsoft Experience on September 3, 2013 in Venice, California. (Photo by Ben Horton/Getty Images for Microsoft) /

Welcome to the first of several posts intended to help you learn and enjoy fantasy football more than ever, from the simplest questions to deep roster strategies.

When NFL players show up to training camp, it not only kicks off their season but fantasy football season as well. Fellow writer Chris Taylor and I are going to spend the next couple weeks helping you setup your fantasy team/league to be the best it can be. You could call this “Arrowhead Addict’s Fantasy Football for Dummies” guide.

To understand how to get the most out of your fantasy league you first need to ask yourself a series of questions. These questions should get you to the answers of what kind of league you want to have. Once you decide what kind of league you want to have, you can then use the settings to setup the perfect league for you.

Type of league?

The first question you need to ask is what kind of league you want to have over the long term? Do you want to set up a long running franchise player league or a reset league that starts over ever year? For this it depends on who is in your league. I have a league I started with high school friends in 1999. We have added and subtracted a few people, but it has been the same core group the entire time, and the same 12 guys for the last six or seven years. A league like this is great to run as a franchise league because you know the guys and you can match up your skills over time. Like in real life, if you screw up the draft this year, it will affect your team for many seasons. When you are dealing with a group of close friends, this is the best way to show who is best.

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We have also started a league here at AA as some friendly competition between writers. This one I foresee as being more of a reset league every year because of turnover. Any league involving work acquaintances almost has to be a reset league because of the unknown continuity of league managers. If you have ever tried to get a new manager set up in a franchise league it’s frustrating and difficult. It’s also not fair to the new manager if he gets stuck with a bad team left from the previous manager. If you aren’t sure who will be in the league year to year, it’s best to plan for a reset league plan (where you redraft every team every year).

How many players?

The next question you need to ask is how many players your league is going to have in it? I have played in leagues from eight players up to 16, but in my experience, the magic number is 12 teams. Fewer than 12 teams, you just see too much talent on each team; it’s not tough enough. How hard is it to run a team when you can draft Cam Newton as a backup in the 13th round of a draft? I think it’s a lot more realistic when you are trying to find those diamonds in the rough and have to figure out how to win when Spencer Ware is your best running back.

However, you also don’t want to get many more than 12 teams, because then it becomes almost impossible to even field a team each week. The year I played with 16, I started third string running backs because that’s all that was left. In the end, it depends on how seriously you will take your league. If you want people to put a lot of time in, then I’d go with 12. If you want something fun to look at once a week, then 10 would fit better, because those rosters won’t require as much work.

Roster setup?

Now that you know what kind of league you and how many teams you want, it’s time to look at the roster setup. The average league has 10 starters and six bench spots. How you set up the starters is important, because you want equality out of the positions from top to bottom. You don’t want a league where all that matters is quarterback play or running back play.

Like real life, you want to have it where the best all-around team wins the league. For me, that means having a roster breakdown like this: one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, one flex position, one kicker and one team defense. I’ve found this provides the most equal setup where the quarterback and tight end aren’t deep positions, while running back and wide receivers have numbers to choose from but are less consistent. Kickers don’t matter. They are going to get what they get each week, and the defense is a week-to-week matchup position.

I find leagues with multiple quarterbacks put far too much emphasis on the position. The quarterbacks score the most points per player and having two of them means that position outweighs all other positions. It makes it too easy to win a league by drafting two great quarterbacks while having junk at other positions. The best league is one where the best teams are solid from top to bottom, not just winning because they have Aaron Rodgers.

We all play fantasy football to live out our dreams of being an NFL general manager, so why not make your league as close to that as possible?

The roster fun begins when you talk about the bench setup. I always like to have more bench players because that gives each team more options for players and adds to the complexity of the league. I like having 10 bench spots when I setup my league. For a 12 team league that means your league will be 240 players deep. With that many players off the board, you’d better be good at scouting and finding the diamonds in the rough.

We all play fantasy football to live out our dreams of being an NFL general manager, so why not make your league as close to that as possible? You won’t do that if deciding between Julio Jones and Odell Beckham is the toughest decision you make. I want to see the guy who juggles matchups to decide between wideouts like Albert Wilson and Marlon Brown.

The main question

The main thing is to decide how much time you expect the managers in your league to spend each week. If you want a serious league where guys will compare matchups and spend few hours each week on their team, then the league needs to be setup that way. Have deep rosters and at least 12 teams so you will need to do some real work if you want to win. If you are just having some fun and want a reason to watch those horrible Thursday night games, then it doesn’t need to be that serious. Guys are only going to spend hour each week or so, and you want small rosters so the decisions can be made without much work.

If you can start the league making process by addressing these three areas, than you have the foundation of the league you want. Remember, fantasy football meant to be fun for your group, so don’t worry what makes other groups happy, design it to make yours happy. From payments to trophies, to scoring and draft dates, make your fantasy league your own. We will get into these subjects and more in the coming weeks.