Beginner's Guide to Fantasy Football, Part 2: League Types

Our beginner's series continues by exploring different fantasy football league types

First thing's first: what kind of league are you in? Fantasy football is highly customizable, so it's possible to participate in any kind of league, really. There are a few standard flavors, though, and it is helpful to understand what they are and to which you belong first. Let's take a look at some of those league types.

Traditional Redraft League (Head-to-Head)

The original league format, a head-to-head redraft league involves weekly matchups between league owners building toward a fantasy postseason and an eventual championship match. The term “redraft” means that the league drafts entirely new teams every season. It encapsulates any league that drafts entirely new rosters. Traditional drafts are “serpentine” -- a draft order is generated or pre-determined, fantasy owners take players in the first round in that order, then reverse that order for the second round. They continue alternating the order until the draft ends.

Example Team 1
Pos
Example Team 2
Player Points Player Points
Lamar Jackson
21
QB
Tom Brady
19
Christian McCaffrey
23
RB
Austin Ekeler
14
Jordan Howard
9
RB
David Montgomery
5
T.Y. Hilton
11
WR
Julio Jones
15
Tyler Lockett
10
WR
Michael Gallup
7
Hunter Henry
8
TE
Rob Gronkowski
12
Will Lutz
12
PK
Jake Elliott
5
Baltimore Ravens
10
D/ST
Philadelphia Eagles
8
Total Points
104
Total
Total Points
85

Typically each fantasy team in a head-to-head league will play against most -- if not all -- other fantasy teams twice throughout the season. The end of the fantasy regular season typically falls on Week 13 through 15 in the NFL’s regular season, depending on the league’s settings. At that point, the teams with the best records will compete in the league’s playoffs, culminating in a championship game during Week 16 or 17 of the NFL’s regular season. Team 2 was crushed in the above example,

Traditional Redraft League (Total Points)

An alternative to head-to-head, a total points league involves accumulating the most points throughout the season. There are no matchups in the fantasy league, rather owners attempt to maximize their point totals on a weekly basis. This bears some similarity to rotisserie baseball leagues, where fantasy owners accumulate points based on certain statistical categories in lieu of head-to-head matchups. The following is an example of a season-long total points league with Team 10 winning it all by just 17 points.

Team
Wk01
Wk02
Wk03
Wk04
Wk05
Wk06
Wk07
Wk08
Team 10
82
103
87
104
113
108
94
143
Team 4
81
102
74
122
133
107
94
112
Team 1
112
78
113
98
94
127
85
111
Team 8
107
104
70
67
67
83
98
75
Team 5
61
94
78
83
92
72
112
103
Team 7
64
115
82
58
96
92
67
99
Team 12
71
102
78
88
79
100
102
99
Team 11
94
87
78
92
82
97
81
83
Team 6
90
98
81
95
81
81
87
74
Team 3
68
88
74
144
105
82
101
107
Team 2
125
117
102
76
79
73
97
91
Team 9
84
90
61
74
87
45
119
55
Team
Wk09
Wk10
Wk11
Wk12
Wk13
Wk14
Wk15
Wk16
Total
Team 10
108
114
80
100
119
89
136
103
1684
Team 4
98
95
99
103
107
132
108
102
1667
Team 1
76
137
82
90
89
136
130
98
1657
Team 8
133
122
128
97
115
100
88
110
1564
Team 5
84
116
64
97
88
110
108
102
1465
Team 7
88
44
99
106
138
127
95
91
1463
Team 12
80
94
77
111
105
84
77
128
1434
Team 11
86
71
138
75
68
103
92
80
1410
Team 6
82
56
119
106
93
67
118
68
1396
Team 3
98
62
87
77
97
58
90
56
1395
Team 2
77
93
59
80
82
72
64
92
1378
Team 9
74
83
107
99
77
110
95
91
1351

The popularity of total points leagues, in general, has waned over the years, with one notable exception...

Redraft League (Best Ball)

Bucking the total points league trend, best-ball leagues have exploded in popularity in recent years. These leagues largely operate like total points leagues to determine league standings -- teams accumulate points on a weekly or season-long basis to determine winners. Some best ball leagues operate by pitting teams head-to-head on a weekly basis.

The difference in best-ball leagues is that fantasy owners aren’t required to set lineups or otherwise manage their rosters. The league draft serves as the one and only way to put players on a fantasy team owner’s roster. Usually, this means that each roster is much deeper than traditional leagues -- instead of 12-15 players, fantasy owners will typically draft 20-25 players. These leagues require deep dives into NFL rosters given how many players are needed to fill out the league.

Best ball leagues require a deeper knowledge of NFL rosters because of the size of the fantasy rosters. Once you get into the 20th round and beyond, you are drafting NFL non-starters, perhaps players that are even fourth or fifth on their team's depth charts. Fantasy owners must account for bye weeks and injuries during the draft because there is no in-season management -- you cannot pick up your injured running back's replacement like you normally would, for example.

There are many flavors to best-ball leagues. Some do incorporate head-to-head mechanics, and there are many ways to customize them. By and large, though, best-ball leagues operate as total points leagues without the hassle of in-season management.

Auction Draft League

An alternative to the serpentine draft, auctions utilize a bidding-style draft to populate fantasy team rosters. A draft order is generated, but this only serves the purpose of nominating players for fantasy team owners to bid their money on.

Each fantasy team is allotted the same amount of money at the beginning of the draft, usually $100-$200. Unlike traditional snake drafts -- where teams draft in a pre-determined order in every round -- every player is available to every fantasy team provided that team has enough money to bid. This eliminates bad beats -- you no longer need lament being unable to pick the top running back in the league because you draft 11th. But you had better be prepared to pony up big bucks. Here is an example of the first several nominated players and their ultimate price in an auction draft:

Pos
Player
Team
Drafted By
Cost
PK
Justin Tucker
BAL
Team 1
$2
QB
Pat Mahomes
KC
Team 4
$39
TD
Las Vegas Raiders
LV
Team 7
$1
QB
Drew Brees
GB
Team 1
$20
RB
Josh Jacobs
LV
Team 10
$39
WR
Davante Adams
GB
Team 1
$51

You can find more in-depth information on auction drafting and strategies in our annual auction draft guide.

Keeper Leagues

We are starting to go beyond standard season-long leagues. Keeper leagues operate just like season-long formats -- whether they be head-to-head or total points -- and they involve a draft. But each team is allowed to keep a certain number of players on their roster. Usually, those keepers come with a cost in draft picks. Here is an example of a five-player keeper league with the players being kept in bold:

Example Team 1
Example Team 2
Pos
Starter
Team
Pos
Starter
Team
QB
Russell Wilson
SEA
QB
Drew Brees
NO
QB
Jimmy Garoppolo
SF
QB
Kirk Cousins
MIN
QB
Sam Darnold
NYJ
RB
Alvin Kamara
NO
QB
Ryan Tannehill
TEN
RB
Mark Ingram
BAL
RB
Kenyan Drake
ARI
RB
Matt Breida
MIA
RB
James White
NE
RB
Mike Davis
CHI
RB
Phillip Lindsay
DEN
RB
Nick Chubb
CLE
RB
Josh Jacobs
OAK
WR
Sammy Watkins
KC
WR
Tyreek Hill
kc
WR
Preston Williams
MIA
WR
DeAndre Hopkins
ARI
WR
Will Fuller
HOU
WR
Jamison Crowder
NYJ
WR
Darius Slayton
NYG
WR
DeVante Parker
MIA
WR
Julian Edelman
NE
WR
Tyler Lockett
SEA
WR
Tyler Boyd
CIN
WR
A.J. Brown
TEN
TE
Darren Waller
LV
TE
Travis Kelce
KC
TE
Hunter Henry
LAC
TE
Austin Hooper
CLE
PK
Will Lutz
NO
PK
Greg Zuerlein
LAR
TD
Los Angeles Rams
LAR
TD
New Orleans Saints
NO
TD
Kansas City Chiefs
KC

Dynasty Leagues

Dynasty leagues take the keeper concept and turn it into full-blown franchise mode. At its inception, a dynasty league will hold a large draft. Each fantasy franchise will get to keep most or all of the players it drafted henceforth, barring trades or dropping them of course. After the inaugural season and thereafter, the league holds annual rookie drafts to add that season's rookies to the mix. Usually, rookie draft orders are determined by the previous season's results -- the champion picks last, the last-place team picks first, and so on. Picks can usually be traded, and teams need to make room on their roster for incoming players.

Like NFL franchises, teams in dynasty leagues require year-round attention. Any bit of offseason news can have consequences for your roster, and it behooves fantasy owners to have a deep understanding of free agency and the NFL draft. They aren't for the faint of heart, but dynasty leagues can be incredibly fun and engaging.

Survivor Leagues

One quirky league type is the survivor league. Like the television show Survivor, each week sees the lowest-scoring team eliminated from contention. Typically this is a larger league because the NFL season is 17 weeks long. Generally, these leagues do not allow for a waiver wire or free agency, so it is truly a battle of attrition.

Guillotine League

Morbid names aside, the guillotine league is a relatively new variant on the survivor league model. Like its cousin, the guillotine league drops the lowest-scoring squad from contention each week. The big difference, though, is that the dropped team's players all get dumped into the waiver wire pool for the rest of the league to fight over.

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