Understanding Your Fantasy Football League

Aug 22, 2023
Understanding Your Fantasy Football League

One of the most important things to do when you're a beginner preparing for the upcoming fantasy season is to get to know your league's nuances. Leagues can vary in many ways. Scoring rules, roster settings, draft type, player acquisition method, and trading restrictions are all factors that can strongly affect your strategy, both going into a fantasy draft and during the season.

I’m going to break down some of the different options you may encounter as you peruse your league settings. This should be beneficial whether you’re running your own league, joining an existing league, or deciding which league is right for you.

What is the Role of the Commissioner?

The commissioner of the league is the person who sets up the league, establishes the rules, and in many cases, acts as an arbitrator for conflicts between managers. A good commissioner listens to the concerns and suggestions of each member of the league and tries to ensure the league remains fun and fair. The commissioner is usually responsible for determining scoring settings, roster makeup, draft order, trade rules, player acquisition, and all the other rules that I'll go on to discuss. It's important for your league to have a good leader to help facilitate a fair and fun fantasy season.

League Size

A typical league is 10 or 12 teams in size and drafts in a snake-like manner, but leagues can be larger or smaller, ranging anywhere from four to 18 teams. I've even seen 32-team leagues and leagues where players may be rostered on up to four different teams.

While there isn’t a right or wrong league size, most agree that 10 or 12 people is just about right. If there are too few people in the league, everyone has a team full of superstars, which removes some of the skill aspects of fantasy. If there are too many people, the talent pool will be spread too thin, making the league extremely challenging and, perhaps to a novice, less enjoyable. For instance, an 18-team league won’t allow every manager to have a real-life NFL starter at the backup QB, TE, K, and DST positions since there are only 32 teams in the NFL.

What is a Snake Draft?

A snake (or serpentine) draft is the standard draft methodology for most fantasy leagues. The draft order flips after each round, such that the manager with the last pick in one round also gets the first pick in the next round. So, for example, in a 12-team league, the first round goes from Team No. 1-Team No. 12, and then the second round goes from Team No. 12-Team No. 1, and so forth.

This allows no team to have an unfair advantage based solely on their draft slot. If you have the first pick, then you get to take your favorite player, but you won’t have the opportunity to pick again until all the way at the end of the second round. If you have the last pick, then you may not get your favorite player first, but you’ll have the first pick in the second round, which should allow you to get two very good players before everyone else.

Each slot has its positives and negatives depending on the players available in a given season, and pick preference will vary from manager to manager and from year to year.

How is Draft Order Determined?

Leagues determine the draft order in different ways. Often, the draft order is randomized. You can even draw names out of a literal hat to determine the draft order. However, in most leagues hosted online, the draft order is set to randomize at a pre-selected time before the draft. Some leagues set the draft order based on standings from the previous season, and some leagues reward the winner by letting last season's victor select their own draft slot.

If you're starting a league for the first time, using a randomly generated order might be the best way to go, but as long as your league has a fair method for assigning the draft order, there's no right or wrong way to do it.

What is an Auction Draft?

The other common draft setting you may run into is an auction draft, where each fantasy manager is allotted a salary cap to bid on available players. Typically, a manager suggests a player and the bidding process starts. The highest bidder wins, but managers must be careful not to spend too much of their available cap on one player. The pre-set salary cap is all you get to fill out your entire roster. There's a ton of strategy involved in auction leagues and it differs from typical snake draft leagues.

Roster Size

Most fantasy drafts run from 16-20 rounds, but there are leagues with smaller and larger rosters. The general method is that a starting lineup consists of 1 QB, 2 RBs, 2-3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 DST, and 1 Flex spot, which can be a RB, WR, or TE. The remaining roster spots are used for backups, allowing you to take advantage of matchups, compensate for injuries, or fill in spots during a player’s bye week.

The aforementioned roster is the standard way lineups and rosters are set, but there are many variations you may encounter. For example, your league may use kick and punt returner slots, or individual defensive players. With the variety of league settings available across various league types, it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the settings of your league before draft day so you can properly prepare your strategy. For example, in a 2-QB league, you may value the QB position higher when drafting than you would in a 1-QB league.

If you’re starting your own league, you can modify the above standard starters to reflect the size of your league. For example, if you have a league with 16 teams or more, consider making it a 1-RB, 1-WR, 2-Flex position league, since there is a greater abundance of real-life NFL starters available at these positions. Or if you have a league with only eight or fewer teams, you could consider increasing the number of starters and/or decreasing the number of bench slots on rosters to force each team to make harder decisions regarding roster construction.

Scoring System

The vast majority of scoring systems vary only slightly. While there are some unique leagues out there that only give points for touchdowns or heavily favor yardage, the point system below is a pretty standard system for most fantasy football leagues:

A Typical Fantasy Football Scoring System
Category Points
Passing Yards 1 pt / 25 yds
Rushing Yards 1 pt / 10 yds
Receiving Yards 1 pt / 10 yds
Receptions 1 PPR / 0 Standard
Passing TDs 4
Interceptions -2
Rush/Rec TDs 6
Field Goals 3
Extra Points 1
Two-Point Conversions 2
Defensive TDs 6
Sacks 1
Safeties 2
Interceptions 2
Fumble Recoveries 2

PPR leagues have increasingly become the norm. In these leagues, a point is awarded for every reception. This is the most common variation in scoring you’ll find from league to league, which is why 4for4 does rankings every week for both league types. We also default to 0.5 or half-PPR scoring for the majority of our content, due to the increased popularity of that format. Be sure to know which rankings you’re looking at for your specific league. 4for4 subscribers have access to fully customizable rankings that allow for any conceivable scoring configuration.

Other variations include some fun twists like TE-premium (1.5 or 2.0 points per reception for tight ends), and Return Yardage Leagues that reward the game's top returners.

Pre-Draft Preparation

Generally, a composite listing of players is available to you on most websites that host fantasy leagues. This means that whichever site you use (ESPN, Yahoo, CBS, etc.) for your fantasy league, the draft room will already have the site’s rankings uploaded into the list of available players. Often, the rankings are listed according to average draft position (ADP), which sorts players based on the draft position of each player across all the drafts hosted on that site.

Websites list ADP for your convenience. This way, instead of bringing your own cheat sheet to your draft, or having multiple screens open at once, you have a ready-made list sitting in front of you during the draft. However, you are never limited to the list that is pre-loaded in your draft room! Many novices may make the mistake of drafting directly from this list.

Prior to the draft, you can customize the rankings and re-order them to your pleasure. This is helpful for remembering to target a player that you specifically like who may not be ranked as highly on that site, or for moving players down your draft board who you have no interest in. It can also be very helpful if you are unable to attend your draft. Instead of letting the website host and ADP choose your auto-pick rankings, you can customize the list ahead of time to reflect 4for4’s rankings and give you a leg up on the competition.

I like to have a 4for4 cheatsheet in front of me, and leave the site's ADP rankings alone. This way, I can compare my cheat sheet to the site ADP and better predict when I must draft a player I love, and when I can hold out for better value. Of course, you can also use the cheat sheet to edit the on-site rankings on the site to match the cheat sheet as well.

Identify Fan Bias

I like to peruse the team names of my opponents when I’m evaluating the settings and rules of the league I’m in because you can learn a lot from team names. Inevitably, there will be at least one manager who outwardly displays their bias toward a particular team or player.

For example, in an auction league several years ago, there was a manager named Super Duper Boyz and a manager named Agholorious Bradfords. Sure enough, these two teams bid high dollar amounts on Dez Bryant and Nelson Agholor, respectively, and I knew I could throw a couple of extra bids in on any Eagles or Cowboys players to force them to overpay.

Similarly, in a snake draft, I once had three opposing managers with Steelers-related team names, which enabled me to correctly predict all Steelers would be drafted well above their ADP. College can be an indicator as well. I'm from Oregon, and my longest-running home league will always feature early drafters of players who played for the University of Oregon, and to a lesser extent, the Pac-12. So if you see a team name like "Roll Tide," you may want to look up which fantasy stars played at Alabama.

After the Draft

Once you’ve finished your draft, you may think you can now sit back and ignore your team. That’s another common mistake novices make in every league. The best fantasy players are the ones who carefully look over the waiver wire rules and the trade deadline. You can even drop a player and add another one before Week 1—never be tied to the team you draft. Injuries, bye weeks, and poor performance necessitate that you manage your team on a weekly basis, with things such as...


Most leagues have trade deadlines and have rules regarding trading players. Usually, there is a set week during the season where trades are no longer allowed, i.e., the trade deadline, which is important to keep in the back of your mind for league preparation.

Additionally, most leagues have a period of time from when a trade is proposed to when the trade is ratified, giving other managers an opportunity to reject or approve the trade. Most often, the trade goes through after 48 hours or so, assuming more than half the opposing managers don’t vote to reject the trade. Your league may have managers who take a passive approach to trades, allowing any trade to go through. But sometimes, managers aggressively attempt to block proposed deals from going through and are quick to veto what they deem as a lopsided swap, which can be frustrating for managers genuinely trying to better their team.

Either way, knowing the rules of trading in your league can help you stay ahead during the season. 4for4 even has a weekly Trader's Alley article to help identify buy-low and sell-high targets throughout the season.

Working the Waiver Wire

While trades are an important part of fantasy football, the primary method for player acquisition is the waiver wire.

Waivers work in different ways depending on the league, but generally, waivers start at a given time during the week (such as Wednesday at noon), with managers having until that point to submit a claim for available players on the waiver wire. If multiple managers put in a claim for the same player, whichever manager has waiver priority gets that player. Waiver priority is usually assigned like NFL draft picks, the player in last place has the first waiver priority. After the waiver period is over, players on the waiver wire are all unrestricted free agents and can be added by any manager on a first-come-first-served basis.

Waiver rules vary greatly from league to league. In some leagues, waiver priority is assigned and re-ordered each week based on performance. In other leagues, waiver priority is carried over from one week to the next until the manager uses it. Some leagues include provisions where if a player is dropped, even past the waiver date, then that player cannot be acquired for a full 24 or 48 hours.

Some leagues even have a free agent acquisition budget (FAAB) that makes the waiver wire a bidding process with a set amount of money allocated per team for the entire year. After that budget is used up, players can only be added after the waiver period is over in these types of leagues.

It’s important to know the waiver rules of your league so you can plan accordingly. 4for4 provides subscribers with assistance for all the different variations of waiver formats and has an excellent weekly guide called the Waiver Wire Watch during the season which identifies players to target.

The Bottom Line

Understanding your league is a very important step in all fantasy sports. Knowing the rules, the scoring system, and how you navigate the various nuances of your specific league can be the difference between a successful fantasy season, and one that ends in frustrating disappointment.

Note: If you ever have any questions about your specific league settings, you can always ask our fantasy scouts as part of our Discord community.

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