Dynasty fantasy guide for the 2021 season
By: Trenton Roberts (Twitter: @TRobertsNFL)
Fantasy football has been a major part of the NFL fan base for years. In 1962, a then part-owner of the Oakland Raiders, Bill Winkenbach, and a group of his friends gathered to create the first documented fantasy football league: The Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League (or GOPPPL, for short). Then there was the idea of selecting players in a fantasy “draft” and using their weekly performances and statistics to compete against one another.
While many rules and ideas have changed since then, the general idea remains the same. A group of players will draft their own rosters and use the weekly statistics compiled by each player to compete against others for bragging rights or, in some cases, even money. It entices so many people to play through its combination of a player’s skill, such as knowing who’s in a good spot to give the team good numbers, and some luck, as can be seen by the rates of booms and busts in any given week.
Today, there are many different styles of fantasy football. Of course, there is still the basic redraft format, in which a team is drafted yearly and competes in either a standard or PPR (Points-Per-Reception) league (or any other weird scoring rules the league comes up with) and competing weekly for a chance to make the playoffs and win said league.
However, there are also many other types of leagues that might pique a player’s interest. For example, some players enjoy what is known as Best-Ball, in which a team drafts a full roster and only the top weekly scorers count, putting an emphasis on drafting more boom-bust players. Others enjoy IDP leagues, in which, instead of taking offensive players, the owners take defensive players and gain points through defensive statistics such as sacks, tackles, and interceptions. Another popular style is the Auction league, in which a team is drafted on a set budget rather than through a snake-style draft.
However, one of the biggest non-redraft league types today is Dynasty fantasy football. This type of league is more focused on the most devoted fantasy footballers, as rather than bringing in a new team every year, the player is tasked with drafting their initial roster in year one and keeping that team for the rest of the duration of the league, only drafting rookies in the following off-seasons rather than a new team. While a popular branch of fantasy football, Dynasty requires the attention of the owner almost year-round, rather than just during the season, meaning it takes a lot more dedication than any other type of league.
While it is a difficult style of the league to learn, focusing more on youth, long-term outlooks, and college scouting over yearly upside, it isn’t impossible to win. After playing dynasty fantasy football for five years now, I’ve found many tips and tricks that have helped me on my way to winning a total of 12 championship trophies in that time! By no means am I the best out there, but I am willing to share many of the secrets and tricks I have learned through the years on how to be a successful dynasty fantasy football owner! Let’s check them out!
Finding a League
The first and most important step of getting into dynasty fantasy football is figuring out where to start. What does that mean? Well, for starters, you need to find a group to play with. Sometimes, this part is already finished, as you and a group of your friends have decided to get a league going together. Other times, you won’t have anybody you know, but still want to play. When that happens, I suggest finding a forum somewhere to look for potential matches. You can find these groups anywhere, but one of the best places to look is through Facebook groups related to fantasy football. Another popular source to find a league is Twitter, though it might take more digging.
Once you’ve found your league and have your league-mates ready, the next step is figuring out how/where you will be playing. By this, I mean where you will be hosting your league. One of the most popular places for hosting dynasty leagues currently is Sleeper.com, and I would suggest that being a good place to start as they cover these leagues in more depth and allow a chatroom among league-mates that can be easily accessed. If you aren’t a fan, however, there are many other places online where you can find the tools necessary to begin your league. Once you have all of this figured out, you can move on to how you want to run everything.
Once you have a group together and are ready to begin your league, it’s important to discuss the league’s make-up. Start by figuring out a draft time, as you need to know when the league will be available to make a selection. You should also figure out selection time limits, such as if you want a quick draft (under 5 minutes per pick) or a long draft (over an hour to pick). For new players, I suggest a longer draft, as it allows more freedom and more time overall to research what you should do. However, it is important to not get frustrated at the amount of time between picks, as it can take days or even weeks to finish everything, depending on the sizes of the bench.
Speaking of the bench, one of the bigger differences between a dynasty league and a redraft league, aside from keeping a team for more than one season, is the size of the bench. In many leagues, benches consist of anywhere from 10-20 players, meaning the overall draft could be as much as 30 rounds long in the first year. This means that a player should put more research into “sleepers” who can potentially have major breakout seasons, as these could mean the difference between missing and making the playoffs in a given season.
Aside from that, it’s also important to nail down the leagues scoring settings and starting slots. Will you have a PPR or Standard league? Will you award four or six points per passing touchdown? How about bonus points for receptions by a tight end? How many flex spots will be available in the starting lineup? Will there be a super-flex* slot?
(*=Super-flex is similar to a normal flex spot, except it can also hold a second quarterback in the starting lineup)
After you’ve figured all of the league’s settings out, it’s time to move ahead to the draft, where I will begin giving some tips and pointers for success!
The initial draft of your dynasty league is the most important time of them all. Why? Because if you mess up here, you’ll be feeling the effects of that spoof years later. Unlike in a redraft setting, you can’t just start from scratch and try again next season. You must find a way to overcome the mistake and improve your roster later, and that can take time and effort and, in a league with money involved, could cause you to lose out on some cash.
However, there is no perfect way to draft in order to avoid this. Every drafting system has its flaws, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore these systems altogether. What are the systems, though? Occasionally, you might hear mention of a draft strategy known as “Zero Running Back”, or “Zero-RB” for short. This strategy, which is also used in redraft leagues, focuses on the selection of receivers, quarterbacks, and tight ends early in the draft, while avoiding taking a running back until at least the fifth or sixth rounds. This strategy, along with others such as its polar opposite in Heavy-RB, Zero-WR, and just the basic BPA (Best Player Available) strategy, are all decent ways to fill out a team.
Which strategy should you choose? Well, there is no wrong answer here. Each of these styles of drafting works well to an extent, so it’s entirely up to your personal preference to figure out what you want to do. If I were to choose one strategy for beginners, which is the one I use, I would go with the Heavy-RB strategy, where you draft 3-4 running backs early, as the position is largely top-heavy compared to the receiver position. That means that getting a couple young star running backs could set you up for years at a position where the numbers drop off significantly after the top handful of players.
However, while these strategies are good to get you through your first few rounds and fill out your starting lineup, it isn’t until the later rounds that the champions are “crowned”. You might not find out right away, but a player you might draft in the 15th round could be the one who blows up in the final few weeks of the regular season and propels you through your playoffs. That is why you will hear everywhere that, after the initial ten rounds of the draft, it’s important to start drafting for upside rather than safety. It may seem nice to have a player you trust to get you a definite number of points per week on the bench, but that player will be unlikely to ever see the starting rotation regardless, considering that you might find a better option on the waivers in a given week or draft a player that breaks out in the late rounds. That is why it is important to push for the upside plays, as that is what takes good teams to the next level.
Another fun part of the draft comes in the form of trading. Now, there might be a few redraft leagues out there where draft picks can be traded, but the majority of these instances come in dynasty leagues. As a beginner, I would suggest avoiding trading during the draft for your first time, as the difference between dynasty leagues and other leagues is significant, so being able to keep your draft similar to how you would in an everyday redraft league where you take players at each of your slots helps to simplify the draft in general and leave you room to focus on your first season.
Overall, to give some suggestions for the draft, the best advice I can offer is to ask for help from experienced players. The vast majority of the dynasty community are very helpful and are always willing to teach a new player the ropes. Don’t hesitate to reach out to any of them to ask for advice on who to draft and what to do, as the advice of an experienced player goes a long way when it comes to early success.
Decide upon a Strategy
Picking a strategy for your team early on is instrumental to figuring out where you want your team to go. For example, not every team can be a contender from the get-go. If you can decide early in your season that you won’t be contending, it might be in your best interest to blow it up early. Keep in mind, teams are kept together year after year, so keeping in the middle of the pack isn’t where you want to be.
If you can’t trade for a few top talents that you think can push you to the top, then your best bet might just be to start from scratch. What I mean by that is to trade away some of your top assets in order to acquire new assets that are improving in value, such as rookie picks. Say you’re in week five of your first season and already know you will be missing the playoffs. You might want to trade for some rookie draft picks while they are relatively cheap early in the season, as the values of these picks skyrocket come the off-season, when everyone is looking at the NFL draft and hoping for great players.
Now whether you use those picks to take rookies of your own to improve your roster or package them together to make deals for top tier talents is up to you. It’s just important at this stage that you aren’t stuck. With picks and assets available, you have a path to a successful future, rather than being stuck in “purgatory” for the next few seasons until you have enough time to reset your roster and try to push again. Being on the bottom of the league isn’t as bad of a place to be as it seems.
However, if you are like me and want to be a yearly competitor, rather than trading your older assets for young improving ones, you might look to acquire cheaper veterans that can help you contend instantly. For example, a 29-year-old Robert Woods is currently being drafted as the WR32 in dynasty leagues on Sleeper.com, despite finishing in the top-15 in PPR leagues in each of the past three seasons and the team improving at the quarterback position this off-season. While Woods might not be the best long-term investment, he’s certainly a player capable of helping your team win a championship for the next couple of years.
The biggest thing you should take from this section, however, is to just find a direction and stick with it. Each season, you should be in one of two categories: Contending or rebuilding. If you can’t definitively say that you are in one of these two categories, it might be time to start from scratch!
How to Handle Rookies
I’m dedicating an entire section to rookies in dynasty fantasy football, as they are a crucial part of your yearly success. Drafting a good rookie who blows up could take your team to the next level, giving you stability for the long term at a position of need. Youth in general has a major emphasis placed on it in dynasty fantasy football, but there are things you must be aware of.
First and foremost, you should not overvalue rookies and rookie picks. In general, in a 12-man league, only around half of your top-12 rookie picks will end up panning out as you expect them to. That means that half of the time, you’re likely to have a pick bust and end up regretting the selection. Now, with time, it is possible to improve on this number, but early on, the best suggestion I can give is to try to compete with veterans and non-rookie talents as you learn how the league works. Another helpful suggestion, which is more time consuming, is to get into watching college film on players and get into the NFL draft more, as learning more about the players here helps to better project players in the long term.
While I’m not saying to stay away from rookies entirely, you need to understand that many dynasty players have an extremely high emphasis on them, and you can get great value at times for players who might not pan out. Will you regret some trades? Certainly. But everyone in the dynasty community has made a bad trade they can tell you about, so don’t let that scare you off from doing more in the future.
Thoughts from Twitter:
This week, I asked the dynasty twitter community for some of their best tips for dynasty beginners, and here’s what they came up with (Paraphrasing some)!
“Find someone you trust (Podcaster/Content Creator) who can help analyze upcoming rookie classes.” (@DynastyMad)
“Don’t assume rookie picks will be early or late. Anything can happen.” (@W3stron)
“Homework never stops between trade values and prospects.” (@holykodiak)
“Consider your team’s needs not just for now, but for the future.” (@AmIJasonAscher)
“Never buy a player after a “hype piece” of news drops.” (@BaskinFF)
“Establishing good trade relationships is more important than “winning” every trade.” (@trashsandwiches)
“Buy-low on injured talents right after the injury for a discount.” (@dynoNFL)
“Learn the trade market for players and draft picks.” (@Toddzilla1337)
“Draft for the best value at a slot. Don’t reach.” (@LobosFFDen)
“After the fifth round, draft all for upside.” (@ElvinRyan_FF)
“Hold onto players you believe in.” (@OnlyFantasyFB)
“Get to know your league-mates. Leagues that communicate last longer.” (@ff_johnj)
“Keep up to date with interactions (trades, draft) so you can find trends.” (@Markradwan)
“Understand your leagues settings and how it affects player rankings.” (@vandygrad92)
“You are going to make mistakes in the beginning and that’s ok.” (@TheHQNerd)
“Always keep TNF players out of the Flex!!” (@JasonWVanBuren)
“Don’t hesitate to ask for help.” (@barret_zackery)
Dynasty fantasy football is one of the most entertaining forms of fantasy football out there. From keeping track of the league year-round to drafting rookies and making moves, to rebuilding a roster from scratch, nothing quite meets the level of intensity and fun of a good dynasty league. I really hope these suggestions above can help you move forward, and that you can enjoy a successful dynasty career ahead of you!