2020 NFL Draft Guide: Dynasty Leagues, Rules & Draft Strategy
Andrew Cooper gives you the rundown on setting up a fantasy football dynasty league and also throws in the pros and cons of playing in such a league.
Dynasty fantasy football is the most challenging and rewarding version of this game. If you’ve ever owned a guy in redraft because you KNEW he was talented, only to have him break out a year later, this is your format. No more saying “I had him last year”. You can have that player every year and forever. And no one can take that away.
(How I respond to trade offers for Chris Godwin)
The thing is dynasty leagues can also be an absolute nightmare if set up improperly. This isn’t some redraft league where you get a fresh start every year and can change the rules on the fly. Whatever you set for positions, scoring etc. -teams are going to drafting with 3 years down the road in mind. So, you can’t just say “hey we are switching from a standard league to a PPR Superflex next year so make sure you get some QBs”. That doesn’t fly in this. So, what we’ve decided to do is put together the best possible advice we can give you for starting a dynasty league. So here we go.
This needs to be at the very top. If you are the commissioner, put questionable things to a vote upfront. When someone complains later, there is no better answer than “YOU guys wanted this”. Obviously don’t put anything on the ballot that you don’t want for your league since you are putting in the work to start it but you also don’t want to be a dictator that decides everything and makes people feel like they are playing in a hostile environment. Allowing people to have a say on certain issues will make them much more engaged and much more understanding when there are disagreements. And there will be.
You may not realize it, especially if you’ve never done one before, but this is far and away the most important part of setting up your dynasty league. Your league members. Dynasty takes another level of effort and engagement compared to seasonal redraft leagues. When you decided to start this league you probably dreamed of being a GM extraordinaire, going all in or blowing it up or trading for the entire rookie draft, but you cannot do that without ACTIVE league members. In your seasonal redraft leagues, maybe you want to just invite guys who are funny in the group chat, suckers who will be free money, or simply whoever will play. In dynasty, it’s CRUCIAL to have players who are engaged because churning rosters requires attentive trading partners and there is nothing worse than someone who simply doesn’t care. I would much rather have someone who is a really good, sharp player that is constantly working on their team and negotiating deals than someone who has no clue what is going on which makes them scared to make any move at all. So really take your time and find a group of people who will take it seriously and play all year round because there is nothing more boring than a dyno league that doesn’t trade. It defeats the purpose.
This goes hand in hand with the item above. Unless I’m starting a league with all people I truly know and trust, I try to do two these two things with dues to start.
- Keep Them Reasonable – Honestly, fantasy sports are for entertainment so the money shouldn’t matter but getting a little pay day on top of the pride is always fun. For dynasty I recommend keeping them reasonable though because you run into an issue with teams who need to rebuild – if someone’s start up goes horribly wrong and all of a sudden they are two to three years out from competing, they may do the math and decide paying $250 per year for a chance to win three years from now isn’t worth it. On the flip side, it’s also difficult to raise them later since at that point you will have good teams and bad teams. So, shoot for an amount that creates a nice price but doesn’t give people anxiety about this multi-year investment.
- Collect Two Years Upfront – One thing I’ve done to combat this potential flight issue is collect two years’ worth of dues in the first year. Say its $50 – you collect $100 with the second $50 being in “escrow” for the following year. Then each year you collect $50 and the escrow is pushed out one year. That makes it much harder for someone to say, “screw this league I’m out” and leave you with an orphan team a week before the draft. That’s another way you end up with bad league mates because you have to scramble to replace them. The rule is this: if you want out of the league, you need to either find someone to pay YOU the second $50 to take over or you need to let us know a year in advance and play out that second year while we find someone for the orphan. If everyone is cool after a couple years you can just skip a year of dues and let them run current which everyone also seems to appreciate, when that time comes.
There are two ways to tank – a right way and a wrong way.
Right Way – Trade all of your aging, good players for picks or young upside players so that you can naturally lose and get a better draft slot.
Wrong Way – Purposefully bench all your good players to both come in last and keep your good players.
When you bench your good players, you are not only screwing up your team, but you are letting someone else win which messes with entire standings in the league. It’s not a cool thing to do even if there is “no rule against it”. In my experience there are really only a few ways to combat this. The ideal way goes back to the first piece of advice, as most of these topics do, – only invite people you trust. The second is to have the commissioner put guys into lineups manually if he thinks there are shenanigans involved but that gets subjective. Another I’ve seen is to do two separate sets of standings: the normal ones that count towards playoffs and a separate list of standings based on what your lineups would have looked like if the optimal lineup was started each week (though this penalizes people for having boom/bust players on their bench so be wary). That all said, if you just have good, honest people in your league who will start their best players, you don’t need to worry about this.
(As Big Daddy Kane once said, “ain’t no half tanking”)
Startup – The startup draft is incredibly important, so you want to make sure to handle this properly. The great thing about dynasty is that you don’t need to schedule everything around August or pre-season games so it’s a great way to fill up some offseason time. I’d recommend doing a slow draft (or email draft as it was once called) where you have a clock from 4 to 8 hours and the draft takes place over a couple weeks. Just imagine the trash talk of a three-hour draft spread out over a week or two. Glorious.
There are two key things to decide, especially if you draft before the actual NFL draft. One is whether to do snake or auction and both are viable in dynasty. Snake makes for more even teams and allows for less variance that lets one team dominate out the games while auction truly allows you to pick the guys YOU want. Obviously for the subsequent rookie drafts you should revert back to snake though. The next choice is whether you have rookie players or rookie picks included in the startup.
Rookie players included in startup– This has the actual players in there. I honestly only recommend this for AFTER the NFL draft because it can tilt the scales pretty quickly if you get a guy like Clyde Edwards-Helaire late and the Chiefs take him in the first round but some people think that aspect if more fun since you can be a bit of a scout yourself. If you do go that way, you should at least wait until after guys declare or you are basically doing a “Devy” league which is a different beast entirely.
Rookie picks included in startup, separate rookie draft- In this format you include the draft slot, not the player. This is how I recommend you do it if drafting before the NFL draft actually happens. So, if you have your heart set on Jonathan Taylor, you would select the 1.01 pick in the rookie draft. Then, after the NFL draft, you do a separate rookie draft. Two drafts, what’s more fun than that?
Supplemental Draft – it’s fairly rare that this comes up but from time to time it does and there is a relevant player. If the player is high caliber, like Josh Gordon in 2013, it may not be fair to have them go through waivers with regular bids or FAAB, so we recommend instituting your own supplemental draft rule. Basically, if a player declares for the supplemental draft that is a big time fantasy asset (say, Chubba Hubbard before this year’s draft was canceled) then you have every team submit a blind bid of which round pick for next year they would give up for him. The highest pick based on last year’s standings gets him. So let’s say the worst team submits a second (2.01), the second to worst team submits a third (3.03) and the best team in the league submits their first (1.12), the player would go to the team who submitted 1.12 and they would lose their first round pick next year, wherever that falls.
Draft Lottery – Rewarding the bad teams with draft picks is incredibly important in this format so I cannot stress enough how stupid it is for teams to do randomized draft orders for dynasty leagues. If a team wins then randomly gets the first pick, that’s how you have people quit. The only form of lottery I would consider is one similar to the NBA or NHL that does a ping pong ball lottery for the first three picks which prevents teams from blowing it up too hard to guarantee the top overall pick.
Trades and Waivers
Trades - As with many of the rules, this once again goes back to what I said was the most important thing – your league mates. If your league mates are good, you shouldn’t have an issue. People will be playing in a way that works in their best interest. If you have done this correctly then you shouldn’t need to worry about collusion or bad trades or what have you.
That said, my personal policy is to only veto trades if there is some kind of collusion involved. Someone trades guys before he’s leaving the league, shady trades that have trade-backs or “players to be named later” etc. That’s against the rules. A player making a bad trade is not against the rules. Who are we to tell them their opinion is wrong? If someone traded David Johnson for Kenyan Drake and Tyler Boyd in 2018, they would have been taken behind the fantasy sports shed and beaten with the dull side of hatchet. If they were actually allowed to do that trade though, they would be sitting pretty right now wouldn’t they? Issues that call for trades to have to be vetoed via vote almost always stem back to having bad owners in your league so take your time selecting your league mates and you won’t need to veto any trades.
There are a couple other minor rules I do implement. One is stolen from the NBA where you cannot trade back to back 1st round picks. In that league you can trade your 2020 1st, the option to swap first in 2021, and your 2022 1st but you cannot trade your 2020, 2021, and 2022 1sts all in one trade. You also cannot trade picks more than 3 years out. If a dude trades you his 2025 through 2030 1st round picks for your best couple players, he’s pretty much telling you he’s going to bail on the league in a couple years. Again, with good owners it’s easy to keep things from getting silly but I’ve said that enough.
The format is entirely up to you and there are obviously a ton of options, but these are my recommendations. One thing I will universally recommend is having ample IR spots – 2 to 4 at least, especially with the current coronavirus pandemic. This game is about long-term assets so you should never have to drop a guy who tore his ACL just to field a lineup. I also universally recommend half point PPR or PPR over standard as standard leagues are old hat.
Small League (8-10 players) – for this you can do either half point or full point. Given the high level of talent available, I would recommend making it either two QB or Superflex meaning you can start QBs at a flex spot. If possible, I would also do tight end premium so that high end tight ends have similar value to WR/RB. That way there aren’t a bunch of good tight ends on waivers at all times which often happens in small/shallow leagues. I’d have as many starting spots in the form of flexes as your league mates will allow since everyone should have pretty loaded rosters – say, QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, WR, TE, Superflex, Flex, Flex, Flex. That keeps things interesting and helps separate the top teams from the bottom. Waivers should be plentiful regardless so it’s okay to have deeper benches.
Medium Leagues (12-14 players) – this is the sweet spot so you can be much more flexible. At 14 man it can be difficult for teams to field viable starters so I would recommend PPR which opens up the player pool. I prefer deep benches but, if you have beginners in your league, you might not want to make them too deep because that can create a large skill gap from players in the know from players who don’t know. Players with a limited knowledge base benefit greatly from being able to find viable fill-ins on waivers.
Large Leagues (16+) – In this format I would recommend doing a PPR best ball league with taxi squads. It can be so hard to field a roster and make start/sit decisions once you are talking about an NFL teams WR4 or 5 that this format just allows people to focus on what’s important which is rostering the best long term assets.
- Best Ball – You field a roster of players. The site you play on automatically takes the best players from your team each week and slots them into the starting spots, so you don’t need to set your lineup each week. This allows teams to focus on collecting the best possible overall group of players which makes things easier for large leagues.
- Taxi Squad- When “taxi squads” are in play, you have X number of players and Y number of those players are designated to your taxi squad and are not part of the pool that you can use in your lineup so they are essentially inactive. So, say you have a 20 man active roster with four man taxi squads. You can own 24 total players, but four of them will not be eligible for your lineup unless you promote or demote them. This allows teams to stash players (like handcuffs for instance) even though they may be putting up zeros.
(When Antonio Brown drives the taxi)
This is subjective in general but here is my recommendation. In the startup draft NEVER draft to lose. You have no idea what’s going to happen this season – unless you purposely draft a team that is guaranteed to lose. You may dream of drafting only rookies and prospects and having them all pan out so that you have a young amazing team forever, but it rarely works like that. What usually happens is you hit on a couple (which you then don’t want to trade) but miss completely on the others (which are now worth nothing) and you have no way to churn your roster. You are better off with some young and old players where you can sell the young players to go all in and try to win or sell the old players to lose and tank for next year.
Early Draft – This should be common sense but draft the best, youngest players possible in the early round. If I have the first couple picks, I am taking the long term, workhorse RBs like CMC, Saquon, Zeke. All have shown they can carry the load and CMC and Zeke at least have had their team commit to them long term. After that, wide receivers have a longer shelf life in dynasty so young, stud wide receivers can’t steer you wrong. In Superflex or tight end premium you can obviously consider Mahomes, Mark Andrews , Lamar Jackson (though running QBs can also have shorter shelf life) but in leagues where you only start one or there are no bonuses you are better off waiting at those spots and loading up on WR/RB. Even though RBs have a short shelf life, they are the currency of fantasy football and both A. fetch the best return in trades and B. win championships.
Mid-Round – You can skew younger with upside (Sutton, Chark etc.) or older but steady (Thielen, Keenan Allen etc.) but pick players that will help you win. No need to take complete lottery tickets here. If you do select a rookie or a draft pick, pick a Jonathan Taylor or Clyde Edwards-Helaire who should help you right from the jump or at least have immediate trade value. Rookies are already risky enough.
Late-Round – this is where you take your flyers, but it will also depend on format. If you are in a format that starts a ton of players every week, you may need guys like Golden Tate or Jordan Howard who are boring but aren’t going to give you a zero. Otherwise, focus on filling your bench with high upside guys. In dynasty the competing teams are naturally more top heavy. A you don’t want YOUR WR3 to be A WR3 (as in, WR25-36) as most of the competing teams will be stacked with all WR1s and WR2s. You need super high-end guys to compete, so you want to take shots on players with big upside, even if they have huge downside. Those roster spots are honestly super important so I prefer to have a guy who is either going to break out or completely bust than a guy like Josh Reynolds that you’ve had to hold on the bench for three straight years just to finally get a chance to find out if he’s going to be any good or not. You could have hit the lottery on someone else with that roster spot during that whole time like a Mark Andrews or a Darren Waller who were readily available on waivers.