Fantasy formats you should try

August 24, 2018 - 10:24 am
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Thursday night was an occasion for me to reflect on how my interest in fantasy football has skyrocketed in two years.

In the summer of 2016 I mentioned fairly frequently getting hooked on some of the draft software, mainly the Draft Dominator app by Football Guys. I was in two leagues, maybe three, but as that season came closer I wanted more opportunities to use this app. I was asked to fill in at one draft, which I did. After work one night I went to a medical office in Amherst. I didn't know one person there. 

Thursday night I went back to the same room, drafting for myself in that same league. Instead of doing two teams as I did two years ago, this year I'm doing about 20.

I think I can handle the "workload" but I won't know until the season gets going. Last year I did 11 leagues and did not feel at all overwhelmed. In each case a few of these leagues are best-ball, leagues that require no work. You draft a deeper roster than usual, and your starting lineups each week is automatically your top scorers. There are no trades or free-agent moves.

As I talk and write more about fantasy, naturally I get more feedback and questions than before. My most common answer to these questions comes in two parts: a) make sure you can handle the commitment you're signing up for, and b) make sure you want to be handling that commitment. It might seem like nothing to give up on your team or season, or get bored with it and quit, but it compromises the good competition within your league to do that, and it can damage friendships. If you see yourself getting bored with it by mid-season, probably the group you're in would you rather you stay out so they can find someone else.

Best-ball formats are great for dabbling in fantasy football without making a time commitment beyond the draft. Probably a best-ball format is something you'll find online; that league you play your friends counts on interaction between players, as that's part of the fun.

I've drafted this year so far in 15 leagues, and I don't know that any two of their formats are alike. If you're starting a league or looking to join one, here are a few of my observations on which rules and formats are better than others:

** Start at least six "skill position" players, ideally more. Two running backs, two receivers, a tight end and a "flex" starter (RB/WR/TE) is the absolute minimum. Why not add a third receiver, and a second flex? The more starters you have, the more skill and effort will be rewarded -- and I want that from my leagues. I don't want a league so small that a super-casual player can win simply by having a good and lucky draft. Let's draft 18 players, and start at least 10.

** Keep your kickers and defense. More and more leagues seem to be dropping kickers. I like having kickers. They're an extra layer of strategy, be that a relatively unpredictable one. If you're a good player you'll be on top of the waiver wire, and maybe streaming kickers and defense (new ones almost every week). Fine, let's reward that level of effort. In my draft last night we weren't required to have a finished starting lineup at the end of the draft, which means we didn't have to draft kickers and defenses. In both cases I chose not to pick them. I'll grab one of each on waivers before the season starts, and I'll use these two weeks to give myself two more options at running back and receiver.

** Starting an extra quarterback is fun. I'm only in one league that has a "superflex"-style setup. In superflex, quarterbacks are eligible to start in the flex spot -- and if they are, you'd almost always start them there. Anything that makes quarterbacks a more interesting element in the draft is worth it, in my opinion. In most leagues they're afterthoughts, which is counter to their importance in the sport itself.

** Auctions are way, way, way better than snake drafts. Again, I'm for anything that rewards extra skill, effort and strategy. At a snake draft there's so little that can really go wrong. Most teams will end up fairly comparable in quality and makeup. You're getting, say, one of the top running backs, then one of the second-tier receivers, then one of the third-tier running backs, and so on, with little variety. Auctions are way different -- and better. While in snake drafts the debate can be between Todd Gurley and LeVeon Bell, say, for the #1 overall pick. In an auction you theoretically can draft them both. How you build your team is much more flexible and interesting in auction drafts; in snake drafts there's relatively very little to it.

A friend of mine I've made since that "stranger draft" two years ago was a fellow competitor in the league we drafted last night. I liked my first few picks very much, and I noticed he was getting shut out. During the draft I was thinking that I was looking forward to talking to him about how it was going. We took a bathroom break and he walked in behind me. He screamed an expletive, and right then I knew he and I were on the same page. I had worked my way to a starting group of Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, Keenan Allen and Derrick Henry. My friend was just won a long bidding war for Jordan Howard, who might have been his first player.

This type of development isn't really possible in a snake draft. No one's getting shut out. The variance is one reason the auction draft is so much better.

It might very well be that this number of leagues I'm in will prove to be too many. I don't know yet. But I've got to say, this summer with all these drafts and how varied they are, I'm loving every minute of it.

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