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Fantasy Football 101

How to Play Fantasy Football

These days, fantasy football is big time. Along with a variety of ways to play the game, there are strategies and caveats to each playing style. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned pro, it never hurts to get a primer on fantasy football 101 so you don’t end up the one who looks like they didn’t read the instruction manual.


Fantasy football is generally a season-long competition played by football fans in which participants draft their own team and compete with teams built by others. Individual game winners are determined by points accumulated by players based on their real-life performance in a game on the same day.



A fantasy league is usually comprised of 8, 10, 12, 14 or 16 fantasy teams, each drafted and operated by a different contestant. Each contestant (owner) takes turns selecting players until all predetermined roster slots are filled. Team owners are responsible for choosing a starting lineup for each game, signing replacement players, and making trades if they choose to do so. At the end of the fantasy season, generally the final weeks of the NFL's regular season, a playoff tournament will determine the league champion. The number of teams qualifying for the playoffs is determined before the season begins.


Team Roster

The number of players on a fantasy football team varies from league to league, but generally includes at least two quarterbacks, three running backs, three wide receivers, two tight ends, one kicker and two defensive units.



Each week, owners submit a starting lineup taking into consideration injuries, match-ups, and players on bye weeks. Lineup changes must be made prior to the start of each game in which the players in question are involved. If an owner fails to make adjustments in his starting lineup, it will remain the same as the previous week.
The number of players on a team's active lineup varies from league to league. One of the more commonly used combinations of players includes one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker, and one defensive unit.



There are variations in scoring systems, but many use the following system or something close to it:
A touchdown results in six points for the scoring player. If the touchdown is the result of a passing play, the quarterback is also awarded the same.

Field goals count as three points for the kicker. Some leagues offer more points as the field goals get longer. Generally, anything more than 40 yards counts as four points and anything more than 50 yards is awarded five points.

Kickers also receive one point for extra points after touchdowns, and a player scoring on a two-point conversion receives two points.

Offensive players can also pick up points based on receiving, passing, and rushing yardage. One of the more common formulas awards one point for every ten yards rushing, one point for every ten yards receiving, and one point for every 25 yards passing.

Offensive players can also lose points by throwing an interception (-2) or fumbling the ball (-1).

On defense, a team's score is based on how many points they give up, combined with bonus points for sacks, turnovers, and defensive touchdowns scored. There are a number of variations in scoring based on the number of points given up. Sacks generally add one point each to that score while turnovers provide two points each.

A safety results in a two-point bonus for the defense.

Some leagues include special teams play in the defensive score while many do not.


Trading Players

Teams are allowed to trade players as long as the deal is submitted before a predetermined trading deadline. Most leagues offer a system that allows other owners to protest trades that are too lopsided in one team's favor to prevent team owners from working together to build one super team.


Waivers and Free Agency

Any player that remains undrafted is classified as a free agent and can be signed by any team on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, if the addition puts a team over the roster limit, the owner must release one of the players on his roster.

A player who is released is then put on waivers, generally for a period of three to four days. Until a player passes through waivers, he can be claimed by any other team in the league. If a player on waivers is claimed by more than one team by the time the waiver period ends, he is awarded to the team sitting the lowest in the standings at the time the claim was made.



A playoff tournament is generally held the final two or three weeks of the regular NFL season, depending on how many teams are in the playoff field. Scoring is determined exactly as it is during the regular season with the winner of the contest moving on to the next round while the loser is eliminated.

The league championship is held when the playoff field has been narrowed to two teams, with the winner being crowned as league champions.

10 Tips for New Fantasy Football Owners
by Vin Sadicario,

1. Know What You Are Getting Into
No one likes an owner who quits. Whether it is after the draft, or halfway through the season, no one wants to p7lay in a league of quitters. Owners who quit or stop paying attention ruin leagues for the rest of the owners. If you are planning to join a fantasy football league, plan to be active for the whole season.

2. League Choice
League choice is very important, especially for beginners. If you are a beginner, you probably do not want to join a high stakes league consisting of fantasy football experts. Look for a league of owners similar to yourself, maybe a group of novice friends. Just like with anything else, you want to start out slow and work your way up.

3. Know the Rules
After finding the perfect league, you must learn the rules specific to your particular league. Is there a draft or an auction? How many players do you start at each position? How does the waiver wire work? How many teams make the playoffs? How does scoring work? These are some questions that you must know the answers to before you draft. Make sure you read over a copy of the rules a few times before you draft a team.

4. Be Prepared
Before you draft there are a few things you must do. The first and most important thing is research. Make your own cheat sheets of player rankings. If you are not sure how to make your own cheat sheets and player rankings, we have great cheat sheets and tons of player projections here at Being prepared will give you a plan of attack for your draft. When it is your turn to select, you will have a list of players who you have already ranked, thus making your pick easier.

5. Practice Makes Perfect
While every fantasy football draft is different, participating in a mock draft or two will help you during your real draft. Not only will a mock draft help you get an idea of where players will be drafted, but they will also help you stay cool, calm, and collected when you are on the clock in your actual draft. Your first fantasy football drafted can be overwhelming, so make sure you participate in a mock draft or two prior to your first real draft. Mock drafts are held hourly here at fftoolbox. Click the mock draft link at the top of the page to get some practice.

6. Drafting
So you have found the perfect league, read up on the rules, done your research, participated in a mock draft or two, and finally you are ready for your first fantasy football draft. Whether you are sitting around a backyard with a group of friends, or sitting in front of your computer, a fantasy football draft is always an exciting time. That night will for the most part, determine the fate of your team for the rest of the season. At the draft, you should have your cheat sheets, a copy of the rules, paper, and a pen. After a player is drafted, cross him off your cheat sheet. Also, try to keep track of how many players have been drafted at each position. Another important stat is bye weeks. Make sure you have written down the bye weeks of every player on your cheat sheet. Try to avoid picking too many players who have the same bye week. This is especially true for backups. If you plan to pick two kickers or defenses, make sure they do not have the same bye week.

7. Waiver Wire
Know your league waiver wire rules. Are the rosters locked over the weekend? Or are pickups and drops allowed at any time? The waiver wire is an important tool in fantasy football that can make a tremendous impact on your team. Make sure you pay attention to the injury situation of not only your players, but also players whose backups can make a big difference to your team. If you see a key running back go down to injury, make sure you run to the waiver wire to pick up his backup.

8. Starting Lineups
Make sure that you know the deadline for lineup changes each week. Some leagues lock lineups when the first game of the week begins, while some lineups are locked at 12 P.M. on Sundays. Check the schedule for games being played on Thursdays or Saturdays, as this will affect your league roster deadline. Also, make sure that you have substituted players that are on a bye week. If you need to make a pickup from the waiver wire to compensate for a bye week, try not to make the pickup close to the roster deadline.

9. Trading
Trading is an important part of any fantasy game. Before making any trade, you should do your research on every player involved. Is one of the players injured or about to lose playing time? Another thing you should consider with all trades is the benefit to your team. While you may be getting the better players in a deal, they are only better if they will improve your team. For example, acquiring Tiki Barber for Roy Williams would seem like a great deal, however, if you already have Larry Johnson, Clinton Portis, and Ronnie Brown at running back, and are short at wide receiver, you may not want to make the deal. Always consider every point of view on trades.

10. Have Fun
While some people look at fantasy football as a life or death matter, it is in fact only a game. Make sure that you have fun. After the draft has taken place, and trades have been discussed, sit back and enjoy the game. The strategy and unpredictability of fantasy football makes it a great experience for all involved. Make sure that you have fun.


Fantasy Football Glossary

This dictionary of fantasy football terms should help define the lingo that we use. Please let us know if we're missing the definition of a phrase, acronym, or abbreviation that you're unfamiliar with.

3rd year WR Rule
There is a common belief among fantasy football players that most NFL wide receivers do not "break out" until their third year in the league. Some recent examples of players who blossomed in their 3rd year: Santana Moss, Chris Chambers, Steve Smith, and Javon Walker.

A report that lists NFL players by the average slot they were drafted in fantasy football drafts. The source can be mock drafts or real ones. ADP is a useful draft preparation tool.

ADP - Average Draft Position
A report that lists NFL players by the position they were drafted in fantasy football drafts on average. The source can be mock drafts or real ones. ADP is a useful draft preparation tool.

Auction Draft
A type of fantasy draft in which owners are allotted a certain amount of fantasy cash to fill their roster spots by bidding on NFL players. Owners take turns introducing an opening bid for a player.

Basic Scoring
Fantasy points are only earned when your starters score touchdowns, field goals, and extra points.

Bench Players
Players which you choose not to start; you normally receive no points for their performances.

A player, usually drafted in the first three rounds of a fantasy draft, who is predicted to have a poor season. The player might be injury-prone, have a future star behind them in the depth chart, or just won't be able to live up to their hype

Bye Week
Each NFL team plays 16 games out of 17 weeks in the NFL schedule. The game that they don't play is called their bye week. It is important in fantasy football to make sure that your starters and backups do not have the same bye week since one of the primary reasons for drafting backup players is to have coverage during the bye week of your starter. Here are this season's bye weeks.

Cheat Sheet
A drafting tool that lists NFL players ranked in order of predicted fantasy points; however there are no accompanying stats, so it is possible that it isn't accurate for a league's scoring system.

The person who is responsible for maintaining the league, reporting the results of the fantasy games, running the draft, collecting entrance fees (if any), and generally keeping things running smoothly. It is important for the commissioner to be unbiased (fair) and honest.

Cut or Drop
To remove a player from your roster.

Deep league
A league with more than 12 owners and/or large team sizes. There are more players on fantasy rosters in deep leagues than in a 'normal' league of 12 owners with total rosters of 16 to 18 players (total of 192-216 players drafted).

Depth Chart
An NFL team roster with players classified as 1st, 2nd, or 3rd string. Here's our page of depth charts.

The meeting of owners and commissioner before the NFL season where owners select the players for their team. It can be done by auction or serpentine method. Some leagues give the top spots in the draft to the teams with the poorest records from the previous season. Most leagues only allow one fantasy team to own a particular NFL player.

Dynasty League
A league in which you keep your entire roster from year to year. The next season a draft is held to improve your team. Usually the draft order is based on the previous year's finish. Dynasty leagues are a long term commitment.

Fantasy Football
A game which the players (owners) earn fantasy points for the statistical performances of the NFL players on their fantasy team. In most leagues, NFL players are assigned to teams via a draft. Usually, each player can only be on one team at a time and there are limits to the total number of players per team. The object of the game is to outscore your fantasy opponent (other owners) on a weekly basis, so that at the end of the fantasy season (depending on the league) you have the most points or the most wins (in a head to head league).

Short for Fantasy Football

Flier (or Flyer)
An ambiguous term meaning either taking a chance or picking a player off the waiver wire.

Free Agent
A player who is not currently on any team's roster. If the league has a waiver system, free agents are players who have cleared waivers.

A player with both high potential and high risk. Players in this category are usually injury-prone, have a high probability for being suspended, or are approaching the end of their career.

General Manager
See Owner

a team that is not being actively managed by it's owner or the act of not actively managing a fantasy team.

Drafting your stud RBs' backup to mitigate the risk if the stud gets injured. Example: drafting Michael Turner after drafting LaDainian Tomlinson

IDP (Individual Defensive Player)
Rather than a team defense approach, some leagues decide to have starters for defensive linemen (DL), linebackers (LB) and defensive backs (DB). The number of starters and scoring systems for these positions varies widely.

Injured Reserve (IR)
An option in some leagues, an injured player can be sent to the IR for a certain number of weeks. The player cannot return to the active lineup and does not earn the owner any points until that number of weeks passed; however another player can be added to the team since the IR player doesn't count against the player limit. Injured Reserve is also an NFL label for players who will not play during the current season due to injury.

Keeper League
A league in which a certain number of players can be retained from the previous season by each owner, so that their whole team does not have to be redrafted. The number of players can vary. If you retain your whole team it is called a dynasty league.

A collection of owners who play against each other, it is run by the commissioner.

See starters

Mock Draft
A fake draft that is used to practice drafting strategy and gauge where players will be drafted in actual fantasy football drafts. Some require the drafters to post a rationale behind their picks for additional insight for viewers.

The person who makes decisions about a fantasy football team. This includes drafting, cutting, and starters.

Performance Scoring
A system where you receive points for yardage (as in 1 point for every 20 passing yards) in addition to the points scored in a basic scoring system.

To add a player to your roster.

PPR (Points Per Reception)
In some leagues, owners earn a fantasy point for each reception their players have during the game. In these leagues, wide receivers become more valuable, as well as running backs catch well out of the backfield, like Reggie Bush, Steven Jackson, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Brian Westbrook.

Similar to a cheat sheet, projections rank players in terms of fantasy value, but predicted statistics are also assigned to players. Since many leagues' scoring methods greatly differ, this is more useful than a cheat sheet because you can apply your own scoring system to determine their fantasy value in your league. Our customized cheat sheets display fantasy value automatically after you store your scoring system.

QBBC (Quarterback by Committee)
A relatively new strategy in fantasy football, the QBBC strategy directs owners to pass on the big name QBs (Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, etc) and instead draft multiple QBs in the 7th, 8th and 9th rounds. Instead of drafting a big name QB in the early rounds you fill your roster with RBs and WRs. "With some careful planning, you can draft 2 (or preferably 3) QBs who have complimentary schedules, and greatly increase the likelihood that one of your QBs will be facing a pretty attractive pass defense for the majority of the weeks of the season." -- source:

RBBC (Running Back by Committee)
A relatively recent phenomenon, running back by committee is used by more NFL teams each year. Teams are having success using a fast, small back between the 20-yard lines and a large power back near the goal line (a.k.a. TD Vulture). Other NFL teams seem to rotate their RBs to keep them fresh (example: Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell in DEN in 2005). However, this creates difficulties in fantasy football since points are awarded for both yardage and touchdowns. Running backs that get the bulk of both a team's yardage and touchdowns are becoming more valuable.

See Team

Abbreviations include: TD = Touchdown, FG = Field Goal, XP = Extra Point, INT = Interception and Pts = Points. Also see Basic Scoring and Performance Scoring.

Serpentine Draft or Snake Draft
The type of draft in which the commissioner draws teams names from a hat to determine the order in which teams will select players in the first round and then reverses the order in the second. For example, in a 12 team league #1 would draft first in round 1 & #12 would draft last. But in Round 2 #12 would draft first and #1 would draft last. The teams would be in normal order in odd rounds and reversed in even rounds.

A draft term for a NFL player that an owner believes is going to have a breakout season. These are usually players who are not rookies, but they can be. For the most part they are not well known NFL players. For example, Edgerrin James would not have been a sleeper for the 1999 season, because many people knew he was going to have a good to very good season. However, Kurt Warner would have been because very few people expected much performance from him, yet he was the leading player in most leagues in 1999. Usually sleepers are drafted in the middle to late rounds of a draft.

Starters or Starting Lineup
The players that you select for a particular week that you will receive points for. A typical starting lineup would include one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker, and one team defense. Some leagues include individual defensive players (IDPs) in lieu of a team defense.

A player's numerical accomplishments for a given week. For example, "Randy Moss's stats for week 14 are 3 TD's and 258 receiving yards."

A NFL player who has proved himself to be a top scoring player at his position. These players should be started each week regardless of match-up and should only be benched during bye weeks and significant injuries.

The collection of players that a fantasy owner has.

Team Defense
Drafting an entire team's defense (rather than individual defensive players), you earn points when any player on the defense records a sack, interception, fumble recovery, safety or touchdown. Most leagues include special teams with the team defense, so if the team scores a touchdown when returning a punt or kickoff you will also earn points.

Team Position
An idea that is used in some leagues in which you select a team instead of a specific player for a position. For example, if you start Philadelphia for Team QB you would get credit for stats from Donovan McNabb, Jeff Garcia and anyone else that played the QB position in that game.

Team QB
See Team Position

Switching certain players from Team A to Team B. For Example Team A gives Team B Curtis Martin in exchange for Onterrio Smith and Keyshawn Johnson. In almost all leagues, including money in a trade is strictly against the rules. For example, Daunte Culpepper for Keyshawn Johnson and $10.

A roster change. Some leagues have a transaction fee. Also see Cut, Pickup, and Trade

Some leagues have players recently dropped by teams to go into a "waiver" status for one or more days. When in this status, owners cannot immediately add the player. Instead they make a waiver claim for the player. When the commissioner processes waivers, usually the team with the least wins get first claim on players, then the team with the second least wins, etc.


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