By Will Mirrer
Fantasy football’s default rules and customs have stubbornly failed to evolve to reflect what actually works well and what does not. Behold a dozen changes that will make your fantasy football experience significantly more fun, fairer, and more sophisticated.
No Kickers: In standard leagues, a long field goal is worth up to 5 points, which is more than Aaron Rodgers receives for a passing touchdown and more than AP accrues for a 45-yard scamper. It’s jarring to see kickers play such an outsized role in fantasy football outcomes compared to their more moderate impact on real games. Far worse, however, is that kickers’ gaudy point totals don’t correlate with fantasy owner skill, as the data suggests that kicker fantasy performance is essentially random. We all know there’s enough randomness in fantasy football to begin with. Kickers are variance’s worst transgressors, and eliminating them altogether will allow your fantasy skill to shine.
The Sacko: Losing owners often ruin fantasy leagues by giving up on their under-performing teams, failing to set their lineups and thus swinging key matchups and the course of the season. To fix this, borrow a page from The League’s playbook by instituting the Sacko, a punishment for the worst team. Prior to the season the league votes on a fun, creative, but daunting punishment. Then the four losingest teams play a tournament in the fantasy post-season with the loser of each matchup advancing until the worst team is “awarded” the Sacko. In my league, punishments have ranged from performing stand-up at a comedy club to street performance in a public park. A good punishment will ensure that terrible teams follow their rosters intently all season, desperate to avoid the stigma of the Sacko.
Auction Free Agency: The waiver wire is an integral component of any savvy fantasy owner’s toolkit, with stars such as Odell Beckham and Cam Newton culled from waivers in years past. Yet default waiver settings reward blind luck, with the team fortunate enough to have the top waiver preference handed the pick of the litter among free agents. This advantage can be especially pronounced in week one, when we may finally know who is starting for certain teams. In auction free agency, on the other hand, owners bid against each other for free agents in a hidden auction. The opportunity cost of a winning bid is fewer available funds for other players, creating a de facto salary cap. Auction free agency is a fairer, more exciting system where the team that values a player most acquires him.
Decimal Scoring: If you use “1 point every 10 yards” for rushing and receiving yardage, and “1 point every 25 yards” for passing, you’re still using the antiquated integer scoring system. With integer scoring, a 79-yard rushing game illogically equals only 7 fantasy points (not 7.9) because points are only counted upon reaching the next 10 (or 25) yard plateau. Not only is this inaccurate, but so much rounding down inevitably creates tied matchups decided with thorny tiebreakers. Solve the issue by changing your scoring to “0.1 points per yard” for rushing and receiving, and “0.04 points per yard” for passing yardage. Decimal scoring fairly counts each yard gained, not in arbitrary 10 or 25 yard chunks.
1/2 PPR: Reasonable arguments exist for both full PPR, where receptions are worth one point, and for standard reception scoring, where catches have no independent value. Full PPR proponents can point to possession receivers and receiving backs, guys who create value with first downs and lots of catches without compiling huge yardage. Standard scoring fans counter that it doesn’t make sense to reward every catch when some receptions are harmful, like a catch for no gain that loses a down. They also contend that a full point per reception increases the relative importance of running backs and receivers such that quarterback value is significantly diminished. Fortunately, a logical compromise exists: ½ PPR, or 0.5 points per reception. Splitting the difference has worked well for many leagues, as chain movers still get a value bump from the half point without going so far as to severely skew positional value.
Increase QB Points: Now that you’ve instituted ½ PPR, consider increasing points per passing touchdown to 5 to help prevent quarterbacks from falling too far in the draft vis à vis pass catchers, and to make touchdowns more important than total yardage for quarterback fantasy scoring. Increase points per interception to -2.5 (or even -3) to stop the madness of barely penalizing pivotal turnovers, thus matching quarterbacks’ point totals with their actual on-field quality of play.
Commissioner Trade Veto: In leagues with a majority vote trade veto, many owners act in their self-interest by voting against any deals with perceived lopsided value. Our rules shouldn’t discourage free trade, however, because a beneficial deal requires football savvy, and trades add excitement to the league. Scratch the majority veto and institute a sole commissioner veto. Your commissioner must be guided by a laissez-faire philosophy, overturning deals in only two special circumstances: evidence of collusion or evidence of one team not trying to improve. Bargaining success, on the other hand, is a skill that should not be discouraged. A commissioner veto also sidesteps the two-day voting waiting period that hampers dealmaking on and around game day. Your Commissioner should have Ned Stark’s honor – he or she must be trusted to exercise the veto power impartially and only when absolutely necessary.
No Player Rentals: A player “rental” occurs when two teams swap players temporarily on the assumption that the next week they’ll swap them back to their original teams. This is collusion because the two rivals help each other out to avoid bye weeks or roster space restrictions, and to harm specific opponents. The head-to-head nature of fantasy football exacerbates the issue, as there is no downside to executing rentals every week with an opponent you’re not facing that specific week. Simply ban any trades that require a follow-up reversal of the deal in a following week.
WR/TE Flex or a Third Receiver Position: Starting running backs are much scarcer than wide receivers in fantasy because there are only 32 starting backs, and far fewer bell cows because of time share backfields. On the other hand, there are 64 starting NFL wideouts to go around – and really more, including elite slot guys and teams that regularly trot out three receiver sets. Eliminating RB from the flex reduces fringe running back value and forces you to dig deeper into the receiver talent pool, which makes sense in today’s pass-friendly NFL. With no RB option, one may balk at the paradoxical lack of flexibility in the flex position. If so, keep your flex as-is but consider adding a third wideout position in order to similarly make more receivers suddenly fantasy relevant.
Tweak Defensive Scoring: Defensive and special teams touchdowns can be pretty fluky week by week, so consider decreasing points per touchdown from 6 to 5 (or even 4). For added nuance and excitement add two new statistics, stuffs and passes defensed. I suggest only .25 points per stuff (run for loss or no gain) and .1 points per pass defensed (tipped pass) so as to not overinflate defensive scoring. To even out expected scoring, you could proportionately shade down the “points against” categories (i.e., one fewer fantasy point for giving up 1-6 points; one fewer for giving up 7-13 points, etc.).
Draft Closer to Season’s Start: The preseason doesn’t typically begin until early to mid-August, and the regular season kicks off a month later, in early September. If you’re drafting in the first half of August (or July), that’s simply too much time for disasters beyond your control to strike. Nobody’s having fun drafting Kelvin Benjamin only to see him tear his ACL in an early preseason practice. It’s similarly frustrating to draft before you can reasonably estimate how a team’ depth chart will shake out. Injuries will happen all season, of course, but drafting long before the regular season introduces an extra layer of luck to your league for each unforeseeable preseason injury or depth chart shake-up. There’s enough luck in fantasy football to begin with, so minimize it by drafting no earlier than the latter half of August.
Live Draft: Fantasy football is fun – that’s why we play. What’s more fun, drafting alone at a computer or while getting rowdy with friends at a bar, clowning on every bad pick? If you’re all in the same city, great. If not, it’s financially and logistically harder, but is a great excuse to get together annually with friends for a weekend. Of course, in an auction draft you’re involved in every pick, so a live draft makes less sense. But for a traditional snake draft, nothing is better than drafting live to improve your league’s sustainability, pride and fun factor. So go buy that live draft board – and lock down that open bar.