A Beginner’s Guide to Fantasy Football for Geeks

While it may not seem at first blush to be a match made in heaven, fantasy football success does require some Geek.

Research, analysis, statistics, feeling like you know the names of every offensive player in the NFL – it can be a taxing, albeit enjoyable, mental workout for a few months of the year. My advice is if you’re curious, just jump in – you could be great at it! If not, it’s just a game; you can quit whenever you want. If you love it, who knows? You could be the next great fantasy analyst like Matthew Berry or Kay Adams.

Why Play?

The term ‘fantasy’ generally connotes some sort of nerdy, gatekeeper-like presence, rendering the subject somewhat inaccessible or altogether undesirable. Fantasy sports are no different; on the surface, they require some knowledge base that one may not possess, leaving those on the outside feeling excluded.

Fortunately, fantasy sports’ massive popularity, particularly fantasy football, has led to the formation of a global community of millions who passionately share information and support. There are ample resources dedicated to the subject, including hundreds of podcasts, Twitter profiles, websites, apps, YouTube channels, and television programs.

Even with all that, to many, fantasy football is still some far-out curiosity. Others consider it a waste of time or a nerdy hobby akin to collecting trading cards. Personally, I see it as a way to break from the monotony of everyday life and use my brain in a different, more analytical way.

It is also a way for me to stay connected with old friends, coworkers, or family members that I may not get to see often. Others use it as an outlet for competitiveness that they may not be able to channel otherwise.

How To Play

The TL;DR version of how to play fantasy football is that points are assigned to various statistical categories and the team with the most points at the end of the last NFL game of the week is the winner. This is generally determined on Monday night, but the 2020 season saw some Tuesday and Wednesday games played due to COVID outbreaks among teams, so Monday ending the week is not necessarily guaranteed.

Point values are assigned by a league manager or commissioner and can vary from league to league. Player positions that are typically chosen for a team are the quarterback (QB), running back (RB), wide receiver (WR), tight end (TE), kicker (K), and defense/special teams (D/ST).

In a starting lineup, there is also usually a FLEX position, which can be filled by either an RB, WR, or TE. Standard Fantasy scoring categories can be generalized with yardage and scoring, but increasing in popularity (to the point that it is becoming the norm) is a point-per-reception (PPR) system. The number of players one can place in the starting lineup is also determined by the commissioner and can alter strategy and player value.

For example, leagues exist where managers either must have (2QB) or have the option (Superflex) to start two quarterbacks, increasing the QB position’s value.

League/Play Types

There are a few different ways to play fantasy football, each with their own associated strategies, the names of which you may hear thrown around:

  • Redraft
    • This is your standard, casual fantasy league. The phrase ‘redraft’ refers to the fact that each manager in the league drafts an entirely new set of players from season to season.
  • Keeper
    • Similar to a Redraft league, Keeper leagues allow team managers to keep a previously determined number of players from year to year. Some leagues may have different rules about the number of seasons one is permitted to hold a player.
  • Dynasty
    • Dynasty leagues allow managers to draft more players than in Redraft and keep the entire team from year to year, replacing veteran players with those of the incoming rookie class. This forces participants to consider factors, such as age and experience, that one may not in a standard league when placing value on a player.
  • Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS)
    • Managers pay real money to use an imaginary salary cap and ‘buy’ players to assemble a team they believe will produce the best score for only that week. It is significantly less of a commitment than a season-long league.
    • Daily Fantasy is a bit of a misnomer for fantasy football. It refers to the ability to build a team based on a specific sport’s cycle of games. In fantasy baseball, one would rebuild their team daily depending on whether they would like to play that day, hence ‘Daily Fantasy.’
    • In a 2020 statement, the IRS declared DFS a form of gambling, allowing it to be taxed and disallowed in states where sports gambling is illegal.
  • Best Ball
    • A participant drafts a team of players that lasts the season but does not have to manage the team once the draft is complete; weekly team scores are calculated using the highest player scores according to their position.

The Draft

In an average Redraft league, your player draft will give you your first roster and help set the tone for your season. If it is your first time playing, I recommend simply drafting the best players available for unfilled positions on your team based on your host site’s rankings. There are several strategies that more experienced managers may use, but it’s best not to overthink them. Plus, this is supposed to be fun! So why put all that pressure on yourself doing something for the first time?

Here are a few more terms you may hear or see in the process of doing draft research:

  • Sleeper:
    • This is a player who may be under the radar to some extent but has the ability to outperform expectations.
  • Bust:
    • A player who underperforms relative to where they are being drafted, such as a player who is taken in the first or second round being outscored by players who could be found in much later rounds.
  • Breakout:
    • A player who has shown the ability to perform well as a fantasy asset and who analysts project will increase their production and value.

The Season

The fantasy football season is generally from Week 1 to Week 14 of the NFL regular season. The regular season could vary slightly depending on the league’s size, how long the commissioner wants to play, or the number of teams allowed to play in the playoffs. Be sure to check the league rules so that you know your playoff goals!

Waiver Wire

Waiver wire additions are the best way to keep your roster at full strength. Players who are not on fantasy rosters are considered Free Agents. Once their games have begun, Free Agent players are on the Waiver Wire, meaning they can be added to rosters with the highest priority at the beginning of the next NFL week.

This is accomplished in one of two ways:

  • FAAB (Free Agent Acquisition Budget)
    • Some leagues will set a budget for managers (usually $100) to bid on Waiver Wire players. The manager who submits the highest offer rosters the new player. The budget is meant to last the entire season, so allocating appropriate amounts and accurately valuing players is very important.
  • Priority
    • If there is no budget, the person with the highest Waiver Priority rosters the player. Depending on the host site, commissioners can set priority to either populate randomly or in reverse order of the league standings.

Some leagues have a free agent transaction limit, so (again) check out your league’s rules before getting caught unaware.


So you’ve made it through your first season, and by some miracle, the fantasy gods smiled on you and allowed you passage into the playoffs. Now what?

Stay. The. Course.

Don’t panic, don’t overthink. Just trust your instincts, stay up on waivers, and keep having fun – let the competitiveness flow through you like The Force and carry you to a championship.