Madden NFL 16 Primer: Why 'Draft Champions' Matters

The Best Fantasy Football Format I’ve Ever Played

Everyone could use a good fantasy format now and again.
Everyone could use a good fantasy format now and again.

Fantasy Football can be played in so many different ways it would make your helmet spin, but there’s one particular year-to-year league format that I’ve found better than any other, and it’s made Fantasy all that much more enjoyable.

While not everyone who plays Fantasy Football enjoys the same type of rules and formats, there’s one particular combination that works so well together, I can’t properly imagine a better way to play that doesn’t include at least some, if not all of the following measures. Frankly, it’s the best fantasy football format I’ve ever played.

Two Quarterbacks

Playing in a two quarterback league changes the complexity of the game nicely, as it makes QB play something that finally matters beyond the top ten options. With two QB leagues, quarterbacks are the most valuable commodity in the league as opposed to running backs, and it just feels more accurate that that is the case. The additional necessity of likely needing to carry three quarterbacks (two starters, one backup) adds a lot more “hard decisions” to roster maneuvers and overall makes for a more well-rounded experience.

The only true downside to two quarterback leagues, is that you’re pretty much forced into a 10 team format. If you go higher than that, you’re going to run into a lot of problems with players unable to field a quarterback on bye weeks. It’s true that this can be an issue in 10 team leagues now, but it’s more something that is your own fault in a ten team league. The added benefit of the league being pushed into ten teams, however, is that every team will have a good chance of fielding a competitive roster, which makes the little moves you make matter so much more.

Tight End Can Play Flex

For some reason, in many standard league formats, the tight end cannot be used in the FLEX spot (ESPN only made this default this past season). When you allow tight ends to play flex, you add at least a small amount of value to a position that otherwise is one of the most unpredictable, most frustrating positions in the game. Anything that can add value to tight end while simultaneously dropping more strategy into the equation is a good thing.

For the foreseeable future it appears tight end will remain a dull position simply because of how top-heavy it is, but those top-heavy players are significant enough in NFL offenses that the position should be represented in NFL fantasy football. It would be interesting to see “pancakes” added to fantasy stats to try and bring more relevance to the position from a fantasy perspective, but I can imagine quite a few reasons why that wouldn’t be a good idea, so until a good way to make TE’s relevant exists, we have to fabricate solutions. My favorite solution happens to be letting tight ends participate at the flex spot.

Auction Draft

Don’t get me wrong, I love the draft-day experience of a good ole’ snake draft. I like the idea of being able to trade picks, and I certainly love the idea that a fantastic player could slip in the draft and fall right into my lap. I love the unpredictable nature of snake drafts that require more on-the-spot thinking and I just like the name of it: “Snake” just sounds cool. With that said, it’s not the best way to play fantasy football these days. The best way, is an Auction Draft.

When you choose an Auction Draft over a Snake draft, you are setting teams up with the most balanced drafting format available. Everyone has the opportunity to get any player they want within their budget, and because of that, draft preparation is not only vital, it’s fun too. With Auctions, you have the unique opportunity to build your team exactly the way you want it, which means owners are afforded maximum opportunities for drafting strategies.

Keeper System

Keeper leagues are great for many reasons, but primarily they are great because of the added amount of strategy they add to the game. With a proper keeper system, a player’s worth can change drastically based on his keeper price (synergizes great with Auction formats), and potential trades become all that more interesting. Additionally, keepers mean that savvy owners are rewarded for having a good draft and season-to-season rivalries among owners can begin to form.

At its heart, fantasy football is about the decisions you make, and deciding which talents to keep or let go is a managerial option that just doesn’t exist in many other games out there. Deciding whether to keep players next season and projecting their production while reviewing their past season tickles the inner-GM inside all of us, and no fantasy football experience should be without the option to retain select players.

Franchise & Transition Tags

Allowing players to keep a few (I prefer three) keepers is nice, but you probably don’t want things to turn into a dynasty where one good draft decides a team’s fate forever. To combat this, installing a simple (and realistic) franchise and transition tag system really adds a strategical element to the game while also ensuring that quality players are added back to the draft pool each season.

I prefer to implement it like this:

Players can normally be kept for a maximum of two years at their drafted price. They can be extended to a third year with a transition tag, and later a fourth year with a franchise tag. If a player’s keeper contract expires and a transition or subsequent franchise tag is not used on him, then he will enter back into the draft pool.

The cost to transition tag a player is either the average of the top 10 salaries at his position from the previous year or 120% of the player’s salary from the previous year, whichever number is higher.

The cost to franchise tag a player is either the average of the top 5 salaries at his position from the previous year or 120% of the player’s salary from the previous year, whichever number is higher.

This sort of system allows players to be kept for a very long time (even longer than listed if you consider the first season you drafted them they are not keepers yet), but does so in a balanced way where you need to make financial decisions at the end of their contract. This means if you have an elite-of-the-elite player, then you may still choose to retain him all the way through the franchise tag (truly “franchise” players), while other good-but-not-worth-that-much players can be had for a good price for a couple of seasons.

It’s really important in keeper leagues that you find a balanced way to routinely add good players back into the draft pool, as it makes the drafting experience much more enjoyable and gives poor teams an opportunity to correct themselves each offseason. Transition and franchise tags are a great way to go about that, but there are many other methods that work, such as flat and/or percentage increases to keeper prices every year.

Non-Playoff Consolation Bracket Reward

In an ideal world, every team is setting their lineups, making their free agent pickups and properly maintain their roster until the final week of play finally ends. Unfortunately, that’s not how things tend to play out. Because some teams are often eliminated from playoffs well in advance, it’s important to have some sort of incentive for teams to continue competing, despite being unable to make playoffs.

One of my favorite solutions to keep non-playoff teams interested, is actually to reward the winner of the non-playoff consolation ladder with a keeper draft pick that allows them to choose one player from any team that is not kept on the keeper deadline. This is a great reward because it doesn’t punish other teams for winning, but does reward a team that fought until the very end of the season with what will likely be a good keeper option.

Free Agent Budget

If you’re still playing in a league that cycles the waiver wire each week based on wins and losses, then you’re doing it wrong I’d say. Free Agent budgets are where it’s at. With a free agent budget, teams have an allocated amount of money each season that they can use to make private bids each week on free agents. If you bid the most money on the player, then you win the auction.

This is a great system because it doesn’t punish teams for winning, and rewards teams for managing their budget throughout the season and doing their due-diligence on free agent prospects. As an example, this past season someone decided that with a $100 free agent budget for the entire season, that they wanted to pick up Randall Cobb for $9 when he started to look more involved in the Green Bay Packers offense. I wanted Cobb, but was only willing to bid $7. Because my opponent believed in Cobb more than I did, he won, and he was rewarded for it throughout the season. That’s how the wire should work — all about decision making, and not about who has the worst record.

This type of system works because it solves the problem of league parity that record-based waiver claims try to fix by giving the worst teams the highest picks, but does so in a way that is completely balanced and gives every team an opportunity to shoot for the fences if they so choose.

No Kickers For Me, Thanks!

Alright, so I haven’t actually played in a league with no kickers yet, but in theory a league without them would be ideal. Despite the fact that everyone thinks they are aided by their decisions on kickers, the reality is when you crunch the numbers that there’s usually very little difference in the league at the end of the season, require very little decision making, and generally just add a heartbreaking level of random that I think only drags the game down.

If you wanted an anecdote, I’ve got one for you: This past season I entered the playoffs with a kicker that was tied for #1 at his position in the league. My opponent, as it happens, had the other #1 kicker. In the first week of our playoff match my kicker scored two points, while my opponent scored nine. In the second week, mine scored ten, while his scored negative two… Yeah, it’s a ridiculous position.

When breaking down all the numbers in my league, it turns out the teams that were tied with the #1 kicker at the end of the season, in fact didn’t score the most at the kicker position throughout the season. This is because both teams picked up and played different kickers before stumbling upon the guys they would settle with. So which team scored the most points out of kicker that year? The last-placed team in the league who drafted Gostkowski and played him in every week. The difference in points-per-game between the highest-scoring kicking team and the lowest-scoring was barely more than a point and a half, and yet everyone seems to think they had an advantage throughout the season with their kicking starts, and owners don’t want to remove them.

When one of the best strategies in fantasy football involves dropping your kicker completely each week and using his roster spot to carry another player until game day, it makes you wonder if people really like kickers, or if they’re just conditioned to play the game with them no matter how silly it seems at times.

If kickers could somehow be condensed into D/ST units (you know, since they’re one of the biggest parts of special teams), then I would be oh-so-fine with their inclusion. Unfortunately, that’s not something most leagues allow you to do, which will probably forever leave me drafting “studs” like Matt Bryant and asking myself: “Why couldn’t I draft another sleeper instead?”

But… that’s just me. What do YOU like?

Different strokes for different folks I guess, and the format above really works for me. I’m curious though, which format do you like, where do you play (I play on ESPN) and why do you like it so much?

Leave your favorite fantasy football format below, and tell us where you like to play!

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  • GoMadden

    I’ve heard fleaflicker is really good but never got around to properly trying it. I hear there’s a lot of customization options that aren’t available elsewhere?

  • Brett

    Overall, I totally agree with the auction philosophy on both draft and WW. It’s just so much better.

    I have some thoughts on changes for next year. Some are big, some are small. Here’s a few things I’m thinking of:

    – Reward kickoff return yards in excess of 20. I’m not sure if ESPN has that ability, but it seems like it’d be a great way to reward fantastic rushes while not instantly granting 80 yards to whoever takes the returns. 20 is fair since it’s the touchback area and probably the average spot the returner gets to anyway.

    – Cut receiving/rushing TD’s in half. This is the big one. I just do not believe that a 1-yard run in for a TD is equivalent to 60 yards throughout the game. I’d ideally like to put this at 2-3 points. It would cut down on randomness while still rewarding the touchdown.

    – IDPs. I’ve never done this, but it seems like it would add another element to the game. Haven’t decided if I would drop overall team defenses, but I’d probably need to.


    • GoMadden

      Hmm, I think cutting the receiving/rushing TDs in half based on your thinking would have its own set of problems. Like, you said you don’t think a 1 yard rush for a TD should be held equivalent to 60 yards rushing in a game, however if you had TDs worth 3 points, then you’re saying breaking a 30 yard run should be the equivalent of putting a touchdown on the board in the NFL. I think TDs at 6 for rushing is good because it accurately reflects to me the most important thing in an NFL game: The score.

      As for IPDs… I’ve really wanted to do at least ONE IDP slot in a league, but it requires the right league settings to really use. Unfortunately places like ESPN (where I play), they don’t allow you to “truly” separate actions between positions (so you can’t make 1 yard rushing for a RB worth anything different than 1 yard rushing for a QB, or receiver). That makes IDP very tricky because it’s hard to balance the positions if you can’t, say, make tackles worth more for DTs than for CBs.

      I thought it might be interesting to do a single IDP slot though that rewarded sacks, INTs and FFum only. Sort of like a “playmaker” slot in the starting roster. The problem with that is that you would have quite a few blank points games, plus there’s just SO MANY defensive players, that it sort of dilutes the value of the position. After the top 3-4 guys are gone, you probably would be better to just save your money and pick someone up on the wire ;/