Fantasy football: Eight ways to make your smaller league feel more fun, challenging and exciting

Fantasy football is for everyone.

That’s not a novel concept. Except, sometimes, the most passionate among us forget how customizable this game can be. For example, 10 or 12 teams aren’t required to create a league. In fact, the next two most common league sizes ESPN fantasy football enthusiasts play are eight- and four-teamers.

I’ve personally experienced the premature collapse of potential leagues because the commissioner couldn’t “find enough people.” And if 12 teams aren’t signed up, then the whole thing is going to feel mediocre and boring, right?

Wrong.

First of all, ESPN Fantasy allows teams to be drafted and start fresh (everyone is 0-0) AFTER Week 1. So if punctuality isn’t where you shine (what’s up, my fellow tidsoptimists), don’t stress. You have time!

If, however, you appreciate promptness, then know that there’s a workaround (a few, actually). A sub-10-team operation CAN mod its way into a 12-team experience. Below are (surprise!) eight suggestions for providing an eight-team league with a deeper-league feel.

By using as many or as few of the listed modifications, your single-digit syndicate can tap into a vast player pool (ideal for game-day viewing and cheering) while remaining ultra-competitive and throwing a bit more unpredictability into the mix.

And what fun would football season be without a little (more) chaos?

Start two QBs

Quarterbacks are the Avengers of the NFL. They’re superheroes and pop culture superstars at the same time. As luck would have it, professional football is experiencing a renaissance at the position, serving up more depth and point-producing prowess than in any previous generation.

Why not take advantage of this unprecedented time and talent?

Requiring each team to start two QBs gives managers exposure to some of the most exciting players in the game. It also makes for interesting draft strategy. In a 2QB league, “waiting” on the position takes on a whole new context.

It could mean assembling an old-versus-new tandem in which Aaron Rodgers and Trevor Lawrence are the unlikely leaders of a sneaky-stacked squad. Conversely, targeting Josh Allen or Justin Herbert early might mean wading through the RB dead zone later on or uncovering overlooked value at wideout.

As @chakabuka13 on Twitter stated, “Added superflex to all [my leagues]. Major upgrade. Single QB leagues seem lame now in comparison. QBs should be drafted in the first round and it should never be easy to acquire one off waivers.”

Use TE premium scoring

The relatively recent dominance of Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce illustrates the evolution of the tight end position. Yet, while more and more SPARQ stars enter the league and are used as pass-catchers, the position remains startlingly scarce.

For instance, back in 2015 — when the aforementioned Gronk and Kelce were both top-10 fantasy producers — six tight ends averaged more than 9.0 fantasy points per game. Last season, however, only three TEs managed the same weekly output … and two of them were Gronk and Kelce (the other was Mark Andrews).

Because there’s such a limited number of top-tier options, it could be argued that the position deserves to be weighted differently than positions that feature seemingly endless depth (e.g. wide receiver). Setting a scoring premium (1.5 points per reception for TEs only, for example) forces managers to embrace volatility and either prioritize elite talents or accept a matchup-inspired weekly working of the waiver wire.

Cut those kickers

In the interest of full disclosure, I had a lot of Mason Crosby (K16, 73.5% FG%, third worst among qualifiers) exposure in 2021… so my point of view on kickers is decidedly skewed. From dome teams to scoring variability, the position’s week-to-week output can be maddeningly erratic.

Rather than rely on the unreliable, take a page from the DFS industry and opt to replace kickers with an additional flex spot. The result allows managers to discover more skill-position players whose objective is to score rather than be called into action because their offense, in fact, could not convert.

Touchdowns are more fun than field goals. Root for those. And don’t tilt after a missed extra point.

Salary-cap draft

Get the players you want, when you want them!

In a salary-cap format, each team is afforded a budget (for example, $200). Managers take turns nominating players that the rest of the league can then make offers on. Instead of waiting your turn in a snake draft and missing out on players you like, managers are free to chase and (if they have the funds) acquire team members whenever so moved.

To learn more about salary-cap drafts and how to set one up on ESPN’s platform, click here.

Chop the bench

Fake football enthusiasts relish “throwing darts” at the end of their drafts as a way to assemble their benches. If, however, those benches were cut in half, then throwing those aforementioned darts would require more precision.

The stakes of shallow benches are further elevated when combined with the addition of an increased number of starters (whether that means another QB, WR, TE or FLEX, or combination thereof). A limited number of backups could also lead to more competitive waiver-wire action, as the pool of impact players is regularly churning.

It’s hard to become complacent in a “next man up” league when you have only four men backing up 10(ish) starters.

Let’s take that thought a bit further shall we?

Shorten the wait time on waivers

Fantasy football — much like the NFL — follows a weekly cadence. Veteran hobbyists eventually find themselves falling into a regular rhythm.

Lineups are set. Games are played. Free agents are claimed. Waivers are cleared. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Sometimes complacency sets in after months of following this routine. To combat that possibility, one Instagram follower (@obedampah) suggested clearing waivers in the middle of the day (rather than at midnight). He added that this creates “premium chaos” in his leagues, ensuring that all members are prioritizing their rosters ahead of their lunch breaks.

Flex two members of the same WR corps … at the same time

This idea is not for the faint of heart and will require some tweaking on the part of the league manager … but I LOVE it. (Big thanks to @dubius on Twitter for being so creative and inspiring the idea.)

In addition to (or rather than) flexing RBs/WRs/TEs, make the flex spot a “team” flex wherein two wide receivers from the same pro team make up one roster spot. The points accrued by this duo would then go toward a manager’s total for the week.

For example, a fantasy manager could select Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. That would likely bump a player like Amon-Ra St. Brown into WR1 territory. In another scenario, a manager could double-down on the Chiefs by selecting JuJu Smith-Schuster and Skyy Moore while sticking to a singular star like CeeDee Lamb in the earlier rounds as the team’s WR1.

So much stacking!

A smaller league is built to withstand tweaks at such a deep position. This particular modification adds an element of unpredictability, which figures to keep fantasy managers locked in during the draft and throughout the season.

Playoff modifications

Preparation is paramount in fantasy football. There’s no denying, however, that luck plays a significant role over the course of a season. Occasionally — regardless of prep time, stat reviewing and tape crunching — a team just can’t catch a break.

I’m not talking about one-off losses related to bye weeks, injuries or high winds. I mean the meticulously managed teams that repeatedly put up points … but lose by the slightest of margins. Those squads usually end the season with a point total far more impressive than their record. Imagine the frustration of missing the playoffs but scoring the second-most (or third- or even fourth-most) points in a league. (Some of you might be all too familiar with this frustration.)

ARGH!

It’s impossible to completely avoid this, but there is a way to reward skill while minimizing chance. A lot of leagues have begun to reserve the final playoff spot — likely the No. 4 seed in an eight-team league — for the team with the most total fantasy points, regardless of record.

One way to accomplish this is by using the brand new bonus wins scoring option. This feature doles out a W whenever a team closes out a week inside the top half of the league’s highest point scorers. So you’re rewarded when your team goes hard … even if you lose your head-to-head matchup.

This scoring format keeps the hopes of a postseason run (and a potential championship) alive for all active and engaged squads. And that keeps everyone on their toes.

So there you have it. Fantasy doesn’t need to be exclusive to those with a double-digit number of friends who are into it. Find your group, no matter the size, and start a new league today!

Follow Liz on Twitter and Instagram @LizLoza_FF.

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