Daily fantasy football gives people like you and me the opportunity to take the driver’s seat and draft our own NFL or CFB teams. It’s one thing to watch your favorite teams battle for glory on the field, but it’s a whole new experience to actually have some skin in the game. Participation in a real money fantasy league brings new significance to every snap of the ball, even when your team has the day off.
Best Fantasy Football Sites:
I’m sure you’ve already heard about fantasy football by now. Even before the biggest fantasy sites were handing out millions of dollars for online leagues, it was already an established pastime to complain about the performance of our fantasy teams. If you don’t know anything at all about fantasy football, that’s fine too. I’m going to break it all down for you right here.
Online fantasy leagues work in a similar manner to those traditional leagues that you may have tried in the past. The basic idea is the same. You draft the best team possible and score points as your players rack up stats on the field. The biggest difference now is that daily fantasy football leagues only last for a day or a weekend as opposed to an entire season.
Where to Play for Real Money
Step one in getting started with daily fantasy football is to find a place to play. There are dozens of pretty decent options, but most people will tell you that FanDuel and DraftKings are the two best places to participate in real money leagues today. I agree wholeheartedly. FanDuel and DraftKings are by far the best fantasy sites for newbies and seasoned vets alike.
First of all, they are both legitimate places to play. They collectively paid out roughly half a billion dollars in prizes in 2014 alone. If you win money at either place, you will be paid. It’s not even a question. Second, these are the sites with the biggest contests, greatest variety of contests and the largest prizes. DraftKings and FanDuel are the only sites where you can win a seven figure payout in a single fantasy league.
Overview of Each Site:
|Football Leagues Covered||NFL and NCAA||NFL and NCAA|
|Contest Buyins||$0.01 to $10,400||$0.10 to $26,200|
|Largest Sunday Contest||$4 Million Guaranteed||$5.55 Million Guaranteed|
|First Deposit Bonus||5 Free Contest Entries||1 Free Contest Entry|
How Daily Fantasy Football Leagues Work
No experience is necessary to try real money fantasy football. As long as you understand the basic rules of the game, you have everything you need to get started. In daily fantasy, your job is to draft a team of 9 players. You will draft one quarterback, a few wide receivers, a few running backs and a few other positions depending on the site at which you play.
Most leagues on the internet give you a fixed salary that you draw from to draft your players. Each player has an associated cost that is calculated based on his expected performance. The star players of the league cost the most while lesser-known players can be picked up for less money. It’s all up to you to decide how you allocate your limited funds.
Fantasy football strategy is all about getting the most value for your salary. The strict spending limit makes it impossible to just draft a team full of the league’s best players. You’ll have to choose where you spend your money, choosing between star players, mid-level players and lower-level players. It’s a tough balancing act but that’s what makes the whole concept so intriguing. There are endless layers of strategy.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s begin with the basics. It’s one thing to read about fantasy football, but it’s another thing to actually participate. Nothing beats good old-fashioned hands-on experience.
I’ll use FanDuel as an example to demonstrate how it all works from beginning to end. The process may be a little different if you play somewhere else, but this is a good place to start. Once you have the basic concept down at one site, you won’t have any trouble participating in leagues at other sites.
Sign up and Deposit
The first steps in getting started are to choose a fantasy site, sign up for an account and make a deposit. You already know which sites I prefer so I won’t repeat that again here. Wherever you end up playing, the next step is to sign up for an account. Just click the big “join now” or “register” button and fill out the basic information to set up your account.
Making a deposit is a simple process of choosing a deposit method and choosing an amount to deposit. Credit cards, debit cards and PayPal are the deposit options that you’ll see most often. If you already have a PayPal account, that’s the quickest method. All you have to do is choose “PayPal” inside your fantasy site’s deposit area and then log in to your PayPal account to confirm the deposit.
If you don’t have a PayPal account, any credit or debit card will work just fine. Just fill out your card information, tell them how much to deposit and your account will be funded instantly. Easy.
Choose a Contest
Ok. You’ve got an account with a little money in it. Now it’s time for the fun stuff. The next step is to choose a contest to participate in. Click on the “lobby” tab at the top of the FanDuel website to see a list of all open leagues.
FanDuel is a huge fantasy site so you’ll find hundreds of open contests during the football season. You can use the filters over on the left side of the page to narrow down the list to show only contests that fit your specific wishes.
In this example, I used the filters to show only NFL leagues with an entry fee of $10 or less.
The lobby displays quite a bit of useful information about upcoming leagues. The name of each contest is displayed in blue letters. Move over to the right a bit and you’ll see little symbols. The letter M means the contest accepts multiple entries. That is, you can buy in multiple times with as many different fantasy lineups as you wish. The letter G means the tournament has a guaranteed prize pool. Federal law requires fantasy leagues to make all prizes known beforehand so all contests will be listed as guaranteed.
Move over to the right again and you’ll see how many people have already signed up for the contest followed by the maximum number of entries accepted. To the right of that is the contest’s entry fee, prize pool, start time and the green “enter” button.
The general rule is that the cheaper the event and the bigger the prize pool, the more people you’ll face in the contest. It takes a lot of $2 entries to generate a $50,000 prize pool. That can be good or bad depending on your perspective. It’s nice to compete for a large prize without paying much up front, but you’ll need to do really well to beat out so many players.
Events with larger entry fees require a bigger outlay but you don’t have to face nearly as many players for a significant prize. There’s no right or wrong way to go about it, but it never hurts to start small as you get the hang of the whole concept and work out an effective strategy.
Let’s choose a contest and draft a team.
Draft Your Lineup
Click on the name of any contest for a basic overview of that particular contest. Here, I’ve chosen the $4 Million Sunday Million. This screen shows the entry fee, salary cap, which games the contest covers and an overview of how scoring is calculated.
Click on the prizes tab to see what types of payouts you’ll be competing for:
If you like what you see, click on the green “enter” button. You won’t be charged the entry fee quite yet. First, you’ll need to put your team together.
The draft page below is where you’ll spend a good deal of your time. This is where you go to compare players, arrange your lineup and confirm your entry to each contest. The first thing you’ll see is a list of all available players and your total available salary.
You can see here that we have $60,000 to work with and we need to choose 9 players:
- One quarterback
- 2 running backs
- 3 wide receivers
- 1 tight-end
- 1 kicker
- 1 defensive team
The first 8 positions are filled by individual players. For the defensive position, you’ll pick one entire team’s defense. Let’s take a closer look at the left side of the page.
This is where you scroll through the players and add them to your lineup. You’ll see each player’s name, salary, average fantasy points per game and how many games he has participated in so far this season. You can use the tabs at the top to filter the list by position. You can also click on any player’s name for a recap of that player’s recent news updates.
As you add players to your lineup, they are displayed over on the right side of the draft page. Your remaining salary will be displayed at all times along with a number that shows the average amount of money you have left to pay each of your remaining picks.
When you’re done choosing players, click on the green “enter” button to confirm your entry. The entry fee will be deducted from your account and you’re done. Now all you have to do is wait for the games to begin.
You’ll want to check in on your lineup every few days to make sure everyone is still good to play. If anyone is injured or becomes questionable for play, an icon will appear next to that player’s name in your lineup. You can change and edit your lineup as many times as you want until the games begin.
FanDuel and DraftKings now offer late swap functionality as of 2017. Prior to the late swap feature, your entire lineup was locked into place as soon as the first game began. Now, you can switch out players at will until each player’s individual game begins.
When the actual football games begin, your fantasy team will start racking up points as each player accomplishes certain feats on the field. If you have Peyton Manning, for example, you’ll get points every time he throws a touchdown pass and partial points for every passing yard. Basically, your players earn points for you when they do their jobs well.
Each fantasy site scores the game a little differently so you’ll want to check with your site’s “rules” page to learn more. Here’s how FanDuel and DraftKings score fantasy football contests.
Once you’ve entered a daily fantasy league, all you have to do now is sit back and watch the games. Hopefully, the players you chose for your fantasy lineup perform well in the real world and earn a bunch of points for your fantasy team.
Most online NFL contests end at the conclusion of Monday night’s game. That is when you find out your final standing in the rankings. If your team has accumulated enough points, you’ll earn a real money payout. The size of the payout depends on the tournament’s prize pool, number of entries and your final ranking. All winnings are paid within 24 hours.
Types of Daily NFL Leagues
Note: we call them “daily NFL leagues” but they are more like 3-days leagues in the NFL. Most contests that you see online cover one whole weekend of football that lasts from Thursday evening through Monday night. However, some tournaments do cover Sunday only and thus are truly one-day leagues.
Daily fantasy contests come in all different formats. One day salary cap games are the most common and most popular today. FanDuel, DraftKings and most other fantasy sites use this format for their NFL and CFB leagues. This format is further broken down into different types of contests as listed below.
Big tournaments such as the Sunday Million attraction all the attention but those account for a minority of all the cash paid out to winners. Hundreds of smaller tournaments and heads-up contests are hosted every day and collectively pay out millions of dollars’ worth of prizes every week.
These are the events in which you and many other players compete for large cash prizes. Tournaments typically cost little to enter compared to the amount of money you can potentially win. Some tournaments at the bigger fantasy sites pay out a million dollars or more to the first place winner.
Prizes are typically paid out to the top 15 to 20% of the field. First place always get the biggest prize of them all, with smaller prizes paid out to the other high finishers.
A heads-up contest is played between you and exactly one other person. You each pay a buyin fee, draft a team and the person whose team accumulates the most points wins the pot. Buyins for heads-up games range from less than a dollar to more than $5,000.
50/50 leagues look like tournaments because lots of people join. What makes a 50/50 league different is that prizes are paid out to 50% of the field. If you manage to place in the top half of the final rankings, you earn double your buyin.
Multipliers work in a similar manner as 50/50 leagues. The difference here is that instead of the half of the field winning double their buyin, you might have the top third of the field win 3x their buyin or the top fifth of the field winning 5x their buyin. 3x, 5x and 10x multipliers are the most common.
A qualifier tournament does not pay cash to the winners. Instead, it awards free entry to more expensive tournaments. This is the way to go if you want to participate in some large tournament but don’t have the bankroll to buy in direct.
Step tournaments are organized into 4 distinct levels. You can buy in directly to any level and if you place near the top, you earn free entry to the next level up. For example, you can start at step 1 for $2. If you win that one, you get free entry to level 2 and so on up to level 4. Step 4 tournaments at DraftKings have an $88 fee and pay $200 to first and second place.
DraftKings launched Pick’em games in 2017 as a form of daily fantasy that is faster and easier than standard salary games. In a pick’em contest, DraftKings presents you with multiple tiers of players. Your job is to pick one player from each tier. Each tier usually consists of eight players and you can pick any player from that tier that you wish.
Pick’em contests do not rely on the salary cap system at all – players are not priced. Instead, you simply pick one player from each tier and then move on to the next tier. Your choice is limited to one of the players from each tier, but the process is much easier because you don’t have to worry about building the perfect lineup while managing a virtual salary. Simply pick one player from each tier and move on to the next.
Once you have picked a player from each tier, your lineup is complete and the game proceeds as normal from there. Regular DraftKings scoring rules still apply from this point forward. See this post for more information about pick’em games.
The Last Word
Whew. I realize I just threw a lot of information at you. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by now, fear not. Online fantasy football isn’t nearly as complicated in practice as it looks on paper. The best thing you can do is sign up at one of the big sites and play in a cheap tournament or heads-up contest. Just have fun with it and look at your first couple of contests as a part of the learning experience.
It will all start to come together as soon as you draft your first lineup. It all moves pretty quickly once you get the hang of the interface and learn how to draft your own teams. From there, it’s just a matter of researching strategy, playing in contests and having fun.
Good luck out there.