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How to win your dynasty league

A Super Bowl MVP at age 25, Russell Wilson has strong long-term value for dynasty leagues. Elsa/Getty Images

Top Dynasty QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | Top 100, D/ST, K

Welcome to Dynasty 101, an intro class on dynasty fantasy football. This is not redraft, this is not keeper, and most of all, this is not for the casual fantasy player. This is for players who want to build and manage a team 365 days a year, who have a taste for scouting and long-term roster planning, and who want to invest in something that will have them competing for years to come.

That preamble isn't meant to scare you off. Many of the principles you learned playing redraft and keeper leagues will apply here, but there are nevertheless some distinct strategic differences, ones you will need to learn if you hope to succeed in your dynasty league. For example, age and upside matter much more in dynasty. After all, a championship is not the goal; championships year-after-year are the goal.

Like a shark, a dynasty owner needs to keep swimming to survive. But luckily for you, your professor is one of the fiercest Great Whites in the sea. Let's take a look at the basic principles and strategies that will help you win your dynasty league.

How do dynasty leagues work?

So what exactly is a dynasty league? Like all fantasy football leagues, the rules can vary a great deal. But the basic concept is that rosters are noticeably bigger than in a yearly redraft league, and once you acquire a player, that player is on your roster indefinitely. You can still cut or trade anyone you want, so your roster is constantly evolving -- much more than in a redraft league.

As the GM of your team, you must be keenly aware of every player's value and what sort of franchise you have in the short and long terms. It is also very important that you learn the tendencies and plans of the owners against whom you are competing.

In most leagues, you will start one quarterback, one running back, two wide receivers, one tight end and three flex players. Some leagues have a starting D/ST and/or placekicker as well.

Most dynasty leagues have 12 teams, each with around 25 roster spots. Some leagues will have an injured reserve spot or two during the season, but in many cases, you will have some dead weight on your roster as players get injured.

Roster management is obviously critical, and one thing I consistently find in my leagues is that I have a very difficult time finding room for all the players I covet.

How do I get started?

I am in three dynasty leagues. In each case, I inherited a terrible franchise. In the upcoming month or so, I will join a fourth league, which will be an upstart league with a massive start-up draft. I can't wait. But that is an article for another day.

Since dynasty is forever, owners will occasionally give up their teams (usually bad ones), and an opening arises in the league. That is how I have gotten involved in my three present leagues, and I have been forced to totally rebuild a poor team on each occasion. Each of the past three years, I have joined a new league. My most recent one, which I enter this spring, held a three-team draft for the clubs left open by previous owners.

One owner took a very live-for-today approach in that mini draft and has what looks to be a playoff-ready squad for 2014. On the other hand, I took a very long-term view. My team will be terrible in 2014, but I now have young building blocks such as Russell Wilson, Carlos Hyde, Mike Evans, Justin Hunter and Travis Kelce, to name just a few. I stayed away from older players entirely. In the league in which I've competed the longest -- this will be my third season in that one -- I now have Montee Ball, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant, Percy Harvin, Alshon Jeffery and Jimmy Graham, all based on forward-looking decisions I made at or near the very beginning of my ownership.

So unlike redraft, even if you are not competitive for the present season, there is much work to be done and fun to be had. I am entering the second season in my other league and am already knocking on the championship door with an extremely deep roster highlighted by Wilson, Le'Veon Bell, Harvin, Michael Crabtree, Michael Floyd and Graham. In that league, I have more of "My Guys" than I can truly handle, as I have been so active in acquiring upside players.

Your strategy once you begin should take into account the current standing of your squad. Are you taking over someone's shoddy creation? Then break it all down and begin to build for the future. You're unlikely to be competing right away, so it's best to stock up while your competitors try to make an immediate title run. If you're starting anew, the future is still the most important, but you might want to think of drafting some "win-now" guys here and there.

What should I look for in players?

Overall: I covet youth and upside. To state the obvious, I want talent, and I always value talent over situation. Of course, a player's system and depth chart always matter as well. But players change teams too, and coaching and scheme changes occur, so evaluating based on situation can be difficult in the long term. The wise owner should understand how a fantasy player could be affected by a new scheme or how he might respond when surrounded by a new cast of characters.

Additionally, I tend to build my team around the wide receiver position. It is the safest, there are ton of options to pick from and it can pay off for the long term while still supplying you with a bevy of fantasy points on a week-to-week basis. Still, let's look at each position individually.

Running backs: RBs don't last long in the NFL, so it is important to get out a year too early rather than a year too late. For example, I am selling Marshawn Lynch right now, and I also think Matt Forte is on the cusp of being a "Sell."

Why, you ask? Just think about how much Ray Rice's stock has dropped from just one year ago. Right now, you can't get anything in return for Rice. It happens all the time with running backs. Buy low; sell high. Never forget that with any position, but running backs represent the most volatile stock by a wide margin.

Wide receivers: Youth is also important at wide receiver, but less so. If you land a young stud, he might be a serious asset for you for 10 seasons, and the drop-off is not as early or as severe as it is at running back.

Tight ends: Young tight ends rarely excel when they enter the league, so I love to buy guys such as Tyler Eifert or Jason Kelce after their first seasons.

Quarterbacks: QB is the one position for which I am not all that concerned with age. Much like NFL teams, I want a leader under center that I trust week-to-week and year-to-year. I generally don't like using early rookie picks on quarterbacks, as their bust rate in the NFL is just too high.

Instead, you can acquire Jay Cutler or Ben Roethlisberger at a somewhat minimal cost, and while they might not be A-plus fantasy starters, you can get them on the cheap and know exactly what they bring to the table; then, you can then use your other assets to build a monster group of running backs, wide receivers and tight ends.

The dynasty calendar

As with the NFL, there are times of the year that are busier than others, but overall, dynasty leagues are year-round affairs.

End of regular season: Let's start with when the NFL regular season ends. At that point, many of your players will be participating in the NFL playoffs. It is imperative for dynasty owners to track every eligible player during the NFL postseason. What they do on the field doesn't matter in terms of fantasy points, but the stock of many players rises and falls during this stretch.

Free agency: After the NFL season is complete, we have to prepare for free agency. Who on your squad is likely to switch NFL teams because his contract is up? You should know when a player's contract is up way before this point, but over that month or so of the NFL free-agent frenzy, player values fluctuate quite a bit.

Should you sell a free agent-to-be as you worry about his possible new landing spot? Should you buy? You must react quickly to signings around your dynasty league.

NFL draft: Like NFL GMs, you will now dedicate yourself to evaluating prospects in advance of the NFL draft. But unlike the executives of real franchises, you have another draft to keep track of: the rookie draft.

What is a rookie draft? Once the real-life teams have selected their rookies and signed some others, dynasty leagues hold a draft to distribute that year's newcomers. Pick order is decided similarly to the NFL draft. If you won your Super Bowl in a 12-team league, you pick 12th in each round. If you had the second best team, you pick 11th, and so on.

Some leagues use an "anti-tanking" rule that I love: The non-playoff teams have a tournament during the playoffs, and the team that wins it gets the first overall pick. This way, if your team is dreadful, you still are in a prime position to boost your squad with promising rookies. Everyone gets one pick in each round, but future draft picks can be traded during the season. So if your squad isn't a contender, you want to ship older players off to contending teams for youngsters or draft picks.

There is a great deal of activity during a rookie draft. The trade market comes alive as teams move all over the draft board to get the players they covet. By the time the rookie draft comes around, you will have been studying these rookies for months and will know whom you want and where they are expected to be picked.

For example, in nearly every rookie draft this year, Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans were the first players off the board. Because of his landing spot in Tennessee, Bishop Sankey's stock soared from where he was viewed in the dynasty community before the NFL draft took place. Generally, rookie drafts go four rounds. By that fourth round, guys such as John Brown and Troy Niklas are selected.

Offseason: After the bevy of moves that transpire during your rookie draft, there is a little down time in dynasty. Even so, you will need to be examining your roster and the other teams in your league at this point. Say you have more tight ends than you can reasonably use, and Team X is short at the position; well, why not turn one of those tight ends into a future rookie pick or package him with something else to improve at another position?

This is the sort of stuff to be thinking about and exploring during the early parts of the summer. But overall, the space between rookie draft and when training camp opens is pretty slow.

Training camp: Training camp opens, and football is back for real! You must be paying attention now on a daily basis. Who looks good? Who got injured? Who has not recovered from injury like you had hoped? Who took over as a starter? All of these factors start to take shape even before preseason games, then become more fully formed when we actually get to see live action.

You must pay attention. After the Denver Broncos' first preseason game last year, I picked up a guy named Julius Thomas off the waiver wire. For nothing. That worked out pretty well.

Regular season: The season starts anew, and more or less, you handle the following 17 weeks just like you would in a redraft league. You set your lineups. You root for your guys. You explore trades and make free-agent pickups.

But what is extra important here is that you must self-scout. You must be your own best critic. Is your team a contender? Might it be worth it to trade a second- or third-round rookie pick to land an aging but productive player such as Reggie Wayne or Greg Jennings? Or is it time to sell, sell, sell? I have found that riding the fence on this issue can end in disaster, so you must be on top of it, and you must be willing to make moves when the time comes. (And not just because most leagues have a trade deadline.)

Also, as in redraft leagues, dynasty will have a playoff system near the end of the NFL regular season. Lastly -- and this is most important -- if your team does get in the playoffs, you might as well go win the whole thing. The goal is always to win a title. Just like in real life, you can't count on having a chance to be champs every single year.