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Host your own fantasy football league: 5 apps that make it easy

It's that time of year: The leaves are changing, and football is starting back up. If you want to host your own fantasy football league, ESPN Fantasy is ZDNET's top choice. We compared interfaces, users, timeliness of news, and brand reputation in order to find the best fantasy football apps that give you the most information in a quick glance for your fantasy season.
josh-slate
Written by Josh Slate, Contributor on

Fantasy football is one of the most stressful, yet rewarding, games you can play. From Thursday night to Tuesday morning, your eyes are glued to the score to see if you beat your opponent. One of the best things about fantasy football is the negotiation and persuading others to get that high-value player through trades and free agency pickups. To do that, you need an app that can support the massive amount of pickups that happen each day.

As an avid fantasy football player, finding the app that looks the best and provides the most information in a timely manner can be so important in your experience. Have an app that doesn't end great notifications and you end up starting a player on Injured Reserve? We've all been there. Don't have that mistake happen again. Here are the five best free fantasy football apps as we inch closer to football season.

Features

  • League sizes ranging from 4 teams to 20 teams
  • Ability to watch ESPN and ESPN+ within the app
  • Adjustable trade availability for players

ESPN is named the "Worldwide Leader in Sports" and their fantasy football app is the leader in the fantasy football realm if you ask me. Their sleek and colorful interface makes the app easy to navigate and the best platform to beat your friends on.

With easy access to ESPN news and updates, you will be able to stay informed on all things NFL. Notifications on the app include: injury updates, score updates, and whether a player on your bench is projected to outscore one of your starters. These notifications can be game-changing if a busy week puts you away from your phone on Sundays.

By the fourth week in the 2021 NFL season, ESPN had 10 million fantasy football players spending over 1.8 billion minutes total on the app. As fantasy sports continue to grow in popularity, I wouldn't be shocked if ESPN saw even more players this year

Pros

  • App is easy to navigate
  • Access to an abundance of ESPN articles
  • Projections based off IBM Watson technology

Cons

  • Not the best platform for long-time fantasy players
  • Not a lot of customization options

Features or tech specs

  • Can have up to 16 teams in one league
  • News straight from the NFL
  • Ability to stream local and primetime games live in the app

We all love having news straight from the source and that's what the NFL Fantasy app provides. Since it is the official app of the NFL, users will get the most up-to-date player statistics, injury reports, and news circling around the league. But, while the news is fantastic, the analysis provided in preparation is behind many of its competitors. 

The interface and overall layout of the app have changed drastically over the years, arguably the third best interface behind Yahoo and ESPN. The app uses a unique font and a bright color scheme to create a more "fun" atmosphere. 

Pros

  • Great amount of stats and timely news
  • Preset a lineup with the Optimize Lineup button

Cons

  • Can only use for fantasy football
  • Projection statistics are lacking

Features or tech specs

  • Can have up to 16-teams in a league
  • Prize leagues available 
  • Personalized news post about the fantasy league

Much like the NFL Fantasy app, the Yahoo Fantasy Football app has come a long way. I just started using this app last year, and I use most of the information I obtain in this app on my other leagues. While it isn't incredibly flashy, the interface is easy to navigate and the access to information is easier than any other app. 

Although the news doesn't match the news that ESPN offers defense rankings, which are color-coded based on where they rank in the league, to let users know if that player is the best one to use each week. Additionally, on your page with your players, it makes it incredibly easy to swap players out at any time they are not in play.

The Yahoo app is making incredible strides and now I, and many others I know, agree that this platform is a serious contender for the best fantasy football app.

Pros

  • Easy to navigate the app
  • Customized weekly recaps of your team
  • Ability to see how you did in past seasons through your account in the app

Cons

  • Bad chat system within the app
  • PPR, the most-popular scoring system, is not their default scoring system

Features or tech specs

  • League sizes can range from 4-32 teams
  • Dynasty, auction, or re-draft leagues available
  • Customized scoring options

Imagine Discord or Slack, but with fantasy football involved in it -- welcome to Sleeper. With this app, you can connect with your friends, make bragging rights even more important, and stay up-to-date with news around not only football, but basketball, esports, and more.

I used this app for a draft last year and it was amazing what you can do on this platform. We couldn't find a time that worked for everyone for a draft so we did a draft with no time-limit and imported the rosters into the ESPN app where we ran our league. While the draft took much longer than it needed to, the Sleeper app saved our league.

The very vibrant, modern looking interface makes it a perfect app for younger generations or leagues that want to change it up a little bit. With over 3 million active users and a top-50 retention rate ranking in the app-store, Sleeper is capable of being the top fantasy app here soon.

Pros

  • No ads
  • Sense of community with advanced chat options
  • Incredible app design

Cons

  • Have to pay for customization options
  • Frequent glitches

Features or tech specs

  • League size ranges from 4-24 teams
  • 137 scoring systems to choose from
  • Ability to hold multi-team trades up to three years in advance

Dynasty leagues aren't incredibly popular, but definitely worth the time if you are a devoted fantasy football player. In fact, I'm preparing to do my first dynasty league this year using Flea Flicker. In terms of typical fantasy football apps, I wouldn't throw this in the top five, but in terms of dynasty leagues, this is the one that stood out the most to me.

The company that grew in popularity in the early 2000s is still running today and the customization options through your league are incredible. With over 137 scoring systems to use in the app, there is a type of league for everyone - even the picky players.

Pros

  • Easily import your leagues from major fantasy platforms
  • Short off-season
  • Customization is incredible

Cons

  • Interface is incredibly dated
  • Have to pay for fantasy projections

What is the best fantasy football app?

The ESPN Fantasy Football app is the top pick because of how simple the interface is to navigate, the timely news to keep your lineup updated, and the customization options for your league. To make your decision a little bit easier, here are the key features of each app.

Fantasy football app

Max teams per league

Streaming in app

Users in 2021

ESPN Fantasy

20

Yes

10 million

NFL Fantasy Football

16

Yes

4 million

Yahoo Fantasy Football

16

No

7 million

Sleeper

32

No

3 million

Flea Flicker

24

No

N/A

Which is the right fantasy football app for you?

The days of running fantasy football leagues with pen and paper are done. Through these apps, you can have an organized, informative, and fun experience playing the game you love, or hate, depending on the week.

Deciding on which app to run your league from is tough, but consider this table before you make your decision.

Choose this fantasy football app…

If you want…

ESPN Fantasy

An app that is widely popular and will give you the best overall fantasy football experience

NFL Fantasy Football

To use an app run by the NFL to find news straight from the source

Yahoo Fantasy Football

To play fantasy football and want an app that is easy to navigate

Sleeper

A platform to not only play fantasy football, but to chat with friends through direct messages or group chats in the app

Flea Flicker

To be in a long-term league with a reliable dynasty program

How did we choose these fantasy football apps?

Whether it comes to food, electronics, or fantasy football, I'm incredibly picky. So when deciding which platform I want to run my league on, I had to think long and hard. But, there are so many great platforms out there, it is hard to choose between the top-four choices. 

ESPN's Fantasy app is the clear choice for the No. 1 spot because of its popularity, simplistic design, and punctual news from around the NFL. In terms of the other four included in this list, it all comes down to preference. Many of my friends love the Yahoo app for its simple design, but also love the NFL app because of the news that you get. Granted, you can always have both if you want to run the league on Yahoo, but stay updated with the NFL app.

For the last two, I haven't heard of them until the last year. Sleeper's ability to have three types of leagues with lots of customization options makes it a very intriguing platform for new players. As for Flea Flicker, it is not very popular, but has a good reputation among the users of the app. But, I would only use it for their dynasty leagues.

How are fantasy football apps different from one another?

To non-fantasy football players, all the apps are the same. But for avid players, we know the differences. Different apps have various customization options, interfaces, and league settings. Although at the end of the day, the game is very similar among platforms; different users have different preferences on how it looks and how the scoring is rewarded.

What position should I draft first in fantasy football?

The running-back position needs to be the first spot you fill on your roster. With few great running-backs in the NFL, being able to score one of the top players is essential to winning your fantasy Super Bowl.

What is a good weekly fantasy football score?

It all depends on your scoring style in your league. But, for a standard scoring league, 100 points would give you a roughly 75% chance of winning each week.

Are there alternative fantasy football apps worth considering?

Beyond the top-five league hosting platforms, there really aren't a great deal of alternatives for fantasy football. But, these two apps listed below can be argued as top-five apps.

CBS and Rotowire are great choices for those who want to try something new. But, trying to convince 8-10 people to make the switch too can be tough no matter which app you decide to use. 

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