FanPost

Fantasy Football Analysis: Draft Strategy


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If you’ve been following my summer fantasy football articles, then you’ve seen my breakdowns of quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, kickers and defense/special teams. And you’ve also seen which players I like for 2012, including Viking’s players. This next article in my summer analysis series will cover draft strategy, which doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the Vikings per se, but since several of you asked for it, I’ll do my best. Ultimately, seasons are won and lost in the draft, so read on after the jump as I break down draft strategy in fantasy football.

First things first, because there are many varieties in how leagues are structured (and to make this easy on myself) I’m going to focus the draft strategy on ESPN standard 10-team leagues, just as I have for all my other articles. There are also different drafting formats (like Snake style or Auction style) and since I don’t have a lot of experience with other draft formats, this post will focus on Snake style. Keep in mind that if your league utilizes different scoring conventions or formats (PPR, keeper league, 12+ teams, etc) that will have an impact on draft strategy and those other formats won’t be covered here. Also, I used stats from fftoday.com as usual, as well as the calculations from my previous analysis articles. There are two main draft strategies that I have tried successfully and that this article will focus on: Rankings Draft Strategy and Value Based Draft Strategy. So, let’s get to it!


General Considerations

As John Madden might say, “you have to score more points than your opponent, if you want to win the game.” And Captain Obvious is right. But, how do you do that? Well, it starts with drafting the right players. In ESPN standard leagues that means 9 starters (QB, RB1, RB2, WR1, WR2, FLEX, TE, D/ST and K) and then some combination of 7 bench players. My bench usually consists of the following: QB, RB x2, WR x2, and Wildcard. My wildcard is usually a RB or WR that is opposite of whatever I went with for my flex. If I went RB for my flex, then my wildcard will be a WR and vice versa. That gives me a total of 5 RB and 5 WR on my team, which is a lot of options. I never, ever draft a backup D/ST or K. They are a dime a dozen and can be easily swapped out during the bye weeks, and besides, there’s a good chance that you won’t end up with a Top 10 D/ST or K out of the draft anyway.

In a 10-team league, every team wants some combination of the top 10 players at each starting position, because anything less than that is missing out on the best possible players, obviously. So, if everyone has Top 10 players, then in order to win in fantasy football, you’ll want players that can consistently beat the average Top 10 player. So, here are the Average Top 10 points per week by position from 2011. For RB2 and WR2, I took the average of players ranked 11-20 at each position, and for the FLEX position, I took the best combined averages of both RB and WR ranked 21st and after (it was 8 RB and 2 WR).

QB: 20.3
RB1: 16.2
RB2: 11.9
WR1: 12.5
WR2: 10.3
FLEX: 9.9
TE: 9.2
D/ST: 8.5
K: 8.4
Average Total Per Week: 107.2

So if you were lucky enough to draft an average top 10 or 20 player at every position, you would have easily won your league averaging 107.2 points per week. But look at those point total differentials. Quarterbacks score way more than the other positions (almost double RB2, WR2 and FLEX). Also, notice the drop-off in points between RB1 and RB2, and then compare that to WR1 and WR2. So, if we’re trying to beat the market average, there are two ways to do it. First is to draft players at each position that do better than average. The second way though, is to try to fill your RB2 or FLEX spots with Top 10 talent. If you can draft two players that would work as a RB1 into those other spots, you’re going to outpace the average by almost 5 fantasy points per week, which is pretty significant. On the flipside, if you’re looking for elite players that significantly outpace the average, then last year for QBs, that was Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees (6.5 and 4.2 points above average). For RBs there really wasn’t anybody, although Arian Foster and LeSean McCoy both scored 2.5 points above average. For WRs that was only Calvin Johnson (4 points above average), and for the Tight End position it was Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham (3-4 points above average). That is a total of only 5 players across all positions that significantly beat the average. You’re likely only going to have a chance to land one of those guys, if that. So, it’s not just about getting lucky and drafting those few players that can beat the average. When drafting players you also want to take “value” into consideration and look at how each position does in fantasy. So, the first draft strategy to examine is the Value Draft Strategy.


Value Draft Strategy

How is value measured? Well I was taught in my 8th grade Economics class that it’s usually measured by the law of “Supply and Demand”. If supply is up while demand is down, the value is low. If supply is down while demand is up, then the value is high, and all things equal, the value is medium. So, using this premise we can evaluate each position. Starting with quarterbacks, since you only need to start 1 of them, their demand is low, and especially when compared to RB and WR (where you can start 2-3 of each). For evaluating the supply, a good supply will have a large number of players that do well when compared to the average. As I mentioned above, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees score very well above the mean (6.5 and 4.2 points respectively). So drafting one of those QBs will give you a significant advantage. But after that, the QBs exist in “Tiers” (as my QB analysis showed). After the two elites, you have the 2nd Tier of three QBs (Brady/Newton/Stafford), which all average above the mean (2 points above), and then you have a third Tier of 4 QBs (Vick/Manning/Romo/Ryan) who all scored below the mean (2.5 points below). That makes 7 quarterbacks who all score pretty closely to the mean, and 2 that were lights out elite and 1 that kind of sucked (that was actually a tie between Matt Schaub and Philip Rivers). So this is all a long-winded way to say that, aside from Rodgers and Brees or Schaub/Rivers, there’s not a lot of difference from one QB to the next, and therefore the supply is high. In fact, the standard deviation of each Tier of QBs fell between 0.4 and 0.9, which is very small. So, since the demand is low and the supply is high, that means the overall value for QBs is pretty low for draft purposes.

What about the running back position? Top 10 Running backs last year averaged about 4 points less than QBs per game last year, but those RBs ranked 11-20, scored almost 10 points less. So, considering that teams have to start at least 2 and can start up to 3 with the flex position in ESPN leagues, the demand is high. When you then also consider the big drop-off in production from Top 10 to Top 20, and that the standard deviation for Top 20 RB is 2.7 (which is pretty high), this means that the overall supply of running backs is low. So, a high demand coupled with a low supply gives the RB position a lot of value. As I mentioned earlier, if you can find greater value at your RB2 and FLEX positions, you’ll make up significant point totals against the mean without having to search for or get lucky with an elite guy. While your first round pick isn't going to beat the RB average by much, because of the value they often get drafted in the first round anyway.

What about Wide Receivers? Generally speaking they score less than QBs and RBs in standard leagues, but you have to start 2-3 of them, so demand is high. But look at the difference between Top 10 and top 20 Wide Receivers; there isn’t a huge drop-off in the average. In fact, the standard deviation of Top 20 WR is only 1.6, and if you remove Calvin Johnson from the equation (who averaged 4 points better than average), the standard deviation drops even more to a mere 1.2. This tells us that the supply is also high, putting their value in the medium category. Unlike running backs, you’re probably not going to make up a significant point difference by stockpiling a second Top 10 WR.

And lastly, the tight end position; wait, lastly? What about Kickers and D/ST? Well, they don’t matter (remember?), so I’m not going to waste any time with those positions. First off, the demand for a TE is low, since you only need to start 1 of them. And looking at the standard deviation reveals that there isn’t a whole lot of difference from one TE to the next (unless you had Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham). For all Top 10 TEs, the standard deviation is 2.6 which is high, but if you remove Gronkowski and Graham, the number falls significantly to 0.97, making the supply for “everybody else” pretty high. So, with a low demand and a high supply, that makes the overall value of a TE pretty low.

So, where does that leave us in terms of draft strategy? Here’s a review of the overall value of each position:

QB: Low
RB: High
WR: Medium
TE: Low
D/ST: doesn’t matter
K: doesn’t matter

So for the Draft Value Strategy, drafting a RB in the first round is the smartest move you can make, because they have the highest value. But even smarter than drafting a RB 1st, is to follow that up by drafting a RB in the 2nd round too. That gives you two of the highest valued positions with your first two picks AND allows you to make up significant points against the mean with your RB2 spot without having risk your pick on the hopes that a player turns out to be elite. After that, the value chart tells us to draft a WR in the 3rd round, since they have the next highest value. Then in the 4th round it’s a tie between QB and TE. Why a TE? Well, remember Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham? If one of those guys is still available in the 4th round, they MUST be drafted, as they’ll give you significant points against the mean. There’s a good chance that an adequate QB will be available in the 5th round, so if you have a shot at that elite TE in the 4th, you should take it. Otherwise, you can probably wait until the 6th or 7th rounds for a TE and focus on your W2 and FLEX after that. All that said, I would even consider going TE in the 3rd round, especially if there hasn’t been a run on WR yet, since the WR position is pretty deep. Remember, after Calvin Johnson, there wasn’t a lot of difference between top 10 and top 20 WR. But if you went WR in the 3rd, and there are no elite TE left in the 4th, then you should probably go QB in the 4th with the hopes that you can still get a Tier 2 guy that averages slightly above the mean. Then in the 5th round draft whatever position is left. In other words, rounds 3, 4 and 5 will get you a QB, WR or Elite TE, in some order, depending on who is available. In rounds 6 and 7, you’re drafting for WR2, FLEX and TE if there were no elite ones left. Then after that, you can rinse and repeat for the backups. Breaking it down a little more, here are the positions by round with projected bonus points against the mean.

Value Strategy

Position Target

Bonus Against Mean

Round 1

RB1

0 (everyone is drafting their RB1)

Round 2

RB2

+3-4 (mixture of positions from everyone else)

Round 3

WR1 (maybe elite TE)

+0-5 (mixture of positions from everyone else)

Round 4

QB or WR1 (or elite TE)

-1 to +5 (mixture of positions from everyone else)

Round 5

QB or WR1/WR2

-1 to 0

Round 6

WR2/FLEX/TE

0

Round 7

FLEX/TE

0

Round 8-14

Best QB/WR/RB/TE

0

Round 15

D/ST

0

Round 16

K

0

Again, with the Value Draft strategy, you’re looking to draft positions that can beat the average. The value draft strategy can also give you excellent leverage later in the season for trades as well, as you’ll have more of the most valuable positions in fantasy. Overall, it’s a pretty good system, and the RB-RB strategy is a well known, common draft strategy. I’ve even seen team owners take it to the extreme and draft a RB with their first 3 picks in the hopes of landing potential starters for their RB2 and FLEX positions. They end up with average or slightly below at QB, WR and TE, but late in the season when everyone else is freaking out about their RB position due to injury or sudden time shares, they typically don’t need to worry as much.


Rankings Draft Strategy

The other draft strategy I have used is one that mimics a real NFL draft more closely, and that is to use an overall rankings chart, or “Big Board”. While you’ll likely use one anyway in the Value Draft Strategy (or at least a positional ranking), here, you can pretty much ignore any position and just follow the overall ranking. This is more of a no-nonsense style of draft where you ignore all the statistical data, and just draft players that will score the most points. This one relies on projected point totals (which are never accurate), as well as trust in a ranking source. The main difference between this strategy and the Value Draft strategy is that this one is looking to draft players that can beat the average rather than positions.

Following this strategy often times means that you’re drafting a QB in the first round, since they average the most points, and then a RB in the 2nd round, since they tend to score the next most points and so on. With the 3rd pick you’ll likely take either another RB or a WR1, whichever is best at the time. But after that it’s pretty much whatever position is available, since the other positions (RB2, WR2, TE, FLEX) all tend to score a similar amount of points. With this strategy you’re basically hoping to score elite players at every position that can beat the mean, or at the very least, players that are average or better. Most people will tweak this as they go, and not follow the overall ranking *exactly*, because it can result in drafting 3 QBs or 3 TEs or something ridiculous like that depending on who is available on the ranking. You have to use a little common sense, because even if there is a 2nd QB available who will score more points than a RB in round 4, you can’t start that 2nd QB, so they're not worth drafting (unless you’re thinking ahead and planning to trade…a LOT). If you don’t adjust your rankings and be flexible, then this draft strategy runs the risk of being very similar to the dreaded “auto-draft” scenario that you want to try to avoid if at all possible.

So, drafting a QB in the 1st round isn’t the worst strategy actually, especially if you get an elite one like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, because they’ll also give you significant points above the mean. While the Value Draft Strategy got those bonus points above the mean with the RB2 position, the Rankings Draft Strategy will get it from specific quarterbacks, usually, and then hope to get lucky with elite players at every other position. It’s tough to predict which positions will be drafted via the rankings strategy, but here’s how it might end up going:

Rankings Strategy

Likely Position Targets

Bonus Against Mean

Round 1

QB

+4-6 (most are drafting their RB1)

Round 2

RB1

-1 (mixture of positions)

Round 3

RB2 or WR1

0 (mixture of positions)

Round 4

RB2 or WR1 or TE

-2 to 0(mixture of positions)

Round 5

RB2 or WR2 or TE

0

Round 6

RB3 or WR2 or TE

0

Rounds 7-14

Best QB/WR/RB/TE

0

Round 15

D/ST

0

Round 16

K

0

Like I said above, if you draft an elite QB in the first round, you’ll likely makeup some points against the mean; however you’ll also sacrifice some points to the mean later on, because you’re missing out on the elite RB talent. And even worse, you’ll have to pick scraps (or get REALLY lucky) with your RB2 position or even your WR position. Drafting a QB in the first round is a risky proposition, but I have to admit that I’ve seen it work…it just usually requires a bit of luck with players falling in your lap later in the draft. Ultimately, I think the Value Draft Strategy (RB-RB) is a safer strategy to go with.


Draft Position

Ok, so we have two strategies all laid out, but what about different drafting positions? If you draft 1st or 10th will that have an impact on which strategy go to with, or position to target? The short answer: yes, especially if you draft 10th. If you draft 10th, there’s a very real possibility that everyone before you has either drafted the Top 9 RB (or something like the top 7-8 RB, and then maybe a few other people drafted QBs). In that case, if you take the next best RB, you’re already behind the mean. The upside in a snake is, you get first crack in the 2nd round, so you can make up some ground there by taking another RB, but overall, you’ll still be behind someone who went RB-RB drafting out of, say, the 3rd or 4th position, because they’ll also makeup points against the mean with their round 2 RB. In fact, their RB1 compared your RB1 is probably better than your RB2 compared to their RB2, putting you behind the curve. So, if there IS an elite QB still left when you draft 10th, then I think it makes the most sense to go QB-RB or RB-QB (you’ll pick twice in a row in the 10th spot, so it doesn’t matter the order). That way, you’ll beat more of the mean with your QB than you would with a 2nd RB. Again, the downside is, you’ll lose again later with your RB2, but hopefully not too badly. But, if there ISN’T an elite QB left, then you probably want to stick with RB-RB anyway and take your lumps.

Drafting 10th means you’ll have a lot time to wait until you draft again while it snakes around to the end of the 3rd round. Since you’re playing from behind for pretty much the entire draft, this is a draft position where grabbing one of those elite TEs can help you overcome some of the disadvantage again (just like when you maybe went with a QB in the 1st). Either way, you have the best opportunity to beat the mean by taking a TE in the 3rd (assuming an elite guy is still there), and then getting a WR immediately after at the top of the 4th. So, drafting #10, I’d probably go with one of these two scenarios, depending on if there is an elite QB still available in round 1:

Drafting 10th Scenario 1 (no elite QB left)
Round 1/2: RB1 – RB2
Round 3/4: Elite TE – WR1
Round 5/6: QB – WR2
Round 7/8: RB3 – WR3

Drafting 10th Scenario 2 (elite QB available)
Round 1/2: Elite QB – RB1
Round 3/4: Elite TE – WR1
Round 5/6: RB2 – WR2
Round 7/8: RB3 – WR3

In Scenario two, you’ll take a bit of a hit at RB2, but hopefully you’ll make up a significant difference at QB to off-set the minimal loss. When you’re drafting late, you’ve got to find elite players at less common positions, or else you’ll be playing from behind for pretty much the entire draft, and subsequent season. Other than drafting 10th (or maybe even 9th) I don’t think there are any other major considerations to make. Sure, drafting 1st or 2nd requires you to wait just as long for the draft to snake around, but since those positions already get the top 1 and 2 players overall, there’s not too much to be worried about. Their elite selections will make-up for any deficiencies later on.

So, stay tuned as the last article in the series will be a cumulative draft ranking, where I will average together some of the internet’s top fantasy ranking sources. I don’t usually make my own overall ranking…I rely on the real experts for that. But since I like to average several sources together, I’m happy to share my results with you all.

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.

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