Let’s explore the concept of Value-Based Drafting (VBD), dissecting its essence and how it can be harnessed effectively to enhance your success in fantasy football drafts.
Familiarise Yourself with League Settings and Scoring
It might seem like a basic point, but overlooking the league’s format and adjusting your player rankings accordingly is a common mistake. Many assume that player rankings remain consistent regardless of scoring changes, but that’s not the case. In standard scoring, a top-tier running back holds greater value than an elite wide receiver or even someone like Travis Kelce. This is because the frequency and impact of running back touches greatly affect their value. In this context, a running back carrying the ball 250 times is more valuable than a wide receiver making around 100 catches. Standard scoring emphasises production without any frills. However, the dynamic shifts with formats like PPR or half-PPR, where wide receivers gain value from catches.
To grasp the implications of scoring variations, consider these steps:
- Engage in mock drafts on platforms like Sleeper or the NFL Fantasy Football app. Multiple mocks provide insights into player placements and the reasoning behind them – a seemingly simple yet remarkably effective approach.
- Leverage resources like FantasyPros or similar websites to study past years’ scoring trends. Analysing the proportion of running backs versus wide receivers in the top 24 scorers and identifying trends offer strategic advantages, helping you pinpoint breakout players and promising teams.
- Gather information from diverse sources: podcasts, articles, magazines, etc. Look for recurring predictions and their rationale. Gradually, you’ll discern which sources are consistently accurate and learn from them, using their insights to reinforce your strategy without relying entirely on them.
Gaining a comprehensive understanding of your league’s specifics and scoring is the first step toward identifying players that hold genuine “value.” This is a core principle of value-based drafting.
Implement Tiered Player Rankings
Establishing rankings is vital. Whether you devise your own or adopt existing ones, having a comprehensive list of players and their relative worth is essential. However, becoming overly fixated on specific players can lead to undesirable outcomes – either the disappointment of missing out or overvaluing and reaching for them, thereby sacrificing opportunities to secure other valuable players.
To combat this, embrace the concept of tiered rankings:
- Categorise your player rankings into tiers. Group players based on similarity in value rather than focusing on minor point differences. This mindset shift is key.
- Embrace flexibility. If you miss out on a player from a certain tier, remember that multiple players within the tier possess comparable qualities. This approach minimises the impact of missing a single player and maintains your strategic integrity.
Consider an example: Suppose you aim to secure a high-volume running back who contributes as a receiver, and you’re considering Bijan Robinson, Saquon Barkley, Derrick Henry, and Jonathan Taylor. In terms of PPR projections, their differences might amount to roughly 30 points or 1.75 points per game over a season. Missing out on Barkley but landing Henry isn’t catastrophic – your roster needs are fulfilled without a substantial compromise. This mindset obliterates the concept of being “sniped.” Publicly lamenting such occurrences reveals your intentions and becomes a disadvantage, inviting further sniping.
Navigating a Missed Tier
If an entire tier eludes you, refrain from reaching for the subsequent tier. Instead, redirect your focus toward other positions, seeking undervalued players. This dynamic underscores the foundation of roster construction, a crucial facet of a winning strategy. Be fluid in your approach, pivot when necessary, and harness value from various sources while adhering to your overarching strategy.
Leverage ADP for Informed Drafting
Familiarity with your league’s Average Draft Position (ADP) and the broader fantasy community’s player valuations is pivotal. While personal projections matter, mindlessly following them can lead to overvaluing breakout candidates and overpaying for their potential output.
For instance, envision a scenario where your rankings slot Robert Woods as WR34, but he’s projected to go undrafted by many. Drafting him as WR34 might necessitate a seventh-round pick. However, if you’re astute in reading your roster needs and tier values, you could prioritise solid bench options like Zach Charbonnet, Brian Robinson, or A.J. Dillon. Rather than drafting Woods at his projected WR34 value, you could seize him later and simultaneously bolster your running back depth.
This approach optimises value, yielding multiple players who collectively outperform their projected values. Even if one player in your haul surpasses expectations, your strategy proves profitable. Value-driven drafting hones your roster construction prowess and enhances your team’s overall strength.
Positional Value: The Core Tenet
Joe Pisapia, an elite fantasy analyst, introduced the concept of Relative Position Value, which underscores the significance of scoring differentials between top-scoring starters and their lower-ranked counterparts. Recognising these gaps within positions is pivotal to understanding player value and refining your draft strategy.
Consider a hypothetical: If the RB1 tallied 250 points last season, while RB12 amassed 150 points, the discrepancy of 100 points translates to 6.25 points per game (PPG). Prioritising players at the higher end of their scoring tier – the RB1 through RB12 range, for instance – is imperative. Apply this principle across positions and roster spots to pinpoint areas to target, ensuring you allocate resources effectively.
Vigilance against Outliers
Beware of outliers and instances where performance is unlikely to replicate. For example, Patrick Mahomes’ record-setting 50+ TD season in 2019 didn’t lead to sustained excellence, highlighting the potential for regression. This principle extends to other players like Jonathan Taylor and Mark Andrews, whose performances might not align with their ADP expectations.
Identifying players poised for regression or those whose past performances mask future uncertainties is vital. An insightful approach is to secure these players at opportune points, harnessing their potential while mitigating risk.
Quarterback scoring has surged due to a wave of talent entering the NFL via drafts. Consequently, drafting quarterbacks earlier has become essential, particularly in Superflex leagues. The days of securing high-caliber quarterbacks in later rounds are waning. Prioritise elite quarterback options – Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts – as they can significantly impact your league performance. Winners often possess top-tier quarterbacks, underlining their strategic importance.
Defenses and Kickers: Late-Round Choices
When it comes to defenses and kickers, reserve these selections for the final three rounds of drafts. Their impact on wins and points per game is marginal. Defenses, much like quarterbacks, exhibit volatility, rendering predictions challenging. Historical data reveals limited repeatability among top-five defenses, cautioning against reaching for them early. Prioritise proven defenses in later rounds or on the waiver wire.
Kicker performance remains stable, with minimal variation between top-tier and lower-tier kickers. Their scarcity of influence underscores their late-round relevance. Forgo drafting a kicker initially, opting instead for undervalued wide receivers or running backs. The potential upside of these positions far outweighs the impact of an early kicker selection.
D/STs are extremely volatile and difficult to predict. Below are the top five total points finishers for D/ST for every season dating back to 2014.
D/ST Top 5 (Weeks 1-16, except 2021 and 2022, where it is Week 17)
Patriots 186 points
Cowboys 170 points
49ers 163 points
Bills 152 points
Eagles 151 points
D/ST12 – Packers 117 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 4.1 PPG
Cowboys 180 points
Patriots 160 points
Colts 137 points
Bills 135 points
Saints 135 points
Dolphins 135 points
D/ST12 – Broncos 118 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 3.9 PPG
Steelers 144 points
Dolphins 140 points
Colts 137 points
Rams 131 points
Ravens 130 points
D/ST12 – Four-way tie for 10th with 98 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 3.1 PPG
Patriots 234 points
Steelers 166 points
49ers 162 points
Vikings 136 points
Ravens 136 points
D/ST12 – Saints 117 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 7.8 PPG
Bears 183 points
Rams 131 points
Texans 124 points
Ravens 120 points
Redskins 115 points
D/ST12 – Steelers 102 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 5.1 PPG
Jaguars 190 points
Ravens 183 points
Rams 165 points
Eagles 160 points
Chargers 150 points
D/ST12 – Pats 110 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 5.0 PPG
Eagles 158 points
Chiefs 157 points
Patriots 155 points
Vikings 153 points
Broncos 148 points
D/ST12 – Bills 121 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 2.25 PPG
Cardinals 185 points
Broncos 181 points
Chiefs 174 points
Panthers 158 points
Seahawks 153 points
D/ST12 – Eagles 132 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 3.3 PPG
Eagles 177 points
Texans 159 points
Bills 159 points
Rams 143 points
Patriots 139 points
D/ST12 – Vikings 122 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 3.4 PPG
Kicker PPG Average
2022 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 1.7 PPG
2021 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 2.1 PPG
2020 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 2.3 PPG
2019 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 2.7 PPG
2018 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 2.7 PPG
2017 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 2.7 PPG
2016 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 2.6 PPG
2015 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 3.2 PPG
2014 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 2.4 PPG
The strategy behind keeping these positions to late round draft choices
Let’s analyse the scoring system for D/STs first. Between 2018 and 2020, an unexpected surge in points occurred, led by an unexpectedly strong performance from a particular D/ST. Interestingly, the top three D/STs during that period – the Jaguars, Bears, and Patriots – all slipped out of the top five rankings in the subsequent year, despite being the first D/STs drafted due to their previous No. 1 ranking.
What does this pattern reveal? In essence, it underscores the volatile and unpredictable nature of D/ST scoring. Over the span of 2014 to 2021, only four teams managed to maintain their position within the top five D/STs for multiple years. The Eagles were the first to achieve this, followed by the Ravens who achieved it consistently from 2017 to 2020. The Steelers and Colts also entered this exclusive category, doing so between 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 respectively.
This data strongly suggests that a D/ST ranked in the top five is unlikely to sustain that ranking the following year. Reliance on the previous year’s scoring to draft D/STs is essentially a futile exercise. Given the complexity of predicting the combined performance of over 11 players, distinguishing the proficient from the subpar becomes exceptionally challenging. The optimal approach involves waiting until the 15th or 16th round to select a defense with a proven track record of historical excellence, such as the Ravens, Steelers, Dolphins, or Patriots.
Don’t chase past production
Betting on the 2023 Dallas Cowboys having a top-five D/ST is a gamble likely to yield disappointing results, as history suggests. The key lies in not actively pursuing a D/ST; rather, it’s about waiting for a viable option to emerge in the later rounds (15th or 16th) and making a selection accordingly. Even if your choice doesn’t pan out, a suitable replacement can often be found on the waiver wire. Opting for a D/ST prior to the last two rounds constitutes a squandered pick and missed opportunities. Valuable selections like Rachee Rice, Tyler Boyd, Jakobi Meyers, or D.J. Chark at the wide receiver position could be sacrificed. As previously demonstrated, these contributors can offer substantial long-term benefits. Rarely does a D/ST play a significant role in clinching a league championship. Always think value-based drafting.
Why people overvalue kickers
Now turning to kickers, a notable trend of stability emerges. Over the last six years, there has been minimal fluctuation. The most significant year-to-year variation was a mere 0.4 points per game drop between the top-ranked kicker (K1) and the twelfth-ranked kicker (K12) between 2019 and 2020. The gap among leading kickers has diminished over the past two years, reaching a decade-low. It’s reasonable to assert that kicker performances are fairly uniform. Selecting Justin Tucker or any other kicker won’t provide a substantial edge over the twelfth-ranked kicker in your league. Presently, Justin Tucker, Daniel Carlson, and Evan McPherson are all being drafted in the 13th or 14th round. In this scenario, allowing your fellow league members to make this misstep is advisable.
Unless your draft is a mere week or two before the season commences, it’s prudent to forgo drafting a kicker. Kickers generally don’t wield significant influence on your point total and often rank as the lowest-scoring members of your lineup. Thus, if you’re drafting in July or August, a more judicious strategy is to invest in a potentially undervalued wide receiver or a promising running back who has showcased their abilities during training camp and preseason. If these players ascend the depth chart, their value is likely to exceed that of a kicker who contributes minimally to your overall score.
Taking calculated risks instead of blindly following the norm is advisable. It’s probable that you can find a kicker on the waiver wire who can rival your opponent’s selection and end up within a 2-point per game range of your drafted kicker by season’s end. However, if you employ that pick to secure a top-28 wide receiver or a top-24 running back, their consistent point contributions are bound to surpass those of your chosen kicker on a weekly basis. This is how you execute a good value-based drafting approach.
Value-Based Drafting: A Holistic Approach
Value-Based Drafting embraces multifaceted strategies. It encourages adaptability, trend identification, and unconventional thinking. By encompassing diverse perspectives, you construct a roster primed for success, combining robust floor and enticing upside. Ditch the habit of overreaching for insignificant contributors. Shift your focus toward a comprehensive, nuanced approach that facilitates agility, enabling you to outmaneuver your league mates and enhance your weekly performance.
Value-Based Drafting is your gateway to a more calculated and strategic fantasy football journey. Don’t shy away from exploration; the insights you gain can propel you to newfound heights of success. Therefore, what’s there to lose if last year’s outcomes weren’t to your liking?