VALUE-BASED DRAFTING 101
You are now entering the "heart and soul" of this book. It includes those chapters that pertain to draft theories, plans and systems that collectively and truly make a Fantasy Football champion. Having a great set of player rankings/projections doesn't cut it. Having a great drafting strategy is what makes a mover and a shaker.
A perfect example of this came in the 2003 World Championship of Fantasy Football. Early in the summer Emil Kadlec, co-founder of the WCOFF and one of the best guys you'll ever meet in the biz, asked me if I wanted to compete in a player rankings contest that would pit me against the best player rankers around. The results would be published in his Fantasy Pro Forecast magazine. Emil was interested in my rankings because I had finished 2nd out of 552 teams in the '02 WCOFF ($22,000 total winnings), and he wanted to see how the top guys in the WCOFF fared against a panel of experts. I enthusiastically accepted; this would give me the opportunity to see how I really stacked up against the best of the best, including Chris Schussman ($200,000 prize winner in '02 WCOFF), TFL Report (Bob Harris), MVP Sportsbook, Red Eye Sports, KFFL, FF Champs, Sportsline.com, Sandlot Shrink, Fantasy Guru, Grandslam, Draft Sharks and Fantasy Insights. There were 13 Fantasy Football fanatics/companies competing in all. When the season ended, I asked Emil how I did in the Experts Poll. "Umm. Well. Not so good," he put it bluntly. It turned out my player rankings rated as one of the worst among a panel. I finished 12th in QBs, 5th in RBs, 12th in WRs, 9th in TE, 10th in Def, and 13th (dead last) in kickers. In my own defense, my rankings were created early in the summer on short notice and I wasn't able to use many steps I rely on in my ranking system. Needless to say, I'm pretty sure I did not enter the '03 WCOFF with the best player rankings. ... but I still managed to win my league ($5000 winnings) and finished 3rd out of 600 participants! (another $10,000 in winnings)
How did I accomplish such great results with not-so-great player rankings? I had a good drafting system. My key point is this: Knowing how to rank players in each position is not nearly as important as knowing how to draft players from all positions. That's why I'm calling this and the following chapters the "heart and soul" of the book. It teaches you how to draft players.
Getting back to Emil, he later told me there was one set of rankings I did very well on: I came in 2nd in the "Overall/Top 25" list. This just happens to be the most important list of all! The overall/top 25 ranks the best players from all the positions into one list. More significantly, it is the list you use to draft players in the early stages of the draft. You see, my draft system was able to catapult me from bad position/player rankings to great overall rankings in the blink of an eye. It just goes to show you the power of a solid drafting system. I can only imagine how well my overall list would have finished had I did better player rankings.
The system I use is based on value-based drafting (VBD) principles. While VBD may or may not be news to you -- it most certainly isn't news to the Fantasy Football community. I'm not sure exactly when the VBD hit the Fantasy Football scene but it has been around for almost a decade. Many believe it was Fantasy Football guru Joe Bryant (footballguys.com) who introduced and promoted his own version in the mid '90's. In fact, Joe was the guy who first introduced the VBD system to me. Today it's the most recognized and widely used system among Fantasy Football experts, enthusiasts, and diehards. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it) most people, including the experts, do not fully understand the inner-workings of the VBD well enough to maximize their efforts on draft day.
Before I get to my once-secret inner-workings you need to understand the VBD from the ground up. The remainder of this chapter will describe the VBD in its simplest form -- the worst starter method. The chapters that follow will then delve into the intermediate and expert levels of the VBD that not even experts may realize or understand. If you master those principles you will be a force to be reckoned with on draft day. First, the basics.
Imagine it's draft day and you have the very first pick. Whom do you take? On the surface the answer is simple: draft the top ranked player. Underneath the surface are difficulties, subtleties, and more options that you might realize. I mean, you have a top-ranked guy in every position! So whom do you take?
That's where the VBD principles come in. VBD puts certain values on each player (no matter what their position) so you know who's the top-ranked guy of the top-ranked guys. ... The crème de la crème. Here's a simplified situation:
The league is just you and one other fantasy owner competing against each other. The starting line-up consists of 1 QB and 1 RB, and the draft is only two rounds. Your cheatsheet is as follows:
|1||QB1|| 200|| RB1|| 100|
|2 ||QB2|| 180|| RB2|| 50|
Figure 18 - Sample Cheatsheet
The draft is serpentine-style, meaning you pick first and your opponent picks second in the first round then your opponent picks first and you pick second in the second round. The question remains: whom do you take? Your two choices are top ranked QB1 or top ranked RB1. Without a draft strategy, such as the VBD, you are likely to take QB1 because he is projected to score the most points. If you took QB1 then your opponent naturally would take RB1 and QB2 with the next two picks and you get RB2 as the last pick. Let's see who fared better. ...
Your team is projected to score 200 + 50 = 250 points.
Your opponent is projected to score 100 + 180 = 280 points.
How can that be?! You got to pick first, you picked the "best" player yet your opponent has the better team. ... Hmm. What's up, Doc? It turns out that the best player is not QB1 but RB1. That's because, according to VBD, a player's value is not determined by the number of points he's projected to score but rather by the number of points he's projected to outscore players in his position. QB1 is projected to outscore QB2 by 20 points. RB1 is projected to outscore RB2 by 50 points. By drafting RB1 you get a 50-point advantage over your opponent. Now can you see why RB1 is the better fantasy player?
This is precisely what value-based drafting is all about. Of course, real Fantasy Football (can anyone say oxymoron?) isn't as simple because it involves more owners to compete against, more players to pick from, and more rounds to draft in. Nevertheless, the same VBD principles apply.
There are a few terms used in VBD analyses that you need to understand before you read any further. The first term is called the "baseline." The baseline is the points subtracted from a player's projection in order to determine that player's value. Each position has its own baseline. In the prior VBD example the baselines were 180 and 50 for the QB and RB positions, respectively. Therefore, QB1's value was calculated to be 200-180 = 20 fantasy points and RB1's value was 100-50 = 50 fantasy points. In VBD language these values are known as "X numbers" or "X values." These X numbers can be used to cross-rank multiple positions into one list known as the "overall rankings." This is the third and last term you need to store in your memory bank.
As a quick test, see if you can calculate the X numbers of QB2 & RB2. You can find the answer in the footnote .
The most basic version of the VBD is called the worst starter method. I consider it to be a very good method for Fantasy Football beginners. It uses a baseline that's equivalent to the worst starter's projected fantasy points for each position. "Worst starter" is defined as the lowest-scoring player among all the starters in a fantasy league. In a twelve-team league starting 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 D/ST, the worst starters would be the 12th QB, 24th RB, 36th WR, 12th TE, 12th K, and 12th D/ST on the cheatsheet. To calculate the worst starter for your league simply multiply the number of starters by the number of teams in the league, and then take that player's projected fantasy points to be the baseline that position.
Figure 19 shows an actual 2003 cheatsheet using the worst starter method. The projections are based on WCOFF scoring. The league size and starting line-up requirements are the same as described in the prior paragraph.
|2||QB2||381 ||105||TE2||176||73||K2||144||26||D/ST2||156|| 41|
|3||QB3||358 ||82||TE3||173||70||K3||140||22||D/ST3||151|| 36|
|1|| RB1|| 441|| 251|| WR1|| 357|| 191|| 1|| RB1|| 251|
|2|| RB2|| 375|| 185|| WR2|| 331|| 165|| 2|| WR1|| 191|
|3|| RB3|| 347|| 157|| WR3|| 320|| 154|| 3|| RB2|| 185|
|4|| RB4|| 326|| 136|| WR4|| 304|| 138|| 4|| WR2|| 165|
|5|| RB5|| 316|| 126|| WR5|| 292|| 126|| 5|| RB3|| 157|
|6|| RB6|| 306|| 116|| WR6|| 276|| 110|| 6|| WR3|| 154|
|7|| RB7|| 301|| 111|| WR7|| 271|| 105|| 7|| WR4|| 138|
|8|| RB8|| 293|| 103|| WR8|| 270|| 104|| 8|| RB4|| 136|
|9|| RB9|| 276|| 86|| WR9|| 266|| 100|| 9|| RB5|| 126|
|10|| RB10|| 268|| 78|| WR10|| 265|| 99|| 10|| WR5|| 126|
|11|| RB11|| 262|| 72|| WR11|| 258|| 92|| 11|| QB1|| 124|
|12|| RB12|| 254|| 64|| WR12|| 254|| 88|| 12|| TE1|| 119|
|13|| RB13|| 250|| 60|| WR13|| 251|| 85|| 13|| RB6|| 116|
|14|| RB14|| 246|| 56|| WR14|| 245|| 79|| 14|| RB7|| 111|
|15|| RB15|| 238|| 48|| WR15|| 241|| 75|| 15|| WR6|| 110|
|16|| RB16|| 231|| 41|| WR16|| 238|| 72|| 16|| WR7|| 105|
|17|| RB17|| 227|| 37|| WR17|| 231|| 65|| 17|| QB2|| 105|
|18|| RB18|| 222|| 32|| WR18|| 222|| 56|| 18|| WR8|| 104|
|19|| RB19|| 217|| 27|| WR19|| 219|| 53|| 19|| RB8|| 103|
|20|| RB20|| 213|| 23|| WR20|| 217|| 51|| 20|| WR9|| 100|
|21|| RB21|| 205|| 15|| WR21|| 213|| 47|| 21|| WR10|| 99|
|22|| RB22|| 202|| 12|| WR22|| 211|| 45|| 22|| WR11|| 92|
|23|| RB23|| 199|| 9|| WR23|| 206|| 40|| 23|| WR12|| 88|
|24|| RB24|| 190|| 0|| WR24|| 198|| 32|| 24|| RB9|| 86|
|25|| RB25|| 178|| -12|| WR25|| 194|| 28|| 25|| WR13|| 85|
|26|| RB26|| 173|| -18|| WR26|| 191|| 25|| 26|| QB3|| 82|
|27|| RB27|| 169|| -21|| WR27|| 189|| 23|| 27|| WR14|| 79|
|28|| RB28|| 159|| -32|| WR28|| 185|| 19|| 28|| RB10|| 78|
|29|| RB29|| 151|| -39|| WR29|| 182|| 16|| 29|| WR15|| 75|
|30|| RB30|| 149|| -41|| WR30|| 180|| 14|| 30|| TE2|| 73|
|31|| RB31|| 145|| -45|| WR31|| 177|| 11|| 31|| RB11|| 72|
|32|| RB32|| 139|| -51|| WR32|| 174|| 8|| 32|| WR16|| 72|
|33|| RB33|| 137|| -53|| WR33|| 171|| 5|| 33|| QB4|| 70|
|34|| RB34|| 134|| -56|| WR34|| 169|| 3|| 34|| TE3|| 70|
|35|| RB35|| 125|| -65|| WR35|| 168|| 2|| 35|| QB5|| 65|
|36|| RB36|| 121|| -69|| WR36|| 166|| 0|| 36|| WR17|| 65|
|37|| RB37|| 120|| -71|| WR37|| 162|| -4|| 37|| RB12|| 64|
|38|| RB38|| 115|| -75|| WR38|| 159|| -7|| 38|| RB13|| 60|
|39|| RB39|| 111|| -79|| WR39|| 158|| -8|| 39|| RB14|| 56|
|40|| RB40|| 109|| -81|| WR40|| 157|| -9|| 40|| WR18|| 56|
Figure 19 - Sample Cheatsheet (Worst Starter Method)
It's important to study these results and make your own observations and conclusions. An important part of becoming a powerful fantasy owner is taking the time to understand strategies and drafting systems. Here are several of my own comments and observations regarding Figure 19:
1) The overall column, players, and X values represent the most valuable players of all the positions. This is the list you draft players from in the early rounds of the draft. It is the most important list on the cheatsheet.
2) Notice there are no Ks or D/STs in the overall list. This is a sign that your rankings are in good order. Ks and D/STs typically score close to one another, so they offer little value. Remember, value is created when the top players significantly outscore the other players in the same position. This doesn't occur in the K & D/ST positions nearly to the extent it does in the other positions. Consequently, you can wait until the later rounds before drafting Ks & D/STs. If you find a K or D/ST on the overall list then raise a red flag and double-check your numbers.
3) The overall list is extremely populated with RBs and WRs. That's a good thing. These positions are chock-full of value for two main reasons: First, the baselines for these positions are relatively low. This leaves a lot of players above the baseline to develop a lot of value. Second, RBs and WRs are high scoring positions. While high scoring players don't offer value per se (as shown earlier) it does give the opportunity for other players to score a lot less. It's this scoring difference that creates the value we look for.
4) Relatively few quarterbacks and tight ends will make it to the top 25, as observed in Figure 19. This is proof not to overrate these positions early in the draft. The most common mistake made by inexperienced -- and experienced -- fantasy owners is drafting a QB or TE too early. More than half the league will do it. Make sure you aren't one of them.
5) You will generally do better than most of your league on draft day just by following the worst starter method as shown in Figure 19, even with a slightly below-average cheatsheet. However, this is still not good enough to win fantasy championships. To reach that level you need a better drafting system and/or lots of luck.
6) When using a VBD system like the worst-starter method, there are three variables that affect the all-important overall rankings: fantasy league scoring rules; number of fantasy teams; and number of fantasy players on starting roster. If any of these variables change so will your overall rankings. This is especially important to know if you play in more than one fantasy league with different rules or if your already-existing league changes its rules or number of teams. To give you an example, I compared the overall rankings of five different leagues in Figure 20. All were calculated from the AVT projections in Figure 19 using the worst starter method. The first column uses the league from Figure 19. The second column shows you what would happen if the same league (as column 1) went from 12 to 8 teams. The third column shows you what would happen if the same league (as column 1) were changed from three starting WRs to just two. The fourth column shows you what would happen if the same league (as column 1) does not award a point per reception. The fifth column shows you what would happen if all three variables were changed (8 teams, 2 starting WRs, no point per reception).
|League (fig 19) ||Only 8 teams || Only 2 WRs || No pt/reception || All 3 variables
|RB1|| RB1|| RB1|| RB1|| RB1|
|WR1|| WR1|| RB2|| RB2|| RB2|
|RB2|| RB2|| WR1|| RB3|| RB3|
|WR2|| WR2|| RB3|| WR1|| QB1|
|RB3|| WR3|| RB4|| QB1|| WR1|
|WR3|| RB3|| WR2|| WR2|| QB2|
|WR4|| WR4|| RB5|| RB4|| WR2|
|RB4|| TE1|| QB1|| WR3|| TE1|
|RB5|| RB4|| WR3|| QB2|| RB4|
|WR5|| WR5|| TE1|| RB5|| RB5|
|QB1|| QB1|| RB6|| WR4|| WR3|
|TE1|| RB5|| RB7|| RB6|| RB6|
|RB6|| WR6|| WR4|| RB7|| RB7|
|RB7|| RB6|| QB2|| RB8|| RB8|
|WR6|| WR7|| RB8|| WR5|| WR4|
|WR7|| QB2|| WR5|| QB3|| QB3|
|QB2|| WR8|| RB9|| WR6|| TE2|
|WR8|| RB7|| QB3|| RB9|| QB4|
|RB8|| WR9|| RB10|| TE1|| QB4|
|WR9|| WR10|| WR6|| WR7|| D/ST1|
|WR10|| RB8|| TE2|| WR8|| RB9|
|WR11|| WR11|| WR7|| RB10|| WR5|
|WR12|| TE2|| RB11|| QB4|| RB10|
|RB9|| TE3|| WR8|| RB11|| QB5|
|WR13|| WR12|| QB4|| WR9|| D/ST2|
Figure 20 - Overall Comparisons
It's amazing how players will slide up, down, on and off the overall list depending on the league's rules and size, even though the position rankings and projections remain the same. The data in Figure 20 is very interesting if you take the time to observe and analyze. You'll find that certain leagues favor certain positions. This is why it's so important to know what positions are favored in your league before you enter the draft. The cool part is that your VBD system will determine that for you. Feel free to make your own conclusions and observations on Figure 20 before continuing to the next chapter. There is a lot that can be learned.
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