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VALUE-BASED DRAFTING 101

By:Rob Zarzycki
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:

RankQBQBProjectionRBRBProjection
1QB1 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.
Rank QB Pts X # TE Pts X # K Pts X # D/ST Pts X #
1QB1400124TE1222119K114830 D/ST116247
2QB2381 105TE217673K214426D/ST2156 41
3QB3358 82TE317370K314022D/ST3151 36
4QB434670TE415552K413820 D/ST414126
5QB534165TE515047K513214D/ST5137 22
6QB633559TE614239K613012D/ST6135 20
7QB731640TE712623K71279D/ST7134 19
8QB830832TE811714K81268D/ST8124 9
9QB930024TE911411K91246D/ST91238
10QB1029418TE101107K101213D/ST101216
11QB112859TE111074K111202D/ST111172
12QB122760TE121030K121180D/ST12115 0
13QB13267-9TE1396-7K13117-1D/ST13111-4
14QB14264-12TE1493-10K14114-4D/ST14109-6
15QB15257-19TE1592-11K15113-5D/ST15109-6
16QB16247-29TE1686-17K16111-7D/ST16108-7
17QB17245-31TE1784-19K17110-8D/ST17106-9
18QB18242-34TE1883-20K18108-10D/ST18105-10
19QB19233-43TE1980-23K19107-11D/ST19104-11
20QB20226-50TE2080-23K20103-15D/ST20103-12
21QB21222-54TE2177-26K2199-19D/ST21101-14
22QB22215-61TE2270-33K2296-22D/ST2299-16
23QB23209-67TE2367-36K2395-23D/ST2397-18
24QB24205-71TE2463-40K2492-26D/ST2496-19


Rank RB Pts X # WR Pts X # Overall Player X #
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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