DIY Guide To Fantasy Football Draft Strategy


I read Matthew Berry's Draft Day Manifesto every year. His writing is witty and his advice is insightful, but risking my fantasy season on someone else's opinions scares me. I like to arrive at my own conclusions, usually with some numbers to back me up. This "Do It Yourself Guide to Fantasy Football Draft Strategy" lays out a softly statistical approach to building fantasy football rankings that anyone with Excel (or a calcualtor and a lot of paper) can replicate.

Step 1: Borrow

Many smart people at the forefront of decision making theory argue that the average of many forecasts is superior to one expert forecast. The average individual is very bad at guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar, but an average of all those individual guesses is a very good estimate of the number of jelly beans in a jar.

Forecasting a football player's fortunes is not all that different from guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar. That is the basis of my approach. The excellent website aggregates analyst projections for each player. I use the average of these projections as my projection. This approach smooths over forecasting errors made by any one of the predictors, hopefully ariving at more accurate projections than even a single very good analyst, and certainly better than my projections would be.

Step 2: Normalize

These "crowd" forecasts provide an objective way to rank players within positions, but comparing players across positions is trickier. One approach is to come up with a "benchmark" projection for each position. Then each player's "value" is his projection minus the benchmark projection for his position. Those values are then comparable across positions.

The art here is choosing the benchmark. One simple method (and simple is generally good) is to guess how many players at each position will be drafted, then use the average of those projections as your benchmark.

For example, I am in a 12 team league. I expect each team to take on average 5 running backs, so I expect 60 running backs to be drafted. A simple running back benchmark could be the average projection of those 60 running backs. If that average is 134 and Adrian Peterson, the top RB, is projected at 273 points then his value is 139 points (273-134=139). If the benchmark for wide receivers is 130 and Calvin Johnson, the top WR, is projected at 225 then his value is 95. Adrian Peterson has more value than Calvin Johnson, so I rank him higher. I will keep ranking running backs higher than the top receiver as long as their value is greater than 95.

Step 3: Compare

To put together a drafting strategy it is important to know where players are actually being drafted. My league is on ESPN and they provide Average Draft Positions (ADP) of each player in their standard league drafts. Comparing ADP to "value" is a powerful tool for figuring out which players to draft where.

"Good value" players have higher value than others being taken around the same place in the draft. These are the players to target in the draft. The list on the side of the page shows ESPN ADP and the value I computed for each player. They are sorted in order of value.

Step 4: Visualize

A simple list of values and ADP like the one on the side of the page is useful for looking up an individual player, but it's helpful to see the data in other ways. The charts on this page plot ADP against value and reveal interesting relationships in the data. Different colors indicate different positions. The lines show the central tendency for each position. For two dots with similar horizontal locations, high dots are better value players than low dots. I also built a slopegraph on another page to highlight "good value" players and used it during my drafts.
All Positions Postion Facets

What I See Here

Step 5: Strategize

Here is how I would turn these observations in to a cohesive draft strategy for the 2013 season.

Picks 1-25

Have a strong preference for RBs. Take WRs only if they present compelling value, like Calvin Johnson falling to 10th or later. If Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees fall to the end of this range, they are worthwhile. Otherwise, wait on QBs. Jimmy Graham might be worthwhile in the 20s, but don’t reach higher.

Picks 26-50

Again a strong preference for RBs with selective WRs that fall too far. Cam Newton or Peyton Manning are worth taking in the mid 30s, but otherwise lay off QBs. If Jimmy Graham is around at the first half of this range you take him. If Rob Gronkowski is around at the late end of this range take him. If your first three picks were RBs, you should probably take the best available non RB with the fourth pick

Picks 51-75

If light on RBs this is the last chance to swoop up a decent one. Take WRs selectively again. QBs are pretty good value here, prepare to take one. If Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez or Vernon Davis fall to the 70s, they are probably worthwhile. Otherwise wait on TEs.

Picks 76-100

RB values have really fallen off a cliff here, so it's time to load up on WRs. If still missing a QB, lock down one of the last before their value plummets. There's not much difference between TE's now and in later rounds, so wait.

Picks 101+

RBs are pretty poor value, but selectively pick RBs with upside and handcuff your starting RBs (pick up their backups). WRs are the best value, load up the bench. If still in need of a QB, this is probably not your season - turn on auto draft and go to bed. Take a starting TE or a high upside backup, they are very good value up here.

--Ross Boberg--
1Adrian Peterson1391.6
2Doug Martin109.76.3
3Arian Foster107.83.3
4C.J. Spiller105.29.2
5Jamaal Charles101.28.3
6Marshawn Lynch96.54.3
7Calvin Johnson95.49.9
8Trent Richardson90.610.2
9Ray Rice88.45.4
10LeSean McCoy85.512.3
11Alfred Morris81.412.2
12Aaron Rodgers729.7
13A.J. Green69.516
14Dez Bryant68.918.1
15Matt Forte66.918.2
16Brandon Marshall65.522
17Drew Brees64.512.8
18Julio Jones62.122.7
19Steven Jackson61.217.4
20Stevan Ridley59.822.7
21Chris Johnson59.125.2
22Jimmy Graham58.428.3
23Reggie Bush5541.3
24Demaryius Thomas54.426
25Maurice Jones-Drew52.928.5
26DeMarco Murray49.943.2
27Larry Fitzgerald4732
28Cam Newton46.433.1
29Peyton Manning46.316.5
30Andre Johnson45.730.4
31Roddy White45.529.9
32Randall Cobb45.136
33Frank Gore43.623.4
34Vincent Jackson42.435.5
35Rob Gronkowski41.246.4
36David Wilson4032
37Lamar Miller38.855.2
38Darren McFadden37.540.6
39Victor Cruz35.938.9
40Tom Brady32.321.7
41Marques Colston27.944.1
42Darren Sproles26.947.3
43Matt Ryan26.536.8
44Colin Kaepernick25.139
45Dwayne Bowe24.955.3
46Pierre Garcon23.670
47Reggie Wayne23.345.3
48Steve Smith18.557.6
49Eric Decker18.457.8
50Torrey Smith1870.1
51Wes Welker17.436.3
52Matthew Stafford17.359.5
53Tony Gonzalez1752
54Andrew Luck16.568.3
55Antonio Brown15.167.6
56Robert Griffin III14.147.3
57Jason Witten13.955.3
58Jordy Nelson13.566.7
59Danny Amendola1349.8
60Christopher Ivory12.273.6
61Hakeem Nicks11.957.2
62Cecil Shorts11.183.1
63Mike Wallace1149.9
64Rashard Mendenhall10.386.9
65Eddie Lacy1041.1
66James Jones9.160.7
67Vernon Davis7.957.4
68Ryan Mathews7.666.8
69Montee Ball7.461.6
70Russell Wilson7.261
71Ahmad Bradshaw6.672.9
72Ty Hilton5.988.6
73DeSean Jackson5.171
74Tony Romo4.278.7
75Steve Johnson2.888.4
76Mike Williams1.2100.5
77Shane Vereen1.193.4
78Daryl Richardson0.487.6
79Giovani Bernard-0.277.8
80Tavon Austin-3.582.6
81Lance Moore-3.6104.3
82Kenny Britt-3.8115.1
83Miles Austin-4.390.7
84Josh Gordon-4.9120.5
85Greg Olsen-5.285.8
86Jermichael Finley-7101.4
87Anquan Boldin-8.580.3
88Antonio Gates-8.891.2
89Golden Tate-8.9118.3
90Greg Jennings-9.183.9
91Jared Cook-9.2117.7
92DeAngelo Williams-9.675.4
93Kyle Rudolph-11.280.7
94Chris Givens-12.2117
95Michael Floyd-13.8138.6
96BenJarvus Green-Ellis-14.784.6
97Mark Ingram-15.798.9
98Owen Daniels-16.184.3
99Denarius Moore-16.6120.5
100Emmanuel Sanders-17.1115.2
101Eli Manning-18.492.3
102Brandon Myers-18.8110.4
103Martellus Bennett-19.2130.3
104Jordan Cameron-20.7132.8
105Sidney Rice-21.388.5
106Brandon Pettigrew-21.8132.7
107Ronnie Hillman-22.9132.9
108Rueben Randle-24.7139.7
109Ryan Broyles-25137.6
110Vincent Brown-25.6128.3
111Alshon Jeffery-25.6120.3
112Justin Blackmon-26.2141
113Fred Davis-26.4134.4
114Kendall Wright-27.6141.8
115DeAndre Hopkins-28.3133.8
116Brian Hartline-29.2146.7
117Ben Tate-31.2107
118Danny Woodhead-32.2142
119Vick Ballard-33.3104.9
120Coby Fleener-33.4142.4
121Pierre Thomas-33.6143.2
122Andy Dalton-34.4122.7
123Tyler Eifert-35.3139.4
124Bernard Pierce-35.5130.3
125Josh Freeman-36.6132.2
126Kenbrell Thompkins-36.6125.4
127Jermaine Gresham-37136.7
128Malcom Floyd-38.1138.6
129Fred Jackson-38.4127.3
130Ed Dickson-38.7149.1
131Bryce Brown-39.2123.8
132Darrius Heyward-Bey-42146.9
133Ben Roethlisberger-43.5108.2
134Michael Vick-45.7102.5
135Jacoby Jones-46.5145
136Zach Sudfeld-47.4132
137Joe Flacco-48.1119.8
138Matt Schaub-48.2118.1
139Carson Palmer-48.4129.3
140Jacquizz Rodgers-49.1133.3
141Jay Cutler-49.1126.5
142Julius Thomas-49.8142.9
143Sam Bradford-50125.8
144Aaron Dobson-51149.7
145Santana Moss-53.3143.4
146Bilal Powell-53.7144.8
147Michael Bush-54.3140.2
148Philip Rivers-54.3130.1
149Shonn Greene-54.8143.8
150Isaiah Pead-54.9117.7
151Alex Smith-55.9130.9
152Mikel Leshoure-57145.6
153Daniel Thomas-57.8148.5
154Ryan Tannehill-63.2140.8
155E.J. Manuel-92.5141