When to Draft a Player or Position: Comparing Value Across Different Positions

When to Draft a Player or Position: Comparing Value Across Different Positions

One of the biggest concerns Fantasy football owners encounter is knowing which player or position to draft and when.  Knowing when to draft players at particular positions is where most fantasy football team owners go wrong with their drafts.

Most fantasy owners go in with a list of guys they want to draft, but they don’t know which round to draft them or if they should choose their RB over their WR.  Usually after the first few rounds their plan goes out the window and it’s a crap shoot.

Starting a draft can be nerve racking, who should you draft?  For year’s people have been saying draft a running back first.  This is why the 1st round of drafts have been dominated by running backs.  Over the last few years wide receivers have popped up more in the first round.

Here’ a list of the top 5 QB’s

PLAYER TEAM FPTS
Cam Newton CAR 399
Tom Brady NE 347
Russell Wilson SEA 333
Blake Bortles JAC 332
Carson Palmer ARI 320

For a novice, looking at fantasy points scored, one may think they should draft a quarterback first.  After all, Cam Newton scored 399 fantasy points while the top receiver’s and running backs only scored 242 fantasy points.

I hear the same thing all the time, “But they score so many points! The 16th QB still scores more points than the top RB”

Fantasy owners who run the numbers see the depth at the quarterback position and know that it is a very deep class.  If we look at the numbers using last year as a guide, we can see that the 12th best quarterback, Philip Rivers, scored 106 fantasy points less than the top quarterback Cam Newton.

With this type of thinking in mind, I will show you how to calculate player depth at each position so you can compare which player position you should go after and when.

When to Draft Each Position in Fantasy Football

When deciding which position to draft we need to calculate a number of things, depth at the position and scoring at the position.  I also like to set up tiers at each position so I can see at a glance which players are tier 1 or “elite” players, tier 2 “above average” and tier 3 “average”.  This will allow you to easily see if you need help deciding between a tier 1 running back and a tier 2 wide receiver.

Before we begin, I want to cover a few things.  I will using last year’s fantasy numbers for our calculations in this article.  This will help you see how players netted out in relation to where you drafted them last season.  It will be as if we have 100% accurate projections.  If you want to create values for your 2016 draft, you can use your own projections if you prefer to help you with this year’s draft.

I will also be applying my strategy assuming that your league is a 12 team league and has a starting line-up of one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers (assuming one in the Flex), one tight end, one kicker and one team defense/special team. You can apply these principles to any league even if the requirements are different.

How to Compare Value of Different Positions

Now that we have “projections” for every player you think will be drafted in your league, we need to find a way to compare players of one position to players of another.

Let’s suppose, though, you now have the following list of players from different positions:

Top 10 Fantasy Players at Each Position

PLAYER TEAM POS FPTS
Cam Newton CAR QB 399
Tom Brady NE QB 347
Russell Wilson SEA QB 333
Blake Bortles JAC QB 332
Carson Palmer ARI QB 320
Drew Brees NO QB 315
Matthew Stafford DET QB 303
Eli Manning NYG QB 302
Aaron Rodgers GB QB 301
Kirk Cousins WAS QB 300
Ryan Fitzpatrick NYJ QB 300
Philip Rivers SD QB 293
Devonta Freeman ATL RB 243
Antonio Brown PIT WR 242
Julio Jones ATL WR 233
Adrian Peterson MIN RB 231
Brandon Marshall NYJ WR 230
Allen Robinson JAC WR 224
Odell Beckham NYG WR 223
DeAndre Hopkins HOU WR 218
Doug Martin TB RB 199
Doug Baldwin SEA WR 191
DeAngelo Williams PIT RB 189
A.J. Green CIN WR 188
Todd Gurley LA RB 187
Lamar Miller MIA RB 185
Rob Gronkowski NE TE 184
David Johnson ARI RB 174
Eric Decker NYJ WR 173
Chris Ivory NYJ RB 173
Larry Fitzgerald ARI WR 172
Matt Forte CHI RB 169
Stephen Gostkowski NE K 168
Latavius Murray OAK RB 164
Graham Gano CAR K 161
Jordan Reed WAS TE 158
Gary Barnidge CLE TE 158
Blair Walsh MIN K 152
Carolina CAR DEF 152
Chandler Catanzaro ARI K 151
Josh Brown NYG K 149
Greg Olsen CAR TE 148
Delanie Walker TEN TE 148
Arizona ARI DEF 147
Justin Tucker BAL K 144
Cairo Santos KC K 144
Robbie Gould CHI K 144
Denver DEN DEF 144
Kansas City KC DEF 143
Steven Hauschka SEA K 142
Tyler Eifert CIN TE 140
Brandon McManus DEN K 140
Philadelphia PHI DEF 127
Pittsburgh PIT DEF 125
Minnesota MIN DEF 123
Los Angeles LA DEF 119
Indianapolis IND DEF 117
Benjamin Watson NO TE 116
Washington WAS DEF 116
Travis Kelce KC TE 114
Richard Rodgers GB TE 100
Zach Ertz PHI TE 95

 

How would you know if Rob Gronkowski is better than Larry Fitzgerald, or David Johnson?

When comparing one positional player, such as a running back, with another player of the same position is simple, we just look at the players’ total fantasy point projection.   That would be comparing apples to apples, but comparing across positions would be like comparing apples to oranges

After looking at this list, one may wonder, why wouldn’t you try to draft a quarterback first?  After all they are scoring the most points.  If you have ever participated in a fantasy football draft, you know that it does not work that way.  Otherwise you would see fantasy owners drafting defenses in the early rounds instead of waiting till the end.

Usually top running backs are drafted first followed by a number of wide receivers.  There’s a reason for this, and I’m going to show you why, after all we can’t have your drafting a Defense before Rob Gronkowski.

When to Draft a Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver or Tight End

We already covered how easy it is to compare players in the same position, ie comparing apples to apples, but how do we compare players of different positions?

How many time have you heard, “you can’t compare apples to oranges”?  Well I’m going to show you just how to do compare apples to oranges by using a common unit to measure and perform cross positional analysis to give you the competitive edge to have a winning draft.

Creating a Numeric Value to Compare Players of Different Positions

There are many ways to compare a player’s value such as VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) or VONA (Value Over Next Available).  In our example the replacement options will be the last starter quality player available.  To do this we need to measure the difference between players of one position and then find a value to compare players of different positions to see how valuable they really are.

To do this we need to create a cross-positional value (CPV) to measure the difference between a player’s fantasy productions to that of the last player who would be considered a starter at the same position. So in our example, we want to compare the number one QB with the 12th QB.

PLAYER TEAM FPTS
Cam Newton CAR 399
Tom Brady NE 347
Russell Wilson SEA 333
Blake Bortles JAC 332
Carson Palmer ARI 320
Drew Brees NO 315
Eli Manning NYG 302
Aaron Rodgers GB 301
Matthew Stafford DET 303
Kirk Cousins WAS 300
Ryan Fitzpatrick NYJ 300
Philip Rivers SD 293

 

Using the numbers in our example, last year the best quarterback, Cam Newton, scored 399 fantasy points.  The 12th ranked QB (the last starting caliber QB), was Phillip Rivers, who scored 293 fantasy points.  Comparing on a positional basis you can see the difference, but to compare to players of other positions, we need to create a cross positional value.  In this case, Cam Newton’s cross-positional value would be 106 (399fpts – 293fpts).  Philip Rivers’ cross positional value would be 0 (293 – 293).

Now we do the same thing for the other positions.  For wide receivers:

PLAYER TEAM FPTS
Antonio Brown PIT 242
Julio Jones ATL 233
Brandon Marshall NYJ 230
Allen Robinson JAC 224
Odell Beckham NYG 223
DeAndre Hopkins HOU 218
Doug Baldwin SEA 191
A.J. Green CIN 188
Larry Fitzgerald ARI 172
Calvin Johnson DET 173
Eric Decker NYJ 173
Brandin Cooks NO 170
Demaryius Thomas DEN 162
Allen Hurns JAC 161
Sammy Watkins BUF 159
Jeremy Maclin KC 156
Jarvis Landry MIA 157
Emmanuel Sanders DEN 148
Jordan Matthews PHI 146
Michael Crabtree OAK 146
Tavon Austin LA 141
John Brown ARI 142
Amari Cooper OAK 141
T.Y. Hilton IND 142
Ted Ginn CAR 140
Mike Evans TB 137
James Jones GB 137
Travis Benjamin CLE 124
Rueben Randle NYG 128
Kamar Aiken BAL 124
Randall Cobb GB 124
Martavis Bryant PIT 120
Golden Tate DET 119
Michael Floyd ARI 121
Willie Snead NO 114
Pierre Garcon WAS 114

 

Like we did with Quarterbacks, I highlighted the top 36 Wide Receivers since we need 3 starting WR’s and there are 12 teams. Based on our projections, the 36th best wide receiver is Washington’s Pierre Garcon with 114 fantasy points. The best wide receiver is Antonio Brown with 242 fantasy points. So in this example, Antonio Brown’s positional value would be 242 fantasy points and his cross-positional value would be 118 (242 – 114). Pierre Garcon’s CPV would be 0 (114 – 114).  As you can see, the drop off from the top guy to the last possible starter is 128 points!

If we did are calculations using 2 starting wide receivers per team (top 24 players) the drop off from the top player to the 24th best WR would still be 100 fantasy points!

Now let’s take a look at running backs.  For running backs, we can do the same operation. There are 24 starting running backs (12 teams x 2 starting running backs). The best running back, is Davonta Freeman with 243 fantasy points and the 24th best Running back is Jeremy Langford with 124 fantasy points.  DaVonta Freemans positional value would be 243 and his cross positional value 119 (243 – 124)

Top 20 Running Backs

PLAYER TEAM FPTS
Devonta Freeman ATL 243
Adrian Peterson MIN 231
Doug Martin TB 199
DeAngelo Williams PIT 189
Todd Gurley LA 187
Lamar Miller MIA 185
Chris Ivory NYJ 173
David Johnson ARI 174
Matt Forte CHI 169
Latavius Murray OAK 164
Frank Gore IND 159
Danny Woodhead SD 163
Darren McFadden DAL 160
Jeremy Hill CIN 153
Mark Ingram NO 151
Jonathan Stewart CAR 147
LeSean McCoy BUF 145
DeMarco Murray PHI 140
Rashad Jennings NYG 136
Ronnie Hillman DEN 137
Charles Sims TB 127
Giovani Bernard CIN 132
James Starks GB 123
Eddie Lacy GB 121
Jeremy Langford CHI 124
Thomas Rawls SEA 119
C.J. Anderson DEN 116
T.J. Yeldon JAC 120
Isaiah Crowell CLE 119
LeGarrette Blount NE 117

 

After analyzing the QB, RB and WR positions, you can see DaVonta Freeman production is higher than the last starting running back, Jeremy Langford, as compared to the difference between Cam Newton an Philip Rivers.  In other words, there is a greater drop-off of fantasy talent at the starting running back position than there is at the starting quarterback position.

This past season there was only 106 points between the best and worst starting quarterback; however, 119 points differentiate the best and worst starting running back. This positional points differential is what leads team owners to draft running backs in greater quantities before quarterbacks, and as you will next see, before wide receivers and tight ends.

I know you saying, the difference doesn’t seem to be that much.  This year the numbers are a bit skewed because Cam Newton had such a great year.

But what if we remove Cam Newton from these calculations, the second best QB is Tom Brady with 347 fantasy points.  That’s 52 points less than Newton!  If we recalculate the difference in QB’s, now suddenly our difference is only 54 points (347 – 293).  Now you get a clearer picture of why we should hold off on drafting QB’s.  Sure, if you think Cam Newton is going to “kill it” again, by all means, draft him, but if you are unsure he will or you like another player better, well maybe you should hold off drafting a Quarterback.

Let’s continue looking at the other positions:

We need 12 starting tight ends for our example.  Based on our projections the best tight end, is Rob Gronkowski 184 fantasy points.  His cross positional value would be his projections minus the projections of the 12th best tight end (Jason Witten 87 fantasy points) which would be 97 (184 – 87).

As with Quarterbacks I like to look at the drop off between the 1st TE and 2ndTE on the board.  In this case the 2nd top tight end is Jordan Reed with 158 fantasy points.  Now when we look at the difference between Jordan Reed and the 12th starting tight end, Jason Witten, the cross positional value would be 71.  This paints a different picture of the depth at the tight end position.

PLAYER TEAM FPTS
Rob Gronkowski NE 184
Jordan Reed WAS 158
Gary Barnidge CLE 158
Greg Olsen CAR 148
Delanie Walker TEN 148
Tyler Eifert CIN 140
Benjamin Watson NO 116
Travis Kelce KC 114
Richard Rodgers GB 100
Zach Ertz PHI 95
Antonio Gates SD 93
Jason Witten DAL 87

 

 

Why does everybody say draft a kicker and a defense last?  I’m guessing you know that already. As with the other positions, the numbers will show that there is much less difference between kickers and team defenses than the other fantasy skill positions This is the reason nobody rushes (pun intended) out to draft those positons.

PLAYER TEAM FPTS
Stephen Gostkowski NE 168
Graham Gano CAR 161
Blair Walsh MIN 152
Chandler Catanzaro ARI 151
Josh Brown NYG 149
Justin Tucker BAL 144
Cairo Santos KC 144
Robbie Gould CHI 144
Steven Hauschka SEA 142
Brandon McManus DEN 140
Dan Bailey DAL 130
Mike Nugent CIN 128

 

Again, there are 12 starting kickers in our model (12 teams x 1 starting kicker). Based on our projections, the top kicker is the Patriots Stephen Gostkowski with 168 points and the 12th best kicker is Cincinnati’s Mike Nugent with 128 fantasy points.  Gostkowski’s positional value is 168 while his cross positional value would be 40, the difference between his fantasy points scored and the 12th best kicker, Mike Nugent’s which would be 40.

After analyzing 5 different positions we can see that the drop off between kickers is very small.  The Quarterback and Tight End positions also seem to be very close when we remove the top player from the picture.

Lastly, let’s take a look at team defenses. There are 12 starting team defense/special teams in our example.  The best team defense is the Carolina Panthers with 152 fantasy points while the 12th best fantasy defense was the Houston Texans with 113 fantasy points.

PLAYER TEAM FPTS
Carolina CAR 152
Arizona ARI 147
Denver DEN 144
Kansas City KC 143
Philadelphia PHI 127
Pittsburgh PIT 125
Minnesota MIN 123
Los Angeles LA 119
Indianapolis IND 117
Washington WAS 116
New York NYG 115
Houston HOU 113

 

The best team defense, the Panthers, 152 fantasy points is their positional value, while their cross positional value when comparing to other positions would be 39 (152- 113).

Surprisingly there were no team defenses that scored head and shoulders about the rest like we had at the quarterback and tight end positions.  The difference between the 1st and the12th are so close that it’s not worth drafting a team defense early, especially when you could even stream team defenses based on their matchups.

In part 2, we will put it all together

Draft Strategy

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