The Principles of VBD Revisited
Posted 6/6 by David Dodds and Joe Bryant, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
Want to Dominate your League? Then Dominate your Draft. This article will show you how to do this with the draft system that serious Fantasy Owners across the country use.
It's called Value Based Drafting or VBD. Why listen to us about it? Because we are the guys that started it. We introduced Value Based Drafting to the Fantasy Football world back in 1996 when players like Keyshawn Johnson, Eddie George and Marvin Harrison had yet to play an NFL down. And for the last nine years, we've never stopped improving it.
Today, it's the hot ticket among hardcore owners for one simple reason: It works.
The system revolves around making detailed statistical projections for every draftable player. It also involves a fair amount of data manipulation. That's if you want to do all the forecasting and number crunching your self. The good news is that you can click over to our website (http://footballguys.com/download.htm) and we'll do all the work for you.
More on that later.
The Problem: Here's the trouble with valuing players. It's relatively easy to make a list of the quarterbacks and rank them from 1-40. Same thing with running backs and wide receivers. Trent Green ranks ahead of Carson Palmer. Edgerrin James is higher than Tatum Bell. And Chad Johnson squeaks past Darrell Jackson. These aren't that hard.
When it's your pick in the draft, it's not tough to say Edgerrin James has a higher value than Tatum Bell. But that's not the only valuation you're forced to make. The real world scenario is that at some point in your draft, you're forced to draft one player among the following:
Solid quarterbacks in the Trent Green / Marc Bulger / Matt Hasselbeck range.
Decent running backs in the Cedric Benson / Warrick Dunn / Duce Staley class.
Quality wide receivers in the Roy Williams / Steve Smith / Nate Burleson neighborhood.
Some top tight ends in the Todd Heap / Alge Crumpler zone.
That's a little tougher situation than deciding if Trent Green is better than Carson Palmer.
But if you want to Dominate your League, it's a situation you'd better be ready for.
With our VBD System you'll be able to finally place a tangible value on these players that makes sense to you. Always before, you didn't really know if a QB throwing 22 TDs / 3000 yards is more valuable than a RB scoring 9 TDs / 1000 yards or a WR posting 7 TDs / 1100 yards. Now you'll know.
The Principle: The value of a player is determined not by the number of points he scores, but by how much he outscores his peers at his particular position.
Think about it like this. We are NOT trying to assemble a group of the highest scoring players with no regard to position. If that were the case, the best team would be full of quarterbacks and kickers. We are bound by our starting lineups as to the positions we must fill. Our team, consisting of a specified number of players from the specified positions will compete against the other teams consisting of the same number of players from the same positions. Think of it in terms of individual matchups pitting your team against another team, position by position.
Here's an example. For simplicity's sake, let's just say your starting roster is 1 quarterback, 1 running back, 1 wide receiver and 1 place kicker. In a one game matchup against your buddy, your quarterback outscores his quarterback 35 to 33 (+2 points). You're up 2. Your running back is outscored by his running back 7 to 12 (-5 points). Now you're down by 3. Your wide receiver outscores his wide receiver 20 to 5 (+15 points). Now you're back up by 12. Your kicker outscores his kicker 22 to 21 (+1 point) This puts you up 13. You win the matchup 84 to 71.
|Your Team||His Team||Points Advantage||Cumulative Total|
|Your QB 35 pts||His QB 33 pts||+2 for you||+2|
|Your RB 7 pts||His RB 12 pts||-5 for you||-3|
|Your WR 20 pts||His WR 5 pts||+15 for you||+12|
|Your PK 22 pts||His PK 21 pts||+1 for you||+13|
|Total Pts = 84 (Your Team); Total Pts = 71 (His Team)|
Listen up now. The point differences at each position, when totaled, will determine the winner. In this case it was a total team difference of 13 points. Simple, right?
Now here's the important question. Let's say you and the owner above are going to throw all 8 players back into the pool, have a draft, fill your 4 man roster and play a 1 game season. For the sake of argument, these are the only 8 players available to draft ( 2 quarterbacks, 2 running backs, 2 wide receivers and 2 place kickers ) and you already know they're going to post the points I've stated. You must draft 1 quarterback, 1 running back, 1 wide receiver, and 1 place kicker. Who would you draft first?
It's an absolute no brainer. The wide receiver who scores 20 points MUST be the #1 draft pick. The 20 point wide receiver is by far the most valuable player even though he scored less points than both quarterbacks and both kickers. Why? Because he gives you a 15 point advantage at wide receiver while the better quarterback only gives a 2 point advantage, the better kicker gives a 1 point advantage and the better running back gives a 5 point advantage. The wide receivers 20 points were much more valuable than the quarterbacks 35 points and the kickers 22 points because of how the player relates to his peers. It's like tic-tac-toe. The season is over once the wide receiver is taken. If it doesn't make sense, actually do the draft and see it yourself. Do not keep reading unless this is crystal clear to you.
When you think about it, this is something you're probably already doing at some level already. For example, it's generally accepted that owners wait until the later rounds to draft a kicker. Why? It's certainly not because they don't score enough points. They often lead the league in scoring. The reason that most kickers are drafted late is that they have low value.
Kickers earn a low value because there are just so many good ones available. They're a "dime a dozen" as they say. On the other hand, someone like Shaun Alexander has few peers. Running backs who can post his type of numbers are considerably more "rare". Therefore, his value goes up.
With us this far? I'll assume we're on the same page as to how value is determined. Now we're faced with the task of building a draft list based upon those principles.
The Solution: In seven easy steps, is the following:
- Project stats for each player you think will be drafted in your league.
- Determine projected fantasy points based on your scoring system.
- Determine your baseline and X numbers.
- Sort your list by X numbers overall and by position.
- Determine the average draft position of each player.
- During the draft, multiply X numbers by need factor.
- During the draft, know when to deviate from VBD philosophy
Each one of these steps could easily merit its own article but for now, here's the summary version for each step.
1. Projecting Stats
The hardest part is the first part. In order for the Value System to work, it requires a firm set of projected stats for every player in your draft pool. Don't give us grumbling about how unpredictable football players are or the whining that usually follows player projection discussion. If you're going to dominate this draft (that IS your goal, isn't it?), it's absolutely essential that you have all the pertinent stats for your league projected for every player for the entire season. Project these numbers for every player that you expect to be drafted, not just starters.
We always smile when we hear the number one complaint against the VBD system --"It's too haaaaard to make projections". First off, if that's their biggest complaint, we are in pretty good shape. Secondly, we always counter with, "That's fine then. What EXACTLY do you use then to rank your players?" "Uniform style? Alma Mater? Footwear choice?" Seriously, if you're not going to rank a player by how you expect them to produce fantasy points, you probably are going to be in for a long season.
It's not really that much work though. You're probably doing these projections already, just not this specifically and probably not formally. Everyone thinks that LaDainian Tomlinson will score more TDs than Warrick Dunn. Most folks think Brett Favre will throw more touchdowns than Carson Palmer (although it might be closer than you think). Everyone expects Sebastian Janikowski to boot some 50+ yard field goals. Those things we know. What you must do with your projections is get a handle on exactly how many more touchdowns you expect a Tatum Bell to post than will a Ronnie Brown. It's not enough to say "he's better". You must decide how much better.
This becomes critical later because in a real draft, you're not comparing Tatum Bell to Ronnie Brown only. You're comparing Tatum Bell to Javon Walker, Andre Johnson and Antonio Gates perhaps. But to see how Tatum Bell compares to them, you must understand exactly how he compares to Ronnie Brown and the other running backs first. You'll see why in a moment.
Again, we've done all this for you in our VBD Application and Draft Dominator applications if you'd like to skip over this time consuming step. Both of these applications allow the user to change any or all of the stat projections it comes loaded with. (Editor's Note: Both of these apps will be released the week of June 6)
2. Projecting Fantasy Points
OK, stats are projected, now what? Easy. Now you must run these raw stats through your scoring system and come up with a projected number of fantasy points you expect each player to produce.
In other words, let's say you play in a league where quarterbacks earn 4 points for passing touchdowns and 1 point for every 30 yards passing. If you have Peyton Manning projected for 40 TDs and 4000 yards, Manning would project out to score 293 fantasy points (40 TDs x 4 = 160) + (4000 yards / 30 = 133) = 293 Projected Fantasy points. Do this for every player. Rank each player BY POSITION from highest to lowest number of projected fantasy points. For right now, keep them separated by position.
One thing you'll notice is that hype often doesn't equate to fantasy points. And Fantasy points are what wins championships. You'll often see low profile guys like WR Eddie Kennison who with his 62 receptions / 1,086 receiving yards / 8 touchdowns last season, really bring some value. On the flip side, you may be surprised to see big names like Andre Johnson produce similar numbers (79 receptions, 1,142 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns) but with a lot more attention/hype.
3. Determining Your Baseline and X Numbers
The next step is determining your "Baseline". What you're looking for in the baseline is a player (or number) that you'll compare all the players at that position against. Think back to the example in the beginning using the 8 players in a draft. This is where the "peer pressure" comes into play. Remember the goal is to distance yourself ahead of the competition. And you do that by selecting players who outscore their peers, not necessarily the players who score a ton of points as you fill a roster with a specified number of players at specified positions.
So what we need is a way to measure each player against his peers. We do that by setting a "baseline" player to serve as a measuring point. Each position player will be either better or worse than this position's baseline player.
There are many ways to establish a baseline and the following are the most popular methods:
But like most popular things, neither of these choices is the ideal baseline. After years of experimenting, we have found that the best baseline is based on the number of players that will be taken at a given point in a draft. We personally use 100 players as this basis, but you can play around with other points if you like. After 7 years, we've settled on using 100 players for most leagues. A rather complex formula has been developed to estimate how many players by position will be taken at the 100th pick of the draft, but suffice it to say it is based on scoring criteria, number of teams, number of required starters, number of rounds of the draft and number of flex positions.
There are three easy ways to calculate the number by position that will be selected based on all of these factors.
- Look at last year's draft and count the positions.
- Compare to a mock draft / average draft list with similar league structure
- Let the VBD App calculate this for you.
Using our baseline, we need to value each player. As stated, we do that by measuring how much better or worse we expect that player to perform when measured against the baseline player at his position. Keep in mind, at this point we're still talking about keeping all the positions in their own lists. We only care right now about how one quarterback compares to another quarterback.
In our sample league consisting of 18 rounds, 12 teams with the following starters (1 quarterback, 2 running backs, 3 wide receivers, 1 tight end, 1 place kicker and 1 defense), our program tells us approximately the following positions (on average) will be taken in the first 100 picks:
15 quarterbacks, 36 running backs, 38 wide receivers, 8 tight ends, 2 defenses and 1 place kicker.
These represent our baseline players for each position.
Here's how to get the X number. Simply compare the fantasy points each player will score to the corresponding baseline player. In our example, let's assume that our 15th quarterback will score 138 fantasy points. His X number by definition is 0. All players above him will have a positive X number based on the difference in fantasy points of that player and the baseline player. Assume Michael Vick projects to 200 fantasy points. His X number will be 62 (200-138).
In essence, that X number tells you how that player stacks up against the other players at his position. It tells you how about the "peer pressure" that player sees. This is the number that determines value.
5. Sorting your X Numbers
Up to this point, we have just lists of players at each position. Pretty much the standard fare "cheatsheets" you see everywhere. But as we said earlier, there's a problem with position lists: If your league is like our leagues, we don't conduct our draft by saying, "OK Guys, now we're going to draft all the quarterbacks. And when we're done with that, we'll draft all the running backs…" Doesn't work that way does it? You need to know how all the different players are valued not just among their position peers but among each other. We do that by sorting the X numbers.
It's a very simple matter of throwing all the players (and their X numbers) in one heap and ranking by the X number. What you'll see will likely surprise you. Depending on your league, don't be shocked to see some players sort out much higher than "conventional wisdom" says.
You'll most likely find that your kickers all have fairly low X numbers and are usually bunched tightly. This reinforces what you already know. Even though they may score a lot of points, they're all just about the same and you can afford to wait and snag a good one later.
And there you have it. All the players are ranked by their X number which means they're ranked by their value. A key point is to understand what the list is telling you. It's ranking the players by their value, or where they deserve to be drafted. This is not necessarily the order in which you should draft them (see items 6-8 below).
5. Determine the Average Draft Position of all the Players
Up to now, everything is based on your value. And this is good, because you want to draft a team that you solidly believe will perform. But to ignore all the opinions of the rest of the 10 million plus people that play fantasy football could have you over-paying for a few players if you are not careful.
Remember the goal is to maximize value with every single pick.
An excellent source for average draft value is Antsports.com.
They compile many mock drafts by date and allow you to customize a list based on a few variables. Myfantasyleague.com also produces lists based on actual league drafts using their software. If this sounds like too much work, do not fret - our VBD App contains all of this data based on the number of teams and how you score the tight end position.
The reason this data is important is it can provide the right clues when a player might get selected. If Anquan Boldin projects to number 50 on your overall list (as sorted by absolute X numbers), but is being drafted at 75 on average, you would be smart to wait on him with your fifth pick. If the average draft info also tells you Larry Fitzgerald and Eric Moulds (who you rate as very similar to Anquan Boldin) are also expected to go before pick 50, you may be able to use this to your advantage and squeeze out additional value by watching when they get drafted.
Remember your absolute X numbers represent worth to you.
But if you draft everyone at worth, your draft will be average.
The goal is to squeeze value with every single pick. And that is done by keeping a pulse on what an average draft is likely to do.
6. Multiply X Values by Need Factor to Determine Relative Value
With your first round pick, absolute need and relative need are the same. You need all positions equally. But as the draft continues, this is not the case. If you start two running backs and you have taken a running back with your first three picks, it stands to reason that your immediate need is likely not at running back. You'll likely want to veer from your VBD list if it's showing your next pick should be a running back.
Again for simplicity, we are going to give a formula that should work for most leagues. To determine the need factor of a position at any time in the draft, use the following table:
|Have||Start 1||Start 2||Start 3||Start 4||Start 5+|
|0 of a position||1.0||1.0||1.0||1.0||1.0|
|1 of a position||0.8||1.0||1.0||1.0||1.0|
|2 of a position||0.6||0.8||1.0||1.0||1.0|
|3 of a position||0.4||0.6||0.8||1.0||1.0|
|4 of a position||0.2||0.4||0.6||0.8||1.0|
So as an example, if you have a quarterback already and you start only 1, then the need factor is 0.8 for your next QB. Multiplying this need factor by the X number will yield the relative X value for that player for your fantasy team.
This is a major distinction from previous written works regarding Value Based Drafting. It attempts to translate mathematically what we have all done in drafts. You aren't going to keep drafting quarterbacks if you can only play 1 each week. Additional quarterbacks represent value still (for trades, etc), but for your particular team it is reduced (based on the table above). Most serious VBD owners have always done this intuitively but now we're putting the math behind it.
7. Know When to Deviate from VBD Principles
One of the biggest misconceptions with Value-Based principles is that you should use them for the entire draft. This simply isn't true. Sure you would like to get value throughout your draft, but after approximately half of your roster is filled, you will generally end up with your best team by using your position lists to address your unique needs. Always look at the best available player by position, but also make sure that person fills bye week needs, etc for your roster.
This includes (but is not limited to) the following not based on X Value:
Covering bye weeks
Handcuffing the backup to a key player on your roster
Looking for favorable match ups for certain tough weeks
For these reasons, we believe the perfect draft will often abandon strict VBD drafting after all baselines have been passed (this is generally around pick 120 or so). What exactly does this mean? It just means that later in the draft, you'll likely draft from your positional lists and not from your overall list.
In Summary, if you only remember three things, make it these three:
1. The object of the game is not to score a ton of points, but to outscore your opponent. You must fill a roster with a specified number of players at specified positions. The surest way to outscore your opponent is to build a team of players that outscore their peers. The players who most distance themselves from the other players at their respective positions are therefore the most valuable. Remember the 8 player draft example where you can't lose after drafting the 20 point wide receiver.
2. Factors such as the specific number of teams, starting lineup requirements, frozen players, and scoring system for your league dramatically affect the values of each player. These factors can cause the same player in two different leagues to have dramatically different values.
3. If this seems like a lot of work (and it is) we will do all of the math for you at Footballguys.com
Think about these principles. Play around with them and see how they work for you. Once you understand the concepts behind the Value Based Draft System, you'll be well on your way to Dominating Your League.