If you're looking to dominate your league, there are several ways to do it. Some owners rely on scouring the waiver wire. Some strengthen their rosters with enough trades to make a NFL GM dizzy. But the surest road to a great season, is actually the easiest: Having a great draft.
I've said many times it just like the Daytona 500. Sure, you can win the race starting at the back of the pack. But it's a lot easier if you can start from the pole. Same with Fantasy Football. A strong draft makes everything easier. Everything from waiver wire pickups to trading players is easier when you're dealing from a position of strength after a great draft. As the old adage goes, "You never have to recover from a strong start".
In this article, I'm going to show you my drafting system that will put you in control of your league. This is not fluffy, light reading for the casual fan. This is serious and valuable information for the hardcore owner who's playing for keeps and willing to trade his girlfriend for an edge. This article is for Fantasy Sharks. If that's you, c'mon in.
Interested? I thought so. This method is something I began evangelizing to the public way back in 1996 when guys like Keyshawn Johnson, Eddie George and Marvin Harrison had yet to play an NFL down. It's called the Value Based Draft System (or VBD for short) and today, you'll find it's the hot ticket among serious FF Owners. Even among other writers. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Lets just say I'm flattered and leave it at that. But my system has gained wide popularity for one reason: It works.
I brought these ideas to the Football World after being immersed for many years in the statistical gymnastics known as Rotisserie Baseball. There I learned from the Roto masters like John Benson, Bill James, Alex Patton and Pete Palmer the basics of these ideas. Over the last 5 years, I've been continually updating and rethinking these concepts and how they apply to football. You're reading the latest.
Let me give you this warning: It does involve some work. 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:www.footballguys.com and we'll do all the work for you. You simply download the spreadsheet preloaded with statistical projections for every player, enter your league information, and out comes a customized cheatsheet based on these Value Based Principles and tailored to your exact league and situation. Everything is 100% FREE. No catches. Read on and I'll show you how it works.
Imagine yourself in the following scenario:
Draft night. Round 6. Tick tock, tick tock. The walls in the smoke filled room are slowly closing in on you. You're well aware that you've entered the crucial phase of the draft where the men are quickly separated from the boys. The adrenaline rush of the first two rounds is a distant memory while you run on nothing more than caffeine and raw nerves. Your stomach is now questioning the wisdom of accepting that last slab of pizza when your situation worsens considerably. The owner selecting in front of you steals the budding star you covet but passed on last round because you were certain he'd hang for another 12 picks. All the guys in the Usenet Group said you just had to have the #2 RB by round 5 and Mr. Sleeper Star would stick around for at least another round. You just knew it. Tick tock...
Yeats was right when he said, "we have no enemy but time". With your "steal of the draft" sleeper now sitting smugly on your rival's roster, you have to make a decision…fast. Suddenly you're sifting through QB's in the Bledsoe / George / Hasselback range, RB's in the Wheatley / Watters / Dayne neighborhood, WR's in the Brown / Toomer / Horn mold, and TE's along the lines of Reimersma and Jones. Do you even dare think about a Kicker yet? Surely not a Defense. Sheesh. Whaddya do?
If you're like 95% of the Fantasy Owners out there, you do what you've always done: Consult your old friend, the "Gut", and grab whoever he tells you. Ah, good 'ol Gut. Live and die with the Gut. Unlike your rival, who claimed he'd never heard of your star sleeper 2 hours ago, the Gut never lies and he's never let you down before. Has he? OK, you weren't the only guy in the world to snag Olandis Gary early last year so you can't blame that all on the Gut. But there WERE those couple (dozen?) instances last season where the "hunch" didn't quite play out as you planned…and you're pretty darn sure you remember saying the Ravens would never go far …and now that you think of it, Mr. Gut had a pretty sizable hand in helping you pull the trigger on that last piece of pizza a few minutes ago. What's up with that?
You're thinking there must be a better way.
And I'm telling you there is.
With my VBD System you'll be able to finally place a tangible value on these players that makes sense to you. Always before, no one really knew if a QB throwing 22 TD's / 3000 yards is more valuable than a RB scoring 9 TDs / 1000 yards or a WR posting 7 TD's / 1100 yards. Now you'll know.
I'm here to tell you that success in your Fantasy Football Draft is all about understanding "Peer Pressure". And I'm not talking about being the last guy on the planet to get a tattoo (that was last year) What I'm talking about is the surest way I know of to accurately place a value on Fantasy Football Players for your draft.
In it's simplest form: 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 for a moment. The goal is not to score a ton of points. You can score a ton of points and still lose. The goal is to outscore your competition. In other words, the goal is to distance yourself ahead of the competition. How do you best do that? 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. This is extremely important. Copy this and paste it somewhere prominent. It's the key to success in this game
For example, let's say you had a perfect crystal ball and knew the points players would post. If you select a Mike Vanderjagt, at say, 145 points, your competition can counter that move with a Jason Elam at 143. You're up 2 points, big deal. Your opponent takes a Brian Griese at 115 points. You can effectively counter with a Rich Gannon at 100 only giving up 15 points. You select a Tony Gonzalez at 75 points and if your opponent counters that with Kyle Brady at 35, you're suddenly up a whopping 40 points. The team that wins will be the team that can most distance themselves from the pack at each position. It makes no difference from which position the advantage in points come from. All you're looking for are the points themselves. You can gain the advantage from being just a little better at each position, or you may gain the exact same advantage by being incredibly strong at one position and just a little weaker at all the others.
People sometimes have a hard time seeing this. (Assuming a mandatory TE) They'll say "how can a TE (Gonzalez) scoring 75 points be more valuable than a #1 WR (Amani Toomer) scoring 95 points?" The answer is that it's not a game of TE vs. #1 WR. Just like the real thing, it's a team game. The Gonzalez owner gets to draft a #1 WR to team with Gonzalez and the Toomer owner must draft a TE to go with Amani. The Gonzalez owner will likely be able to draft a #1 WR fairly close to Toomer's numbers. The Toomer owner's TE will probably post numbers much lower than Gonzalez. When the owner combines the numbers of Gonzalez and his #1 WR, they will probably be more than the numbers posted by Toomer and the available TE. Does this make sense? If it doesn't, read it again. It is the cornerstone of the Value Principle.
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 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. Therefore, the object of the game changes from assembling a group of high scoring players (with no regard to position) to assembling a starting roster with the highest scoring players at each position. Think of it in terms of individual matchups pitting your team against another team, position by position. For simplicity's sake, let's just say your starting roster is 1 QB, 1 RB, 1 WR and 1 PK. In a one game matchup, your QB outscores his QB 20 to 18 (+2 points). You're up 2. Your RB is outscored by his RB 0 to 5 (-5 points). Now you're down by 3. Your WR outscores his WR 20 to 5 (+15 points). Now you're back up by 12. Your kicker outscores his kicker 21 to 20 (+1 points) This puts you up 13. You win the matchup 61 to 48.
Total Pts = 61 (Your Team); Total Pts = 48 (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. 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 QB's, 2 RB's, 2 WR's and 2 PK's ) and you already know they're going to post the points I've stated. You must draft 1 QB, 1 RB, 1 WR, and 1 PK. Who would you draft first? Tick, tock, tick tock…
It's an absolute no brainer. The WR who scores 20 points MUST be the #1 draft pick. The 20 point WR is by far the most valuable player even though he scored the same as the QB and 1 point less than the kicker. He gives you a 15 point advantage at WR while the better QB only gives a 2 point advantage, the better PK gives a 1 point advantage and the better RB gives a 5 point advantage. The WR's 20 points were much more valuable than the QB's 20 points and the PK's 21 points because of how the player relates to his peers. It's like tic-tac-toe. If it doesn't make sense, actually do the draft and see it yourself.
Because you must fill each position, the owner who drafts the 20 point WR cannot lose. The draft is over once the WR is taken. You give me the 20 point WR and my dog, Elvis, can draft the rest of my team and still beat you. Re read this and make sure you understand it. It's vital that you see all points do not have equal VALUE.
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 usually lead the league in most scoring systems. The reason that most kickers are drafted late is that they have low value. They have low value because there are many kickers who will produce a similar number of high points. Even though they're high scorers, most owners feel that they can wait until later and still pick a nice kicker.
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, an Edgerrin James has few peers. RB's who can post his type of numbers are considerably more "rare". Therefore, his value goes up. Make sense? Elementary, I know, but it's important to understand the concept behind the principle.
With me 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.
In five easy steps, here it is:
1. Project Stats for Each Player you think will be drafted in your league.
2. Determine projected Fantasy Points based on your scoring system
3. Determine your baseline
4. Using your baseline, determine an X number for for each player
5. Sort your list by X Numbers overall and by position.
Each one of these steps could easily merit it's own article but for now, here's the summary version for each step.
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 me 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.
I always smile when I hear the number one complaint against the system --"It's too haaaaard to make projections". First off, if that's their biggest complaint, I'm in pretty good shape. Secondly, I 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, I don't know what I'd use.
It's not really that much work though. If you'll think about it, you're probably doing these projections already, just not this specifically and probably not formally. Everyone thinks that James will score more TD's than Dunn. We all think Manning will throw more TD's than Griese (although it'll be closer than you think). Everyone expects Sebastian Janikowski to boot some 50+ yarders. Those things we know. What you must do with your projections is get a handle on exactly how many more TD's you expect a Warrick Dunn to post than will a Tiki Barber. 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 Dunn to Barber only. You're comparing Dunn to Jeff George, Tim Brown and Shannon Sharpe perhaps. To see how Dunn compares to them, you must understand exactly how he compares to Barber first. You'll see why in a moment.
Again, we've done all this for you in our VBD Application if you'd like to skip over this time consuming step. Of course, the App also allows the user to change any or all of the stat projections it comes loaded with. (although we can't imagine someone disagreeing with us…)
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 that QBs earn 4 points for passing TDs and 1 point for every 30 yards passing. If you have Peyton Manning projected for 30 TDs and 4000 yards, Manning would project out to score 253 points (30 TDs x 4 = 120) + (4000 yards / 30 = 133) = 253 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 RB Richie Anderson who with his 88 receptions and 853 receiving yards last season, really bring some value. On the flip side, you may be surprised to see big names like Keyshawn Johnson produce very meager numbers (only 21 more receiving yards than Anderson) that simply don't live up to the hype.
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. The simplest way to set a baseline is to use the worst starter at each position. In other words, for a 12 team league that starts 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, and 1 PK, the worst starters will be the 12th best QB, the 24th RB, the 36th WR, the 12th TE and the 12th PK.
This is where the number of teams in your league and starting requirements are such a huge factor. Everyone wants to talk about scoring systems making your league unique but the truth of the matter is that the league size and starting lineups are much more important. Do you think Marvin Harrison has a different value in a 16 team league starting 3 WRs every week than he does in an 8 team league starting 2 WRs? You bet he does.
For demonstration principles, the baseline of worst starter works fine. As you become more familiar with the system, the baseline will be the area you'll want to spend the most time with. I also like using a baseline of the last player selected at each position. This gives you a truer sense of the overall depth at a position. You can also begin to implement averages into the baseline using the average starter or even the average of all players selected at that position.
But for right now, lets assume the baseline is your worst starter.
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 QB compares to another QB.
Here's how to get the X number. If the #12 QB on my list is my baseline and he is expected to post 75 points, I would subtract 75 points from each QB on the list. That would give the worst starter (#12) a value of zero. All QB's who are not expected to start would have a negative value. This number will be called your "X Number" or X #. Do this for every position so that the worst starter at each position has a value of zero. Lets say you expect Garcia to post 200 points. Subtracting the points scored by the worst starter would give Garcia an X # of 125. What you'll then have is an X # for every player that shows how many points you expect them to score more than the worst starter at that position.
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.
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 here's the problem: If your league is like my league, we don't conduct our draft by saying, "OK Guys, now we're going to draft all the QBs. 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 #s) 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 X #'s fairly low and fairly close together. This reinforces what you already know. Even though they score a ton, they're all just about the same and you can afford to wait and snag a good one later. You'll probably be surprised when you look at the other positions. QB's are probably deeper than you think. After Warner / Manning / Culpepper, there is a drop, but the group of McNabb, Griese, Gannon, Garcia, Grbac, Green, Favre etc. is pretty strong. In yardage leagues, you'll probably be surprised at the depth of RB's. Players like Charlie Garner quietly pile up the yardage without much fanfare. TE's will probably shock you. When you start to see the benefit that a Gonzalez / Sharpe can give you over a Ken Dilger / David Sloan, you may be surprised. WR's may not be as deep as you think, especially in yardage leagues, and therefore the value of the top players are increased.
And there you have it. All the players 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.
You may well have a Tony Gonzalez show up in your top 10 overall players if your league has a mandatory TE. But that's way too early to actually draft him. Take another player there and get Gonzalez later. The owner who wins will be the owner who gets the best value for his picks. Gonzalez in the first round is not a real value. Gonzalez in the 3rd round is great value. Bottom line is don't draft a player any earlier than your fellow owners force you to.
In Summary, if you only remember two things, remember this:
1. The object of the game is not to score a ton of points, but to outscore the 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 I can't lose after drafting the 20 point WR.
2. Factors such as the specific number of teams, starting lineup requirements, frozen players, and scoring system for your league dramatically effect the values of each player. These factors can cause the same player in two different leagues to have dramatically different values.
Think about these principles. Play around with them and see how they work for yourself. Once you understand the concepts behind the Value Based Draft System, you'll be well on your way to Dominating Your League. Then when the smoke gets heavy in round six, you can relax and tell your "gut" you have this one under control. Make the killer pick and then reward yourself with another slice of pizza…
Joe Bryant has been a contributor to Fantasy Pro Forecast since 1996 and is the co-owner of www.footballguys.com a website dedicated to providing 100% Free information for Dominating Your Draft including expert projections and tons of help in building a Value Based Draft list for YOUR draft in YOUR league.
This article will be featured in the 2001 edition of Fantasy Forecast Magazine. It's reprinted with the permission of my friend and Publisher, Emil Kadlec. For more information on ordering the Fantasy Forecast Magazine, see FSPnet.com