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Evaluating the Flex Position

A few years ago, I was introduced to a league that had a flex position.  I had participated in a traditional 2RB 3WR league for years, and I didn’t really change too much in my cheatsheet when I drafted for the new 2RB 2WR 1Flex position.  The Footballguys cheatsheet that year didn’t take into account the flex, so neither did I.  In the following years, I have played in a couple of flex leagues. This article looks at proper valuation of the flex position.

To do this I decided to make it simple.  I looked at last years’ VBD spreadsheet and ran the numbers for various different scenarios.  I then matched up the player to his total score to see if it made any sense.  I then went to the actual 2002 results to see if the numbers played out properly.  I will use the actual numbers to see if any of this really matters.  I am not here to debate principles of stat projections or whether or not Value Based Drafting works or not, I am just trying to get a better handle on the value of players in the flex position.

What is a Flex position?

The flex is usually a spot where you can start a player from more than 1 position.  Usually it’s a RB vs. WR, although I have seen a TE throw in there from time to time (Some leagues will even allow kickers and quarterbacks, but that’s another story).  Basically, the flex position is just that, a spot on your roster that is flexible to more than one player position.

How do you determine the value of the player in the flex position?

That is the meat of this article.  Many people do this many different ways.  Many people ignore the flex completely, figuring that since they draft for depth and backups, you really only need that one “extra guy” at WR or RB to plug in there when not on bye weeks.  Others take into account the scarcity of certain positions (i.e. RB) and go Stud RB on Steroids, taking 3 in their first 3 picks.  Everyone else falls somewhere in between.

So how do these ideas break down?

I decided to break down the system first by using last year’s VBD spreadsheet (version N for those of you who will take me to task later on the message boards).  I ran the projections and VBD calculations for 5 different combinations of flex approaches to see which seemed the most “fair” in distribution.  I assumed a 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 Flex for this case to make it simple.  I then plugged in the “Actual” values for last year.  This makes the assumption that we all know what will happen before the draft, but more so to see how far our projections are from the actual player.

For the process of keeping this simple, I have eliminated the QB, TE, K, and D positions since the flex usually doesn’t include these.  I will bring them back into play during the conclusion to help explain.

The Results:

 

Final RB #

Final WR #

Projected Points RB

Projected Points WR

Actual Points RB

Actual Points WR

2 RB 3 WR

RB29

WR31

147

121

124

106

2.5 RB 2.5 WR

RB38

WR22

107

145

87

124

3 RB 2 WR

RB45

WR15

81

156

70

148

Equal Baseline*

RB31

WR29

130

130

112

108

VBD Baseline**

RB35

WR26

122

132

103

119

*Equal Baseline = Finding the common VBD value to subtract from for both positions

**VBD Baseline = the number generated by making the values 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 flex.

Using the above example, we can see that there is a pretty big discrepancy here when playing around with the VBD numbers.  The running backs and wide receivers are all over the place depending on the valuation.  One of the things that jumped out at me is that the flex player’s position has very different values at the end because of how the VBD numbers skew the final values.  In my mind the last RB taken and the last WR taken in this example should have close to the same value for everything to make sense.  For it to be this far off suggests that using traditional VBD methods will skew the draft away from where you want to be.  It seems to me the three fairest ways to draft are either with a 2/3 setup, using a static flex baseline, or even using the sheets’ calculated baseline. 

Lets go a little further here.

In all but one of the scenarios, the RB position continues to be favored.  This is not unexpected, since RB scarcity is a documented fact with leagues that require at least two running backs.  Many people then say, “What about making each reception 1 point?”  This should elevate both your WR and some of the lower valued RB due to their receptions out of the backfield.  The truth is, it makes this worse.

Using the standard VBD sheet set for 2 RB 2 WR and 1 Flex with 1 point added per reception, you get a distribution as follows: 

60 players needed

RB

WR

First 12

10

2

13-24

10

2

25-36

6

6

37-48

2

10

49-60

6

6

 

Last RB = 146 points and the Last WR =201.  In using the VBD sheet you would not have the same results in Joe’s Value Based Drafting article.  The guy drafting RB 34 will be at a severe disadvantage to the guy drafting WR 26.  That is why we need a better number here for this.

The Flex Value Calculator:

The best way to do this is to create a new number for your flex player.  One that combines the amount of flextime that player will have vs. the value at that position.  The easiest way to do this is throw all the positions involved in the flex into the same set.  If you were drafting players to fill your starting slots, and every spot was a flex spot, you’d have every player in one column from highest to lowest fantasy points regardless of position.  For our example with only two positions in the flex, that means all the WR and RB will be grouped together.  If we do this in the above examples, the VBD number becomes about 130 for each player. This means that initially, every player number in this system (RB and WR) is their fantasy points minus the 130.  It creates a new value for the player, outside of their value in the traditional cheatsheet.   When drafting a player as a backup/flex player, you refer to this number for the position when comparing them to other “non-flex” positions.   This creates a value that is tangible and concrete in deciding between one flex spot and another.

How do I set up my spreadsheet if the “flex” number is outside of it?

This is probably the hardest question of the article, because taking that player totally out of the regular league variables will make life very difficult for a proper VBD calculation.  If you decide to base your rankings on 4 players rather than 5, it will look the same when just taking into account RB and WR positions, but when you throw the rest of them back in there, you’ll overvalue the rest of your positions relative to the flex, the RB, and the WR.  Again, referring to the top example, you should set your flex number somewhere between 2 and 2.3 for RB and 2.7 and 3 for WR.  I set it at 2.25 and 2.75 and got a fairly similar distribution.  You still have a good amount of Stud RB going on, but the numbers do catch up as we progress.  You still use the flex value when comparing positions, but the sheet itself will remain intact.  The main reason I don’t do this in this year’s sheet (i.e., set at 2.25 and 2.75) is that I do not know where the stat projection match up will happen.  Last year, it was at a value of 130, this year, it depends on your sheet.

Conclusions and comments:

In a flex system, it is somewhat important to come up with a new number to compare the flex spot in your lineup to the different positions.  Can you do okay with ignoring the flex (i.e. a 2/3 setup to your sheet when it’s 2/2/1)?  Yes, but optimally the best system requires a new grouping to pick that perfect player for that position in your lineup.

When we bring all the other positions back into the mix, the flex takes on a slightly different look.  All those quarterbacks and other positions change when the flex is entered.  However, if you are in round 3 with 2 running backs on your roster, and you have RB 15, QB 5, and WR 4 staring you in the face, while RB 15 may have the best traditional VBD value, it is actually QB 5 or WR 4 that are the better picks because as a flex player, RB 15 has less value.

Finally, with all that being said, all stat projections have a good amount of error.  This idea is to make those who use value based drafting as their guide in the draft more efficient, allowing them to take VBD a little further in flex calculations.  A player may be more or less valuable to you in the flex spot than in his regular position, and that will make a difference in your draft and whether or not you draft that player.  I hope this helps you in finding the right player for your flex.

One last thing… Are flex lineups forcing everyone to draft via the stud RB theory?

Using a 1 RB, 3 WR and 1 flex lineup (vice the typical 2 RB, 3 WR and 1 flex) you end up with a player distribution where RB and WR tend to be more normalized. In a 1 RB, 3 WR, 1 flex, the numbers do change and even out. 

In a 1/3/1 flex (using the VBD flex calculator) you have 13 WR and 12 RB in the top 25.  Further, you have 6 WR and 4 RB in the top 10.  Compared to a traditional 2/3 (10 WR/15 RB in the top 25, and 3 WR, 7 RB in the top 10) or the 3/2 example  (25 RB in the top 25).  This little nugget may be something to think about when setting up you leagues from now on.

Steven J Lowinger


Editor’s Comments (Dodds): We hear the argument looking at the data at the end of the season, but stand behind our formula (at least until all the starting RBs are off the board). The problem with making a formula for ALL leagues regardless of size is the formula breaks down at saturation. We agree that you would rather have the 23rd WR than the 38th best RB. This is because there are only 32 teams and after about 30 RBs are off the board, there is saturation at the RB position. We are addressing this with a better step function for flex this year, but it likley won't be perfect with static baselines. In our opinion, static baselines tell only part of the equation. The other part of the equation is what is the replacement value after the draft of this position? At RB, there is usually no waiver pick up to help you. At WR there almost always is. Plus late round receivers exceed projections every year. And this all makes sense in that each team has two starting WRs (some team’s third WR is valuable too) whle those same teams have but 1 good fantasy RB. In leagues that require 2 RBs and a flex, RBs have a significant premium. You may end up theoretically with more early value by deviating and getting WRs, but that theory all goes south the second one of these players gets benched, hurt, etc. With the way some expert drafts are going (FanEx FAD draft saw 20 of the first 24 picks going RB), we agree with Steve that rules need to be changed (2 RB, 3 WR or 1 RB, 2/3 WR and a flex seem to make the most sense). Playing 2 RBs + a flex practically forces ones hand to participate in the RB run madness (at least until the starters are depleted).

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