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The Art of Drafting for Value

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Welcome to another June edition of the Brew Crew Corner. Forget the lockout for a moment because regardless of what is going on in the courts, you need to start preparing yourself for the upcoming season. If this is your first year in fantasy football, I feel for you.

The experience is not the same as in previous years when right about now the fantasy football season starts to rev-up. You’re looking at your buddy or co-worker who asked you to join a new league and can’t see yet what is so great about it. Just wait, once the lockout is over, the draft talk heats up. You’ll get hooked just as I did my first year and you’re going to want to learn what it takes to win a fantasy league. The best advice I can give you is start learning now. Read articles, participate in the Shark forums and keep up with what’s going on in the league. If you don’t, those veteran owners in your league will welcome you like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They are just begging for you to grab Michael Vick or your favorite home team player with your first pick. If your league is like most, they won’t cut you any slack on draft day. It’s survival of the fittest and every owner has players they covet. So they will be glad to see that you are not prepared and that you took a player in the first round that they had no intention of selecting. Be prepared and you won’t have to hear people thank you for donating your entry fee.

My favorite draft day story happened back in 2005. The league was a large 16-team league with keepers but the first round still had plenty of talent for owners to draft. This new owner in the league, cocky because he had read up on some fantasy advice from one of those magazines you can get anywhere, was drafting straight from that publication. Side note: never draft from a magazine, especially since those rankings were put together in May and you draft in August. Understand? OK. Back to the story, so this owner had the sixth overall pick in the draft and decided to draft ... Dante Hall! Yes, he did. The commissioner tried to give him a break but we would have none of that. He made the selection, live with it. Not only was the selection hilarious but he defended the pick by saying the magazine said he would be a top-ranked kick returner since he had 1,700 kick return yards in 2004. What this owner didn’t understand was that we didn’t reward points for kick return yards. Know your league rules ... more on that later.

Back to preparing for the draft. The majority of us probably wait until the end of July or early August to really get down to getting ready for fantasy leagues. That’s the time we can see players out on the field, read what’s happening on the practice field and get an understanding of how most of the players fall on the team’s depth chart. We also start to pay attention to mock drafts because we want to know which players are selected according to our own draft order in our leagues.

What most of us don’t take into account when we are drafting is what kind of value you can gain at each draft position. I’ve seen this kind of mistake over the years where a draft starts off, and then a run on a position changes people’s draft strategy. You will also have someone reach a few rounds early for a player no one thought would go so high and cause others to pull the trigger sooner than they wanted to. At the end of the draft, owners look back and aren’t happy with the players they got or are kicking themselves because they could have waited a round or two for the same player.

Now everyone has their own draft strategy on how they value players. The art of drafting for value is not what strategy you use, but getting the most out of each draft pick. I truly believe that you should take the best player available, but sometimes the best player does not always equate into the best value. What you will need to understand value is Average Draft Position (ADP), draft tiers, number of starting positions you’re drafting for, available players until your next selection and the rules of your league. Other important elements that add value are player factors.

Average Draft Position

The average draft position is a formula which combines a number of drafts and averages where a player is selected. Example: In five drafts Adrian Peterson is drafted first, third, first, second and third. Chris Johnson is selected second, second, fourth, first and third. Rashard Mendanhall is taken ninth, 10th, ninth, 12th and eighth. That would give Peterson an ADP of 2, Johnson an ADP of 2.4 and Mendanhall an ADP of 9.6. When you are preparing for a draft, you want to take into account that Peterson is ahead of Johnson and Mendanhall. If, for instance, you are selecting fifth, you would expect Peterson and Johnson to be selected before your pick fifth. The value is if Peterson or Johnson is available to you at five. There is no value in selecting Mendenhall at five when his ADP is 9.6. Now there is no law stating that you can’t draft any player you want at the fifth spot but keep in mind the concept of value. When I put together my drafts, I like to take several ADPs and average them together.

Draft Tiers

Another method we use for preparing drafts is the tier method. This is a simple strategy of grouping players by position based on similar talent. Example: In the quarterback tier, you would have Peyton Manning, Aaron Rogers and Drew Brees for Tier 1. Then in Tier 2 you could have Philip Rivers, Tom Brady and Michael Vick. Grouping players into tiers helps you decide when it is time to select a player at a position. For instance, you’ve grouped five running backs into Tier 1, three quarterbacks into Tier 1 and eight wide receivers into Tier 1 at each of the respective positions. If, by your pick, all five Tier 1 running backs have been selected, one quarterback in Tier 1 remains and you have six Tier 1 wide receivers available, then you would select the quarterback because you have a bigger chance at landing one of the wide receivers then you would the quarterback on your next pick. When I tier my draft board, I number and color code the players to keep them organized.

Number of starting positions you are drafting

It sounds pretty easy, but you’d be surprised when some people draft without checking how many players are needed to start at each position. Some common mistakes are drafting too many at one position and not enough for another. Example: Owner A takes six running backs but just two wide receivers. The league he plays in starts three receivers. Now this owner is short at one position and has to fix the situation. Another example using the same scenario is Owner B loads up on other positions before selecting his starting quarterback. In the last round he planned to take a kicker but realizes he’s got to get a quarterback. He’s now in a situation where he’s not going to be able to select a kicker with this pick. By now, his choices of starting quarterbacks are awful and he would still need to get a backup quarterback as well. It’s poor draft management, and if you look to secure the players that will need to start for your team then you won’t find yourself in this situation. When I draft, I like to get my core team with the first five or six rounds, which means my quarterback, at least two running backs and two wide receivers.

Available players until your next selection

When players are flying off the board it is hard sometimes to keep track of how many of each position has been taken. That is how owners get caught in position runs because they start to panic when they see running backs flying off the board and they don’t want to be left out. Well this situation causes the biggest shift in value during the drafts because it allows good talent at other positions to fall to them. Just look at the real NFL draft. Teams have draft boards, tiers and positions to fill just like fantasy owners and will take a player if the value is there. For instance, in the 2011 NFL draft, there was a run early on quarterbacks and lineman, which caused players like Prince Amukamara and Mark Ingram to fall to the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints. These teams did not draft these players because of position need but rather because of value and best player available.

Sometimes when you’re drafting and about to select your third wide receiver, a running back you thought would go two rounds earlier is still available to you, so you take him because you know you have value in that selection. Let’s take another look at available players. You are in an eight-team draft and seven teams have selected a quarterback. You can choose to wait another round knowing that the chances these owners take a quarterback before your next selection is low. When you come back in the next round and get your quarterback, it will be at value.

The rules of your league

Knowing the rules of your league is a huge factor in planning your draft. You can look at position rankings online and ADP all you want, but without knowing the rules of your league, you’re setting yourself up for failure. The important factors you need to know right away are roster and scoring. How many players do you start? Do you have a flex position? Does your league start two quarterbacks? Knowing these types of roster questions are important when deciding which players you will need.

If your league starts two running backs and has the flex option to start three, then you should expect a heavier run on running backs then a league that starts just two. The scoring aspect adds another dimension by dictating which players are more valuable in your lineup then others. For instance, if you play in a league where running backs score four points a touchdown while wide receivers score six, then you would look to grab wide receivers more.

Other factors are number of teams in the league, the trade options and waiver rules. Some leagues have wacky rules that you need to keep in mind that can make an average player in most leagues become a stud in yours. If you have some crazy rule such as having kick returners score two points for every 10 return yards and 10-point touchdowns would put a player like LaRod Stephens-Howling among players scoring 20-plus fantasy points per game.

Player factors

Now that you’ve looked over the broad items that give you value during a draft we can now look at player factors that increase or decrease a player’s value. These factors can be free agency, trades, injuries, slumps and age.

Free agency has not happened due to the lockout, but once it does it will impact a lot of players. The impact will depend on which players are added or subtracted from a team as well as they type of players involved. For instance, in Arizona, under the current quarterback situation, Larry Fitzgerald is impacted the most. If they were to add a better quarterback, then his value would rise. Another scenario would be in Jacksonville where the receiving corps is thin. If, for instance, the team were to add a receiver that was a true No. 1 then it would make David Garrard a better quarterback option as well as help Maurice Jones-Drew by preventing defenses form keying in on him on every play. Keep an eye on players that come and go on the team even if they aren’t fantasy producers. An addition of a better offensive lineman or blocking fullback could have a big impact for quarterback and running backs.

Trades are similar to free agency and can impact a team in a number of ways. When evaluating teams losing or gaining players through trade or free agency, look at how they are set up after the transaction. Did the team get better through this transaction and how does it impact the players you are targeting in drafts? Injuries, slumping and age are factors that can greatly change a player’s value from one year to the next. Players coming off injuries are usually a value during drafts depending on the type of injury and when they occurred. Some owners get scared off when players have surgery or have missed significant time. Take the time to see how these players are recovering and how close they are to starting the season. There are risks involved with these players, but if you can get them at a value it will offset the risk you’re taking.

For those players coming off a poor season, you have to look at why that player didn’t perform the way he did the year before. Did injuries to other players cause his stats to decline? A running back playing behind a poor offensive line will have trouble finding holes through which to run. A team that struggles on defense will generate less time and opportunities for the offense to make plays. Player’s age can contribute to value. We all know about running backs declining around age 30. There is value in those running backs who fall in drafts but still produce. In the 2009 season, Ricky Williams put up great numbers despite his age and was selected at the end of drafts or even off the waiver wire.

In conclusion, those owners that use value in draft preparation will put together a better team. It requires more research prior to the draft and patience during the daft itself. There are a number of factors that contribute to a player’s value, and it is up to you to make the best choices with each selection. Plan your draft and then draft your plan. I guarantee you will start the season in great shape.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your summer!

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