This Fantasy Forecast® will deal with a question that is becoming more and more relevant these days. With the explosion of Individual Defensive Player (IDP) leagues, many owners are confused as to the appropriate time to draft a defensive player. Should Jimmy Graham be taken ahead of Matt Forte? Should J.J. Watt be grabbed ahead of your wide receiver3? Heck, where should any position be drafted as compared to any other position?
To answer that question, I’ll draw on one of the industry innovations I implemented 15 years ago: Consistency Rankings. Let’s take a look at how consistent every position player is (excluding kickers, since many studies have proven that kickers should be drafted last, period), the range of their scoring and their relative value. In order to gauge the relative value of positions, for this data sample we’ve chosen to look only at players who played at least 12 games and scored above the positional average for the year (so we’re essentially looking at players who would likely be chosen in the early-to-middle rounds of most fantasy drafts). This is a departure from my previous CR methodology, which only looked at players who started more than eight games.
Table 1: Consistency Ratings (“CR”) by Year and Position
Note: the lower the CR, the more consistent the position
A couple of things to note:
- While I don’t have the formula listed here (I’ll do so in an upcoming column), this is a statistically derived definition of consistency. Unlike some other hack fantasy football writers who define “consistency” as scoring a minimum number of points in a game or as having “good” games, I use math, folks.
- The two most “stable” positions in 2014 were quarterback (offense) and defensive back (defense) while the least stable were running back and defensive line.
OK, so what’s next? Well, the next reasonable step would seem to be calculating the relative value of each position, incorporating the stability of each. That is, running back might be the most volatile position but it might have the highest payoff (in terms of fantasy points produced). Let’s take a look:
Table 2: Average Fantasy Scoring by Year and Position
Note: Values assume standard Point-Per-Reception scoring
Hmmm. So quarterback, on average in this sample, produces the most fantasy points. So quarterbacks must be the most valuable position, right? Before we state that as fact, let’s look at one more factor: population size. That is to say, what is the number of “draftable” players (across all the positions in this study) belonging to each position? Is there one position whose value is driven up due to the scarcity of quality at that position? Let’s take a look:
Table 3: “Draftable” Players by Year and Position
Well, isn’t that interesting? Not only are starting quarterbacks the most consistent, highest-scoring players, they are also in the most limited quantity! If fantasy football leagues were as pure as the free markets espoused by Adam Smith, then quarterbacks would command the highest price (and thus your No. 1 draft pick) every year. Alas, much to the chagrin of the “Invisible Hand” and fantasy owners everywhere, there are no truly free markets.
Much like in the real world, there are forces at play that stifle the functioning of free markets: in the real world, the government establishes rules and regulations which act to subvert the true dynamic of a free market. Such is the case in fantasy football; most of us know that subversion as roster requirements or starting lineup requirements.
Starting lineup requirements vary from league to league, but most are a takeoff of the:
2 running back
3 wide receiver
model. How does a lineup requirement affect our analysis? Let’s keep looking…
Further assuming a 12-team league, the minimum percentage of draftable players that will be required to be taken, by position, would be:
Table 4: Minimum Percentage of “Draftable” Players
So wide receiver becomes the position that requires the highest percentage of “draftable” players, as defined as in Table 3. Does that mean wide receivers should demand our priority on Draft Day? What about those top-producing quarterbacks? It is obvious that we need some way to weight the results of the first four tables in order to account for the information we’ve just uncovered, in order to place the proper value on each position.
To recap, we’ve tried to determine the relative value of each position in order to craft a draft strategy applicable to any situation. We’ve tried to focus on three factors:
- Consistency (how volatile is each position?)
- Relative value (how much in demand is each position?).
- Inherent value (how well does the position perform?)
In other words, we’re trying to describe each position as if we were evaluating stocks in the marketplace.