The biggest concern most people typically have as they head into a fantasy draft (whether they’re willing to admit it or not) is the best strategy to employ.
Who am I going to take? When am I going to take them? For years it’s been theorized that fantasy success comes only from drafting stud running backs early. In fact, up until very recently, most felt running back/running back was the only option. There were certainly plenty of risk-takers that deviated from the norm and snuck in a wide receiver or quarterback in the early rounds, but even the bravest of souls were not bold enough to exit the third round without at least two running backs on their roster. But recent years, up to and including 2011, have rocked the foundation of that very belief and have many questioning the essence of the stud running back theory.
Has time, once again, set in motion a changing of the guard? Has the popularity of point per reception (PPR) leagues heightened the value of wide receivers to the point where they rival running backs? Does the NFL’s rules against defensive backs and a league-wide shift to a more pass oriented offense give more credence to taking a quarterback early? Or does the tried and true method of stocking up on running backs still hold water?
There are plenty of factors to consider when trying to answer these questions. All are important in their own way, and we’ll discuss the relevance of each. But here some of the things you must consider when making your draft picks (and in no particular order): draft position, scoring system, starting lineup requirements and previous players selected. Obviously knowing your draft position will greatly influence your decision, so knowing where you’re drafting in advance is extremely helpful heading into your draft. If you’re in the Top 4 this year, that’s gold. If you’re in the middle, welcome to no-man’s land. If you’re at the turn (my personal favorite) there is plenty of value to be had. Don’t get me wrong; you can win from any draft position, but you better believe it will affect your draft strategy.
As for scoring system, a point awarded per reception (PPR) is the biggest factor to be aware of. The addition of a PPR makes a player like Darren Sproles extremely valuable. Without it, his value plummets in standard leagues. In 2011, the Top 24 performers in a PPR league consisted of five running backs, four wide receivers, 13 quarterbacks and two tight ends. However, when you eliminate the point per reception aspect from the scoring system (non-PPR), the Top 24 performers are four running backs, one wide receiver, 19 quarterbacks, and no tight ends. Clearly the two positions affected the most from the addition of PPR are quarterbacks and wide receivers. Receivers get a boost while quarterbacks see a nearly 33 percent decline in value. Running backs aren’t influenced nearly as much, except for those backs that catch a lot of passes (50-plus), of which there were eight in 2011 (seven of whom finished among the Top 24 last year).
Looking closer at those numbers, it’s easy to see why many would rush to take an elite wide receiver early. Supply and demand, right? Not only that, but the NFL has quickly veered away from the once-loved “featured back.” In fact, there are very few NFL teams that have a featured running back that’s in on third downs, that’s in at the goal line, that will catch passes, that will carry the ball early and often. I could argue that there are only a handful of teams left with a dependable running back that can be considered a featured back. So where does that leave us? How about wide receivers? They’re largely unreliable. In fact, no more than four wide receivers typically repeats a Top 10 performance the following year. And sometimes it’s a few as two. That means, at best, 60 percent of the time, your wide receiver is not going to repeat that elite performance from the previous season. And on the flip side, there is potentially an 80 percent chance that your wide receiver doesn’t finish in the Top 10. Calvin Johnson seems like the only ‘sure thing’ at receiver these days.
What about quarterbacks? For a long time, it was argued that it’s foolish to take a quarterback in the first round. Because if your quarterback goes down (i.e. Tom Brady in 2008), your fantasy squad is crippled. Again, supply and demand. There are 32 NFL teams. And there are typically 10-12 teams in a fantasy football league. How many quarterbacks will be drafted in your league? Likely no more than 20-24. How many running backs? How many wide receivers? How many tight ends? It’s all about supply and demand. Yes, you can argue that Aaron Rodgers will score a lot of points, so you should take him in the first round. But if you understand value, it’s not about how many points a particular player will score. It’s about how many points that player will score against other players at the same position. You can’t argue that Tom Brady will score more points than Andre Johnson; quarterbacks score more points! They throw for a lot of yards and they throw a lot of touchdowns. But they don’t care whether your wide receiver catches them, or someone else does. It’s all the same to them.