You did it, didn’t you? You drafted that top wide receiver in the first round. Who did you draft? Was it Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown or Demaryius Thomas? Are you confident that these guys will lead you to a championship? Who did you take with your next pick? Was it another wide receiver? So you have Antonio Brown and Jordy Nelson to start your draft and feel you are ahead of your league to win a championship. What if I told you that selecting a wide receiver in the first round dropped your chances of winning a championship to 22.8% and that selecting a wide receiver in back-to-back rounds to start a draft would give you 3.5% chance at winning a championship. Would you then draft a wide receiver in the first round of your next draft?
Last season, I write an article titled “The Best Strategy to Win a Championship”, which won the 2014 Best Fantasy Football Article by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. That article covered the success of teams that won championships in the 2013 season of Shark Leagues. It pointed out how 92% of the teams that won a championship selected a running back in the first round. Of the 92%, Jamaal Charles accounted for 53% of the running backs that were key component to winning those championships. If you drafted a wide receiver in the first round, you had only a 4% chance of winning a championship. Four-percent is not a number I’m comfortable with. That year, tight end and quarterbacks made up the remaining 4% with only 1 championship won with a quarterback taken in the first round.
I went back this season to see if the numbers hold true or was it a fluke. I looked at 60 Shark League championships from 2014 and tracked the players drafted by the winner along with the first 3 rounds of players taken. Last season, more people used the strategy of drafting wide receiver first as ADP indicated six wide receivers were taken on average.
Of all the wide receivers taken in the first round, Demaryius Thomas (2nd) and Dez Bryant (4th) were elite. Antonio Brown, the best wide receiver on the season wasn’t drafted in the first round nor was Jordy Nelson who finished 3rd. However, Julio Jones (7th), Calvin Johnson (15th), A.J. Green (23rd) and Brandon Marshall (96th) were taken in the first round. Of the six wide receivers taken in the first round, All six of them won a championship. Those are pretty awesome results, right? Well, not quite. When you look at how many championships in total were won by these wide receivers you will find they won a combined 13 championships with Thomas winning five and Bryant winning four. The other four accounted for one championship a piece. So in 2014, Demaryius Thomas, who had the best finish of all first round wide receivers accounted for just 8.77% of the championships won.
Antonio Brown was the best overall wide receiver for the whole season. You could argue Odell Beckham, Jr., but he wasn’t part of the draft plan and we want to focus on the best draft strategy. Brown was drafted in the second round and accounted for 10.53% of teams. The next best receiver in the second round was Julio Jones who was taken in the first in some drafts but was the best value in the second accounting for 8.77% of the teams that won.
We focused on the wide receiver position because the trend of fantasy leagues is to take wide receivers earlier and in some cases people will take a wide receiver in the top 5 of a draft. That is not the best strategy to win a championship. Has it won championships before? Yes, it has, but at 22.8% you are fighting the odds that you will win.
Thinking about going contrarian? A word often used in daily fantasy circles that can be used in drafts when you decide to take a quarterback or tight end in the first round. Last year, three championships were won with Jimmy Graham or 5.26% while no quarterback taken in the first round has lead anyone to a championship. In the last two years, quarterbacks have a 0.8% success rate of winning a championship. If anyone in your draft takes a kicker or defense, just cut them from your league. That is a guaranteed 0% chance of winning.
This leaves me to the best strategy on the board and the one that has dominated since fantasy football came into existence back in 1962, drafting a running back with your first pick. I know you all read fantasy football magazines during the summer and article after article online. However, the numbers state that drafting a running back in the first round accounted for 71.93% of the championships in those Shark Leagues. Now that is a big decline from the previous year of 92% but at almost two thirds of all championships, it is still a big number.
So, who led these owners to a championship? Was it Jamaal Charles in the first round or Eddie Lacy? Nope, it was Matt Forte. Forte, who finished 3rd among running backs, accounted for 28.1% of the championships won. DeMarco Murray who was the best running back last year, accounted for 8.77% of championships won. That is when he was taken in the first round. When he was taken in the second round he accounted for 14.04%, the highest of any sound round player. Le’Veon Bell was a steal in the second round as he accounted for 10.53% of championships and 5.26% when taken in the first round.
So, what was the best draft position to take a running back last season? Sometimes it’s not only the player you take but when you make a selection that can lead to a championship. Last year, the 4th slot had the highest success rate in terms of winning a championship as 17.54% won from that draft position. The 11th spot surprisingly finished 2nd with 15.79% followed by the 5th slot with a 10.53% success rate. The worst draft slot last season was the 2nd slot which accounted for just 1.75% of the championships. This is where Adrian Peterson or LeSean McCoy went in drafts, on average.
We will finally look at the best strategy for the first three rounds. We now know that taking a running back in the 2nd round has the best success rate but what about Rounds 2 and 3? In the 2nd round, running backs still dominate with a 50.88% success rate followed by wide receiver at 36.84%. Continue to hold off on tight end and quarterback as they account for just 7.02% and 5.26%, respectively. What do we find in Round 3? Running backs still dominate with a 42.11% success rate followed by wide receiver at 33.33%, tight end with 17.54% and quarterbacks 7.02%.
So you’re thinking, since running backs dominate the first three rounds that the best strategy is to go RB-RB-RB. Well, it has been successful but it’s only the 7th best strategy with a success rate of 5.26%. The best course of action is to go RB-RB-WR which had the highest success rate of 19.3%. RB-WR-RB was the next successful at 17.54% followed by WR-RB-RB at 8.77%.
In the end, if you drafted 4th and took Matt Forte followed by DeMarco Murray and Rob Gronkowski to start your draft, you had a combined success rate of 59.7%. The next best trios were Eddie Lacy, Le’Veon Bell and Randall Cobb with 33.4% and then DeMarco Murray, Antonio Brown and Andre Ellington with 28.8%.
There were no rookies drafted in the first three rounds that accounted for any championships. So like the quarterback position, wait until the later rounds to target these players.
Remember that each draft is different and that one strategy may not work for all drafts. However, if I was drafting today I would try and get a draft slot in the middle of the draft and take a running back followed by the best running back or wide receiver on the board in the second round. I would then hope that Jimmy Graham can fall to me in the 3rd. I think many will allow him to slip this year and he would be great value in the 3rd round.