"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" – George Santayana
Dynasty rankings are like fingerprints – no two sets are alike. I have been creating dynasty rankings for quite a while now here at Footballguys, and I wanted to think about a way to evaluate my overall outlook on player value for dynasty leagues that would be valuable and also use an independent source. I thought about using other rankings, but that was not what I was truly looking for. I wanted to see how good (or bad) of a job could be done by not just following my current rankings, but also check out how the current Footballguys dynasty rankings would compare against some other way of gauging how to really value and evaluate NFL and fantasy football talent.
I gave it some thought, and I decided that the best way to test rankings and to see how values (and lessons) can emerge is to look back at a previous startup draft in a dynasty league and see how that draft compared to a collective set of rankings for dynasty leagues. The last part was easy enough – Footballguys has both my rankings and several other sets from fellow staffers right here – but the first part might be tricky. What league should I use, and how can I make sure that it was a valid league draft? Also, how long ago should I be looking to get a good basis of comparison? It was then that I remembered that our good friends over at the FPC had started some high stakes dynasty leagues a few years back. What better source could there be than to use hardcore fantasy football team owners who put their money where their mouth is and drafted? Even better news was that the FPC kept track of the leagues in such a way that I could look at the first draft for any league I chose. I decided (mostly at random) to pick a league that drafted about two years ago (July 2011) – and then the information just poured out after diving into that draft. The information I learned from examining that one draft not only changed my outlook on dynasty rankings, but it certainly changed how I would approach future startup dynasty league drafts.
Before I go into the very interesting details that I discovered, I have to outline the methodology for evaluating the draft. First, I did not care about the scoring system. That may seem odd, but what I really cared about was the relative value of one player to another (such as RB2 vs. RB20) and not the net value across positions (i.e. how does QB6 compare to RB20). By taking that outlook, I am able to provide two meaningful global views when it comes to dynasty leagues. First, rankings of players are usually given in a list form by position. Rarely will you find a good list of Top 100 or Top 200 players when it comes to multi-year leagues, and if you do, those lists are usually tailored towards particular scoring or roster formats. None of that matters if you look at relative value within each position, which was my first goal. The second point is that I chose a league with serious owners (so that they took the draft seriously, as you would with a high stakes league) from two seasons ago. Why two years? Well, for a multi-year outlook, you have to be able to draw some conclusions as to how a dynasty fantasy team might look based on the results and outcomes from the startup draft after a given amount of time. Considering that many NFL players do not have careers that even last two years (by most accounts, NFL players average about a four-year career), a two-year old league gives some valid seasoning to a draft result without expecting too many of the players to be out of the league when looking back at the draft.
The next thing I had to figure out was to how to evaluate the draft. I couldn't exactly judge the outcome of the league as determining a good or bad team (although that was one option) – that would not be general enough to provide a good overall dynasty ranking s outlook. Rather than looking at any one team or a few of them, I looked at the entire draft and considered the order in which the players were chosen, again by each individual position, and compare that against the current Footballguys' rankings for dynasty players. The thought here is that the draft is an actual snapshot of real life (or real fantasy) outlook in value for NFL players in dynasty circa two years ago, and we can learn quite a bit by comparing that point in time to the outlook on those players today. If things were perfect - and we know that they aren't – then the rankings should have good correspondence to one another. Even before I started this process I knew that they wouldn't align well, but if I could find any generalities it would help me to develop some good rules of thumb for future dynasty rankings and drafts.
Another point I wanted to make is that I decided to draw a line in the draft after Round 15 of the 20-round draft. With 180 players selected, I had a good sample size for each of the four major positions, and no defenses or kickers had been selected yet. Those 180 players and their order of selection was the basis for independent talent evaluation for dynasty fantasy football from 2011. The same analysis can be done on a different league, but I just chose this one particular league at random for this study (I will not identify the exact league, so please do not ask – I did not want to single out any particular fantasy owners or their teams, good or bad).
The last comment before I get to the details is I needed to define the goal, which should be pretty straightforward. I wanted to find out how to best draft for not just Year 1 but also for Year 2 and Year 3, meaning that I wanted to come out of the study with some ideas of how to create the best dynasty team possible. After looking at 180 players, I hoped that I could determine how to find a strong QB1, TE1, and 2-3 Top 20 running backs and wide receivers. If a dynasty team had a Top 5 quarterback, Top 5 tight end, and fantasy RB1/2 and WR1/2 talents throughout the lineup, that would be a very formidable team.
Here is my breakdown from my analysis, position by position:
Looking at the 2011 draft, fewer than 20 quarterbacks were taken in the first 180 selections. Let that be Lesson #1 – quarterbacks lack dynasty value in general, simply because each team really only needs one good one. That might be a bit of a complacent outlook, but it seems to hold true in recent years. Once a fantasy owner has a Top 10 guy, he (or she) feels set at the position. That is likely a jaded view considering how few major injuries have hit the position of late, but the truth does remain that only 12 quarterbacks start each fantasy week.
Here are some observations from the draft:
- Just 2 of the Top 5 quarterbacks taken in the 2011 dynasty league draft are still considered Top 5 dynasty quarterbacks.
- Only 4 of the Top 10 quarterbacks taken in the 2011 dynasty league draft are still considered Top 10 dynasty quarterbacks.
- 75% (6 of the Top 8) quarterbacks taken in the 2011 dynasty league draft are still considered Top 12 dynasty quarterbacks.
- Veterans and young talent dominate the top of the list today, with young quarterbacks skewing the Top 10 dynasty list comparison. Five quarterbacks with three years or less experience are in the Top 10 list right now, pushing veteran names from 2011 down the charts.
So, in summary, the quarterback position is dominated by both consistency and volatility. How is that possible? First, consistent veterans like Drew Brees and Tom Brady remain atop the list, year after year. The volatile nature comes from young guns entering the league in recent years like Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick. The only reasons that some previous Top 10 quarterbacks slid down the list is because of age (Peyton Manning) or because of youngsters entering the list. Luck, Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, and Robert Griffin III are all players that were still in college in 2011, but are now all considered fantasy QB1s for dynasty leagues going forward. Even Cam Newton was thought of as a flier pick late in 2011 (his first season when he burst onto the scene) and he now is in the Top 10 as well. That makes five quarterbacks with three or fewer years of experience in the Top 10 rankings today, reflecting the dynamic changes for both fantasy football and the NFL in general.
Looking at the 2011 draft, over 60 running backs were taken in the first 180 selections. That is a lot of depth for us to review, but all we really want to know is at the top of the two lists. After all, we want Top 20 running backs throughout our roster, not marginal talents that are just 1-2 notches above waiver wire talent levels.
Here are some observations from the draft:
- The top is heavy. All of the Top 5 running backs taken in the 2011 dynasty league draft are still considered Top 7 dynasty running backs. In fact, the only reason it is not a 100% correlation is the addition of two young players that were still in college in 2011 – Trent Richardson and Doug Martin.
- It doesn't stop there. Of the Top 10 running backs taken in the 2011 dynasty league draft, all but one (90%) is still considered Top 16 dynasty running backs.
- And now the cliff comes. After the Top 10 picks from this 2011 dynasty league draft, it gets rather ugly. Only one of the next 10 running backs is still in the current list of Top 20 dynasty running backs (with a second one just missing at RB21). Six out of 10 are considered as RB39 or worse.
- The current dynasty ranking at Footballguys has 9 of 25 (36%) running backs on the list as players that were not even in the NFL yet in 2011. Youth dominates this list from a Top 25 perspective today.
To sum it up, the running back position can best be described as Studs then Duds. After the Top 10, running backs are a complete crapshoot for finding long term value. Those with patience could find a Marshawn Lynch or a C.J. Spiller – both Top 10 backs on the list today but barely Top 30 picks in 2011 – and have a very commanding franchise. Or they could have invested in Jahvid Best or Peyton Hillis two years ago, and then faced having to replace both inside of two seasons.
Looking at the 2011 draft, over 60 wide receivers were taken in the first 180 selections. That is a lot of depth for us to review, but all we really want to know is at the top of the two lists. After all, we want Top 20-30 wide receivers throughout our roster, not marginal talents that are just 1-2 notches above waiver wire talent levels.
Here are some observations from the draft:
- The top is a little hard to predict. Only one of the Top 5 wide receivers taken in the 2011 dynasty league draft (Calvin Johnson) is still considered a Top 5 dynasty wide receiver. The good news is that all of the Top 5 picks were in the Top 15 today, so if the downside is a fantasy WR2, that is definitely attainable in most cases.
- Consistency exists in the Top 21. Of the Top 21 wide receivers taken in the 2011 dynasty league draft, 15 (71%) of them are still considered Top 24 dynasty wide receivers.
- A flier on a wide receiver late may pay off. Two receivers selected late in the draft (Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson) and two others selected in the final rounds (Eric Decker, Cecil Shorts) all crack the current Top 40 dynasty lists, including Cobb and Nelson in the current Top 15.
The wide receiver position can best be described as the most consistent position in dynasty leagues – when viewed from the high floor standpoint. If your goal is to collect wide receivers who will be Top 24 wideouts right away, then grab 2-3 Top 24 options and they should produce as such. Adding more wide receivers later in the draft may find you a young prospect with great upside, but for the most part the talent is at the top of the list and remains there, year over year.
Looking at the 2011 draft, over 30 tight ends were taken in the first 180 selections. Remember two things from that – first, this is an FPC draft with PPR bonus and dual flex options for tight ends, so the position has more value. Second, we really do not care about the volume of the position, only that we can gauge value when comparing within the position itself. For that reason it is actually good news that so many tight ends were taken in this draft – we now have better visibility to the depth of this position.
Here are some observations from the draft:
- Just 2 of the Top 5 tight ends (40%) taken in the 2011 dynasty league draft are still considered Top 5 dynasty tight ends.
- Just 4 of the Top 10 tight ends (40%) taken in the 2011 dynasty league draft are still considered Top 10 dynasty tight ends.
- Just 11 of the Top 20 tight ends (35) taken in the 2011 dynasty league draft are still considered Top 20 dynasty tight ends.
- Three of the Top 20 tight ends from the draft (Chris Cooley, Dallas Clark, and Aaron Hernandez) are now out of the league.
So, in summary, the tight end position is very much of a crapshoot for long term value. The best option is to pick a veteran on the right side of 30 and hope for the best that he can hold that value for several years to come. Grabbing a few young prospects later in a startup draft could pan out well, as Dennis Pitta was not even selected in this particular draft at all. Ideally you select a current Top 5 tight end and he hits rather than misses for the long term, allowing your prospects to develop – or you could go the savvy route of grabbing a proven tight end with only a year or two of career left (like Tony Gonzalez) and then hoping a prospect develops quickly.
Overall Dynasty Draft Strategy
After reviewing all of the lessons learned from the 2011 draft and comparing the results against the current Footballguys consensus Dynasty rankings, I started to put together a blueprint on how to best draft for fantasy success, for both Year 1 and for years to come:
Running backs – Grab a stud early, hope to handcuff him and wait for some prospects to snag later in the draft. Consider an older veteran for your RB2, as the RB position is the most volatile in the NFL. With 36% (9 of 25) of the current Dynasty list occupied by youthful tailbacks with three or less years of experience, running backs lack longevity and there always seems to be another back coming down the pike. The only time I would recommend grabbing two running backs early is if you could both get two Top 12 running backs and you were in a non-PPR league. Otherwise, it is really best to take one and wait. Do not worry about your second (or third) running back, as veteran options that are not as sexy as younger picks will be there. Frank Gore or Ahmad Bradshaw should be available in Rounds 7-10, and if not, grabbing a duo (or trio) competing for the starting role is also an option. Even if the production is minimal for your RB2, just add prospects and hope for the best. Odds are that over a third of the running backs on the Top 25 list in two years are still in college right now, so just grab value at other positions along the way and consider a trade option if none of your prospects pan out.
Quarterbacks – Despite the current outlook of young quarterbacks being Top 10 Dynasty players, I would not recommend grabbing a young one early. Young players may emerge as studs, or they could be flashes in the pan like Josh Freeman and then struggle to maintain not just Top 10 status but also their NFL jobs. Veteran studs are better options if you can secure them, but only the Top 3-4 veterans are worth a bigger (early) investment. Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees might be tempting in the first three rounds, but the QB position is deep and in many scoring systems the difference between QB1 and QB8 is not very significant – and the falloff at other skill positions is much greater. Waiting for value to emerge (Typically in the QB8-QB13 range) later in the draft, followed by a quick snag of a strong QB2 (because after the first 12-14 names are gone, the consistent starter pool gets shallow quickly), is the best option if you cannot grab an Aaron Rodgers right away.
Tight Ends – This position is very similar to fantasy quarterbacks, with youth interspersed with older veterans in the Top 10. The consistency factor is much lower for tight ends, however, with only 35-40% of top picks from 2011 still being top options just two years later. If you can secure a top name early (like Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski) then do so – but a cheaper veteran like Jason Witten or even Tony Gonzalez for a year paired with a young prospect (like Tyler Eifert or Jared Cook) might make more sense. The best strategy is to take the middle ground approach, grabbing a Top 5-7 younger tight end (Pitta, Kyle Rudolph, Vernon Davis) and pairing them with a prospect or two later in the draft – or even a veteran on his last legs that has 1-2 years more of value (like Gonzalez or Antonio Gates).
Wide Receivers – I saved the best for last here. No position has more consistency, depth and staying power than wide receiver. With 15 of the first 21 wide receivers taken in the 2011 draft remaining in the Top 24, this group screams as the position to build your franchise around. Snagging as many of the Top 30 wide receivers as you can will not just improve your franchise in Year 1 but also for the long term, and also has the additional upside of giving you the best trade value for your team. This is consistent in all formats, even with no PPR.
Putting it all together, I would recommend this major blueprint for a strategy: Draft one running back out of the gate (two if non-PPR and you can get two Top 12 options) and then select 3-5 wide receivers. Once your Top 30 wide receiver list is exhausted, target both tight end and quarterback next, using the advice listed above to get two viable options for the short and long term. After that, take a veteran running back as your RB2 and then look for youthful prospects at both the running back and wide receiver positions.
So there you have it – the best recipe for both near and long term value for a new dynasty league draft according to current and historical outlooks. Hopefully this has helped you to mesh together your own rankings and give you a good idea of how best to create your fantasy team to dominate your dynasty league.
Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org.