The Rundown: FantasyScore Week 3

A weekly guide to FantasyScore's Draft-and-Go contests.

The past two weeks, I gave guidance related to game selection and bankroll management when playing FantasyScore's Draft-N-Go (DNG) games. Today, I'm going to pivot towards an analysis of strategies you should (or shouldn't) use while actually drafting.

For redraft leagues, there's a debate that goes on every preseason wherein people make their case for why you should adopt any number of position-based strategies at the top of your draft. Given the parameters that exist in DNGs (i.e., PPR, with three wide receivers and a flex), the most popular of these strategies are

  • Three running backs, one wide receiver
  • Two running backs, two wide receivers
  • One running back, three wide receivers
  • Zero running backs, four wide receivers
The last of these, the so-called zero running back (0RB) strategy, is the new kid on the block, borne out of (a) the increase of passing in the NFL, and (b) the increase of PPR, three-wide receiver, flex leagues in the fantasy football universe. As DNGs fit (b) to a tee, the 0RB strategy seems particularly useful in these games. But there's one other reason potential usefulness that grows out of my Week 1 column: The math says you should always use a wide receiver flex in DNGs. So, if we're always going to draft four wide receivers in our lineup, then maybe the optimal strategy is to draft all of them in our first four picks.
 
Or maybe not? Through the magic of math, logic, and simulation, we can do a little experiment to find the answer.
 

For this experiment, I'm going to make the two basic assumptions I did in last week's column:

  1. All players are using the same draft list.
  2. All players select the best player available unless they've already filled that player's position in their lineup.
However, I'm going to tweak the second assumption to instead say that all other players are selecting the best player available given position constraints, while we're the only player using the 0RB strategy. That is, we're the only player who must take four wide receivers in our first four picks. Also, I'm going to add a third assumption: All players are going to use a wide receiver as their flex starter. As before, these assumptions aren't going to hold in real life 100 percent of the time, but experimentation requires that you keep all variables constant except for the one variable you're trying to study.
 

week 3 draft lists

Because the results of my experiment depend on everyone working off of the same cheat sheet, let me first give you my optimal value-based drafting lists for this week:

2-Player DNGs  5-Player DNGs  8-Player DNGs  
PlayerPosTmPlayerPosTmPlayerPosTm
Antonio Brown WR PIT Antonio Brown WR PIT Antonio Brown WR PIT
Rob Gronkowski TE NWE Julio Jones WR ATL Julio Jones WR ATL
Julio Jones WR ATL Marshawn Lynch RB SEA Julian Edelman WR NWE
Marshawn Lynch RB SEA Julian Edelman WR NWE Marshawn Lynch RB SEA
Julian Edelman WR NWE Rob Gronkowski TE NWE Brandon Marshall WR NYJ
LeVeon Bell RB PIT LeVeon Bell RB PIT Rob Gronkowski TE NWE
Brandon Marshall WR NYJ Brandon Marshall WR NYJ LeVeon Bell RB PIT
Tom Brady QB NWE Larry Fitzgerald WR ARI Larry Fitzgerald WR ARI
Seattle Seahawks DEF SEA Demaryius Thomas WR DEN Demaryius Thomas WR DEN
Larry Fitzgerald WR ARI Emmanuel Sanders WR DEN Emmanuel Sanders WR DEN
Jamaal Charles RB KAN Jamaal Charles RB KAN Randall Cobb WR GNB
Demaryius Thomas WR DEN Randall Cobb WR GNB Jamaal Charles RB KAN
Emmanuel Sanders WR DEN Matt Forte RB CHI Matt Forte RB CHI
Aaron Rodgers QB GNB Jarvis Landry WR MIA Jarvis Landry WR MIA
Randall Cobb WR GNB Tom Brady QB NWE Tom Brady QB NWE
Matt Forte RB CHI Allen Robinson WR JAC Allen Robinson WR JAC
Travis Kelce TE KAN Calvin Johnson WR DET Calvin Johnson WR DET
New England Patriots DEF NWE Adrian Peterson RB MIN Adrian Peterson RB MIN
      Seattle Seahawks DEF SEA T.Y. Hilton WR IND
      T.Y. Hilton WR IND Keenan Allen WR SDG
      Travis Kelce TE KAN Dion Lewis RB NWE
      Tyler Eifert TE CIN Latavius Murray RB OAK
      Dion Lewis RB NWE Amari Cooper WR OAK
      Latavius Murray RB OAK Travis Kelce TE KAN
      Keenan Allen WR SDG Tyler Eifert TE CIN
      Danny Woodhead RB SDG Danny Woodhead RB SDG
      New England Patriots DEF NWE Aaron Rodgers QB GNB
      Justin Forsett RB BAL Andrew Luck QB IND
      Amari Cooper WR OAK Justin Forsett RB BAL
      Aaron Rodgers QB GNB Steve Smith WR BAL
      Andrew Luck QB IND Jordan Matthews WR PHI
      Steve Smith WR BAL Seattle Seahawks DEF SEA
      Houston Texans DEF HOU Jeremy Maclin WR KAN
      Denver Broncos DEF DEN John Brown WR ARI
      Jordan Matthews WR PHI Donte Moncrief WR IND
      Jeremy Maclin WR KAN Russell Wilson QB SEA
      John Brown WR ARI A.J. Green WR CIN
      Russell Wilson QB SEA Ben Roethlisberger QB PIT
      Donte Moncrief WR IND DeAndre Hopkins WR HOU
      Greg Olsen TE CAR Mark Ingram RB NOR
      Ben Roethlisberger QB PIT LeSean McCoy RB BUF
      A.J. Green WR CIN Carson Palmer QB ARI
      Mark Ingram RB NOR Cam Newton QB CAR
      Kyle Rudolph TE MIN Greg Olsen TE CAR
      Cleveland Browns DEF CLE Kyle Rudolph TE MIN
            New England Patriots DEF NWE
            Mike Evans WR TAM
            Steve Johnson WR SDG
            Jonathan Stewart RB CAR
            Devonta Freeman RB ATL
            T.J. Yeldon RB JAC
            James Starks RB GNB
            Houston Texans DEF HOU
            Denver Broncos DEF DEN
            C.J. Anderson RB DEN
            Darren Sproles RB PHI
            Michael Crabtree WR OAK
            Martellus Bennett TE CHI
            Brandin Cooks WR NOR
            Allen Hurns WR JAC
            Cleveland Browns DEF CLE
            Carolina Panthers DEF CAR
            Carlos Hyde RB SFO
            Jared Cook TE STL
            Terrance Williams WR DAL
            David Johnson RB ARI
            Arizona Cardinals DEF ARI
            Ryan Tannehill QB MIA
            Bilal Powell RB NYJ
            Mike Wallace WR MIN
            Heath Miller TE PIT
            NY Jets DEF NYJ

the zero-rb experiment

The 2-player DNG is too simple of a simulation and the 8-player DNG is too complex, so let's focus on Baby Bear's porridge, the 5-player DNG.

In addition to what I wrote earlier, every experimental result needs a baseline to compare against, which in this case means that we need to find out what happens when the draft proceeds without anyone adopting the 0RB strategy. In other words, how does the draft play out when everyone perfectly adheres to the "same draft list," "best player available," and "wide receiver as flex" assumptions only? Well, here's how:

RdPick 1Pick 2Pick 3Pick 4Pick 5
1 Antonio Brown Julio Jones Marshawn Lynch Julian Edelman Rob Gronkowski
2 Emmanuel Sanders Demaryius Thomas Larry Fitzgerald Brandon Marshall LeVeon Bell
3 Jamaal Charles Randall Cobb Matt Forte Jarvis Landry Tom Brady
4 T.Y. Hilton Adrian Peterson Seattle Seahawks Calvin Johnson Allen Robinson
5 Travis Kelce Tyler Eifert Keenan Allen Dion Lewis Latavius Murray
6 Aaron Rodgers Justin Forsett Amari Cooper Danny Woodhead New England Patriots
7 Steve Smith Andrew Luck Jordan Matthews Houston Texans Jeremy Maclin
8 Mark Ingram Denver Broncos Greg Olsen Russell Wilson John Brown
9 Cleveland Browns Donte Moncrief Ben Roethlisberger Kyle Rudolph A.J. Green
Proj Pts 157.0 156.3 152.9 153.4 152.0

Just so we're all on the same page, and because this kind of table shows up another four times in this article, it's worth clarifying how you should read it. In a 5-person DNG, which snakes and assigns draft slots at random (and given our earlier assumptions), the player with the first pick will select Antonio Brown (i.e., the highest-VBD player on my draft list), the player with the second pick will select Julio Jones (i.e., the second-highest), and so on until the player with the fifth pick, who will select Rob Gronkowski and LeVeon Bell when the draft snakes. The draft proceeds this way until a player has filled a certain position in their wide receiver flex lineup (e.g., Pick 3 had to take Seahawks defense instead of Adrian Peterson at No. 18 because they already had two running backs). Once the draft is over, we can use this week's Footballguys projections to see how many points each team would have scored if the projections were perfect. For instance, the player picking first would have ended up winning the 5-person DNG with 157.0 points (italics is for winners), while the player picking fifth would have ended up finishing last with 152.0 points.

OK, so now we know the baseline result when we've programmed five robots to play a DNG using the same information and the same strategy. The only variable in play here was the randomness with which draft slots were assigned.

And because of this random assignment, our experiment actually requires five mini-experiments. Namely, because we have an equal chance of being slotted into any particular pick (i.e., we should expect to have each pick once in every five 5-person DNGs we play), we're not always going to be using the 0RB strategy from Pick 1 (or Pick 2 and so on). Rather, we're going to be using it from the first pick 20 percent of the time, using it from the second pick 20 percent of the time, etc. All of this means that we need to find out how much -- if at all -- using the 0RB strategy affects each pick's total projected points, all else equal.

Below are the draft results for using the 0RB strategy from Pick 1:

RdPick 1Pick 2Pick 3Pick 4Pick 5
1 Antonio Brown Julio Jones Marshawn Lynch Julian Edelman Rob Gronkowski
2 Emmanuel Sanders Demaryius Thomas Larry Fitzgerald Brandon Marshall LeVeon Bell
3 Randall Cobb Jamaal Charles Matt Forte Jarvis Landry Tom Brady
4 T.Y. Hilton Adrian Peterson Seattle Seahawks Calvin Johnson Allen Robinson
5 Travis Kelce Tyler Eifert Keenan Allen Dion Lewis Latavius Murray
6 Justin Forsett Aaron Rodgers Amari Cooper Danny Woodhead New England Patriots
7 Andrew Luck Steve Smith Jordan Matthews Houston Texans Jeremy Maclin
8 Mark Ingram Denver Broncos Greg Olsen Russell Wilson John Brown
9 Cleveland Browns Donte Moncrief Ben Roethlisberger Kyle Rudolph A.J. Green
Proj Pts 157.2 156.1 152.9 153.4 152.0

I've highlighted in green how Pick 1's team differs from baseline when adopting the 0RB strategy. The major inflection point in Pick 1's draft occured at No. 11, where they selected Cobb as their WR3 rather than Jamaal Charles as their RB1. That change affected two later picks, with the end result being (in essence) a trade of Charles, Aaron Rodgers, and Steve Smith for Cobb, Forsett, and Luck. And if you look at the bottom line, that "trade" increased their projected points by 0.2, thereby increasing their expected margin of victory. Of note, and as you'll see going forward, the typical case is that adopting the 0RB strategy primarily has a "nearest neighbor" effect. For instance, in this case, the extra 0.2 points added to Pick 1 came directly from Pick 2, while projections for Picks 3 through 5 remained exactly the same.

Now, let's see what happens when we use the 0RB strategy from Pick 2: 

RdPick 1Pick 2Pick 3Pick 4Pick 5
1 Antonio Brown Julio Jones Marshawn Lynch Julian Edelman Rob Gronkowski
2 Emmanuel Sanders Demaryius Thomas Larry Fitzgerald Brandon Marshall LeVeon Bell
3 Jamaal Charles Randall Cobb Matt Forte Jarvis Landry Tom Brady
4 Adrian Peterson T.Y. Hilton Seattle Seahawks Calvin Johnson Allen Robinson
5 Travis Kelce Tyler Eifert Keenan Allen Dion Lewis Latavius Murray
6 Aaron Rodgers Justin Forsett Amari Cooper Danny Woodhead New England Patriots
7 Steve Smith Andrew Luck Jordan Matthews Houston Texans Jeremy Maclin
8 Donte Moncrief Denver Broncos Greg Olsen Russell Wilson John Brown
9 Cleveland Browns Mark Ingram Ben Roethlisberger Kyle Rudolph A.J. Green
Proj Pts 157.7 155.5 152.9 153.4 152.0

Because the baseline team at Pick 2 selects three wide receivers in the first three rounds anyway, the major inflection point was in the fourth round, where they selected Hilton as their WR4 rather than Adrian Peterson as their RB1. That change only affected one other pick later on, and so using the 0RB strategy at Pick 2 was tantamount to "trading" Peterson and Donte Moncrief for Hilton and Ingram. As it turns out, that's a negative expected value "trade," and so Pick 2's projection was 0.8 points less than their baseline result. Also of note is that, once again, Pick 2's loss was Pick 1's gain (and vice versa), except this time the projected gap between them actually doubled from 1.1 points when Pick 1 used the 0RB strategy to 2.2 points when Pick 2 used it.

Let's see if Pick 3 benefits from the 0RB strategy:

RdPick 1Pick 2Pick 3Pick 4Pick 5
1 Antonio Brown Julio Jones Julian Edelman Marshawn Lynch Rob Gronkowski
2 Emmanuel Sanders Demaryius Thomas Larry Fitzgerald Brandon Marshall LeVeon Bell
3 Jamaal Charles Randall Cobb Jarvis Landry Matt Forte Tom Brady
4 Seattle Seahawks Adrian Peterson T.Y. Hilton Calvin Johnson Allen Robinson
5 Travis Kelce Tyler Eifert Dion Lewis Keenan Allen Latavius Murray
6 Aaron Rodgers Justin Forsett Danny Woodhead Amari Cooper New England Patriots
7 Steve Smith Andrew Luck Houston Texans Denver Broncos Jordan Matthews
8 Donte Moncrief John Brown Greg Olsen Russell Wilson Jeremy Maclin
9 Mark Ingram Cleveland Browns Ben Roethlisberger Kyle Rudolph A.J. Green
Proj Pts 157.7 155.8 152.2 153.7 152.2

Pick 3's inflection point occured immediately because they were no longer selecting Marshawn Lynch at No. 3. Unlike what happened to Pick 1 and Pick 2, going 0RB had a cascade of effects on the rest of Pick 3's team when compared to baseline. But was it worth it? On the surface, no: Their 0RB team ended up with a projection that was 0.7 points worse than baseline. Given that they weren't projected to cash (i.e., finish in the Top 2) to begin with, adopting a 0RB strategy seems to have made them even less likely to do so.

That said, what's most interesting about these results is how Pick 3's choice to go 0RB was particularly proficient at throwing everyone else's draft boards into dissaray. By having so many different players under the two strategies, every other team ended up with a points projection that's different than baseline: Pick 1 still won, but scored 0.7 more points; Pick 2 still cashed but scored 0.5 fewer points; Pick 4 scored 0.3 more points; and Pick 5 scored 0.2 more points. Taken together, the results of this mini-experiment for Pick 3 seem to suggest that, although the 0RB strategy is bad for them, it's incredibly disruptive to the draft as a whole, and that can be an asset in high-variance situations. If you're new to the game, use it. If, despite my previous warning, you've elected to play a 5-person, winner-take-all DNG, use it. Otherwise, don't use it.

(Because Pick 4 selected four wide receivers in their first four picks under baseline conditions, the full-draft 0RB results were identical to the baseline results, so I'm going to skip to 0RB results for Pick 5.)

Finally, here are the results of a 5-DNG draft where only Pick 5 uses the 0RB strategy:

RdPick 1Pick 2Pick 3Pick 4Pick 5
1 Antonio Brown Julio Jones Marshawn Lynch Julian Edelman Brandon Marshall
2 Emmanuel Sanders Demaryius Thomas LeVeon Bell Rob Gronkowski Larry Fitzgerald
3 Jamaal Charles Randall Cobb Jarvis Landry Matt Forte Allen Robinson
4 T.Y. Hilton Adrian Peterson Seattle Seahawks Tom Brady Calvin Johnson
5 Travis Kelce Tyler Eifert Keenan Allen Dion Lewis Latavius Murray
6 Aaron Rodgers Justin Forsett Amari Cooper New England Patriots Danny Woodhead
7 Steve Smith Andrew Luck Jordan Matthews Jeremy Maclin Houston Texans
8 Mark Ingram Denver Broncos Greg Olsen John Brown Russell Wilson
9 Cleveland Browns Donte Moncrief Ben Roethlisberger A.J. Green Kyle Rudolph
Proj Pts 157.0 156.3 153.1 154.0 151.2

Alrighty then! As you can see, Pick 5 ended up with almost an entirely different team when they used the 0RB as compared to when they didn't. The end result? Like all previous picks aside from Pick 1, their projected scoring decreased; this time by 0.8 points. Unlike what happened when Pick 3 adopted the 0RB strategy, however, Pick 5's overhauled lineup didn't gum up the works for the rest of the draft. Rather, while Pick 4 benefited considerably (+0.6) and Pick 3 benefited slightly (+0.2), the teams for Picks 1 and 2 were unchanged from baseline.

bottom line

Based on the results of my experiment investigating whether or not to adopt a 0RB strategy in FantasyScore's 5-player DNGs, I've come to the following conclusions:

  1. If you're assigned to the first pick, use the 0RB strategy. It will make you slightly more likely to win.
  2. If you're assigned to the second pick, don't use the 0RB strategy. It will make you far less likely to win.
  3. If you're assigned to the third pick, 0RB is a particularly high-variance strategy. You're unlikely to cash anyway, so use it if you're an underdog or are playing a winner-take-all DNG. Otherwise, don't use it.
  4. If you're assigned to the fourth pick, it doesn't matter whether you use the 0RB strategy or not.
  5. If you're assigned to the fifth pick, definitely don't use the 0RB strategy. If will make you far less likely to win. And although you increase the variance in your own lineup, you don't end up increasing the variance in the game as a whole.

All of that said, I'd be negligent if I didn't stress that these recommendations may end up being idiosyncratic to this week's Footballguys projections and only apply to 5-person DNGs. Although I went to great lengths to make this as "clean" of an experiment as I could, the fact that it's the first attempt (I know of) at investigating the question means we shouldn't generalize the results just yet.