How To Attack Large Leagues
By Jeff Tefertiller
July 30th, 2010

Large leagues are a lot of fun. The size makes them much different than the standard twelve teamers. It is a losing proposition to use standard draft strategies in the bigger leagues. An entirely different strategy is required to make the most of the draft. This article will look at sixteen team leagues using non-PPR scoring. We will examine strategies especially designed for the larger leagues in order to best attack the draft and get the most from the roster. At the bottom of the article, we will look at a few mock drafts utilizing different draft positions. These will help you form a new strategy for your larger league.

Down to basics, what are the differences I should know about the larger leagues?

  • In general, the larger the leagues, the more positional scarcity comes into play. In twelve team leagues, there might be twelve starting quarterbacks you would be fine with as your starter. But, when the number of teams bumps up to sixteen, there will be a few fantasy squads with poor quarterback play. This is true at the running back position as well. There are not many at the position you want to rely on each and every week as a fantasy starter.

  • Anyone who has been caught in a position run in a standard twelve team league knows how hopeless and frustrating it can be knowing there is nothing you can do now to help the situation. These runs at a specific position, especially quarterback, running back, and tight end are even more important in the larger leagues. The extra teams means the runs can be longer and those left out are in even worse shape than in the smaller leagues.

  • Since most larger leagues have fewer roster spots per team, each one is important. Knowing how to strike the best balance is the key. This involves the tight end, kicker, and team defense positions as well as finding depth at running back and wide receiver.

  • Knowing when to take a kicker or defense is a bigger issue in the larger leagues because of the risk and return decision for the pick used compared to the scarcity of few good options at either position.

  • How do I best address these issues above?

  • Due to fewer desirable alternatives at the quarterback and running back positions, expect to select your starters earlier than in twelve teamers. While it seems crazy for most fantasy owners, it might be best to draft a starting quarterback in the first two rounds, especially if you are picking at the end of the first round. There are two reasons for this strategy. In all league sizes, if you are drafting at the end of round one, you need to have positions of strength in order to make up the sizable deficit at the running back position. So, selecting a quarterback at the 1/2 turn helps get a stud at the position. The other aspect to think about is how many at the position could be gone before your third round pick. You could take QB3 in the early part of the second round or the QB8 at the end of the third round. There is a huge difference in the predictability of future production as well as the certainty of the situation in the elite passer. Since the scoring is non-PPR, the value favors the running backs and quarterbacks. For this reason, you may need to have your starters at both positions before moving on to wide receiver or tight end. Your leaguemates know the scarcity is coming, too, so they will load up on the two positions accordingly. When this happens, you must be proactive and stay the course. Many think they can find value at other positions, but there will be nothing left but dregs at quarterback and running back. At that point, who cares what you have at wide receiver. The league does not reward you with PPR (Points Per Reception) so the stud receivers you covet in other leagues are not enough of an advantage in bigger leagues.

  • Positional runs are brutal. You need to plan ahead and be proactive. Stay ahead of the runs by picking your core positions early. This means, as stated above, loading up on starters at quarterback and running back with the thought that there are plenty of options at wide receiver which provide similar production to those selected earlier. As you move to the middle rounds of your draft, start keeping tabs on the tight end, kicker, and team defense positions. Make a list of players you will be happy with as fantasy starters at those positions and be proactive as your list gets smaller and smaller.

  • Roster management is very important in the larger leagues. Many times, it is best to select only one kicker and one team defense. Make sure to draft those with late byes. By midseason, there will be plenty of options available on the waiver wire. The key is finding starters at those positions with a late bye so you will not need to use an extra roster spot early in the season. At the tight end position, there are differing opinions as to the need for rostering a backup. If you have a stud at the position, meaning you have one of the better starters in expected production, then it is best not to roster a backup. You invested a quality pick at the position. There is no need to use two roster spots, too. But, it is best to have a quality reserve tight end if you do not have a top tight end. That is one position where players emerge and disappoint every year. As far as how to best manage your depth roster spots, think about what your league rewards compared to the strengths (and weaknesses) of your starting lineup. In the non-PPR leagues, running back play is rewarded. It might be best to stash an upside back or handcuff of a starter. Since the wide receiver position is likely a point of weakness, and there are plenty of very good receiver prospects for this season, rostering a few additional pass catchers is a good idea. This extra quantity balances the perceived lack of quality.

  • As touched on a little earlier, it might be best to address the kicker and team defense positions a little earlier in larger leagues than in twelve team leagues. Each year, there are multiple factors which minimize the number of desirable options. Just think how few kickers and team defenses have late bye weeks (as discussed above), good strength of schedules for matchup purposes since we are only carrying one at each position, and have solid kicking jobs settled. This should make your list very short for both positions.

  • When we look at the VBD (Value Based Drafting) application, we quickly realize how valued the running backs are when compared to the other positions. The VBD accounts for positional scarcity and available options at other positions using the Footballguys.com projections. It is amazing that the first 23 players, listed in order of value, are all running backs. The league variables used were sixteen teams, sixteen roster spots, non-PPR scoring, and starting requirements of 1 Quarterback, 2 Running Backs, 3 Wide Receivers, 1 Tight End, 1 Flex, 1 Kicker, and 1 Team Defense. It is not until player 24 overall that the first wide receiver, Andre Johnson, becomes valuable. It is not until player 35 that the first quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, becomes a player to select. There are a few things at work with these values in relation to the running back position. The relative number of ball carriers in relation to available starting spots for the position is small when compared to the wide receiver and quarterback positions. There will be many teams who have poor starting running backs. A fantasy team with two Top 16 running backs has a huge advantage over the competition. Yes, the VBD suggests to take a few running backs before any other position, but knowing your leaguemates will take the passers early and often should bring the position into consideration.

    By the time Aaron Rodgers becomes a value play, a whopping 31 running backs are expected to be off the board. But, the larger point is the drop in VBD (adjusted value across positions). Below is a table with the Top 50 players from the Footballguys projections. Notice how the VBD drops way off after the first few running backs compared to the other positions. This is very important since it illustrates how valuable those top ball carriers are when compared to the lesser options at the position. The wide receivers and quarterbacks are tightly bunched in comparison.

    Rk
    Pos
    PosRk
    Player
    Tm/Bye
    FPs
    VBD
    ADP
    Age
    Exp
    1
    RB
    1
    Chris Johnson
    Ten/9
    255
    202
    1.01
    25
    3
    2
    RB
    2
    Adrian Peterson
    Min/4
    242
    189
    1.02
    25
    4
    3
    RB
    3
    Maurice Jones-Drew
    Jac/9
    238
    185
    1.03
    25
    5
    4
    RB
    4
    Ray Rice
    Bal/8
    226
    173
    1.04
    23
    3
    5
    RB
    5
    Frank Gore
    SF/9
    203
    150
    1.05
    27
    6
    6
    RB
    6
    Steven Jackson
    StL/9
    202
    149
    1.09
    27
    7
    7
    RB
    7
    Michael Turner
    Atl/8
    185
    132
    1.07
    28
    7
    8
    RB
    8
    Rashard Mendenhall
    Pit/5
    184
    131
    1.16
    23
    3
    9
    RB
    9
    Ryan Grant
    GB/10
    174
    121
    2.06
    28
    6
    10
    RB
    10
    Knowshon Moreno
    Den/9
    172
    119
    2.09
    23
    2
    11
    RB
    11
    Ryan Mathews
    SD/10
    170
    117
    2.07
    23
    1
    12
    RB
    12
    Chris Wells
    Ari/6
    170
    117
    2.15
    22
    2
    13
    RB
    13
    DeAngelo Williams
    Car/6
    169
    116
    1.11
    27
    5
    14
    RB
    14
    Pierre Thomas
    NO/10
    169
    116
    3.05
    26
    4
    15
    RB
    15
    Jonathan Stewart
    Car/6
    168
    115
    3.03
    23
    3
    16
    RB
    16
    Shonn Greene
    NYJ/7
    167
    114
    2.03
    25
    2
    17
    RB
    17
    Jamaal Charles
    KC/4
    167
    114
    2.12
    24
    3
    18
    RB
    18
    Cedric Benson
    Cin/6
    165
    112
    2.11
    28
    6
    19
    RB
    19
    Joseph Addai
    Ind/7
    159
    106
    3.07
    27
    5
    20
    RB
    20
    Felix Jones
    Dal/4
    156
    103
    3.14
    23
    3
    21
    RB
    21
    Jahvid Best
    Det/7
    156
    103
    4.04
    21
    1
    22
    RB
    22
    LeSean McCoy
    Phi/8
    152
    99
    3.02
    22
    2
    23
    RB
    23
    Ronnie Brown
    Mia/5
    143
    90
    4.01
    29
    6
    24
    WR
    1
    Andre Johnson
    Hou/7
    182
    90
    1.06
    29
    8
    25
    RB
    24
    Brandon Jacobs
    NYG/8
    138
    85
    4.05
    28
    6
    26
    RB
    25
    Reggie Bush
    NO/10
    138
    85
    5.03
    25
    5
    27
    RB
    26
    Ricky Williams
    Mia/5
    138
    85
    5.02
    33
    12
    28
    RB
    27
    Ahmad Bradshaw
    NYG/8
    136
    83
    6.03
    24
    4
    29
    WR
    2
    Larry Fitzgerald
    Ari/6
    174
    82
    1.13
    27
    7
    30
    RB
    28
    Fred Jackson
    Buf/6
    133
    80
    6.02
    29
    4
    31
    RB
    29
    Michael Bush
    Oak/10
    132
    79
    6.09
    26
    4
    32
    WR
    3
    Randy Moss
    NE/5
    171
    79
    1.12
    33
    13
    33
    RB
    30
    Justin Forsett
    Sea/5
    131
    78
    5.05
    25
    3
    34
    RB
    31
    Cadillac Williams
    TB/4
    129
    76
    5.14
    28
    6
    35
    QB
    1
    Aaron Rodgers
    GB/10
    325
    76
    1.10
    27
    6
    36
    WR
    4
    Miles Austin
    Dal/4
    167
    75
    2.04
    26
    5
    37
    RB
    32
    C.J. Spiller
    Buf/6
    125
    72
    5.04
    23
    1
    38
    RB
    33
    Jerome Harrison
    Cle/8
    123
    70
    5.08
    27
    5
    39
    WR
    5
    Roddy White
    Atl/8
    160
    68
    2.02
    29
    6
    40
    QB
    2
    Drew Brees
    NO/10
    317
    68
    1.08
    31
    10
    41
    RB
    34
    Darren Sproles
    SD/10
    120
    67
    7.06
    27
    6
    42
    RB
    35
    Clinton Portis
    Was/9
    118
    65
    6.07
    29
    9
    43
    WR
    6
    Reggie Wayne
    Ind/7
    156
    64
    1.14
    32
    10
    44
    QB
    3
    Peyton Manning
    Ind/7
    313
    63
    1.15
    34
    13
    45
    RB
    36
    Laurence Maroney
    NE/5
    116
    63
    8.03
    25
    5
    46
    RB
    37
    Tim Hightower
    Ari/6
    116
    63
    7.15
    24
    3
    47
    WR
    7
    Greg Jennings
    GB/10
    153
    61
    2.14
    27
    5
    48
    QB
    4
    Tony Romo
    Dal/4
    310
    61
    2.16
    30
    7
    49
    RB
    38
    Matt Forte
    Chi/8
    113
    60
    4.03
    25
    3
    50
    RB
    39
    Chester Taylor
    Chi/8
    113
    60
    7.11
    31
    9
    51
    WR
    8
    Marques Colston
    NO/10
    151
    59
    2.13
    27
    5
    52
    RB
    40
    LaDainian Tomlinson
    NYJ/7
    109
    56
    6.16
    31
    10
    53
    WR
    9
    Calvin Johnson
    Det/7
    147
    55
    2.01
    25
    4
    54
    WR
    10
    DeSean Jackson
    Phi/8
    147
    55
    2.08
    24
    3
    55
    RB
    41
    Marion Barber
    Dal/4
    105
    52
    4.15
    27
    6
    56
    WR
    11
    Chad Ochocinco
    Cin/6
    142
    50
    3.13
    32
    10
    57
    RB
    42
    Montario Hardesty
    Cle/8
    101
    48
    6.10
    23
    1
    58
    WR
    12
    Brandon Marshall
    Mia/5
    139
    47
    2.05
    26
    5
    59
    RB
    43
    Steve Slaton
    Hou/7
    99
    47
    8.07
    24
    3
    60
    WR
    13
    Sidney Rice
    Min/4
    139
    46
    3.04
    24
    4

    It is very interesting, and historically correct, that the top rusher will outscore the RB31 and RB32 in total points. But, the VBD value shows an even larger disparity. This is because an owner starting Chris Johnson has an extra starting spot to accrue fantasy points compared to the example of Cadillac Williams and C.J. Spiller (RB31 and RB32). Studs win championships. Also, note that 39 running backs made the Top 50 in terms of value. The positions dominates non-PPR leagues.

    Below are three mock drafts run on the Draft Dominator using three different draft positions; the 1.03, 1.08, 1.14 slots, respectively. These mock drafts are run against the average ADP (Average Draft Position) just to normalize the results. We will only mock the choices for the first six rounds for each draft slot.

    Drafting Early In Round 1

    The 1.03 draft position means getting one of the elite running backs to anchor the position.

    1.03 - The pick is between Maurice Jones-Drew and Ray Rice. The choice is Jones-Drew since he gets the touchdowns in Jacksonville while Willis McGahee gets the short yardage carries in Baltimore.

    2.14 - A running back or quarterback should be the play. The choices are Beanie Wells, Pierre Thomas Jonathan Stewart, Joseph Addai, and Tony Romo. Since we are fine with a few of these backs, Romo is the play. The two teams at the corner could both select a passer, leaving a much worse option at the position.

    3.03 - The running back position still has the value. The Top 24 players remaining in terms of VBD are all ball carriers. Thomas, Stewart, and Addai remain. The choice is Joseph Addai, who has a few Top 10 finishes in his career. Stewart has plenty of upside and would be a good pick as well.

    4.14 - The number of quality running backs in good situations has greatly diminished. The only ones left are either in a committee or have another wart of some kind. This is why it was important to lock up starters early. There are still good options at wide receiver. Hines Ward is the best choice. He was a fantasy WR1 in this league a year ago and we can get him in the fourth round. For perspective, the best passer left is Kevin Kolb, the top ball carriers are Reggie Bush and Ricky Williams, and the most valuable tight end is Tony Gonzalez. At this point in the draft, things are looking good for our team.

    5.03 - As we make the turn, there is an interesting decision to be made. Do we address the WR2 position since we start three each week, or TE1, or RB3 since running back depth is desirable? One of the most important things to watch is the potential drop-offs in talent. There is one coming very quickly at wide receiver. The pass receiver choices are Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace, and Santana Moss. With Donovan McNabb now in Washington, Moss is an attractive option. He will make some big plays. The other two are strong WR2 alternatives as well. These are good choices considering we waited until the fifth round to take a second receiver. But, we will go with Moss. He could have a big year.

    6.14 - The wide receiver position is deep with many of the choices left offering similar production. Because of this, we will look at either RB3 or TE1. The best ball carriers are Tim Hightower (who would make a good depth back) and Donald Brown (handcuff to Addai). The top tight ends are Zach Miller and Kellen Winslow. Since we like both tight ends and only one, at most, is expected to go at the turn, it is best to select a back with this pick. Tim Hightower is the choice as he was a viable fantasy RB2 last year.

    This is a great start to the draft. We only need a starting tight end and some depth at running back and wide receiver.

    Drafting In the Middle Of Round 1

    So, how would we attack the 1.08 draft spot?

    1.08 - This is a very tough draft spot. Most of the top ball carriers are gone and there is a choice between a back with concerns like Steven Jackson, one with more worries in Rashard Mendenhall, a quarterback or wide receiver. With the fear of falling too far behind at the position, the right move is to take the best rusher available. This is Jackson. He has a huge VBD advantage as well.

    2.09 - The good part about the middle of the round picks is the options in the second round. This is the direction to go. The top backs are Knowshon Moreno and Beanie Wells. Wells is a blooming stud in the making. He could either make or break your draft with this pick. Moreno is safer with less upside. Even though Wells is very attractive here, Moreno is the choice because he should finish in the Top 20 fantasy backs once again.

    3.08 - We have already missed the quarterback run. We knew it would happen. So, what are the choices here? Since we can start three ball carriers each week, the position is in play ... so are wide receiver and tight end if elite options are available. Brandon Jacobs looks attractive here if he can rebound from last year's injury-plagued season. Felix Jones and Jahvid Best are worth considering. Chad Ochocinco and Steve Smith (CAR) are the best wide receivers available and all tight ends are on the board. We know from above that Hines Ward is available in the fourth and Santana Moss might be there in the fifth round. Since we will have good options at wide receiver and tight end later, why not get a strong RB3 for a starter and depth? This is a tough choice, but we will go with Jacobs with the hopes he can be healthy in 2010.

    4.09 - This pick is at a tough crossroads in the draft. Do we take a quarterback (Kevin Kolb, Brett Favre or Jay Cutler) or wide receiver (Percy Harvin or Hines Ward)? Since this is a non-PPR league, the choice is quarterback, but which one? We will go with Cutler since Mike Martz is now in the Windy City. Favre is attractive, but the uncertainty of his status is a little risky and there are other strong options.

    5.08 - At this point, the wide receiver position needs addressed in a big way. With this team, we will need to dedicate a couple extra roster spots to the wide receivers, just for depth. So our choices are Santana Moss, Jeremy Maclin, and Mike Wallace. All three teams have changes at the quarterback position. Since Moss is the WR1 in Washington, we will select him.

    6.09 - There are several similar wide receivers available with this pick so it will come down to personal preference. The choices are Lee Evans, Devin Hester, Malcom Floyd (in play with the Vincent Jackson situation), Jabar Gaffney, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. My preference is toward Evans, Hester or Houshmandzadeh. We will go with Hester in the Martz offense. Hoping to see Gaffney in the seventh round as a WR3.

    This is a good team with strong starters at quarterback and all three running back positions, which includes the flex.

    Drafting At the End Of Round 1

    So, how does a late draft position change things?

    1.14 - The choices are a lesser RB1 (Rashard Mendenhall or Ryan Grant) or an elite QB1 (Drew Brees or Peyton Manning). Since we are fine with Grant as a lesser RB1, and he has a lower ADP (meaning he SHOULD be there after the turn), we will go with a passer. Manning is the choice. His consistency is amazing.

    2.03 - Grant did make it through. Just to give an idea of the other alternatives, Miles Austin and Greg Jennings are the top receivers left and all tight ends are on the board. Ryan Grant is a solid, yet unspectacular RB1 option in a large league.

    3.14 - The Draft Dominator VBD gives Felix Jones, Jahvid Best, and Brandon Jacobs as the top choices. Since we have a solid RB1, a high upside RB2 might be a good way to go. Best and Jones are strong options. The rookie is set to make a big splash if he can stay healthy.

    4.03 - After the turn, Jacobs, Reggie Bush, Ricky Williams and Fred Jackson are available. If we knew Jackson would make it all the way back, we would go with another position for this pick. Hakeem Nicks, Percy Harvin, Michael Crabtree, and Hines Ward are all on the board. Those are strong receiver choices. We will risk it and hope Jackson makes it back to the late fifth round pick. Of the receivers, all are primed for big years. But, our preference is for the proven, old reliable veterans ... especially as a WR1. Ward is the pick.

    5.14 - We did not see much difference between Fred Jackson and the other running back options available at the last pick. But, he is the definite play here. Santana Moss, Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace are the top wide receivers remaining and we hope one makes it to use after the turn.

    6.03 - Sometimes it happens around the turn. But, all three of those speedy wideouts were selected by the two teams on the corner. This is a very difficult pick with so many options. We can take a fourth back just to give depth to an important position, a second wideout even though we do not like the choices, or a tight end (Zach Miller and Kellen Winslow remain). This is personal preference, but we would go with the ball carrier if there is one we like. Yes, this is not a starter ... but it means valuable depth at a key position. Two strong options at the position are on the board: Ahmad Bradshaw and Michael Bush. We like both A LOT, but will go with Bush since he could/should be the primary ball carrier in Oakland this season with Justin Fargas released and Darren McFadden disappointing.

    All three teams have different strengths. These three mock drafts illustrate the advantage of having an early pick. The running back position was addressed early and often in all three mocks. Being able to get Romo in the late second round is a bonus for the first team. But, the key for the later draft positions is to target an advantage at quarterback with the non-PPR scoring. Getting a quality fantasy passer in non-PPR leagues is essential for success. It is difficult to win without those points each week. Also, these mocks show the abundant depth of the wide receivers in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds. There are quality fantasy pass catching starters available in those rounds ... and even later.

    Please feel free to email me at tefertiller@footballguys.com with any questions or comments. Also, I am on Twitter, so feel free to ask me questions there.

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