An Optimal MFL10 Draft, Round by Round

A guided tour through an ideal MFL10 draft for 2016

At present, I’ve participated in 39 MFL10 drafts this season (in addition to a handful of Footballguys mocks), and I plan to jump into at least 15-20 more before September. That’s not the highest volume, nor even close – my current total isn’t among the 100 most active MFL10ers. But it’s a hefty devotion to the trade, and as I’ve done this over the past few years, I’ve developed some ideas on right ways and wrong ways.

They’re not iron-clad, but they’ve served me fairly well. Most importantly, they’re principled and logical, focused heavily on actual fantasy production and lightly on personal projections[1]. They chase fantasy points where the fantasy points really are[2], they help insulate me from bust- and disaster-level dud seasons, and they chase upside while prioritizing it properly.

If you’re new or feel shaky in MFL10s, take a tour through my round-by-round thought process. I’d say I follow this track or a very similar one in roughly 75% of my drafts – perhaps that’s a low rate, but I feel it’s a strong hedge. In essence, I’m eschewing the “best player available” mentality, on the principle that, even if my projections and expectations are reasonably accurate, I’m still likely to largely miss the boat on who the “best players” will be. I don’t want to rely solely on those expectations; I want to build a deep team with strong weekly upside that lowers my chances of falling apart at the seams thanks to a rocky pick or two.

Here’s my general approach:

Rounds 1-5: Binge on wideouts, with neither hesitation nor shame

Objective: To come out of Round 5 with a minimum of four WRs on roster

Why? Well, for a few reasons:

you just need them more

Do not underestimate the impact of these two facts:

  1.  MFL10s use three starting WRs, compared to two RBs
  2.  MFL10s use full-PPR scoring

These are the primary reasons you’re targeting wideouts: because they score more points, and because you start more of them. As a result, you almost always want your FLEX scorer to be a WR.

The reason RBs are generally targeted more than they should be is their perceived value. Since there are fewer fantasy-worthy RBs than WRs, shouldn’t we spend the early rounds stocking the great backs? No, not according to scoring totals across recent history, and not if we value predictability (more on that in a moment).

Here’s a tour through the last three MFL10 seasons among the top-scoring fantasy running backs and wide receivers. I’ve put together a side-by-side comparison of the midpoints and endpoints[3] of each starting RB or WR slot to its counterpart at the other position (RB6 and WR9, for example, because we start 50% more WRs than RBs). Note that greens are running backs and blues are receivers.

As expected, we see that in every case except one, the WR scored more. In fact, in six of the 12 comparisons, the WR outscored the RB by 10% or more. And last season alone, the wideouts won all four tiers by an eye-opening average of 14.9 points.

It’s also noteworthy that the highest average gap from WR down to RB comes early in the draft, from WR9 to RB6 (15 of the top 16 picks in virtually any 2016 draft). And the NFL’s pass-happy trajectory makes it look unlikely RBs will gain much ground there. Generally speaking, your best bet to outscore a top WR with a top RB is by rolling the dice in hopes of landing a top-2 or top-3 RB, at worst. That can be done, but it’s always a risky proposition, so a WR is just about always the smart play atop the draft.

they're just SOOo Predictable

Not to mention, WR finishes are simply a lot more predictable than RBs. This is plain and clear for all eyes to see, and it’s inarguable. Consider that, over these last three seasons, the top-24 drafted running backs[4] have underperformed their draft slots by an average of 1.59 tiers (12 spots within the position). In other words, the average top-24 RB off the board has ended the season a startling 19.1 RB slots below his draft position. Compare that to the top 36 wideouts over that span, who have fallen on average just 13.3 spots below their draft slots.

This disparity could have any number of causes (and probably all of them). What’s interesting, though, is that it doesn’t seem to correlate much to injury, as many of us have always assumed. Last year, Football Outsiders posted an impressive study of injuries over the last 15 seasons, broken down and analyzed by position and by the injuries themselves. Among their many findings was that, while ACL tears and leg fractures are more common among RBs than any other position, they didn’t lose noticeably more time to injury than did receivers. In fact, wideouts spent slightly more time on team injury reports. Remember, as the study notes, that WRs are relatively common sufferers of Lisfranc foot fractures, knee sprains, and nagging finger injuries. That means they carry about the same injury risk as RBs do, yet still manage to be more prolific and more predictable.

For these reasons, a WR-heavy start is almost always the way to go. If you covet more scoring and more reliability, that is. Do your best to exit Round 5 with 4-5 wideouts on roster – remember, you’re drafting three starting WRs and a WR FLEX. Once three or four stud WRs are secured, start looking for one strong value play another position – as long as it doesn’t cost you a similar-tiered wideout. Did your league sleep on Jordan Reed and let him fall into Round 5? Did Cam Newton or Aaron Rodgers tumble? Give them a long look, provided they don’t cost you a Doug Baldwin or a Donte Moncrief. Feel free to look for RB values, too – some of my MFL10s have seen Lamar Miller and Devonta Freeman fall into the third, for God’s sake. Just be sure you’re leaning toward wide receivers, where your bread will likely be buttered.

Rounds 6-10: Build a backfield the right way: cheap and reception-tastic

Objective: To come out of Round 10 with 4-5 running backs and either a starting tight end or quarterback

Here’s where you’ll begin to stockpile backs. No, you won’t land Jamaal Charles or C.J. Anderson here, but buck up: there are gobs and gobs of RB value in these rounds. These guys are typically available here for two reasons:

There are just sooo many of them

  1.  Most owners have already stocked 2-4 RBs by now and are filling other positions in these rounds
  2.  They’re question marks and/or part-timers whose rushing attempt and touchdown outlooks aren’t sexy

No. 2 is a legit sticking point, yes. We know Charles will likely excel (from a Round 2 pick), but we don’t know what Hue Jackson’s departure means for the Bengals backfield, or whether Frank Gore is finally done, or whether Charles Sims can cut even further into Doug Martin’s role. But that’s why they’re discounted so heavily: they’re basically coin flips. And remember two key points:

  1.  You don’t need them to excel. Not one of Bernard, Gore, or Sims projects to score too closely to the RBs of the first few rounds, and that’s okay. You’re not investing much draft capital in them, and you’re already sitting on a huge theoretical scoring boost from your stockpiling of elite WRs.
  2.  You’re going to draft several of them. Quantity is the name of the game here, and by rostering 4-5 guys from this tier, you’ve given yourself a lot of balls in the “Will he? Won’t he?” lottery. Again, bust rates are less of an issue here – most positions are a very mixed bag in this range – while the upside of these boom-or-bust backs can win your league.

would you rather?

Let’s take these two hypothetical starting RB/WR/FLEX combinations as an example:

Old-school fantasy owners would typically opt for Team A. It’s “balanced,” with high draft capital spent at both RB and WR, and it fills all of its starting RB/WR/FLEX spots nice and early. On the other hand, Team B “wasted” early picks on receivers unlikely to crush their WR peers in fantasy points, then spent Rounds 5 and 6 drafting "backups!"

But let’s add some projections to the mix - and stick a WR into the FLEX spot - to see the theoretical differences:

As you can see, Team B was able to cobble together a starting RB combination that doesn’t lose any ground to Team A. Since Team B’s first- and second-round picks outdid Team A’s so easily, its owner is free to chase value and depth throughout the middle rounds while still scoring more points. Team B drafted with a flexible strategy that comes out with high and predictable scoring from atop the draft. Team A was handcuffed by “need” and simply focused on the wrong scoring path, banking on the less static RBs, and left with little depth to stabilize.

don't forget their ceilings

Furthermore, don’t lose sight of the fact that these mid-round backs carry upside their early-round counterparts generally don’t. As we’ve discussed, most of the RBs in the 6-10 ADP range are slotted there out of uncertainty: they could boom, they could bust. But RBs from the first couple of rounds are typically priced right at their ceilings. If you spend a first-round pick on Ezekiel Elliott, he’d need a historically world-crushing season to outplay that investment. But spend an eighth-round pick on Sims, and you could be drafting a top-15 back at a RB35-40 price tag. If he busts, he busts, but you didn’t invest much. And you’ve got 4-5 more upside backs just like him in your stable. Odds are, you’re going to draw RB combinations from one week to the next that rival what Team A gets from his backs – all while likely overwhelming him with your receivers.

Amidst this mass RB binge, go ahead and add your final starter. (Remember, you likely snagged a value pick at either tight end or quarterback within the first five rounds, so look for the other in this range.) Don’t force the issue; just look for value. Did Delanie Walker fall into Round 7? Is Drew Brees still around in the 9th? All things equal, though, I lean toward the TE spot. There’s a pretty noticeable gap in projected value from this tier to the next, while borderline QB1/QB2 types are absurdly plentiful and available into Rounds 13 and 14.

Rounds 11-14: Slurp up all the value at quarterback and tight end

Objective: To come out of Round 14 with two QBs and two TEs

Here’s where you’ll find your QB value. According to my projections, 26.8 points (1.7 per game) separate my QB1 (Cam Newton) from my QB5 (Drew Brees). But then, a funny thing happens. The drop from Brees to my QB18 (Philip Rivers) is just 33.3 points – 2.1 per game. (In fact, the drop from Brees to my QB27 (Brock Osweiler) is only 60.5.) Again: borderline QB1/QB2 types are exceptionally well stocked this year.

That’s why I usually like to wait until this range to get into the quarterback market. Unless I stumble into great mid-round value among the top five QB options, I’m quite happy with a two- or three-man combination culled from the middle rounds. And since an MFL10 league is best ball, you don’t have to pick one each week! You’ll just benefit from whichever guy posts the better line.

And lately, there hasn’t been much best ball benefit to spending top dollar on a quarterback. Last year, 33 different passers posted a QB6 or better week – and 19 did it more than once. Cam Newton won a few MFL10s for owners, but the shrewd benefited from mid-to-late-round ultra-values like Blake Bortles, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Kirk Cousins. Even the late-round likes of Alex Smith, Brian Hoyer, and Brock Osweiler turned in multiple finishes of QB12 or better.

Simply put: if it’s a choice between, say, Cam Newton & Travis Benjamin or Doug Baldwin & Andy Dalton, I’m taking the latter every time.

Tight end is tricky – it’s a crucial position, but a top-heavy one that’s very prone to mid-round busts. Last season, of the five TEs with ADPs between 61 and 120, only one (Zach Ertz) reached full-season value for his owners. And the results are equally ugly as we go back through the recent years. The real value gems are often found between Rounds 10 and 14: think Delanie Walker and Tyler Eifert from last year, or Martellus Bennett and Heath Miller from 2014. These guys often boast similar (or better) success rates to the tier above, but at cheaper costs.

Specifically, in these mid-round tight ends, I’m looking for specialists at one stat or another. That means a high-receptions guy whose ADP doesn’t reflect his high offensive share (think Jason Witten or Jimmy Graham),or a red zone dominator with potential to score 6+ times (Dwayne Allen or Cameron Brate). I’m not worried about “reaching” on aa guy, nor am I looking for week-to-week consistency. I just want week-to-week potential for a top-3 fantasy line, since again, I don’t have to pick one each week and pray for timing. The best ball format does it for me.

Rounds 15-17: Slurp up all the upside, regardless of position

Objective: To spend these three rounds adding three position-agnostic upside plays and end your non-defensive drafting

Simply put, this is where you’ll buy three lottery tickets – low-cost fliers who'll either do nothing and virtually meet their late-round costs, or overachieve. Think of:

  1.  Attractive handcuffs in attractive places
  2.  The supremely talented yet majorly flawed or roster-buried
  3.  Low-tier QB2 types with weekly QB1 streaming potential
  4.  Rookies from beyond the first wave of public interest

Last season, intuitive MFL10ers spent picks from this range on RB handcuffs like DeAngelo Williams and James Starks – backups in explosive offenses who’d be in line for major volume if their starter went down. They rolled the dice on the dynamic potential of sometimes-starter Jordan Reed, investing virtually nothing in the hopes of a relatively healthy, dominant season. They waited through several QB tiers, hoping to strike it big for nearly free. in the Bortles/Fitzpatrick/Cousins range. They took stabs at starting-caliber rookies on shaky depth charts, and were rewarded with league-changers like Javorius Allen and Tyler Lockett.

Those dice rolls all paid off, while many more didn’t, but the beauty was that from a value standpoint, it didn’t matter. Failing to recoup value from Rounds 15-17 is no sweat off your back; you’ve already stocked up everywhere by now and are just looking for gravy. Add 2-3 of these types from the right situations – potent offenses and/or fragile starters in front – and you’re looking at a decent shot at a surprise QB1, RB2, or WR3 from the end of your draft. Why reach for an interchangeable defense, or burn the picks on low-risk, low-reward QBs, when you can target a high-upside play? As of mid-August, the likes of Starks, Wendell Smallwood, Ted Ginn Jr, Spencer Ware, and a handful of others one injury from a major role remain on the board in this area. Take advantage.

Rounds 18-20: Take three defenses

Objective: To take three defenses

We Footballguys have touched numerous times on the need to roster three late D/ST units in a best ball format, though it’s really just common sense. You need strong defensive scoring, but you can get it from just about anywhere. Defenses tend to score very closely together over a full season, though their week-to-week variance is often wild; even D/STs with low public regard will post top-6 weeks here and there. With three on your roster, you’re really boosting your chances of finding each week’s high-flying unit.

And yes, you want them to be cheap. That means end-of-the-draft cheap. Defensive scoring tends to be unpredictable from week to week, and from season to season, so high investments often fall on their faces. Last year’s three top-drafted defenses (Seattle, Buffalo, Houston, St. Louis, N.Y. Jets) finished 5th, 19th, 16th, 6th, and 13th in MFL10 scoring. On the other foot, the eventual top-4 defenses (Arizona, Denver, Carolina, and Kansas City) went 8th, 9th, 10th, and 14th. You’re in absolutely no hurry here, so don’t panic when the first few defenses fly off the board in the 14th or 15th round. There will be plenty of stable and high-upside options over the final three rounds. If you notice the D/ST pool drying up in quantity too early, and you worry there won’t be a third D/ST left for you in Round 20, then bump this advice up one round. Don’t shrug your shoulders and figure you can float along with two; I cannot stress enough the importance of rostering three.

[1] Projections absolutely have their place, but they’re not meant to be our draft guide. Even the most accurate projections out there will fail to predict the future far, far, far, far more often than succeed. Projections must be dead-on accurate to serve as a winning cheat sheet.

[2] Hint: wide receivers.

[3] I chose not to include the No. 1 scorer at each position, in an effort to avoid outliers.

[4] Per

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