This is the sixth article of a multi-part series. The other versions will be 12-team PPR, 14-team (PPR), 10-team (PPR), 12-team (no PPR) and Auction (PPR) formats. Jeff Pasquino will assist me in those efforts.
I started penning this article in 2002 to put my predraft thoughts to paper. Like most things in life, I find I do my best when I plan to succeed. This article is my attempt at that. I work hard at doing projections every year. At Footballguys, we also put together the most comprehensive Average Draft Position Lists. So the information about value is certainly readily available. The trick to having a perfect draft though is to anticipate those "pockets of value" and build your team so that you get the lion's share of these guys.
There is not one way to have a perfect draft. In fact, the biggest criticism I often get is that I am willing to wait on quarterback and/or tight end in a lot of drafts. Many drafters show me teams where they grab a guy like Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, or Peyton Manning early and then knock the rest of the draft out of the park. That's definitely possible. And against weak competition, it can be the preferred gameplan.
This article assumes fairly educated drafters. You need to decide whether your league is full of sharks, guppies or a combination of both. Count the number of Footballguys subscriptions and/or Dominator apps and compare that to the number of guys crossing off players from their magazine cheatsheet to get a feel for this if you really are unsure. I state this here, because against softer competition the shark move is to grab the quality quarterbacks and tight ends too. You should do this because it's nearly assured you will also get many great players to slide to you at running back and wide receiver. Against great competition, reaching for a player at the wrong time can quickly dismantle your draft and leave you missing the key "pockets of value" that can help your chances at winning.
Before we can have the "Perfect Draft", let's define our measure of success. After the draft, your team should have these qualities:
- Against multiple projection sets, your team always grades out as one of the best teams. And to make your life easy here, just run your roster through our Rate My Team application.
- You secured a great number of players that will outperform their draft position.
- You have quality depth (in the right places) to allow for postdraft trades.
- The majority of owners recognize that you have a team that should easily reach the playoffs.
- Your late round picks have the potential to be game-changing players
These aren't absolutes, but I list them here so we know what we are trying to build.
Let's start with the two basic principles of Value Based Drafting (VBD). I will expound on them as we go through this.
- All Players Have Value - Don't love anyone. Don't hate anyone. Get players that will significantly outperform their draft position and you will build a winning team.
- Understand What the Average Guy Thinks - You may believe someone will be the 10th best WR, but if everybody else does not then you should wait to maximize value.
If you don't follow these principles, you will not have a perfect draft. If you believe rookie WRs are always bad or drafting anyone over 30 is too big of an injury risk, then you will not have the perfect draft. Throw away the biases. Let value guide your draft. Let others succumb to prejudices and generalities. You are here to win your league. And you do that by getting value with every pick.
How do we define value? Value Based Drafting (VBD) has shown us that we can compare unlike positions for comparative value. The cornerstone of VBD starts with solid projections. And these projections can be manipulated to form Top 300+ lists. For this article, I will be using the Top 300 (no PPR) list I created for the website. I have highlighted favorable differences in green to indicate players that may be bargains on draft day.
SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS FOR A PERFECT FPC DRAFT
You need to approach this draft as if you are trying to end up with the best team out of the 600+ that will be playing. This is possibly the most important point. Beating 11 owners and qualifying for the big dance with a roster that can never win the event should not be the desired outcome. Things that work in your normal 12 team league can be counter-productive to fielding a winning FPC team.
Specifically, I think these things are LOSING plays in FPC:
- Handcuffing players with two picks in the first 8 rounds. You need to pick a side and gamble that it is correct. Handcuffs this early in a draft waste a roster spot that could easily go to another starting player in your lineup.
- Taking a QB before Round 6. This has to do with the rules (1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 2 flex + PPR). Take a look at how things change for the top QB as the rules change (from the VBD App):
- 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE (no flex, no PPR) - Aaron Rodgers (QB1) = 9th overall
- 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE (no flex, PPR) - Rodgers = 15th overall
- 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE (1 flex, PPR) - Rodgers = 19th overall
- 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE (2 flex, PPR) - Rodgers = 31st overall (FPC Scoring Rules)
Suffice it to say all of the elite QBs will be taken too early. Wait as long as possible, possibly the 10th or 11th round, and then get ready to pounce on one of the best players left.
- NOT taking a TE early. This is, by far, the biggest difference between the FPC and other scoring contests. With 1.5 points per catch, the Top 5-8 tight ends are elevated very high with many of them going in the first 4-6 rounds of the draft. Be prepared to step out there and get one earlier than you might expect - but there are two good benefits to this. First of all you get an elite class tight end, which many other owners are going to have. The additional benefit of an earlier run on tight ends (which happens often in FPC / FFPC drafts) is that other positions slide down the draft board accordingly. There can only be 48 players taken in the first four rounds. If 5-6 are tight ends, that means Top 24 RBs and Top 24 WRs will likely be available in Round 5.
- Drafting a second quarterback too early. Unless you are planning on a quarterback by committee, your backup QB can wait until Rounds 11-20 of your draft. If you have a Top 7-8 quarterback you should be fine with him starting most of the time anyway. Only take two quarterbacks before Round 12 if you are going with a committee approach.
- Drafting a first defense and/or first PK in the first 2/3 of the draft. The RBs, WRs and TEs are going to dry up. You need to have your share of these players to improve your chances that one emerges. Quite often the defenses predicted to be the elite ones to have for the coming season are not all that for fantasy purposes. Let someone else grab the Seahawks or 49ers too early. Use your last picks to secure a kicker and defense and do not draft more than one.
I have examined a lot of strong rosters from both the Pros vs. Joes contests, previous seasons of the FPC and the FFPC and also from my drafts and mocks this year and I believe the winning teams had this in common:
- Winning teams usually took the best players available in the first round, but not a quarterback. This may very well mean selecting a WR or TE based upon a late draft position. After 5 rounds, these teams usually had 2 RBs, 2 WRs and a tight end.
- Drafting RB, RB, RB with your first three picks is generally a LOSING strategy. In fact, the biggest key to winning is finding that all or nothing RB later in the draft so you can stockpile elite WRs in rounds 2 and 3.
- The most common strong start had two TEs, two RBs and two WRs after Round 6. It did not matter how the order went so long as two of each spot was rostered. HOWEVER – 2015 seems a little different this year, and a BETTER strategy is most likely to only take one tight end (with 2-3 RBs and 2-3 WRs).
- Winning teams had a deep roster with deep talent pools at two or three of the non-QB spots. Teams can win with deep rosters at RB and TE, WR and TE or RB and WR. This lends itself back to drafting the best players available early in the draft.
- Winning teams had a solid CORE (first 6 picks) and many fliers AFTER that. These teams also were very active in the blind bidding process through the season.
- Some of their HOMERUNS hit (either by the draft or waivers) to give them a very solid lineup every week. These home runs by definition are not value picks. They are swings for the fences. Most end up being whiffs, but some (when hit) catapult teams to the top of this event.
- Teams drafted to win their first eleven games. You need to have the best record or the most points after 11 games to play in Week 12 for the right to join the Championship bracket (where all the big money is). So choosing second half guys (rookies, drug suspensions, tough early schedules, etc. with any early picks is a recipe for disaster). Wins are important NOW.
- All things being equal (same projected fantasy points), take the WR or TE that catches a lot of balls over the Red Zone TD producer. Guys like Julian Edelman and Vincent Jackson excel in PPR leagues because of all of their catches. If the TDs match that pace, you could have an elite producer.
Generally, I would look to have this positional grouping after Round 6: 2-3 RB, 2-3 WR, 1-2 TE.
After Round 9 I would want to have grabbed my starting QB only if a Top 8 option is still available - otherwise I continue to wait while I add 2-3 more depth players at either RB, TE or WR. Typically a roster would have 0-1 QB, 3-4 RB, 3-4 WR and 2-3 TE.
After Round 12 I would want to be here: 1 QB, 4-5 RB, 4-6 WR and 2-3 TE as I added more depth behind my flex starter candidates at RB and WR and then grabbed my starting quarterback before Round 12. Most likely I would have 1 QB, 4 RB, 5 WR and 2 TE after 12 rounds.
LET'S HAVE THE PERFECT FPC DRAFT
The goal is to get you the best possible team and to make sure you don't overpay for players that can still be had a few rounds later. What I look for are players that I project significantly better than where they are being drafted. The positional analysis tracks to my projections.
This article assumes a 12 team league using scoring that starts 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 2 flex (RB/WR/TE), 1 Def and 1 PK. It also assumes this scoring criteria: 1 point per 20 yards passing, 1 point per 10 yards rushing/receiving, 1 point per reception (1.5 for TEs), 4 points per passing TD, 6 points per rushing/receiving TD, -1 points for interceptions.
In a 12-team draft, there is pressure to grab the quality RBs and WRs before they are gone. In a FPC draft, there is pressure on RBs and WRs plus elite TEs. This point is important, because failure to lock up solid starters at all three spots within the first six 5-7 rounds will likely cost you a chance at competing for the title.
Instead of concentrating on things by position, I believe the correct approach is to grab the best player available until the Top 50 are off the board. With some luck and creating the right Top 50 list, you are hopeful to still be drafting from this list when you complete the 5th round (60 picks). If you are still using this list in the 7th round, you are positioned well to make a strong run in this contest.
THE TOP 50+ PLAYERS
Because ADP is a crucial barometer on when players will get drafted, I believe it's important to merge the Top 300 list for PPR along with the FPC ADP Data to create a single Top 50 draft list. Here is how I create this list.
- For players that have a value lower than ADP, use the average of the two numbers.
- For players that have a value higher than ADP, use the value number.
Example: Player A has a value of 13 and an ADP of 21. His "drafting" value would be 17. (13 + 21)/2. Conversely, if Player has a value of 21 and an ADP of 13, his "drafting" value would be 21.
Now, using FPC ADP data can be tricky. I needed a way to normalize the current ADP for these leagues against a value for each player. To do that I used the positional breakdown of the Top 72 picks from the ADP data and compared that to the VBD values provided from the Draft Dominator. Ranking the players in the Draft Dominator from 1-72 based on VBD and only using positional rankings from the ADP allowed me to eliminate players with injury bias (such as Kelvin Benjamin). The players are then ranked by David's formula for value, where the average of the ADP and VBD rankings is compared to the value of the FPC ADP itself, and the lower value is used.
Doing this for the Top 72 in the Draft Dominator for an FPC league and using the FPC ADP Data yields these Top 72 players (ranked from 1st to 72nd). Note that I expanded this list on purpose as to show how the values play out after the Top 50, and also provide some insight as to how to plan your first six or seven picks.
|Overall||FPC ADP||VBD Rank||Draft Value||Position||Player||Team||Projected Points||VBD|
|3||2||5||5||WR3||Odell Beckham Jr||NYG/11||279.3||122|
Table 1 – The Top 72 Value List for an FPC Draft
Note: There are five quarterbacks that appear on this list, but I am going to tell you a simple truth. Your team will end up a lot better if you wait until after this list is exhausted before choosing a quarterback. The reason for this is because there is exceptional value at quarterback once everyone in the league drafts one. In years where there were just a handful of difference makers, you could make an argument that you need an elite one. This year the QB pool is deeper than I have ever witnessed. Trust me here. Don't draft an early quarterback.
BUILDING YOUR "CORE" - YOUR FIRST 5 PICKS
Essentially you are just looking to grab the best player available until this list is exhausted - but use some common sense while you do this. You must take at least one RB, one WR and one TE within the first six rounds of the draft (no exceptions). Additionally limit yourself to at most one QB or two TEs from this list. If you draft a QB because he represents value, then you must quickly address the other positions because you must catch up your depth at those key spots.
I would pay little to no attention to bye weeks during this phase. You have plenty of time to adjust after the Top 50 players are gone. The list above only has them there for your reference - focus first on accumulating talent.
AFTER THE TOP 50 - ASSESSMENT PHASE
The transition from the Top 72 to rounding out your team based on need is a critical one. Your analysis here can instantly turn a good draft into a great one. Here are the questions you should be asking yourself to determine your weaknesses:
- How many backs did you secure? The average owner should have 2.1 running backs. Do you have two or more including one in the first round? Is this a position of strength for your team?
- Did you draft a quarterback (the average owner should have 0.38 quarterbacks) yet? If so consider yourself done at this position until much later in the draft. If you have not drafted these positions yet, do not panic. Good ones will be available later.
- Did you draft a tight end (the average owner should have 0.83 tight ends) yet? Unlike quarterback, tight ends are crucial and you should get one soon.
- Assess your bye week situation. If three or more of your first five players are off on the same bye week, I will usually sacrifice that week so that I can be strong in every other week. If that is not the case, then I look to patch the holes with complimentary players that could have big weeks during these rough spots. Teams lining up against Oakland, Tennessee, Atlanta, Washington, Chicago, and New Orleans should all yield good results during these weeks.
As an example, Let's say you landed this team after five rounds (from the fourth position):
- 4. WR Dez Bryant, DAL/6
- 21. TE Greg Olsen, CAR/5
- 28. WR DeAndre Hopkins, HOU/9
- 45. WR Amari Cooper, OAK/6
- 52. WR Golden Tate, DET/9
Quick analysis yields these weaknesses at present: quarterback (none taken), running back (none taken) and a slight Week 9 bye week issue.
Unless significant value presents itself, my next few rounds plan would be:
- Grab running backs, at least two in the next three rounds
- Fill out roster need at quarterback
- Grab a player sliding at wide receiver ONLY if he represents exceptional value.
Note the departure from looking for value at all cost here. Wide receiver may represent value at your next pick, but this selected player is not a roster need. It is generally better to fill out your key roster spots instead of amassing a lot of value that you may not be able to use. So use your head. Are you able to select a running back, tight end, or quarterback that represents at least fair value (ADP and value numbers are in line with the selection)?
Let's look at another example. This one from the ninth position:
- 9. TE Rpb Gronkowski, NE/4
- 16. WR Jordy Nelson, GB/7
- 33. QB Aaron Rodgers, GB/7
- 40. WR Andre Johnson, IND/10
- 57. WR Golden Tate, DET/9
Quick analysis yields these weaknesses at present: running back (none taken), and a slight bye week issue for Week 7.
Now, I know what you are thinking - did we not just discuss avoiding the quarterback position so high? This is where our value list comes in handy. For Rodgers to slip to the end of Round 3 screams value, and you would be right to take him. A case could be made to skip Rodgers and take Lamar Miller, Dolphins RB instead - and the team would be more balanced. Both are viable options.
Going back to this example, unless significant value presents itself, my next few rounds plan would be:
- Grab two running backs, and possibly a third in the next four rounds
- Grab a player sliding at wide receiver ONLY if he represents exceptional value.
Let's look at a final example. This one from the 12th position:
- 12. WR Jordy Nelson, GB/7
- 13. RB C.J. Anderson, DEN/7
- 36. TE Martellus Bennett, CHI/7
- 37. TE Travis Kelce, KC/9
- 60. WR DeSean Jackson, WASH/8
Quick analysis yields these weaknesses at present: quarterback (none taken), running back (one taken) and a major bye week issue for Week 7.
This team screams FPC roster versatility. Taking two tight ends in the Top 40 picks may seem like a foreign concept, but when you can start up to three each week, having two Top 5 tight ends is a major advantage.
As for the Week 7 bye week, consider at this point giving up fielding a top notch team that week and even think about adding more talent with that bye week. The theory here is that your team will be nearly at full strength every other week, so you have the advantage over most teams every game but the Week 7 contest.
Unless significant value presents itself, my next few rounds plan would be:
- Grab a running back soon, and probably at least two.
- Grab wide receivers for a third starter and depth.
- Fill out roster need at quarterback.
MOVING TO FILL POSITIONAL NEEDS
If you followed this plan up to here, you should not have selected a quarterback within the Top 50 picks.
The league has morphed into a passing exhibition on most weeks. Fifteen quarterbacks finished the year with 4,000+ combined passing and rushing yards. Let that sink in. For every drafter taking a quarterback early, someone waiting still got a player who finished with 4,000 combined yards much later in the draft.
There have never been more quality quarterbacks playing each week than what is available this season. So for every drafter that pulls the trigger to get an Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning or Russell Wilson early, some drafter (read YOU if you are wise) will grab someone like Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Sam Bradford, or Philip Rivers as many as six to seven rounds later. I am telling you with conviction that there is not enough difference to make getting the "elite" guys worthy of a draft strategy this season.
Waiting is for Winners...draft the 12th quarterback...or later.
From my own projections, here are my top fantasy quarterbacks for this year:
Table 2: Top Fantasy Quarterbacks for 2015
Now consider the people that took any of the top 10 names based on ADP. Are they looking to add a quality backup? Would you if you drafted Drew Brees, Cam Newton, or Tony Romo? This dynamic defines the solution. Once 11 people have drafted their quarterback, you can wait another 20+ picks and get the next guy. Who is it? It depends on your draft, but it's usually Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, or Philip Rivers. And all of these guys would have that "quality starter tag" in any other year.
But David...what if someone snipes all these other guys from me? This is the beauty of waiting. You aren't penalized by this at all; There are still plenty of solid quarterback options that could easily threaten the top 12. Chase Stuart outlines a combination of Bradford/Winston that has such a weak schedule should combine for top 5 production.
Besides drafting the 12-13th Quarterback, here are the guys that I think represent great value this year:
- Colin Kaepernick, SF/10 (Value = 105, ADP = 130) in the 8th round or later
- Andy Dalton, CIN/7 (Value = 133, ADP = 152) in the 11th round or later
- Jameis Winston, TB/6 (Value = 132, ADP = 144) in the 10th round or later
- Alex Smith, KC/9 (Value = 162, ADP = 185) in the 13th round or later
In most leagues, running backs are golden. Their value lies in their ability to both run and catch. The reason they are golden is that there are simply not enough of them to go around. More and more teams are using a committee approach to the running back position...pulling the starter both on obvious passing downs and sometimes in goal line situations. It has made the workhorse backs (that do all three roles) even more valuable, but also created a bigger pool of next tier backs that don't do it all. If you followed the Top 50 plan from above, you likely have a decent stable of backs on your roster to build the rest of your team around.
But two or three quality backs don't make a powerhouse fantasy roster...Having depth at RB does.
Here are the other RBs that I would target for value (outside of the top 50 picks):
|Player||Team/Bye||Note||Value||ADP||Target Round (Or Later)|
|Montee Ball||DEN/7||backs up C.J. Anderson||151||151||11th|
|Jerick McKinnon||MIN/5||backs up Adrian Peterson||173||173||13th|
|James Starks||GB/7||backs up Eddie Lacy||208||208||15th|
Table 3: Top Running Back Values for 2015
The last three players on the list here (Ball, McKinnon, Starks) are players that I love to pick up in the later rounds. I love these late round fliers that could have significant roles should the player in front of them on the depth charts get hurt or falter. Most can be picked at or near their ADP.
The biggest key to having a great wide receiver corps is following the Top 50 plan above and then swooping in and stealing the players that slide unnecessarily in a draft. Here are some guys that should represent excellent value this year (outside of the top 50):
|Player||Team/Bye||Value||ADP||Target Round (Or Later)|
Table 4: Top Wide Receiver Values in 2015
Some other WRs will undoubtedly slip in your drafts besides the above targeted bargain list. In recap, grab approximately three receivers by Round 6 and then wait for exceptional value to emerge at WR because it always does.
Because so many more teams are utilizing the TE position, there are almost always bargains at this position late in a draft. In fact once the top 7-8 names come off the board, there is minimal pressure on the TE position the rest of the draft (in leagues that start just 1 TE).
This presents a dilemma of sorts in drafts. One can grab an elite (top 5 or 6) Tight End or wait until the later rounds and grab some upside guys that could crack the top 10 at the position.
I generally prefer a decent TE, but I think the wise drafting approach is to not reach for one if they go sooner than normal.
Here are the two TE that I am targeting outside of the top 50 players:
|Player||Team/Bye||Value||ADP||Target Round (Or Later)|
Table 5: Top Tight End Values for 2015
Keep in mind that tight ends go early. Based on FPC ADP Data, six tight ends are gone after Round 5, three more in Round 6 and four more in Round 7 and 8 - which means 13 tight ends are usually gone after 96 selections, and most teams have one by this point of the draft.
If I fail to land Kyle Rudolph, I generally will look to grab TE with my next pick. This should put you in the Tyler Eifert,Dwayne Allen or Austin Seferian-Jenkins tier. I like all of these players as potential breakouts this season.
In leagues that go after kickers early, just wait. You can get an adequate PK in the last two rounds of your draft. In leagues that draft this position real late (most leagues), look towards the second to last round to grab the one kicker you will roster. Suffice it to say that in a lot of leagues now, people wait until their last pick to take their kickers and end up missing the good kickers by a few picks. Most likely that sleeper WR you want in the second to last round will still be there for you in the last round. In waiver wire friendly leagues (most), don't be afraid to draft just one kicker and add others as necessary during the season to cover the bye weeks and/or exploit matchups.
Instead of targeting any particular kicker this year, I just like to keep these 12 names handy and start crossing them off the list. When 6-8 are gone, jump in and get the top rated guy left. Here are my top 12 kickers:
- Gostkowski (NE/4)
- Vinatieri (IND/10)
- Hauschka (SEA/9)
- Crosby (GB/7)
- Tucker (BAL/9)
- Bailey (DAL/6)
- Barth (DEN/7)
- Parkey, PHI/8)
- Bryant (ATL/10)
- Prater (DET/9)
- Walsh (MIN/5)
- Novak (SD/10)
Scoring systems generally come into play and define when defenses are taken. I suggest you wait until 7-8 defenses get selected and then take the Eagles defense with confidence. Failing to get the Eagles, you generally can grab the Indianapolis Colts as your last pick of the draft. They start out with the Bills, Jets, Titans, and the Jaguars. That's as good as it gets and this should be a great defense out of he gate.
Another winning strategy to deploy after the draft for defenses is simply to look two games ahead in the waiver process. Most teams will have at most one or two defenses meaning that half of the defenses are available as free agent pick ups each week. By looking two to three weeks ahead at who will be playing Cleveland, Tennessee, Buffalo, Jacksonville, and St. Louis you likely can find a cheap defense that should perform well against subpar offenses. Drop this defense after their "quality game" so that you can continue to pick up other defenses that will have good weeks. Because of this strategy, I advise you to draft just one defense and look to play matchups the rest of the way. Every year two or three defenses are predicted to be terrible but end up playing great.
Our own Chase Stuart suggests grabbing both the Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP = undrafted) and the Indianapolis Colts (ADP = undrafted) and play matchups each week. It's a compelling strategy if you can afford using up two roster spots.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
1. Draft for value until the top 50 players is exhausted. These are your "core" and will define how you approach the rest of the draft.
2. Look to select the 12-13th quarterback off the board 20 picks after the 11th QB is taken. Add another from the QB 13-16 tier soon after taking your first QB.
4. Add value at RB, WR and TE in the middle rounds to protect bye weeks, add critical depth, and give yourself a chance to trade off talent to bolster your squad as the season progresses.
5. Use the final rounds to add your kicker, a defense and to go after younger players in a "Swing-For-The-Fence" mentality. These are players who are flying way below the radar, but could be huge fantasy producers should they be given a larger role in their offenses. All should be able to be drafted after Round 14. At quarterback I like Jameis Winston. At running back I like Montee Ball, Jerick McKinnon, James Starks, and Khiry Robinson. At wide receiver I like Allen Hurns, Devin Funchess, Markus Wheaton, Josh Huff, and Mohamed Sanu . At tight end I like Clive Walford.
6. Unless your league has some exotic scoring that elevates defenses, it is best to wait until the last few rounds to grab your defense. Grabbing Philadelphia (after 7 defenses have been taken) or Indianapolis (last round) should yield great returns against a minimal investment.
7. Wait until the second to last round and grab your kicker.
Well that is it folks. Hope you all do well in your coming drafts. Remember, the key is not to just follow the Top 300 list but to see where it differs substantially from average drafts. This is how you get value with every pick. And value is how you build winning fantasy teams.