In the past, Sigmund Bloom would have a lot of conversations about fantasy football rankings. There's value to a linear set of rankings based on statistical modeling. It's the safest way to create a blueprint for a draft.
There are also notable gaps with this format. Rankings are harder for the user to see the draft with as broad a perspective that tiers offer. Not that you can't look at various possibilities at one time with a vertical list, but tiers make the decision-making tree of long-term cause and effect easier to see.
Most rankings based on statistical projections don't incorporate the value of upside. Willie Snead IV and Mike Gillislee might be within five picks of the other, according to an ADP list or ranking, but the potential for Gillislee to produce fantasy-dominant scores as a red zone threat is much higher than Snead. Terrelle Pryor and Michael Crabtree's ADPs are within five spots of the other, but which one has the most potential to become a top-5 fantasy receiver? I'd argue Pryor.
Then there's confidence factor. A fantasy owner or analyst may have DeAndre Hopkins among his top-15 receivers based on projections, but when asked about Hopkins they may also tell you that they are so concerned about Houston's quarterback situation that they pass on the Texans' receiver in every draft. Or, like me, you might like Falcons tight end Austin Hooper's potential so much (even if you can't truck with the idea of projecting production that, like me, places him as a starter on your tight end board) that his ADP of 154 factors into your overall draft strategy.
Straight up and down rankings lack a lot of valuable contexts. It also creates a lot of layers of conventional thought that promote barriers to taking players that you really want on your team. Some barriers are healthy, because the logical thought baked into the rankings process helps you realize that some of your views are too impulsive or risky for the good of building a team.
But there are unintentional barriers baked into the conventional thought process of linear rankings that discourage you from recognizing the value of strategies that don't fit into a traditional ranking process. A couple of years ago, Bloom and I discussed these issues within the context of tiers vs. rankings. The conversational evolved to a point where Bloom came up with an idea about creating a Desirability Ranking.
Something about typical fantasy rankings has been bothering me lately. By listing all relevant players in order of draft desirability, we still don't really have anything actionable until we add a denominator of ADP. If I tell you a player is my #5 running back, that doesn't tell you whether I would recommend drafting him or not. When you add the dimension of ADP, it becomes clear right away who my rankings recommend targeting and who my rankings recommend avoiding. This leads to an experiment idea of rethinking rankings. Instead of ranking players by draft desirability (or projected end of year finish), why not rank players by desirability of drafting them at ADP? This table will show you the rough ADP of a player, and where I would consider drafting the player. This ranking should help when prioritizing targets pre-draft and understanding the next best outcomes when targeted players go off the board ahead of you. Any and all feedback welcome!
Bloom's ADP Desirability Rankings are simple. It involves the player, his ADP, and where you would pick the player to ensure you got him. Bloom uses these three pieces of information to create a ranking. In this scenario, Martavis Bryant might have an ADP range of the 5th round, but hypothetically you value him enough to take in the 3rd and it makes Bryant the third-most desirable running back on your draft board.
As you can see, this is not a ranking format for the conservative, "I need to see hard numbers" drafter. It's an experiment. I've told Bloom it's like trying to cut through all the traditional movements of old-school Fantasy Kung Fu and create our own version of Fantasy Jeet Kune Do.
I like this idea, but I wanted to see if I could use statistical projections for my traditional rankings as the backdrop? Could I convert my traditional rankings into ADP Desirability Rankings?
I posted an article on ADP Desirability two years ago with Value Based Draft and Average Value Data as a foundation. I consider this an exploration of a big room where there's a lot more to examine.
The good? I think this method of creating the rankings adds more weight to early picks that you value. The bad, I don't think it gives enough emphasis to the high upside of picks as one gets deeper into the draft. This year, I'm keeping the ADP Desirability list to the first 72 picks and offering it as a way of identifying key players who move the needle up or down for me in contrast to their ADP.
I don't really see this as a ranking as much as a measure of something; an index. It's a way of seeing my level of enthusiasm about a player in a different light and whether I should plan around it. So I'm calling my efforts an ADP Desirability Index.
CONVERTING TRADITIONAL RANKINGS TO ADP DESIRABILITY Index
I'm not going to show you all of the work. This is an exercise where I think most of you will be more interested in the results than a complete visual of the process. Here's a basic bulleted list of how I created my ADP Desirability Index:
- I updated my traditional rankings and added my ranking order to the right of each player's name.
- 12-team PPR league
- Starting lineup of 1QB, 2-3 RB, 3-4 WR, 1-2 TE, 1 DEF, 1K
- I added the ADP of each player to the left of each player's name.
- I created a three-year average value VBD for each position (QB1, QB2, QB3, etc.).
- Three years of positional rankings (2014-2016) with accompanying fantasy points.
- Compiled the average fantasy points for each spot.
- Generated the average (VBD) value for that three-year average for each of those spots.
- This average (VBD) value is my projected value for my 2016 rankings and not the VBD I projected to originally create the rankings.
- I calculated the difference between the VBD of these players based on ADP and the VBD based on my rankings.
- I added that difference of value to my rankings' VBD data as a measure of "desirability."
- I sorted the list by desirability.
It's a fun exercise as a way to cross-check your enthusiasm or dour outlook on players in the early rounds of a draft. That's exactly what we'll do with this ADP Desirability Index of 72 players from my 2017 rankings as of mid-August.
If you look at ADP versus Order, you'll see immediately which players I value much higher or lower than the consensus. That difference has been added onto the projected fantasy points of the player to create a Desirability Factor. The Change column is the difference in VBD points between my ranking and ADP's ranking.
players the index says I love in 2017
LeSean McCoy: This was surprising to me because I can't remember the last time I drafted McCoy in a league. To be fair, it's not because I passed him over during previous years. Usually, I never get a shot at him. But I think his age and the perception of a good young back behind him on the depth chart have deflated his value. The deflation appears slight when considering he's still a top-10 player in the collective eyes of ADP, but when using VBD, it's a bigger drop than it appears. I wasn't as high on Jonathan Williams as others in the draft community. I see Williams as a future starter, but I thought he needed development time—and he has.
The bigger questions I've had about McCoy this year are "has he reached a physical state of decline" and "will the Bills changes on offense hurt him?" Anquan Boldin and Jordan Matthews won't adequately replace Sammy Watkins in the deep game and while I think Zay Jones can get deep, I am not as confident that he'll be running away from defenders as often as making contested catches. Then again, Tyrod Taylor throws a great deep ball to prevent a lot of 50/50 targets of an unintentional variety. Matthews and Boldin are an upgrade to the corps across the board, especially for a proficient improviser like Taylor. Considering that we've seen an impressive list of players earn RB1 production beyond their 30s during the past 5-7 years, I'm willing to give McCoy another year without a serious discussion about his age.
Dez Bryant: Finding out I valued Bryant this much was more shocking than my index score on McCoy because I have been cautious about Bryant for much of the spring and early summer. There's no denying what he does against tight coverage. He's nearly impossible to stop in the red zone and one area where Dak Prescott excelled and I doubt that defenses can do anything to stop it is the fade route. Prescott consistently threw beautiful fades last year. I'm expecting a huge season from Bryant and the fact I can get him as a highly desirable second-round pick in many drafts where I'm sitting somewhere between spots 6-12 is exciting.
Tyreek Hill: While everyone discusses "steady drumbeats" of the preseason, few are broaching the idea of "false drumbeats." If there is a player whose excitement factor I fear has been inflated this summer, it's Hill. We've seen a steady chorus of praise about his route running, plays against tight coverage, and overall development as a second-year player in Chiefs camp. I'm not doubting the veracity of what players, coaches, and even reporters have seen. I am considered that when the real games begin, Alex Smith will not be as daring with his target choices and we won't see this aspect of Hill. Even so, Hill was a top-15 receiver for the Chiefs last year and I think his fantasy floor in 2017 isn't much lower than that mark. His ceiling? If Smith is even moderately more aggressive, Hill could be a top-10 PPR option with a WR3 price tag in many drafts.
Doug Martin: I've written about Martin all summer. The latest thing I noticed was during research for our Week 2 Training Camp Reports. Jameis Winston told the media that Martin was "the guy" in the backfield and was back to his Pro Bowl form. That's the cherry on top of a sundae of consistent praise for Martin's conditioning, decision-making, and commitment. He's often available as the 80th pick at the end of the 7th round. Considering he's my 11th-ranked back, I won't be waiting that long—especially if I can land Bryant, Hill, and this next player as my starting receiving corps early on...
Jordy Nelson: Talk all you want about Randall Cobb's pre-injury production last year, Nelson wasn't fully himself until the quarter pole of 2016. Once he was, he was dominant. When I examined 2016 Crank Scores, Nelson and David Johnson were in their own tier compared to the rest of the field. Nelson's offense has the fewest changes and I don't see any reason why his production should earn a significant drop. He may not perform like the all-world fantasy option he was last year, but I think his fantasy floor is no worse than a low-end WR1—and that's safety in the early rounds I like. I can completely see scenarios where I land Nelson and three of the four other players I've mentioned above and being thrilled with the opening sequence of my draft.
Delanie Walker: While it seems the rest of fantasy football is running to their imaginary podiums to draft tight ends that they believe have league-winning upside, I feel like I'll have a lot of drafts where I can walk to the podium and beat them all with my timely selection of Walker in the 6th or 7th round. He may lack that top-3 upside when Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed, and Jimmy Graham are at their best, but the Titans offense works through Walker in the passing game the same way it has worked through DeMarco Murray on the ground. He's a little on the older side for what fantasy owners most desirable, but tight ends have a long shelf life—especially the athletic, hybrid types who seem to gain savvy as their speed declines. The way this offense uses Walker, he doesn't need to be a dominant athletic mismatch to earn strong production.
Jimmy Graham: One guy who is that dominant mismatch is Graham. 2016's No. 2 fantasy tight end despite not performing at 100 percent athletic capacity due to his 2015 injury, Graham, Russell Wilson, and the Seahawks offensive line will all be healthy. I see Walker as a consolation prize if my draft plan fit with Graham as my fourth-round pick and he doesn't last to the fifth.
Players the index says I like in 2017
Le'Veon Bell: He's my No. 1 back in my rankings but I fluctuate between Bell and David Johnson as the No. 1 option almost daily. But in those gun to the head moments, Bell's offensive line and the Steelers system of balance surrounding talent makes him the safer pick. The difference between No. 1 and No. 2 overall doesn't seem like much, but it was significant enough to earn a moderately high Change Score.
DeMarco Murray: I like Derrick Henry's potential and it will be much sooner than later before he is the main man in Tennessee. I don't think it will be this year without an injury. The talk about getting Henry involved sounds more like aspirational statements that we see every year. If you value handcuffs with league-winner potential, Henry is on that short list of options this year. Otherwise, I'd roll with Murray and not sweat Henry. Some football tape-heads critique Murray's style that isn't incredibly flexible. Don't overreact to these reviews, Murray is a smart, physical, versatile back and still well worth a top-five investment at his position.
Keenan Allen: If I can't get Dez Bryant, Allen will be my consolation prize in many formats. It's a riskier consolation due to the injury history, but the skill, quarterback, and system all make it a worthwhile choice if you're seeking top-5 PPR upside. Allen may have never delivered on that type of production, but it's there with Rivers and this offense. Doug Baldwin or an early-round quarterback is safer in the same spot of drafts if the past injuries scare you off. I'm not scared.
Jarvis Landry: Jay Cutler has scared folks off Landry because DeVante Parker has earned steady drumbeat in camp for his development and Cutler has a reputation as a gunslinger. Slot receivers aren't seen as the best pals of quarterbacks like Cutler, but if you look closer at Adam Gase's time with Cutler in Chicago, Cutler had no issues getting the ball to his slot options. There might be a little too much caution surrounding Landry. If he's where you normally would have taken him in past seasons, don't overthink the perceived negative.
Julian Edelman: My buddy Bloom believes Brandin Cooks will usurp red zone targets from Edelman. I believe Cooks will need a full year to acclimate to all of the route adjustments based on coverage reads. I don't think Cooks is a dumb guy as much as I think people still vastly underestimated the intelligence of Randy Moss. Chad Johnson and Brandon Lloyd were Pro Bowl receivers who couldn't adjust to all of the intricacies required of them to perform with Brady. Even Cooks and Brady told Mike Reiss that the acclimation process would be a year-long adventure. There is no place on the field that is more demanding of quick and intricate decisions that require great rapport than the red zone. The two options who have this rapport with Brady are Gronowski and Edelman. It makes Edelman a potential bargain.
Larry Fitzgerald: He's still a red zone threat due to his knowledge, his role in the slot, and his skill to work both outside and inside as a rebounder, tight-window option in traffic, and a savvy zone-breaker. JaRon Brown and John Brown are an underrated pair of outside options who should help take enough defensive pressure off Fitzgerald that he could approach his 2015 WR1 production. If I take a running back or two with my opening moves, I would role with Fitzgerald as my No. 3 WR.
Kirk Cousins: I don't believe there's much of a drop-off between DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon and Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson in this offensive system. Therefore, I don't believe Cousins' production will experience any significant regression.
Brandon Marshall: If you prefer to wait on a tight end, Marshall offers nice value as a sixth-round option who you might get as a WR3-WR4, but profit from as a WR1-WR2. I understand that the Eli Manning hate is strong among the fantasy community. I am not a fan, either. But if I asked myself where I'd rate Marshall if he went to New Orleans opposite Michael Thomas or Atlanta opposite Julio Jones, I'd have him as a top-15 option. I'm less worried about his age than I am Manning and the Giants offensive line. Even so, we've seen a mistake-prone Manning deliver multiple fantasy starters in the passing game and Marshall could easily be a factor in another effort of this type.
Players the index says I'm cooler on than the average drafter
David Johnson: When you drop the near-consensus No.1 option in fantasy drafts to No.2, the index will indicate it's a significant difference. I explained in the Le'Veon Bell section why it appears cooler than I really am.
Julio Jones: ADP has him No. 5 overall, I have him No. 8 overall. The index difference is more significant than my personal preference. I do expect a slight decline in his production because I think Mohamed Sanu, Taylor Gabriel, and Austin Hooper will all be fully acclimated to the offense. Remember, that all three were first-year players with Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense last year, which lead to Ryan having far and away the most trust in Jones when it came to adjustments pre- and post-snap. Jones is still a safe WR1, so if you think any microscopic adjustment in performance doesn't merit the risk of taking a less table option with more upside, I don't blame you for rolling with Jones.
Demaryius Thomas: I'm shying away from that hip injury that Thomas says is fully healthy, but also told us last year that it's a chronic issue that could recur with the wrong stride or hit. Combine this injury concern with his quarterback play that's boom-bust and changeable in nature and I'm not loving him as a choice in leagues where I open with 1-2 backs. I feel better with him in formats where he's my No. 3 or No. 4 option.
players the index says I'm freezing out in 2017
A.J. Green: This surprised me because Green is one of my personal favorite fantasy picks at his position. When I think more about it, I see that it's likely true. If the Bengals offensive line doesn't collapse with its two losses, Green will be a guy I'll feel a twinge of regret passing over this summer—but only a twinge, considering that Nelson and Bryant are also there for the taking. The Index sadly tells me that I find Green took risky for the taking despite his great skill and only a small difference between my rankings and ADP. That little bit carries a lot more weight in the early rounds.
Lamar Miller: I didn't like the inconsistent touch counts for Miller and the lackluster passing game last year. What's going to change? Is Tom Savage better than Brock Osweiler despite Osweiler getting the nod last year? It's possible; players make dramatic improvements during their first 3-4 seasons. Is DeShaun Watson better than either one? Potentially, yes. Right now? While I admire some of the reads he made during the preseason, he's going to get an even bigger taste of complexity when he finally gets into the lineup and I don't think he has the receiving corps beyond DeAndre Hopkins to handle it accurately. It makes Miller too risky for me at his ADP. I'd rather consider Marshawn Lynch or Isaiah Crowell within the same range or Ameer Abdullah or Danny Woodhead a little later after nabbing a safer WR, QB, or TE where Miller's ADP resides.
applying this information to drafts
If I have an early spot in drafts and open with RB, David Johnson and Le'Veon Bell remain nearly interchangeable for me. If you're shooting for best upside, Johnson has the situation where he may be leaned on hard enough that he earns that combined 2,000-yard season. However, Bell has the superior offensive line and surrounding talent that he is less likely to get shut down by opposing defenses selling out to stop him and not paying for it dearly.
There's a chance that Dez Bryant falls to me at the end of the second, but it's more likely that I'm taking Doug Baldwin as a safe consolation prize or reaching above ADP for Keenan Allen or Tyreek Hill as my WR2. I might even opt for two of these three as my WR1-WR2 combination. I know Hill will often fall to pick No. 46, but if I'm in the early spot, it's cutting it close for a player that I covet enough to take a round earlier.
This is especially true if I'm also eyeing Jimmy Graham because I'll need to take him at the 4/5 turn or there's a great chance he'll be gone. There are three alternative paths to the one where I take Graham that I like in this spot. One of them involves selecting two of Larry Fitzgerald, Russell Wilson, Martavis Bryant, Brandon Marshall, Danny Woodhead, or Ameer Abdullah at the 4/5 turn. This means I'm betting on Doug Martin falling to me at exactly his ADP and I take him at the 6/7 turn.
Or, I take Martin at the 4/5 turn with one of the other options above.
Early-spot combinations I've mentioned above as openers I like.
If I play ADP tight:
- 1: Le'Veon Bell/David Johnson
- 2: Dez Bryant/Doug Baldwin
- 3: Doug Baldwin/Keenan Allen
- 4: Tyreek Hill/Larry Fitzgerald/Russell Wilson/Martavis Bryant/Brandon Marshall
- 5: Larry Fitzgerald/Russell Wilson/Martavis Bryant/Brandon Marshall/Danny Woodhead/Ameer Abdullah
- 6: Doug Martin/Kirk Cousins/Kyle Rudolph
- 7: Kirk Cousins/Kyle Rudolph/DeSean Jackson
- 1: Le'Veon Bell/David Johnson
- 2: Dez Bryant/Keenan Allen
- 3: /Keenan Allen/Tyreek Hill
- 4: Larry Fitzgerald/Russell Wilson/Martavis Bryant/Brandon Marshall
- 5: Doug Martin/Jimmy Graham/Delanie Walker
- 6: Doug Martin/Kirk Cousins/Kyle Rudolph
- 7: Kirk Cousins/Kyle Rudolph/DeSean Jackson/DeVante Parker
- 1. LeSean McCoy
- 2. Dez Bryant
- 3. Keenan Allen/Isaiah Crowell/Marshawn Lynch
- 4. Tyreek Hill/Davante Adams
- 5. Golden Tate/Larry Fitzgerald/Jimmy Graham
- 6. Brandon Marshall/Ameer Abdullah
- 7. Doug Martin/Kyle Rudolph/Kirk Cousins
- 1. Jordy Nelson
- 2. Dez Bryant/T.Y. Hilton
- 3. Isaiah Crowell/Marshawn Lynch/Christian McCaffrey
- 4. Tyreek Hill/Dalvin Cook/Carlos Hyde/Michael Crabtree/Julian Edelman
- 5. JImmy Graham/Larry Fitzgerald/Golden Tate
- 6. Doug Martin/Ameer Abdullah/Brandon Marshall/Delanie Walker
- 7. LeGarrette Blount/Kirk Cousins/DeSean Jackson
- 1. Jordy Nelson/Michael Thomas/DeMarco Murray
- 2. DeMarco Murray
- 3. Terrelle Pryor/Jarvis Landry/Tyreek Hill/Davante Adams
- 4. Dalvin Cook/Carlos Hyde/Joe Mixon
- 5. Martavis Bryant/Brandon Marshall/Ameer Abdullah/Danny Woodhead
- 6. Martavis Bryant/Brandon Marshall/Ameer Abdullah/Danny Woodhead/Delanie Walker
- 7. DeSean Jackson/Kirk Cousins/DeVante Parker/LeGarrette Blount