A player’s value is determined by supply and demand. Going back in time to your Economics 101 class and picturing what those supply and demand curves might look like for each position can help you determine when to reach and when to wait on filling those specific roster needs. Format and draft position will play huge roles in determining what your roster will eventually look like. It is vital that you understand exactly how the specifics of your league are likely to shape the demand curves for each position. Applying simple economic principles to your fantasy draft can allow you find optimal value with each and every pick and truly maximize your roster.
Let’s go position by position and discuss some of the variables that can affect player demand.
QB value is largely determined by your scoring format, so be sure that you understand exactly how your format shapes the QB landscape before you sit down at the draft table.
For example, if you play in a 2 QB league, most teams will try to draft 3 quarterbacks. There is a good chance that every starting QB in the league will be rostered by somebody. While the supply of quarterbacks remain the same as it is in standard leagues, demand is so much higher that it can drive QB prices through the roof. Multiple teams will draft quarterbacks in the first round. Guys like Andy Dalton and Alex Smith who might go undrafted in standard leagues are worth selecting in the first 6 rounds. If you wait too long to fill your QB spots here, you could completely ruin your chances of competing. Reaching early is almost a must.
In most formats, however, where teams are drafting either one or two quarterbacks, supply is plentiful. For leagues with standard scoring in 2014 (4 point TD passes, -2 for TOs), a mere 38 points separated the 7th ranked QB from the 17th ranked QB. In 2013, there were just 55 points between the 3rd and 16 ranked QB.
Now, what this history tells us is that while there is some real value at the top (especially in 6 point passing TD leagues), the difference between second and third tier options is negligible. That 38 point difference last season amounts to just 2.375 per week. In other words, the QB that you select in round 5 is likely to only give you about 2 points a week more than the guy your competitor snags in round 13. Is that worth it?
Personally, if I do not get either Luck or Rodgers, I am targeting Roethlisberger in the 4th or 5th round. If I don’t land Big Ben, I am waiting on the QB position, likely to the bitter end. Every time you spend a draft pick on QB, TE, DST and K, that means one less opportunity to acquire quality depth at the two positions where you need it most. In single QB leagues, it is vital to make sure that you do not reach to acquire your signal caller, because there are always values late in the draft. The other important take away here is that if you decide to invest in an elite QB, do not waste another roster spot with a backup. You can grab a bye week replacement when you need one.
The running back position arguably has the single greatest impact on your fantasy teams’ success or failure. Due to extreme dominance of the elite options, high injury risk and susceptibility to duds when game flow goes the wrong way, RB selections are always high risk, high reward plays.
There are many ways to approach the RB position in drafts, but the key that I think everyone will agree on is that depth is a must. How much depth you need depends on how many running backs you can start, but you should always carry at least 2-3 running backs on your bench.
While I think it is a huge mistake to enter your draft with the mindset that you are going to roll with the zero RB theory, I think it is an equally large mistake to pass on elite talents at other positions to draft second tier running backs who lack upside. For example, I am not going to target Matt Forte toward the end of the first round just because I need to fill the spot. I would absolutely draft Jeremy Hill and I might consider C.J. Anderson, but if those players are gone, I am looking to get a couple of elite receiving options.
The approach that I would recommend is to list out running backs who you feel would make a decent value for each of your picks in the first four rounds. When your pick comes, if there is a RB value that you like, take it. If not, take the best available player at another position. Keep in mind that the longer you wait to draft a RB, the more you will need to focus your mid-round selections on the RB position.
I just completed a recent draft with an extremely RB thirsty group. I picked from the 12th spot and there was never an RB value that made sense. 9 of the first 11 picks were running backs, so I opted to take Gronk along with the best WR on my draft board, Demaryius Thomas. It was more of the same in the third and fourth where I nabbed DeAndre Hopkins and reached a little for Roethlisberger (6 point passing TDs). I was able to load up on running backs in the mid rounds. I have a decent tandem to start the season in Chris Ivory and Tre Mason, and I have first waiver priority that I will use to select an RB when I find one I deem worthy. While I took the zero RB approach here, it was not intentional. My choices were based entirely on the flow of the draft. I feel like my roster turned out a lot better than it would have if I had reached for a guy like Lamar Miller (best available RB) at the round 1 turn.
It is also extremely important to know how scoring format can impact player value. In PPR leagues, third down backs like C.J. Spiller, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead are worthy of starting almost every week. Two-down thumpers like Alfred Morris and Melvin Gordon are also relatively less valuable because of their limited role in the passing game. What this does is it drastically narrows the gap between running backs who might normally be picked in the 3rd round and those picked in the 6th. After the 3 down backs are gone, there is very little difference between the scoring potential of a player like Alfred Morris and a good 3rd down back like Spiller or Vereen. After the top running backs are gone, it might make sense to load up on receivers and/or a top TE and focus on receiving backs a little later on.
Lastly, if you play in a league that starts 3 WR, 2 RB and no FLEX, most teams will not need as much RB depth as they would in a FLEX league. As a result, the demand for running backs will be lower and it will be easier to find quality options in the middle rounds.
The supply of quality fantasy options at the WR position is greater than the supply of running backs. Like at the other positions, demand will depend on the format. PPR leagues typically play a lot like 3 WR sets in terms of demand. Most teams will choose to start a WR in their FLEX spot in a PPR league. In 3 WR and PPR leagues, it is a good idea to target the position aggressively in the early to middle rounds. I typically try to get 2 top 15 wide receivers if possible. There are many quality options available in the middle rounds, but the elite producers make for extremely safe picks and their production is well worth the price-tag.
In a standard 2 WR, non-PPR league, I would actually try to avoid the double WR selection in the first two rounds that may normally be dictated by a pick towards the end of the draft order. Because WR demand will typically be much lower than it would in PPR leagues, those mid-round breakout picks will typically be available a round or two later. Investing too heavily in the WR position early, may prohibit you from taking advantage of some of the best values in the draft later on.
In those standard leagues, I would prefer to select either Gronk or one of those elite quarterbacks with one of my first two picks if I get priced out of all the running backs that I want. In PPR or 3 WR leagues, I am perfectly content going WR, WR.
In my book, there are three tiers at the tight end position. Gronk is alone at the top. Next comes the Graham, Kelce, Bennett, Olsen tier. Then there is everybody else. I like the idea of drafting Gronk toward the end of round 1 in most formats and I think there are various points in the draft where drafting one of the second tier players makes sense also.
After the tier two players are off the board, however, the TE position becomes a lot like QB. I don’t really see a huge difference between the guys ranked 6-15. Some will breakout and some will bust, but in terms of today’s value, I would be happy to wait and draft a player like Delanie Walker, Owen Daniels or Tyler Eifert if I miss on the top 5.
If you happen to play in a league where you have the TE/WR spot and can avoid starting a TE, then you probably should not draft one. What most people fail to realize is that these players are valued the way they are because of their production compared to the rest of the TE field. When compared to wide receivers, they simply don’t score very well.
Last season, Gronk would have been the 10th best WR and Jimmy Graham scored about the same amount of fantasy points as guys like Mike Wallace, Steve Smith Sr. and Torrey Smith. Would you be happy if your first round receiver finished 10th at his position or if your third round guy totaled 140 points?
While that level of production is not going to kill your team, it won’t be particularly helpful either. The top 5 tight ends generally get valued at about a 2-3 round premium because of their production relative to the rest of the TE field. If you are given the option to start a WR instead, that premium no longer applies. Because the average drafter does not fully understand this concept, I bet you will never see Gronk fall to round 3 or Graham fall to round 5 as they should in these formats. Everyone outside the second TE tier probably is not even worth rostering in these leagues.
Lastly, in PPR formats, landing one of these top 5 tight ends can create a huge advantage for your team. Most of the low-end tight ends are TD dependent players who may not total 50 receptions. Reaching for Gronk or Graham might not be the best play given the options you have to pass on to draft them, but aggressively targeting either Kelce, Olsen or Bennett could pay huge dividends. The large gap in reception totals between these guys and the next TE tier make them worth drafting well inside the top 50.
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