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Draft Strategy

Where was the Value in 2014 Fantasy Football Drafts? (Part 1)

By Jared Smola 10:22am EST 2/16/15

Player evaluation is the most important part of fantasy football. That’s why we spend the majority of every offseason analyzing talent and situation to create our projections and rankings.

But player evaluation is also the hardest part of fantasy football. The end-of-season fantasy rankings never look like the rankings you draft from in August.

While we’re always looking for ways to improve our projections and rankings, we can also become better fantasy footballers by deploying a better draft strategy.

When I say draft strategy, I’m talking about when and how often we target each position. Fantasy success ultimately boils down to picking the right players. But we can improve our odds of picking the right players by understanding the positions that present the most value at different points of drafts.

With that in mind, I set out to determine where the value was in 2014 fantasy drafts. I started by compiling the number of “starter weeks” posted by each QB, RB, WR, TE and DEF. (For that data and an explanation of “starter weeks,” check out the 2014 Reliability Rankings.)

From there, I grouped players at each position by the round in which they were drafted. So, for example, Russell Wilson, Tony Romo, Jay Cutler and Colin Kaepernick had 8th-round ADPs last summer. Those 4 QBs totaled 24 “starter weeks.” So the 8th round of 2014 fantasy drafts yielded 24 QB “starter weeks.”

I collected that data for each position for the first 16 rounds of average drafts. For the purposes of this project, we’ll consider any player drafted outside the first 16 rounds a free agent.

To adjust for the differences in the number of starters at each position (12 QBs, 24 RBs, 36 WRs, 12 TEs and 12 DEFs), I then calculated the percentage of total “starter weeks” yielded by each round. So the 24 QB “starter weeks” yielded by the 8th round of drafts represented 12.5% of the 192 total QB starter weeks (12 per week, 16 weeks).

Still with me? What we’re trying to find here is how the “starter weeks” were distributed by round for each position. We’d expect the majority of them to be found early in the draft, but that’s not particularly the case -- depending on position.

Here’s a look at the data by position in both table and graph form.

QBs

Round Starter Weeks % of Total
1 11 5.73%
2 20 10.42%
3 14 7.29%
4 6 3.13%
5 11 5.73%
6 8 4.17%
7 6 3.13%
8 24 12.50%
9 9 4.69%
10 4 2.08%
11 8 4.17%
12 0 0.00%
13 3 1.56%
14 10 5.21%
15 13 6.77%
16 0 0.00%
FA 45 23.44%


RBs

Round Starter Weeks % of Total
1 55 14.32%
2 37 9.64%
3 35 9.11%
4 10 2.60%
5 12 3.13%
6 19 4.95%
7 8 2.08%
8 0 0.00%
9 30 7.81%
10 2 0.52%
11 18 4.69%
12 0 0.00%
13 15 3.91%
14 0 0.00%
15 21 5.47%
16 7 1.82%
FA 115 29.95%


WRs

Round Starter Weeks % of Total
1 39 6.77%
2 54 9.38%
3 35 6.08%
4 38 6.60%
5 39 6.77%
6 37 6.42%
7 32 5.56%
8 21 3.65%
9 7 1.22%
10 28 4.86%
11 12 2.08%
12 16 2.78%
13 18 3.13%
14 11 1.91%
15 13 2.26%
16 12 2.08%
FA 164 28.47%


TEs

Round Starter Weeks % of Total
1 9 4.69%
2 0 0.00%
3 19 9.90%
4 0 0.00%
5 3 1.56%
6 8 4.17%
7 4 2.08%
8 12 6.25%
9 6 3.13%
10 8 4.17%
11 0 0.00%
12 15 7.81%
13 6 3.13%
14 8 4.17%
15 7 3.65%
16 9 4.69%
FA 78 40.63%


DEFs

Round Starter Weeks % of Total
1 0 0.00%
2 0 0.00%
3 0 0.00%
4 0 0.00%
5 0 0.00%
6 0 0.00%
7 5 2.60%
8 0 0.00%
9 0 0.00%
10 14 7.29%
11 13 6.77%
12 3 1.56%
13 4 2.08%
14 7 3.65%
15 12 6.25%
16 0 0.00%
FA 134 69.79%


What does it mean?

The first takeaway from this information is the concentration of “starter weeks” early in the draft for each position. The number of RB “starter weeks” drops off precipitously once you get outside the first 3 rounds. Here’s the percentage of “starter weeks” found in the first 3 rounds for each position:

QBs 23.4%
RBs 33.1%
WRs 22.2%
TEs 14.6%
DEFs 0%

The high rate of turnover at RB makes selecting one early in drafts risky. But if you want to capture RB “starter weeks,” this data suggests that the best way to do it is by targeting RBs in the first 3 rounds.

The most even dispersal of “starter weeks” is at WR. In fact, the first 8 rounds of 2014 fantasy drafts all yielded between 5.6% and 9.4% of the total “starter weeks.” There’s safety to be found in the stud 1st-round WRs, but there’s also tons of value to be had in the middle rounds.

The percentage of “starter weeks” found among free agents at each position is also interesting. Take a look:

Almost 70% of DEF “starter weeks” weren’t even drafted in 2014. Now, that’s partly because only 12 or so DEFs are selected in most drafts. But as we saw in Streaming Results, DEF “starter weeks” are widely dispersed. This new data is just another checkmark in favor of waiting until 1 of your last couple of picks before drafting a DEF.

TE had the 2nd highest percentage of “starter weeks” found among free agents – a sign that streaming TEs can work, despite my poor performance this past season.

You might find it surprising that QB had the lowest percentage of “starter weeks,” but that’s more a result of the fact that there are, at most, only 32 QBs producing any fantasy points in a given week. In most leagues, 20+ of those guys are owned. That gives us a small pool of free-agent QBs to draw from. But the guys that are available can be useful to your fantasy team, as we saw in Streaming Results.

Now, the problem with the data we’ve just looked at is that it includes all of the players drafted at each position in each round. You don’t get all the 8th-round QB “starter weeks” when you draft a QB in the 8th round. You get the “starter weeks” of only the 1 guy you pick.

So in Part 2 of this series, we’ll look at the average number of “starter weeks” per player yielded by each position in each round. That’ll give us a better idea of exactly where the value was at different points of 2014 fantasy drafts.

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