Draft for a Championship, Not the Playoffs
As we inch closer and closer to the heart of fantasy football season, I always start to think more and more about draft theory. Draft theory is often overlooked as most people go into drafts with their rankings sheets, highlighters and maybe a sleeper list, but not much else. Sure, you watched the games last year, you paid attention during the combine and draft and you've been waiting eagerly for every one of Matthew Berry's tweets, but are you really ready to draft.
Studying average draft position (ADP) is one way to get ready. If you have a list that includes current draft position, you are way ahead of the game. This allows you to get an idea of what players are going in what slots and helps you determine the value of picking them with a given pick. The more value your picks provide, the better your team will perform, but value is only half of the battle.
How do you construct a team that is not just a lock for the playoffs, but a true contender for your fantasy football championship?
There are many answers to this, but mine is always the same: UPSIDE, UPSIDE, UPSIDE. Now, I know that not everyone agrees with this, so of course I will explain myself. I am not saying this is the only strategy that can work, but hell, there is rarely ever one right answer to anything. There are two things I target for upside and value: injury concerns and inexperience. These are things that generally drive ADP down and create the value we are looking for with our picks.
Yes, there is a huge risk attached to both of those groups of players, but remember we are drafting for a championship and not just the playoffs. Most fantasy football leagues these days remain 10 and 12-team leagues in which 6 teams make the playoffs. That is either 50% or 60% of your league is heading to the playoffs. This should not be your goal, but your expectation. I would contend that a savvy fantasy football player should make the playoffs in a standard home league like that at least 4 out of every 5 years.
The challenge becomes winning the championship. I am a firm believer that fantasy points per game (FPPG) is the simplest tool in determining whether a player is championship caliber or playoff caliber. All the time at drafts you hear people talking about so-and-so, I will use Roddy White, being a "lock" for about 1,100 receiving yards and 8 TDs (This is pretty close to his numbers from last year). And yes, this is a pretty solid season, but those numbers only come out to about 9.9 FPPG. For example, Calvin Johnson, last year's top fantasy WR posted 16.5 FPPG. That is a 40% difference between a solid season from White and an elite per/game performer like Johnson. Now obviously, because of his durability and consistency, Johnson is a lock as a first round pick, but we are looking for draft value, so we troll on.
Let's take a look at Julio Jones. He posted 959 yards and 8 TDs, but did so in just 13 games. His FPPG comes out to 11.4. That is a distinct upgrade over what we are expecting from Roddy White, but also not quite in the Calvin Johnson territory. Even though Jones only falls slightly into my injury concern group, he falls into the other group as well, a young player staring at an increased role. More than that, the Falcons look like they will be taking to the air more as Michael Turner's role is expected to be reduced. White has already admitted that his role as "the guy" is not going to be the same this year, this means we should see more balls directed at Julio Jones and Harry Douglas.
On the other side of things, we have injury prone players, so of course I am going to talk about Darren McFadden. I will start you out with Maurice Jones-Drew's (A fairly consensus Top-5 RB at this point) stats: 1,980 total yards and 11 TDs for a FPPG of 16.5. While those are great numbers, he usually goes off the board by pick 7 or 8 in fantasy drafts right now, while his My Fantasy League APD is 9.8. Now contrast that with McFadden who is currently coming off the board at an average of pick 18.1. Over the past two seasons, 20 games. McFadden has a 16.7 FPPG clip, ahead of MJD. Looking deeper into McFadden you see a fantasy force almost every time he is on the field. If you take out the game in which he was hurt, Week 7, when he left on his third touch, McFadden averaged an astounding 20.1 FPPG last season. With the departure of Michael Bush, his overall usage and goal-line work should rise, creating even more scoring opportunities.
I know its easy to say McFadden, and other players like him, are injuries waiting to happen and should be avoided. However, anyone who had DMC last year had a difference maker for the first 6 weeks and probably at least a 4-2 record during that time if not better. Also, he could have been easily handcuffed with Michael Bush who really held his own for his owners in the second half of the season with McFadden sidelined. It may not be so clear cut this year, but it looks like former Panthers Mike Goodson is gaining steam as the true backup to McFadden and would be worthy of a handcuff pick late should you go for the gusto and grab McFadden before his ADP.
Difference-makers win fantasy football championships and that guy you consider "safe" or a "lock" is rarely the difference maker you are looking for. If you draft a bunch of guys who you are fairly sure what you are getting from them, you will have tough decisions to make with the waiver wire early in the season, where other championship winning difference makers are found.