by Dan Trader (@RotoNostra)
“If the rule you followed brought you to this, what use was the rule?” Anton Chigur
If everyone in your league decided to jump off a bridge and willingly plunge into the sub-freezing depths of eternal solitude, would you do it too?
Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “you don’t win your league in the draft.” The other side of that coin is that you absolutely can lose it. Your first two picks are absolutely capable of putting your team out to pasture, so it’s paramount to not be robotic with your initial selections.
Up until recently, for the past several years, every fantasy analyst and their mother would tell you year after year as a rule to take a running back with your first selection in the draft at the very least, regardless of your pick position, and possibly up to your first three. The primary causes for this ideology are heavily attributed to the historical lack of depth at the position and the degrees of separation in the gap of production between the top performers. And while that all may exist and be true, you should never ‘always’ do anything in fantasy drafts apart from float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, because it really isn’t so cut and dry when you step back and look at the bigger picture. Actually, the only consistent strategy that’s ever made sense to me is to avoid running backs altogether with your first two draft picks at minimum, especially now more than ever, due to the heavier league-wide emphasis on the passing game.
You may disagree but in my opinion, the running back position is the most volatile in the NFL due to injuries and in-house competition. Consequently, every season there’s always at least one player who either went late or even undrafted that sets the fantasy world ablaze, which statistically adds more risk to drafting one early. In 2013, on average in standard 12-team leagues, five rushers were drafted in the first round that also finished a top-10 scorer at their position and there were merely four the following season in 2014; however, last year, in both standard scoring and PPR leagues, there was only one in Adrian Peterson.
Wait, there’s more. In standard 12-team leagues in 2013, 25 running backs were drafted in the first four rounds, and 11 players (44%) under-performed their average draft position by two or more rounds, while nine (36%) met or exceeded theirs. In 2014, 19 RBs were selected in the first four rounds and nine (47%) underachieved their ADP while only five backs (26.3%) met or exceeded theirs. Last season in 2015, there were 24 RBs picked in the first four rounds and 15 (62.5%) did not meet their price on draft day, while only six (25%) lived up to or surpassed their projected expectations.
In comparison to receivers, in 2013, 17 players were drafted in the first four rounds and seven (41.1%) met or exceeded their ADP. In 2014, 20 were taken in the first four rounds and eight players (40%) met or exceeded their ADP. And lastly in 2015, 10 of the 19 wide receivers (52.6%) who were drafted in the first four rounds met or exceeded their ADP value.
The days of a run-heavy league are gone and the transition has had a direct impact on fantasy scoring since its' inception. In standard 12-team leagues in 2013, the difference between the top rusher (Jamaal Charles, 312) and top receiver (Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas both had 227) was a whopping 85 points. In 2014, the gap began to close as the difference was 55 points at season’s end when DeMarco Murray finished with 304 in comparison to Antonio Brown’s 249. Most significantly, last season in 2015, there was only one point separating Devonta Freeman (247) and Antonio Brown (246). An arguably more notable stat to point out is that in PPR leagues, the top rusher hasn’t outscored the top receiver since the 2013 season.
The degrees of separation between the top performers when relating rushers to receivers have also been statistically telling in recent years as well, even when only comparing the top two tiers in production. In standard 12-team leagues in 2013, the point difference between the first place fantasy rusher (Jamaal Charles, 312) and the fourth best (Marshawn Lynch, 241) was a ridiculous 71 points, while the difference at receiver was a mere 18 points between Josh Gordon/Demaryius Thomas (227) and fourth-best AJ Green (209). In 2014, DeMarco Murray finished the top rusher with 304 points while Matt Forte finished fourth with 245, a difference of 59 points; on the receiving side, the difference was only 21 points between first place Antonio Brown’s 249 points and Damaryius Thomas’ 228 at fourth. And lastly in the 2015 season, Devonta Freeman’s 247 first place points outscored fourth place DeAngelo Williams’ 193 points by 54, while Antonio Brown’s second-consecutive first place finish with 246 points was just 22 points more than Allen Robinson at fourth.
Now that we’ve taken a look at the numbers, allow me a moment to give you a better sense of the big picture. Pretend you’re participating in an annual family egg hunt on Easter Sunday; the winner gets to gloat for about five seconds and the madness only ends once all the eggs have been found. As the family lunacy commences, your siblings all bolt out the door, race neck and neck into the backyard, and proceed to brawl for each and every egg in shared sight, like the old motorcycle video games where you clobbered your opponents with a ball peen hammer as you raced towards the finish line at speeds exceeding 100 mph. And in the spirit of friendly sibling rivalry, you notice the untapped resource that is the other half of the yard where your siblings aren’t focusing their attention, and you nonchalantly proceed on course to the Promised Land without the slightest resemblance of competition. And in one fell swoop, you instantly end their hopes and dreams without a moments notice by simply making one good decision based on keen observations.
This is a perfect example of how you should approach your draft, which brings me back to the opening question. Even if all the numbers I previously listed didn’t exist, how could you possibly expect to gain an advantage over your competition if you share the same exact strategy? If your league-mates are sequentially selecting running backs in cascading order based on the projected performances formulated during the preseason, my advice would be to let them fight it out so you can pick up any crumbs from the fallout. The numbers don’t lie and the trends speak for themselves. Based on data, you are statistically at higher risk if you go run-heavy with your most important selections of the draft, so choose wisely and set your team up for success. You'll thank me later.
This concludes our broadcast day. Click.
Questions, comments and suggestions are encouraged: DraftMafia@gmail.com