Value-Based Drafting is becoming more and more common as Fantasy Football analytics become more mainstream. Personally, this is the ONLY way to draft a Fantasy Football team in my opinion.
Value is what we subconsciously determine in our decision-making for the majority of decisions in our lives. How much value will that new car bring the family? How much value is this relationship providing your life? What is the maximum value can I bet on Floyd Mayweather to make Conor McGregor look like an idiot?
In Fantasy Football, value is where you obtain an advantage. Finding players that are under-valued and avoiding the players that are over-valued is how you build your roster to a championship-contending level.
Every pick you make in a Fantasy Football draft should be the best value on the board. That does not always mean the guy that scores the most points. Early in a draft, you aren’t drafting all quarterbacks, and later in the draft you are taking guys with enormous upsides.
I’m not sure any analyst can argue with that statement that every pick needs to be about value. So why would anyone draft any other way than Value-Based Drafting? If you are basing your decisions off of a Value-Based Drafting strategy, then you are inherently getting the best value.
Everyone has the same information through Twitter, blogs, NFL Network, etc. The only way we can differentiate our strategy is to stick to the best value and not fall in love with certain players.
Let’s say you get to draft a Fantasy Football team for 2016 now, in retrospect. You know exactly how much each player scored. How would the draft go?
Obviously, David Johnson and his 400+ PPR points would go first. Who would you take with the second pick? Aaron Rodgers and his 380 points? Ezekiel Elliott with his 325 points? Or LeVeon Bell and his 317 points?
In any sort of single-QB format, 99% of you would not be taking Aaron Rodgers. We have subconsciously ingrained value-based drafting into our heads by not taking quarterbacks in Round One.
The majority would then say that they want Zeke. I mean, he outscored LeVeon Bell by eight points. We all know how every little fraction of a point matters and can be the difference in a championship.
Well if you are truly going by value-based drafting, the answer is Bell. What you have to realize is you are getting all of Bell’s points from just 12 games. Every Fantasy Football league I have ever been a part of has a bench. Even the sparest of backup running backs can get you 7-8 PPR points for four weeks. So once you add the minimum of 30 replacement-level points to Bell’s production, and now you have someone that is closer to David Johnson then he is Zeke.
Similarly, we are all (well most of us) using value-based drafting with kickers and defenses. In most league scoring formats, the difference between the top-scoring kicker/defense and replacement level is much smaller than the other positions. It is also much more of a crapshoot on who the best will be. That is why we wait until the final two rounds to pick up these spots.
Before we get to how to determine the value and implement Value-Based Drafting, we need to get a grasp on the most important factor involved: projections.
When I first became serious about Fantasy Football in 2011 I used a compilation of rankings, my own and many experts’, to draft. It was quite helpful in comparison to whatever hosting site had as their set of rankings.
What I noticed was that I was passing up value that was hidden within the rankings. You see, a good majority of rankings are not taking in the range of outcomes with a player, but rather their ceiling or floor. If a ranker thinks RB “A” will exceed his potential he will rank him much higher than what is likely to happen.
This is a faulty way to draft because none of us know who will exceed or fail their expectations. We are all going with what is the most likely outcome. That is why I compile a set of projections for each draftable player.
These projections take into account the players’ ceiling or highest possible total production. They also take into account the players’ floor, or what would happen if the wheels came off and the worst possible production is achieved. There are then many sets of the average outcome for the players and all of this is averaged out for a final projection set.
I know, this sounds like a lot of work and many people do not want to or do not know how to compile this much data. Fantasy Pros has a good consensus projections tool that can be downloaded in an instant. It does not have as much of the floor/ceiling, but it can still get the job done.
While I have harped on consistency this year with regards to my starting players, the only real tool for complete cross-positional player comparison is the year-end projected point total. The consistency can then be used as a deciding factor between a couple of guys available at your draft pick.
Alright, so we want to use Value-Based Drafting for our Fantasy Football team. How are we determining the value to base our drafting off of?
The first thing that you have to do is set a baseline. The baseline is what you are referencing with each decision for each position in your draft.
The baseline is used as a reference when comparing players. It is ignorant to compare the total points of a quarterback to that of your second running back. The total points amount is inconsequential to the amount of actual value that the player brings to your team.
Now with Value-Based Drafting, each player is given a quantitative score within his own position. The values can be compared when deciding between players at different positions.
The three most common ways to determine the value and your baseline are called Value Over Replacement Player, Value Over Next Available and Value Over Last Starter. All three strategies can work and fail if the baseline is not set right.
Value Over Replacement Player
The first route is called Value Over Replacement Player or VORP. How many more points will a player score than the best guy off of the waiver wire? In leagues with non-balanced rosters, this can be somewhat hard to calculate.
Everyone has a different roster construction strategy so one team could have eight running backs while another has just five. This would make it quite hard to determine who exactly is on the waiver wire and who is the last guy on another team’s bench.
However, you still can get a general idea. I mean the difference in scoring between RB72 and RB80 is not nearly as drastic as saying the difference between RB1 and RB9.
Then there are leagues where your rosters do have to be balanced. Every team has a set number of each position that has to be on your roster. This makes VORP easier to implement. If we know each of the 12 teams can have just four wide receivers, then we know our baseline is WR49.
With that said, even in leagues with set roster limitations, I am not a big proponent of VORP. First off, I construct my teams so that I usually have one of the deeper collections of running backs and wide receivers. In years like this where quarterback is so deep, I’ll draft two or three back-ups at each RB/WR before touching a quarterback.
Because of this, my level of “replacement player” would not be the waiver wire. I want to use my bench for that kind of replacement level. Obviously, this is impossible to know before the draft is done, but that is why there are other routes of finding a baseline!
I also think that the waiver-level replacement has exponentially more variance than a starter-level. A running back projected in the 70’s has a much wider range of outcomes than one ranking in the 20’s. A late-round or undrafted back could have his workload increased greatly by an injury or be cut from the team entirely. That is too wide of a range for me to base my drafting.
Value Over Next Available
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Value Over Next Available or VONA is another way to determine a player’s worth off of a baseline. It simply is what it spells out: how much value is the player providing over the next available player at his position.
While I like the active aspect of VONA, it is quite tough to utilize correctly. You have to really know your fellow drafters and their strategies inside and out. If not, then you can base your logic off of incorrect information over who will be the next player available.
Generally, VONA is just used as a single pick type of baseline. How much more value does Antonio Brown provide over T.Y. Hilton. This is too basic for my tastes. I want to know how much Antonio Brown provides my team over the last possible starter I could get.
Think of it this way: if you are drafting on the turn, then why compare a guy to another player that can be had just a couple of picks away? Furthermore, how will you know exactly which player will be available?
The amazing Draft Wizard at Fantasy Pros has percentages of which guys will still be available at which picks. However, all it takes is one rogue owner who falls in love with a guy to throw any percentage or ADP out the door.
Value Over Last Starter
The Value Over Last Starter or VOLS is my favorite strategy of Value-Based Drafting. The “last starter” at a position is usually either the 12th or 24th projected highest scorer. There is a great deal more accuracy in the projections of a player at this level as opposed to a waiver-wire guy.
It is also a value that can be found before the draft starts and stays the same (more or less). This way you do not have to scramble to figure out who the next available player will be.
The best way to look at VOLS though is a basic fundamental of Fantasy Football. Who scores points on your team? By that, I mean there are starters and bench players, but who actually wins you games each week?
It sounds stupid, but obviously, the starters on your team are what score and win you weeks. So I want to know exactly who provides the most value among the starter-worthy players. This is similar to my Starter Consistency post that I linked to earlier. What good is comparing the 75th best running back if that player is never going to start?
Dynamic Value-Based Drafting
If you know me, then you know I always like to take the extra step and make things a little more intricate and harder on myself. So I developed my own version of Value-Based Drafting that I call Dynamic Value-Based Drafting or DVBD.
If I had to describe Dynamic Value-Based Drafting in one sentence: DVBD is the combination of VOLS and VONA. Where that is a simplistic view, it is in essence what I do with DVBD.
I start my process by using the VOLS to create my spreadsheet. I gather my complicated projection matrix that I develop and find the last starter at each position for my league format. This player is then the “Zero-Player” or who every other player at that position is then compared to.
For example, as of now my “Zero-Player” at running back in a 2RB, PPR league is Bilal Powell. I then subtract his projected point total from every other running back to find their Points Above Replacement or PAR. This PAR can then be used to compare the players across positions to find the best value.
This is the basis for the VOLS strategy more or less. Now I add the “dynamic” aspect because a Fantasy Football draft is relatively dynamic. It is constantly active, in motion and ever-changing. We can hope that we know how a draft will unfold but the practicality is that we have no clue.
So with my DVBD, I account for the constantly changing landscape within the draft. With a bit of Excel knowledge, you can have your spreadsheet automatically update for the changes.
Since we all will have different projections and rankings of the players, obviously our “zero player” or last starter will probably be different. So with my DVBD spreadsheet, I have a VLookUp and MAX set up for every player within every position so that when a player below MY “zero player” or last starter gets taken, the rest of my sheet updates.
I know, that last paragraph might seem like a foreign language. What I am getting at is you want to be able to adjust your baseline as the draft unfolds. This is how you maximize your value with each pick. This is also how the VONA plays into the DVBD. It is almost like the Value Over Current Last Starter. DVBD just sounds a lot better than VOCLS.
Dynamic Value-Based Drafting in Practice
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I wanted to show a quick example of using DVBD in a mock draft with the Draft Wizard. I used a normal 1QB/2RB/2WR/1Flex/1TE starting lineup for a half-PPR league, drafting from the fourth spot.
In the first three rounds, I picked up LeSean McCoy, T.Y. Hilton and DeAndre Hopkins. Now, at the Round 4/5 turn, I have quite the decision, needing a quarterback, running back, tight end and flex.
The best available players are at each position C.J. Anderson, Russell Wilson, Michael Crabtree, and Greg Olsen. Using my spreadsheet, I can instantly see that Anderson has a PAR of 16.5, Olsen’s PAR is 46.3, Crabtree’s Flex PAR is 44.2 and Wilson’s PAR at quarterback is 50.4.
The first, obvious choice is Russell Wilson. He has the highest Points Above Replacement. However, this is where I can take a look at the changing landscape of this individual draft. Philip Rivers and Cam Newton have PAR’s just about 25 points less than Wilson. They both can easily be drafted a few rounds later. A 25-point gap at other positions involves guys that will be gone within the next round or two.
So then it seems that Olsen is the correct choice. This is where you have to read the room, or in this case the Wizard. The Draft Wizard has a “Pick Predictor” feature that gives you a percentage that a certain player will be taken by your next pick. Greg Olsen only has a 24% chance of being gone. Michael Crabtree has an 89% chance of going.
So I go with Crabtree and voila! Greg Olsen is available at my next pick. Low and behold the running back I have just after C.J. Anderson, Ameer Abdullah, is there with my next pick. Then, after shoring up my bench backs and receivers I was able to nab both Philip Rivers and Cam Newton in Rounds 10 and 11.
Notice that I did not draft for need or overall total points. Using my Dynamic Value-Based Drafting model I was able to maximize my value with my picks.
If you have never used Value-Based Drafting, then I would advise just starting with a simple set of projections and using the VOLS method. This is a good “get your feet wet” kind of practice. Partake in a few mock drafts and see how you like it.
Once you get the hang of it, then you can add your dynamic portion to the process. You can even add something else that I may have missed. If you do have a good idea to strengthen the process, by all means, shoot it to me on Twitter.
Fantasy Football draft strategy is never perfect. It is an always-evolving process that needs groupthink to try and better it. As of now, the best possible practice is to use Value-Based Drafting. Obtain as much value as you can with every pick or auction dollar. If you do this, then I promise you will be in contention in December.
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