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The reason I wanted to find out what we learned from 2015 Fantasy Football drafts is I was curious about bust rates.

I have seen numerous articles promoting different “bust rates” but most of them were not clear in their research process. Some ended up contradicting each other as to whether wide receivers or running backs have been “busts” more often at the top of drafts.

When I started looking at the ADP from last year’s drafts compared to how players finished, I noticed quite a few things. It was insightful  to know how different positions compared in ADP vs. Finish.

Drafts from previous years can give you knowledge of whether trends are going to continue. These drafts also help with how strategies worked out.

Here are the Top 10 lessons to be learned from 2015 Fantasy Football drafts.

10 Lessons From 2015 Fantasy Football Drafts

 

10. Draft As Late As You Can

I have always been a proponent of drafting as close to the start of the regular season as possible. I know it is tough to get 10-12 people’s schedule together, but last season was the case study of why you need to try your hardest.

Jordy Nelson and Kelvin Benjamin both suffered season-ending knee injuries at the beginning of the pre-season. I had one league that we were doing a slow draft in which I drafted them with two of my first three picks. Trust me, draft late.

9. Changing of Quarterback Guard or Outlier?

The top tier of quarterbacks had stayed somewhat stable for some time. You could almost pencil in Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck for finishing as the Top 5 at the position.

Last season though, only Brady finished the year as a Top 5 option. Andrew Luck, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning dealt with injuries. Rodgers dealt with injuries to his whole offense.

Younger guys like Blake Bortles and Russell Wilson vaulted into elite status. So what will be the future of the Fantasy Quarterback?

With Manning retired and Brady suspended for the first four games, the door is wide open for the younger generation of signal callers to take over. Kirk Cousins, Derek Carr and Jameis Winston all finished in the 10-14 range at the position to go with Bortles and Wilson. Of course, Luck is leading the youth charge, and I expect a strong bounce back for him as well. Let us not forget that Cam Newton led the position in points and is still in his mid-20’s.

 

What I really am taking away from the position is it is as deep as it has ever been. There are at least 17 quarterbacks that I would feel comfortable starting on a weekly basis, and about 4-5 more that could be used in certain match-ups.

With that said, I think the value is waiting. Do not waste valuable draft capital in the first few rounds when the difference between the guy you are drafting and the one you can get eight rounds later is nowhere near the other positions.

Speaking of depth…

8. Is the Tight End Pool As Deep As It Seems?

After the emergence of the widely Fantasy-Undrafted foursome of Ben Watson, Gary Barnidge, Jordan Reed and Richard Rodgers, the tight end position seems just as deep as the quarterbacks. I mean all four of those guys finished as Top 10 players at the position. Yet they could have all been had on the waiver wire in most leagues.

Of the first 14 tight ends drafted, only three of them failed to finish in the Top 18 at the position. So if you throw in the four that were undrafted, that gives you a group of 15 players that can start, right?

The key with most of the tight ends is they are too touchdown-dependent. I have talked about Tyler Eifert’s unsustainable touchdown rate (along with his injury) as well as if guys like Reed and Barnidge have serious regression coming towards them.

Unlike the younger quarterbacks developing into viable Fantasy options, I am going the other way with tight ends. I want to get one of the top two tiers (Rob Gronkowski, then Greg Olsen, Travis Kelce, Delanie Walker and Jimmy Graham).

7. RB Platoons Can Work!

I came up with the Running Back Platoon idea last year. Basically, with somewhat cloudy backfield situations between two players, you just take both in drafts. This guarantees you at least one starter, sometimes you get two startable players.

Of the 10 platoons I listed, eight of them gave you at least an RB2, and one backfield even produced two RB2s. Three of them yielded RB1s out of last year’s drafts. Of the two that did not give you a starter, both of them I just had the wrong guy in the pairing (David Johnson in Arizona and Theo Riddick in Detroit). This group even included the top back overall, Devonta Freeman.

This is perfect ammo for the Zero-RB crowd, as if you had the depth charts correct, you had a 100% chance of at least picking up an RB2 in the middle to late rounds, and a 40% chance of an RB1. Keep these percentages in mind for when we get to bust rates.

6. Zero-RB Theorists Were Rewarded


In any sort of PPR league, half of the RB1s (Top 12 in scoring) were drafted in the fifth round of later. Furthermore, 14 of the Top 24 backs (RB2s) were drafted in the fifth round of later.

If you did go the Zero-RB route, and picked receivers in the first few rounds you were rewarded. Only two of the first 18 receivers off the board failed to finish as a Top 28 player at the position. Both of those (Alshon Jeffery and Dez Bryant) were due to injuries. None of these guys were just busts without injury.

Last year was the year that the Zero-RB Theory dominated. This is quite apparent in this year’s rankings as even the most traditional, fence-straddling, scared-to-be-wrong “experts” have Antonio Brown as the top overall player, something I was on board with last season.

The Zero-RB Theory was mostly successful due to….

5. Running Back Bust Rates

For the purposes of this research, we will call anyone drafted in the Top 24 at their position that finishes in the 25-36 range a “Semi-Bust,” between 37-48 a “Bust,” and past the 48th spot at their position a “Super Bust.”

Conversely, a player drafted in the 25-36 range at their position that finishes as a Top 24 player will be a “Breakout” and anyone drafted after the 37th spot at their position will be a “Sleeper.”

By 2015 Average Draft Position, 11 of the first 24 running backs off the board finished in the Top 24. Of those first 24, two were Semi-Busts, two were Busts and NINE (NINE!!!!!) were Major Busts. Over half of the backs drafted as RB1/2s finished as some sort of bust, and almost half were completely un-startable.

These were not just due to the rash of injuries. Guys like Eddie Lacy, C.J. Anderson, Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah and Andre Ellington just were not good. None of them missed significant time due to injury.

Think about that: You very easily could have ended up with three of those players in your first four picks. You would be forced to start them since they were not hurt and they would just drag your team to the Toilet Bowl.

Well what was your better option then?

4. Wide Receiver Bust Rates

Receivers on the other hand, were much more bust-proof. Of the Top 24 receivers drafted, 16 finished in the Top 24 in points. Only four of those first 24 off the board finished outside of the Top 36 at the end of the season.

Of those four, three were due to massive injuries and the fourth was  Andre “drafted too high because of his name alone” Johnson. So compared to the backs, only two receivers from last year’s drafts finished the year as Busts, and only two more as Major Busts.

I have seen people say that they don’t trust wide receivers because they need their quarterback and other players to be healthy. I guess these people missed what Josh Gordon, DeAndre Hopkins, and Demaryius Thomas have done with putrid quarterback play.

So which position would you most feel comfortable with drafting early on?

3. Injury-Riddled Outlier Year or the New Normal?

I read one article in particular that stated the amount of injuries to running backs caused last year’s Bustathon. So I took my research back to 2011 and compared using my terms stated before.

In both 2014 and 2015 there were NINE Major Busts at the running back position. From 2011 to 2013 there were only five total. However, if you combine the total number of Semi-Busts, Busts and Major Busts, only 2012 had less than 10.

The difference is that there is a distinct trend of running backs busting worse and worse. Along with this trend is an ever-increasing amount of running back Sleepers, going from four in 2011 and 2012, to 7 in 2013, 8 in 2014 and 9 last season.

So not only is there the same amount of Bust-worthy backs each year, the level of bust they are is getting worse, while the amount of late-round/waiver-wire Sleepers is growing.

2. The RB-RB Theory is Flawed

 

I wrote at the end of last season about how the main draft strategies worked out. First round backs had an 82% chance of busting last season and second rounders had a 14% bust rate.

So if you went this route, then you ended up with an awful pick in the first two rounds 96% of the time. Ninety. Six. Percent.

The proof is in the pudding. In this case, it is not banana flavored but rich in statistics and trends. Taking running backs with your first two picks is just too risky. Yes, it might have worked out for you if you took Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte. You hit your 4% chance. Do you really want to rely on that?

If you went WR-WR, there was only a 23% chance of having a single bust. I’ll take those odds.

1. Zig When the Others Zag

Now that the Zero-RB Theory has become the new normal, you will lose value with it. If 10 of the 12 people in your draft are using this strategy then you are not only losing value with each pick, but the safety of the top receivers as well.

This is where Value-Based Drafting comes in to play. Just because we know that running back bust rates are much higher than receivers does not mean to neglect them completely in the second round.

The key is to avoid the backs that could fall off a cliff without being injured. These are the ones that truly ruin your team.

Over the past four seasons, only eight running backs have finished in the Top 24 at the position every year (at least three) besides a single, early, injury year: Adrian Peterson, Danny Woodhead, DeMarco Murray, Frank Gore, Giovani Bernard, Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte. These are the types of backs to feel a little more comfortable with.

 

The real key is staying flexible. As we learned from last year’s drafts, do not be concrete with a single draft strategy. If you are thinking of going Zero-RB but Peterson is there in the second and Forte in the fourth, don’t be afraid to take them. Take what the draft gives you in terms of value.

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Michael Tomlin

Michael Tomlin is an ESPY-nominated, former college football player who stays associated with the game through Fantasy Sports. He has been writing his personal blog, Dirkland.blogspot.com, for three years and it focuses on Fantasy Sports, as well as handicapping. He was born and raised in the DFW Metroplex, and he follows all of the Dallas teams, along with Texas Tech athletics and Manchester City F.C.
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