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Value-Based Drafting is the exact opposite of what Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys did in this year’s NFL Draft. Value-Based Drafting has a simple premise: you take the best value available.

Don’t get me wrong, Ezekiel Elliott will most likely be a stud. He is probably the third most complete overall back to come out of college in the past decade, with Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley.

The problem is the value that the Cowboys got with the fourth overall pick in the draft. A pick that high does not come Dallas’ way very often and you cannot just waste it. Outside of trading up, the Cowboys have had a Top 4 selection twice in their franchise history, and not once since 1989. So with this valuable commodity, Jerry Jones thought it best to take a running back. You know, when the value of a running back is the lowest it has been in league history.

The Cowboys don’t even need a back. Darren McFadden was fourth in the league in rushing last season, in basically 12 starts. Alfred Morris was 21st in the league, behind an awful offensive line compared to what he has now. So even if Elliott leads the league in rushing, the Cowboys did not gain that much value at that position in the pick they made. With that line, they can put pretty much anyone back there and they will easily get 1,000 yards.

This begs the question: how does one determine value?

Value-Based Drafting

Blind Comparison

Let’s say your 12-team league starts 1QB/2RB/2WR/1TE/1FLEX. Let’s also theoretically say that everyone drafts these seven starters before any bench players and you are picking seventh.

At your pick in the first round, you are deciding between DeAndre Hopkins and Ezekiel Elliott. You make your decision and then in the third round there’s a similar quandary between Aaron Rodgers, Demaryius Thomas and Thomas Rawls. Once again you make the tough call, and then in the fifth round, three more very similar players are available; Dion Lewis, Drew Brees, and Michael Floyd. How do you know if you made the correct decisions?

All of these players are right around those spots by Average Draft Position. Let’s say you picked up steals at RB and WR in rounds 2 and 4. We can then use Fantasy Pros’ consensus projections to analyze the outcomes, knowing you still need a back, receiver, flex and quarterback:

Rd. RB Proj. WR Proj. QB Proj.
1 Ezekiel Elliott 205.6 DeAndre Hopkins 257.3
3 Thomas Rawls 179.3 Demaryius Thomas 190.1 Aaron Rodgers 325.5
5 Dion Lewis 164.9 Michael Floyd 167.2 Drew Brees 289.4
11 Derrick Henry 106.6 Stefon Diggs 108.5 Philip Rivers 266.1

 

So which grouping would you want? The biggest thing to me is not only is Hopkins projected to outscore Elliott by over 50 points, but he is projected to have 67 more points than Thomas in the third, and over 90 more than Floyd in the fifth. Elliott on the other hand, only has projected 26- and 41-point advantages.

So if you just had to pick a back and receiver between any of the rounds straight up, DeAndre Hopkins is the best value by far. The difference between Hopkins and Floyd is the same between Elliott and the 43rd highest projected running back.

The highest scoring player is not always the best value, as you can see with the quarterbacks. Yes, Aaron Rodgers is awesome and projects to out-score Drew Brees by 41.1 points. However, you do still need a flex starter.

This is why I put in the “11th Round” line with Philip Rivers, who is on average the 12th quarterback going off the board, sometime around the 11th round. I also put in the running back and receiver closest to his ADP. What you can see is that Rodgers only projects to give you 59 more points than Rivers. Rawls and Thomas have much bigger gaps from their counterparts in the later rounds.

This waiting for Rivers is a double whammy, because you can still draft your tight end and more backs/receivers to add some depth. And you don’t have to take Rivers, as there are still other good-value quarterbacks in the 6-10 round range. In Value-Based Drafting terms, Philip Rivers would be the baseline in this scenario.

 

Setting the Baseline

 

The baseline is what you should compare every decision to in your draft. Yes, it is that important. It is basically the replacement level for that position. So if your 12-team league starts two running backs, the baseline is the 25th running back.

Obviously, the 25th best back won’t just be on the waiver wire. It is more to guide you towards the best value. Think of it like the replacement level baseball player used in WAR.

To tie back to our Jerry Jones/Cowboys comparison, let’s compare the players involved. Since defensive statistic projection is the equivalent of projecting evictions in Big Brother (unless your Derrick Levasseur or Dr. Will), we can just use their Madden rating in this theoretical comparison.

Ezekiel Elliott has an 80 rating for his rookie year, and Ramsey is the highest rated rookie at 82. Darren McFadden ended the season with an 82 in last year’s edition while Alfred Morris was an 81. Morris Claiborne was the fourth ranked starting defensive back for Dallas, and he checked in with a 72.

Let’s say that McFadden/Morris lose a few points each due to age, so they are 78’s now. So by drafting Elliott, the Cowboys gained two ratings points. If they would have drafted Ramsey, they would have gained 10 points at that position.

I know that Madden rating points really don’t mean a whole lot, but they can tell you the gist of comparing players across positions. That is what the baseline does for you Fantasy Football team. If you use person that is being replaced, or replacement-level, to compare your advantage, you truly see how much value a player will give your team.

 

Projections

This is why you must have a solid set of projections. Whether you just use a consensus online, a certain site you like or develop your own, you need a spreadsheet of projections that you believe in. These numbers will help you figure out the replacement level per your league scoring at each position. This value will then allow you to see how many Points Above Replacement or PAR that each player is worth.

The baseline does nothing for you if your projections are as bad the Lannister family’s future outlook. No projection is a guarantee, but you have to at least hit on the range the player fits in.

Of the Top 7 wide receivers drafted last season, five finished as Top 7 points producers at the position and a sixth finished as the 12th highest scoring receiver. Only Dez Bryant remained as an outlier. That also took an injury to not only him, but his quarterback as well.

Running backs on the other hand were the complete inverse because only ONE of the first seven tailbacks off the board finished as even a RB1 or in the Top 12 (Adrian Peterson). Only ONE other back of that group even cracked the Top 24.

 

Using the Baseline

What I am getting at is that if you draft a Top 5 receiver, the odds are greatly in your favor to get Top 5 production. This makes using the baseline a much easier tactic when you consider that the fifth highest scoring receiver outscored the 25th by 98.6 points in .5PPR scoring. The fifth highest scoring running back out-scored the 25th by 70.5 points in the same format.

So even if you hit the low-odds running back lottery in the first round, you still are giving up value as opposed to the receivers. Throw in the fact that in almost every league you will start three WRs and only two backs, and the gap grows by almost 36 more points.

This is why you must feel confident in your projections. Case in point, I do not think David Johnson is worth a first round pick. I would not take him in the first two or three rounds probably. I mean, he is still not even starting.

Once you have your projections, you can compare players against the baseline at their position. This gives you an accurate number, or PAR, that can be used as an all-encompassing, single statistic for quick and easy comparison. In some drafts, you may only have 45 seconds or so to make a decision. Having a single stat to compare a running back, wide receiver and quarterback all together helps the process.

 

Value-Based Drafting Strategy

The beauty of Value-Based Drafting is it can work with most other draft strategies. While you can just use Value-Based Drafting for your whole draft, picking the best value every pick, you can also use it in concert with many of the other popular draft strategies.

If you want to go Zero-RB, you can still use Value-Based Drafting on the other positions while avoiding all running backs. If you want to go RB-RB, Value-Based Drafting will tell you which backs are the best values in the first two rounds.

This is why I consider Value-Based Drafting less of a strategy and more as a philosophy. I mean if you think about it, you probably have used Value-Based Drafting in your head without realizing it. If you wait on drafting a Defense or Kicker until the last two rounds, then you are using Value-Based Drafting.

 

Dynamic Value-Based Drafting

Personally, I use something I coined Dynamic Value-Based Drafting. This is basically what we did with the comparison earlier: I’m more concerned about the value I can get later, than the value that has already been posted or just what is up at my pick. I never worry about what has already happened in the draft, especially auctions.

Just because a similar player went for $30 does not mean that this is the price point going forward. Every part of the draft changes with pretty much every pick. It is constantly dynamic and fluid. Value is determined by what is still on the board. This is why I do not strictly take the player with the highest PAR every pick. Instead I’m more about figuring out how to maximize the PAR of my whole team.

This is where Jerry Jones acted like he was on The Bachelor: he picked the prettiest girl in the room, instead of paying heed to what he is giving up with her lack of intelligence and ability to be a good wife. It may seem like it was the right choice from the outside, but when the defense is giving up 35-plus points a game, Zeke’s 145 yards and two touchdowns won’t matter.

So don’t be Jerry. Don’t just go for the “Glory Hole” as he puts it. Don’t draft flash, draft substance while not forgetting to Mock draft using this strategy. Use your statistics, projections and draft trends to develop a complete team. Value-Based Drafting is the route to making this happen.

 

Be sure and check out our Fantasy Football Draft Kit.  We have a ton of draft content and more coming in every day.

Also, what’s the best Fantasy Football draft tool ever created?  Check out the details provided by David Gonos, where he discusses in great detail, the Draft Wizard and Draft Assistant.

 

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