Fantasy Football Strategies: 2017 in Review
Over the past several years, it feels like the industry has started to shift to dynasty fantasy football. I am also guilty of this as most of my leagues have switched over to dynasty. I have heard a lot of people try to explain dynasty fantasy football is for hardcore players and redraft fantasy football is for those who are less competitive. I don’t think that is true at all.
Redraft, to me, has much more strategy when it comes to the draft. In a dynasty league, you are trying to find yourself with a happy-even roster of veteran talent to help you win now and young talent built to help you win over the next several years. Dynasty football is all based around long-term success. Redraft leagues can be so much different.
I love to find my way into a couple redraft leagues a year. You are focused on this year and finding the best players for right now. Rookie drafts are great, but I want a chance to own different players from year to year and not have to spend the whole season worrying if I should sell high. The best part, though, if your strategy doesn’t work, you just change it for next year.
How did 2017 fare for some of these strategies, though? It was a strange year for dynasty and redraft alike.
Zero Running Back
This has become a very popular draft method over the last several years, especially in PPR based leagues where wide receivers have more upside than most running backs. I have never been a fan of zero running back. I love to jump early and get my workhorse running back. At the beginning of the year, I took Devonta Freeman and Melvin Gordon with my first two picks of the FFDynasty260 league and received a lot of questions on why I passed on guys like A.J. Green and T.Y. Hilton. However, moving forward, I think this strategy will be finished.
This was the year of the running back. According to our rankings, seven of the top 10 players in fantasy points this year, that were not a QB, were running backs. Pre-season though, we were split 50/50 in ADP with five of the first 10 players taken being running backs. With the zero running back strategy, though, you have to dig deeper. This strategy could leave you without a running back for several rounds, not just the first 10 players. Before we dive into the numbers, let’s look at another strategy first to compare them.
Zero Wide Receiver
This is more my style. Get your running backs early and often and wait on the receivers. Sure, you miss out on Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr., but you will make up for it later. If you are playing in a PPR league, you can make the case that the top three running backs headed into the 2017 season (Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, and Le’Veon Bell) were more valuable due to their work on the ground and through the air. This was a disappointing year for top receivers. Beckham missed a majority of the season due to injuries, and top targets like Mike Evans, Jordy Nelson, and Amari Cooper did provide the numbers to justify their ADP. Where did running backs and wide receivers fall at the end of the season compared to ADP?
Out of the top 100 running backs and wide receivers, only the top 10 running backs and bottom 25 running backs outperformed ADP. Players like Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt had fantasy owners who used the zero running back strategy looking like pure geniuses. While that may lead you to believe that the same strategy will be popular next season, it’s actually why it will be the downfall of the strategy. Fantasy owners will be jumping at the opportunity to grab these backs up front. I already mentioned Elliott, Johnson and Bell. Todd Gurley had a bounce-back year plus now you will toss in Kamara and Hunt to those top options. Other backs like Mark Ingram, Devonta Freeman, and Jordan Howard will also warrant picks in the top three rounds.
Receivers had a down year by most standards in 2017. In a league that has been seen as pass driven in recent years, it did not meet those standards this year. In fact, if you are looking at 1,000-yard receivers, it was way down.
2017: 13 receivers
2016: 23 receivers
2015: 22 receivers
2014: 21 receivers
2013: 23 receivers
This season, the zero running back strategy wins out. The top running backs greatly outperformed their ADP in 2017.
Running back will be deep again in 2018, but jump early to get two good backs and then start stockpiling receivers after. Receivers greatly outperformed their ADP in the middle third of the top 100 players this past season. You may miss out on having a WR1, but if you add three players who project as a WR2 while already adding two players that project as RB1, that is a recipe for success.
This is one of my personal favorites. I will typically use the late-round QB strategy, regardless of the league. Even in super flex or two QB leagues (which I go more into later) I will try to wait out QBs as long as possible. A quarterback just does not hold the same value as other positions in fantasy football. Unless your league allows six points per passing touchdown instead of four, the difference between taking the first QB off the board or waiting isn’t enough to persuade me from missing out on other players. This is a QB-driven league, and I get that. In fantasy football, though, it’s all about your return on investment. Sure, I could take Rodgers as the QB1 and he will provide QB1 numbers, but what if I skip on Rodgers and take Matthew Stafford as the QB 15 but he finishes as the QB7? To me, that offers better value because I could have taken a skill position player at Rodgers’ spot that would be much better than the player I took in Stafford’s spot. In fact, look at the top 24 QBs taken last year and where they ended in points.
Five of the top 10 QBs taken last season finished outside the top 10 in fantasy points at the position. To add to this trend, several QBs who were probably undrafted in your league made their way into the top 20 including Alex Smith (QB4), Jared Goff (QB12), Blake Bortles (QB13), Case Keenum (QB14), and Jacoby Brissett (QB20). You could have literally skipped the position altogether in your draft this year, hit the waiver wire, and grabbed two starting QBs. This past season I went all in on Stafford and Carson Wentz for my QBs who had two of the highest upsides between draft day and the end of the season.
Two QB/Superflex Leagues
This is a great transition to leagues where you should typically be jumping to grab QBs as early as possible. Two-QB leagues require you to play two QBs. In these leagues you will typically need to roster at least three QBs to get through the season. You could roster two QBs and stream a third one on bye weeks as well, but if other teams decide to roster three or more QBs, then it could lead to slim pickings and leave you shorthanded during those matchups. You also want to be careful with bye weeks. If you do decide to roster three QBs, they should all have different bye weeks. It would do no good to have three QBs on your roster if two of them have the same bye week. You would end up needing to stream anyway during that matchup.
Superflex leagues are slightly different, allowing you to play a QB in your flex position. Since you don’t have to play two QBs every week, you would not need to have three on your roster all season. In a superflex league, you will also want to draft a QB early. I still tend to wait on QBs in these formats, but it’s much safer to split the difference. If you have the ability to take a QB with high upside early, you could wait a while on your second QB to maximize your value.
This was an excellent year for the late-round QB strategy and potentially disastrous if you used early picks on QBs. There were way too many hits and misses for the top QBS. Rodgers’ down year was due to injuries, but if you would have passed on him with an ADP of 19, you could have grabbed players like Brandin Cooks (20.5), Kareem Hunt (22.2), or Doug Baldwin (23.7). Last year’s MVP Matt Ryan who had a -11 difference from ADP to finish in points, had an overall ADP of 53.9. If you skipped on him? You could have grabbed Larry Fitzgerald (56.2), Jimmy Graham (56.5), Golden Tate (58) or Stefon Diggs (62.6). Imagine grabbing Hunt and Fitzgerald while passing on top QBs only to draft Wentz later? Your roster would have been loaded with great talent at an even better price.
Points Per Reception (PPR) and Standard (STD)
PPR leagues have become much more popular in recent years. It gives a huge boost to wide receivers and running backs who rack up catches. Most leagues like to find the middle and play half PPR. Both leagues have completely different strategies when it comes to the draft, though.
In PPR leagues, you can find much better value for receivers later in the draft. Sometimes it’s more than just value as well. Playing in a PPR league can move a player from solid WR2 to legitimate WR1. Jarvis Landry, who finished as WR14 in standard leagues, was the WR5 in PPR leagues. Larry Fitzgerald also benefited from PPR formats. Fitzgerald was WR9 in standard leagues but received a boost to WR4 in PPR leagues. In the case of Landry, you could have passed on the top receivers and still landed a legit WR1 later in PPR formats. The best value comes later when you can grab guys who receive boosts to WR2/3 status if they seem like only a flex play in standard. Golden Tate went from 19 (STD) to 13 (PPR), Mohamed Sanu from 34 (STD) to 29 (PPR), Jamison Crowder from 40 (STD) to 33 (PPR) and Randall Cobb from 41 (STD) to 35 (PPR).
In standard scoring, running backs who carry the ball more often are more valuable. In standard scoring, the top six skill position players were all running backs in 2017. When you switch over to PPR settings, only the top three skill position players were running backs. DeAndre Hopkins and Antonio Brown came in right behind Gurley, Bell, and Kamara. In standard scoring, running backs who can grab touchdowns also carry much more value. In standard scoring, running back is king.
In a season dominated by running backs, it wouldn’t have mattered much in PPR or standard leagues. If you were able to draft well at the running back position, you did well in your league. If you lived by top WRs in PPR formats, you may have had some struggles this season. Taking Beckham in the top half of the first round followed by Jordy Nelson in the back half of the second round wouldn’t have worked out well. As I already mentioned, this was the year of the running back and it showed.
Tight End Premium
Tight end premium leagues will typically give extra points to tight ends for receptions. If you play in a PPR league, tight ends would probably get 1.5 PPR. The tight end position was bare of top talent at one point, and this format was used to give a boost to the position. Nowadays, however, the tight end position is loaded with as much talent as ever. If you play in a TE premium league, grabbing one of the top TEs would still be to your advantage. In PPR leagues, only three tight ends scored more than 200 points. Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski, and Zach Ertz were the only ones to break the mark. Ertz, who had 202.4 points this season, had a 27.9 lead on the next closest tight end. This position figures to get even better in the coming years with players like Evan Engram, David Njoku, and Hunter Henry improving, but for now, the top players at the position still carry much more value than the second tier.
If you were able to grab Kelce, Gronkowski, or Ertz in a tight end premium league, you made a wise investment. I would recommend treating them as a high-end WR2 or low-end WR1 in this format, meaning you would spend a second- or third-round pick to get them. You would possibly even need to spend a first-round pick to get one. I would not recommend moving that quick on a tight end in this format, but depending on the players available in the second round, I would be willing to grab any one of these three at that price.