You’ve all heard it. You make a pick in your home fantasy league and from across the room you hear that loud, obnoxious shriek: “REEEEEAAAAAAACHHHHHHHHH!” The more experienced you are, the less you probably care. But that doesn’t mean you didn’t reach. It also doesn’t mean that your reach was acceptable, which brings us to the question of the day. When is it okay to reach on draft day?
My general rule of thumb has always been to ask yourself this question, “Can I get the player I want at my next pick?” If the answer isn’t confidently “yes,” then it’s not a reach. I don’t think anyone will argue that this approach is unreasonable. So from the perspective of getting the player you want, it’s okay to “reach” when the alternative is not getting your guy.
Unfortunately, the nature of snake drafts is such that often times you will be backed into a corner by your draft position. If a player you like has an early fifth-round ADP and you pick 11th or 12th, you either have to reach over a round for your guy at the third/fourth round turn or accept that you are not going to get him. The more important question we must answer is whether you should actually reach?
ADP vs. Player Performance
Historically, ADP has been a relatively accurate indicator of player performance. There will always be outliers, but generally, the players that score the most points are the ones drafted the highest. A brief look at 2018 confirms this theory.
The top five running backs by average fantasy points per game all had first-round ADPs. James Conner finished sixth, but I think it’s fair to say Le’Veon Bell would have easily been right there had he actually decided to play football. Phillip Lindsay and James White were the only true out of nowhere RB1s.
At the WR position, it’s more of the same. Out of the top nine WRs by ADP, only A.J. Green failed to finish as a WR1. Even though you may strongly believe in that guy you want to reach for, it still may not be worth it to select him.
The answer, as always, lies somewhere in the middle. While you can always respond to a reach accusation (if you even care to respond) with, “I was never getting him unless I took him now,” you should only reach for a player if you are extremely confident in your evaluation.
Let’s say you think a fifth-round player is going to return second round value. The closer you take him to the second round, the more of his value you sap. If you take him in the fourth round, that’s okay because you are still seeing a strong return on your investment. If you have to pull the trigger in the third round, possibly less than a full round away from your actual valuation on the player, it may not be worth it.
Now that we’ve covered the more general theory behind reaching, we can look at more specific scenarios. One of the most common reasons for reaching is position scarcity or “player runs.” Often times, there will be a series of picks in your draft where fantasy owners rattle off a number of players at the same position.
The TE and QB runs are the ones that strike fear into fantasy owners the most. You should neither succumb to a run nor fully ignore it. The solution depends upon where the run is at when it’s your turn to pick.
For example, if a TE run starts with a couple of guys correctly priced, but then quickly devolves into your fellow fantasy owners grabbing TEs that typically don’t get drafted for another several rounds out of fear of missing out on a TE, you should probably ignore that run and wait on a TE. On the other hand, if you have a strong roster where your only perceived hole is a TE and you only see one left you really like, it is okay to make sure you get him. This can apply to any position. If you need to fill out that final WR or RB in your starting lineup and there is one player that you really believe in, go get him, particularly when you believe the next best option at that position is significantly worse.
As you get deeper and deeper into your draft, the definition of a reach becomes much murkier. Once you’ve made enough selections to fill out a starting roster (even if you haven’t actually filled your starting roster), it’s difficult to say any pick is a reach. Player performance may be linked to ADP, but that link becomes much more tenuous in the later rounds. There’s very little separating an eighth-round player from a 12th-round player. At that point, just take your guy.
ADPs are the results of thousands upon thousands of drafts done throughout the offseason. If you go to FantasyFootballCalculator.com in the spring, you won’t find a single person in a mock draft. If you go there in early July, the drafts will fill up pretty quickly. If you go there in August, you will be waiting a good 10-15 minutes for an open spot.
August mocks will be able to move ADPs significantly, but what happens when there’s breaking news in late August, just before your draft? The community won’t be able to move an ADP that much in just a few days.
The most common example of this is an injury or something like what happened in 2018 with Le’Veon Bell not showing up for work. James Conner’s ADP never moved from the late double-digit rounds for a while, but come early September, if you wanted him, you weren’t going to be able to wait until Round 13. When it comes to situations like that, there’s no formula or rubric for how to deal with it.
You just need to trust your own evaluation of how the players will be impacted by the new developments. Read as much as you can from your most trusted fantasy analysts and try your best to determine how valuable a newly anointed starter will be. In this instance, ADP should not matter at all.