Introducing Fantasy Football Wins Above Replacement (WAR)

Aug 16, 2019

According to Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Patrick Mahomes would have been worth the fifth overall pick last season.

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How many games did Todd Gurley, or any other player, win the average fantasy owner last year? You’re about to find out.

Wins above replacement (WAR) is a sabermetric tool used to evaluate a baseball player’s contribution to team wins by controlling for teammate contributions. WAR has not caught on to real football because it’s practically impossible to untangle a single player’s contribution from the knot of ten others on a given play or game.

But that’s real football. In fantasy football, we don’t have this problem. The tangle of 11 players’ contributions on an actual football team all factor into a single player’s value in fantasy. And with fantasy teams, we can control for the contributions of all other roster spots and figure out how many more wins a fantasy team won on average with a specific player vs. a replacement-level player at that position.

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One metric similar to WAR in the fantasy football community is the Value Based Draft system (VBD) developed by Joe Bryant. Todd Gurley‘s VBD in 2018 was a preposterous 178. This means that he scored 178 more points than the 24th highest scoring (replacement-level) RB, according to Pro Football Reference.

VBD is certainly a meaningful metric, but showing how many more seasonal points one scored than a replacement-level player doesn’t tell us how many more wins this translated to your fantasy team. VBD also doesn’t take player week-to-week consistency into account.

Why does consistency matter? I’ll explain with a wild hypothetical:

Imagine Gurley scored all of his 313 fantasy points of 2018 in Week 1. Before you scoff at how ridiculous that sounds, let me remind you that the Rams played the Raiders that week. Let’s say after Week 1, Gurley goes on to lay goose eggs in every game after. If this were to have happened, his VBD would still be 178.

Forget about how impractical this is and focus on its effect on your fantasy team. You’d win Week 1 easy, but with a goose egg in an RB slot the rest of the year – you’d be lucky to win another game. Congrats on that first overall VBD rating: your fantasy team just finished 1-12.

Player consistency matters in fantasy football and while the above hypothetical is wildly unrealistic, shades of gray exist in the shadows of your fantasy team. This is why boom or bust players that lay 40 one week and go silent the next two are responsible for tanking you in the long run. Yes, I’m looking at you, Amari Cooper. Sure, the average of those three weeks is solid, but your team’s 1-2 record isn’t. This is why we need something more than VBD. We need WAR.

Declaring WAR

First things first, we need to decide on league settings. I used 12-team, standard scoring, four-point passing TD’s with a starting roster of QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, Flex, TE, DST, and K. The estimated average fantasy team’s weekly score under these settings in 2018 turned out to be 108.43 points with a standard deviation of 20.9 points. Put this aside, we’ll come back to it.

Next, we isolate a single player’s contribution. Let’s take 2018 fantasy king Todd Gurley for example. He scored 20.7 points in Week 1. The average RB in a 12-team league scored 13.7 points in 2018, so Gurley gave your team a 7-point boost from an otherwise average team (115.43 vs. 108.43). Assuming your opponent scores the fantasy league average 108.43 points with a standard deviation of 20.9 points, probability theory estimates owners of Gurley had a 63 percent chance of winning their Week 1 match-up.

After repeating this for all 14 weeks Gurley played, we average all of his single week win percentages together: 65.45%. Simply multiplying this by 12 (weeks in a fantasy regular season minus bye) gives you the number of match-ups you expect to win solely due to Gurley: 7.86.

This entire process is repeated for the 24th ranked (replacement-level) RB of 2018: Matt Breida. Gurley’s estimated 7.86 team wins minus Breida’s (5.13) gives Todd Gurley’s 2018 WAR: 2.73 games. This means instead of going 5-8 with a replacement-level RB and an otherwise average team, switching out that replacement-level RB for Gurley would have launched you to the fantasy playoffs with an estimated 8-5 record.

The same process is again repeated for all players in all positions relative to position replacement-level figures. DST and kicker replacement-level was done a little bit differently to account for heavy use of streaming. The average of the top-12 DSTs and kickers for each week was used instead of the entire year average as done with all other positions. This raised the replacement-level figures for both positions, making DST and kicker WAR smaller as a result.

Benefits of WAR

WAR provides a more meaningful and real-world number to cross-position comparison than VBD. It also improves on VBD by controlling for player week-to-week consistency. For example, if the average RB scores 13 points per game, and Gurley scores five more than this (18) in a game, a fantasy team’s win percentage will increase more than if he added five points to a game where he already scored 30.

2018 WAR Takeaways

  • Patrick Mahomes killed it. Any analyst would cringe at the thought of a QB taken in the first round, but in 2018, Mahomes would have been worth the fifth overall pick. Here’s a quick breakdown of his fantasy team’s win percentage by week with the horizontal line representing replacement-level:

  • Ryan Fitzpatrick was pulled after eight games in real football, but if he kept up at that rate and played the entire season, he would have been worth the eighth pick in round 2.
  • Despite the Bears DST being worth the fourth pick of round 2, keep in mind that year-over-year consistency for team defenses is shoddy at best. It will be interesting to see how far they regress by the end of 2019.
  • Kickers are chaos. Even though WAR suggests Greg Zuerlein would have been worth a late third round pick had he stayed healthy, year-over-year kicker performance differs drastically – even for top-tier kickers. The top-ten fantasy kickers in the past ten years had a 70 percent chance of scoring anywhere between 93 and 141 fantasy points per season. That’s an insane 47-point gap.

2018 WAR Results

As any good financial adviser will tell you, past performance doesn’t guarantee future outcome. The same goes for WAR. But it does allow a way to compare different positions like never before and properly calibrates boom or bust players.

Below is the top-300 for 2018. Keep this handy in your drafts. If you find yourself deciding on two players at different positions and you have no reason to believe much has changed in their situations from last year, WAR can help you pick the guy that is most likely to win you more games.

Real football might not have the ability to use WAR like fantasy, but both have one thing in common. At the end of the day winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.

2018 WAR Round Pick Player Position 2019 ADP
2.73 1 1 Todd Gurley RB 11
1.96 1 2 Melvin Gordon RB 23
1.88 1 3 Kareem Hunt RB 90
1.87 1 4 Saquon Barkley RB 1
1.78 1 5 Patrick Mahomes QB 16
1.77 1 6 Alvin Kamara RB 3
1.65 1 7 Christian McCaffrey RB 2
1.65 1 8 James Conner RB 9
1.55 1 9 Ezekiel Elliott RB 4
1.39 1 10 Travis Kelce TE 19
1.35 1 11 Davante Adams WR 8
1.34 1 12 Antonio Brown WR 22
1.34 2 1 Tyreek Hill WR 17
1.18 2 2 DeAndre Hopkins WR 5
1.13 2 3 Julio Jones WR 12
1.10 2 4 Chicago Bears DST 95
1.09 2 5 George Kittle TE 32
1.00 2 6 Zach Ertz TE 33
0.99 2 7 Joe Mixon RB 13
0.97 2 8 Ryan Fitzpatrick QB 333
0.97 2 9 Odell Beckham Jr. WR 14
0.93 2 10 Eric Ebron TE 71
0.91 2 11 Matt Ryan QB 72
0.89 2 12 O.J. Howard TE 57
0.88 3 1 Ben Roethlisberger QB 109
0.88 3 2 Mike Evans WR 21
0.84 3 3 Adam Thielen WR 26
0.84 3 4 Marlon Mack RB 31
0.79 3 5 Michael Thomas WR 10
0.77 3 6 Chris Carson RB 41
0.72 3 7 Cooper Kupp WR 49
0.70 3 8 A.J. Green WR 48
0.70 3 9 JuJu Smith-Schuster WR 18
0.68 3 10 T.Y. Hilton WR 29
0.66 3 11 Andrew Luck QB 51
0.62 3 12 Greg Zuerlein K 122
0.60 4 1 Deshaun Watson QB 47
0.59 4 2 Cam Newton QB 93
0.59 4 3 Robert Woods WR 40
0.59 4 4 Phillip Lindsay RB 42
0.58 4 5 Julian Edelman WR 44
0.58 4 6 David Johnson RB 6
0.55 4 7 Keenan Allen WR 28
0.55 4 8 Leonard Fournette RB 24
0.54 4 9 Aaron Jones RB 30
0.53 4 10 Brandin Cooks WR 39
0.53 4 11 Stefon Diggs WR 38
0.52 4 12 Los Angeles Rams DST 113
0.48 5 1 Jared Cook TE 82
0.47 5 2 Will Fuller WR 75
0.47 5 3 Houston Texans DST 158
0.46 5 4 Emmanuel Sanders WR 112
0.45 5 5 James White RB 68
0.43 5 6 Jared Goff QB 91
0.41 5 7 Tyler Boyd WR 58
0.41 5 8 Tyler Lockett WR 54
0.41 5 9 New England Patriots DST 176
0.39 5 10 Evan Engram TE 64
0.35 5 11 Drew Brees QB 83
0.34 5 12 Rob Gronkowski TE NA
0.33 6 1 Jameis Winston QB 107
0.32 6 2 Albert Wilson WR 226
0.31 6 3 Garrett Celek TE NA
0.30 6 4 Ka’imi Fairbairn K 179
0.29 6 5 Derrick Henry RB 36
0.29 6 6 Will Dissly TE 367
0.29 6 7 Kansas City Chiefs DST 206
0.28 6 8 Mitchell Trubisky QB 150
0.28 6 9 Amari Cooper WR 34
0.25 6 10 Kerryon Johnson RB 27
0.24 6 11 Nick Chubb RB 15
0.24 6 12 Baltimore Ravens DST 131
0.22 7 1 Dante Pettis WR 78
0.22 7 2 Adrian Peterson RB 142
0.21 7 3 Calvin Ridley WR 55
0.21 7 4 Justin Tucker K 138
0.19 7 5 Lamar Miller RB 61
0.19 7 6 Marshawn Lynch RB NA
0.17 7 7 Tarik Cohen RB 63
0.17 7 8 New Orleans Saints DST 186
0.16 7 9 Alshon Jeffery WR 69
0.16 7 10 Denver Broncos DST 185
0.15 7 11 Aaron Rodgers QB 52
0.15 7 12 Dalvin Cook RB 20
0.15 8 1 Trey Burton TE 148
0.14 8 2 Kenny Golladay WR 43
0.13 8 3 DeSean Jackson WR 132
0.13 8 4 Miami Dolphins DST 356
0.12 8 5 Sony Michel RB 53
0.12 8 6 Washington Redskins DST 301
0.11 8 7 Carson Wentz QB 84
0.11 8 8 Robert Foster WR 207
0.11 8 9 Mark Ingram RB 46
0.11 8 10 Austin Hooper TE 126
0.11 8 11 Aldrick Rosas K 354
0.10 8 12 Jack Doyle TE 236
0.10 9 1 Ryan Hewitt TE NA
0.10 9 2 Tennessee Titans DST 232
0.10 9 3 Giorgio Tavecchio K 228
0.09 9 4 Mason Crosby K 222
0.08 9 5 Russell Wilson QB 87
0.08 9 6 Marvin Jones WR 88
0.08 9 7 Seattle Seahawks DST 245
0.07 9 8 Jordan Howard RB 81
0.07 9 9 Tyler Eifert TE 281
0.06 9 10 Kirk Cousins QB 141
0.06 9 11 Jay Ajayi RB 282
0.06 9 12 Greg Olsen TE 165
0.06 10 1 Indianapolis Colts DST 280
0.06 10 2 Jacksonville Jaguars DST 135
0.06 10 3 Harrison Butker K 154
0.05 10 4 Josh Allen QB 162
0.05 10 5 Tevin Coleman RB 59
0.05 10 6 David Njoku TE 94
0.05 10 7 Los Angeles Chargers DST 149
0.05 10 8 Jason Myers K 243
0.05 10 9 Wil Lutz K 169
0.04 10 10 Dak Prescott QB 140
0.03 10 11 Baker Mayfield QB 62
0.03 10 12 Minnesota Vikings DST 125
0.02 11 1 Jarvis Landry WR 67
0.02 11 2 Alex Collins RB NA
0.02 11 3 Pittsburgh Steelers DST 199
0.00 11 4 Philip Rivers QB 119
0.00 11 5 Chris Godwin WR 50
0.00 11 6 Matt Breida RB 123
0.00 11 7 Chris Manhertz TE NA
0.00 11 8 Jordan Reed TE 159
0.00 11 9 Vance McDonald TE 96
-0.01 11 10 Geronimo Allison WR 111
-0.01 11 11 Mike Williams WR 60
-0.01 11 12 Michael Roberts TE NA
-0.02 12 1 Leonte Carroo WR NA
-0.02 12 2 Kenyan Drake RB 56
-0.04 12 3 Sammy Watkins WR 85
-0.04 12 4 Stephen Gostkowski K 166
-0.05 12 5 Curtis Samuel WR 105
-0.06 12 6 Tom Brady QB 116
-0.06 12 7 Kyle Rudolph TE 157
-0.08 12 8 Chris Herndon IV TE 201
-0.08 12 9 Cleveland Browns DST 187
-0.08 12 10 Brett Maher K 229
-0.09 12 11 Josh Gordon WR 174
-0.09 12 12 Austin Ekeler RB 79
-0.09 13 1 Robbie Gould K 194
-0.10 13 2 Tre’Quan Smith WR 175
-0.10 13 3 New York Jets DST 327
-0.10 13 4 Adam Vinatieri K 216
-0.11 13 5 Delanie Walker TE 139
-0.12 13 6 Buffalo Bills DST 167
-0.12 13 7 Mike Nugent K NA
-0.13 13 8 Blake Jarwin TE NA
-0.13 13 9 Dustin Hopkins K NA
-0.14 13 10 Isaiah Crowell RB NA
-0.14 13 11 Jeremy Sprinkle TE NA
-0.15 13 12 Robby Anderson WR 74
-0.15 14 1 Dallas Cowboys DST 192
-0.15 14 2 Matt Prater K 219
-0.16 14 3 Demetrius Harris TE NA
-0.17 14 4 Jonnu Smith TE NA
-0.17 14 5 Matt Bryant K NA
-0.18 14 6 Mark Andrews TE 152
-0.19 14 7 Doug Baldwin WR NA
-0.19 14 8 Dallas Goedert TE 202
-0.20 14 9 Allen Robinson WR 77
-0.20 14 10 Elijah McGuire RB 249
-0.21 14 11 Jimmy Graham TE 156
-0.22 14 12 Ted Ginn Jr. WR NA
-0.23 15 1 Cameron Brate TE 240
-0.23 15 2 Vernon Davis TE NA
-0.23 15 3 Arizona Cardinals DST 274
-0.23 15 4 Sebastian Janikowski K NA
-0.24 15 5 Ryan Succop K NA
-0.25 15 6 Corey Davis WR 92
-0.25 15 7 Mohamed Sanu WR 188
-0.25 15 8 Ian Thomas TE 266
-0.26 15 9 Michael Badgley K 214
-0.27 15 10 Zay Jones WR 196
-0.27 15 11 D’Onta Foreman RB 155
-0.27 15 12 T.J. Yeldon RB 210
-0.27 16 1 Erik Swoope TE NA
-0.27 16 2 Dan Bailey K NA
-0.28 16 3 Larry Fitzgerald WR 101
-0.28 16 4 Sterling Shepard WR 98
-0.29 16 5 Golden Tate WR 128
-0.30 16 6 Philadelphia Eagles DST 198
-0.30 16 7 Jake Elliott K 223
-0.31 16 8 Josh Reynolds WR NA
-0.31 16 9 Detroit Lions DST 337
-0.32 16 10 Kenneth Dixon RB NA
-0.32 16 11 Mo Alie-Cox TE NA
-0.32 16 12 Cairo Santos K NA
-0.33 17 1 Nick Mullens QB NA
-0.33 17 2 Adam Humphries WR 212
-0.33 17 3 Ed Dickson TE NA
-0.33 17 4 Lee Smith TE NA
-0.33 17 5 Cody Parkey K NA
-0.34 17 6 Andy Dalton QB NA
-0.34 17 7 Dede Westbrook WR 102
-0.34 17 8 Demaryius Thomas WR 261
-0.34 17 9 Peyton Barber RB 108
-0.34 17 10 C.J. Uzomah TE NA
-0.34 17 11 Jesse James TE NA
-0.34 17 12 Jordan Thomas TE NA
-0.34 18 1 Carolina Panthers DST NA
-0.36 18 2 David Moore WR NA
-0.36 18 3 Dontrelle Inman WR NA
-0.36 18 4 Cincinnati Bengals DST NA
-0.37 18 5 Benjamin Watson TE 361
-0.37 18 6 Jeff Heuerman TE NA
-0.38 18 7 John Brown WR 164
-0.39 18 8 Nelson Agholor WR 233
-0.39 18 9 Gus Edwards RB 217
-0.40 18 10 Christian Kirk WR 80
-0.40 18 11 D.J. Moore WR 66
-0.40 18 12 Damien Williams RB 25
-0.40 19 1 Green Bay Packers DST 221
-0.40 19 2 Daniel Carlson K NA
-0.41 19 3 Anthony Miller WR 134
-0.41 19 4 Jordy Nelson WR NA
-0.41 19 5 Trey Quinn WR NA
-0.41 19 6 Gerald Everett TE NA
-0.42 19 7 Antonio Gates TE NA
-0.42 19 8 Geoff Swaim TE NA
-0.43 19 9 Austin Seferian-Jenkins TE NA
-0.43 19 10 Darren Fells TE NA
-0.43 19 11 Atlanta Falcons DST 332
-0.43 19 12 New York Giants DST NA
-0.43 20 1 Matthew McCrane K NA
-0.44 20 2 Antonio Callaway WR 208
-0.44 20 3 Devin Funchess WR 146
-0.44 20 4 Nick O’Leary TE NA
-0.44 20 5 Stephen Hauschka K NA
-0.45 20 6 Kenny Stills WR 180
-0.46 20 7 A.J. Derby TE NA
-0.46 20 8 Graham Gano K NA
-0.46 20 9 Josh Lambo K NA
-0.46 20 10 Sam Ficken K NA
-0.47 20 11 Marquise Goodwin WR 193
-0.47 20 12 Tyrell Williams WR 127
-0.47 21 1 Darren Sproles RB NA
-0.47 21 2 Anthony Firkser TE NA
-0.47 21 3 Chandler Catanzaro K 234
-0.48 21 4 Brandon LaFell WR NA
-0.49 21 5 Robert Tonyan TE NA
-0.50 21 6 Tyler Higbee TE NA
-0.51 21 7 Rashard Higgins WR NA
-0.51 21 8 Randy Bullock K NA
-0.52 21 9 Terrelle Pryor WR NA
-0.52 21 10 Joshua Perkins TE NA
-0.53 21 11 Brandon McManus K NA
-0.54 21 12 Levine Toilolo TE NA
-0.55 22 1 Donte Moncrief WR 153
-0.55 22 2 Isaiah McKenzie WR NA
-0.55 22 3 Adam Shaheen TE NA
-0.55 22 4 Nick Vannett TE NA
-0.55 22 5 Rhett Ellison TE NA
-0.56 22 6 Derrick Willies WR NA
-0.56 22 7 Bilal Powell RB NA
-0.56 22 8 Zach Zenner RB NA
-0.57 22 9 Eli Manning QB NA
-0.57 22 10 Jamison Crowder WR 197
-0.57 22 11 Caleb Sturgis K NA
-0.57 22 12 Chris Boswell K NA
-0.58 23 1 Joe Flacco QB NA
-0.58 23 2 Aldrick Robinson WR NA
-0.58 23 3 Chris Hogan WR NA
-0.59 23 4 Courtland Sutton WR 99
-0.59 23 5 C.J. Anderson RB 178
-0.59 23 6 Jaylen Samuels RB 143
-0.59 23 7 Wendell Smallwood RB NA
-0.60 23 8 Keke Coutee WR 124
-0.61 23 9 Scott Simonson TE NA
-0.62 23 10 Cameron Meredith WR NA
-0.62 23 11 Taylor Gabriel WR NA
-0.62 23 12 Latavius Murray RB 89
-0.62 24 1 Ricky Seals-Jones TE NA
-0.63 24 2 Mike Davis RB NA
-0.63 24 3 Luke Stocker TE NA
-0.63 24 4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers DST NA
-0.64 24 5 Hayden Hurst TE NA
-0.64 24 6 Jake Butt TE NA
-0.64 24 7 Matt LaCosse TE NA
-0.64 24 8 Jason Sanders K NA
-0.65 24 9 Randall Cobb WR 204
-0.65 24 10 Ryan Griffin TE NA
-0.66 24 11 Paul Richardson WR 273
-0.66 24 12 Doug Martin RB NA
-0.66 25 1 Josh Hill TE NA
-0.66 25 2 Virgil Green TE NA
-0.67 25 3 Torrey Smith WR NA
-0.67 25 4 Greg Joseph K NA
-0.67 25 5 Zane Gonzalez K NA
-0.68 25 6 LeSean McCoy RB 103
-0.69 25 7 Jacob Hollister TE NA
-0.69 25 8 Matt Lengel TE NA
-0.71 25 9 Cole Beasley WR NA
-0.71 25 10 John Ross WR 271
-0.72 25 11 Carlos Hyde RB 117
-0.72 25 12 Jason Croom TE NA

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Jeff Henderson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jeff, follow him @statholesports.

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