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Ranking The Top Draft Strategies (2021-2022 Fantasy Football)

Jan 3, 2022
Davante Adams

The 2021 Fantasy Football season is effectively over. With a small pool of teams remaining to battle it out in Week 18 championship games (most finished in Week 17), there’s not much left to learn. Let’s take this moment to look forward to next season… by looking back at this one. Specifically, let’s determine if there was a draft strategy that was more effective than others.

The draft strategies I want to look at include the following: RB Heavy, WR Heavy (No RB), QB Early, Travis Kelce Or Bust (TE Early), and Auto-Draft (just because).

Draft strategies are defined over the first 4 rounds of the draft, so I’m going to focus only on the first 4 Rounds of ADP (Average Draft Position) drafting for a 12-team half-PPR league. You can find that list HERE. I’ll be comparing that list against current player rankings (Weeks 1-16) HERE. I’ll examine stats over the first 16 weeks of the season because those are the most fantasy-relevant weeks. Let’s begin.

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STATS YOU SHOULD KNOW

-The Top 48 players in ADP included 20 RBs, 19 WRs, 4 TEs, and 5 QBs, which means most fantasy managers were RB Heavy or WR Heavy drafters. 

-14 of the top 20 drafted RBs finished in the Top 20 at the position. Likewise, 10 out of 19 WRs, 2 out of 4 TEs, and 2 out of 5 QBs finished in the range they were drafted.

-The only RBs who outperformed or matched their ADP included the following: Jonathan Taylor, Austin Ekeler, Najee Harris, Antonio Gibson, Joe Mixon, Josh Jacobs, D’Andre Swift.

-The only WRs who outperformed or matched their ADP included the following: Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Cooper Kupp.

-The only TE who matched his ADP was George Kittle. All other TEs taken in the first 48 players performed below expectations.

-The only QB who beat his ADP was Josh Allen. All other QBs taken in the first 48 players performed below expectations.

-Players that missed at least 2 weeks include 12 out of 20 RBs, 7 out of 19 WRs, 2 out of 4 TEs, and 2 out of 5 QBs, meaning that WRs were by far the most consistent types of players to have on your roster. RBs, in contrast, were the most volatile, including 4 of the top 5 RBs missing 4 or more games.

THE BEST STRATEGIES (WORST TO BEST)

5. AUTO-DRAFT

The reason this is the worst strategy is because it’s not a strategy. However, if someone did use ADP to draft their team this season, their chances of hitting on players that met or outperformed their value on a per-round basis would have gone like this… 1/12 in the first round, 5/12 in the second round, 5/12 in the third round and 3/12 in the fourth round. The statistical likelihood of hitting a stud in each round would have been exactly 0.36169 percent. To clarify, that’s less than a 1 percent chance. Wowza.

JUDGMENT: A rounded roster is a good idea, but it should be your idea… not your computer’s.

4. QB EARLY

Some drafters came into the 2021 season deciding to lose before the start of the season. Those people took a QB ranked in the Top 48 overall players.

Okay, I’ll play nice. No QB had a first-round ADP value, which is encouraging. Patrick Mahomes was the highest ranked at 13 overall, Josh Allen had a third-round value of 26 overall, and Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, and Aaron Rodgers were all valued somewhere in the fourth round. Basically, most QB Early drafters were looking at positional players in the early rounds.

The problem with taking a QB early in 2021 was that only 2 of the top 5 finished in the top 5. Only 1 outperformed his value. Patrick Mahomes was the first QB off the board, but he finished as the QB4. That’s fine, but it didn’t provide the necessary advantage to justify the pick. Josh Allen was the QB2 and finished as the QB1. The rest of these QBs finished no higher than top 7 at the position. With a fourth-round value, they would be getting taken when players like Cooper Kupp, George Kittle, CeeDee Lamb, Chris Godwin, Josh Jacobs, and D’Andre Swift were all potentially available.

The point is simple: even Josh Allen, the QB1 on the season, didn’t provide a substantial positional advantage to make selecting him worth it. The per-game scoring average for Josh Allen was only 3.57 points higher than the QB12 on the season. The difference between the WR1 and the WR12 was 8.8 points per game. See? Now that is a positional advantage.

JUDGMENT: Taking a solid QB for a value and intentionally targeting a QB early are two different things. Next year, seek to grab your QB in the middle rounds for a value when compared to his ADP. At worst, you’re getting a deal on a weekly starter. At best, you’re not throwing away an early-round pick on a player who barely helps you tread water.

3. RB HEAVY

The RB Heavy strategy is one that values the RB position like Indiana Jones values sacred golden items of antiquity. Sometimes you have to dig farther than you want to. In other words, these drafters believe you can’t ever have enough RBs on your roster because the position is so often injured. Better to stock up, right?… Right?

For the sake of this study, I’m going to assume RB heavy drafters took RBs in their first 4 rounds and then sought other positions after that. How did that turn out in 2021?

Awful. Horrible. Not even a little bit good.

Okay, maybe there’s a path to success here. Drafters who selected between picks 9-12 were blessed with a high hit rate for over-performing RBs. The RB1 this season (by a lot) was Jonathan Taylor, who was the ADP 9th overall player. Other RBs who had value were those with an early-round 2 ranking.

The issue with this strategy is that aside from the end of the first round and start of the second round, there were few players who provided an advantage at the position. Consider this: the average total of points scored by the RBs taken in the top 48 overall players was 174.83. Only 10 players beat that total by more than 10 points. 3 of those 10 were not taken in the Top 48 overall players. RBs 14-20 all scored well under that point total, the closest being Josh Jacobs with 161.6. That means that most RB Heavy drafters had at least a couple duds on their roster, even if they ended up grabbing two studs with their early picks.

JUDGMENT: Consider this strategy highly volatile, especially since 12 of these top 20 RBs missed at least 2 weeks of the season. The lone success story of this strategy belongs to those who drafted Jonathan Taylor. Lucky ducks.

2. WR EARLY (NO RB)

Drafters who prioritized WRs early, or who took the No RB approach (meaning they didn’t draft any RBs in the first 5 or 6 rounds), found 2021 to be consistent but disappointing. The position was generally volatile, especially beyond the elite options.

The Top 3 WRs this season were fine. Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, and Stefon Diggs all left you relatively happy this season, finishing as the 3rd, 5th, and 7th WRs overall this season. However, including those 3, only 10 of the 19 WRs taken in the first 48 players actually finished in the top 19 at the position. Even at that, players like DK Metcalf and Keenan Allen finished in the top 19 but performed below their ADP.

The position saw little in the way of outperforming value. Only 5 of the 19 WRs were able to finish at or above their ADP for the position.

Drafters who went WR Early were not set up for a fun season. It’s possible that some of the No RB drafters lucked into Leonard Fournette and James Conner (two popular late-round RB targets for No RB drafters) and survived the mediocre WR play, but that’s a tough break to count on.

JUDGMENT: Although most players disappointed from a performance standpoint, the WR position represented a general safe haven for health. This strategy was relatively effective as long as the manager kept drafting WRs well into the middle-rounds, where a lot of the positional value was, including the likes of Deebo Samuel, Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle. Simply because the RBs were so injury-prone this year, WR Early drafters had the advantage.

1. TRAVIS KELCE OR BUST (TE EARLY)

The most effective strategy in 2021 was the TE Early strategy, although you may simply know it as the “I’m taking Travis Kelce in the first round no matter what” strategy.

The success of this strategy is predicated on one primary notion: You likely avoided an early RB, most of whom suffered major injuries. In fact, only 4 of the Top 10 RBs finished in the Top 10. Only one finished in the Top 5.

This year, if you drafted Travis Kelce, you probably had a pick in the 7-12 range of your draft. You chose to forgo a stud RB or a Top 3 WR to take the favorite target of Patty Mahomes. Good choice. Kelce provided a substantial positional advantage (aside from TE1 this season: Mark Andrews) and allowed you to luck into what I call “the sweet spot” for picking in Round 2.

The next pick for this TE Early team would have included mostly options that either outproduced their ADP or who came close to matching their ADP. Those players might have been Austin Ekelar, Najee Harris, Antonio Gibson, Joe Mixon, Tyreek Hill, or Stefon Diggs. Only picking a falling Saquon Barkley or too-early Calvin Ridley would have left you in despair. Most picked one of the studs, based on ADP.

With a positional advantage at TE and an over-performing RB or a rock-solid WR, this strategy was safe to do anything in rounds 3 and 4. In fact, the overall ADP rankings would have given this manager a chance to draft more players who outperformed their ADP, with WRs like Mike Evans, Ceedee Lamb, Chris Godwin, and Cooper Kupp. There certainly would have been a few landmines with Allen Robinson, Chris Carson, Terry McLaurin, and Robert Woods all being possible picks. 

The general consensus for TE Early teams is to wait on QB. That would have been the right choice, with most of the top QB values coming in the middle rounds. Consider that Justin Herbert, Tom Brady, and Matthew Stafford were ADP QBs 8-10. They all finished in the top 5 at the position.

There was a downside to this strategy though. In the case that Travis Kelce was not the TE selected for this TE Early team, the only other player taken in the Top 4 who performed like a Top 4 TE was George Kittle. Yet, Kittle missed multiple games, so he performed well but not as often as one would like. Darren Waller, the ADP TE2 in 2021 was a total bust this year. However, he was the ADP 24th overall player taken, meaning he was probably taken by teams who had already cursed themselves with one of the injury-plagued top-ranked RBs.

All this is to say that these early 4 rounds of drafting are important for creating advantages for your roster, and only half of the Top 4 TEs gave you any real advantage. Kyle Pitts, on that note, underperformed his ADP compared to the rest of the TE field, but he was consistently fine. Not a league winner but not an unmitigated disaster like Waller.

JUDGMENT: This truly is the “Travis Kelce Or Bust Strategy,” and it worked admirably this season… unless you took Mark Andrews. In which case, why are you reading an article about draft strategy? Go celebrate winning your league!

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