Positional Disparity & The Impact on Fantasy Football Strategy (2022)
Fantasy football drafts probably don’t make much sense to non-fantasy football-playing NFL fans. In real-life football, RBs are the least valued skill position. They are paid the least. They aren’t prioritized in the NFL Draft. They often play in committees, and most are out of their prime once their rookie contracts expire.
So why are RBs usually the first five players selected in fantasy drafts? Why are 20 WRs and 21 RBs ranked ahead of superstar QB Patrick Mahomes in the FantasyPros expert consensus ranking (ECR)? Why is Baltimore Ravens WR Rashod Bateman (515 career receiving yards) drafted on average before Tom Brady (the “GOAT”)? Seriously, why?
The reason we as fantasy managers draft how we draft is the production disparity between and within fantasy football positions. Some positions have a greater depth of players who produce mid to high-end numbers, while other positions don’t. Therefore, when supply is low, demand is high, and vice versa.
Fantasy football-tiered rankings factor in and account for this positional disparity. However, as helpful as tiered rankings are, they don’t indicate how significant of a drop-off there is between tiers. For example, what’s the true difference between the RB1 and a tier-3 RB in rankings? No one knows for certain how players will perform in the future, so the best we can do is look at historical positional finishes and use those as guidelines for setting our expectations for future performances.
In 2021, the RB1 scored 373.1 points, and the RB10 scored 229.1 points in PPR formats. This means that the RB10 only matched 61.4% of the production of the RB1. That’s significant. The RB1 was close to twice as valuable as the RB10 last season, yet both players are labeled as RB1s, which is misleading for fantasy managers. Understanding the production disparity between and within positions is critical for making informed draft-day decisions that will maximize the overall value of the roster you construct.
It needs to be noted that pre-draft fantasy rankings don’t perfectly predict future outcomes. For example, the player drafted as the 10th RB may finish as the RB1, but with so much information available these days, fantasy analysts continue to be more and more accurate with their player rankings. So as fantasy rankings become more accurate, it becomes more important to have a deeper understanding of positional disparities to maintain an edge over the fantasy managers in your league who don’t prepare but print off the FantasyPros ECR to reference on draft day.
The following table was developed to help make sense of the positional production disparity in fantasy football. The table lists the average total points scored for the top 30 players at each position from 2019 through 2021 (e.g., the QB5 finishes during the last three seasons were 346.8, 376.4 and 332.5 points, so it’s a 351.9 point average for the QB5). The percentage assigned to each position rank indicates how closely that player matched the top overall player at their position’s fantasy production. For instance, the QB5 matched 84.7% of the QB1’s point total on average during the last three seasons. These percentages paint a clear picture of the production disparity within our game.
Positional Disparity Table (PPR scoring; 2019-2021)
|1||415.0 (100%)||407.3 (100%)||390.8 (100%)||289.4 (100%)|
|2||378.4 (91.1%)||332.1 (81.5%)||316.4 (80.9%)||254.6 (87.9%)|
|3||369.8 (89.1%)||315.1 (77.3%)||313.9 (80.3%)||202.1 (69.8%)|
|4||362.6 (87.3%)||287.2 (70.5%)||296.2 (75.7%)||196.7 (67.9%)|
|5||351.9 (84.7%)||270.4 (66.3%)||285.2 (72.9%)||187.7 (64.8%)|
|6||335.6 (80.8%)||266.9 (65.5%)||277.4 (70.9%)||179.4 (61.9%)|
|7||326.1 (78.5%)||253.9 (62.3%)||271.1 (69.3%)||166.0 (57.3%)|
|8||323.3 (77.9%)||240.4 (59.0%)||264.9 (67.7%)||158.2 (54.6%)|
|9||315.6 (76.0%)||235.6 (57.8%)||257.8 (65.9%)||154.8 (53.4%)|
|10||311.5 (75.0%)||230.5 (56.5%)||253.2 (64.7%)||152.7 (52.7%)|
|11||302.6 (72.9%)||226.4 (55.5%)||250.8 (64.1%)||150.1 (51.8%)|
|12||282.4 (68.0%)||221.7 (54.4%)||243.8 (62.3%)||146.7 (50.6%)|
|13||271.7 (65.4%)||214.3 (52.6%)||242.0 (61.9%)||139.6 (48.2%)|
|14||267.4 (64.4%)||209.3 (51.3%)||240.7 (61.5%)||134.1 (46.3%)|
|15||259.6 (62.5%)||206.9 (50.7%)||237.3 (60.7%)||132.7 (45.8%)|
|16||257.9 (62.1%)||204.5 50.2%)||235.3 (60.2%)||129.8 (44.8%)|
|17||249.4 (60.0%)||203.5 (49.9%)||232.1 (59.3%)||123.9 (42.8%)|
|18||247.1 (59.5%)||195.9 (48.0%)||229.4 (58.7%)||123.0 (42.5%)|
|19||246.7 (59.4%)||193.8 (47.5%)||226.4 (57.9%)||120.0 (41.4%)|
|20||240.3 (57.9%)||193.3 (47.4%)||225.1 (57.5%)||114.1 (39.4%)|
|21||224.5 (54.0%)||188.7 (46.3%)||222.0 (56.8%)||110.6 (38.2%)|
|22||219.4 (52.8%)||183.5 (45.0%)||218.9 (56.0%)||101.3 (35.0%)|
|23||211.0 (50.8%)||178.9 (43.9%)||215.7 (55.1%)||97.7 (33.7%)|
|24||205.4 (49.4%)||170.9 (41.9%)||214.4 (54.8%)||92.1 (31.8%)|
|25||196.6 (47.3%)||169.3 (41.5%)||208.7 (53.4%)||86.2 (29.7%)|
|26||189.7 (45.7%)||165.1 (40.5%)||204.6 (52.3%)||84.3 (29.1%)|
|27||179.5 (43.2%)||163.9 (40.2%)||202.3 (51.7%)||83 (28.6%)|
|28||175.2 (42.2%)||161.3 (39.6%)||196.1 (50.1%)||82.3 (28.4%)|
|29||165.6 (39.9%)||157.2 (38.5%)||190.2 (48.6%)||80.1 (27.6%)|
|30||141.9 (34.1%)||153.3 (37.6%)||189.1 (48.3%)||79.4 (27.4%)|
- The QB position is the deepest in fantasy football, with 11 players matching at least 70% of the QB1’s point total on average. The next closest position had six players achieve this feat.
- The QB position also has six players on average who matched at least 80% of the QB1’s point total. As a result, the disparity among starting fantasy QBs in single-QB 12-team leagues is minimal compared to the other positions.
- Having the top-ranked player at any position is an obvious advantage. Still, the data suggests that being one of the last teams to draft a QB while gaining an edge at other positions may be the optimal draft strategy. Remember, we aren’t perfect at ranking players pre-draft. Last season, players like Matthew Stafford, Jalen Hurts and Joe Burrow were available late in drafts and played vital roles on fantasy championship rosters.
- FantasyPros’ ECR currently has the following QBs ranked 9-12: Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers. All of these players have realistic top-five potential.
- Although QBs shouldn’t be a high priority in single-QB leagues, that changes in 2QB or Superflex leagues, where 24 QBs play in starting lineups. The QB24 only matched 49.4% of the QB1’s point total on average. As a result, the top five or so QBs should be in play as first-round draft picks in 2QB leagues.
- The RB position is one of the shallowest in fantasy football, with only four players on average who matched at least 70% of the RB1’s point total. This boils down to the fact that there are few true workhorse RBs in today’s NFL.
- The drop-off in production at the RB position is steep, and it comes up fast. High-end RB2s only produce about 50% of the RB1’s point total, and low-end RB2s are in the 40% range on average.
- The data suggests that if you can get your hands on one of the elite RBs, you will have a significant advantage over your competition. Therefore, Jonathan Taylor should be the no-questions-asked consensus 1.01 in 2022, as he’s the most “sure thing” option among the top RBs.
- The data also indicates that a “Hero RB” draft strategy may be the optimal approach if you have an early first-round pick. If you can draft a top 2-3 RB and follow up with two high-end WRs or a WR/TE with your second and third-round picks while other teams gobble up inferior RB talent in those rounds, you will be at an advantage. However, this all hinges on the premise that you hit on your first-round RB.
- If the RB1 numbers in this table seem slightly inflated, Christian McCaffrey and his absurd 2019 season (471.2 points) can be thanked for that. He has emotionally scarred fantasy managers the past two seasons, but there is not a player on the planet who can take over fantasy football as he can. Before his injury last season, he averaged 26.2 PPG. He averaged 20.3 PPG in his first two games back while playing on a snap-count restriction after returning from injury. In his third game back from injury, he received a full workload and scored 24.9 points without scoring a TD. Unfortunately, he got injured again the next game and missed the remainder of the season. Forgive, never forget, and highly consider drafting CMC at pick 1.02.
- WR is the next deepest position in fantasy outside of QB, with six players matching at least 70% of the WR1’s point total.
- The WR position also has impressive mid-level depth, with a whopping 28 players who matched at least 50% of the WR1’s point total (the most for any position).
- Although the depth of the position is strong, there is enough separation at the top of the rankings to warrant drafting elite WRs in the first round of fantasy drafts.
- The middle rounds are a great time to target the WR position to capitalize on value. Last season, Cooper Kupp, Ja’Marr Chase, Deebo Samuel and Jaylen Waddle were all drafted in the mid to late rounds.
- Three-WR leagues are becoming more common, increasing the value of the position. If 36 WRs are starting each week with the possibility for more being started in flex spots, then the WR position needs to become an early priority for you in fantasy drafts as the position begins to dry up in the late WR3 range.
- The TE position has truly been a story of the “haves” and “have nots” for fantasy managers. On average, only two players have matched at least 70% of the TE1’s point total. This is partly due to Travis Kelce‘s absolute dominance and partly due to a lack of depth at the position.
- If you have heard a fantasy analyst say, “you should either draft one of the elite TEs early or be the last in your league to draft one,” the data backs up that take.
- Any fantasy manager who has rostered Kelce during the last six years understands how valuable it can be to have a high-end TE, but you will have to pay a premium to get one.
- Early round TEs who have the matchup-winning upside that warrants their current ADP include Travis Kelce (Underdog Fantasy ADP: 11.5), Mark Andrews (16.1), Kyle Pitts (31.9), Darren Waller (41.8) and George Kittle (47.5).
- If you wait and draft one late, target TEs with high upside rather than perceived high floors (high floors don’t exist for late-round TEs). Mid- to late-round TEs with top-five potential include Dalton Schultz, Albert Okwuegbunam, Irv Smith and Dawson Knox.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – which allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.