Value-Based Drafting Strategy (2022 Fantasy Football)
You have many analysts, myself included, on this website and publications who have published rankings and draft kits to get you ready for the season. Many sites have a huge amount of draft data to give you up-to-the-minute ADPs to tell you where players you are wanting to select are going, therefore giving you a rough range that you need to hit the draft button to get your guys.
All of this is invaluable information that will give you the pathway to execute your plan. However, the one flaw most fantasy football players make is that the above information is in their plan. They follow Adam Rank or Evan Silva religiously, use their rankings, and use ADP to determine where to take those players. It will allow you to potentially get into the playoffs, but you will find this information and system insufficient in isolation from your independent strategy, as well as an understanding of how to draft better than your league competition.
This is why people need to understand value-based drafting. This isn’t an original thought, but merely a summary of the process that yields the largest probability of success when it comes to making the playoffs in your league. Making the playoffs should be your primary goal in your league. To win is almost secondary to making the playoffs. So here is a guide that will assist you in developing a value-based strategy that you can adopt quickly and easily to give your roster the highest probability of success.
Know your league settings and scoring.
This seems like a very basic point. However, you will be surprised how many people do not consider the type of league they play in and adjust their rankings accordingly. They assume that player rankings rarely change if the scoring changes and this just isn’t true. In standard scoring, getting a stud running back is far more valuable than getting a top-tier WR or Travis Kelce. This is because the number of times running backs touch the ball and what they do with it counts very highly and a back carrying the ball 250-plus times is more valuable than a wide receiver who makes around 100 catches. Standard scoring is scoring production and nothing else. This isn’t true with PPR or half-PPR, where WRs are rewarded for catches.
To understand how the scoring changes, you need to do a few of the following:
- Mock draft on your playing platform such as Sleeper, NFL Fantasy Football app, etc… Do several of these to understand who is going where and more importantly, why they are going there. It seems basic, but it’s highly effective.
- Use the FantasyPros website or other resources to understand how the previous years have gone in terms of scoring. Look for how many RBs vs. how many WRs appear in the top 24 of scoring and other trends. Understanding this gives you a significant advantage when trying to work out a strategy and identify breakout players and teams.
- Get multiple sources of information. Whether that is podcasts, articles, or magazines, try and spot trends. Eventually, you will see who is predicting players more regularly and why. Use these resources to solidify your thinking as opposed to defining your entire strategy.
Fully understanding your league and the scoring is the first step to helping you understand which players are a “value” and which aren’t.
Tier your player rankings.
Doing rankings is important. Whether you do them yourself or copy someone else’s, it is important to have a list of many of the players and how you view them. But getting hung up on selecting certain individuals will lead to you either being disappointed at missing out on said player and panicking, or overvaluing them and therefore taking them far too early, whereas if you wait you could still get them, and you have missed out on other great players that will deliver a greater value for you. This is why breaking players into tiers is an important concept to understand and adopt.
When you have your final rankings, you need to start grouping players together. “If I miss out on player A, it’s fine as player B is very close in my rankings and I only separated them by a few points.” By doing this, you will find it hard to miss out. A theme of recent years in drafts is this notion of sniping. The absolute worst thing you can do in a draft is to believe you have been “sniped” and even worse to publicly declare that to the league. Why? In a tier-based approach, you aren’t looking at it from a one-player-fits perspective, but instead, several players who have the quality you are looking for.
For example, you might have started your draft with a RB or WR, and you want to get your second RB in Round 3. You want a high-volume back who will also get work as a receiver. You can create a tier that looks like Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, Aaron Jones, and David Montgomery. In my projections in PPR, these guys are separated by about 30 points, or around 1.75 PPG over a season. Should you be upset missing out on Elliott but getting Montgomery? Not really, as the roster spot has been filled without losing that much from the “top” ranked player in that tier. Therefore, you haven’t been sniped. You still got what you needed. If you tell your league you have been sniped, you are giving away valuable information. Then they know you are working off just a rankings list and you are targeting individuals. It then becomes a jigsaw puzzle, and once you give players enough information, they can fill in the blanks as to who you are targeting and they can then snipe you again. And again.
What happens when you miss out on an entire tier? You don’t reach for the next tier. You focus on other areas and explore value. This is where this concept of roster construction, the foundation of a great strategy, comes from. The idea is to allow yourself to be fluid in your strategy and if you miss some targets, you can pivot into other areas and extract maximum value elsewhere. Knowing what type of players are important and what kind of roster you want to build is key, so keep an eye out for the roster construction article.
Understand your league’s ADP and use it as a guide to drafting.
It is important to know your league ADP and, where in general, the fantasy community values players. You can have a rankings list of where you project players to finish, but if you follow those in order, you will take breakout players much higher than you can get them, and essentially overpay for their production. Here is a recent example of a draft. My rankings currently have Russell Gage as the WR29 for this upcoming season, with upside potential for WR24. His ADP hovers around the 10th round currently at WR49 in 12-team leagues, sometimes lower. Now if you were to follow these rankings, and were to draft him as the WR30, you would have needed to take him in the seventh round.
However, say your team had three RBs and you saw the tier falling off a cliff at RB. You want to get some solid backups on your bench with high upsides, like Miles Sanders, Kareem Hunt, or Devin Singletary. If you had taken Gage at my ranking value, you would have missed one, or maybe two, of these players and therefore left a massive hole in the roster you wanted to build. Instead, you can take Gage as your WR4/5 and the 49th WR off the board in the 10th round, or even slightly earlier if you like. Therefore, not only have you got my WR29 at WR45-49, but you have also filled your RB room with two guys who you also got below where you might rank them. So instead of getting one player at a potential value, or cost, you get value on three players. You only need one player to outperform their position for this to have been a profitable strategy. This is right at the heart of value-based drafting, because if you can understand the value of players, you can make smart moves to build your roster more efficiently. Even if you want to choose to take Gage a round earlier, you still execute a better positional strategy and build a much stronger roster.
Positional value is key.
This concept was introduced and solidified by Joe Pisapia, podcaster here at FantasyPros and author of the award-winning Fantasy Black Book. He talks about Relative Position Value. The new Black Book is out now. It’s the best $14 you are going to spend on Amazon this year if you want to win championships.
Understanding the gap in scoring between the top-scoring starter and the last starter in the league is important to understand. For example, if the RB1 scored 250 points last year and the RB12 (if 12-team league, or RB10 in 10-team leagues and so on and so on…) scores 150 points, knowing the difference in PPG and working out the value of that is incredibly important. 100 points works out to 6.25PPG. Therefore, targeting guys at the top end of the scoring in that tier is incredibly important. You then do the same for RB13-RB24 and so on and so on for all the roster spots on your team. Once you know the scoring difference for each position and spot on your roster, you know what areas to target and what is important.
One piece of advice, however, is to spot outliers and candidates for scoring regressing. Patrick Mahomes in 2019 became the third person to throw 50+ TDs in a season behind Payton Manning and Tom Brady. Those two guys have only done it once. The following season, he regressed. And he has since put up back-to-back QB4 performances. He has not lived up to his ADP as a result. Cooper Kupp is an excellent regression candidate. Do not expect those record-breaking numbers in 2022. The same goes for Mark Andrews, who set franchise records in 2021. Be very careful of who you draft and where you draft them. Especially if they are coming off record-breaking seasons.
For some people, taking Mark Andrews is a value play in the second or third round due to what he did last season. However, that is not the case. If he falls into the fifth round, then he becomes immediately interesting, as he outperforms the other TEs significantly enough and the other tiers you could draft would be much closer on scoring. Andrews can deliver a potential 5 PPG difference over the next tier of TEs. This makes him a massive value. Being fluid in your strategy, whilst setting up tiers and then knowing the difference in scoring between the first- and last-place person for a team position all allow you to be prepared to move in other directions and stop you from being pigeon-holed into selecting players that are overpriced, or reaching for inadequate talent.
Quarterback value is rising.
Due to the influx of talent in the last few years at the quarterback position via the NFL Draft, and having more NFL pro-ready talent at the position, we have seen QB scoring skyrocket.
As a result, you need to draft quarterbacks earlier than you might have done in the past.
Gone are the days of getting league-winning or league-competing quarterbacks in the last few rounds. You need to draft one of the elite options to better your chances of winning in leagues. And in Superflex leagues, this is even more imperative. Without Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, or Kyler Murray, it becomes much harder to find a consistent role at the position and, therefore, challenging for a championship in your league. Look at the winners of all your leagues. The winner likely had a top-seven quarterback at the position at worst. And probably a Josh Allen or Justin Herbert or Tom Brady at the helm.
Analysts are much better at predicting quarterback finishes than ever before. Therefore, there is no more value to be had at the position.
Defenses and kickers — do not draft before the final three rounds.
The final valuable piece of advice when it comes to value-based drafting is to not draft kickers and D/STs before the final three rounds of drafts. They do not move the needle in terms of wins and points per game. Also, similar to QBs, D/STs are extremely volatile and difficult to predict. Below are the top five total points finishers for D/ST for every season dating back to 2014.
D/ST Top 5 (Weeks 1-16, except 2021, where it is Week 17)
- Cowboys 180 points
- Patriots 160 points
- Colts 137 points
- Bills 135 points
- Saints 135 points
- Dolphins 135 points
- D/ST12 – Broncos 118 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 3.9 PPG
- Steelers 144 points
- Dolphins 140 points
- Colts 137 points
- Rams 131 points
- Ravens 130 points
- D/ST12 – Four-way tie for 10th with 98 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 3.06 PPG
- Patriots 234 points
- Steelers 166 points
- 49ers 162 points
- Vikings 136 points
- Ravens 136 points
- D/ST12 – Saints 117 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 7.8 PPG
- Bears 183 points
- Rams 131 points
- Texans 124 points
- Ravens 120 points
- Redskins 115 points
- D/ST12 – Steelers 102 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 5.1 PPG
- Jaguars 190 points
- Ravens 183 points
- Rams 165 points
- Eagles 160 points
- Chargers 150 points
- D/ST12 – Pats 110 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 5.0 PPG
- Eagles 158 points
- Chiefs 157 points
- Patriots 155 points
- Vikings 153 points
- Broncos 148 points
- D/ST12 – Bills 121 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 2.25 PPG
- Cardinals 185 points
- Broncos 181 points
- Chiefs 174 points
- Panthers 158 points
- Seahawks 153 points
- D/ST12 – Eagles 132 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 3.3 PPG
- Eagles 177 points
- Texans 159 points
- Bills 159 points
- Rams 143 points
- Patriots 139 points
- D/ST12 – Vikings 122 points
Difference between D/ST1 and D/ST12: 3.4 PPG
Kicker PPG Average
- 2021 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 2.1 PPG
- 2020 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 2.3 PPG
- 2019 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 2.7 PPG
- 2018 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 2.7 PPG
- 2017 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 2.7 PPG
- 2016 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 2.6 PPG
- 2015 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 3.2 PPG
- 2014 – PPG average between K1-K12 – 2.4 PPG
Let’s break down the D/ST scoring first. Between 2018-2020, there was a spike in scoring with a huge out-of-nowhere D/ST scoring a mammoth amount of points. All three of these D/STs, the Jags, Bears, and Patriots, all fell outside the top five the following year despite being the No. 1 D/ST drafted after ending up D/ST1.
What does this tell us? Well, simply put, D/ST scoring is volatile, random, and almost impossible to project. There are only four teams who repeated as a top-five D/ST from 2014 to 2021. The Eagles did it first, followed by the Ravens, who managed it four years in a row between 2017-2020. The Steelers and the Colts are the two most recent teams to achieve this feat, between 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, respectively. Therefore, it is highly unlikely a top-five D/ST repeats as a top-five D/ST the following year. Putting stock in the previous year’s scoring to draft D/STs is just a wasted exercise. As it is trying to project the performance of 11-plus players as a collective, it becomes very difficult to know who is good, and who is bad. Your best strategy is to wait until Round 15 or 16 and draft a defense that has shown to be, in recent times anyway, historically good, such as the Ravens, Steelers, Dolphins, or Patriots.
Gambling that the 2022 Dallas Cowboys will have a top-five D/ST is a gamble you are likely to lose. At least, that is what history tells us. The value is in not chasing a D/ST. It is waiting for one to fall for you in the 15th or 16th round and selecting them. And if you get it wrong, you are likely to get a good one on the waiver wire anyways. Taking a D/ST earlier than the last two rounds is just a wasted pick and a wasted value. You can be missing out on a wide receiver such as Russell Gage, Tyler Boyd, Jakobi Meyers, or Marvin Jones. And, as we have demonstrated, these contributors will help you in the long run. It is very rare that a D/ST will significantly contribute to a league championship.
As for kickers, well, you can see the lack of deviation. In the last six years, the biggest deviation year on year is the 0.4 PPG drop between the K1 and the K12 between 2019 and 2020. The gap between the top kickers has come down in each of the last two years, to 10-year lows. It is safe to say that kickers are much of a muchness. Justin Tucker does not give you a significant advantage over the K12 in your league. Nor does any other kicker. Since Tucker, Daniel Carlson, and Evan McPherson are all going in the 13th or 14th round right now, let your league-mates make the mistake.
The advantageous position to be in, unless you are drafting just one or two weeks before the season, is to not draft a kicker. They don’t move the needle in scoring and are the lowest-scoring player in your lineup most weeks. Therefore, if you are drafting in July or August, you are better off taking a flier on an undervalued wide receiver, or a running back who is looking solid in camp and preseason. If these players vault onto the depth chart and high up on it, they are going to hold a lot more value than a kicker who will not move the needle on scoring. Therefore, you should be taking shots. Not just doing something because everyone else does it. You will find a kicker on the waiver wire in your league who will compete with your opponent’s kickers and end up within 2 PPG of their drafted kicker by the end of the season. However, if you land a top-28 wide receiver or top-24 running back with that pick, they are going to contribute more points every week than your drafted kicker.
Value-based drafting is about thinking outside the box, identifying trends, and using that to your advantage; not limiting yourself to just one train of thought or strategy. It also gives you room to pivot in your draft so you can always have a roster that is primed with talent, with a ton of upside potential, but also has a very safe and solid floor. Stop reaching for players and positions that don’t move the needle in terms of points per game and start giving yourself room to zag when the rest of the league is zigging. Doing this not only makes you a better drafter for fantasy football but also a better player week to week. What do you have to lose, if you didn’t win your league last year?
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.