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The Perfect Fantasy Football Draft

The Perfect Fantasy Football Draft

What exactly is the perfect draft?

I offer three potential definitions for the term:

Perfect Draft
noun

  1. A selection of players that can become the highest possible scoring team, provided you start the right players each week.
  2. A selection of players that gives you the best chance at winning a championship, assuming you make human roster decisions.
  3. A selection of players that best captures value as it was known on draft day. Results of the season are irrelevant.

If your idea of the “perfect draft” fits into one of the above three definitions, then great! We’re going to dive into them below. If I’ve missed a big one, let me know!

3 Perspectives on the Perfect Draft for 2023

I’m using three tools to evaluate perfect drafts for 2023, each corresponding to a different definition of perfect draft. The tools are the FantasyPros Perfect Draft Challenge, my Fantasy Games Won statistics and my moist personal CPU.

Perfect Draft Challenge

Here’s how the Perfect Draft game on FantasyPros works. You draft against computer teams mock-draft style. The game simulates a season where you start the best performing players on your team each week (Best Ball style). The total points your team scores during the season is your score.

I took a run at the game with the first pick. After a few tries, I was able to get a team in the top 23% – for the sake of discussion, here was my best team:

Round Player Pos
1 Christian McCaffrey RB
2 Lamar Jackson QB
3 Keenan Allen WR
4 DJ Moore WR
5 Dak Prescott QB
6 Raheem Mostert RB
7 De’Von Achane RB
8 Rashee Rice WR
9 Puka Nacua WR
10 Kyren Williams RB
11 Cole Kmet TE
12 Sam LaPorta TE
13 Dallas Cowboys DST
14 C.J. Stroud QB
15 Cleveland Browns DST

The tool is “perfect” for determining the Best Ball right answers, but it doesn’t map onto typical fantasy football leagues.

I think we can all agree that this team would have done well in a typical league in 2023, but it’s nowhere near perfect. Drafting 3 QBs, 2 TEs and 2 DSTs is a Best Ball strategy, where having 2-3 players to choose from each week helps significantly. In a typical league where you have a free agent pool at your disposal, the second DST roster spot is better used on skill player. If you were drafting for a season-long fantasy format, you could make some immediate upgrades to this draft slate.

Looking at the overall leaderboard for the Perfect Draft Challenge, another trend sticks out, which may actually map onto typical fantasy football formats.

The ninth draft slot takes up four of the top five slots, and nine of the top 10 (as of when I’m writing this column). It’s clearly the best slot. Here’s some speculation about what those Pick No. 9 teams look like:

If I could go back in time and pick my draft slot, at least, for my 2023 teams, to be honest, I probably would pick the 9 slot. Definitely for Best Ball leagues, perhaps for typical fantasy leagues as well.

Fantasy Games Won Results

The Perfect Draft Challenge undoubtedly helps find the greatest Best Ball drafts – and fits Definition 1 for perfect draft – but what about the Definition 2? What’s the perfect draft if you assume imperfect/realistic roster management the rest of the way? I just so happen to track a statistic called Fantasy Games Won that may help us there.

Fantasy Games Won converts fantasy points to wins for your fantasy team partly by way of percent started. A player with a 0% started number in a week gets no FGW, as you’re almost certainly not starting the player that week (De’Von Achane‘s Week 3 was like that). If you maximize your team for FGW, your draft might have gone something like this:=

Round Player Pos
1 Christian McCaffrey RB
2 Travis Etienne RB
3 Deebo Samuel WR
4 Keenan Allen WR
5 DJ Moore WR
6 Dak Prescott QB
7 Alvin Kamara RB
8 Mike Evans WR
9 Raheem Mostert RB
10 Puka Nacua WR
11 Rashee Rice WR
12 Kyren Williams RB
13 Sam LaPorta TE
14 Brock Purdy QB
15 Dallas DST

This draft result is actually fairly similar to the Perfect Draft Challenge submission I showed earlier, save for a few key differences. We swap out C.J. Stroud for Brock Purdy because Purdy was more predictable – Purdy’s FGW for Weeks 1-15 was 0.26, while Stroud was -0.14, meaning he was usually below average while in your starting lineup. If you were ever shaky on Dak, and many managers were in the early season, Purdy would have been a great player to slot in there.

There are still reasons why you wouldn’t call this the perfect draft, though. Most notable is perhaps the fact that pick 10-14 could have potentially been gotten as free agents in many leagues. Nobody would have drafted Puka Nacua in Round 10. If someone did, and followed it up with Rashee Rice and Kyren Williams, they’d have been accused of not paying attention during the draft, and it would turn to accusations of witchcraft by Week 3.

Since I don’t know any witches, or at least any that play fantasy football, we should take a look at Definition 3.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Back when I was in high school, during one of the first season on my friends’ fantasy football league, one of my league-mates made the following controversial statement:

“It just seems like you had a good draft, because your players are doing well!”

That might seem absurd, on its face. Isn’t the point of drafting to get players that will do well? But if I put this in a more extreme context, you can more easily spot the insight.

Say I walked into a casino, put my life savings on 23 red, and won. “It just seems like it was a good strategy because you won a lot of money!” That is a fair statement to make. Betting my life savings on 23 red was a bad strategy that just happened to work out.

You could say that drafting Puka Nacua in Round 10 in August would have been a bad draft strategy that just happened to work out. By similar logic, you could say that if you really want to know what the perfect draft looks like, you have to evaluate the draft before you spin the proverbial roulette wheel. Reaches at the time don’t count as good picks.

Many fantasy platforms attempt to grade drafts (emphasis: attempt). Of all my teams in 2023, this team received the best “grade” by the platform it was drafted on:

This particular team went 7-8 and had more points scored by post-draft additions than by drafted players.

Don’t Mind Me Reaching Over There

If you want my take, I would say the perfect draft does need to be evaluated based on the information available at the time. Unfortunately, that means I can’t show you a slate and say “this was the perfect draft”, especially without knowing all the ins and outs of the league it was drafted within. As compensation, I will provide you with a recap of my selections of MVP, Least Valuable Player, and more for 2023, instead.

The upshot of all of this discussion is this — if you can develop a strategy to maximize your score on the Perfect Draft Challenge, you can surely formulate a strategy to have a more perfect draft in 2024.

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Byron Cobalt is a featured writer and NFL Correspondent for FantasyPros. You can follow him @ByronCobalt.

 

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