I recently had a conversation with my co-worker James last month. We were bullshitting about our general thoughts on the upcoming football season. Both of us were being as completely vague and coy about who we really liked in fantasy this year because we ran in the same money leagues and didn’t want to give anything away.
Then he asked me a question I’ve never been asked before, “What drafting apps do you use?”, my answer probably surprised him, “I don’t use any”. I use a technique called VBD.
For those of you that don’t know, it stands for “Value Based Drafting”. It is the sabermetric version of choosing your fantasy football team. The only reason I’m am writing about it is because in all the leagues that I’ve played, I have never heard of someone else using this method. Or, they are only being coy and not telling. Which, truth be told, is as exactly as I acted during the last 4 years. In 2011, I bombed my draft, plain and simple. I was in year 3 of playing fantasy football and thought going with the gut feeling was always the best way to pick your team. After that 2011 draft; that included Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates in the first three rounds, I knew that the strategy had to change.
In 2012, I googled “fantasy football draft strategy”, only to come across VBD. It explained the process of drafting a pool of players through a snake order. “Snake drafts“, which is a crucial term because, “auction drafts” operate in completely different way. With snake drafts, the Value Based Drafting strategy argues that there is a determinant number value associated with every player in your draft based on the projected stats, positional baseline and average draft position that is the bones of every draft. Your goal is not to only draft one of the top players at their position, but to draft the most valuable player versus their draft pool. Look at VBD as baseball’s WAR (WAR= Wins Above Replacement; a numerical value of a players worth to his team by the number of wins he adds to their win total, i.e. Trout), VBD is a just a number value on how Tom Brady compares to Josh Gordon. Both are out four games, how do I account for that?
Step 1: Projecting Stats
As I said earlier, this is a sabermetric way to looking at drafting, doing the math is crucial. Luckily for you, this step is provided very easily by the numerous online sites you can get stat projections at; ESPN and FFToolbox.com to name a few. Based on what your league scoring is, by simply crunching the numbers in what these projections spill out is a speedy way of clearing the first step. And take it for my word, trying to input too much of your own personal opinion (bias) into how many stats you think is applicable to certain players is risky. These expert sites are paid to well for their opinion and you are better off taking the law of averages. I got myself into that trouble a year ago when I thought to add my own thoughts into how many touchdowns Andrew Luck would throw, Eddie Lacy’s yardage total, and that Justin Forsett was the new Frank Gore. Yeah, you can tell how that turned out last year.
So this year I decided to just take the ESPN rankings and do the math off of their projections. Why project stats? Well you must come up with a fantasy point total that each relevant player will accrue during the course of a season. Let’s take Antonio Brown.
Below is a graph as to what the experts at ESPN project for Brown in 2016:
What is great is that they accumulate his projected points in the last column. Only one problem, those projected points are for standard scoring only. If you play in point-per-reception leagues like myself (most people do), you’d be short changing him about 134 points. So the math is easy on this one, 252 + 134.5 receptions = 386.5 points you can expect Brown to score.
You continue to do this for every relevant fantasy player. Got different league scoring settings? QB touchdowns are 6 points? You got more math to do. Score interceptions as -3 points instead of -2, you got more math to do. Your job is to calculate every possible scoring outcome by the projections you want to use. That is what gives you the most accurate point values. Otherwise it will be like comparing apples to oranges if you just trust the standard ESPN point values or any other sites values. Tailoring the math to your league scoring is a must!
Step 2: Finding your Baseline
Remember when I said you had to calculate the stats for “every relevant” player? What does that mean, relevant player? Most of you are familiar with ESPN’s Top 250 fantasy players. An all-encompassing list that ranks every player from every position in order. But like I said, their list is usually tailored for their standard format, that helps very few of us out. Finding the baseline part of VBD was the part that intrigued me the most when I first read about it. We all know enough about fantasy football to compare Aaron Rodgers to Eli Manning to Kirk Cousins. But what happens when we are forced to compare Eli Manning to Michael Crabtree? Who is more valuable? How do you quantify that other than saying, “well I like Crabtree more than Manning because quarterbacks are crazy deep” (Matthew Berryism right there). Okay I get that, but how much more valuable? Again, I need something quantitative.
In comes your baseline. There are a couple schools of thought on this one. One is that you establish your baseline as the worst starter in a certain position group. The other is to take the average starter from your position group and compare him to everyone else. I’ve only done the former, not the latter, so that is the one I will be explaining to you.
Take quarterbacks for example, in a 10 team league, there will be at least ten quarterbacks starting the majority of the time for those ten teams. Quarterback #10 is your baseline (In this case, Phillip Rivers). He has a value of zero (think WAR, replacement level). All the quarterbacks above #10 are projected to be better than him by the number of points they will outscore him by.
Lets compare Aaron Rodgers to our baseline QB:
All we’re doing here is subtracting Rodger’s projected points from our baseline. That number is Rodgers VBD value.
|10th QB: Philip Rivers
Remember that concept, number of points a player outscores his position group by, that is the essence of VBD. As you may have heard Matthew Berry harp over and over again on his podcast, your job is to win weeks, you do that by assembling a roster that gives you the best chance to outscore your opponents, i.e. his players of similar position groups to yours. You assemble a roster that consistently outscores your opponents position groups, you’re in good shape. That is why Rob Gronkowski is so valuable, having Gronk on your team gives you a significant advantage at the tight end position week in and week out.
Back to establishing your baseline real quick, I don’t want to jump too far ahead into VBD point values because miscalculating your baseline can skew the numbers and perceived value, which is bad for you.
Let’s take a sample league: Best of the Best (one of my money leagues I’m in)
PPR 10 teams: 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 W/R/TE flex, 1 K and 1 DEF
Your following baselines would be the 10th QB, 20th RB, 30th WR, 10th TE, 10th K and 10th DEF as values of zeros. But what about the flex position? Wouldn’t that bump the baselines down 10 more spots for each of the RB, WR and TE groups? Well, yes and no. In a 10 team PPR league, WRs hold the most extra value, so do running backs that haul in receptions north of 40 for the year. So yes, extra value is put into those groups. Tight Ends are a different story, most leagues don’t value them much. And position scarcity is to the point where unless someone grabs 2 of the top 5-6 TEs, you are not going to face a TE in their flex spot.
So where do the baselines lie for the skill position players? If we assume most players are using their flex for RBs/WRs, we bump their baselines down 10 spots. But what about byes? What about injuries? Surely not everyone will play all 16 weeks, other players must fill that spot. This year I decided to add 5 more spots to not only the skill position groups but QBs as well to cover for byes and possible injuries.
My baseline for a 10 Team PPR league went as follows:
QBs: 15, RBs: 35, WRs: 45, TEs: 15, K: 12, DEF: 12 (I only added 2 for kicking and defense because they are the least valuable commodities in fantasy football.
I once I added up all the relevant players projected stats, it started to really made sense to see who came up as league average in some spots. Derek Carr for QBs, James Starks for RBs, Travis Benjamin for WRs etc. Those are league average players to a T.
That pretty much explains finding your baselines, the more flex spots you employ, the more difficult to it is to account for concrete baselines. Use your best judgement on what your league places more value on and you should be fine.
***(P.S. Your league uses IDP players instead of a Defense? No sweat, run steps one and two and you can now value defensive players versus your regular offensive players. Same concept applies!)
Step 3: Calculating VBD Values
So you’ve now found your baselines, here comes the number crunching. As we saw with the example graph in Step 2, each players VBD value will be subtracted against his position group’s baseline. You do this for all the players above the baseline. You will get numerical values associated with each player and it becomes clear who is the most valuable versus not only his peers at his position group but his peers in the entire draft field!
There is not a whole lot more to explain to this step. It is the most tedious of all the steps, it is basically homework for your fantasy team, but hey, you want to win don’t you? Dominate even right? This is what separates you from the competition. Let your other league mates rely on the Fantasy Focus Podcast and NFL Network shows for their edge.
Sooooooo we could be done with this step, but if you’re still reading, lets up our game a little bit and talk the advanced course in this step.
Step 3b: The Brady Plan
I conveniently came up with the name this year, as I, like a lot of other players, were willing to wait for Brady as a discounted price. Normally a top 3-4 QB taken if he was to play the entire 16 game slate, experts had Brady as the 8th-10th QB taken off the board. Seasoned vets like myself loved the price. But what was Brady’s true value if you paired him with another quarterback for those first four weeks? How high could you draft Brady and not overpay for him?
So you draft Brady, cool, but now you can’t start him for the first month of the season. Are you forced to not play a QB? No, you draft a backup to start in place of him. That backup gives you value for 4 weeks, that value can be added to Brady’s value. Dragon Ball Z fans will remember the fusion technique where two warriors fused into one super warrior (sorry, had to get a DBZ reference in). It is the same concept! Brady’s value is not only his remaining 12 games but also the 4 games you get from your backup. Calculate Brady’s stats, for arguments sake, take the stats of your baseline QB (Derek Carr), divide by 16 and then times that number by 4 and add to Brady’s projected stat line. See graph below:
||Current VBD Value
||230.4 = 20.95/Gm
In the next graph we’ll add Carr’s 16.87 per game average X 4 games to Brady’s value:
||Updated Projected Points
||Current VBD Value
||230.4 + 67.48 = 297.88
So now you get a true understanding of where Brady is valued even with the suspension. Initially his perceived value had him in the back end of the top 10 QBs and with a negative VBD. By adding in a probable waiver wire QB for the first four weeks, Brady jumps to the #3 QB just ahead of Andrew Luck. He’s worth being taken as the 3rd QB off the board, but you don’t need to worry about taking him that early. Wait, but don’t wait too long or you will squander a massively undervalued asset.
You can do this for every player facing suspension and/or injuries at the beginning of the season (Le’von Bell, Josh Gordon and Tyler Eifert).
The very last step in calculating VBD values after crunching the numbers and accounting for games missed etc., is to order your list from the highest to the absolute zero values.
You’re done right? A list compiling every player’s value relative to his peers no matter position. You can just draft off that list right? WRONG
Step 4: Compare your list to ADP
ADP? Another three letter acronym introduced this late? How much longer is this going to go on?!?!
Do not fear, most of you know ADP as “Average Draft Position”. It is far more common to me that my league mates know about ADP versus VBD. ADP lists are compiled over thousands and thousands of mock drafts done by different sites; Yahoo, ESPN etc. as the average draft position of a player. You will see Antonio Brown atop nearly every single list this year. You will see Todd Gurley in the top 10 of ADP. It is as close as you can get to a consensus as to what the majority of people value players by.
So you have your VBD list, it is now time to compare your list to a well-respected ADP list to see which players are undervalued, overvalued or properly valued in ranking. You could choose ESPN, Scout.com or any of the other reputable sites that you trust. My only caveat is to make sure it tailors to your league. I was able to find a site that complied thousands of 10 team PPR drafts. It had filters for 8,12 and 15 teams, standard or PPR. The more specific you can get your ADP list, the better your comparisons will be.
For most of the first 25 spots or so, your VBD and ADP should go about chalk. I wouldn’t get too cute if a player is off by a couple spots, there is no need to worry about that.
Anything (+/-) 6 spots I note. see below
||Last RB in tier 2, alright as RB1
||Massively undervalued / ADP 53 / Wait till 4th/5th
||Rebound likely, TDs can only go up
||Solid draft position / solid pick here
Once the difference gets above 20 to 30 (2-3 Rounds difference), then there is a serious under or overvaluation going on. Your main goal in any fantasy sport is to find value with every pick. When I compare both lists, I’m looking for the undervalued players. Players who give me the same value if I were to pick them in Round 3 but their ADP says I can get them in Round 5 or later. Why spend market value on anything when you can get it for cheaper? I don’t care what walk of life you’re from, that is a principle that everybody understands.
Here is a list of the most undervalued players of the first 100 picks:
Eric Decker +24, Jordan Matthews +27, Theo Riddick +54, Ameer Abdullah +26, Emmanuel Sanders +25, Danny Woodhead +11, Larry Fitzgerald +21, Torrey Smith +54
It also highlights overvalued players. These are guys I will most likely never draft. Nothing against them, I just don’t see value there. In doing my VBD list this year, I consistently found that the two position groups that had the most overvalued players were QBs and TEs. If the ADP were to go chalk, I most likely would’ve never have picked a QB or TE in the first 100 picks.
Here is a list of the most overvalued players of the first 100 picks:
Eddie Lacy -13, Thomas Rawls -13, Delanie Walker -23, Ben Roethlisberger -35, Greg Olsen -20, Kelvin Benjamin -29, Michael Floyd -17
As you see in both lists, VBD is not Nostradamus when it comes to predicting outcomes. But after the first week, the sample size just isn’t big enough. Plus, this assume that each player would be drafted at the said ADP position, if you were grab Big Ben at pick 123, that’s awesome value.
The final part of this step is rearranging your draft cheat sheet into a concrete and concise list. The graph you see above in Step 4 is what I use to draft on. I don’t need 20 different papers. I just need my own personal draft board and I stick to it. I’ve found that less is more when it comes to cheat sheets. It is my very own list that I worked hard on and I trust in it. Anything more is just unnecessary clutter.
So that wraps up the process of Value Based Drafting. Hope got something concrete out of this and maybe this will push you to become a more prepared fantasy player in the years to come. I’m going to end on some questions that will cap off this post.
Is it okay to stray from your VBD list?
Absolutely, being flexible when it comes to the draft is an essential quality to have. Does it makes sense to draft that 5th WR before you have taken any RBs or filled in any other part of your roster? Not really. My goal in the first 5-7 rounds is to just take the BPA (best player available). After that, or even a little before that, I look to fill in my blank roster spaces that best match draft need and VBD value. If I’m stuck on a certain player or position group, I fall back on my draft board list as a guide.
Do personal feelings on players get in the way of the order of your list?
All the time. One of the first disagreements I had with my VBD list was Devonte Freeman. VBD value had him as the 5th overall player. ADP had him as the 22nd overall player. I thought there was no way I’d ever spend a 1st Round pick on a guy I had serious questions about role and repeat production. So I decided to move him down into a ranking I felt more comfortable taking him at. If I get him at that ranking, I’m fine, if not, no sweat off my back. Was probably never ever going to draft him anyways.
Anything else you would recommend for your VBD list?
The notes part I found very helpful. I go as little as “#1 Pick”, to complete sentences on role, production, projections and personal input.
Well that will do it. If you finished all of this, you should get some type of medal. I know it was long, but VBD is not the easiest process to describe. But take it from me, it gives you an advantage. I have never finished lower than 3rd place in my main fantasy football money league. Knowing all this doesn’t make you the smartest man in the room. But it will likely make you the most prepared man in the room, and that is often all the advantage you need to crush your league and become a champion.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave comments, share to post, or get right to work on your 2017 Fantasy Football Draft!