It’s time to look at Fantasy Sports a little differently. Not just to be novel, not just to stick out in a crowd, and not just so we can say we did. It’s time to get outside this corner we’ve been painted in within the fantasy industry. There’s a certain amount of Group Think that occurs. Here’s why it’s important to think differently… because over the past decade, in any given season of a standard scoring 10-team league as dictated by Yahoo or ESPN, nearly everyone is going to fall between 1,100 and 1,400 points. So we need to find out how we can get an edge; even a minute edge. This could be the difference in coming in 9th place vs. being a playoff team. Or it could be the difference in finishing 3rd vs. finishing in 1st.
Firstly, let me try to state the overarching, cumulative, and quintessential draft strategy of every fantasy football expert in the industry in one all-encompassing sentence:
“Any strategy can work if you pick the right players, so I cannot tell you which position or specific player to draft where, but rather I will tell you that since it’s dictated by who’s available in your league, your specific league settings, and drafting habits of your league, you should simply draft the player that is the best value at any given spot of your draft.”
Look we get it. Experts cannot sit there and draft next to you. Their rankings won’t tell you what to do in the context of your specific draft and your specific league. So they are hesitant to answer questions like: “Should I go RB-RB near the end of the first round.” The answer will always be: “It depends,” or “I don’t have enough information.”
So since you cannot get a specific answer, why don’t we try thinking outside the box. I’m going to tell you a viable draft strategy this year, that is not position specific, but rather one that deals with actuarial tables and data from years past. The good news, is I’ve done the legwork for you to figure out who fits into these categories. Now, introducing the Risk Averse Players Draft or the “RAP draft”.
Thought Process behind the RAP Draft:
There’s a saying in fantasy sports that you can’t win a championship in the first round of your draft, but you could very well lose it. I don’t know if I necessarily believe that, but the premise is sound. In other words, if you draft a player that wildly underperforms in the first round of your draft, you will be significantly behind compared to those that get “stud” level production out of their top picks. Last year, if you were one of the owners that drafted Ray Rice, Arian Foster, Doug Martin, C.J. Spiller, or Trent Richardson in the first round… then you were going to have a VERY difficult time catching up to the owners that drafted the likes of Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Calvin Johnson, Marshawn Lynch and LeSean McCoy.
In so many words, it’s of the utmost importance that the handful of picks at the top of your draft produce a similar value to where you drafted them. Everyone will have their waiver wire gems, and everyone will have some later round picks blossom, but if it’s not bolstered by top-end production from your high draft picks, you WILL be in trouble. In one 2013 league I took Arian Foster and Roddy White as two of my top three picks… I did not make the playoffs. So what do we do to avoid these early round injuries? ENTER the RAP Draft.
The RAP Draft focuses on drafting players that have a statistically lower likelihood of injury compared to other players that are drafted near them. Will this work 100% of the time? Of course not, not even close. However, the hope is that it help us avoid early round players that have shown cause for concern based on their own health indicators, and the age ranges of impending “cliff years” for their respective positions. As ESPN’s Matthew Berry recently pointed out in his always fabulous Draft-Day-Manifesto, “at a fundamental level, fantasy football is all about minimizing risk and giving yourself the best odds to win. On a weekly basis.” The intent of the RAP Draft is all about mitigating risk where it matters the most, namely, in the upper part of the draft. Sometimes there are injury risk players that could possibly provide huge dividends (I see you in the corner with your hand raised Percy Harvin, I’ll take questions later). But all in all, avoiding the more “risky” players should not simultaneously limit your team from upside. The beautiful thing about drafting from this selected list is that no one else is. Everyone else in your draft room will be drafting from a complete player pool, so you should never have to reach for anyone outside of their normal draft value range.
So here’s the plan. In the first 6-7 rounds of your draft, you only take players from the top-100 on the RAP Draft sheet. If they are crossed out, you do not draft them. Once you have filled out the first 6-7 rounds of your draft, and have mitigated as much risk as possible, you shift gears and take nothing but high upside players in the back half of your draft. In other words, if you have a choice between Dwayne Bowe and Tavon Austin, you go Austin. If you’re looking at DeAngelo Williams or Devonta Freeman, you go Freeman. If the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, you’ll be fishing the waiver wire for this year’s Keenan Allen with that roster space anyhow by the time week 4 rolls around. One of the great benefits of paying a premium for players with “high floors” in the top half, is the upside it allows for later in the draft. Since you’ve bolstered your roster by going as safe as possible with your early picks, you can now afford to search for lightening in a bottle, that silver unicorn, this year’s Josh Gordon.
Okay so after actuarial research and quite frankly common sense, here’s the injury limiting criteria for the RAP Draft:
-Age limit 35
-Cannot be bottom 10 in sacks over the prior 2 seasons (QBs that get hit often are more liable to get hurt. Aaron Rodgers came off a league high 51 sacks in 2012, we all saw how that turned out last year)
-Missed no more than 2 games due to injury in the past 2 seasons or 1 game due to injury last season.
-Rushing attempts of no more than 4.0 per game
-Age limit 29
-Load limit averaged < 300 touches per season over the past 3 seasons
-Missed no more than 3 games due to injury in the past season or 25% of games in their career due to injury.
-Age limit 31
-Missed no more than 4 games due to injury in the past 2 seasons or 2 game due to injury last season.
-Age limit 31
-Has a track record of at least 2 seasons in the NFL
-Missed no more than 4 games due to injury in the past 2 seasons or 2 game due to injury last season.
In last season’s Top-100 drafted, let’s see who we would’ve eliminated from drafting. Remember, there’s going to be a lot of those that we put on the Do-Not-Draft list that produce substantial numbers. But the goal is to mitigate risk here:
2013 TOP-100 players on the Do Not Draft list according to the RAP Draft Plan:
QBs- Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton, Michael Vick, Aaron Rodgers
Accuracy determined by finishing 5 spots or lower from the ADP ranks among QBs:
Rodgers, Brady, RG3, Vick- ACCURACY (4/7)= 57.1%
RBs- Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, Arian Foster, Demarco Murray, Ray Rice, Ryan Mathews, Steven Jackson, Ahmad Bradshaw, Maurice Jones-Drew, Chris Johnson, Darren McFadden, Rashard Mendenhall
Accuracy determined by finishing 12 spots or lower from the ADP ranks among RBs:
Martin, Foster, Rice, Jackson, Bradshaw, MJD, McFadden, Mendenhall ACCURACY (8/13)= 61.5%
WRs- Andre Johnson, Wes Welker, Roddy White, Jordy Nelson, Anquan Boldin, Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Bowe, Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, Danny Amendola, Greg Jennings, Pierre Garcon, Antonio Brown, DeSean Jackson, Miles Austin, Tavon Austin
Accuracy determined by finishing 12 spots or lower than the ADP ranks among WRs:
White, Wayne, Bowe, Smith, Nicks, Amendola, M. Austin, and T. Austin. ACCURACY (8/16)= 50%
TEs- Rob Gronkowski, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, Antonio Gates
Accuracy determined by finishing 3 spots or lower than ADP ranks among TEs:
Gronkowski, Witten, Gates. ACCURACY (3/4)= 75%.
OVERALL ACCURACY (23/40) = 57.5%
Which means, that by following this simple criteria with the top-100 players drafted, we could have predicted the bust/injury probability of the top 100 players drafted at a 57.5% rate. And more importantly, avoided them all together. Some will argue that the different endpoints I set for each position are quite arbitrary and may not be what others consider a “bust”, but I doubt you would stick up for drafting very many of these players in their respective 2013 draft slots considering the production you received vs. where you drafted them.
Did we avoid drafting Peyton Manning in the 3rd round last year? Sure. But did we avoid drafting Ray Rice and Arian Foster in the first round too? You betcha. No one knows who this year’s Peyton Manning or Josh Gordon will be, so let’s not keep pretending like we do.
Up from 40 last season, there are now 49 of the top-100 players this season that are on thenDo-Not-Draft list for the RAP Plan. You may say, “But Logan, you’re eliminating nearly half of the draft pool in the top-100 players.” Yes, yes I am… but note that your league does not know this. They will still be drafting from the entirety of the player pool. So you should still be drafting players within their respective Value-Based-Drafting ranges. You should never have to reach more than one round’s worth of value to find an eligible player on the draft list.
CLICK ABOVE ↑↑↑↑ Okay, so this is quite simple. If you follow the RAP draft, you cannot select anyone that is crossed off from the list. That is, until round 7 or 8 crop up. That’s when all players are fair game, in particular the players with the maximum amount of upside near where the draft pick is. So ideally, you’re never going to end up rostering Steven Jackson or DeAngelo Williams. I’ve done a 12-team standard mock draft using Yahoo!’s Mock Draft services (3 WR’s, no flex) to show what a RAP plan team might look like this season.
I like this roster, It’s got a combination of safety and upside at the top, with a litany of upside plays late. In the first 6 rounds, I went by the 2014 RAD Draft List. When Round 7 hit, I took as many upside guys from there on out. Ben Tate has a history of injuries and underwhelming performances, but he is set to get the lions share of carries in Cleveland. Jordan Reed has had concussion issues that could crop up again any time… who cares? it’s in round 9. Cooks, Freeman, Hyde, and Hill are all young pups, but could pay huge dividends if the cards fall just right. I don’t anticipate many if any of them to produce big for my team, but the strategy is to draft the safest picks possible at the top, and litter your late round picks with the upside guys. So it’s time for a gut check, are you going to play with fire at the top side of your draft injury prone guys like Julio Jones and workload concern guys like Marshawn Lynch? Or are you going to look for safety in both your own players track records, and the history of other performers at that given position. At the end of the day, the fantasy industry as a whole missed on a plethora of top round choices last year. So when the consensus among analysts last year was to draft Ray Rice a full round ahead of Matt Forte, it just proves the obvious here: we simply don’t know how things are going to turn out. We’re not psychics, shamans, nor sooth sayers. So let’s bake everything into the recipe of our rankings, but avoid risk whenever possible. When you begin to realize how important it is to be “bust” free in the early rounds of your draft… you’ll learn to RAP it before you draft it.
Follow Logan Grubbs on twitter: @NotFakeFantasy