A common mantra that gets tossed around every draft season is just get your guys. More or less, the idea is to not be overly influenced by external forces such as expert rankings, ADP, conventional wisdom etc. and in each round just grab a player that you feel good about. While I do think that there’s something to be said for trusting your gut, and there are certainly times that it makes sense to deviate from the above, this can be dangerous advice. If I were forced to highlight a single reason why I believe it to be misguided, I’d point out that it more less advocates a drafting approach that is largely devoid of an overarching strategy or context. If you take these away, you’re basically just throwing darts and hoping that each pick you make hits. If you haven’t listened to FFDRAFTTPREP Podcast yet, please do as it will make the prior couple of sentences more meaningful.
We Are not Good Prognosticators
As I’ve noted numerous times, it’s really easy for us to trust our ability to project players and do so with great amounts of confidence. The problem lies in he truth that even the best fantasy drafters in the world are far from perfect and in football random events, that we have no way of anticipating, occur all the time. I’d venture a guess that I spend more time researching, evaluating and projecting players than 99 percent of the world’s population. Even so, I still find it necessary to anticipate that I will get it ‘wrong’ when projecting a substantial amount of players. We all will.
So when someone tells you to just get your guys, you should feel abundantly confident in your ability to accurately project players before doing so (or at least, that particular player I guess; which is still dangerous. But no I take that back. In order for you to confidently say that you know this one player is soo much better than other fantasy owners, you’d have to feel good about your assessment of all the other players you are drafting him over). We could look through a boat load of data, but to keep things simple lets look at how the top 20 players selected at each position fared in 2015. For each graph I have included PPR points by pre-season ADP, which is sorted left to right, with 1 representing first player drafted at each position. In a perfect world, we’d expect the graphs to slope downward from left to right.
With the exception of WR, which is consistently the ‘easiest’ position to predict, it’s rather evident that drafts were far from perfect in 2016.
Obviously, we’re not going to hit on every player. That’s a given. And of course, we do have to draft players so this is naturally going to occur. But what I’m really getting at is, we need to be mindful of when, where and how we ‘get our guys’. The above graphs were simply intended to serve as a reminder of how rarely things shake out as expected. Keep in mind, that ADP is actually one of the better systems we have for pricing fantasy players but it still miles from perfect in terms of accurately predicting player outcomes. Please, remember how fallible we all are.
A Contingency Based Approach
Realizing that we are going to make some bad picks, even when ‘getting our guys’ is really important. We need to have some stability and depth to fall back on within our roster. If ‘our guys’ are all young breakout candidates, we might be waiting all season for the boom but to no avail. Likewise, we might be tempted to grab two running backs that we like in the first and second round, view them as our two starters and ignore the position until much later in the draft. Just remember, even though they might be ‘your guys’ it doesn’t remove their inherent or positional based risk. This highlights one of the main reasons that the mantra can be a trap, it makes us more comfortable than we should be and perhaps too confident. Now of course, I do advocate approaches that place minimal emphasis on RBs. But the difference in the above example is that we are assuming we have the position covered and that it will be a strength. This is vastly different from the logic underlying Zero-RB or similar approaches.
There is a Right and a Wrong Time
Another thing that I talk about all the time is how useful tiers can be. In fact, I believe that they are so important that I’ve dedicated more hours than imaginable to creating draft tools that center around them. Drafters really need to be aware of tiers as they are an easily digestible way to quickly ascertain the quality of available players in a draft. If done correctly, tiers should bucket players into groups of approximate values, fantasy outcomes or whatever adjective you’d prefer. At the end of the day, all of the considerations that we would consider as fantasy owners should be boiled into a player’s tier. This means that the players within a tier should be interchangeable. If we would be willing to select a certain player within a tier in round 2, we should also be willing to select any other player from his positional tier at that point in the draft. Remember, tiers are not created equally!
You may LOVE John Brown in 2016 but do you really know that he’s going to be that much better than Michael Floyd? In my opinion, both are tier four wide receivers. I’d begin to consider taking tier four wide receivers somewhere around the beginning of round 5. This is where players of their caliber should be taken. If we were to select either two rounds earlier because we really loved them, we’d likely be doing so at the opportunity cost of selecting another player with a better range of likely outcomes. Further, we could be missing out on one of the last players from another tier that may actually be better or more useful to our team. Further, we could probably wait and get them when they are more appropriately priced. We might be taking on more risk than is necessary at the point or absorbing a much lower floor than is needed.
Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant have been extremely similar fantasy assets over the course of the last half decade. You might really prefer one; maybe you project Thomas for 40 more points. But history is not on your side if you think that one of them is a lock to substantially distance himself from the other. In August we just don’t know. We could go through a laundry list of other similar players but I think you get the point.
The takeaway here is that just because you love a guy, it doesn’t mean you should pick him. You need to make ‘optimal decisions’ for your team. Ones that fall within a broader context, consider elements of roster construction and that allow you to maximize the utility of every pick that you make. Feel free ‘get your guys’ but only do so when it would be appropriate to select any of the other players included within their tiers.