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Value-Based Drafting: Positional Strategy

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I’ve always been an advocate of value-based drafting, the idea of going into a draft without a specific positional strategy. And I still am. However, at some point, the approach of drafting for value further emphasizes the value of certain positions at different points in the draft.

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This year more than ever I have noticed a repetition in not only the players I select in mocks (those who I have highest compared to ADP), but my positional roster construction- especially in the early rounds. So, while I will always preach flexibility, a combination of historical market inefficiencies and specific to this year player evaluations have led the majority of my drafts to start

  • RB-RB-WR-WR-WR-WR
  • RB-TE-WR-WR-WR-WR

This isn’t by any means my set and stone strategy; I have, and will continue to take Davante Adams around the turn, Chris Carson in the 4th, or even Patrick Mahomes in the third. These are just where I believe values lie in the draft, and that is in large part due to what many call the running back dead zone.

Historical Data

While just a general assumption about position scarcity has often led non Zero-RB preaching fantasy owners to the conclusion that running backs should be drafted early (and this assumption is correct), exactly how early has never been a consensus.

There has been plenty of analysis done this offseason by Hayden Winks and Jack Miller using best ball win rates that can be found here. These conclude generally speaking, we should not be drafting running backs in the round 3-6 range, or “deadzone”. Here are the average Best Ball win rates from the last three seasons for players each position with ADP rounds 1 through 6 (data from Rotoviz).

While tight ends is a bit of an outlier as there haven’t been many tight ends with an ADP that high, the graph does show that RB-TE-WR-WR-WR-WR would be the most profitable strategy. The following graph shows just the running backs and receivers, further emphasizing the idea of the running back dead zone, as running backs have higher win rates than receivers in round 1 and 2, and lower ones in rounds 3-6.

There are of course exceptions, as many will point out Aaron Jones and Derrick Henry last season. And if one of the round 3-6 guys this year is “your guy” that you truly believe in (if I had to choose it would be Chris Carson or Jonathan Taylor), then by all means take them, but if you are debating between running backs in the fourth round just to take a running back, the short answer is don’t.

This Year’s Crop

Every year is different in fantasy football, and it’s important to take historical data into context. Similar to last year with guys like Aaron Jones and sadly Kerryon Johnson, there are running backs I like in this range. However, while there is some bias in this.

I think it’s fair to say the running backs in the rounds 3-6 range all have significant question marks, while the only question mark for most of the receivers is how good they’ll be.

Running Backs Situation

The fourteen running backs that are available in round 3-6 include;

  • Todd Gurley – just got cut by an NFL franchise because of a knee condition
  • Leonard Fournette – team was actively trying to trade him
  • Le’Veon Bell – associated with Adam Gase

Even guys I like, Chris Carson, James Conner, Jonathan Taylor, all have injury or workload question marks.

Wide Receivers Available

Compare that to the receivers in that range;

  • Mike Evans – has never had less than 1,000 receiving yards
  • D.J. Moore – early-career production is similar to that of Michael Thomas
  • Tyler Lockett – who was a top 5 receiver prior to injury last season
  • A.J. Brown – who is literally not human
  • Robert Woods – second in expected fantasy points from week 9 on

Receivers I am “fading” in this range are Juju Smith Schuster and Adam Thielen, both a year removed from top 8 seasons. And the list just continues with guys like Allen Robinson, D.J. Chark, and Terry McLaurin. So, while not simply adhering to a middle round receiver strategy, there seems to be too much value in that range not to capitalize on.

So has that made things a little clearer on how to apply Value-Based Drafting to shape your positional strategy? Or do you still need some guidance? Let us know. You can find us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Image Credit: Kim Klement – USA TODAY Sports