Drafting Principles and Tactics

Gang, as you may know, I really love football. Studying the game, researching and analyzing everything I can find to unearth applied insights. Sometimes, the statistician in me comes out. Below is the Football Analyst side of my brain talking to the old Statistician within. Whatever you call it, this essay is intended to help you find an edge on draft day.

In this article, I will cover:

1) Redefining the Draft - Targeting Valuable Starters
The Power and Pitfalls of Using Projected Yearly Data
3) Why Using Consensus Rankings is Often a Bad Idea
4) Drafting a Bargain - Just in Time

5) Bargains and Avoiding the Overspend

Targeting Valuable Starters
I'll briefly overview TVS - Targeting Valuable Starters. The TVS Principles outlined below are widely applicable to both auction and non-auction league draft formats.

Unlike other popular drafting methods, TVS fully integrates five vital elements and delivers the results via a parsimonious Power Rating.

In a nutshell, the TVS process determines a player's draft day worth by:

1) Evaluating a player's ability to generate Fantasy Points relative to your competitor's players at that same position

2) Evaluating a player's ability to generate Fantasy Points relative to "easily obtainable" players via the waiver wire (free agent pool).

3) Evaluating a player's overall ability to generate Fantasy Points (via his talent, durability, job security, consistency level, offensive system and workload).

4) Evaluating a player's Strategic Value (example: key backup to a stud RB).

5) In addition, TVS considers the number of effective Fantasy Starts a player will likely give you! This is a key and unique element used in the TVS Power Rating computation.

Fortunately, most of your competitors won't consider all these factors when they evaluate and draft players. As such, by utilizing the TVS Power Rating, you'll have a competitive advantage.

Some Fantasy Football team owners utilize a mechanical drafting technique called Value Based Drafting to select players. In the process, they attempt to utilize projected season statistics to evaluate whom to draft. Projected stats help determine the degree to which a given player will outscore other players at that position. In addition, projected stats can help you evaluate potential draft picks across different positions. Value Based methods are logical and often result in a decent selection. In fact, TVS leverages the Value Based principle in computing the TVS Power Rating.

However, value-based methods only give you part of the picture. TVS leverages the good things about Value Based Drafting, avoids the problems and ultimately delivers a more robust solution. TVS takes it to the next level!

A more insightful way to determine a player's worth on draft day can be had by considering:

1) How many Fantasy Starts you'll likely obtain from that player

2) When you start a player, how much he'll outscore (or be outscored by) your opponent's starting players at the same position.

Player's Fantasy Worth = (# Fantasy Starts) x (Relative Scoring Ability)

Strictly speaking, a good Fantasy Draft consists of more than just obtaining a number of high scoring studs. Rather, a good draft allows you to field an outstanding starting lineup week-in and week-out. In addition, a successful Fantasy Draft must yield a starting lineup that will consistently outscore your opponent's starting lineup.

QUESTION: Assuming your league starts two RBs each week and all the RBs stay healthy, which backfield would you like to own? (see Table I and II)

Table I: TEAM-A's Running Backs

Overall #1 Ranked RB

Overall 2nd Ranked RB

Overall 3rd Ranked RB

Overall 85th Ranked RB

Overall 86th Ranked RB

Overall 87th Ranked RB

Table II: TEAM-B's Running Backs

Overall 25th Ranked RB

Overall 26th Ranked RB

Overall 27th Ranked RB

Overall 28th Ranked RB

Overall 29th Ranked RB

Overall 30th Ranked RB

Using projected season statistics, Team-B's forecast could earn you more Value Based points on draft day. And in total, Team-B could generate more Yards and TDs.

So, which team would you like to own? A or B?

If you said 'Team-A' you're halfway home to understanding TVS. Clearly in a league that starts two RBs each week, Team-A is highly preferred over Team-B.

Why? Plain and simple, Team-A should deliver more valuable starts than Team-B.

The take is simple! The better job you can do at targeting and drafting valuable starters, the better your draft. TVS helps you do just this.

So where do you find TVS values? Online, 4for4.com will post pre-calculated, sortable TVS values. In addition, if you're not afraid of some data manipulation, you can certainly compute TVS values on your own. Regardless of if you use 4for4.com's TVS values on-line, compute your own TVS data or simply leverage the concepts (without the data), you'll be better off than your TVS-lacking competitors.

Before we get into more specifics on TVS, it's time for another example.

Let's pretend you own a crystal ball. For arguments sake, lets say it can perfectly forecast yearly NFL player statistics.

You asked and your amazing crystal ball tells you which WR will generate 228 Fantasy Points by gaining 1,500 yards receiving and scoring 13 TDs this season. In addition, the crystal ball tells you which WR will generate 125 Fantasy Points (via 950 yards receiving and 5 TDs).

The top WR generates about double the stats as the lower tier player. Given that, is the #1 WR worth about twice as much? Of course not, he's worth more!!!

Hummm... So what do projected stats really tell us about relative Fantasy worth?

As it turns outs, TVS analysis shows the #1 WR is worth about 10x the lesser one.

Intuitively, this makes good sense. Everything else being equal, whom would you rather have on your roster - an elite stud (taking up one roster spot) or two journeymen taking up two roster spots?

Perhaps you already realized this at a gut level. That's great. But now, TVS gives you a way to quantify the result and precisely operationalize it into your drafting! In addition, TVS allows you to objectively and consistently examine situations that aren't as obvious.

Where did that 10x ratio come from? Good question! However, if math isn't your cup of tea, you may not enjoy the answer. What follows in the next few paragraphs is not casual reading. Hang in. After the math, we'll turn back to English. Okay, you've been warned.

Before the TVS calculation is performed, several key metrics must be available. You'll need Individual Player Power Ratings. In addition, you'll need to compute how many Fantasy starts the Nth best player at a position will typically provide you during the season.

Individual Power Ratings are computed for each NFL player. At a minimum, Individual Player Power Ratings can be computed using Projected Player Stats. But, to go beyond that, a good power rating should consider more. For example, the 4for4.com Individual Player Power Rating is derived from a number of variables including a player's durability, consistency, job security, past performance, estimated future workload and his projected statistics.

To determine how many starts the Nth best player will typically provide, one must go back and examine a number of prior drafts and week-to-week starting lineups. From this, you need to form normative data. For example, the NFL's #1 Fantasy WR typically gets 15.95 Fantasy starts per year. The 35th best WR typically makes 8.0 Fantasy starts per year. This process is continued for all positions and goes as deep as your league's starting lineup dictates.

With Individual Power Ratings and Typical Start data in hand, it's time to compute a Player's TVS Power Rating.

For NFL Player(I), playing Position(J), the TVS Power Rating is computed as follows:

Player's TVS Rating =

100/(number of NFL players per Fantasy Team) x [Estimated # of Fantasy Starts for NFL Player(I) x (1+ NFL Player(I)'s Individual Raw Power Rating - Position(J)'s Bench Mark Power Rating)] / Average(Individual Raw Power Rating among likely drafted players)

The above formula makes use of benchmark values. These benchmarks act as a guidepost to facilitate player comparisons within a position. The benchmark value is strategically selected. For each position, the benchmark gets its value from several of the best players not likely to be drafted (using their Individual Power Rating). This choice is strategic because it measures scoring power relative to a top prospect that's readily available via your league's free agent pool.

While the formula may look incredibly complex to some and rather basic to others, the collective result satisfies a number of important conditions (see Table III).

Table III: The Beauty of the TVS Formula...
It satisfies the following conditions:

I) Proportionally rewards players for outscoring your competitor's players at that position.

II) Proportionally rewards players for distancing themselves from peer players found in the "free agent pool."

III) Rewards players in proportion to how many Fantasy starts they'll likely provide you during the season.

TVS is computed for all NFL players likely to get drafted. The calculation favors NFL players that greatly distance themselves from other drafted players at that position.

The TVS Rating also considers the magnitude by which a drafted player distances himself from his peers available on the waiver wire.

In addition, the TVS formula leverages historical norms and estimates the number of Fantasy Starts a player with a given Fantasy value will typically offer you.

Bottom Line? The more often a player can effectively start and help you win, the higher his TVS Rating.

Excluding extremes, while the number of draftable players varies from league to league, this does not significantly impact the TVS Rating because it's a relative-comparison measure. Likewise, the number of starters allowed per league varies. Again, since this is a relative calculation, this does not greatly skew TVS values.

For some, the TVS approach to player evaluation is new. As such, take some time to think about the underlying principles herein. It's a step up from basic drafting methods.

Please don't disregard the concepts because it's not what you've done in the past or because they sound complex. Keep an open mind. If you do, I'm confident you'll see the benefits and gain a competitive advantage.

The Power and Pitfalls of Projected Yearly Data
Statistician's talk about 'expected' value. Flip a fair coin 10,000,000 times and you'd expect to get 50% heads and 50% tails.

'Expected value' data can be invaluable in many situations. In the long run, actual values often mirror the expected or predicted value. Good player stat projections fall into the realm of expected value data.

Nonetheless, when it comes down to drafting one or two key roster spots, 'expected value' isn't always enough. Actually, this is often the case in decision support.

Time for another example. Suppose Bill Gates stopped over to see you tonight. During the visit he offered you two options (see Table IV).

Table IV: Bill Gates Stops Over For Dinner

Option #1 -- Gates will flip a fair coin and you call it. If you get it right, he'll gladly write you a check for $5,000,000. But, if you get it wrong, you get nothing.

Option #2 - No coins, no games, Bill will simply give you a check for $2,000,000.

Which would you take? Option #1 or Option #2?

Easy --- Option #2 all the way!

But, the 'expected value' from Option #1 is actually higher than Option #2 (5,000,000 x .50 = 2,500,000 > 2,000,000).

As you can see, in some cases, expected value neglects to factor in 'utility' --- your specific goals and how you make tradeoffs.

The same is often true when making Fantasy roster decisions. When you use projected stats, be sure to consider other factors.

For example you wouldn't want to draft a team with three injury-riddled RBs, just because they had the highest projected stats at the time. In this case, the risk does not match the reward. If several of the high-risk RBs fall to injury, your team might never recover!

Why Using General Consensus Rankings is often times a Bad Idea
Should you use a General Consensus draft list? Is it a safe bet? Does using a consensus cheat sheet help or will it destroy your draft?

Ask a few football buddies for their fantasy rankings this year. Next, combine that feedback with rankings from a handful of Fantasy Football sources. Average it all out and chances are you'll have a reasonable 'General Consensus' ranking list.

But, is it a good idea to use a consensus list? Does an average taken from 10-15 individuals result in truth? More importantly, will General Consensus information give you an edge over your competition?

If you're not really sure how to answer, don't worry! A distressingly high proportion of Fantasy Football owners, many of whom spend hours each week working on their team, don't know either!

The good news is reliable answers exist. How? By pooling years of prior expert opinion rankings, 4for4.com has tracked 'General Consensus' forecasting accuracy. From this rather basic, but well suited research, we offer the following observations.

Consensus cheat sheets actually do okay. In short, they can keep you out of trouble, especially if you are new to Fantasy Football. If you don't want to embarrass yourself on draft day, you can feel reasonably safe using an up-to-date consensus cheat sheet. In fact, if you just want to 'try your luck' this year at Fantasy Football, feel free to use a consensus list. Who knows, you might get lucky!

The fact is, a consensus cheat sheet will forecast better than 60-70% of the experts making up the panel. That's not all that bad. However, by definition, consensus cheat sheets, do not offer the serious Fantasy Football owner a sustainable and true competitive advantage. The good news is most Fantasy Owners don't realize this about Consensus Cheat Sheets. As a result, many still use General Consensus rankings.

When you break the mold of traditional thinking and learn to outperform those mediocre General Consensus averages, an interesting phenomenon occurs! It turns out, the more of your foes that use average rankings, the bigger your advantage becomes! Let's look at an exaggerated example to illustrate this point.

Example: Imagine you're in a league with 10 competent veteran Fantasy Football owners. Further, let's assume all of the other 9 cagey owners, independently and unknowingly, all set out on a mission to create the ultimate consensus cheat sheet. They pool as many expert rankings as they can find. The result? All of your rivals end up drawing from the same 15-20 sources. They all end up using General Consensus rankings.

What are the chances that any one of those General Consensus owners will walk away with an exceptional draft? Sorry to say, but for them, the odds are not very good --- everyone is fundamentally drawing from the same lot. In this situation, the General Consensus owner's odds of acing the draft largely are a function of random events outside of his control. Hoping you get lucky isn't how you should manage a team!

Alternatively, if you're the only one using a leading-edge cheat sheet, your chances of dominating the draft are very good.

I suggest you use General Consensus data only as a guide to help you determine what your competition may be thinking. In looking ahead, General Consensus information may help you anticipate what other owners may do. But, unless you're happy with a middle-of-the-road showing, you'll want to avoid drafting from a General Consensus Cheat Sheet.

Bottom line? The most important element in Fantasy Drafting is leveraging leading-edge player evaluations. You won't find leading-edge information in a diluted General Consensus list. Folks, don't settle for group rankings and watered down averages!

Drafting a Bargain, Just in Time

Regardless of how optimistic or pessimistic you are about an NFL starter, at some point in a draft, that player becomes a decent pick --- a bargain! At the right price, all viable NFL starters have Fantasy value.

The goal is to draft a highly targeted and valued Fantasy starter just in time (as late as possible, but always before a competitor beats you to the punch).

Top player lists, cheat sheets and other tools can certainly help on draft day. But, to really land a bargain, you'll need to integrate leading-edge rankings with Average Draft Position (ADP) data. The idea here is simple. You want to find the biggest positive difference between the ADP data and the leading-edge ranking.

Value =
Avg. Draft Position Ranking - Quality Ranking (not general consensus rankings)

A positive difference implies the player is undervalued. A negative difference suggests the player is overvalued. By integrating leading edge rankings with ADP data, you combine player potential with competitive analysis.

During a draft, so few people actually leverage leading-edge rankings and anticipated draft position. Yet, you really need both elements to walk away a big winner on draft day.

To pull this all together... check out the 4for4.com Ultimate Cheat Sheets. I suggest you sort the Ultimate Cheat Sheets on ADP (Average Draft Position). You'll see exactly when players are typically getting drafted and you'll see how much of a bargain they appear to be (4for4 Rank - General Consensus Rank). Very exciting stuff here.

Putting together a well-designed draft strategy, having a backup plan, anticipating your competitor's moves and identifying bargains in each round is a lot of work. But, if you really want to win, it's essential. To help you make this happen, see the 4for4.com Ultimate Cheat Sheets.

In a nutshell, you want to avoid using a General Consensus list. Rather, use a leading-edge source. Next, you want to draft highly ranked players just before they're selected by one of your opponents. In the process, you'll want to target and draft players that give you valuable starts -- a starting lineup that will consistently outscore your opponent's starters.

Do-Don't Report - Landing Bargains, Avoiding the Overspend
One of the simplest yet most effective reports to have by your side on draft day is a Do(s) and Don't(s) report.

To create this report, you integrate proven leading edge rankings with Average Draft Position data.

Sort the players by Average Draft Position and subtract the leading-edge rankings. If you find a big positive difference, you found a bargain. Next, note the round the player is typically drafted in. Then, go to that round and denote it in your Do(s) and Don't(s) report.

Likewise if you find a huge negative score, you'll want to denote that as well. This indicates the player is over-valued for that given round. Denote that to avoid overspending!

Each year, 4for4.com crafts a Do(s) and Don't(s) report and publishes it online. Despite it's rather simple appearance, the report integrated projected stats, TVS values and competitive analysis into a very readable format. See Table V for a sample report.

If you want leading-edge rankings, would like to select highly ranked players just before they're selected by one of your opponents and target/draft players that yield you a starting lineup that will consistently outscore your opponent's starters, check out Table V.

Regardless of if you use 4for4.com's Do(s) and Don't(s) report or make your own, you'll have an edge over the guy or gal next to you come draft day!

Table V: Example of 4for4.com's Do(s) and Don't(s) Report
This unique and powerful Cheat Sheet companion goes beyond the basics. This format integrates player potential and average draft position data. Delivered in a very readable round-by-round format, this report displays bargains and keeps you from overspending. By having this type report by your side, you'll integrate a number of factors outlined in this article. No panic drafting, no falling back on your gut, no unsettling 'thinking on the fly' --- rather you're in complete control, leveraging all the essentials.


All things being equal, don't draft DREW BREES before the 2nd Round

If he's available, do consider drafting RONNIE BROWN in the 4th Round
All things being equal, don't draft PEYTON MANNING before the 3rd Round
If he's available, do consider drafting KNOWSHON MORENO in the 4th Round
If he's available, do consider drafting TONY GONZALEZ in the 4th Round
If he's available, do consider drafting THOMAS JONES in the 4th Round