Draft Strategies Experiment
When it comes to fantasy drafting, it seems everyone is pitching a strategy. Everyone has their own ranking system and everyone has a suggestion for the best path to dominating the draft and, by extension, the fantasy season. But do they really work? What about the extreme strategies?
This off-season I’ve listened to people preach about their zero running back strategy, others have advocating going zero wide receiver because the position is so deep, while others have wondered about snagging the top tight ends and quarterbacks first to give a weekly positional advantage. Then there’s always the popular best player available approach. But I wondered if one strategy worked better than others. During this fantasy season, we’re going to find out.
I opened a new account on ESPN (to keep the teams separate from my regular leagues) and set about drafting teams that follow each strategy. Throughout the season I’ll provide updates on the progress — which includes me managing through waivers and trades — to see how each strategy fares.
To keep things even, I enter four separate 10-team, PPR leagues on ESPN. Each was a live draft with a group of people I don’t know, so I couldn’t take advantage of any known tendencies of those I drafted against. And with each theory, I practiced it to the extreme — at least six rounds before the zero target group was drafted. I have a zero RB squad, a zero WR squad, a zero RB and WR squad and a control team, where I drafted following my normal drafting style. Each team plays a standard roster: QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, TE, Flex, D/ST, K.
Draft Strategy: Zero RB
Team Name: Soft Tissue Issues
Pick Number: One
QB: Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford
RB: Danny Woodhead, Arian Foster, Theo Riddick, Charles Sims, CJ Prosise
WR: Antonio Brown, Alshon Jeffrey, Mike Evans, Eric Decker, Donte Moncrief
TE: Delanie Walker, Will Tye
K: Justin Tucker
About: Going zero RB, it’s hard to imagine getting a better wide receiver than Brown. But being the No. 1 pick has it’s own drawbacks, especially considering the number of receivers that come off the board between pick one and pick 20. For this team, I didn’t take a running back until the eighth round. My first four picks were: Brown, Jeffrey, Evans, Newton. I grabbed Decker in round five and Walker in round six. I considered going RB in round seven, but when I saw Moncrief sitting there — a wide receiver who I think could be poised for a breakout — I couldn’t resist. I spent rounds eight to 12 grabbing as many pass catching backs with upside I could. I was pleased with the value of getting Woodhead — No. 3 in PPR in 2015 — in the eighth and Foster in the ninth round. But undoubtedly running back will be a struggle. This team also has some injury risk, especially in Jeffrey and Foster. Hence the name, “Soft Tissue Issues.”
Draft Strategy: Zero WR
Team Name: Hyde Yo Gurley
Pick Number: Two
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins
RB: Todd Gurley, Thomas Rawls, Jamaal Charles, Carlos Hyde, CJ Prosise, Spencer Ware
WR: Donte Moncreif, Emmanuel Sanders, John Brown, Willie Snead, Michael Thomas
TE: Travis Kelce
K: Robert Aguayo
About: The thing about this strategy is my best players make me nervous. Hence a little bit of handcuffing (Prosise and Ware for Rawls and Charles). I waited until round seven to take my first WR, grabbing my boy Moncreif in that round. My first six picks were: Gurley, Rawls, Charles, Rodgers, Hyde and Kelce. From rounds seven to 10, I snatched up my top four receivers, Moncreif, Sanders, Brown and Snead. Brown in the ninth round felt like good value, too, but receiver will be a weak spot. A run on tight ends early meant I settled for Kelce, who is OK but wouldn’t be Top 5 for me, either. If my running backs all stay healthy and perform as planned, I could get strong scoring. On a side note, as a devote Broncos fan, it pained me greatly to draft so many Chiefs. Also, I spaced out the fact I had Snead when I drafted Thomas, giving me two receivers from the same team, which might not be a great idea.
Draft Strategy: Zero RB and Zero WR
Team Name: Gronk You Tour
Pick Number: Three
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson
RB: Duke Johnson, Jr., Ameer Abdullah, Charles Sims, Tevin Coleman
WR: Eric Decker, John Brown, Corey Coleman, Willie Snead, Will Fuller
TE: Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed, Greg Olsen
K: Matt Prater
About: Let me just say, if I make the playoffs with this team, it might be my greatest fantasy achievement. I didn’t take an RB or WR until round seven. Here were my first six picks: Gronkowski, Reed, Rodgers, Olsen, Wilson, Denver D/ST. That’s right, I was that guy in your league who takes a defense in the early middle rounds. If it wasn’t for this experiment, I would feel great shame. So starting at round seven, I went on a run from rounds seven through 15 taking WRs and RBs based on best available value. Getting Decker in round seven seemed like a steal. It could be because people saw me start a run on both tight ends and quarterbacks, and it impacted their strategy. I will definitely have a positional advantage, and have some potential for trades. But given the league size and depth of position, the expected returns for a QB or TE are low. Unless Gronkowski and Reed destroy the opposition, I feel like this team will struggle to outscore anyone on a weekly basis. In fairness, I will be playing out two teams with this strategy this season. My first crack, I had the No. 8 pick and Gronkowski got sniped. If you’re going to do this strategy, I think you have to have Gronk, so I drafted a second zero RB/WR team.
Draft Strategy: Best Player Available
Team Name: For Whom Bell Tolls
Pick Number: 10
QB: Blake Bortles, Matthew Stafford
RB: Le’Veon Bell, Jeremy Hill, DeAngelo Williams, Duke Johnson, Jr., Giovanni Bernard, Charles Sims
WR: Alshon Jeffrey, Allen Robinson, Demaryius Thomas, Allen Hurns
TE: Julius Thomas, Zach Miller
K: Brandon McManus
About: So if I’m drafting normally, I always punt tight end to later in the draft. Based on value, I often will punt quarterback, too. I did that here. At pick 10, I was at the turn in every round and I felt like I got some great value. My first six picks were: Bell, Robinson, Jeffrey, Thomas, Hill, Williams. I reached a bit for Williams because of the uncertainty on Bell. I think focused on picking up a lot of high upside PPR backs — Johnson, Jr., Bernard and Sims. I wasn’t intentionally trying to draft Jaguars, I was just going based on flow and players. It wasn’t until after that I realized I own the Jags’ passing game. That could be a big weakness. Overall, I like the value and potential here.
Those are the teams, and this is the experiment. I’ll be updating the progress and moves of each team every four weeks or so, going all the way through the playoffs.