Looker Blog : Data Matters

Data Storytelling in Action: Using Data to Guide your Fantasy Football Draft Strategy (Part II)

Jesse Sherb, Sales Engineer at Looker

Aug 29, 2019

Last year, I wrote a post in preparation for the 2018 Fantasy Football season about two concepts to keep in mind when approaching your draft: Holistic Value and Pick Value.

This year, I’ll expand on these concepts while introducing new ways to prepare for your draft. You can find all of this information on this interactive dashboard.

One mistake I’ve made in the past (and I’m sure I’m not alone) was overly focusing on the top of the draft at the expense of my picks in later rounds.

I’ve found that it’s just as important to round out the bottom of your roster as it is to draft your stars at the top.

You can learn from my mistakes. I’m going to lay out the exact strategies I now use to prepare for every stage of the draft.

Here are some concepts to be aware of that I’ll discuss throughout the post.

Key Concepts

Round Composition

Round composition is the strategy of considering multiple rounds at a time to understand the makeup of players to be drafted by position — rather than solely focusing on a single pick or a single round. You can then match that strategy to your team’s draft needs.

While this sounds simple, many people default to looking pick-by-pick or round-by-round instead of considering the bigger picture.

For example, in rounds three and four, there are twelve Running Backs (RBs) to only seven Wide Receivers (WRs). Even if you need a RB, it may make sense to still target the best available receiver in the third round knowing there will be plenty more RBs to grab in the fourth.

Player Trajectory

Each player’s year-over-year trajectory is something I always like to keep in mind. Simply put, is a player expected to take a leap forward — or take a step back — this year? You want to watch out for guys in for a significant regression, especially in respect to their draft position.

Point Regression usually comes when a player is aging, injured, or coming off a “fluke” year that may be hard to repeat. The goal is to mitigate our risk by avoiding players with any of the above.

Looking at the first couple of rounds, you’ll see all the top guys are expected to regress a little (which makes sense considering they are all coming off of spectacular seasons).

But if you look at the Projected Points Per ADP vs. 2018, it's only a small regression compared to their overall value. Players like Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham Jr., and Dalvin Cook are other examples of guys trending in the right direction.

Player Point Composition

The composition of how a player scores fantasy points is crucial in later rounds. For example, a top-five RB in 2018 point composition looked like this:

This tells me to look for RBs who also catch a lot of balls. This is a great benchmark for finding RBs in later rounds who match this composition in hopes of finding a breakout star.

Okay, now onto the round breakdowns where you can see these concepts in action.

Premier Rounds (Rounds 1-4)

These are the rounds that should determine your weekly starters. Remember, it's about total points, not the team that looks best on paper when the draft ends.

Running Backs

Last year I recommended spending your premium picks on RBs and to specifically target “bell cow” RBs who average more than twenty attempts per game.

Well, one year changes a lot.

Last year there was only one RB (Ezekiel Elliot) who averaged more than twenty rushes per game, compared to eight backs the year before. This year, zero RBs are expected to have that volume.

With that information, it makes sense to explore RBs with more involvement in the passing game. To do so, I brought in a new metric this year to evaluate RBs: receiving targets per game.

Now our list is starting to resemble mock draft RB rankings:

I like that Ezekiel Elliot is falling a little, allowing someone with a mid-round pick to steal him (assuming he ends his contract dispute). Other guys to watch out for are Le’Veon Bell, coming off a year of not playing, David Johnson and Nick Chubb. Joe Mixon was surprisingly high on this list as well (5th).

RBs are plentiful in rounds three and four, but WRs are not, so I recommend going with the best available or WR in the third and waiting for RBs like Chris Carson, Mark Ingram, or Josh Jacobs in the fourth.

If somehow Damien Williams falls to you, I like him as well. All are expected to improve from last year’s performance (Jacobs is a rookie).

Wide Receivers

I couldn’t believe when I looked at the top projected forty players and saw only fourteen receivers. Contrary to my belief of prioritizing RBs early, it looks like WRs should be the focus this year (aside from the top four or five picks).

Let’s take a quick look at our star WR point composition. The 22% on touchdowns stands out to me. Focus on finding WRs who don’t rely on big yardage every week and are projected to score touchdowns instead.

Last year, the guys with high touchdown counts were DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, and Antonio Brown.

This year, Davante Adams and DeAndre Hopkins are both expected to reach double digits again and should be taken very early, with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Odell Beckham Jr. joining Tyreek Hill and Antonio Brown in the next tier.

A sleeper that seems to be falling in drafts is Amari Cooper, the only expected WR to increase in average points per game this year.

Tight Ends

Travis Kelce is a safe pick, and George Kittle is acceptable as well, but I think there are TEs you can find in the later rounds that will be just fine.

Quarterbacks

You don’t need to focus on QBs in the early rounds. Take Patrick Mahomes if you want, but generally, you can wait.

Later Rounds (Round 5-10)

While you’ll still be rounding out our rosters with starters in these rounds, it's important to think about your premier bench players here as well. These are players that you can mix into your lineup throughout the year or may become starters if other players get hurt. Quality depth is important.

Running Backs

The mix of RBs and WRs is more even in these rounds, and people will likely draft the rest of the starting QBs:

As you can see, guys like Sony Michel and Philip Lindsay are expected to be near double digits in projected touchdown volume. Philip Lindsay also had ten touchdowns last year.

Overall, the RBs in these rounds are projected to have similar average points per game as the WRs (strengthening the argument for prioritizing them early).

An interesting player from a point composition standpoint is Kenyan Drake. Out of all the RBs in the later rounds, his point composition most resembles the star players since he is involved in the passing game.

Watch out for him as a sneaky sleeper.

Wide Receivers

WRs in the later rounds can be tricky as many of them won’t be the number one option on their teams. If you can find players who are the number one option, they could have good value this late.

If not, look for players with a high trajectory from the previous year, and receivers expected to get a lot of yards (or who play for teams with good offenses).

It looks like many of the WRs in the later rounds are expected to improve. Guys like Will Fuller, Curtis Samuel, and Christian Kirk stand out. For players who are likely to have the most targets on their team, I like Julian Edelman, Kenny Golloday and D.J. Moore.

If you are targeting players with high touchdown projections, Calvin Ridley, Cooper Kupp and Mike Williams are good picks.

Another note on D.J. Moore: he is expected to improve his points per game by two points. This makes sense now that he is in his second year and likely the number one receiver for Carolina. Could be a great late-round pick.

Tight Ends

I like to depend on a lot on previous year stats when I look at Tight Ends. If you take a look at last year’s stats for the Tight Ends projected to go in rounds five through ten, Zach Ertz is a clear front runner. If he is hanging around, it makes sense to grab him. Eric Ebron also stands out with his fourteen touchdowns from a year ago.

Generally speaking, from Zach Ertz down to David Njoku, it's only a 2.2 point difference in projected points per game over the five-round span. Don’t stress too much about TEs as all of the ones listed here will be serviceable. Focus on rounding out your WR and RB starters before grabbing one of them.

Quarterbacks

Similar to TEs, I think there are plenty of QBs to go around. There are usually more starting quality QBs than there are teams in your league.

Again, looking at projected points per game, there is only a one-point difference between Deshaun Watson and Cam Newton.

With this in mind, let’s try and find guys projected to make a leap forward this year:

Baker Mayfield and Carson Wentz stand out. I think Baker Mayfield is in for a big season. Kyler Murray is a rookie, hence his expected improvement. And lastly, similar to finding RBs who catch the ball this year, people seem to be gravitating towards QBs who can run.

I don’t necessarily hate this strategy, but let's go back to the composition of the top five QBs last year:

Only 5% of points came from rushing. I’d be careful about going all-in on that strategy. Guys like Baker Mayfield, Matt Ryan, and Carson Wentz stick out as potential top-five QBs this year, in my opinion.

Happy drafting!

In conclusion, make sure you are looking at your draft holistically (two, three, or even four rounds at a time) to understand when it makes sense to draft by best available, your team needs, and where you may find value in different positions.

Use this dashboard to scout out which players are expected to be available in different stages of the draft. Additionally, make sure you’re looking at both last year’s stats and this year’s projections when picking players. You want players expected to improve, not regress.

Finally, have fun...after all, it’s only fantasy football.

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