Things I’ve Worked On: Fantasy Football Draft Ranking Methodology

With the 2015 NFL season approaching, establishing a draft strategy for the upcoming fantasy football season is essential. In years past, I haven’t done all that well in my league. I could attribute my woes to bad luck (who knew Drew Brees would be such a dud last year), but the fact is I’ve established a trend of mediocrity that I would like to break. Last year, I basically based my decisions on the rankings provided by the big sports sites (e.g., NFL.com, ESPN, CBS Sports). I want to try something a little more involved this time around.

There are two things to consider when picking a player: how much better the player is than all other players in the fantasy universe and how much better the player is than all other players in the same position. This ranking accounts for both by combining a positional Z-score (vs. all other players in the positional population) and overall Z-score (vs. all players in the overall fantasy population) based on the auction value given by ESPN (8/18/2015). The Z-score is how many standard deviations a player is from the average of the relevant population.

The Z-score also depends on the universe being considered. Therefore, we average over two scenarios: Filling the starting roster (for a 12-team league, N=12 for QB, 30 for RB (12 for RB1, 12 for RB2, and 6 for flex), 30 for WR, and 12 for TE) and including all top 150 players (excluding DST and K)). Missing values are given the minimum Z-score for the position. Basically, this rating attempts to account for a lot of different factors.

Rank Position Player Value ($) Average Combined       Z-Score ESPN Rank
1  TE  Rob Gronkowski 43.00 2.16 12
2  WR  Antonio Brown 51.00 2.15 6
3  RB  Le’Veon Bell 55.00 2.15 1
4  RB  Adrian Peterson 54.00 2.09 2
5  RB  Eddie Lacy 54.00 2.09 3
6  RB  Jamaal Charles 53.00 2.03 4
7  RB  Marshawn Lynch 52.00 1.97 5
8  WR  Demaryius Thomas 47.00 1.88 10
9  RB  CJ Anderson 50.00 1.85 7
10  RB  Matt Forte 49.00 1.78 8
11  RB  DeMarco Murray 48.00 1.72 9
12  QB  Aaron Rodgers 37.00 1.58 20
13  WR  Dez Bryant 42.00 1.55 13
14  RB  LeSean McCoy 45.00 1.54 11
15  WR  Odell Beckham Jr 40.00 1.42 15
16  WR  Jordy Nelson 39.00 1.35 16
17  RB  Jeremy Hill 41.00 1.30 14
18  WR  Julio Jones 38.00 1.29 17
19  QB  Andrew Luck 32.00 1.23 25
20  WR  Calvin Johnson 37.00 1.22 18
21  WR  AJ Green 37.00 1.22 19
22  WR  Alshon Jeffery 36.00 1.15 21
23  TE  Jimmy Graham 27.00 1.02 32
24  WR  Randall Cobb 34.00 1.02 22
25  WR  TY Hilton 33.00 0.95 23
26  WR  Mike Evans 31.00 0.82 26
27  RB  Mark Ingram 32.00 0.76 24
28  WR  Emmanuel Sanders 30.00 0.75 27
29  WR  Kelvin Benjamin 29.00 0.69 30
30  RB  Alfred Morris 30.00 0.64 28
31  WR  DeAndre Hopkins 28.00 0.62 31
32  QB  Russell Wilson 23.00 0.59 36
33  RB  Lamar Miller 29.00 0.58 29
34  QB  Peyton Manning 22.00 0.52 38
35  RB  Carlos Hyde 26.00 0.40 33
36  WR  Brandin Cooks 24.00 0.35 35
37  RB  Justin Forsett 25.00 0.34 34
38  QB  Drew Brees 18.00 0.23 43
39  RB  Melvin Gordon 22.00 0.16 37
40  RB  Jonathan Stewart 21.00 0.10 39
41  WR  Jordan Matthews 20.00 0.09 40
42  WR  Julian Edelman 20.00 0.09 41
43  RB  Frank Gore 19.00 -0.02 42
44  WR  Sammy Watkins 17.00 -0.11 44
45  RB  Todd Gurley 17.00 -0.14 45
46  RB  Joique Bell 16.00 -0.20 46
47  WR  Keenan Allen 15.00 -0.24 47
48  RB  Latavius Murray 14.00 -0.32 48
49  WR  DeSean Jackson 13.00 -0.38 49
50  TE  Greg Olsen 7.00 -0.40 63
51  RB  Joseph Randle 12.00 -0.44 50
52  RB  Andre Ellington 12.00 -0.44 51
53  TE  Travis Kelce 6.00 -0.47 70
54  RB  TJ Yeldon 11.00 -0.50 52
55  RB  Giovani Bernard 11.00 -0.50 53
56  TE  Martellus Bennett 5.00 -0.54 76
57  QB  Ben Roethlisberger 7.00 -0.55 69
58  RB  Rashad Jennings 10.00 -0.56 54
59  RB  CJ Spiller 10.00 -0.56 55
60  WR  Vincent Jackson 10.00 -0.58 56
61  WR  Amari Cooper 10.00 -0.58 57
62  TE  Jason Witten 4.00 -0.61 81
63  WR  Golden Tate 9.00 -0.64 58
64  WR  Andre Johnson 9.00 -0.64 59
65  WR  Brandon Marshall 9.00 -0.64 60
66  TE  Jordan Cameron 3.00 -0.68 87
67  RB  LeGarrette Blount 8.00 -0.69 62
68  WR  Mike Wallace 8.00 -0.71 61
69  RB  Isaiah Crowell 7.00 -0.75 64
70  RB  Chris Ivory 7.00 -0.75 66
71  TE  Zach Ertz 2.00 -0.76 111
72  TE  Julius Thomas 2.00 -0.76 115
73  TE  Dwayne Allen 2.00 -0.76 120
74  QB  Matt Ryan 4.00 -0.76 83
75  RB  Ryan Mathews 7.00 -0.76 67
76  WR  Jeremy Maclin 7.00 -0.78 65
77  WR  Jarvis Landry 7.00 -0.78 68
78  RB  Shane Vereen 5.00 -0.82 74
79  TE  Delanie Walker 1.00 -0.83 145
80  WR  Allen Robinson 6.00 -0.84 71
81  RB  Tre Mason 4.00 -0.85 78
82  RB  Doug Martin 4.00 -0.85 79
83  RB  Tevin Coleman 4.00 -0.85 82
84  RB  Alfred Blue 4.00 -0.85 86
85  WR  Eric Decker 6.00 -0.86 72
86  WR  Martavis Bryant 6.00 -0.86 73
87  TE Antonio Gates 0.00 -0.86 172
88  RB  Ameer Abdullah 3.00 -0.88 89
89  RB  Devonta Freeman 3.00 -0.88 90
90  RB  Bishop Sankey 3.00 -0.88 91
91  RB  Arian Foster 3.00 -0.88 92
92  RB  Duke Johnson 3.00 -0.88 94
93  RB  Darren McFadden 3.00 -0.88 95
94  WR  Nelson Agholor 5.00 -0.89 75
95  WR  Roddy White 5.00 -0.89 77
96  QB  Cam Newton 2.00 -0.90 97
97  QB  Tony Romo 2.00 -0.90 112
98  QB  Tom Brady 2.00 -0.90 116
99  RB  Danny Woodhead 2.00 -0.91 98
100  RB  Charles Sims 2.00 -0.91 100
101  RB  Andre Williams 2.00 -0.91 101
102  RB  Lorenzo Taliaferro 2.00 -0.91 102
103  RB  Fred Jackson 2.00 -0.91 103
104  RB  Montee Ball 2.00 -0.91 106
105  RB  DeAngelo Williams 2.00 -0.91 109
106  RB  Knile Davis 2.00 -0.91 110
107  RB  Denard Robinson 2.00 -0.91 117
108  RB  David Cobb 2.00 -0.91 121
109  RB  Theo Riddick 2.00 -0.91 122
110  RB  Jerick McKinnon 2.00 -0.91 123
111  RB  Reggie Bush 2.00 -0.91 124
112  RB  Terrance West 2.00 -0.91 127
113  RB  Jay Ajayi 2.00 -0.91 130
114  WR  Torrey Smith 4.00 -0.93 80
115  WR  Michael Floyd 4.00 -0.93 84
116  WR  Charles Johnson 4.00 -0.93 85
117  RB  Darren Sproles 1.00 -0.95 134
118  RB  David Johnson 1.00 -0.95 136
119  RB  Jonas Gray 1.00 -0.95 137
120  RB  James White 1.00 -0.95 144
121  RB  Daniel Herron 1.00 -0.95 146
122  WR  Larry Fitzgerald 3.00 -0.96 88
123  WR  Brandon LaFell 3.00 -0.96 93
124  QB  Ryan Tannehill 1.00 -0.97 148
125  QB  Eli Manning 1.00 -0.97 150
126  WR  Marques Colston 2.00 -0.99 96
127  WR  John Brown 2.00 -0.99 99
128  WR  Breshad Perriman 2.00 -0.99 104
129  WR  Kendall Wright 2.00 -0.99 105
130  WR  Steve Smith Sr 2.00 -0.99 107
131  WR  Percy Harvin 2.00 -0.99 108
132  WR  Anquan Boldin 2.00 -0.99 113
133  WR  Pierre Garcon 2.00 -0.99 114
134  WR  Davante Adams 2.00 -0.99 118
135  WR  DeVante Parker 2.00 -0.99 119
136  WR  Cody Latimer 2.00 -0.99 125
137  WR  Donte Moncrief 2.00 -0.99 129
138  WR  Victor Cruz 1.00 -1.03 131
139  WR  Eddie Royal 1.00 -1.03 135
140  WR  Marvin Jones 1.00 -1.03 138
141  WR  Malcom Floyd 1.00 -1.03 149

Alternatively, if we just look at the rankings provided by ESPN, we can get an idea of what round we should be aiming for for each position (considering just filling the starting lineup).

Average Rank Average Round Target Round
QB 78.1 7 6
RB1 9.7 1 1
RB2 42.2 4 3
WR1 17.2 2 2
WR2 42.9 4 4
FLEX 61.2 6 5
TE 90.3 8 7
DST 145.5 13 Penultimate
K 161.3 14 Ultimate

Now it’s a matter of getting players that beat or equal the average round, per ESPN:

QB: Aaron Rodgers (2), Andrew Luck (3), Russell Wilson (3), Peyton Manning (4), Drew Brees (4), Ben Roethlisberger (6)

RB1: L Bell (1), A Peterson (1), E Lacy (1), J Charles (1), M Lynch (1), CJ Anderson (1), M Forte (1), D Murray (1), L McCoy (1)

RB2: J Hill (2), M Ingram (2), A Morris (3), L Miller (3), C Hyde (3), J Forsett (3)

WR1: A Brown (1), D Thomas (1), D Bryant (2), O Beckham Jr. (2), J Nelson (2), J Jones (2), C Johnson (2), AJ Green (2), A Jeffrey (2), R Cobb (2), TY Hilton (2)

WR2: M Evans (3), E Sanders (3), K Benjamin (3), D Hopkins (3), B Cooks (3), J Matthews (4), J Edelman (4), S Watkins (4), K Allen (4)

TE: R Gronkowski (1), J Graham (3), G Olsen (6), T Kelce (6), M Bennett (7), J Witten (7), J Cameron (8)

Flex: M Gordon (4), J Stewart (4), F Gore (4), T Gurley (4), J Bell (4), L Murray (4), D Jackson (5), J Randle (5), A Ellington (5), TJ Yeldon (5), G Bernard (5), R Jennings (5), CJ Spiller (5), V Jackson (5), A Cooper (5), G Tate (5), A Johnson (5), B Marshall (5)

This second approach is useful because it is adaptive to the league being considered. For example, I am in a league where QBs are particularly valuable. Thus, I can follow the progress of the draft based on the remaining availability of above-average players. If, for example, all the above-average QBs are going much quicker than predicted and there are only a few left, it might be a good idea to move up a round or so for that position.

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