This is the time of year when the serious fantasy football players start invading the mock draft rooms. They try out different strategies, see what top players will fall to later rounds, and get an overall sense of what their personal draft strategy will be for 2016. Almost everyone has their eyes on the future: the upcoming 2016 fantasy season. But what should they be doing much more?
Learning from the past.
In order to try to prevent making the same mistakes from the 2015 season, let’s take a closer look at the Average Draft Positions (ADP) from last season and examine the top five lessons we should remember before this year’s draft. (all ADPs from fantasyfootballcalculator.com)
Fantasy Football ADP Rewind: Learn from Your Mistakes
Lesson #1: Always Draft Your Running Back Handcuff
The top five picks by ADP last season, and six of the top seven, were all running backs. Take a look at how they all ranked at their position after the season:
|Player||Team||ADP||Final RB Ranking|
|Eddie Lacy||Green Bay||3.2||26|
|Jamaal Charles||Kansas City||3.7||50|
Clearly, anyone who selected a running back in round one probably struggled to make the playoffs. But is the proper conclusion from this data to simply wait on drafting running backs in 2016? Not necessarily. Adrian Peterson more than justified his ADP as the number two fantasy running back. Both Seattle and Pittsburgh ranked in the top five in team rushing fantasy points per game. While Seattle is always helped in that statistic by Russell Wilson, if you grabbed Thomas Rawls as the handcuff to Marshawn Lynch you were very satisfied all year. In Pittsburgh, if you drafted DeAngelo Williams to go along with Le’Veon Bell, you had superb fantasy running back production all season. With wide receivers going so early in current mock drafts, there are some great running backs dropping in round one. The lesson here? If you want to take a running back early in your draft, it is imperative to grab their proper handcuff.
Lesson #2: Wait to Draft a Tight End
Here are the top five ADP tight ends from last year with their corresponding end of year finish:
|Player||Team||ADP||Final Tight End Ranking|
|Rob Gronkowski||New England||11.9||1|
|Travis Kelce||Kansas City||55.4||7|
The results are clearly sporadic, with five of the top ten tight ends by ADP finishing twelfth or lower in the final positional rankings. Believing in Rob Gronkowski this year is tricky, because playing five weeks (first four games and the bye) without Tom Brady will hurt his production massively. Throw in his injury history, and I would avoid taking Gronkowski in the first round. There is so much great tight end value late with players like Julius Thomas (ADP 101.7), Dwayne Allen (ADP 144.5), even Eric Ebron (ADP 156.8). Tight end is only one position on your usual nine player starting lineup, and it is one of the lowest scoring on a weekly basis. Attack other position early in your draft and wait on selecting a tight end in 2016.
Lesson #3: Minimize Risk in the First Three Rounds
The majority of your fantasy team’s points will come from the players you draft in the first three rounds. There are always mid-round picks and sleepers that will help your team, but the importance of the first few picks cannot be ignored. Bust one? You can recover. Bust two? You’ll probably have very little chance at the playoffs. Take a look at my standard CBSSports league from last year. I listed the four teams that had the most points from their first three picks and how they finished:
|Team||1st round Pick||2nd round pick||3rd round pick||First 3 round points||Total overall points|
|Team 13||Adrian Peterson||Aaron Rodgers||Emmanuel Sanders||774||No Playoffs|
|My Team||Antonio Brown||Julio Jones||Mark Ingram||589||Champion|
|Team KK||Le’Veon Bell||Calvin Johnson||Lamar Miller||420||Playoffs|
|Team SP||Odell Beckham Jr.||Demaryious Thomas||Alfred Morris||463||Finalist|
Three of the top four teams that scored the most points in rounds one to three ended up making the playoffs. The top scoring team (Team 13) was skewed because they chose to draft a quarterback early, which always is 300+ points. I selected three great players who all produced at a high level (I grabbed Tim Hightower off waivers to handcuff Ingram). Team KK got great production out of Johnson and Miller, and also grabbed the proper handcuff in D’Angelo Williams. Finally, team SP had two great first two picks, and then overcame a bad third round pick of Alfred Morris. Do not take risks with your first three picks. When in doubt, play it safe. This will give you the best chance of staying alive throughout the season.
Lesson #4: Early Quarterback Validation = 4,500 yards & 40 touchdowns
The old drafting adage is “wait on quarterback” because of how deep the position is. The 2015 fantasy season definitely supported that argument. Here are the top ten quarterbacks by ADP and their final positional finish:
|Name||Team||Overall ADP||Final QB Ranking|
|Aaron Rodgers||Green Bay||21.4||7|
|Drew Brees||New Orleans||50.8||6|
|Tom Brady||New England||62.3||2|
Clearly, the right strategy was to wait to draft a quarterback. But regardless of format, the quarterback position remains an anchor of your team. If you take a quarterback early, they need to earn that draft position: which is statistically 4,500+ total yards and 40+ total TDs. Here are a list of quarterbacks who have accomplished those numbers in the past five years:
|Year||QB||Team||Total Yards||Total TDs||ADP||Final QB Ranking|
|2015||Tom Brady||New England||4823||39||62.3||2|
|2014||Aaron Rodgers||Green Bay||4650||40||18.5||2|
|2013||Drew Brees||New Orleans||5214||42||19.1||2|
|2012||Drew Brees||New Orleans||5182||44||7.3||1|
|2012||Aaron Rodgers||Green Bay||4554||41||2.1||2|
|2011||Aaron Rodgers||Green Bay||4900||48||9.3||1|
|2011||Drew Brees||New Orleans||5562||47||27||2|
|2011||Tom Brady||New England||5344||42||18.8||3|
If they hit those magic numbers, you have yourself a top three quarterback. That gives you such an advantage over your opponents, because your highest scoring position is almost always your quarterback. Feel free to follow the old adage and wait to draft a quarterback. However, if you feel strongly about taking one early, just make sure they can hit the 4500/40 magic plateau.
Lesson #5: Situation Does Not Equal Success
Just because you hear about a player in a great offensive situation, doesn’t mean you should draft that player. Take a closer look at where these players in “ideal situation” ended up:
|Player||Team||Situation||ADP||Final Positional Ranking|
|DeMarco Murray||Philadelphia||RB in Chip Kelly offense||13.3||RB18|
|Joseph Randle||Dallas||Best O Line||47.5||RB58|
|Davante Adams||Green Bay||No Jordy Nelson||35.1||WR81|
|T.J. Yeldon||Jacksonville||Lead RB||58.1||RB26|
|Justin Forsett||Baltimore||Big 2014 season||20.6||RB43|
|Melvin Gordon||San Diego||Lead RB||40.2||RB53|
It was widely believed (and still is) that the Dallas Cowboys had the best offensive line in football in 2015. Joseph Randle was awful outside of Week 3 vs. Atlanta (105 total yards, 3 touchdowns), despite being drafted on average in round four. When Jordy Nelson was lost for the season with a knee injury, everyone thought Davante Adams production would improve exponentially (finished as WR81). Preseason situations that boded well for T.J. Yeldon, Justin Forsett and Melvin Gordon also went down the drain. Make sure you look deeper than just the situation. Yeldon and Gordon were running back rookies who usually tend to struggle (be careful Ezekiel Elliott). Forsett was a journeyman player who had one great year in 2014. Certainly, we all underestimated just how good Jordy Nelson is, and Adams proved it.
The lesson here? Be very careful with first year players, or players who have a limited track record of prior success. There are many sleepers waiting to be selected, but save them for the later rounds. Do not take an unnecessary risk early in the draft: stay as safe as possible.