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Ranking by Positional Role

Ryan_Tannehill3

Editor’s Note: This particular article is submitted by a new Member Corner author, Mike Reardon.  We welcome Mike to the Member Corner and look forward to seeing more of his work in the future! 

As with most dynasty players, I began my fantasy football career in the re-draft world. It was a few years before I even discovered the dynasty format and finally tried it out. At the time, there were barely any dynasty-specific resources available, so I basically just took the approach I had in re-draft leagues and tried to apply it to the dynasty setting. The dynasty game has matured quite a bit since then and experienced a drastic increase in popularity, but I still think there is a tendency in the fantasy community to take tools from the re-draft world and apply them to the dynasty world with little or no modification. The most obvious example of this to me is player rankings.

While player rankings can be useful in a dynasty setting, I believe that the way most people create them (QBA is better than QBB is better than QBC, etc.) ignores the fact that in dynasty leagues, players have multi-dimensional value that requires a deeper level of analysis than simply which player is “better” than the other. What does “better” even mean? Are we talking about year one production? The next three years of production? Upside? Trade value? The absence of these considerations in a re-draft league is what makes linear rankings very useful in that setting, but a wholly inadequate tool when it comes to dynasty leagues.

One way I think your own rankings can be enhanced is by acknowledging the existence of different player roles on a dynasty roster. Perhaps the most effective way to explain what I mean is by starting with an example. For instance, I think it makes very little sense to have Peyton Manning and Ryan Tannehill ranked against each other on the same list reflecting dynasty value.

When you draft Manning, you’re taking a starter. You want him under fantasy center from day one and hope to ride him until he ages out of elite fantasy production. When you take Tannehill, you probably love his potential and believe he has near-elite upside, but you really don’t want to roll him out with Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin and the rest of your starting lineup in week one in 2013.

So, why are we comparing these two players? The easy answer is because they are both quarterbacks, but I propose just because they play the same position in the NFL does not mean they play the same role in your dynasty roster. The primary factor determining how you value them relative to each other is what your team needs.  If you took Drew Brees somewhere in the first few rounds of a start-up, it makes very little sense for you to grab Peyton Manning later in the draft (unless you’re making a play for future trades, which I believe is a risky strategy). You already have a starter who will put out elite level production, so there’s no need for you to spend a pick on another elite player whose performance and value will likely decay before you need to replace Brees.

On the other hand, Tannehill is the ideal type of player to pair with Brees. You don’t need to start him right away while Brees is still in his prime, so you can afford to keep him on the bench and wait. Ideally, he matures and develops in two-to-three years and is ready to take over the reins when Brees is winding down, providing your fantasy team with a seamless transition from old to new, without having to endure the fantasy equivalent of the Curtis Painter-era like the Indianapolis Colts did.

When you consider 99% of fantasy experts have Peyton Manning ranked ahead of Ryan Tannehill, you start to see the problem with rankings being so one-dimensional. Manning vs. Tannehill is not an apples-to-apples comparison, so it makes little sense to have them on your final hierarchical list ranking the quality of, well, apples.

Instead of lumping these two players (and all quarterbacks) into one list, it could make sense to create rankings reflecting the reality that different players will have different roles on your dynasty team, even if they play the same position. In short, we need to break up the quarterback position into more than one group.

Now, please note that this is not the same thing as tiering, which is a very useful tool in its own right. Tiering is grouping players together based on relative value; it is still an expression of quality (i.e. “these quarterbacks are better than these quarterbacks”) and still lumps all players together based on their NFL position. What I’m talking about is breaking apart the quarterback position into subdivisions to properly account for the different roles they could play in the context of your dynasty roster. It’s a division based on the type of value a given player provides, not the quality.

Sticking with quarterbacks, the first group would simply be called “Starters.” Starters are players who are producing right now at a level sufficient to be a regular starting player for your fantasy team, in the context of your league parameters. They may still have more upside and room to grow, but even if they stay at their current level of production, they’ll be good enough to start.

Sticking with the quarterback discussion, here are the players I would feel comfortable with in a starting role on my dynasty team:

QB_Graph

Putting specific players rankings aside, these are the players who I believe can fill the starting role on my dynasty team, and therefore it makes sense to me to rank them against each other. I’ll also mention I believe it would be entirely appropriate to divide up this group into tiers if that is your preference. Obviously, Aaron Rodgers is in an elite tier while Ben Roethlisberger is a borderline starter. Remember, this is not a grouping based solely on quality.

The second role that can be filled by a quarterback on your dynasty roster is what I’ve chosen to call the “Upsider” role – these are players who have the upside or ceiling that would qualify them as a “Starter,” but for one reason or another, haven’t achieved that level yet, and therefore you would not feel comfortable starting them right now. Another way you might refer to these players is by calling them “developmental” prospects, but I’ve always rejected the term because it implies that I think I’m doing something to actually develop an NFL player.

QB_Graph2

As you can tell, I’m pretty high on Tannehill, and indeed he is definitely the first quarterback I’d take if I already had a starter. You’ll also notice that the “Upsider” role is not entirely comprised of young players. I would not feel comfortable starting Michael Vick, but I can envision some scenarios in which he gets back to being a top ten fantasy quarterback.  I’m also not totally convinced Philip Rivers is done and could see him putting together a late-career renaissance that puts him back in the top 12 range.

Next, we have our “Backup” role. These are players who are not good enough to be regular starting players at their position and also very likely lack the upside to ever reach that status. They are your traditional backups, the way you might think of them in a redraft league; ideally, you only want to see them in your lineup during bye weeks.

QB_Graph3

Ideally, you want to pair Backup quarterbacks with a pretty strong “Starter” rather than with an “Upsider,” because by definition, you will be getting sub-par performance from your quarterback position until your “Upsider” improves, which of course is not guaranteed to happen at all. You should only really consider drafting a “Backup” if you completely miss on all of the “Upsiders” you wanted or if the “Upsider” you did draft is not one who is likely to play right now, so you have no immediate backup to your “Starter” for his bye week or an injury.

Some key notes about how these three roles interact:

–       There is an inverse relationship between the quality of your “Starter” and the level of priority you should give to drafting an “Upsider.” If you have Rodgers or Cam Newton, you don’t need to spend a mid-round pick on Tannehill. You would be wiser to allocate that pick to another position and pick up a later quarterback in the draft for spot duty. With that said, if Tannehill falls too far and he’s likely to have considerable trade value when he develops in your league format, go right ahead. It’s simply less of a priority than it would be if you had a lower-ranked “Starter.”

–       As I mentioned above, there is nothing to prevent you from creating tiers within each position role. In fact, I’d encourage it, for the same reasons why tiering is a great idea with traditional player rankings, which I do not need to explain here.

–       In a vacuum, it is best to have a Starter/Upsider combination, but we do not build dynasty teams in said vacuum – we build them while trying to maximize our resources by spending them in different areas of our team. Try to always grab a solid “Starter,” which should not be a problem in 12 team leagues, and look for opportunities to draft players you’ve identified as “Upsiders” later in the draft, but not at the expense of critical depth at other positions. Obviously, you should never end up with a Backup/Backup combination.

Thinking of your team in this way gives you a clearer path to constructing the best kind of dynasty roster – one built to compete now, but also having the pieces in place to provide for smooth turnover in the future, which is a necessary process that all dynasty rosters have to go through to some extent. You don’t have to awkwardly try to rank Jay Cutler and Sam Bradford against each other because you can recognize up front they really don’t offer the same kind of service or value to your dynasty roster. Real NFL teams think like this to some extent, and there’s no reason why dynasty owners shouldn’t as well.

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28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. Donnie Smith

    May 30, 2013 at 5:42 am

    I looked at building a ranking tool based on a similar philosophy but never really finished it.

    My idea was that you would input a set of base rankings for each position aswell as your league settings and current roster. The tool would then evaluate your roster (age, strength of position) and adjust the rankings based upon this.

    e.g. If you have a poorer quality roster it would realise you couldn’t win now and discount older players such as Gore, Wayne or Gonzalez.

  2. Seth

    May 30, 2013 at 6:04 am

    Great article. I think you may be onto something here. I can certainly see the dynasty community moving toward this style of “rankings” rather than the linear rankings that, as you so accurately point out, miss the mark.

    With that said, do you have any groupings for RB and WR and TE?

  3. thekidcreol

    May 30, 2013 at 6:39 am

    great article agree with just about everything(not as high on tannehill though) keep up good work

  4. 420allstars.

    May 30, 2013 at 6:39 am

    “This particular article is submitted by a new Member Corner author, Mike Reardon”

    Great Job Mike! DLF should put you on the payroll and you can finish your work with the RB, WR and TE’s

  5. Ken Widerka

    May 30, 2013 at 7:11 am

    Really liked the article and I completely agree with the idea.

  6. Ike

    May 30, 2013 at 7:28 am

    Totally agree with this. Was actually able to draft Luck and Tannehill in last years draft so I am feeling pretty set at QB

    • Eric Williams

      May 30, 2013 at 7:42 am

      Last year I traded (pre-draft) Matthew Stafford + Jermaine Gresham + Brandon LaFell for Drew Brees and Michael Crabtree.

      Then I drafted Andrew Luck.

      Sadly my other positions are not as talent rich, but we’re getting there.

  7. Steve

    May 30, 2013 at 7:41 am

    Mike, good article, solid read. I tend to run through the same sort of thought process when drafting as well. Regarding the article I wanted to make one point though:

    “There is an inverse relationship between the quality of your “Starter” and the level of priority you should give to drafting an “Upsider.” If you have Rodgers or Cam Newton, you don’t need to spend a mid-round pick on Tannehill. You would be wiser to allocate that pick to another position and pick up a later quarterback in the draft for spot duty. With that said, if Tannehill falls too far and he’s likely to have considerable trade value when he develops in your league format, go right ahead. It’s simply less of a priority than it would be if you had a lower-ranked “Starter.”

    I play in mostly 16+ team leagues, so I found myself shaking my head a bit until I got to the “With that said” sentence. I believe your writing is dead on in 8-14 team leagues where QBs are easier to come by. However, I think for larger leagues it can be extremely beneficial to grab a QB like Tannehill to hope that he develops and possibly flip a guy like Cam or Rodgers (Luck as well) for an elite talent at another position.

    The deeper the league, the more spread out the talent gets, so if you can run an elite guy while developing another and then flip the more talented guy once the upside QB emerges it helps you corner more of the elite talent in the league imo.

    So I guess my point would be in deeper leagues I don’t think it is so much of an if he falls proposition, but something to actively try for.

    • Michael R.

      May 30, 2013 at 8:20 am

      Hi Steve,

      I play in three 16 team leagues, and I agree, young QB’s with perceived upside are bricks of solid gold. The point I’m making here is simply explaining the relationship between the different roles, and to me it comes down to prioritization and opportunity cost. Yes, getting someone like Tannehill in a 16 team league is always good idea because he will be extremely value. The distinction I make is that if you have Andrew Luck as your starter, Tannehill is a luxury, while if you have Peyton Manning as your starter, he (or someone like him from the Upsider group) is pretty much a necessity.

  8. Eric Williams

    May 30, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Anyone else feel like Tyler Wilson should be somewhere on that list? Probably the “upsider” group instead of Pryor.

    • Michael R.

      May 30, 2013 at 8:14 am

      Agreed. The brunt of these rankings were done in preparation for the Dynasty Football World Championship startup I was in. I updated them for this article, but there may have been one or two oversights. Wilson is one of them, thanks.

  9. Hugo Poirier

    May 30, 2013 at 8:08 am

    Great article. I have a similar system for my Dynasty, but not as complete and as well thought out. Are your rankings for RB and WR going to follow?

  10. Jordan Mearns

    May 30, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Awesome article! I’d love to see how this would play out regarding the other positions as well.

  11. trey sands

    May 30, 2013 at 9:20 am

    great read, I just finished my first dynasty start up and walked away with Rodgers Vick and Locker at the QB position. feel strong about the group.

  12. Chaetomorpha

    May 30, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Wow good read, a friend told me about this site and after seeing articles like this I will definitely come back and read more. Nice job Mike!

  13. Josh Blunt

    May 30, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Is everybody sleeping on Andy Dalton? He was pretty good last year add Eifert and Bernard, I can see him being a solid sleeper QB u can get real late!

  14. davis

    May 30, 2013 at 11:45 am

    just wondering what your thoughts are on qb’s within the rankings with different ages. For example, on a team looking to win sooner rather than later, if they have roethlisberger or eli manning, is peyton someone they should look to acquire? or deal ben/eli for? If so, what are their relative values?

    • Michael R.

      May 30, 2013 at 2:43 pm

      Thinking in terms of “roles,” to put it simply, if you have a “win now” team, you should simply acquire the highest ranked “Starter” you can. If you’re more of a rebuilding team, you want to focus on getting an Upsider or two.

      Personally speaking, I’m usually more willing than my leaguemates to go with older players. I don’t mind having some positions set for 1-2 years, and I’ll worry about later, later.

      • Jim

        May 30, 2013 at 4:24 pm

        I agree with the older players. sometimes you can buy some time with older vets especially at QB even if they aren’t elite.

  15. invisibulman

    May 30, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    I created a tool for my salary cap league, but it could have applications in general ranking. I map my players by contract length (effective life) and their cap amount (value they contribute.) By doing so, I can see when my team value starts to run off and where I need to start filling in gaps.

  16. Carlos lira

    May 30, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    i like this article alot the only problem to be is the andy dalton clasification of a back up u cant say that yet hes 25 in the next 3 years if he doesnt get good then maybe but i mean you cant have 24 year old soon to be 25 ryan tannehil as an upsider and have 25 yeard dalton as a back up lol thats just stupid

    • Michael R.

      May 30, 2013 at 7:03 pm

      Hi.

      I’ll start off by saying that the main thrust of the article was not to provide my rankings, but more to provide my take on a better way to do them. I’m sure there are many specifics in my rankings that people will disagree with, as there always are with rankings.

      That said, they are my rankings, and I certainly do not mind at all speaking to them. The ranking of Dalton as a Backup may be a little harsh, but I am simply not sure that he has the tools to be someone I would ever feel good about starting. Tannehill does have those tools. It’s not really about age, I have several old players in the Upsider role, it’s about, well, upside.

      It’s certainly a legitimate point though, you’re not the first to point it out, and likely will not be the last. I will give it a close look when I update my rankings.

    • JBlake

      June 1, 2013 at 10:17 am

      Carlos, before you call a DLF author stupid, you should probably put a little more effort into your comment, which reads like a 12-year-old’s text message. Please use punctuation or else it is very difficult to read. As Forrest Gump said “Stupid is as stupid does…”

      • sixshooter

        June 2, 2013 at 12:27 am

        Huh……sounds to me more like you are like a Jr High Schooler tryin’ to pick a fight…..Everyone is entitled to their opinion and grammar should not be as big an issue as some try to make it out to be on a fantasy football blog! Before you criticize other’s comment, maybe you should read your own!

        Carlos did say it was a good article afterall! (Is that enough punctuation?) Some are better than others at getting their point across properly but I am sorry……your “you can’t fix stupid” comment was not warranted!

        Run Forrest……….RUN!!!!! Life is like a box of chocolates…..you never know what you’re gonna get!!!!

        Calling someone stupid for simply saying stupid in a comment in a blog is …..well……kind of contradictory don’t ya think?

        I actually believe Carlos had a valid point! Time will tell but I am hopeful that both will be good but I had Dalton in a 16 team re-draft league last year that helped me win high pts only to tank in the post season and…..I have Tannehill in my Dynasty league and am hopeful that he will be a capable backup QB to Luck for many years to come but who knows!

        Sorry…..now back to Football…..

  17. Mike Steidl

    May 30, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Having Tannehill ahead of Dalton isn’t stupid. He just simply is higher on Tannehill. I’d certainly lean toward him as well. I like Dalton, but for some reason, I just feel like “that’s all there is”, you know?

  18. DJB

    May 30, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    I think Dalton is an upside play, I think he is getting underrated and is at least going to have a more productive season this year over last year with the offensive additions in Eifert and Bernard as well as a another year under center under his belt too.

    • sixshooter

      June 2, 2013 at 12:33 am

      I agree…..not to mention a “hopefully healthy Sanu” and a guy named A.J. Green on the other side not to mention Gresham having another year under his belt as well as the addition of the law firm!

      Again, I am hopeful that both Dalton and Tannehill take a step up this year as they will both hopefully benefit my team in one form or another but Tannehill has a much bigger step to take in order to bypass Dalton. Nothing more…..nothing less!

  19. Jim

    May 31, 2013 at 9:52 am

    Great read! I was a little surprised to see Josh Freeman so high up in the “upsider” list… pleasantly surprised, I might add, since he’s my 3rd QB behind Brees and Kaep in my dynasty. Thought Freeman’s stock was down after last year. Is the perception still that he has quite a bit of upside? Given my other two QB studs, I was thinking of floating Freeman as trade bait but I wasn’t sure what value I should expect in return. This is making me rethink my opinion of him… can you give a little insight as to why you have him as the #2 upside guy? Thanks Mike!

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