It’s the age old question that all of us face when our turn to pick comes up in a start-up dynasty draft – which of these players holds the most long term value for my team?
It’s no secret that sustained high-level production is the life-blood of any successful dynasty team. One year wonders are fun to ride when you can, but depending on those players to keep you in continued contention for your league title is best left for those players who focus solely on re-draft leagues. None of what I’ve said so far in this article is earth-shattering or ground-breaking research for dynasty owners – we all look for players who produce year in and year out.
What I’m about to say next, however, just might be a bit of a revelation to many of you dynasty owners, probably even you reading this routinely sabotage your teams by selecting players, or rather players from positions, that have the lowest longevity with your highest picks. If a dynasty owner is in the dynasty experience for the long-term, one would expect that the players from the positions with the longest longevity would be selected with the highest picks. The problem usually occurs when owners plan for the dynasty experience with their brain, but only after drafting with their heart.
“Whoa, whoa,” you’re saying, “I put a lot of research into my picks, I take players who are strong and look great for the long term.”
I have no doubt that many of us share that sediment, myself included. However, some new research I’ve recently conducted has led me to dramatically reassess both how I value players and which positions I value the most.
Would you draft a player who was a top ten performer for his position last year with a first round pick? Depending on the player you would certainly consider it, who wouldn’t right?
What if you were presented a choice between two players from two different positions, both of whom were top ten players in their position, both the same age and each score roughly the same amount? What you may not realize is that one player’s position, on average, drops out of the top ten a full half year earlier than the other player’s position – that difference becomes even more exaggerated if the players in question have been in the top ten for their positions more than once. If the players in question have been in the top ten more than once, one player’s position appears in their top ten almost a full year longer than the other position. The decision seems elementary at this point – you select the player who will appear in their top ten an extra year, it just makes sense from a value standpoint, right?
Why then do nearly all of us covet running backs with first round picks and wide receivers with second or third round picks, but almost totally ignore quarterbacks until much later?
A simple glance at the MyFantasyLeague.com ADP for 2012 shows only five quarterbacks in the top 30 picks. Running backs, however, dominate the rankings with 13 entries and wide receivers account for nine of the top 30. Now, granted, this ADP combines re-draft and dynasty ADP rankings, but look at any site that focuses on dynasty football and the trend of valuing running backs over quarterbacks is prevalent everywhere – DLF included. However, when you compare the average length of time any one player appears on their position’s top ten list running backs and wide receivers rank at the bottom, and not by a little, by a lot as you can see below:
I’ve tried to cram a lot of information important to this article into the chart you see above. First, let’s concentrate on the bars themselves; the blue bars represent all of the players who appeared in the top ten per position from 2002 through 2011, while the red bars represent players who appeared more than once between 2002 through 2011. The numbers above each bar represent how many times on average a player appears in each list. The numbers in the parentheses under each position are the number of players who appear on that position’s list between 2002 and 2011. The numbers in the brackets under each position are the number of players that appear more than once on that position’s list between 2002 and 2011.
As I pointed out earlier, you can clearly see that running backs and wide receivers, on average, only stay in the top ten for 2.29 years and 2.21 years, respectively, while quarterbacks, the position with the most top ten longevity, stay in the top ten nearly half a year longer on average.
If we focus solely on players who repeat their top ten performances for two or more years then the difference is startling. Your average running back that repeats a top ten performance doesn’t stay in the top ten much longer than the rest of his top ten running back compatriots, only staying there 3.07 years, a difference of 0.78 years. Wide receivers fare slightly better. A wide receiver who appears more than once in the top ten averages 3.45 years in the top ten, an average of 1.24 years, nearly a full year and a quarter longer than the average wide receiver appearance.
Reappearing quarterbacks stay longer than both running backs and wide receivers, appearing 3.78 years on the top ten, but the increase from the overall quarterback appearance average to the reoccurring appearance quarterback is exactly one year longer. Tight ends reign supreme over all positions, however, boasting players that reappear on the top ten for 3.82 years on average, an increase of 1.38 years over the average for all of the top ten tight ends from 2002 through 2011.
The case seems pretty cut and dry at this point, however, we need to look a little further to get a full picture of what’s going on here. The numbers on the above graph under each position play an important part in interrupting this data. This can be viewed as the churn rate for the top ten for each position. Since we are looking at data that encompasses ten years’ time with ten top players at each position per year, we can obviously expect 100 potentially different players if there was a 100% churn rate. The first number under each position is the number of different players who appear on that position’s top ten during the ten year period in question. This can essentially be viewed as a percentage, so wide receivers have the largest churn rate at 47%, followed by running backs that had a 45% churn rate, then tight ends at 43% and a nice drop off to quarterbacks who only churned at 36%.
Scratching beneath the surface, a couple of things should immediately stand out to you. First, the difference in churn from the more highly valued wide receivers to the often ignored quarterbacks is an amazing 23%, not simply an 11% difference. No, my math isn’t wrong, you don’t compare the totals to the original 100%, since we are comparing the positions we compare the numbers from each position. Therefore, the difference from 36% to 47% is a full 23% increase (100 – [(36/47)*100]). In more understandable terms, this means that if you select a wide receiver who has appeared in the top ten just once, over a quarterback who has ranked in the top ten at his position just once, you’re 23% more likely to see that wide receiver fall out of the top ten the next year (Jordy Nelson, I’m looking squarely at you)! You may be thinking this same examination needs to be done by the serious dynasty owner right away!
Well, not really, here’s a handy chart to refer to:
What we have to do at this point is divide the number of re-appearing top ten players by the number of all the top ten players. Doing so yields us the following – clearly, as a dynasty fantasy football owner drafting a player who could fizzle out one times out of four over a similarly talented player is just not acceptable! What happens if we have to make a decision between two highly talented players who have appeared in the top ten of their position more than once? Here’s where things get a bit complicated, but also where some interesting facts are unveiled.
Quarterbacks: 23/36 = 0.6389 then 0.6389 * 100 = 63.89%
Running Backs: 28/45 = 0.6222 then 0.6222 * 100 = 62.22%
Wide Receivers: 23/47 = 0.4894 then 0.4894 * 100 = 48.94%
Tight Ends: 22/43 = 0.5116 then 0.5116 * 100 = 51.16%
Great, lots of numbers, but what in the world does it mean? I’ll walk you through it step by step.
We are taking the number of players who appear in the top ten multiple times and dividing that number by the number of players in the ten year period from 2002-2011 who have appeared in the top ten for that position. We are then given a number between zero and one. We then take this number and multiply that by 100 to get a percentage. This is the last number in each of the lines above.
Uhhh, OK, so what? What does that number mean?
It’s simple – that number, in conjunction with the average number of years that re-occurring players who appear in the top ten, shows us the true dynasty worth of top ten players who aren’t flukes. If we encounter a higher percentage here with a higher average number of years, this tells us how highly we should value a given position, quarterback for instance.
- More top ten quarterbacks who appear in the top ten for one year tend to reappear in the top ten more than one year.
- Quarterbacks also tend to stay in the top ten longer than running backs or wide receivers.
- Fewer tight ends re-appear in the top ten multiple years, but the ones who do reappear tend to be staples.
- Running backs tend to reappear in the top ten more than one year, but they stay in the top ten far shorter than any other position.
- The wide receiver position tends to be the worst long term investment with fewer wide receivers appearing in the top ten than any other position and those wide receivers who do reappear in the top ten have the second shortest stay in there out of the four offensive positions.
Dynasty owners always aim for players who reside in that “sweet spot” where longevity intersects with top notch production. The numbers from the past ten years however seem to indicate the players most dynasty owners target early in initial drafts actually hamper the long term viability of their team’s success. Those owners looking to be successful longer than their league mates would be strongly advised to target young quarterbacks who have appeared in the top ten two or more times over a similarly producing player at any other position. Additionally, targeting wide receivers with high draft picks appears to be a poor investment long term.
Clearly there are exceptions to every rule, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald come to mind immediately, however, chasing exceptions is a losing man’s game. The number I’ve laid out should serve any dynasty owner with a great roadmap from which to value players who post similar fantasy points, but play at two different positions. Doing so has always been a hard proposition for most of us, yet now with firm numbers in hand, the decision should be much easier – you pick the player from the position with the lowest churn and longest longevity.
It should be very interesting to see how drafting strategies could be modified based on this research. One strategy perhaps would be that you pass on running backs and wide receivers with your picks in the top two rounds. Instead, you might opt for a high end young quarterback and tight end in rounds one and two. From the third round on you hold your initial draft as most others would grabbing the best young running backs and wide receivers available.
Based on research still in its infancy, this strategy is, admittedly, risky. However, the numbers are solid and point to this strategy being very sound. Grabbing a combination such as Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton or Matthew Stafford at quarterback and Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham at tight end is very feasible in this drafting scenario and many young, high profile running backs are available in the third and beyond. It’s hard to argue that a team built around those studs could fail long-term, which seems to lend a lot of credence to this research.
Now get out there and truly build your team for the true long-term!