Value Based Drafting: Overview and Implementation

May 22, 2018


For this article, we will use ESPN’s 2018 fantasy football projections and will be assuming standard league scoring, 12-team, and starting rosters (QB/2RB/2WR/T/Flex).



What It Is

Value Based Drafting is, very simply, evaluating players relative to their own position rather than the league as a whole. If it sounds complicated, it’s not, and you’ve actually been participating in it for years. You might not have made the calculations yourself, but somebody did, whether at ESPN, or NFL, or Yahoo, or a host of popular supporting websites. It’s the reason that although quarterbacks score the most, the experts are always loading the top of their rankings with running backs and wide receivers. And it’s not entirely arbitrary. Maybe this year, you want to be the guy making the calculations. I can help you.


Establishing Baselines

Perhaps the most important term in Value Based Drafting (or Value over Replacement Player) is “baseline.” VBD is about evaluating players relative to their own position, and to do this, we must establish a reference point, sort of like a sea level. Things can be both above and below sea level, just so in VBD players can be valued with positive or negative numbers. A baseline is the starting point when comparing RBx to RBy, and must be done separately for each position. Once you have established a baseline, you can then calculate the Value over Replacement Player (VoRP) for each individual, giving you an absolute, sortable value to apply to your rankings. There are several prevailing methods for establishing baselines. Let’s work through them.


Worst Starter

I think this is the theoretical ideal for starting rosters, but as fantasy (like real life) is rarely ideal, the method has its flaws. Essentially, the baseline is established at the worst starting player of any given position. In a 12-team league with 1 starting QB, we know that 12 (and only 12) QBs start per week, so boom. Easy baseline. With 2 starting WRs, 2 starting RBs, and a flex that is generally mixed between the two, we can usually assume an even mix of RBs and WRs starting in the flex spot, with slightly more WRs starting in standard, and even more starting in ½ or full PPR. When using this method, go through league history to see how many owners start RB or WR on average. Your baselines and values should look something like this: 



Things will, of course, be a bit more complicated than this as, ideally, you should be calculating the VoRP of every relevant fantasy player. Maybe even more than that. Once projections and baselines are established, you should sort players by VoRP to create your rankings. For an example, this table only includes only the top projected scorer of each 4 skill positions on your starting roster. What’s immediately clear is that RBs are the most valuable, and QB is the least valuable. Even though Bell is only projected to outscore Brady by 31.6 points, his relative positional value is 140.9 points greater.


If you are the type of drafter who wants to completely fill out her starting roster before drafting any bench players, then this is the VBD method for you. However, it comes with the tremendous double-drawback of relying on both perfect projections and an assumption that no player on your roster will become injured. This is not a recommended method.


Top 100 recommends establishing baselines based on how many players are drafted within the first 100 picks of a draft. Just as an example, I went through some of my own league history and determined that my baselines under this method would be QB9, RB38, WR44, TE9. As I’m in a 12-team league, however, this means my baseline is established 4 picks into the 9th round, which I find to be an uncomfortable position. As this is just a tad over 8 rounds, I personally recommend establishing baselines based on who is drafted for the first 8 rounds. This will give you a healthy understanding of who is being drafted to start while giving a little bit of wiggle room to compensate for injury and risk. How can you determine this baseline? Two methods: 1) In established leagues, I recommend reviewing no more than three years of league draft history to determine league-mate habits and creating personalized baselines. Or 2) If you are in a startup draft, I recommended establishing baselines based either on similar league ADP you may have access to, or by going to ADP websites like to estimate the number of players drafted within the top 100 selections (or top 8 rounds, per my suggestion).


Your value rankings may look something like this: 


As you may have noticed, both QB and TE value rankings drop off significantly compared to RB and WR. Unless you play in a league full of fantasy nerds, you aren’t likely to being playing against many people who actually calculate their own value rankings, but they still understand the fundamental importance of RB and WR, and how grabbing the rare beasts at the top is so much more important than going for positions I would call “1 and done.” I don’t want two QBs or TEs on my team, and I’m very happy to wait for them.


This is a safe, secure, and proven method that balances injury risk, but your ADP will also change just based on league habits. This means that if you’ve got that one guy picking a QB in the first round, and then another QB run starts in Round 3, your QB numbers will be inflated in your rankings for no other reason than your league mates like to draft them too soon.


Supply and Demand

This is my preferred method. Unlike the “Top 100” method, supply and demand does not take into account league habits (and that’s a good thing). If quarterbacks go super early in your league, that doesn’t give you a good excuse to reach for one too. Zig when your opponents zag.


What the “Supply and Demand” method does is take the cold, hard reality of math and lay it on top of fantasy football, completely indiscriminate of human perception. Start with demand, which is man-games. “Man-games” is the product of the total number of starters of each position in a week, for every week of your league. If your 12-team league starts 1 QB every week for 16 weeks, the man-games for QB become (12x1x16) = 192. 192 is the total number of unique fantasy games that a quarterback will start in your league.


How many quarterbacks does it take to reach 192 man-games? You’d think 12, but then you’re remembering that there are bye-weeks, and injuries, and though the quarterback is a relatively safe position, you’ll still need more than 12 to reach your baseline. So calculate. Again, I use three years of data, and to do this, I look at historical ADP. So what I did was look through the ADP for 2015, 2016, and 2017, and worked my way down the list. For instance, in 2015 Andrew Luck was the first QB off the board. In 2015 Luck was fantasy relevant (scored 1 point or more) for 7 games. Okay, 7 down, 185 to go. Moving on to Aaron Rodgers… and so on and so forth.


Yes, it’s time consuming, but the end result gives you the baseline established at how many players it actually takes to fill in all the roster spots you’ll eventually need. The inherent beauty of the “supply and demand” method is that it takes into account risk, injury, suspension, and rarity all in one beast. The only drawback is that it doesn’t reflect your particular league habits. So, having done the work for you already, I can at least tell you that in 12-team standard leagues, your baselines for 2018 will be: QB14, RB36, WR45, TE17. Therefore, your rankings will look something like this: 



*One caveat: I’m assuming the flex starters should be 2 RBs and 10 WRs among the 12 teams.


It’s a long process, but you should be able to either calculate or gather projections, calculate scoring based on those projections specific to your league, calculate baselines, subtract baseline projections from each individual’s projected scoring to create “VoRP,” and finally sort your rankings by Value over Replacement Player. Your first round might look like this:


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