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Back in 1997 when The Huddle started, we had the first fantasy football message board on the internet. And it was there that someone posed the eternal question – “who do I start?” And the reply that has stood the ages was “start the guy who scores the most points.” It was but one of the early instances of a billion “well duh” moments online.
We bring that thought into our drafting for obvious reasons. We produce rankings and projections, pore over the minutia of why we would take one guy as the 40th running back and another player as the 41st. And that’s all fine. And that’s all good. But when applied to how we draft – are you doing it correctly? You see, it really isn’t about taking the highest scoring guy or we might end up with seven quarterbacks and six placekickers.
The trick of the draft – and where most champions are made – is in knowing what “high scoring guy” from which position to chose every time your pick rolls around. By the back half of the draft, you are just drafting for depth and filling out your roster. But those selections in the first half of your draft are all about your starters or at least backups you have every intention on using. The key to know who to take from what position and when… whew… It is all about comparing positions in your specific fantasy scoring rules. Customized cheatsheets like at The Huddle are all the rage, but even cannot tell you which position you need to take. That all depends on what has happened in your draft up until your pick.
Let’s take a look at how scoring works in fantasy football. You might be surprised how it plays out.
Scoring Within Positions
First thing to realize is that pretty much the same thing happens every year, just the names change. There are small variances from season to season and recently an overall shift to higher passing stats. But changes never end up that big from year to year. The lone exception was 2011 when defenses never really made it back from the lockout. What you mostly see is variation in the top three for each position and then more continuity after that. Here are the fantasy points over the last five seasons for various categories.
|Quarterbacks||Running Backs With RP||Tight Ends||Wide Receivers|
If you look at the #3, #10 and #20 scorers in each position for every year, you see consistency. The #3 value is a good indicator of what an elite player in that position can do. The #10 and #20 values play into if your need one or two starters. 2011 was a blip with higher stats than normal but it started to settle back down in 2012. The top threes tend to vary more because the very best players have either great or really great years. But down to the tenth and twentieth level, lots of consistency every year. Just different names scoring those points.
Now that we can feel good making decisions based on data from the past, we can analyze what happened last year and how it affected the main fantasy positions.
This is one position that uses a myriad of different scoring options. There are varying passing yards per point, differing pass touchdown values and sometimes interceptions cost you. Maybe even fumbles. Each and every scoring nuance creates different results – but not as different as you may think. Let’s consider five of the most common scoring scenarios for quarterbacks and each one uses 1/10 pts. per rushing yards and six points for a rushing touchdown.
|1 pt 50 yd + 3 pt TD||1 pt 20 yd + 3 pt TD||1 pt 20 yd + 4 pt TD – int||1 pt 20 yd + 6 pt TD – 2 int||1 pt 20 yd + 6 pt TD|
Highlighted in yellow are the third and tenth rows. This is to show you the difference between going for a top three quarterback or just waiting until the back end of all the starters. The differences across would be 45, 31, 49, 86 and 69 points. Divide those by 16 games and the difference between getting an elite quarterback or just waiting to the end of the starters would be roughly 3, 2, 3, 5 or 4 points per game respectively. How much those matter depend on your other positions. Graphically we see something interesting.
All the different scoring rules don’t really change anything but the height of the line. There is relatively no difference in the decline of each line, only where they start and therefore end. The red and green lines are the most commonly used in most contests and leagues. Assuming your player delivers as expected and is not injured, the most common scoring only gets you about 3 points a week more for taking an early round, top three quarterback versus waiting until the tenth or so quarterback taken. So scoring can be rather high, can be low but the decline in value for quarterbacks is the same regardless of which scoring you use.
For running backs, wide receivers and tight ends, the scoring is pretty universal. Almost all leagues award 1/10 points per rush or receive yard and six points for a touchdown. The only other commonly used scoring would be to add a point per reception. In the backrooms of seedy bars, there may be a few old men smoking cigars who rely on touchdown-only scoring but it is becoming so rare as to be nearly non-existent.
|2012 Running Back||Perf||Rec. Pt.||Perf Rank||Rec. Pt Rank||2012 Running Back||Perf||Rec. Pt.||Perf Rank||Rec. Pt Rank|
|Adrian Peterson||309||349||1||1||BenJarvus Green-Ellis||156||178||19||22|
|Arian Foster||266||306||2||3||Mikel Leshoure||155||189||20||18|
|Doug Martin||265||314||3||2||LeSean McCoy||151||205||21||16|
|Marshawn Lynch||251||274||4||5||Darren Sproles||139||214||22||13|
|Alfred Morris||247||258||5||7||DeAngelo Williams||134||147||23||27|
|Ray Rice||222||283||6||4||Willis McGahee||119||145||24||28|
|C.J. Spiller||218||261||7||6||Danny Woodhead||117||157||25||24|
|Jamaal Charles||211||246||8||9||DeMarco Murray||115||150||26||26|
|Trent Richardson||204||255||9||8||Vick Ballard||115||132||27||33|
|Stevan Ridley||203||209||10||15||Darren McFadden||115||157||28||25|
|Frank Gore||199||227||11||10||Joique Bell||108||160||29||23|
|Chris Johnson||184||220||12||12||Ryan Mathews||102||141||30||30|
|Matt Forte||179||223||13||11||Felix Jones||96||121||31||35|
|Reggie Bush||176||211||14||14||Andre Brown||95||107||32||40|
|Shonn Greene||169||188||15||19||Pierre Thomas||95||134||33||32|
|Ahmad Bradshaw||162||185||16||20||Knowshon Moreno||94||115||34||36|
|Steven Jackson||160||198||17||17||Mark Ingram||93||99||35||42|
|Michael Turner||159||178||18||21||Fred Jackson||89||123||36||34|
There were a few players with some significant change between Performance and Reception Point scoring. Stevan Ridley doesn’t catch much and LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles do. In the sense of rankings, the difference is really negligible for most other players. Top tens remain top tens. Only a handful are reliably better in one or the other system.What is notable here though is how rapidly the values decline. The difference between the 3rd best performance back and the tenth best was 63 points (4 PPG) and for reception points it was 79 (5 PPG).
But realize too you will start two backs and maybe three. The difference between the third best and the 20th best was 109 and 121 points respectively and that calculates out to 7 or 8 points per game. We can see a much sharper decline for running backs. Figure the top back last year (Adrian Peterson) produced over three times as many points as the 30th best back did. And yet that 30th back was started in many leagues.
Once again – different scoring rules did not change anything but the height of the line. Basically it is the same line only higher with reception points. You are losing points fairly fast by waiting on a running back according to this. I can also tell you that as a trend this only gets worse with time. The top 30 running backs combined for a lower total points last year than they have for over a decade or more. And yet the top ten scored as well as any recent season.
|2012 Tight End||Perf||Rec. Pt.||Perf Rank||Rec. Pt Rank||2012 Tight End||Perf||Rec. Pt.||Perf Rank||Rec. Pt Rank|
|Jimmy Graham||152||237||1||1||Scott Chandler||93||136||13||15|
|Rob Gronkowski||145||200||2||5||Martellus Bennett||93||148||14||12|
|Tony Gonzalez||141||234||3||2||Vernon Davis||85||126||15||20|
|Heath Miller||130||201||4||4||Jermichael Finley||79||140||16||14|
|Jason Witten||122||232||5||3||Aaron Hernandez||78||129||17||19|
|Greg Olsen||114||183||6||7||Marcedes Lewis||78||130||18||18|
|Dennis Pitta||109||170||7||8||Jared Cook||76||120||19||21|
|Owen Daniels||108||170||8||9||Lance Kendricks||76||118||20||23|
|Brandon Myers||105||184||9||6||Brandon Pettigrew||75||134||21||16|
|Jermaine Gresham||104||168||10||10||Brent Celek||74||131||22||17|
|Kyle Rudolph||103||156||11||11||Dwayne Allen||70||115||23||25|
|Antonio Gates||96||145||12||13||Benjamin Watson||68||117||24||24|
For tight ends there is no real difference between which player is good in performance versus reception point leagues. What we see as the difference between a top three tight end and one of the final starters was only about 50 points last year for a performance league and 60 in a reception point format.
The point differential between a top tight end and a low-end starter is not that many points. There are several unusual circumstances surrounding tight ends this season. Looking at the names of the top tight ends from 2012 above, we see Rob Gronkowski as health risk who still has not practiced. Heath Miller shredded his knee and may be back but is not likely to be the same. Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten are two of the oldest tight ends in the league. Brandon Myers changed teams and Jermaine Gresham will give way to a rookie stud. This year you have Jimmy Graham as the ONLY high-production, low risk player. So almost regardless of the sharp decline in the line anyway, you sort of take Graham and the reality is that nothing here supports spending anything early on any other tight end.
The lines of course mirror each other. But it is evident just how more productive tight ends are with that reception point. Considering that most tight ends have around a 10 yard per catch average, it almost doubles their fantasy points. You can safely assume Graham will be at the top this year barring injury and there is a slew of high-upside tight ends that will fill out the above line.
Wideouts are similar to tight ends of course, but obviously have many more receptions and a higher yards per catch in almost all cases.
|2012 Wide Receiver||Perf||Rec. Pt.||Perf Rank||Rec. Pt Rank||2012 Wide Receiver||Perf||Rec. Pt.||Perf Rank||Rec. Pt Rank|
|Calvin Johnson||226||348||1||1||Steve Smith||144||217||19||19|
|Brandon Marshall||217||335||2||2||Mike Williams||154||217||18||20|
|A.J. Green||205||302||4||3||Lance Moore||140||205||21||21|
|Dez Bryant||210||302||3||4||Jeremy Maclin||128||197||27||22|
|Demaryius Thomas||203||297||5||5||Mike Wallace||132||196||24||23|
|Andre Johnson||184||296||8||6||Miles Austin||130||196||26||24|
|Wes Welker||173||291||12||7||Cecil Shorts||140||195||22||25|
|Reggie Wayne||165||271||15||8||Brandon Lloyd||115||189||33||26|
|Eric Decker||184||269||7||9||Brian Hartline||114||188||34||27|
|Roddy White||177||269||10||10||Torrey Smith||134||183||23||28|
|Julio Jones||183||262||9||11||Justin Blackmon||119||183||28||29|
|Vincent Jackson||186||258||6||12||Anquan Boldin||116||181||31||30|
|Marques Colston||175||258||11||13||T.Y. Hilton||131||181||25||31|
|Victor Cruz||169||255||13||14||Antonio Brown||111||177||37||32|
|Michael Crabtree||165||250||14||15||Larry Fitzgerald||104||175||42||33|
|Randall Cobb||157||237||17||16||Andre Roberts||109||173||39||34|
|James Jones||162||226||16||17||Sidney Rice||117||167||29||35|
|Stevie Johnson||141||220||20||18||Malcom Floyd||111||167||36||36|
For the most part, the additional reception point does not matter too much. The only real exceptions are those players who had a high number of catches yet lower yards per catch and few touchdowns (Wes Welker and Reggie Wayne). And guys like Vincent Jackson who had high yards per catch and touchdowns but fewer receptions that most. Really outside of Wes Welker (who just changed teams) and perhaps Danny Amendola if he can string more than three healthy games together, the additional reception point doesn’t really change rankings much. At least in a reliable manner.
Without a reception point, the difference between the #3 and #10 was only 28 points and only 33 points with the reception point. Not much. The difference between the 10th best and the 20th best was 23 and 52 points respectively. The line declines but the value lost in each step down is less than any of the other positions. It makes sense – most team will use at least two if not three wide receivers heavily. Conversely, it is rare to have a team with more than one decent tight end or a backfield with two top scoring backs.
Graphing this out shows one of the most gently sloping lines meaning that value declines at a much slower rate.
The difference of the reception point did not double the value of a wideout as it did with a tight end. Figuring that the average wideout has a 15 yard per catch average, most would only see about a 50% increase in value. But what is most notable here is that gentle slope of the line.
SO PICK THE GUY WITH THE MOST POINTS ALREADY
Nothing to this point has really brought home the most important decision you are going to be making in your draft. Yes, we proved a few things along the way:
- Scoring rule changes within a position mostly just increases or decreases value without really changing the decline of value or even how a player is ranked with very few exceptions.
- Quarterbacks don’t decline much but their wildly varying scoring rules can make them very valuable or almost meaningless.
- Running Backs have the largest decline in value of any position. Reception points affect only a few specific players really and has less affect than it does on tight ends and wide receivers.
- Tight ends get a major bang for the buck with the reception point – almost doubling their value. This year looks pretty screwed up.
- Wide Receivers score well and even better with the reception point but decline in value less than other positions and you probably want a lot of them.
Knowing all that still doesn’t really answer that initial question – “who do I draft when it is my pick?”. All those names in columns of your cheatsheet, arrayed in declining value does not tell you which column to choose from. It never can. That is up to you and how much you understand your scoring. Let’s move to the final frontier – comparing positions.
OKAY, EVERYBODY IN THE POOL!
Let’s select some combinations of scoring rules and see what we can glean. I will not include kickers because they change so much each season and their value declines literally a point or two from best to worst. And I will not include defenses because there are a bajillion ways that leagues score defenses. And unlike the four positions above, the lines can be completely different. They can have sharper angles and even worse, what makes a defense great in one league may not in another. Varying values for turnovers and sacks have a big impact. Scoring schemes that consider points or yardage allowed have a profound effect on what makes a good or bad defense. Besides, everyone waits until the end anyway because they are hard to forecast and have only a marginal decline in value… in most leagues anyway. This year you take Seattle three rounds too early or you just wait until the end.
When we put these positions together, we can best understand how fantasy value for your TEAM can be created in a draft.
STANDARD PERFORMANCE LEAGUE
This is a standard performance league that awards a point for every 10 rush or receive yards, six point touchdowns except 3 points per pass. One point per 20 pass yards and no deductions for interceptions or fumbles.
This is a very standard sort of league and you can find this or something very close on Yahoo, CBS-Sportsline, NFL.com and so on. This is sort of “old school” since reception points are gaining in popularity every year. What the above graphs shows us about this league is that quarterbacks score more than anyone. But the difference between even the #1 quarterback (if you guess him correctly) and the #5 is only 50 points and it pretty much flattens out through the rest of the starters.
This says that you get an advantage with an elite quarterback but it is not that much per week. And worse yet, you are forgoing other positions to take him. You have to evaluate if a running back or wide receiver makes more sense. And here is where grabbing Jimmy Graham doesn’t really get you a big bang for the buck. The difference is roughly the same as owning an elite quarterback but at less than half the points generated. In this scoring, getting Jimmy Graham is going to equate to around the 20th ranked running back or wide receiver.
So with this scoring, it doesn’t support taking a top quarterback or tight end unless they really fell – like about three rounds or more.
Running backs have the sharpest decline and you want two if not three decent backs. After around the 24th ranked running back, the rest not only become less valuable than a comparable wide receiver but their line really plummets after around #36. Wideouts just continue their gentle slope.
You have to know the first round is going to be full of running backs. Maybe entirely running backs. Owning a top ten running back gives you more advantage than any other position in this scoring. I am almost going RB with my first pick regardless of what it is. I look to mix and match RB and WR until I see the value in QB and TE. Since I figure Graham will go too early by someone not respecting the scoring, I am almost certain to wait on a tight end until at least several are off the board.
Again – this is old school. Running backs rule, quarterbacks score well but you can get them later. Tight ends matter less here than anywhere.
As you look at the graph, consider too what it would look like when it is your turn. In the second round when the RB run has really decimated the line, it may be wiser to take a top WR or even a QB. It all depends on what was taken before you and what is left. And – how well those are going to score.
PERFORMANCE WITH RECEPTION POINT LEAGUE
This is a standard performance league that awards a point for every 10 rush or receive yards, six point touchdowns except 3 points per pass. One point per 20 pass yards and no deductions for interceptions or fumbles. But you get one point per reception.
This too is very like many contests and hosted league sites. It is becoming more prevalent and has probably already become the most common scoring scheme.
The scoring for quarterback remains the same as the standard performance league. This means that not only I would likely wait, but even more so here where the delta between quarterback scoring and running backs or wideouts is 50 points or less unlike the 100 point difference without the reception point. I would almost never take a top quarterback in this league. It feels and looks better than it ends up being.
In this scoring, now wideouts are more valuable than running backs outside the very top players. I still have to honor the reality that running back value is descending and the delta between running back and wideout scoring gets larger until around the #36 for each and then it really widens apart as #2 receivers perform far better than #2 running backs. So once again the reality is that running backs need to go early and often. When the first round takes up to ten of them, you only have around a dozen or so before they decline very sharply. All positions decline in value but only running backs and wide receivers are used for two or more starters. Were you to start out QB-RB-WR-TE, no doubt your second running back is going to be a liability unless you get really lucky.
This scoring lifts the tight ends up closer to the wideouts but still fall short of them. Last year the third best tight end was only scoring like the 16th wide receiver. And this year is one of the most risky years ever for picking a top guy outside of Jimmy Graham. That means Graham is actually worth a second round pick probably, though better at the end of the second. No doubt someone grabs him earlier in most leagues.
My priorities going into this draft is to likely wait on quarterback. If somehow a top one falls to the fourth round I might have to pull the trigger and it does happen in some leagues. But I plan on ending the third round with two running backs and either a wide receiver or maybe even a third running back if I got one before the final tier where risk and production head in different directions. I would take Graham only very late second round which means I drafted a great RB with my first pick and I could take another RB in the third round since I go at the first of it. Wide receivers score very well, but their decline is less than any other position and the value remains relatively high far longer than any other position.
You hate getting caught up in the run on running backs but it really is a sound idea. You just want to make every pick count as much as it can. This scoring is all about taking running backs and wideouts and deciding when you have to grab a quarterback and tight end. Chances are – later rounds unless you get a real difference maker.
Performance Tight End Heavy
Just to mix it up a bit, this league considers passing touchdowns as four points with one point deducted per interception. Otherwise it is a performance league with reception points but one that awards a single point per reception except tight ends receive 1.5 points for their catches. While that doesn’t make them equals with wide receivers, it does raise them up appreciably.
The only real difference in this league from a reception point league is that extra half a point for tight ends. It does make a difference. Now an elite tight end is going to score like a top ten running back or wideout. in most seasons, this would dictate that you need to grab them early and maybe get two good ones if there is a flex position that allows a second tight end to start.
But this year is fraught with questions outside of Jimmy Graham. And you have to know that Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez and Rob Gronkowski are going to be taken far earlier in this league than any other. Graham probably ends up a first rounder here and deservedly so. Consider that the eighth best tight end is scoring as well as the 16th best running back. I approach this league as a normal reception point league but I want to take advantage of the 1.5 point reception for tight ends.
I still want good running backs and I know wideouts last longer. So I probably figure on a late quarter – sixth to ninth round – and try to work in at least one tight end in during the first five rounds. This year I might try to get a top five tight end, and then before the tenth round take two more high upside tight ends. You really have to watch the position because sometimes people go nuts on this beyond what the scoring really supports.
Performance Quarterback Heavy League
This is a league where yo have normal reception point scoring but quarterbacks get one point per 20 yards passed and six point passing touchdowns with two points deducted for every interception. Let’s also consider you can start two quarterbacks which is slowly becoming more common.
The difference between this and the reception point league are those monster big points from quarterbacks. The very best running back and wideout scores only about the same as the 12th best quarterback in this scoring. So all of the starting quarterbacks are scoring as much or more than the best player from any other position. If you start only one – I still want a top three guy. I would not want to miss out on running backs for those first five or so picks with their big decline. I don’t wait on the position in this league. If I have a top five pick, I still go running back but after that I will look to get a quarterback with my second or third pick.
If you can start two and they score this highly – that is a completely different draft if you have never done it. I play in such a league every year – a big dollar contest. The top dozen quarterbacks are going to be gone by no later than the end of the fourth round and probably the end of the third. People tend to go overboard with them at times but starting two quarterbacks is better than starting two Adrian Peterson’s last year. Look at the graph.
The Final Takeaway
There is less difference between scoring systems than most realize. The only real difference for running backs, wide receivers and tight ends are if they get a reception point. That will make a few players shift up or down the rankings enough that it can be predicted with good confidence. But even that only changes the amount of points scored – it does not change how value declines in the position. As much as we love our customized cheatsheets, the reality is that it often matters far more what you think about a player than what some projection calculates out. Most people draft with their gut anyway.
What is relevant about scoring rules in a fantasy league are two things – how quickly does value decline in a position and how do all positions compare to each other?
You have to evaluate where you are at with each pick. What players are left in the various positions and which of those will yield the biggest bang for the buck. You want to build the optimal team. There is no way going into a draft to know what that could be because you never know what your other league mates are going to do. You can easily graph out your own league if you have last year’s scoring and some rudimentary spreadsheet skills.
For me, I do graph out my leagues and analyze how the scoring affects the position in every league I am in. And what I am really looking for are these questions to be answered:
Quarterbacks – Should I take a top three because they are so valuable or do I just wait on grabbing one of the final starters.
Running Backs – Every pick I make in the first five rounds, I am asking myself “why not a running back?”. No matter what, it is not a bad plan to end with two backs in your first three picks. If you do not, you better be good with picking sleepers or at least have a high first round pick so you go very early in the fourth round.
Wide Receivers – There are a lot of them and value declines slower than any other position. That doesn’t mean you can skip them until the end. This is an inconsistent position as well and a top receiver offers value every week. I want to know how long consistent, decent production will last. I tend to take a top ten wideout every league for just that reason. And then load up later on the rest after I have a few running backs and maybe even my tight end and quarterback depending on the scoring. After the 30th wideout is taken, every time I take one I ask myself “can this guy realistically turn into a consistent player?” I hate wideouts who have a big game once every four weeks. I never get that week right.
Tight Ends – This year I would covet Jimmy Graham in the first round of a tight end heavy league. I would want him in the second round of a reception point league. I know there is no way he makes it to me in a performance league because someone else wants him too early. I love the tight ends this year because there are no less than ten who could turn in a big year. This is one year I am taking two or even three tight ends to see what sticks to the wall.
Learn about your scoring and one of the above graphs is likely very close if not exact for your league. Understand the relationship of positions and realize just how that graph changes after every round. That’s when you start making optimal picks – when you know where the best value is in each round because you know not only what projected scoring is but also how quickly the value is declining or just gone for each position.
Your league scoring not only tells you what happened last year – it tells you what to do this year.