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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Supply and Demand

I've been thinking a lot about the upcoming football season and the various ways that experts have talked about how to draft a football roster.

Not that many years ago the prevailing wisdom was always to draft running backs with your first two picks and then go after wide receivers, maybe mix in a stud quarterback.  The past few years that has really changed and we are regularly seeing the top quarterbacks and wide receivers being taken in the first round.

And this year... *gasp*... we may even have a tight end in the first round.

So, I've been thinking about this and why it is so.  Why was it so smart to grab RB's and then WR's a few years ago and now people are grabbing studs at other positions?

The answer - two schools of thought:
  1. Supply and Demand
  2. Risk and Reward
Allow me to explain.  Roster makeups for fantasy football teams vary wildly, but let's go ahead and say that the configuration for our sample league looks like the list below, which is a pretty common setup:
  • 1 x QB
  • 2 x RB
  • 2 x WR
  • 1 x Flex (RB/WR)
  • 1 x TE
  • 1 x D/ST
  • 1 x K
Across a league of 32 NFL teams there are 32 "starters" (I use quotations because of different packages and other considerations) at RB, QB, TE, D/ST, and K.  There are 64 "starters" at WR.  And truly, in our more pass-happy league these days that number might be closer to 96.  Most teams run three wide in many of their offensive sets, foregoing the fullback or splitting out the tight end. 

To be sure not all of these guys are fantasy-worthy, but let's look at these numbers from a supply and demand standpoint.

Let's say you have a 12-team fantasy league.  In that league you are going to want one solid QB, three strong RB's, three good WR's, one quality TE, plus your D/ST, a K, and a bunch of guys to fill out your bench.  I realize I listed a total of six guys at RB and WR for five starting positions (including Flex), but the fact that you need five starters makes bye weeks and injuries a much bigger deal... you'll need six studs (and a strong bench) for those five spots.

So, the top 12 QB's out of 32 NFL starters will start in your league week to week.  Same for TE's.  That works out to 37.5% of the NFL starters at QB and TE getting the start in your league each week. (D/ST and K, too.)  I'll be the first to admit that having one of the best at these positions is an advantage, but not nearly as much as you might think.  Often #5 and #15 are only separated by a point or two per week.  Why not take assets that are more scarce early in your draft and wait until later in  to grab a QB and a TE in the #10 range?

My plan on QB's is to take two back-to-back.  I got Matthew Stafford in just about every league last year doing this.  It was pretty common to be able to go Sam Bradford and Stafford in rounds 7/8 or even 8/9.  This year I'm thinking maybe Josh Freeman and Jay Cutler... I don't know.  Haven't done my rankings and projections yet, but I do like the value of those two in 2012.

If we look at WR's, your league will need 36 of the 64-ish starting players.  So, about 56% of the starting NFL wide receivers will start week-to-week in your league.

At RB, the supply and demand situation gets crazy...  Your league needs to start 36 of the 32 NFL "starters" each week.  Let that sink in.  If there is one quality RB per NFL team on average (and, yes, I realize that it's more like 40 or so) than this league is over-subscribed...  The league needs 112.5% of the available resource in the starting lineup each week.  And that's before the bye weeks hit.

And now you know why all of the experts used to say that you have to go RB-RB in the first two rounds.

And now you also know why so many backup running backs get started in your fantasy leagues.  Usually by the guy that went QB-WR-TE with his first three picks.

And, good news, with the philosophy changing recently the top RB's are slipping.  In one of my money leagues last year I got Ray Rice at #9 (nine!) and grabbed Darren McFadden in the second round.  Crazy!  I won the league. (That was one of the leagues that I took Stafford late.) 

However, that brings me to the point about Risk and Reward and why drafting philosophies have changed.  Run DMC got hurt.  Lots of RB's get hurt.  It's much more risky to take an RB early than just about any other position.

Besides, who would you rather draft at #5 overall this year - Ryan Mathews or Aaron Rodgers?  Yep.  There's maybe a 40% chance that Mathews gets hurt and probably 10% (at worst) that Rodgers misses significant time.  After all, you can't win your league in the first round... but you can lose it. (Which may or may not be true.  One of my first posts in this space was about that concept... what is true about it and what is not.)

But let me just say for the record here that playing it safe will guarantee you to have a relatively fun and competitive year, but you won't dominate and your chances of winning it all will be primarily luck-based.  True, there is a ton of luck in fantasy football and there is a slight chance that you may win your league on luck. 

Frankly, I'd rather take the scarce resource early, draft bench backups early, and roll with that kind of luck.

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