The Charlie and The Chocolate Factory Theory for 2016 Fantasy Football Drafts
August 2, 2016 | Chet
Editor’s Note: Congratulations to Ian Braden for taking third place in Round 2 of The Fake Football Writing Contest! Here is his entry:
If you’ve not seen Charlie and The Chocolate Factory in a while, go back and watch it again. It’s super weird. There are four elder folk living in the same bed and nobody takes issue with the fact that a reclusive candy mogul has enslaved an entire race of orange humanoids to do his sugary bidding.
But I digress. Oompa Loompa sovereignty isn’t my rallying cry. They’ll be fine.
Anyway, consider for a moment Charlie’s success in this movie; it depends not on special ability, but rather on his acceptance of his mistakes and his refusal to succumb to the deception that undoes his competitors. Charlie unknowingly primed himself for success merely by making one less mistake than his competitors. And sometimes, that’s all that’s required, be it in a candy factory sweepstakes or a fantasy draft.
Be that as it may, how can you put yourself in the position best suited for winning? How can you make at least one less mistake than everyone else? Well, in addition to avoiding the obvious missteps of taking a QB in the first round, drowning in a chocolate river, selecting a backup defense, etc., you have to tip toe around obscurities on your path to anti-suckitude. You must introduce delicate subtleties to your draft strategy; bet the right odds; take the right chances.
In short, our strategy can be reduced to: target high probability outcomes and leverage the unknowable with upside.
Screwing Up Just A Little Less, A Step-by-Step Guide
Before we dive head first into this guide, candy puns a-blazin’, let’s define the format of our hypothetical draft: A modern PPR league.
-1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 FLEX, 1 DEF, 1 Kicker
-1 point per reception
-Factory settings for all else
Step 1: You Can’t Pick The Right Players, So Allocate Positions Accordingly
Nearly half of your opinions on players will be wrong this year; so too will mine. Let’s accept our faults and move on. Remember, we’re just trying to screw up a little less. No matter how good you are at evaluating players, you will not be right often enough to give yourself a significant advantage over the other mega nerds. There exists too much chaos in football—it’s twenty-two men simultaneously engaging in a loosely choreographed car crash with an oblong ball bouncing about. With this knowledge in mind, we want as many bites at the apple as possible for the positions of greatest scarcity: running back and wide receiver. (Everyone is required to start more of them, so they are comparatively scarce or “less replaceable” in relation to the other four positions.)
Here is my proposed rundown of ownership at each position in this format:
1 QB, 5-6 RB, 5-6 WR, 1 TE, 1 DEF, 1 K
Step 2: Assume Potential Landmines are Actual Landmines
If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and has the connective tissue integrity of a duck (ARIAN FOSTER), it’s probably a damn duck. There is indeed value at a certain point when it comes to drafting rookies, old men, (severe) injury players, and players who possess the lingering odor of #Bad. But these are all cases of potential landmines and I won’t be bothered to deal with them. I’m out on Ezekiel Elliot, Steve Smith, Arian Foster, Jimmy Graham, DeMarco Murray, etc. This rule is of greatest import in the early rounds and fades as we enter the territory of, “whom does he play for again?” But still, I’m going to call a duck a duck in any round (Or goose if we’re rolling with the Wonka jokes).
Step 3: Invest The Majority of Your Early Draft Capital in Wide Receivers
In the first round of your draft, your selection will be highly mediated by your draft slot, so just call your shot. Pick the player you want and stand by your man. However, beyond the first round or two, I think draft slot is mostly arbitrary. With the league growing evermore reliant on the aerial game to score real points, the disparity between WR and RB scoring is growing, especially in PPR. What’s more, as Rich Hribar recently demonstrated in his draft analysis, early round (rounds 1-3) wide receivers over the past five years have finished in the top-24 at their position 73.8% of the time. Running backs drafted in the same range did so only 68% of the time. Last year’s stud RB debacle aside, receivers are more likely to “hit.”
Step 4: Select RBs with High Variance and/or Target Floors
Here is a list of running backs that finished as top-24 PPR scorers in 2015 that were drafted outside of the first four rounds, per My Fantasy League ADP:
Look at that list; four of the top five and half of the top-24 are populated by backs drafted outside of the first four rounds. What’s more, notice the type of running backs present. There are players who had a wide range of outcomes entering the season and those who derive their value almost exclusively from their receiving ability. These are the two varieties of non-elite backs that I would suggest targeting this year. Or better yet, target those who have a confluence of both traits: high variance and a reception-based floor. For example, my golden tickets are Duke Johnson, Ameer Abdullah, Charles Sims, and Bilal Powell.
Step 5: Evaluate Tight Ends As If They Were Wide Receivers
In a PPR league with this format, I prefer to view tight ends in terms of absolute value by relating them to their wide receiver contemporaries. By that logic, I should target tight ends who are currently being drafted several rounds later than they would be were they just classified as WRs. So let’s re-categorize the tight end position and, using data from the last two seasons, determine if there’s value to be exploited in 2016. Data to follow derives from fantasypros and MFL public league ADP.
Huh. This chart belies a mega ton of mid-round value at the tight end position, despite the prevailing theory in recent years being, “Gronk or wait until the sun burns out to draft one.”
If we examine the data from the past two years, that strategy will only be optimal if you can reliably select a late round tight end that will finish in the top 8. And that’s not impossible—just ask the people who took Jordan Reed or Tyler Eifert last year. Punting tight end and subsequently streaming the position is a completely viable strategy. This chart just serves to provide evidence that mid-round tight ends are currently criminally undervalued in early drafts.
So, this may all be reduced to a simple tight end strategy:
- Don’t take Gronk at ADP.
- Take a mid-round tight end at an incredible value OR punt completely and listen to “Living the Stream” with J.J. Zachariason and Denny Carter.
Step 6: Forget That You Need a Quarterback
And only remember once you’ve reached the 11th-13th round. There were 35 quarterbacks who had at least one top-10 scoring week last year. Until two QB or superflex leagues are the norm, the abundance at quarterback dictates that you can wait ad infinitum to draft your starter. Draft one late and stream the position.
Step 7: Take a Defense In the 14th Round & a Kicker In the 15th
Nothing to see here. Openly and aggressively mock the guy who selects Denver D/ST in round 9.
Step 8: Ride Your Wonka-vator Into the Sunset With Your 2016 Fantasy Title.