Sports Illustrated just released their annual fantasy football rankings. I’ve been waiting in anticipation to find out who they think is the best quarterback in the land. According to SI, it’s Aaron Rodgers. I’ll show why that’s not necessarily correct or even good advice. In this post, I demonstrate the problems with rankings and the solution.
Problem 1: Rankings are specific to league settings
SI’s rankings are specific to standard league settings. If you use any non-standard scoring settings in your league (e.g., PPR or bonus points for QBs), then their rankings aren’t relevant. Even if you use standard scoring settings, though, rankings are still next to useless because they have another problem.
Problem 2: Rankings don’t tell you how much players are better than each other
Let’s assume we are considering three players: Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees (ranked as the #1, 2, and 3 QBs, respectively, according to SI). Rankings don’t provide a sufficient basis to know which of these QBs to draft. Who you should draft should be based on the players’ value (in order to compare players across positions) and how much dropoff there is in projected points to the later picks.
For example, let’s assume that Rodgers, Manning, and Brees are projected to score the following points:
- Rodgers: 300 points
- Manning: 298 points
- Brees: 250 points
If we go purely based on rankings, that would mean drafting Rodgers. If we look at projected points, however, Rodgers is only projected to score 2 more points than Manning, who is projected to score 48 more points than Brees. Based on the small dropoff from Rodgers to Manning, and the large dropoff from Manning to Brees, it makes better sense to skip Rodgers (and to draft another position instead) and then, in a later pick, to draft Manning.
Solution: Use projections
1) Projections can be adapted to your league settings
With projections for passing yards, TDs, INTs, and rushing/reception yards and TDs (and sometimes other categories), we can calculate the projected points for any league. Thus, we can calculate custom projections that are customized for your league.
2) Projections tell you how much players are better than each other (dropoff)
By calculating projected points for your league, we can calculate how much dropoff there is from one player to the next. This helps us determine the best players to draft now and who we should draft later.
3) You can calculate rankings from projections
By defining a “typical/baseline replacement player” (see here), we can calculate rankings from projections. For more info on how to do this, see here: http://fantasyfootballanalytics.net/2014/06/custom-rankings-and-projections-for-your-league.html. You can’t go the other way around, however–you can’t calculate projections from rankings.
4) You can account for variability risk and injury risk when using projections
We calculate estimates of source-to-source variability and injury risk in our tools. Another source of variability one could include would be projected game-to-game variability. Performance variability is easier to quantify with projections than rankings.
5) Projections are more accurate than rankings
We have shown that projections are more accurate than rankings.
Projections are better than rankings because they can be adapted to your specific league settings and they tell you how much players are better than each other. Moreover, you can always calculate rankings from projections, but you can’t reverse engineer projections from rankings. The bottom line is that projections are more accurate than rankings. These principles apply to both snake and auction draft leagues. For our app that calculates custom rankings and projections for your league and takes into account dropoff and risk, see here: