Lessons Learned From Previous 1st Round Picks25
The thrill of the Fantasy Football season commences when the draft begins and you get ready to make your 1st round selection. For a brief moment when you’re on the clock, about to make your pick, you begin to hesitate despite all the research or preparation that you may have done leading up to the draft. Nobody wants to make a bad first pick and in most cases you will end up taking a player that you either like or have confidence in, no matter what your preparation has told you. It is the pick that will set the tone for the rest of your draft, as you essentially try to fill your team around that player.
29 out of 72, or 40.2% of the top-12 projected fantasy football picks ended up being one of the actual top-12 picks in the last six NFL seasons. One of your draft goals should be to be in that 40.2% because it will give you a reliable player from Day 1 instead of potentially “discovering” the other 60% that will round out that post-season top-12 list. I used a variety of historical fantasy football rankings to create the pre-season consensus top-12 for this article; and I used VBD/VOR (value based drafting or value over replacement) to create the end of the season top-12 fantasy players’ list. In this article I will discuss some tendencies based on first round fantasy football data from the previous six seasons that will allow you to take the optimal first round pick.
Lesson #1: A QB was in the post-season top-12 list 12 times within the last six seasons. This average of 2 per year simply suggests that there may be about 2 QBs among the top-12 overall players in 2015 (perhaps Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck). Out of those 12 QBs, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers both made the top 12 three times each. 4 out of the 5 pre-season top-12 QBs made the post-season top-12 list. 2 of these times a QB had the largest overall VOR. This demonstrates that top QBs can indeed be worth a first round pick, and in a few cases, can even be worth the first overall pick.
Lesson #2: A TE was in the post-season top-12 list 5 times within the last six seasons; however identifying this top TE at the beginning of the season has been nearly impossible to do. This is because the 2 TEs that have been in the pre-season top-12 both failed to make the post-season list. So based on these data, I suggest avoiding TEs early on; however if you can pick out the right guy, the reward will be immense.
Lesson #3: RBs ranked in the pre-season top-12 made the postseason top-12 19 out of 49 times, or 38.8% within the last six seasons. Those figures do not sound strong considering the typical advice to always take a RB in the first round of your draft; nonetheless, that 38.8% is only 1.4% lower than the average pre-season to post-season top-12 transition that we want out of a first round selection. Also by using lessons #5, #6, and #7 you can learn how to narrow down on those mistake first round picks and take a RB that will have a strong chance to be in the post-season top-12.
Lesson #4: WRs ranked in the pre-season top-12 made the post-season top-12 7 out of 16 times or 43.8% within the last six seasons. This makes WRs seemingly a safer pick than RBs or TEs. Despite these numbers, a WR pick may not be the best pick to lead off your team because the mistake picks among WRs are harder to narrow down on as they typically have lower and smaller deviated risk values than the other positions. Using the Risk values on the Projections application within this website, I determined that over the previous two seasons, the pre-season top-12 WRs had an average risk of 3.9, smaller in comparison to RBs who had a 4.3 average. In addition, there is such an abundance of depth at the position, especially compared to RBs, that you may be able to get a solid WR later in the draft.
Lesson #5: DO NOT buy into hype on RBs whose draft day value has been inflated with little previous performance evidence. Out of the previous six seasons, only 1 pre-season top-12 player with this hype proved to be a wise pick (Eddie Lacy in 2014), the others Monte Ball (2014), C.J. Spiller (2013), Trent Richardson (2013), Doug Martin (2013), Steve Slaton (2009), and Ryan Mathews (2010) all ended up with bust seasons with a negative VBD/VOR score (i.e., they were worse than the typical replacement player). Consequently those players were not worthy of a starting position on your team those years. I determine players to have this “hype” around them by considering their performance in the previous season and seeing if their projection for the upcoming season is considerably larger (perhaps 40+ points more than previous season). This mostly will occur with younger players who have been awarded the starting job after a strong, but not nearly top-12 performance. Another way a player can be overhyped is if he has only one strong “fluke” like year on his resume, which is used to create his projection, as was the case with Doug Martin in 2013.
Lesson #6: Age Risk, yes players can have comeback seasons or even flashes of fantasy brilliance when older like Peyton Manning, but sooner or later that player’s performance is going to decline. Here is a helpful link that shows the declining performance in players as they age. You do not want to waste your 1st round pick on an old player that you think may still have some fantasy production left in the tank. The reward that you receive from that player potentially succeeding does not outweigh the risk of him not delivering fantasy points, as was the case in 2009 with LaDainian Tomlinson and 2010 with Randy Moss. In drafting your starters, your goal is to maximize your projected points while minimizing risk. On the other hand, you should be willing to take more risk with your bench players because with risk comes potentially larger upside and those players have the chance to outperform your starters. This link discusses this strategy in greater detail: http://fantasyfootballanalytics.net/2013/09/win-your-fantasy-football-snake-draft.html
Lesson #7: Injury Risk, For your starting lineup, avoid extremely injury risk players like Darren McFadden who was a top-12 pick in 2011 and 2012, or Steven Jackson in 2009. Our tools include estimates of injury risk from Sports Injury Predictor.
In summary, “playing it safe” with your first round pick is the greatest way to gain an advantage out of your first round pick and set the tone for your fantasy draft and season. “Playing it safe” means avoiding players with injury risk, and uncertainty risk that is caused by hype or age in some cases. You want to choose a player that you (and the crowd) believe will be a top-12 player but more importantly has lower potential to be a bust. Picking Matt Forte over say LeSean McCoy in the first round last season was not the flashiest pick, but Forte was the definition of safe based on a low risk rating. Forte is always a top-20 point scoring fantasy RB, recording about the same amount of points each game with low scoring variability. Forte also had a low risk rating of (2.31) last season. On the other hand, McCoy had the higher upside of the two players, yet was not as safe of a pick surrounded by the uncertainty of the Chip Kelly offense and Darren Sproles new in town as his backup; risk rating of (4.26). McCoy ended up with a post-season VBD/VOR of 52—73 points less than Forte’s 125. It is your job in the first round to weed out those uncertainty type players, perhaps with the help of the risk level R script or as featured on the Projections application within this website.
Applying these lessons to the upcoming 2015 season makes me wary of RB C.J. Anderson (risk level: 6.3) and WR Odell Beckham Jr. (risk level: 9.04) both of whom only have last year’s numbers and hype surrounding them as a basis for their projections this season. Although they might meet or even exceed their hype, they have a greater downside than other players, such as Andrew Luck (risk level: 4.54), Marshawn Lynch (risk level 4.15), and Antonio Brown (risk level 5.48). Also I would hesitate in drafting RB LeVeon Bell (risk level: 9.55) and TE Rob Gronkowski (risk level: 8.23) as they both have some injury risk, and Gronk as a TE has a poor track history at becoming a post-season top-12 pick as mentioned in Lesson #2. The rest of the potential 1st round draft pick field appears relatively safe and contains some aforementioned players like Matt Forte and Aaron Rodgers.
*Note: I used worst starter VOR style. I used only the past 6 seasons for this data to account for the more recent style of play changes as well as the increasing accuracy of projections as evident by an increasing R-squared value measuring the accuracy of fantasy football projections over the years. For more info on how to examine the accuracy of historical projections, see here.
Also, 6 seasons worth of players still reflects a large data sample pool. I used the standard scoring 12-team format to account for those larger leagues while still staying as close to the standard scoring 10-team leagues as possible.
The risk level point value measures: risk of injury and degree of uncertainty of players’ projected points (higher=greater risk; mean=5, SD=2).
This is a great article. When I did my research a few years ago my findings or assumption was about 50% of the 1st Round RBs would not be in the top 10-15 (depending on league size) at the end of the year. ON average there were probably 9-10 RBs in the 1st round in my research. Therefore weren’t worth the pick or to me “certain” players weren’t worth the trade value. Certain players (mainly RBs) over age 28 were a Red Flag for me..
You were most likely on to something with the “over Age 28” concept, and I am certain that there is even more concept trends out there that could be looked at in the future to improve this article. If you keep narrowing down the potential risky players eventually what you will be left with is as sure as it gets with a first-round pick.
Thanks for commenting!
Robert, great article. My question is how would a PPR league affect these rankings? My assumption is that actual VOR for the top RB’s and WR’s and TE’s would be increased by PPR settings; however QB’s would be unchanged. As a result would you be significantly less likely to draft a QB at the top of a PPR league contrasted against the basic scoring system you used for this article?
The PPR league landscape does indeed change both the pre-season and post-season top-12 players list a bit. You are correct in thinking that while the points above replacement for the QBs would stay the same, it would increase for the other positions(RB, WR, TE) and even more for some players in particular. Despite this difference, the idealogies in this article about what types of players to pick remain the same. I just would not consider a QB until at least round-2. I hope to do some more investigation on how different league variations would change the top-12 in the near future.
This isn’t necessarily the right place, but how often do you update the projections for this year? I’m planning on doing a draft soon, and I’d like to have the most up to date information (so I want to download the csv after you upload the most recent info.
Thanks so much for your site and info. I love reading this stuff! 🙂
We update the data regularly, and will continue to update them through the draft season. A “Date Updated” infobox is on our to-do list after we finish the Auction tool.
Really enjoying your site. Curious about your top 12 to post top 12. Did you account for injuries or just take it regardless of how many games played by the individual player? If so – I think it may be interesting to look at Fantasy Points per game or look at how many weeks that player earned a STUD rating (arbitrarily top 12 at position) for a given week and then rank them accordingly post season regardless of total fantasy points.
Thanks for the stuff keep up the good work.
The top-12 list did not account for injures in the points per game aspect that you are looking at it from. However, I personally like the idea of looking at points in that way because when a player is injured I can simply replace him in my lineup comfortably knowing that I get more value out of him when he does play. The idea can certainly help you find some “extra value” in players, but in general, using overall VOR scoring is the best way to tell the top-12 players that provided the most value over the entire season.
First, this is some great data Robert, and fantastic read! I have one question pertaining to drafting a QB and has the position evolved to the point where it’s worthy of a top three pick? I usually wait until the 6th or 7th round and find talent at the position because there is so much depth. That is why a fantasy owner can succeed with Andy Dalton or Jay Cutler. But, are QB’s increasing their overall value based on a lack of production at RB (which is kind of reflected in this data) and an increase of production at QB that last few year?
Most people have success waiting on QBs and stocking up at other positions. This year, the QB position is deeper than in any previous year of memory. Likewise the RB position is full of tons of uncertainty as well as lack of production. There is no perfect place to take a QB. My suggestions would be: A.) If Rodgers or Luck falls to the late first round-second round of your draft and you want a guaranteed pick that will come through take one of them. B.) If you wait to take a QB, I would do so before taking any Bench players to insure that your starting lineup produces the most possible points.
Thanks for commenting!
Where is injuries factored into your snake rankings app? I am of the understanding “risk” does not take injuries into account, just variation in projections?
Our risk variable accounts for uncertainty risk and injury risk, as described here:
Hope that clarifies,
“Gronk as a TE has a poor track history at becoming a post-season top-12 pick as mentioned in Lesson #2.”
Is that just in total points scored? How does Gronk’s end-of-season VOR compare to the top 12?
I was not implying that Gronk specifically has a poor-track history, which is somewhat true, but rather that the pre-season top TE on average fails to be the post-season top TE; therefore making the outlook for Gronk as the #1 TE this year worrisome. Also, everything within this article is using the VOR system not total points for.
I hope this clarifies,
My intuition says that dropoff is much more important than VOR.
For 2015 the dropoff from Gronk (TE1) to Olson (TE3) is 56 pts. The dropoff from (RB1) to (RB11) is about 56 pts. It is way better to get TE1 + RB3 than to get TE3 + RB1.
How are Gronk (and Graham) not the clear #1 and #2 pick?
I hope that I am correctly understanding your thought process. I think the concept of TE1+RB3 vs. RB1+TE3 is throwing you off track. You cannot simply look at players from the dropoff standpoint, you also have to account for Average Draft Position. Although the dropoff from TE Gronk to TE Greg Olsen is quite large, TE Olsen is also drafted much later. For example: Gronk has an average draft position (ADP) of 13.55 and the closest RB in comparison is C.J. Anderson whose ADP is 13.62. If you take RB C.J. Anderson here instead of TE Gronk, you can later take TE Greg Olsen (ADP=53.92). Contrarily, you could take TE Gronk and say RB Jonathan Stewart whose ADP of 53.30 closely mirrors that of TE Greg Olsen. Whether you look at these cumulative point combos in terms of VOR or Projected Points for this upcoming season, the totals are practically identical.
Hope this helps, if not feel free to comment back!
ADP is a very bad metric to use. it’s not based on analytics — it’s based off of poor historic human heuristics.
I’m thinking in terms of scarcity and gap.
Lets reduce a draft to a 2 person league. Its clear that Gronk should be #1 overall. The gap between him and TE2 is HUGE; the gap between any other positions does not compare. Even if we reduce to a 4 person league. The impact of Gronk is lessened, but he still should be #1. I believe that with any number of participants, Gronk should be #1.
I’m not a huge fan of VOR, but your thought process is missing some key points.
1. ADP is important. Yes it is based on human judgement, but in a draft a key point is predicting which players are available at a certain point in the draft. Even if a player’s points warranted him going #1, I would never take him there if his ADP made it almost certain he would be there several rounds later.
2. Your analysis of TE is ignoring the above ADP fact made by Robert, and the fact that the positional value increases with the starting requirement. Yes the gap between Gronk and other TE is huge, but you still normally only start 1 TE. Suppose you are in a 12 team league where you start 1 TE and 3 RBs. Waiting on TE until later could e.g. give you RB1, RB13 and RB25, rather than RB13, RB25 and RB37. Then the question is whether the gap from RB1 to RB 37 is bigger than the gap between Gronk and the TE you picket up late. I’m not saying don’t take Gronk in the first, but your analysis is oversimplified.
I’ve been doing more independent research.
So what I’m talking about is VONA (Value over Next Available). Draft a player at a position; simulate who will be taken off the board before it comes back to you; compare their value to the best available player now at the position. Do this for the best player at each position, and choose the player at the position with the best VONA.
There is considerable debate about whether VONA or VORP is a better strategy for snake drafts. VONA is supposed to be superior if you can properly simulate who is taken. I see no mentions of VONA on your site. Would love if you could investigate it!
Yes, this would be a reasonable approach—Eirik and I have discussed it a bit. The key downside would be that it wouldn’t be amenable to a webapp because it takes time to run and would be specific to your league settings. Nevertheless, we could write a script to run the simulation. Note that we have run simulations for Auction Drafts, e.g.:
Hope that helps,
Id love an article that just had your suggestions of 1st and 2nd round picks for 10,12 and 14 man leagues.
I’m a 13th out of 14 draft order in my league and Its hard to find a good strategy. I’d love to see something backed up by some of your detailed analytics.
Our suggestions would depend on your league scoring settings, e.g., see here:
For info on draft strategy for Snake Drafts, see here:
Hope that helps,
I’m really curious about your point with C.J. Anderson. The guy is a risky pick no doubt, especially considering how other flops like C.J. Spiller and Doug Martin have performed given one year of success. To me, Anderson is a risk, yes, but is in a situation closer to Eddie Lacy than those other two: both are on consistently winning teams with extremely successful passers and face only minor competition for snaps from Ronnie Hillman and James Starks. Spiller was on a losing team with an already established RB in Fred Jackson and Martin and Richardson, while never faced competition for snaps, were on even worse teams with miserably bad offensive lines. Is Anderson really worth passing on with, say, the 8th pick?
C.J. Anderson is a perfectly fine pick at the #8 position in a draft. Although his situation may be better than those past RBs you mentioned, he is still a rather unproven RB with only 7 weeks of production to show. If you believe enough that C.J. Anderson will continue that production from last year than take him. I just believe that for your first pick it is better to minimize risk and take one of the more proven RBs if there.
Thanks for sharing your opinion,
Hi there, I am interested in buying display and video traffic, we can do so on any basis, CPM, revenue share. We are looking to form a long term cooperation, and have the budget to do so.
Looking forward to your reply.