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Proof That You Don’t Win Your Fantasy League at the Draft

fantasy league

A few weeks ago I’m lying down, watching tv, and can’t sleep because I’m wondering what separates good from bad fantasy teams. In my home league last year, we had a few great teams, a few horrible teams, and some teams who could blow out or be blown out any given Sunday. I thought about finding some insight as to what makes a truly great fantasy team. Is it drafting? QB streaming? The weekly changing matchup decided by who your opponent is? Whatever it was, I had to know if there is a way to predict an owners’ strength. Despite every fantasy league is different, what I found was pretty shocking.


Starting Out

I started in one place, and honestly, I never left. I run a league on ESPN, so I went to the “roster summary” tabs for each team to begin digging. The way this tool works is simple: If you have a player on your team from week 1 through 9 and he scores 100 points, while another owner has him from weeks 10-16 and he scores 75 points, your roster breakdown would read like this: Player A / RB / 100 points (showing carries/receptions, yards, and touchdowns). The other owner would see this player reflect his 75-point makeup. So, you end up with a great look at who produced for each owner over the course of the season. We start 2 RB’s/3 WR’s, so I decided to select the top 2 producing backs, and top 3 producing receivers for each owner. The thought being that a top producer was on the fantasy team for most of the season (because he must outscore his “lineup-mates” while playing for that owner), and those top producers would probably correlate with the owner’s final record…good players equal good records, right? (Hint: they don’t)

When I found the top producers, I noted their final position ranking. I.e. Todd Gurley = #1 RB, Antonio Brown = #2 WR. I then averaged those rankings with the top producers at each position, and then together with each other. So, if an owner had the #1 and #3 RB, he gets an average final position (AFP) of 2 for his backs. If he has an AFP of 10 for his receivers, then he has a 2, a 10, and an AFP of 6 for both positions. While we are not comparing one position to another, we are comparing the final position rank.

From top to bottom, the #1-#12 teams have their AFP for both RB and WR below, broken up into the playoff and non-playoff teams.

Playoff Teams:
1. 8 1. 18
2. 6 2. 20
3. 4 3. 13
4. 20 4. 29
5. 21 5. 30
6. 26 6. 32

Non-Playoff Teams:

7. 13 7. 26
8. 22 8. 12
9. 15 9. 12
10. 26 10. 38
11. 14 11. 35
12. 16 12. 41

Remember, this is the average of their 2 highest producing running backs’ and 3 highest producing receivers’ final position rank. The champ won 9 regular season games. The toilet bowl champ won 2. Not super shocking, but just wait. While ½ of the playoff teams had a lower RB AFP than the worst team in the league, they all 3 had a better WR AFP, but not by much. What does all this mean? Well, if you can take your eyes off the RB AFP of the top 3 teams, it’s very even down the columns, much more than I ever thought it would be.


Dissecting the Data

I decided to do two things. The first was to average the AFP’s for the playoff and non-playoff teams together, for each position, as well as to average both AFP’s together. (Look at how close they are!)

Playoff Teams: Non-Playoff Teams:
RB AFP:             14 RB AFP:            18
WR AFP:            26 WR AFP:           27
RB/WR AFP:    20 RB/WR AFP:   23


The last thing I did finally showed how playoff teams were so much better week to week, while only having marginally better players- they played the waiver wire! I knew there was something drastically different between these two groups that explained why the playoff teams on average won 7.3 games and the losers won, on average, 3.7 games. The top two teams in the number of acquisitions- both trades and free agent pickups, were both playoff teams clocking in at 44 and 60. Notice the regression from the top down. On average, the playoff teams made 34 acquisitions, while the losers only made 12.

Again, from top to bottom, 1-6 and 7-12.

Number of acquisitions:

Playoff Teams: Non-Playoff Teams:
1. 44 7. 17
2. 32 8. 20
3. 9 9. 17
4. 60 10. 4
5. 29 11. 8
6. 32 12. 7



After finishing this research, I concluded two things. First, all teams pretty much drafted evenly. For the teams only averaging 3.7 wins and acquiring players at a third of the pace, they kept up with the playoff teams, including two 9-win teams, with their highest producers’ final rankings. Secondly, you do not win your league at the draft. One reason we made it to the postseason is that we played a week-to-week fantasy season. We looked at matchups, opponents, players who got hot and cold, and adjusted accordingly, while the losers started mostly the same players they drafted months before. This is a real-life example of the saying “you don’t win your league at the draft.” Otherwise, the 9th best team (who won 5 fewer games than I did) could have played for the league championship considering his RB/WR AFP was 13.5 compared to my 13. He made 27 fewer acquisitions than I did.

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