July is here and fantasy’s collective consciousness is gradually focusing its attention on redraft analysis. Yearly formats remain my favorite way to play fake football. … I prefer having the entire player pool available in a draft. In a redraft league, no owner has an advantage at any specific position until the opening bell rings at 1.01. Drafters begin to claim advantages at individual positions in the first round, but an opportunity cost is paid across all the other positions for each pick made. Keeper and dynasty formats offer unique and interesting lenses through which we can examine relative positional value, but the clean slate of redraft is more elegant and pure.
Typical redraft formats compel us to identify the best players within the complete universe of NFL players for a given season and assign value to each player on a somewhat linear scale. Such valuations are typically expressed with rankings. Positional rankings are straightforward. Overall rankings, on the other hand, are an extremely tough nut to crack. If you want to cut to the chase, you can find all of my 2016 fantasy football rankings at the bottom of this page. For the slow-scrollers out there in fantasyland, let’s dive into my position-by-position approach for creating Superflex and 2QB rankings.
Kicker and Defense
Yes, you will find positional rankings for kicker and defense below. You will not, however, find any of either position in my overall 2QB rankings. I rank leg-men and tacklers because — believe it or not, fantasy football snobs — they are part of the game for the vast majority of drafters. Call them high-variance, but I don’t mind a league with kickers and/or defenses. They offer a skill-testing choice to fantasy owners: invest something or invest nothing? Enfranchised fake footballers tend to believe this isn’t really a choice. The answer should be obvious to all who play: one should never invest anything in kickers or defenses due to their extreme volatility and over-saturated supply.
Still, these principles are ignored year after year. Owners gladly draft kickers and defenses sooner than their final one or two picks. More competitive players often cry out for these positions to be extinguished, scrubbed from the fantasy football landscape, and they are crazy to do so. Hardcore owners should embrace aspects of the game that allow their competition to make mistakes. Leave the masses to their K and D/ST opiates. If they reach in drafts for their fix, more value is created at the truly relevant positions for savvy drafters.
All football discussions somehow come back to Rob Gronkowski, so let’s tackle him and his position next. I’ve wavered a bit on Gronk’s draft value over the past couple seasons, but I’m confident now that he and most other “elite” tight ends tend to be overvalued, particularly in deeper formats like 2QB and Superflex.
We generally want to maximize our number of match-up winners across all positions. In shallower leagues, top-tier talent carries more value because the relative value between different teams is more compressed. An eight-team league with relatively standard rosters will feature nothing but loaded lineups. Under those circumstances, owners need weapons like Gronkowski who stand tall above the crowd of homogeneous excellence.
As league and/or roster size grows, the more important it is to strive for depth across all positions. For each team added to your league, an additional 4-7 more wide receivers will need to be drafted, but only 1-3 additional tight ends will need to be drafted. Yes, there are generally more usable wideouts than tight ends, but not enough to make up for that disparity in the number of rostered players at each position.
In a 14-team league or a deep 2QB league, it’s reasonable to devalue or perhaps even punt tight end. With a middling TE, you’ll still be competitive at that position against the portion of your league who, like you, fell prey to the short supply of elite TE talent. It makes more sense for drafters to prioritize match-up beaters at the positions with multiple starters like RB, WR, and QB. If you have an advantage at WR1, it becomes easier to back that up with an advantage at WR2 and win your match-ups at a deeper level of the game.
This all comes back to the draft, where Gronk is valued as first- or second-round talent. The opportunity cost of picking him in that range is too high. To get Gronk, you give up the chance to draft a potential match-up beater at WR1 or RB1. If you miss out on those top-flight wideouts and running backs, you will often miscast a second-tier commodity in a top-tier roster spot (i.e. WR1 or RB1). Value then cascades away from you at the deeper positions in your lineup because you skipped your turn in the WR/RB cakewalk to grab a Gronkwurst from the grill. You will have gained an advantage at one roster spot, but likely at the expense multiple deeper, non-TE roster spots. Avoid Gronk and other high-priced tight ends in the early rounds. Develop your team’s foundation at wide receiver and running back instead.
A funny thing happened when I went to revise my 1QB overall rankings for 2QB formats. The quarterback rankings didn’t shift much at all. I didn’t see the point in moving them up more than a few spots each. I even left some passers in the exact same spots. I should note here that my rankings are slanted toward 10-team leagues. Most of my two-quarterback mock drafting has been for the 10-team format and smaller leagues are the ones most in need of 2QB’s added depth. Passers would move up my rankings for 12-team leagues, but not much. The position is simply too deep to justify drafting quarterbacks early over the thinner positions where rosters require us to go deeper, like wide receiver and running back.
Strangely, though, this is the first year I can remember drafting 2QB fantasy football where the high-priced signal callers are actually sliding to where my rankings say I should take them. The shift isn’t universal. For example, the first round still claims one to three quarterbacks in most two-quarterback drafts and I won’t draft them there, but the bottom of that elite tier can now be had into the second and sometime third round on occasion. The cost remains relatively high compared to more in-demand running backs and receivers, but there’s no fault in jumping on Russell Wilson if he falls to the early third round.
Ultimately, all quarterbacks have experienced a downturn in 2QB fantasy value (for evidence, check out Sal Stefanile’s recent ADP analysis). The elite guys are bargains relative to previous years, but the lower-tier guys are bargains themselves. When quarterback discounts are universal, I’m even more inclined to hammer non-QB positions in the early rounds. I know most other owners aren’t going to punish me for waiting on quarterback because they’re waiting too. Drafters have seemingly entered into an implicit agreement to leave QBs alone through the early rounds, kind of like a flimsy “no rush for 5 minutes” rule in a game of Starcraft.
That’s all well and good for the degenerates I’ve drafted with through May and June, but I acknowledge that many home leagues will create a different drafting experience. When multiple drafters channel their inner Leeroy Jenkins and dive in on quarterbacks early, it puts more pressure on the rest of the league to keep up, for fear of missing out on the passing position. Before you succumb to that needling dread, remember that it’s actually very difficult to miss out on quarterbacks in 2016. Build your depth at more important positions while your opponents scramble to draft QBs in the early rounds. Alex Smith and company will wait patiently for you in the mid-to-late rounds.
Wide Receiver, Running Back, and the Big Picture
The goal of each pick in a draft is to maximize our odds of winning the league. To apply this notion to ranking players, I like to strip it down into a few seemingly simple questions:
1. What is the most important position to my team in the moment of my current pick?
At 1.01, this question morphs into the more nebulous “What is the most important position in fantasy football?” In 2016, most would agree it’s wide receiver. Pass-catchers offer the most predictable and reliable production relative to how many we are required or allowed to start on a weekly basis. Implicitly, our top-ranked receiver should probably take the top spot in our overall 2QB rankings. For me, that’s Antonio Brown.
If we accept that wideouts are fantasy’s most crucial commodities, then we can move forward using our wide receiver positional rankings as the backbone of our overall rankings. Go down those WR ranks and ask for each player, “Would I rather have this guy or the top-ranked player from a different position?” For the sake of simplicity, it’s easiest to do this by weaving in only one other position at at time. I prefer to start with running backs because I believe RB to be the second-most important position in fantasy. After you’ve intermingled your wideout ranks with your rusher ranks, lather, rinse, and repeat with the other positions and you’ll be left with a handy set of overall rankings.
Unfortunately, overall rankings can only take us so far because they are not precise enough in their predictions of how other owners will value and draft players. A second fundamental question is required to provide context for the drafting habits of our foes:
2. Where can the most relative positional value be extracted later in the draft?
At 1.01, the answer pertains to the entire balance of the draft. At 10.10, it only applies to Round 11 and beyond. Think of this question as the yin to Question #1’s yang. What are the least important positions for me to draft in the moment of my current pick? Those positions should probably be passed over in favor of more scarce commodities.
At any point in the draft, we know the most worthless positions are kickers and defenses because they are so interchangeable and match-up dependent, so we are taught to avoid those positions until the last possible moment (i.e., the final two rounds). Outside of K and D/ST, the fantasy hive mind generally agrees the other one-off position, tight end, is the next-least important, primarily because they don’t touch the ball or score as much as other position players. After that, two-quarterback formats allow us to have some legitimate debates about the merits of picking all other positions in every round of the draft.
(As an aside, this is why I find 2QB and Superflex so much more engaging than one-quarterback formats. Instead of boiling fantasy football down to WR vs. RB, we get to weigh WR vs. RB vs. QB right from the start of each draft.)
Anyway, let’s go back to the top of the draft and think about where we might find bargains later. My general hierarchy of irreplaceability is WR > RB > QB > TE, but if the draft begins with five wide receivers flying off the board in succession, the value drop-off from WR5 to a WR pick in the later rounds isn’t necessarily as steep as the fall from RB1 to later-round RB picks. It’s difficult to quantify those relative values. Analysts try with Value Based Drafting (VBD), but I’m wary of any draft strategy that ties itself to numbers based on arbitrary endpoints or standards.
I’m not simply interested in the value drop-off from WR5 to the wideout I could draft in Round 2 (or to some other set-in-stone absolute like the estimation of a replacement-level WR). Rather, I’m searching for a holistic feeling of the drop-off in value from WR5 to a potential wideout pick in every remaining round of the draft, and even the potential value of in-season pick-ups. Furthermore, I want to weigh that holistic feeling against the equivalent sense for each other position. I can’t be 100% sure about what position will be correct to draft in each future round, so it doesn’t make sense to consider only the value loss from now until one specific moment down the line. The big picture is more important.
When it starts to feel like you’re chasing a position based only on how others before you have drafted, it’s probably time to shift your focus elsewhere in search of talent. The more one specific position gets swallowed up by drafters, the more value will be created at other positions. In my 2QB rankings, I attempt to identify the points where it becomes correct to zig away from a zagging WR-first approach, while maintaining understanding that the answer to Question #1 is still important.
What I’m left with is a series of concessions and compromises between the various positions. For example, most other rankers won’t have six running backs in their top-12 as I do, but the chance to land a workhorse rusher is extremely appealing to me in a world full of backfields by committee. I am willing to pass up Allen Robinson, DeAndre Hopkins, and A.J. Green in favor of Adrian Peterson because I believe it’s easier to approximate any of those receivers’ production through the balance of the draft with other pass-catchers than to replace a potential every-down back. Workhorse rushers simply feel too uncommon, while high-volume receivers will often be available in the next round.
Of course, if I ignore the answer to Question #1 by taking a running back over a wide receiver in Round 1, it becomes more important to address wide receiver with subsequent picks, especially if other drafters continue to hammer the receiver position around me. While this is clearly a problem for me and my roster, the same is true for all the other owners. They are forced to navigate the same minefield of shifting opportunity costs.
Ultimately, the answer to Question #2 is draft-specific and pick-specific, so it will change with every player you and your leaguemates select. Rankings are partly a guide to help me answer the final question I like to ask myself while I’m on the clock:
3. Which player am I most surprised is still available and is there any reason not to take him?
Learning to answer this one takes practice. If you play and mock draft enough, you will start to develop a better feel for it. As you engage in fantasy football season after season, you’ll learn to shortcut even more of your player analysis and these shouldn’t-be-on-the-board evaluations can become second nature.
My litany of questions probably won’t work for everyone, but the constant act of questioning your own process and evaluations is a great way to get better at our game. The questions above merely represent exercises that help me understand why I rank players the way I do. Without further fuss, let’s get to the results of all this analysis — my 2016 rankings for 2QB and Superflex leagues.
2QB Fantasy Football Rankings