Explaining the Value of Mathematics in Fantasy Football Draft Strategy

Bryan Fontaine@Bryan_FontaineFeatured ColumnistAugust 2, 2012

Feb 5, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws a pass as New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora (72) pressures during Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Chris Faytok/THE STAR-LEDGER via US PRESSWIRE
The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE

Tom Brady just threw a 25-yard touchdown pass for your fantasy football team.

Quick, how many fantasy points is that worth?

Without having to check your live score update, you know he scored at least five fantasy points depending on your scoring system. We can calculate this without much effort.

Basic mathematics are a key component in fantasy football. Whether it is using it to calculate your fantasy score or formulate rankings, you probably use it without thinking about it.

Here are some ways how understanding some basic mathematical concepts can help you formulate a winning fantasy football draft strategy.


Preparing for Your Draft

Anyone can show up to a live draft with a yet to be opened fantasy magazine and draft from an outdated ranking list.

You are not one of those people.

You can dominate these individuals in your league by preparing for your draft in advance.

The most important thing you need to do is study your scoring system and roster requirements.

Is your scoring system standard or point per reception (PPR)? Running backs are more valuable in standard leagues while wide receivers and running backs are on equal footing in PPR leagues.

Are passing touchdowns worth four or six points? Scrambling quarterbacks are more valuable in four-point passing touchdown leagues while elite quarterbacks can be difference makers in six-point leagues.

How many players can you start at each position and how large is your bench? Shallow leagues have more players available on waivers while leagues with deep benches lack quality options to pick up each week.

Knowing your roster requirements and league size can help you optimize your draft preparation.

If you are in a 12-team league that starts one quarterback, you know that if each team drafts two quarterbacks there is likely going to be 24-26 players taken. That leaves six to eight quarterbacks on the waiver wire. You could even get away with only taking one elite option and finding a bye week replacement as needed.

That strategy also works at the tight end, kicker and team defense positions.

Now that you know how many players will be taken in your draft, you need to determine how you will rank players before your draft. Drafting from an outdated magazine is not going to be a winning strategy.

If you have a favorite fantasy football site that you trust for rankings and projections, continue to use it. However, as the fantasy football industry grows, there are more websites that provide excellent content (and often free) that you can get a good consensus rankings from.

There are even websites like FantasyPros.com that can create custom cheat sheets for you using expert rankings. (Disclaimer, I am one of these experts)

If you prefer to do the work yourself, you can take an average of a few different websites. You can create your own cheat sheet, and customize it as you see fit.

One of my favorite advanced strategies is to use Value Based Drafting to create a custom top-200 draft list. David Dodds and Joe Bryant, the owners of Footballguys.com, created this concept many years ago. The principal is simple: The value of a player is determined not by the number of points he scores, but by how much he outscores his peers at his particular position.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Rather than simply drafting from a list of each position, you can use this strategy to create a combined draft list that will help you properly value if taking a particular player is a good value over another option.

All it requires is a set of stat projections and some baselines. For the sake of simplicity, we will use a baseline of “worst starter”.

Using the tight end position, if your worst starter is tight end No. 12, you would subtract their projected point total from each tight you intend to rank. Your No. 12 tight end should have a VBD value of zero, while you can see how the elite players at the position are more valuable than their peers.

Once you have done this simple formula for each position, you can combine all the positions together and sort by the highest VBD scores. Using this method will give you an edge in the first 10-12 rounds of your draft, and then you can begin filling the rest of your bench with your favorite sleepers and lastly kickers and team defenses.

There is no math formula I can provide that states you should never take a kicker or team defense before the last two rounds. With the year-to-year fluctuations of each position, there is no value in taking a kicker or defense early when the majority of the key performers are often found on the waiver wire.


Draft Day Strategy

Once it is time to draft, you have already will have an edge with the extra research you have put in.

Presumably, you will know your draft position prior to the start of the draft. You can even begin to work out some probabilities that certain players will be available at your first few picks.

The problem with that is people are unpredictable, and will never draft how you expect them to.

There are a few important things to remember during your draft. You should know the number of picks between your current pick and your next pick. If you draw the first or 12th overall pick, you will not pick again back-to-back for 23 picks in a 12-team league. Likewise, if you pick in the middle of the draft at the sixth pick, you will alternate picking every 11 or 13 picks as the draft snakes back and forth.

This is important if you feel there could be a run on a position that could leave you without your desired target.

Another easy thing to track during the draft is the rosters of your league mates. Some league websites make it easy to view this, but if you cannot do that, simply keep a running tally on a piece of scrap paper on how many players each team has at each position.

Knowing that the teams that draft after your current pick already have a position like quarterback filled, you can pick another position and then take the quarterback you need with your next pick. This maximizes value, and you may have missed this opportunity if you were not aware of your surroundings.


Putting it all Together

There is no secret formula that will help you have the perfect fantasy football draft.

At the end of the day, fantasy football is all about numbers and statistics. You may have already used some of these basic mathematical strategies before without realizing it.

Simply put, winning your fantasy football league is hoping your team’s points total up more than your opponents do.

That is some math everyone can enjoy.