I have Jimmy Graham projected to score 248 points in PPR leagues—40 points more than any other tight end. That makes Graham scarce, and thus valuable. I discussed the concepts of scarcity and opportunity cost in my book, Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft:
"Projecting future picks is not only an important component of understanding opportunity cost, but also an intrinsic one. The cost of drafting any particular player, then, comes not only with the loss of a pick, but also in the inability to select other players, both at the current selection and future ones. Fantasy owners must perform the delicate task of minimizing opportunity cost by selecting players with value, i.e. those who are scarce, predictable, and needed.
Minimizing “Lost” Points
You might have noticed a different type of mindset developing here. Whereas most fantasy owners are concerned about acquiring the most possible projected points with each pick, your focus should be “losing” the least. If the perfect represents the acquisition of the most possible total projected points, your job is to minimize the loss of projected points at each selection, and that minimization requires forward-thinking that the more shortsighted “Best Player Available” strategy does not. This concept is known as minimax."
In short, although Graham is scarce, there’s a hefty price to pay to acquire his services. Based on current ADP, that price is an early second-round pick. So the question is, what’s the opportunity cost of drafting Graham, and is it worth it?
Let’s examine this question by playing out four different draft scenarios, only one of which includes the selection of Graham:
- Draft 1: RB, TE, RB, WR, WR
- Draft 2: WR, RB, RB, WR, TE
- Draft 3: WR, WR, RB, RB, TE
- Draft 4: RB, WR, WR, RB, TE
So in each draft, we’ve selected two running backs, two wide receivers and one tight end. In three of the four drafts, we’ve waited until the fifth round to draft a tight end. We’ll assume we’re picking with the 10th overall selection in a 12-team league. We’ll also assume an efficient draft such that every pick is made based on ADP. In such a world, the results of each draft would be as follows:
- Draft 1: RB9, TE1, RB20, WR13, WR22
- Draft 2: WR2, RB11, RB20, WR13, TE4
- Draft 3: WR2, WR4, RB20, RB23, TE4
- Draft 4: RB9, WR4, WR11, RB23, TE4
Without looking at the exact players (but instead, just the position rankings), here’s how each team would be projected using my personal projections:
- Draft 1: 270, 248, 209, 245, 226 = 1,198 projected points
- Draft 2: 332, 250, 209, 245, 205 = 1,241 projected points
- Draft 3: 332, 305, 209, 245, 205 = 1,296 projected points
- Draft 4: 270, 305, 245, 245, 205 = 1,270 projected points
My projections certainly differ from yours or anyone else’s, but the general distribution of points is likely similar. No matter who you have as your 20th-ranked running back, for example, he’s probably projected in the range of 245 points.
With that in mind, you can see that the team with Graham is projected well below the others—nearly 100 points below the top lineup, actually. The lesson to learn here is that, while scarcity is important, you also have to concern yourself with opportunity cost—what you lose when you pick a player. If you want to select Jimmy Graham in the top of the second round, you’re undoubtedly going to lose out on an elite player at either running back or wide receiver, plus depth at both positions.
Jonathan Bales is the author of the Fantasy Football for Smart People book series. He writes both “real” and fantasy content for media outlets including DallasCowboys.com, NBC and the Dallas Morning News .