So … you want to kill your draft this year and I want to prevent the zombie apocalypse from happening, yet again. I think that we can help each other here — as long as you’re not infected.
Like children making a list for Santa in October, this is the time of year when everyone who’s in a fantasy football league gets excited over the months to come. This waiting period, though, can be problematic, as July and August — the months in which we prep for our draft(s) — are more representative of Groundhog Day than they are Christmas morning. Let me explain.
We predictably welcome the new season by thinking the same way we did last year — and the year before that and the year before that. The networks and websites and blogs and podcasts all release their pre-draft rankings and boom, we simultaneously turn into what I like to call fantasy zombies.
If you know anything about me at all then you know that I absolutely HATE fantasy zombies. They are weak and unimaginative. They are pathetic. They are sheepish. They are the members of your league that follow the LSO model of drafting — Last Season Only — every single goddamn year.
You know exactly who they are in your league(s), and for all I know you could be one of them. Are you? Are you a sheep? Are you a fantasy zombie?
Not sure? Well, then, here’s the test.
THE ZOMBIE TEST
Question 1: Would you consider anyone other than Todd Gurley if you had the №1 overall pick in your fantasy draft this year?
Well, that about does it. There aren’t any more questions here from me.
It really is that simple. The difference between fantasy zombies and those that consistently win in their league(s) is the fundamental approach they apply towards a new season — particularly the stark contrast in the details of their approach. Zombies think last year and winners think ahead.
So, if you failed the zombie test, if you wouldn’t consider anyone other than Todd Gurley with the №1 overall pick in your draft, then you should at least allow me the opportunity to convince you that you’re wrong.
A CURE FOR THIS DISEASE
Author’s note: If you passed the test — if you’re not a zombie — then feel free to scroll down to the headline titled “60/40 Theory and the PPG method.” Of course, you can always learn something new, so stick around if you like.
The fact that you’re a zombie, to me, means that you sorely lack imagination. I suspect that the disease has burrowed itself into your brain, controlling the side that’s responsible for math and logical thinking (left side) while simultaneously tuning out your creative side (right side).
Now, you came here under the pretense of learning how to win you fantasy draft this year. And we will get to that. But, I must first administer a dose of zombie anti-venom into your veins. You need to be saved from yourself. You need to be reprogramed. Otherwise, what would be the point in reading about tips and tricks if you cannot think beyond last year?
Unlike a physical bite, fantasy zombies are infected through information given by both the mainstream media as well as smaller outlets. It’s a disease of the brain — like one of those deadly amoebas that enters the body through livestock or dirty water. Eventually, these brain-eating parasites take over the cerebral cortex of the host and render them helpless.
But, it’s early enough in the process. We can combat this parasite, and we’ll do it the same way you would a venomous snake bite. We will use information to fight information — the zombie anti-venom, if you will.
Data is important — without it, we would all just be guessing when we form our rankings for the new year. However, it’s paramount that you understand the difference between useful data and destructive data.
YEAR-TO-YEAR RUNNING BACK (IN)CONSISTENCY
So, you won’t consider anyone other than Todd Gurley with the №1 overall pick — that much is understood. Okay then … here’s the scenario.
Let’s imagine that this is August 2017 and you’re setting your RB rankings. In this case, you’ve ranked either Le’Veon Bell or David Johnson as the top back on your list, and rightfully so. Both backs are coming off years where they dominated the running back position from a fantasy perspective, finishing №1 and №2 in fantasy points per game, respectively.
Now, where you do go from here? Are LeSean McCoy, Melvin Gordon and Devonta Freeman the next three backs on your list?
What about Ezekiel Elliot? How does his 6-game suspension affect how you rank him? Do you even consider not drafting him?
What about DeMarco Murray, Jordan Howard and Jay Ajayi? Where do you rank these steady 2016 performers? They gotta be up there.
And rookies Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Kareem Hunt — where are they on your rankings sheet?
Of course, these are rhetorical questions. The answers are connected to the available draft data, proving that zombie logic was in full effect last year.
Here’s a screenshot of 2017 draft results for a 12-team, standard scoring league, courtesy of fantasyfootballcalculator.com
And here’s a 2017 screenshot in PPR settings …
In either scenario, whether with standard scoring settings or PPR, 8 out the first 10 running backs selected in draft rooms across the globe last year posted Top 10 finishes the season before (the 2016 season).
But here — I have some data that’ll just blow your friggin’ mind.
LaDainian Tomlinson is the last running back to repeat as the total points champion from the year before. And he did so in 2007, after finishing 1st in scoring in 2006 — that’s over 10 years ago. Just think about that for a second.
It’s been 10 years — TEN — since we last witnessed a back-to-back scoring champion at the running back position in fantasy football.
Here’s another one for you … LaDainian Tomlinson only accomplished this feat in standard scoring settings. It’s been even longer since we’ve seen a repeat scoring champion in PPR settings at the RB position.
Get ready YouTube generation … here’s a name that you won’t remember.
Priest Holmes, scoring dynamo from the Kansas City Chiefs, was the last running back to repeat as scoring champion in PPR settings, waaaay back in the 2003 season after leading all backs in scoring in 2002.
But wait … there’s more!
Aside from the fact that not one running back has repeated as scoring champion in over 10 years in standard scoring leagues and nearly 15 years in PPR, finding running backs that score consistently from one year to the next is 50/50 proposition at best. At worst, the odds are even lower.
Even going off of the points per game metric (more on that later), rarely do running backs who finished atop of the leaderboard in one season repeat the following year. In fact, dating back to the 2001 season, only three RBs (Arian Foster, 2010–2011; LaDainian Tomlinson, 2006–2007; Priest Holmes, a three-peat, 2002–2004) have managed to do so.
Maybe the skeptic in you doubts this information to be true. And I understand your hesitation. I could spend my time here creating screenshots that validate my findings, but honestly, you have to do the legwork on your own.
Instead, I’ll provide you with a couple of screenshots that confirm these inconsistencies at the running back position in the short term. Here’s a screenshot of the top 10 scorers from the RB position in 2016, courtesy of FFtoday.com (points per game average, standard scoring).
(My go-to site for any fantasy football information is always FFtoday.com. They have sortable data that covers all scoring settings, for every position, and dates all the way back to the 2001 season. Their database is unrivaled.)
*Mack Brown played in only played 1 game and did not qualify*
And a screenshot of the top 10 scoring RBs from 2017.
In case you didn’t notice, missing from the scoring leaders of 2016 are:
- David Johnson
- DeMarco Murray
- Devonta Freeman
- LeGarrette Blount
- Jordan Howard
- Carlos Hyde
A total of six running backs that finished amongst the top 10 scorers (on a points per game basis) in 2016 landed outside the top 10 in 2017.
Again, exactly 60% of the running backs who finished in the top 10 in scoring from a year ago failed to make that mark the following year.
Whether injury (David Johnson) or wear-and-tear (DeMarco Murray) or coaching changes (Devonta Freeman, Carlos Hyde) or changing teams (LeGarrette Blount) or simply a change at the quarterback position (Jordan Howard), scoring consistency at the running back position will inevitably and invariably fluctuate from one year to the next in fantasy football.
When you factor in rookie running backs, and how a handful of them can land amongst the top 10 in scoring in any given year, it’s easy to understand just where the fluctuations are coming from, and how you can avoid them.
So … why, again, are you married to the idea of drafting Gurley at №1?
It’s important that you know why, because the distinction between winning and losing is tied to your pre-draft rankings. If you knowingly set your rankings according to your memories of the season prior — if you rank the players that you want to draft this year based on last year’s stats — then you are consciously setting yourself up for failure, and that I can’t except.
The running back data pretty much applies to the other positions in fantasy, so, keep that in mind as you continue to prep for your draft.
Since your brain is working again (hopefully), it’s now time that we tap into your creative side, so that you can learn how to kick some ass this year.
60/40 THEORY AND THE PPG METHOD
Speaking in Captain Obvious voice …
In order to win your fantasy league you must draft a really good team.
Uh, yeah … no shit! Heard that before.
And in order to draft a really good team, you probably can’t afford to screw up in the first three rounds of your draft, unless you’re me, which you are not.
Thanks, Captain Obvious!
We are all very aware of the importance on hitting big with the first three picks in your draft. So, then, how do we accomplish that?
I wish I had a solution for you, a foolproof plan that could guarantee your draftroom success this year. But I don’t. What I do have, however, is a statistical theory that is sure to hedge your risk in the early rounds.
I call it the 60/40 theory.
The 60/40 theory is simple. Roughly 60 percent of running backs who finished in the top 10 last year will fail to do so again this year, with 40 percent of the remaining RBs finding their way back into the top 10.
It’s true. I did the math. I reviewed the leaderboards for both PPR and standard scoring settings going back to the 2012 season — that’s five whole years of data — and what I discovered just may shock you.
- Only 40% of the top 10 RBs from the 2012 season finished in the top 10 in 2013 in standard scoring leagues, and only 30% in PPR.
- Again, 40% of the top 10 RBs from the 2013 season finished in the top 10 in 2014 in standard scoring leagues, and only 50% in PPR.
- 50% of the top 10 RBs from the 2014 season finished in the top 10 in 2015 in standard scoring leagues, and only 40% in PPR.
- We had 30% of the top 10 RBs from the 2015 season finish inside the top 10 in 2016, as well as 30% in PPR. Yippie!
- Finally, we had 40% of the top 10 RBs from the 2016 season land inside the top 10 in 2017, and 40% in PPR. Titty sprinkles for everyone!
And these numbers not only apply to the running backs. No, no, no — the receivers had just as many staggering fluctuations in their data as well.
Here are the percentages on the wide receivers from 2012–2017.
(Same idea as the bullet points above but with less words)
- 2012–2013: 70% standard, 60% PPR
- 2013–2014: 50% standard, 70% PPR
- 2014–2015: 30% standard, 30% PPR
- 2015–2016: 40% standard, 40% PPR
- 2016–2017: 60% standard, 60% PPR
My findings are clear. If this type of data doesn’t interest you, then you really don’t care about winning your league. You are indeed a fantasy zombie.
I mean, 15 of the first 24 picks in practically every draft room this year will be a running back, with 8 of the remaining 9 picks being a receiver. That’s two rounds in a 12-team league — the first two rounds, more importantly — which is why it’s paramount that you not only have a plan on draft day, but that your plan’s foundation isn’t being built with zombie logic.
Assuming that you really do care, then what exactly do we make of the data above? And how can we use it to our advantage on draft day?
This when you apply the 60/40 theory to your rankings.
Now, since injuries are not predictable (obviously), we must work with what we do know. We must apply the information that we do have and adjust our rankings accordingly. Our instincts factor in here, as well.
As an example, I’ll provide you with my personal plan on how I’ll adjust my top 10 RBs for the 2018 season using the 60/40 theory.
(I’m in a PPR league, but it honestly makes no difference)
First, I’ll identify six running backs (60%) that finished in the top 10 last year (PPR) who I don’t think will make it back this year, based on my analysis.
In no particular order …
- Dalvin Cook
- LeSean McCoy
- Mark Ingram
- Leonard Fournette
- Kareem Hunt
- Alvin Kamara
So, before you begin to rip apart my list, just remember that this is my list. You don’t have to copy and paste it, just form one of your own.
The four backs (40%) that I have returning are:
- Todd Gurley
- Le’Veon Bell
- Ezekiel Elliott
- Melvin Gordon
Now comes the part where I apply some creativity. These are the additions.
- David Johnson
- Devonta Freeman
- Saquon Barkley
- Christian McCaffrey
- Kenyan Drake
- Royce Freeman
This is the new blood — the six running backs that I believe will land inside the top 10 in 2018 under the umbrella of PPR scoring settings.
Hate it, like it or love it, this is my list. This is how I would apply the 60/40 theory to my RB rankings for the upcoming season.
Use the 60/40 theory however you wish. Your rankings will be solid because of it, just as long as you don’t get too crazy, like taking Gurley or Zeke or Le’Veon out of your top 10. If you believe that 50 percent of last year’s top 10 will make it back this year, then fine. That’s your call. As long as you’re using some variation of 60/40 or 50/50 you’ll be ahead of the game.
THE PPG METHOD
If you’ve fact-checked me, then you may be asking yourself “How did Dalvin Cook finish in the top 10 amongst running backs in scoring last season?” Simple: by way of the metric known as points per game average.
Cook only played in four games last year, true — but his value shouldn’t be diminished just because he sustained an injury. He was averaging 16.9 fantasy points per contest last year in PPR leagues and 14.1 points per contest in standard scoring leagues, finishing 9th amongst backs in both settings.
The points per game method is the most accurate way that we can measure how impactful a player is, or was, for any given season.
Nearly every outlet (and by nearly I mean literally EVERY outlet) that produces fantasy football content refers to the total points a player scored when discussing the year prior. So, then, should we draft Duke Johnson over Zeke Elliott this year? After all, Duke finished 11th in total points (220.1 points, PPR) last year and Elliott finished 12th (205.2 points, PPR).
No? I didn’t think so.
Even though Duke was a solid RB2 in PPR leagues with a 13.8 points per game average in 16 games, Zeke was simply dominant last year, yet again, posting a 20.5 points per game average, which was good for 3rd overall amongst backs even though he only played in 10 games.
Obviously no one has Duke Johnson rated higher than Zeke in their rankings this year. So, then, what’s the point in all of this? I’m trying to get you to think. I’m trying to rewire your mind so that you kick some ass in your draft this year, so that you don’t fuck it all up with zombie logic.
Value the PPG method. Use it this year, and ignore total points.
Fantasy football is as maddening as it fun to play, and winning is a cure-all for the madness. The path to winning, though, is much easier when you know how to prepare for your draft, and when execute your plan to perfection. Applying the 60/40 theory, along with the PPG method, will help solidify the foundation of your plan and give you a leg up in your draft.
Well, the hope is that my presentation has acted as an efficient dose of antibiotics, kicking your stupid head loose from the virus that’s been affecting you. Even if only one of you is cured, that’s one less zombie wandering around spewing fantasy nonsense to his or her family, friends and coworkers.
*Reads article, cured from awful disease … WORTH IT!*