Artofbeingcheap.com’s free fantasy football rankings and strategy guide
What does the ABC.com know about football? Very little actually. But, if there is one thing I am an expert on it is getting good values. So, it might seem kind of strange to get your fantasy football information from a website that describes itself as an instruction manual to saving money, but the truth is that I have over the last decade developed a pretty good fantasy football rankings system that I believe can help you win your league. It is simple enough that my 8 year old son (#86 in the above picture) used it last year, and was the #1 seed going into the playoffs.
The best part is that it is free, so take a look, and if you don’t like it you can just go read espn.com like every other owner in your league is doing, and see if you can somehow beat nine other teams that are all using the same strategy you are.
How the ABC’s free fantasy football rankings work
To start with, I admit that I don’t really have any idea which players will be better or worse than last season. Instead of trying to make predictions, I leave that up to the experts. I searched the web and found several different projections for how all the different players will do, and used an average of those projections as the starting point. If you don’t like my projections, you are free to change them. Any cells in the spreadsheet highlighted in yellow can be changed to whatever number you want them to be. Think your team’s quarterback will throw 60 touchdown’s this year? Great! Just change whatever stats you want to change and the whole ranking system will automatically update to reflect your changes.
The next step is to calculate how those statistics turn into fantasy points. When you download the fantasy football rankings spreadsheet, you will see where you can enter information about how scoring in your league works. As a default I have entered the standard scoring system that yahoo.com uses, but you should really update that information to how your league works.
When you have made those changes the spreadsheet ranks players on a system based on the number of points they are projected to score per game? But how do you compare a quarterback to a running back to a wide receiver? That is what makes the artofbeingcheap.com’s system so easy.
Players are ranked by a metric that I call the value score (VS). You can think of it as similar to points against replacement like would be used in sabermetrics. Quarterbacks are compared to how many points they are expected to score versus the expected points of your league’s worst starting quarterback. Running backs are compared to how many points they are expected to score versus the expected points of your league’s worst starting running back.
I should point out that players with a negative VS aren’t necessarily bad, but they are expected to score less than the lowest rated starter at that position. Having backups with a negative VS is to be expected, and even if you have a starter or two with a slightly negative VS that isn’t so bad as long as you were able to grab players with high scores at other positions.
When it is your turn to draft a player, simply see which player has the highest value score, use a little common sense to evaluate whether you need a player at that position or not, and then pick your player. It is easy as that.
The best part of my system is that my teams always seem to have lots of depth so I have plenty of options to play different players because of injuries, bye weeks, or to take advantage of favorable matchups against weaker defenses. If you just want a fantasy football rankings system you don’t have to think about too hard, here it is. You can download it use the value score and put together a pretty good team. If you really want to understand the strategy behind it, here is my free fantasy football strategy guide
Free fantasy football strategy guide
Let’s go beyond the value score and look at some strategies to really draft a great team. You will find it helpful to Click here to download the free fantasy football rankings and follow along with this strategy guide.
There are 3 great quarterbacks this year, Peyton Manning with a value score (VS) of 5.20, Aaron Rodgers with a VS of 3.67, and Drew Brees with a VS of 3.48. Unless one of the very best running backs is still available, you would do well to grab one of those 3 quarterbacks and know that they will be getting you big points nearly every week.
If you can’t get one of those first 3 though, everything changes. The #4 quarter back only has a VS of .96, which is only about 1.5 points per game (PPG) higher than the #13 quarterback Russell Wilson with a VS of -.58. What does this mean? The #4 quarterback will likely go as early as late in the first round of your draft, while the #13 quarterback will go much, much later. Let’s say your league has 10 teams in it, which means there are only 10 starting quarterbacks.
So after the other 9 owners have their starting quarterbacks, they won’t think about drafting another one until much later in the draft when they have already drafted all of the other starting positions. My advice is if you can’t get one of the top 3, be the 10th owner to draft a quarterback and use the earlier rounds to fill out your roster full of solid running backs and wide receivers. You should grab your starting QB when the other owners begin grabbing their backup QBs and know that you only cost yourself 1.5 ppg, but were able to grab a bunch of great players at other positions instead.
If you find yourself without an elite quarter back, I suggest you consider drafting your second quarterback right after your first one. If you have 2 (or even 3) good quarterbacks instead of 1 great one that allows more flexibility in setting your starting lineup every week. Remember that a good quarterback against a bad defense can put up just as good of numbers as a great quarterback any given week. Having 2 good quarterbacks doubles your chances that in a certain week you will have a good matchup against a bad defense.
Running backs are the currency of fantasy football. You should take them early and often. It starts at the very top of the draft, where Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy have the 2 highest VSs of 6.05 and 5.45 respectively. You would be foolish not to grab one of those guys if you have the first or second pick in your draft.
Beyond the top two guys there are several other running backs worth grabbing high in the draft. The top 11 running backs all have a VS of at least 2, meaning they are of good value. There isn’t a lot of depth at running back, and finding one that can score points for you in the late part of the draft can be very difficult.
If you are in a 10 person league, lets assume that each owner will want 2 starting RBs and 2 backup RBs, which means owners will want to take a total of 40 runners. You can see on the rankings spreadsheet that the #40 RB has a VS of -4.03. By comparison, the #40 WR has a much more respectable VS of -2.44, the #20 QB has a VS of -2.74, and the #20 TE has a VS of -1.90. Depth at RB is much harder to find than at any other position, so you should grab both starting RBs and your backup RBs as early as you can in the draft unless you have a chance to draft a player at another position with a significantly higher VS.
The other reason it is good to have plenty of good backup RBs is they make great trade bait. The RB shortage will mean other owners are always looking to trade for a RB who puts points on the score sheet. Maybe you can find somebody who is a little bit desperate and willing to trade one of his elite players at another position for one of your good RBs.
There are 2 elite WRs who deserve to be considered in the first round in Calvin Johnson (VS 4.88) and Demaryius Thomas (VS 4.44). Beyond that there is plenty of good depth at the WR spot throughout the draft because many NFL teams have as many as 4 receivers who put up significant receiving yards every week.
If you can grab some of the best receiver’s early in the draft that is great, but if it seems like you haven’t picked one yet because there always seems to be a player of more value at another position available when it is your turn to pick then don’t let the fact you haven’t taken of the best WRs early worry you. There will be good ones still available in the middle part of the draft.
Tight ends are a lot like the QBs in that there are a couple of elite ones, but the rest are all about the same. I find that the elite TEs are normally not valued highly enough by most fantasy football owners so if you can grab Jimmy Graham (VS 5.08) in the mid to late first round or Julius Thomas (VS 3.07) late in the first round or in the second round you might get laughed at by people who aren’t very good at math. Don’t worry about it though, because those guys will be producing several more points than the average TE, which is more value than you can get at other positions.
If you can’t get one of the top 4 TEs, then it is time to stop worrying about it. The #5 TE Jordan Cameron has a VS of .83 which is less than a point higher than the #10 TE Kyle Rudolph with a VS of 0.0. Like the QBs, there are only 10 starting TEs so the #10 TE really isn’t in very high demand. You can be safe in waiting to grab an average TE till later in the draft, just be sure you grab one before the other owners start drafting their backups.
Defense and kickers is where my strategy really gets interesting, so lets talk about my general strategy before talking about this year’s numbers. I place so little value in defenses and kickers that I usually don’t even bother drafting one. There are 32 defenses, and only 10 starting spots so there will be lots and lots of good defenses you can just pick up anytime on the waiver wire.
Next, the points a defense score in any given week has as much to do with the offense it plays against as how good the defense is. I wouldn’t dare play the best defense in the league against the Broncos but I wouldn’t hesitate to play a below average defense that is going up against a rookie quarterback who is likely to toss a couple of interceptions.
Now lets talk about backups. What are you going to do when your defense has a bye week or goes up against a top offense? You are going to pick up another defense off the waiver wire, but are you going to waive the defense you drafted or are you going to keep them on the roster as a backup and waive one of your high quality RB backups? You would be foolish to waive a high quality RB backup, so you waive your defense.
If your just going to waive them anyway, why even bother drafting them in the first place? I say either draft your defense in the last 2 rounds, or don’t draft one at all, then pick one up right before the first game on the waiver wire. Then each subsequent week, look and see which available defense is going up against a weak offense (a team with a rookie QB for example) and pick that one up and drop the one you had the week before.
Now let’s look at 2014 specifically. Lets start with the Chiefs who are the #2 rated defense with a VS of 2.25. I have absolutely no idea why their VS is 2.25. I am a Chiefs fan and I watched them give up 78 points in the 4th quarter of a playoff game last year to the Colts (I don’t remember the exact number, but it sure seems like it was about 78 so we will go with that) so I don’t believe for a second that they are this good. I assumed I had made some kind of data entry error, so I double checked my sources and confirmed the numbers I had entered were correct. The only plausible answer that I can come up with is that perhaps the people who made these projections somehow thought this was 1994 instead of 2014 and are expecting Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith to get a lot of sacks this year. No matter what the VS says, don’t draft the Chiefs before the next to last round is my advice.
The Seahawks on the other hand are another story. The Seahawks, unlike the Chiefs, have a very good defense and a very high VS of 2.38. No matter what my general philosophy to defense is, that is too high a score to ignore. We will call my 2014 defensive strategy “Seahawks or bust” Go ahead and grab the Seahawks defense if no other players with a VS above 2 are available, but when the Seahawks are gone, don’t worry about defense too much. The Rams (VS of 1.28), Panthers (VS of 1.16), and Bengals (VS of .88) actually have respectable scores, so you might want to draft one of those in the later rounds if all your other starting positions, plus your backup RB roster spots have already been filled. If you can’t get one of those defenses, then just stop worrying about it all together. That is the point where you can either get one in the last 2 rounds or pick one up off the waiver wire.
My strategy towards kickers is a lot like my strategy toward defenses, don’t even bother. They are all about the same, and you can find one available any week of the year who is likely to have a good week against a bad defense. Looking at my cheat sheet confirms this theory as the #1 kicker only has a VS of 1.24, which is by far the lowest VS of any player ranked #1 at his position.
I suggest looking at the defensive matchups every week. Kickers score a lot when their teams score a lot. Teams score a lot when they play bad defenses (Dallas, Oakland, and Jacksonville are usually good choices). Therefore, kickers who play bad defenses usually score a lot. Check the waiver wires every week for a kicker playing against a bad defense, sign him for the week, and don’t ever worry about drafting one.
If you have any thoughts on my strategy guide I would love to hear about it in the comments section.
What I would like to point out about this article, is that it is over 2,500 words long, and there is almost no talk about actual football in here. There is no discussion of new coaches, or offensive lines, or free agents, or rookies, or playbooks, or blitzes, or difficulties of schedules, or anything like that. What that should tell you is that you don’t really need to know anything about football to have a good time playing fantasy football.
It is a fun game to play with friends, has a little basic strategy to it, is something people who are good at numbers should do well at, and makes watching NFL games a lot of fun. If you have never played fantasy football before, give it a try. No matter how little you know about football, using my guide will make it seem like you are an expert.
To the regular readers of artofbeingcheap.com, thank you for indulging me by letting me write one article about my other hobby besides saving money. We will be back with our regularly scheduled programming next week, and will save lots of money together then.