Dynasty fantasy football is my favorite fantasy sport. While working to bring back The Machine I continue to play dynasty fantasy football and am always running various analysis for myself. In the last two years I have come in 2nd and 3rd in my 12 team dynasty league. A lot of dynasty football team managers focus on winning a single season, and are either going for it one year, or rebuilding another year. I like to do both with the aim to build a real dynasty team. I consider managing draft picks to be a major part of the strategy for building a real dynasty.
Last year, I wrote this article, which is about how to build your arsenal of draft picks. Draft picks are fantasy football money:
- they only increase in value over time
- they are exchangeable for product year-round
- there is no limit to how much you can hold
They can be viewed as an unlimited wildcard extension of your fixed-size roster so you can make adjustments any time needed:
- pre-season: to bring in fresh young talent
- in-season: to make adjustments to remain a playoff contender
- late-season: to be competitive in the playoffs
The longer you hold off on using a pick the more certain the value a pick becomes for your team. If your star RB is injured right before your entry into the playoffs - no problem - use some of those picks to snag an older producing RB from a team that is clearly going into rebuild mode.
My late 2022 late-year RB acquisitions were Cam Akers, Miles Sanders and Jerick McKinnon. I gave up a 3rd round pick for Cam Akers and two second round picks for Miles Sanders. (I grabbed McKinnon off the waiver wire.) These complimented my Leonard Fournette and Rashaad Penny after Penny was injured (again). If the seeding had been different I would have won the league.
Using this strategy, I had the league's 2nd highest all-time score in Week 14, the week right before the playoffs going back all the way 2011:
That's a great indication one's team is ready for the playoffs. I had the highest fantasy point total through the playoffs, but I lost my Week 16 match-up because of a bad lineup decision - starting Miles Sanders over Cam Akers that week. The point is, my team had the championship potential, and to get it, I used my arsenal of picks late in the season, when I knew exactly what my needs were and I could get bargains from teams that didn't make the playoffs and were moving to rebuild mode.
That's not to say I never draft rookies - of course I do - last year I drafted Tyler Allgeier, Jameson Williams and Jelani Woods.
Going into this year's draft, I have the following picks: 1.07, 1.09, 2.03, 2.05, 2.12, 3.04 and 3.09. Wow - how do I have all those picks after coming in third and snagging Akers and Sanders late in the season last year? That is what the article that I listed above shows how to do. It takes patients and discipline because we all want those fresh new sparkling additions to our team this time of year - and I certainly have my eye on several in this year's draft.
However, going into this draft, I wanted to get a sense of the real value of draft picks. So I went to one of those consensus ranking sites, and I took what they considered the top dynasty players and investigated when they were drafted in my league. For this analysis, I checked when the top 6-QBs, the top-12 RBs, the top-18 WRs and the top-6 TEs according to the consensus site's rankings. These top players are the difference makers in my PPR dynasty league which starts 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 RB/WR/TE, 1 K and 1 Def.
Here is what I found:
Quarterbacks score more points in a fantasy team than any other position. Top quarterbacks are big difference makers. And last year, quarterback injury rates were through the roof. (See this article.) Top quarterbacks also have long careers compared with other player positions. I believe finding a fantasy franchise quarterback is the first priority for building a solid dynasty team, so I am always surprised how far they fall in dynasty drafts (not super flex of course - but traditional 1 QB teams). Here we see of the top-6 QBs only two were drafted in the first round, and with low first round picks at that. Mahomes was drafted in the 2nd round, and Herbert in the 3rd. Two weren't even drafted. (Hurts is my fantasy franchise QB who I grabbed for a 2nd round pick when he was starting to rise.)
The take away is that if your league drafts like my league, you can wait to take a quarterback in your draft. You are just as likely to land a top QB in the 2nd or 3rd round as in the late 1st round, or even off the waiver wire. This year there seem to four potentially dynasty relevant QBs: Bryce Young, Will Levis, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson. We will see where they land in only two more days, but if you need to add QB depth to your team or are still looking for a dynasty franchise QB, you should be able to add one of these QBs to your roster. You should be able to wait until the 2nd or even the 3rd round to add one of these to your team, but if you are desperate for a quarterback, you are certainly justified to use a 1st round pick to ensure you procure a potential centerpiece to your dynasty team.
What can I say here? All the top running backs in my league were drafted between 1.01 and 1.07 except Austin Ekeler. I happen to believe my league overvalues RBs. They have relatively short careers and veteran RBs that can help late in the season are generally available late in the season. I like the RBBC approach. With that said, I have used top picks over the years for what were expected to be top RBs: Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Last year I drafted Tyler Allgeier with the 2.05 pick believing Cordarelle Patterson would cede the starting role for Atlanta this year. Will this pan-out and buck the trend of needing to use a top-7 pick to get a top RB? I hope so.
The take away? There are two ways to look at this data - one is that running backs are valued much more than the other positions - the other is that top running backs are easier to predict as rookies compared with other positions. We guess right more than wrong when trying to determine the top running backs of a rookie class. So if you have your franchise QB and a nicely filled WR corps - positions with greater longevity in the NFL - and you need a new top RB for your team, go for it with a high first round pick.
Of the top-18 wide receivers, only two were drafted with a top-7 pick (the top-7 picks for getting running backs). However, 13 of the 18 were drafted with a top-15 pick (2.03 or earlier). Especially in PPR leagues, building a solid WR corps is a priority for a dynasty team. Receivers have greater longevity over running backs, and in most leagues you start more of them in your lineups.
In my league, I believe top WRs are undervalued, and so usually its possible to add some top wide receiver talent to my team right before the draft by trading. Knowing what you know about Tyreek Hill now, what would you have paid for him back in 2020? I paid a 1.02 and Todd Gurley for Tyreek Hill and the 2.02 pick. 2020 was a year of decline for Gurley in which he was the 29th RB scoring only four more fantasy points than Giovani Bernard. If I had kept my 1.02 pick, I would have drafted Jonathon Taylor, so I got a good deal.
The take away is that generally to get a top wide receiver in a rookie draft you have to spend a first or an early 2nd round pick. However, you might do better by trading with a team that undervalues receivers shortly before the draft.
A franchise dynasty tight end like Travis Kelce or Rob Gronkowski is a huge addition to a team because of how far spread they are from the rest of the TE1 pack. The problem is, they generally aren't predictable from the draft. For each position, I show the average year in which the players were drafted or taken initially at the bottom of each table. You will see that the top QBs, RBs and WRs averaged being taken in 2019, whereas the top TEs averaged being taken in 2017 - six years ago. This is because top NFL TEs generally take longer to develop than the other offensive skill positions. Knowing what you know about Kelce now, what would you have given to snag him back in 2013? Try as I might, my team still lacks that elusive franchise TE, with Evan Engram leading my TE corps and hopes that Jelani Woods might some day develop into the next Travis Kelce.
I am not sure what the take away is with tight ends. Is it that we luck into having a Travis Kelce on our team, or do we need to throw a lot more darts and keep more tight ends on our roster to have the higher chance that some day we will have a Travis Kelce 2 to fill out our perfect dynasty roster?
1) There was barely any difference between the success of 2nd round picks and 3rd round picks. Six of the top 42 players were taken with 2nd round picks and five were taken with 3rd round picks. We have an email draft where each owner has eight hours to make their pick and we draft close to the start of the NFL season, so this could just be the luck of the draw, or it could be that as the pre-season was going on those picking in the 3rd round benefited from the increased knowledge of the remaining available rookies.
2) Seven of the top players were not even drafted: Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts, Austin Ekeler, Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Mark Andrews and George Kittle.
3) There is a big drop off in the value of picks after the 15th pick (2.03). 29 of the top 42 players were taken with the top-15 picks, compared to only six taken from 2.04 to 3.12, and seven not even being drafted.
4) Picks 1.01, 1.04 and 1.10 were the most successful picks, each yielding four of the top 42 players, while picks 1.06 and 1.11 have not yielded a top player. Not sure it means anything - just interesting.
The NFL draft will be over this coming weekend, and then we will be thinking about our own dynasty drafts. I hope this analysis will be useful for you as you plan your strategy for your dynasty rookie draft.