Evan Silva and I just completed a 12-team PPR expert draft in which Evan drafted Cam Newton in the middle of the ninth round; to say that the dominant strategy is to wait on quarterbacks is an understatement. I’m one of the few who is aboard the mid-round quarterback approach, for a variety of reasons, but I understand the allure of the late-round quarterback strategy; the idea is that, on a week-to-week basis, you can replace an elite quarterback’s production with a revolving door of second- and third-tier passers.
I think this concept—viewing fantasy football as a weekly game—is what separates advanced owners from novices. Expert fantasy football owners realize that, outside of best-ball or total-points leagues, the goal is to win 16 or so individual weeks. In most leagues, scoring 150 points is just as good as scoring 200 points, as long as you get the ‘W.’
When you really start to ponder the ramifications of a week-to-week approach, you realize that suspended and injured players who we know are going to be out X games can offer a lot of value. Those players tend to drop way too far because most owners think of player value in terms of bulk points—how many points they’ll score in total in a season—instead of their points per game and overall availability.
What suspended players have working against them is that latter trait—availability; obviously it’s not inherently beneficial to draft a player who is going to miss games. But guess what? Everyone else knows that, too. So they wait. And wait. And wait. It gets to the point that suspended players often offer a ton of value because they drop way too far.
It just comes down to some basic math and understanding how many points you’re truly “losing” in drafting someone you know will be on the shelf. I’m just going to run through the numbers really quickly to show you why this is the case.
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The Math on Players Missing Games
Ray Rice and Josh Gordon (maybe) are the two big-name players who are going to miss time in 2014. We can’t use Gordon as an example because we don’t know how long he’ll be suspended, if at all, following his appeal. Rice is in a bit of a unique situation since everyone kind of thought he’d be suspended for more than two games; when that ruling was handed down, Rice’s ADP actually jumped nearly a full round.
However, we can use Gordon’s 2013 situation to show why we should generally be bullish on suspended players. Last year, Gordon was ranked as the WR29 in terms of ADP before news broke that he’d be suspended for the first two weeks of the season. At that spot, Gordon could be expected to score 7.4 PPG in standard leagues if he perfectly lived up to his ADP. That’s just based on historical data, which doesn’t change all that much from year to year.
After the suspension, Gordon’s ADP promptly dropped to WR38. That decline was in line with what we’d expect if owners are viewing players in terms of an entire season of expected production. In approaching fantasy football from a week-to-week angle, however, we realize that the real “cost” of drafting Gordon wasn’t solely the points we’d miss while he was out, but rather those points minus the points from a replacement receiver; it’s not like you couldn’t start anyone in place of Gordon.
Working through the numbers, here’s how we should have been calculating Gordon’s season-long value to help us figure out how far to drop him:
(Projected PPG * Expected Games) + (Replacement Player Projected PPG * Expected Games Missed)
Again, based on his ADP, Gordon’s projected PPG was 7.4 before the suspension. As far as a replacement player, even if we waited multiple rounds to draft another receiver after selecting Gordon last year—ending up with the WR48—we’d still expect him to score around 6.0 PPG based on historical trends at the position.
That means that the calculation for Gordon in 2013 was (7.4*14) + (6.0*2), or 115.6 points. That’s barely less than the 118.4 points we should have expected from Gordon (based on his ADP) if he played all 16 games. And based on those numbers, Gordon should have dropped three spots among all receivers, down to WR32. Gordon (and Justin Blackmon) fell way too far, even though we could have mathematically calculated how far they should have dropped if their pre-suspension ADP was accurate. You might argue that you need to factor in extra risk for players like Gordon, who could realistically get suspended for the year at any point, but that risk should already be priced into his ADP.
On top of that, don’t forget that you know which games a suspended player will be missing. You can potentially soften the blow of his absence by targeting players with quality matchups in the short time that he’s out.
Fantasy Football Is a Weekly Game
The specific point here is to reconsider suspended players, but the overarching idea is that fantasy football is a weekly game and we need to treat it as such. When a player misses time, the cost to you isn’t how much of his production you lose, but rather the gap between the suspended player and a replacement.
This idea extends to time missed for injuries, too. I very often target players coming off of an injury—depending on which injury—because I think it’s difficult to identify which players are truly injury-prone, and even more difficult to use that information to make accurate predictions.
Plus, players perceived as ‘injury-prone’ drop in fantasy drafts, so the risk is factored into their price. Actually, most owners overcompensate to the point that players who we have strong evidence to believe are injury-prone can still offer value because you’re simply getting them at such a discount. That’s made possible because we’re generally not calculating the true cost of missed games, which comes down to not viewing fantasy football from a weekly angle.
Yes, it hurts to see one of your top players on the bench because of a suspension or injury, but 1) the negative impact perhaps isn’t as great as you think and 2) the loss is more than reflected in ADP such that you can get such players at a very cheap price.