Draft Strategy

How to Win the Flex in 2017

Perhaps the most complicated position in fantasy football is not an actual position at all, but rather a confluence of multiple skill positions more commonly known as “the flex.” It’s something we’ve written a lot about at RotoViz, because the key to success is to win the flex position. Solving the flex problem usually comes down to solving positional value. Those of you that went Robust RB last year are probably nodding in agreement. Yet others are reminiscing about the success of Zero RB during the 2015 RB-pocalypse. But those are all backwards-looking examples. The real question is, how do we win the flex in 2017?


One of the key tenets of RotoViz over the years has been our addiction to Zero RB. When Shawn Siegele penned “Zero RB, Antifragility, and the Myth of Value-Based Drafting” in November of 2013, he indirectly brought along with it a new way of looking at the flex position. Back then he looked at the Flex position as an extension of a fantasy team’s WR corps, which fit hand-in-glove with the Zero RB draft strategy. Back in 2013, early-round RBs were being drafted earlier than ever. Nine of the top 10 picks by ADP were RBs, despite the evolution of the NFL toward a more passing league. That year, only four RBs finished among the top-15 flex-eligible players in PPR scoring. A clear positional imbalance between RBs and the other flex-eligible positions existed. This allowed Zero RB to be the dominant strategy in redraft leagues for multiple years. Shawn and his brother Ty Siegele took advantage of this imbalance in 2013 to the tune of over $200,000 and a NFFC world championship. But that was just the start. Zero RB and positional value came to a head in 2015 with what became known1 as the RB-pocalypse. Amazingly, 21 of the top-32 flex-eligible players that year were WRs. Only six were RBs, and five were TEs. Think about that. In 2013, RBs made up nine of the top 10 fantasy selections by ADP, and only two years later only six finished within the top-32 flex scorers in PPR. Then came 2016. Positional ADP shifted like it never had before. Running backs were drafted later than ever, while early WR was suddenly en vogue (including the Zero RB strategy, thanks in no small part to RotoViz itself). What occurred was the fantasy equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane. A whole population of Zero RB enthusiasts (including yours truly) faced total annihilation at the hands of the greatest trio of RBs since Barry Sanders, Emmett Smith, and Thurman Thomas shredded opposing defenses in the early 1990s. And a host of other RBs carried your teams to victory as well. Yes, 2016 really was the year of the RB

Positional Value, Recency Bias, and Randomness

Or so that’s what we remember.
  1. At least in RotoViz circles  (back)

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By RotoDoc | @RotoDoc | Archive

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  1. some days I wish I was smart enough to understand all the nuances of these articles lol. So basically, what you're saying is a league with 3wr, 1rb, 1 te, 1 flex, should most likely grab 4 wr's and perhaps an elite te before a rb? More or less? maybe? perhaps? Send help

  2. Great read. Lots to think about but really helps solidify my draft strategy this year. Thanks Doc. Be interested to see your individual player equity scores. I appreciate the equity scores Denny Carter does using Rotoviz's simulator but unfortunately he is not doing RBs this year. Thanks again.

  3. Thanks Doc this is awesome...most of my leagues are still 2wr 2 rb 1 flex. curious how that would change your thinking if at all or much...im guessing racing to fill flex in PPR or hppr with high equity WRs is still a priority and you still may consider sprinking in TEs and QBs in the first 5 picks but curious your thought process ....i was really hoping to ask you about your reaction to Ben's piece, this was more than i even hoped for, thx

  4. tell me if I am wrong, but I think this article is making me feel very very good about my strategy this year to grab that one stud ppr RB (targeting Freeman) and hammering out WR for the next 4-5 picks to fill that flex while everyone else plays catch up on their rbs. I have two late keepers in Jimmy Graham and Martavis Bryant.

  5. There are a couple things going on here. First, if I'm understanding correctly, the projections here are based on ADP, not end-of-season ranks. So, for instance, the top RB by ADP in 2016 was Todd Gurley. Adrian Peterson was drafted fourth. Gurley underperformed badly and Peterson was a disaster. These kind of results pull down the average points scored at each draft position. Therefore you would expect these projections to be lower across the board.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that part of what you're pointing out is the difference between predictive analytics and forecasting that RotoDoc mentioned. That is to say, we've never really seen two RBs like DJ and Bell who are good enough as receivers alone to be worth drafting as, say, a WR4. The amount of volume they're both getting in the receiving game is kind of unprecedented for a RB--certainly for two RBs to be doing it in the same season to the extent they are. So predictions based on past assumptions are going to be inaccurate for them--basically exactly Doc's point in making the PA/forecasting distinction. You can see that this is reflected in the staff projections, where the top two backs (DJ and Bell, respectively) are kind of in a class of their own, with almost 40 points separating Bell from the next player (Elliott).

    And, FWIW, I don't know that anyone's ever said Zero RB is optimal in standard leagues (although it probably was in 2015). Certainly it can work but it's not nearly as dominant a strategy in leagues where you don't get some amount of points for receptions. I think DJ and Bell are great targets in standard leagues--and in PPR--but I also think RBs are being overdrafted, even in standard leagues, so there is some value to taking a WR or TE with your first few picks if you can't land one of either DJ or Bell (or, maybe, Elliott--but I prefer Brown, Beckham, Jones, even in std).

    Also, I say you should definitely be questioning the things you read here. Best way for us all to learn.

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