Best Ball Bargain Hunting: Running Backs
The Best Ball Bargain Hunting series looks at the ADP differences for players across popular platforms in order to identify players who may be flying under the radar on specific sites. This inaugural edition will explain the methodology and find running back bargains that can help you win your leagues.
ADP is an anchor. It’s impossible for most fantasy owners to click the “Make Draft Pick” button without at least first considering if they’re picking a player close to their ADP. The anchoring effect makes ADP recursive, a self-fulfilling prophecy where players will tend to be continually drafted in the same range once their ADP has stabilized.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Though ADP can anchor our valuation of a player, it’s not an arbitrary number. Understanding when a player is likely to be drafted is crucial to best ball strategy, particularly when drafting a significant quantity of leagues. If you consistently draft a player far above his ADP – even if you have him ranked far above that ADP – you limit your exposure to other players in that ADP range. It’s OK to reach for a player above his ADP if you want to own a lot of him. It’s not OK to consistently reach so far that there’s a 99 percent chance you could have acquired that player with your next pick a full round later. Understanding those odds is vital.1
Anchoring could be among the reasons that, despite a similar pool of people participating in early best ball drafts across the major sites, we see some players with vastly different ADPs between the platforms. There are other factors that affect ADP – such as differences in league structure – but identifying players whose ADP is significantly later on one site than another can provide us a list of targets we may be able to get at a steep discount.
To find these bargains, I compared ADP data from four best ball sites:
- MFL10s on Fanball – ADP from the FanBall site ADP 2
- FFPC BestBall leagues – ADP courtesy of FantasyMojo.com 3
- DRAFT – ADP from the app4
- FanTrax – ADP scraped from the API5
There are also some slight differences between the sites that need to be kept in mind when looking at the data:
- MFL10s – 20 rounds, PPR scoring
- Fantrax – 20 rounds, PPR scoring
- FFPC – 28 rounds, PPR with 1.5 PPR TE premium. Also includes Kickers
- DRAFT – 18 rounds, 0.5 PPR and no defenses
To minimize the effects of the differing formats, I chose to compare players by their positional ranking as opposed to their overall ADP. This allows for a more apples-to-apples comparison, though the 0.5 PPR at DRAFT and the TE premium scoring at FFPC will shift the valuation of pass-catchers at those positions.6
For each site, I’ve calculated the difference in positional ADP between the average positional ADP of the other three sites, and also between that site and MFL10 ADP. The MFL10 format is the closest thing to a best ball industry standard, and is probably the most referenced format when people are discussing and analyzing best ball, so it provides a good frame of reference for the discussion.
I’ll be taking a look at players who are bargains and players for whom you’ll have to pay a premium, and pointing out any general trends if I see them. Remember, just because a player is a bargain on a site doesn’t necessarily mean you should be drafting them, and just because a player might cost a premium doesn’t necessarily mean you should be avoiding them.
|Player||FFPC - Average||FFPC - MFL10|
|Ronald Jones II||-4||-4|
DeMarco Murray is still unsigned, but he has drawn interest, and the fact that he didn’t immediately sign somewhere doesn’t mean he couldn’t eventually end up in a favorable situation. He’s being drafted a full 12 positions earlier on average on the other sites, and he sticks out as a player that could see a big jump depending on his landing spot.
The fear that the Browns might draft Saquon Barkley has kept Duke Johnson’s price suppressed so far, and he’s currently at his cheapest in FFPC drafts, going five positions later than in MFL10s.
Speaking of “Saquon-Fever,” FFPC drafters are leery of all of the Giants’ current options at RB. Jonathan Stewart is going much later on FFPC than other sites, and though Wayne Gallman is actually cheaper on MFL10s than FFPC, he’s still a bargain here compared to the average. Orleans Darkwa is still unsigned, and it’s doubtful he finds a major role anywhere, but he’s currently dirt cheap in FFPC drafts for those willing to take a shot at some late depth.
I’m a huge D’Onta Foreman fan, but Achilles injuries are a big deal, and there are reasons to be wary about him this year. FFPC drafters are still drafting him aggressively though.
Are people reaching for Kenneth Dixon in FFPC leagues? Maybe, but it might just be the case the other sites are lagging behind. I’ve been ending up with a lot of Dixon on my teams as it seems like there’s plenty of opportunity for his value to increase.
Jerick McKinnon’s ADP adjusted up on FFPC faster than it did on the other sites, but even looking at the most recent MFL10 drafts, McKinnon is still more expensive in FFPC leagues.
Rookie RBs are highly valued in FFPC drafts, being drafted earlier than other sites almost across the board. It’s possible that with deeper rosters, drafters are more willing to embrace the risk of rookies knowing there’s more room to build depth later in the draft. It’s also possible that the drafters are simply more knowledgeable about the rookie class, or familiar with the value of pre-draft rookie RBs in the best ball format, as championed by Blair Andrews and by Mike Beers.
The two most notable exceptions here are John Kelly and Mark Walton. Both players are cheaper in FFPC drafts compared to the average, with Walton much cheaper than he is in MFL10s. Both are players who can catch passes and have a chance at a favorable draft slot. If the top rookies in the class are too rich for your blood, Kelly and Walton make for a good fallback plan later in the draft.
|Player||DRAFT - Average||DRAFT - MFL10|
|Ronald Jones II||1.3||0|
For those looking to take a shot at rookie RBs in the middle rounds, Royce Freeman and Rashaad Penny look like straight-up steals. Nyheim Hines and Walton also come at a severe discount. That’s not surprising since they profile to fill pass-catching roles in the NFL, but the discount may still be disproportionate to the half-PPR they lose in this format.
Though there’s a lot of uncertainty in the Packers backfield, Aaron Jones has been slowly creeping up draft boards. His ascent has been slower on DRAFT though, where he’s lagging five positions behind the other sites, on average.
Owning the cheapest member of the Patriots backfield last year – Dion Lewis – worked out pretty well for those who drafted him. Enter Jeremy Hill. While it’s unrealistic to expect him to replicate Lewis’ success, it’s surprising to see Hill is so cheap on DRAFT, especially considering his upside scenario involves scoring a lot of touchdowns, not catching passes, so he’d likely be more valuable relative to other RBs in a half-PPR format.
There’s a logical flip side to two of the bargain players mentioned here, with the backfield mates being somewhat overpriced on DRAFT relative to the other sites. Both Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee are being picked earlier than elsewhere. James White remains cheap due to the half-PPR scoring, but drafters seem to be sleeping on Hill.
With Jones being drafted later than usual, both Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery are being drafted several positions earlier than elsewhere. As with Hill, it’s confusing that the player whom most would project to be the least dependent on catching passes for his fantasy production would be the cheaper asset in this format.
Besides the obvious devaluation of backs that all rely heavily on receptions for their production such as Theo Riddick, Christian McCaffrey, and White , the one trend that jumped out at me was just how unafraid drafters are of added competition for players with tenuous holds on their backfield roles. The bottom of the list is littered with players who are likely to see free agent additions or rookie draft picks come in and compete for touches. It would be surprising for players like Ameer Abdullah, Marlon Mack, Chris Carson, Peyton Barber, and Samaje Perine to be handed starting roles by default, but drafters seem to be more confident in these players on DRAFT than on any of the other sites.
|Player||Fantrax - Average||Fantrax - MFL10|
|Ronald Jones II||2||0|
Fantrax is a new kid on the best ball block this year and doesn’t have quite the same volume of drafts some of the other sites have yet, so ADP is still a bit more fluid. Still, there are some interesting players that stick out here.
Foreman jumps out as an obvious bargain here as he’s being drafted much later than his positional ADP on the other sites. While his Achilles is a concern, if he’s going off the board as RB50+ then the risk that his recovery is slow has already been priced in.
The Jets backfield also shows up as a bargain here, with both Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell checking in with later ADPs, and Elijah McGuire not even being picked. Assuming the Jets’ trade up to the number three spot in the NFL draft wasn’t just a ploy to finally break the collective spirit of their fanbase by trading away a ton of draft capital just to draft an RB, it’s likely that one of these players will end up being a great value.
Drafters at Fantrax seem to have the strongest opinion on the likelihood of Doug Martin stealing work from Marshawn Lynch. Lynch is being drafted six positions earlier than the average and a full 12 positions earlier than he’s being taken in MFL10s. Meanwhile, Martin is still being virtually ignored.
Like Johnson, Carlos Hyde is also a victim of the uncertainty about whether or not the Browns will draft Barkley. This is keeping Hyde somewhat affordable for the moment, but drafters at Fantrax have still been willing to reach for him a bit in the hopes that the Browns choose to pass on Barkley.
|Name||MFL10 - Average|
|Ronald Jones II||1.3|
Remember when I said Dixon was expensive in FFPC drafts? He’s the polar opposite here. There’s no guarantee the Ravens don’t draft another pass-catching RB, but Dixon could step into that role and soak up the six targets per game that were going the retired Danny Woodhead’s way, while stealing the secondary rushing work from Javorius Allen as well. The Ravens current scheme is favorable for RB production, and Dixon should have a chance to put up usable games even without an injury to Alex Collins.
Lynch is at his cheapest here. His ADP was initially suppressed by the worry that the Raiders would cut him, but after restructuring his contract to guarantee a significant portion of his 2018 salary – $2 million dollars of which have already been paid to him – there seems to be little chance that he’s not a big part of their plans. Perhaps primacy bias has owners remembering Lynch’s slow start in 2017, but he finished the season strong as the RB13 over his final eight games.
I may not be a big fan of Sony Michel, but I’m also humble enough to know that I can and will be wrong about a lot of these guys. Considering he’s being drafted over four positions later in MFL10s, I’ll focus on those leagues to sprinkle him into my overall portfolio.
Drafting a Patriots RB is far less terrifying in best ball than in sit/start leagues, and White is being targeted aggressively in MFL10s. While his RB39 ADP isn’t unreasonable after he finished as the RB38 last year, he can be had almost a full round later on the other sites.7
Hill is also being drafted earlier than average in MFL10s. While I didn’t mention them in the bargain section, Burkhead and Gillislee are the beneficiaries, going three and thirteen positions later respectively.
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- The range where players are drafted in the later rounds obviously expands a lot, so what constitutes a reach in the late rounds shifts somewhat. (back)
- 3/14/18 – 4/4/18 (back)
- 3/14/18 – 4/4/18 (back)
- 4/5/18 (back)
- 2/28/18 – 4/4/18 (back)
- For example, passing down backs will be devalued in DRAFT and TEs with a higher target volume get a slight bump over TD-dependent TEs in FFPC. (back)
- And much later on DRAFT for obvious reasons. (back)