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Building the Ultimate 10-Team Standard Roster

What strategy should I use in shallow standard leagues? Can you use Zero RB in standard?

These are the two questions I see most frequently on our message boards. As the fantasy industry moves toward deeper PPR formats, these types of leagues can get short shrift. This is unfortunate since standard is still the format for a huge number of fantasy players, and also because the question itself is pretty interesting. It’s only human nature to take a great strategy for PPR or best ball and try to apply it in other formats, even when the structure of those formats can often require a different or even opposite approach.

As a result, this is my attempt to address the standard league issue. In this piece we’ll examine how you should approach a 10-team league that starts 1-QB, 2-RB, 2-WR, 1-TE, and 1-Flex.

Investigating Player Value

The first step in evaluating a standard league is to develop a framework for determining player value. In fantasy terms, player value has five components: value over an average starter, value over a readily available replacement player, value in relation to the market, contingent value, and positional value.

The first two areas largely comprise what’s generally known as value-based drafting (VBD). Market value would not be a separate entity except that drafts are extremely inefficient due to poorly calculated VBD numbers, an overemphasis on scarcity at certain positions, and a general failure to understand contingent value. Contingent value relates to the potential change in value for players based on the chaos that swirls from the season’s advent. And positional value relates to the lineup requirements. Even beyond the VBD numbers, positions which require more starters take on more value than single starter positions.

In order to address a 10-team standard format, I downloaded our staff Projection Machine numbers, and created a cheat sheet using a combination of value over starter and value over replacement.1 I then used the Draft Optimizer to explore a wide variety of potential lineups to get a feel for the way market value might contaminate my draft plan.

Based on this process, other research, and my own experiences, these are what I would consider the foundational aspects of a good standard league approach in 2015. 

  1. You want to maximize your starting lineup. In 10-team leagues where you’re also not required to start a lot of players, the starting lineup is key. You don’t need to worry about building a team that’s loaded at WR and robust or antifragile at RB. Scarcity still plays a role, but it’s a very minimal consideration compared to any other kind of format. Most owners in all formats select original rosters that don’t contain enough upside. The best way to take a contingency-based approach to large, ppr formats is through Zero RB. But the best way to take a contingency-based approach in standard is to simply construct an elite starting lineup during the draft. You will have plenty of opportunity to then build depth in free agency.
  2. Standard is a best player available format. Because scarcity and market value are minimized in a 10-team standard format, you can focus on simply selecting the best players. This means using the tenets of VBD more directly, but it also means placing an emphasis on players who are less reliant on circumstance.2
  3. You want to take a balanced approach. This is sort of a corollary to points 1 and 2. Most drafters do this in all formats, including MFL10s or 12-team ppr leagues where it’s often sub-optimal. But the prevalence of best ball and ppr can sometimes make it more difficult to readjust back to a standard draft. RBx4 or Zero RB are poor choices for this format.
  4. Forget TE Streaming. You want to own one of the Big 4. Rob Gronkowski is the No. 1 overall player in this format, and Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce, and Greg Olsen are all undervalued. The gap from these four players to the rest of the field is immense. Since we want to maximize our starting lineups, the owners of these four players have a big head start on the rest of the league.
  5. Build a two-headed monster at QB. Streaming quarterbacks is more viable than streaming TEs since QB scoring is easier to predict and competent signal-callers should be freely available on waivers each week. But in trying to maximize our starting lineup, we also have to consider that a combination of star QBs will give us the biggest advantage at the most favorable price. Due to the depth at the position this year, elite QBs are available in areas of the draft where the opportunity cost is minimal.
  6. WRs and RBs are similarly valuable. Our research on standard formats suggests that a RB-RB start would fit with the historical trends, but a rigid approach probably isn’t appropriate for 2015. The RB-RB start is heavily reliant on landing the elite RB1, and we’re already going away from that model if we start by selecting Gronkowski. We also must react to the fact that 2015 looks uncertain at RB with the one real star having suspension and injury concerns. Our top receiver, Dez Bryant, owns a 52-40 edge over our top RB, Marshawn Lynch, in terms of projected points above an average starter. In this format, we don’t need to make a concerted effort to start a certain position at the Flex since RBs and WRs are projected for roughly equivalent point totals in the Flex rounds.3

The Blacklist

I’ve created a pretty extensive blacklist in putting together the Ultimate Standard Rosters. Tevin Coleman, Joique Bell, Michael Floyd and Breshad Perriman are out due to injury uncertainty. Alfred Morris gets cut because we can likely get the same production by taking shots at players with similar profiles in the middle rounds. Joseph Randle and Bishop Sankey are out because their projections rely on a specific and unstable set of circumstances. Dwayne Bowe and Steve Smith are out because they’re old and vastly overrated.

The Rosters

Scenario 1: The Gronkowski Approach

Round Overall Conf. Based ADP Player POS Proj. Pts
1 7 8 Gronkowski, Rob TE 192.08
2 14 14 Murray, DeMarco RB 214.97
3 27 31 Hopkins, DeAndre WR 176.69
4 34 34 Matthews, Jordan WR 176.02
5 47 61 Martin, Doug RB 126.9
6 54 68 Blount, LeGarrette RB 146.41
7 67 73 Ivory, Chris RB 145.36
8 74 91 Smith, Torrey WR 143.45
9 87 100 Romo, Tony QB 350.53
10 94 103 Wright, Kendall WR 125.17
11 107 109 Brady, Tom QB 341.84
12 114 125 Quick, Brian WR 126.35
13 127 127 Helu, Roy RB 87.37
14 134 136 Randle, Rueben WR 105.56

According to our projections, Gronkowski is the most valuable player both in terms of value over starter and value over replacement. In terms of projected points scored over the average starter, he’s almost three times as valuable as C.J. Anderson (73 to 25). Gronk is also the perfect first round pick because, whereas RB projections are extremely fragile, the top TE consistently puts up elite TE numbers. In this case, you’re arguably drafting the best player in the NFL. It’s almost humorous where Gronk fits on George Fitopoulos’ plot of TE efficiency versus opportunity.

This scenario uses the 55 percent confidence level of ADP to get DeMarco Murray at RB in the second round. It seems fair when you consider that Murray’s MFL10 ADP is 14 overall and his FFC standard ADP sits at 15.5.4 Murray comes in No. 2 overall in my RB Rankings, and in that piece I explain why he might have a better fantasy future in Philadelphia than had he stayed in Dallas.

14Team Mocker persuasively argues that DeAndre Hopkins could lead the NFL in targets. The injury to Arian Foster could boost that number even higher, and the presence of Brian Hoyer is intriguing.5

Heith Krueger is looking for a Jordan Matthews second year breakout along the lines of Alshon Jeffery’s sophomore campaign crossed with Jeremy Maclin’s 2014.

We then move into the trio of RBs who will make up the core of our standard league strategy: Doug Martin, LeGarrette Blount, and Chris Ivory. All three of these players find themselves in fairly clear starting roles and are bigger talents than the much more expensive Mark Ingram. Coming off of two down seasons, Martin is the wild card here, but I’ve found that he has a very real chance to return to his rookie form. Blount looks like a big upgrade on Stevan Ridley and makes for the perfect standard league selection.

Blount v Ridley

14Team Mocker points out a variety of stats which portray Ivory as an elite runner. Given the lack of competition for touches and the Chan Gailey Effect, Ivory is basically a cheap, yet actually talented version of several big name RBs going much earlier.

Due to RB injury and bust rates, it’s unlikely all three of these players end up as quality starters, but their prices undercut the argument for a RB-heavy start in standard leagues.

As we move back to address WR, Justin Winn offers seven compelling reasons to target Torrey Smith, and Kevin Cole demonstrates that he’s undervalued relative to expected targets. A better fit outside of the ppr format, Smith is a no-brainer here.

The Quarterbacks

At this point we’ve selected four RBs and three WRs. Depth isn’t nearly as important in 10-team standard – we can use waivers to take advantage of the contingent value of depth players – but the starting lineup is paramount. The number of impressive signal-callers this season devalues the position but doesn’t render it irrelevant.

Mike Braude uses the Projection Machine to explore various scenarios for Tony Romo and sees a 4,500-yard, 40-TD season as well within the realm of realistic possibility. Over the last four years, Tom Brady scores more than 5.5 points per game more when Gronkowski plays. He’s cheap due to the suspension and has a very favorable combined schedule with Romo. Despite Romos’ reality reputation, this lineup gives you two of the best quarterbacks in NFL history and allows you to play them against poor defenses almost every week.

The Rest of the WRs

Wright has long been synonymous with the phrase “in a ppr league,” but he was one of my Top 10 Sleepers because this is about to change. In his disappointing 2014 campaign, Wright had the same touchdown rate as Emmanuel Sanders. With Marcus Mariota under center, he’s about to make the leap.

Brian Quick is on my Do Not Draft list, but I respect my colleagues’ enthusiasm too much to place him on the blacklist. He and Rueben Randle give you two more big-bodied lottery tickets who could end up as high-end WR2s.

Scenario 2: Skittles and Megatron

Round Overall Conf. Based ADP Player POS Proj. Pts
1 7 8 Lynch, Marshawn RB 227.79
2 14 15 Johnson, Calvin WR 206.68
3 27 31 Hopkins, DeAndre WR 176.69
4 34 34 Matthews, Jordan WR 176.02
5 47 60 Martin, Doug RB 126.9
6 54 66 Blount, LeGarrette RB 146.41
7 67 71 Ivory, Chris RB 145.36
8 74 89 Smith, Torrey WR 143.45
9 87 99 Romo, Tony QB 350.53
10 94 108 Brady, Tom QB 341.84
11 107 118 Walker, Delanie TE 101.28
12 114 119 Sims, Charles RB 105.02
13 127 130 Williams, Terrance WR 113.77
14 134 134 Randle, Rueben WR 105.56

Here we take the “safer” approach and target the more valuable fantasy positions by selecting our top-ranked RB in Lynch. Skittles is also the safest of the big name RBs and has a surprisingly low injury risk. Because I don’t want five RBs in my first seven picks, I’ve moved from Murray to Calvin Johnson for this squad. Anthony Amico explains why we shouldn’t count out Megatron.

I’ve also forced the drafting of Delanie Walker, one of my 15 Middle Round Targets, as the Draft Optimizer doesn’t share my affinity for starting-caliber TEs. We also end up selecting Charles Sims as a Martin handcuff. As we don’t have an elite RB2, this provides some valuable insurance. Sims is one of my 7 Breakout RBs for 2015. Finally, Terrance Williams emerges as a depth WR. While I was reluctant to blacklist Quick in the earlier scenario, I prefer Williams anyway. He’s not quite the same physical specimen, but has more production and could easily emerge with significant target volume in a far superior offense. As Jacob Myers pointed out, Williams leads all Cowboys since 2006 with an absurd 10.5 AYA when targeted.

Scenario 3: The Jamaal Charles-Jimmy Graham Superstars Approach

Round Overall Conf. Based ADP Player POS Proj. Pts
1 2 4 Charles, Jamaal RB 225.39
2 19 24 Jeffery, Alshon WR 187.87
3 22 33 Graham, Jimmy TE 131.44
4 39 44 Yeldon, T.J. RB 150.91
5 42 62 Jackson, DeSean WR 149.28
6 59 66 Blount, LeGarrette RB 146.41
7 62 71 Ivory, Chris RB 145.36
8 79 89 Smith, Torrey WR 143.45
9 82 99 Romo, Tony QB 350.53
10 99 101 Wright, Kendall WR 125.17
11 102 108 Brady, Tom QB 341.84
12 119 123 Quick, Brian WR 126.35
13 122 130 Williams, Terrance WR 113.77
14 139 184 Herron, Dan RB 78.91

We actually have Charles projected for 2 fewer points than Lynch, but if you play in multiple leagues you’ll probably want the Chiefs superstar when you land an early pick and don’t want to “reach” for Lynch. Be cognizant of RotoDoc’s piece documenting important red flags.

In this scenario we’re drafting at No. 2, and Alshon Jeffery emerges as the top receiver available late in Round 2. Justin Howe sees a mild uptick for Jeffery’s red zone performance after the departure of Brandon Marshall, while Kevin Cole plans to draft him in every league.6

I’ve preselected Jimmy Graham for this team because I agree with Amico’s argument that the Seahawks’ new offensive focal point is now undervalued. This is again a move to emphasize the starting lineup. After moving to Seattle, Graham’s value hinges more on TDs than receptions, making him a better fit in standard leagues.

I’m skeptical of T.J. Yeldon’s talent, but I didn’t want to blacklist him after Cole’s analysis suggested his ADP was fair and Amico’s report on his size/draft slot profile bolstered the case.

A supercharged version of Torrey Smith, I love DeSean Jackson for standard leagues and second Winn’s contention that the mercurial Washington star is wildly undervalued.

Scenario 4: Dez Bryant, Travis Kelce, and Trusting the Projections

Round Overall Conf. Based ADP Player POS Proj. Pts
1 5 7 Bryant, Dez WR 227.71
2 16 17 Nelson, Jordy WR 198.19
3 25 29 Gordon, Melvin RB 169.08
4 36 38 Murray, Latavius RB 159.72
5 45 46 Kelce, Travis TE 131.77
6 56 65 Blount, LeGarrette RB 146.41
7 65 69 Ivory, Chris RB 145.36
8 76 88 Smith, Torrey WR 143.45
9 85 97 Romo, Tony QB 350.53
10 96 100 Wright, Kendall WR 125.17
11 105 106 Brady, Tom QB 341.84
12 116 121 Quick, Brian WR 126.35
13 125 128 Williams, Terrance WR 113.77
14 136 180 Herron, Dan RB 78.91

Bryant comes in at No. 2 overall in terms of VBD for this format. He’s projected to be worth 52 points more than the average starting WR. A healthy Jordy Nelson could finish as the No. 1 receiver and if the Sims Scores were a person they could be accused of an unhealthy infatuation with the Packers’ veteran wideout.

Melvin Gordon comes with rookie risk and looks like he’ll come off the field in passing situations. Fortunately, he’s also a phenomenal talent and worthy of being placed in the conversation with the only man to gain more rushing yards in a college season. Latavius Murray is the No. 1 back in my list of 7 Breakout RBs You Must Own in 2015.

Travis Kelce carries more risk than Graham, but we have him with a superior projection (by decimal points). Whiskey Tango Foxtrot likes Kelce to explode this season and refers to the position as a barren hellscape, which again emphasizes why I strongly recommend getting a star for your starting lineup.

Final Thoughts

While our middle and late round picks remained the same – they look to be easily the most undervalued players in those ranges – there are no guarantees. I recommend varying your selections and emphasizing your own board. I also can’t recommend the Cheat Sheet Calculator and the Draft Optimizer highly enough. After you’ve entered your own “preselects” and “blacklists,” you may find you’ve constructed a roster very different and far better than what I’ve recommended here.

In BPA formats – and almost all standard and half-ppr leagues are some version of BPA – it can be crucially important to build your roster from the middle rounds out. In essence, whether you start RB-RB, WR-WR or any combination in between, that decision largely relies on what your board tells you about Rounds 5-8.

This is meant as a starting point for standard league discussion, not a final answer to the strategy question. Let me know your thoughts, ideas, and concerns in the comments.

If you liked the discussion of strategy elements in this piece, you might like Zero RB, Antifragility, and the Myth of Value-Based Drafting.

If you’re looking for players to target, I recommend The Top 10 Sleepers for 2015, The Top 15 Zero RB Candidates, The 8 Breakout WRs You Must Own for 2015, The 7 Breakout RBs to Target, and The Top 15 Deep Sleepers.

  1. Due to the nature of 10-team leagues, I chose to give equal weight to points above starter and points above replacement in building my board. You might choose to give even more weight to points above starter in this format.  (back)
  2. Contingency-based drafting applies to late round players who will see huge shifts in value, but it also applies to early round selections. How much needs to go right for a specific player to hit his projection? How much could go wrong and yet allow the player to still hold most of his value?  (back)
  3. As a result, our replacement baselines don’t need to be adjusted in order to make sure we have the right position at Flex.  (back)
  4. I was recently able to land Murray at 3.05 in a WR-heavy high-stakes ppr league.  (back)
  5. I’m not sure why so many people want Ryan Mallet involved here. I’m almost worried my personal version of PFR has been hacked, since it looks to me like Hoyer and Matt Ryan have the same career yards per attempt. And one of those guys has not spent his career throwing to Julio Jones and Roddy White.  (back)
  6. Jeffery doesn’t need to be quite as efficient as the rest of the top tier in order to return value at his likely target level.  (back)

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