I used to approach my Best-Ball leagues with not only a Zero RB mindset, but really a WR6x mindset. That’s because I wasn’t grabbing any early TEs unless they really fell beyond ADP, and took three in the later rounds instead.
Catchy taglines aside, I’ve come to realize over the past few weeks that I really should be drafting two TE1s (by positional ADP). For me, it’s not so much about using two TEs to win the Flex, but more just about overall roster construction and finding the edges that matter. More anecdotally, I also find that when I do use the two TE1 strategy, I love my roster. I’ll show you the evidence for the two TE1 strategy, and what the benefits are of doing so.
The first piece of evidence that struck me was our RotoViz staff projections from the Projection Machine. If we just take a look at the flex-able positions, one thing really stood out at me.
If you look at about ADP 37-120, which is the whole of Rounds 4-10, you’ll see the TE projections and the WR projections are basically inseparable, on average. In other words, assuming these projections are accurate, choosing a random WR or a random TE in these rounds should net you about the same number of points throughout the season.
To be sure it wasn’t just bias in the RotoViz groupthink, I plotted the same using Fantasy Football Analytics‘s composite projections, which they pull from multiple high-profile sites.
Sure enough, we see similar, although this time the ADP range is from about 25-108, or Rounds 3-9. If we take the intersection of the two ranges, we get rounds 4-9 that TEs align with WRs in points scored. Off the start, that means there’s little reason to take Rob Gronkowski, when at a similar ADP a WR offers more overall points and you can gain an edge at one of three WR spots compared to only one TE spot.
In the TE portion of my MFL10 series looking at historical trends in ADP vs. production, I touched on two metrics of accuracy. One is an absolute metric, the CV(RMSE), and the other a relative metric, the more widely familiar R-squared. The table below gives a brief synopsis of what I found:
The WR position leads in both categories.1 It has a slight edge in absolute accuracy (how close the projection is to the true value), while it shows a substantial increase in the relative accuracy. This can be seen in the plots above, where the WR and TE data points have similar deviation from the curve, but it happens over a wider range for the WR position (about 350 points down to 100) compared to the TE range (about 250 down to just under 100). More of the overall variation in points is explained at the WR position than the TE position.2
This means that it really is important to take WR first, because they are both absolutely and relatively more likely to hit their projection than the TE position. And not busting on the early-round picks matters a whole lot. This gives even more impetus to avoid Gronkowski near the 1/2 turn and wait until Rounds 4-9 for your two TEs.
Two TEs is Robust to Different Assumptions
Recently, A.J. Bessette and Greg Meade reprised their 2014 groundbreaking article Using Monte Carlo Simulation to Solve the Best-Ball Puzzle with a 2016 follow up doing much the same. In it, they used the current MFL10 format, incorporated 2014-2015 data, added an injury factor, and updated to reflect 2016 ADPs. Here’s what they found:
If you pick 1st-4th: WR RB RB TE RB WR WR TE QB WR WR QB RB WR QB WR WR DEF DEF DEF
If you pick 5th-12th: TE RB RB TE WR WR WR WR WR RB RB QB QB WR QB WR WR DEF DEF DEF
In both cases, they recommend two early-to-mid round TEs, and no more.
At the same time, I also ran my own Monte Carlo simulation, where I used slightly different assumptions from them (mainly in the distribution of points scored by position and ADP, but also with slight tweaks to the injury assumptions). Because I was concerned with putting up a top scoring lineup, I looked at the upside for determining roster construction and found that two TEs plus either a WR or RB in Rounds 4-6 gave the most upside after a WR-WR-WR or a 2 WR + 1 RB start in Rounds 1-3 when drafting from the early portion of Round 1.
When drafting from the later portion of Round 1, TE-TE-TE in Rounds 4-6 was the optimal structure, followed by 2 RB + 1 TE, followed by two TEs plus either a WR or RB. In other words, three of the four top combos had at least 2 TEs in Rounds 4-6 when drafting from the latter half of Round 1.
The simulations added fuel to the fire from earlier, and I had a legitimate strategy to work with.
Summarizing the Two TE1 Strategy and Why it Works
The strategy I’m recommending is grabbing two TEs in Rounds 4-9. The nice thing is, this is agnostic to how you start your draft. You can start WR5 or 6x, you can employ a traditional Zero RB approach where you start WR-WR-WR-TE-WR, or you can even grab two TE1s immediately after your Robust RB start. Either way, two TE1s are usually available for the taking in the early-mid rounds.
Looking at Best-Ball ADP, at the time of this writing Antonio Gates is going off the board at pick 111 as the TE12 — the last TE1 by ADP. This is pick 10.03, meaning the first nine rounds almost perfectly encompass the TE1 range.
What this strategy allows us to do is grab three QBs and three DEFs as suggested by the simulations — as well as by Shawn Siegele — to optimize our chances of winning those singleton positions. We can also grab either an eighth WR or a fifth RB. Like QB and DEF, both the simulations and Siegele agree, it’s probably better to stick with four RBs and diversify RBs across leagues than within a league by grabbing a fifth RB. Doing so lets you pick an eighth WR late, when they once again tend to outscore the TE position on average. This gives you added ammo to help you win one of three WR slots plus the Flex.
I recently completed a two TE1 roster that was also Zero RB and Late-Round QB to complete the trio of catchy draft strategies. Here’s how it shook out:
I started WR-WR-WR before grabbing arguably the most valuable player in the MFL10 universe, Jordan Reed. I added two more WRs before capping off my TE picks with Delanie Walker in the seventh. I ended up with three QBs, one of whom is stacked with two pass catchers (Matthew Stafford with Marvin Jones and Theo Riddick).
My late WR picks included a potential WR1 on his team in Steve Smith, a rookie with massive weekly upside in Will Fuller, and Robust RB target Bruce Ellington. I also grabbed four Zero RB candidates from Shawn Siegele’s top 15 Zero RB countdown in DeAndre Washington, Buck Allen, C.J. Prosise, and Theo Riddick.
I think this is totally fine for a running back quartet. After all, Ben Gretch showed you can tread water with only three sub-50 end of year RBs, so four Zero RB candidates with upside should fare even better.
And this is all possible because the two TE1 strategy allows you to create a roster with upside, that can help you win every position along the way to what is hopefully a nice MFL10 payday.