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RotoViz Roundtable: Roster Construction and Structural Drafting

It’s time for another RotoViz Roundtable. Welcome back! Last week we talked about rankings and projections; this week we’re tackling another staple of fantasy football drafting: roster construction and structural drafting.

Brian Malone: Ben, you recently released a podcast episode on the subject, so let’s start with you: what’s structural drafting?

Ben Gretch: Thanks, Brian. Glad to be here. First time, long time. Structural drafting is essentially predetermining how much draft capital you want to spend on various positions, before knowing where “value” might lie in that particular draft. That can be areas of a draft or budget ranges in an auction. The alternative is drafting purely on what value presents itself, which of course leaves you at the whim of your opponents. A big point I tried to drive home in my podcast is you can still be flexible while implementing structure in your drafts. You’re not required to pick a single structure beforehand and stick with it, and it’s a good idea to have a couple different structures in mind before you begin.

Brian: Anyone want to add to that definition? Or roundly criticize it?

Anthony Amico: Another reason to prefer structure to the value route is that “value” is somewhat fragile. We think we know where the good value is, but it’s predicated on our ability to project players. We simply aren’t good at that.

Brian: Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose you’re trying to create the most profitable fantasy football drafter you can. Right now, he ranks in the 50th percentile for player projections, 50th percentile for structural drafting, and 50th percentile for draft awareness — ability to analyze league mates’ behavior, predict positional runs, etc. You get to allocate another 50 percentage points to his profile, distributed however you like. How much do you add to each category?

Shawn Siegele: I would add most of the points to structural drafting, because the edges from the other areas are meaningful but small, and understanding the most valuable ways to structure a draft also have a large impact on the way you set your board that go beyond the value of projections. You often hear owners/experts talk about “following your board,” and I understand what this is trying to convey – take advantage of the way your projections intersect with the draft awareness component – but it tends to ignore the crucial point, which is that everyone is actually following his/her board. The question is how to set that board in the first place.

Anthony: For that reason I think I would add all the points to player projections. It isn’t realistic, but in this fictional scenario, the absolute best person at projecting players probably has a relatively significant advantage. You’d be able to avoid many of the pitfalls with “just take the best players” because those players would actually be good. But I agree that structural drafting is probably the area of most practical importance.

Nick Giffen: I’m not sure I’d add to player projections, because there are things you can’t project. Namely, injuries, coaching decisions, behavioral issues, etc. And that’s the premise of structure based drafting. It’s resilient to errors in things we can’t project. Either in a robust way, or an antifragile way like Zero RB is. I’m biased, because I’ve always been a structural drafter. So I’d add most to structure and some to draft awareness. I think as Ben points out at the top, you can be flexible in your structure based off how the draft pans out. I recommended this in my structure-based TE article, to have three structures in mind depending on how the draft plays out.

Ben: I love this question. The idea of a 50th percentile drafter in all those components fascinates me. My inclination was very similar to Shawn’s – I was thinking I’d go 99th percentile structural drafting. But I do hear Amico’s point, and being average at structuring your draft wouldn’t kill you if you had a demonstrable edge in the most difficult aspect. I think I’d ignore adding any to draft awareness. I’m of the mind being average at this is fine.

Nick: I’m curious why you wouldn’t add to awareness, since right at the top you mentioned being flexible with your draft. Awareness is like the No. 1 trait in Madden!

Ben: Haha, great question. I think there are diminishing returns. Sometimes your opponents do illogical things. Predicting positional runs can be really helpful, but as long as you can be flexible to the obvious ones, I think you’re probably fine. I think there’s a lot more value add to the pre-planning, essentially.

Brian: Let’s talk specifics: summarize your approach to structural drafting in five words or fewer.

Anthony: Zero RB with awesome TEs

Nick: Structure to your league format

Shawn: I want the Brian special on this one.

Brian: WRs early; RBs often

Ben: “Whatever Gets Me Stefon Diggs”

Brian: Ha!

Shawn: Create many paths to victory.

(For example, in an NFFC draft the other day, I had the 1.01 and selected a personal favorite in the consensus top pick, David Johnson. This is one of the areas we’ve said it makes sense to consider abandoning Zero RB, although Antonio Brown is also a strong choice. Unfortunately, the entire second tier of RBs was wiped out between 2.05 and 2.11. I selected another RB for what is an extremely unusual RB-RB start.1 But as the draft progressed, I was the second owner to reach 5 WRs and I reached 7 before any other owner had 6. This allowed me to pick off 7 WRs in the priority area of the Air Yards Projections and still accomplish my structural objectives. The goal in any fantasy draft is to create as many potential paths to victory as possible while simultaneously decreasing your reliance on any one scenario, even if it seems “most likely.”)

Brian: Shawn, you can’t avoid the five-word limit just by using parentheses.

Anthony: I really like Ben’s idea. A general rule of thumb for me is to select players who can outperform their draft slot by at least two rounds. Guys in the first two rounds have to have league-winning upside. This gets back to why we prefer structure in the first place; our ability to project is relatively poor. Taking “safe” options usually fails.

Brian: Nick, want to expand on “Structure to your league format”?

Nick: The longer explanation is sort of win the flex based, but you need to know your format to decide what structure to use. I used a robust TE structure in SFB7 because it made the most sense to me, especially given the drop off at the position. The goal is to win, so I take structural-based approaches that I think give me the most upside — with format in mind

Brian: What are some factors that will push you away from your approach? Anthony, let’s start with you here.

Anthony: I’m pretty stubborn, and I do believe in a process over everything, so I generally stick to a structure 90 percent of the time. That 10 percent is comprised of extreme scenarios where I’m pushed completely off players I want or cannot obtain them. For instance, I love Pierre Garcon. If I was forced to take him in the third or fourth I probably would. But in a draft where he goes in the third before I can get him, it’s a good indicator I need to shift gears.

Ben: It’s a difficult one to parse, because my default plan and the adjustments I’m making — at least this season — aren’t significantly different. I’m taking a lot of WRs in Rounds 2-7. I’m mixing in at least one top eight or nine TE. In a draft last night, I took Zeke in the 3rd round after a WR-WR start. I will be flexible. But immediately after that I went WR or TE for a number of rounds. So if we’re saying a very specific structure, I’ll deviate fairly frequently, but won’t deviate far. But I’m within one or two selections of my default in probably 90 percent of leagues.

Brian: I’m so jealous of you getting Elliott in the third.

Brian: Last call. If you could ensure that readers leave this with one takeaway, what would it be?

Anthony: My final thought is just to not think of structure as something that has to be overly rigid. Ben made a great point in saying that he’s generally looking to do x and y, and there are lot of different ways a draft plan can materialize. Structural drafting doesn’t mean not being flexible, it means being flexible within the scheme of your draft plan: “These are my draft goals, and I will be flexible to meet these goals in the most optimal way.”

Nick: Use all the tools at your disposal to find a set of structures that works best for the format you’re playing with. Be flexible, but don’t just resort to picking players without a structure in mind, unless you’re one of the best player and situational evaluators out there.

  1. For me.  (back)

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