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2019 MFL10 of Death and the Best Ball Workshop: Top Picks According to the Roster Construction Explorer

The 2019 MFL10 of Death kicked off yesterday, and Patrick Thorman’s brainchild again provides a murderer’s row of competition. As Shawn Siegele tries to defend his title, he’ll use the Fanball Roster Construction Explorer, the Fanball ADP Dashboard, the RotoViz Screener, and the staff rankings to build out his early round strategy. In this edition of the Best Ball Workshop, he breaks down some of the key tactics for the start of drafts and provides a variety of picks packages for different draft slots.

Receiving the MFL10 of Death invite from Pat is always one of my favorite days of the fantasy year. It’s a privilege to compete against my personal favorites in the analyst community, folks like Evan Silva, Rich Hribar, Denny Carter, J.J. Zachariason, Mike Clay, Rumford Johnny, Ryan Forbes, Sigmund Bloom, and Scott Barrett. This year, Mike Beers joins the field and makes the competition that much more difficult. A legend in the best ball community, Mike is also the mind behind our suite of best ball apps. If you’ve explored those features, you’ll understand why he may be the early favorite.

When I put together a plan of attack for any given league, I place a strong emphasis on marrying format tactics with player selection. In Lesson 8, we looked at the positional combinations that have been most effective through the first two rounds. Today we’ll take that intelligence and examine the early-round opportunities provided when we contrast our rankings and Screener projections with Fanball ADP.

Early-Round Tactics

When we examined positional combinations through the first two rounds, a balanced approach was superior, and RB/WR got the overall nod.1

Win Rates 2015-2018 Win Rates 2017-2018
RB/WR 9.1 9.1
WR/RB 8.8 8.8
RB/RB 8.5 8.6

On the other hand, we have two complicating pieces of information. Historically, the first WR off the board has a very high win rate – making DeAndre Hopkins an appealing choice – and a Zero RB approach has a very high win rate, especially when that Zero RB approach emphasizes the lessons from the TE Workshop.

For owners who have specific player targets early, this is encouraging. It’s difficult to make selections in the first two rounds that can’t be redeemed by subsequent tactical choices, giving you plenty of flexibility to grab your favorite players in the first and second rounds.

Target Players and Picks Packages

When putting together my personal board, I like to emphasize multiple sources that serve to fill out different elements of player projection. For this exercise, we’re going to use Fanball ADP, our staff rankings, and the RotoViz Screener.

ADP helps us in two ways, letting us know how the market values players and also providing a sense of where players are going to go in any given draft. It tells us who will be available, how we might create synergy between our first two picks, and when we might want to dip down into the Round 3 pool.

The Screener is a fantastic source for stats, both regular and advanced. It allows you to translate opportunity directly into fantasy points through the Expected Points feature, and it allows you to split out all of those stats by down, by field position, by week, even by quarter. Because it’s such a good source when you’re searching for information on players, it’s easy to forget that it also allows you create your own projections for the upcoming season. You can investigate the relationships between different stats and find the metrics with the most predictive value for what you’re trying to project.

For this exercise, I’ve used the Screener to create quick per-game projections for RB, WR, and TE. The Screener doesn’t know about changes in situation. It doesn’t know about Todd Gurley’s knee or David Johnson’s new offense, but it helps us calibrate our expectations before we begin to make those adjustments.

PlayerADPRV RankingScreener Rank
Saquon Barkley1.212
Ezekiel Elliott2.754
Christian McCaffrey2.723
Alvin Kamara3.639
DeAndre Hopkins645
Melvin Gordon6.61110
David Johnson7.71038
Davante Adams8.786
Todd Gurley9.261
Le'Veon Bell10.413NA
Michael Thomas11.378
James Conner12.11612
Travis Kelce13.21417
Julio Jones13.6157
Odell Beckham14.5915
Joe Mixon152218
JuJu Smith-Schuster16.51211
Dalvin Cook18.52035
Antonio Brown19.32114
Nick Chubb20.82949
Mike Evans20.91813
Zach Ertz21.51727
George Kittle23.41916
Keenan Allen252420
Adam Thielen25.12719
T.Y. Hilton26.72823
Leonard Fournette27.74243
Amari Cooper29.32529
Damien Williams30.126NA
A.J. Green30.43228
Stefon Diggs31.32321

Red Flags

Since most of the players available in the first two rounds are very appealing, sometimes the easiest way to start the process is simply to eliminate the small handful of land mines. Perhaps we cut players who are going earlier than both our staff ranking and the projection rank.

Player ADP RV Ranking Screener Rank
Ezekiel Elliott 2.7 5 4
Melvin Gordon 6.6 11 10
David Johnson 7.7 10 38
Travis Kelce 13.2 14 17
Joe Mixon 15 22 18
Dalvin Cook 18.5 20 35
Nick Chubb 20.8 29 49
  • Ezekiel Elliott is a strong pick who makes the list merely due to sky-high expectations. He should be taken after Christian McCaffrey but finds himself in a virtual dead heat with Alvin Kamara and DeAndre Hopkins.
  • The staff likes David Johnson, Dalvin Cook, and Nick Chubb more than their 2018 numbers justify on the surface, but each offers a compelling thesis for a jump. Johnson could return closer to his 2016 form in a better offense. Cook may be ready to join the elite if he can remain healthy in a more RB-centric scheme, and Chubb appears ready for a second-year leap. We’re still not as enthusiastic as ADP, which prices in most of the upside and little of the risk.
  • Using this method eliminates six RBs, one TE, and no WRs. The running back position has been historically overvalued. It was in 2018, helping to explain why Zero RB had a win rate above 14%,2 and it is again in 2019.

RB1 Selected After Round 5 – 2018

The overvaluing of RBs limits our flexibility, but we see the impact more in Round 2 where we now have no options left. As we put our picks packages together, we must balance what we know about Zero RB – it’s returned excellent win rates in both 2015 and 2018 and ADP is setting up for that to be the case again – against our knowledge that RB/WR has been the best two-round start and WR/WR has been the worst.

The Recommendations

Player ADP RV Ranking Screener Rank
DeAndre Hopkins 6 4 5
Davante Adams 8.7 8 6
Todd Gurley 9.2 6 1
Michael Thomas 11.3 7 8
JuJu Smith-Schuster 16.5 12 11
Mike Evans 20.9 18 13
George Kittle 23.4 19 16
Keenan Allen 25 24 20
Stefon Diggs 31.3 23 21

Michael Thomas, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Mike Evans are the three clearest values when you look at our rankings and the Screener projections.3 Thomas makes for a perfect selection to pair with Julio Jones or Odell Beckham for Zero RB drafters, while Smith-Schuster and Evans represent crazy values for those who grabbed an RB in Round 1.4

The TE Complication

History offers us both encouragement and warning when it comes to selecting TEs early. Elite TEs have been clear league winners, but only when the cost doesn’t creep into the first two rounds. Of course, we’re dealing with a very limited sample of individual player-seasons. The Screener is still skeptical of Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz at ADP, but gives its stamp of approval to George Kittle.

We should also try to see the big picture. Kittle drafters are likely to come from the first five overall draft slots who pick again in the 20 to 24 range. Those drafters could select a WR instead, but the players to target – according to our rankings and the Screener projections – are Keenan Allen and Stefon Diggs. It makes little sense to avoid TE just because second-rounders have performed poorly when you can grab your preferred WR in Round 3.

What Actually Happened

Heading into MFL10 of Death VI, I pre-drafted Kamara and Hopkins for my slot at No. 4 overall. Elliott was drafted at No. 3, allowing Kamara to fall and breaking my string of Zero RB drafts. It felt deeply wrong to move away from an approach that delivered such sterling results over the last four years,5 but as I continue to write and research from the perspective of an active participant in these formats, I want my tactics to reflect the lessons from the Best Ball Workshop.

Drafting an RB in Round 1 followed by a fleet of WRs has been an extremely successful approach with a win rate over 10.5%.

RB1 Selected in Round 1, RB2 Selected After Round 6 (2015-2018)

That jumped to 14.2% in 2018 with the combination of silly RB ADPs and the rebound in WR scoring. This approach also offers quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to offensive structure within the NFL. It was very effective during the RB Renaissance of 2016 and again successful during the WR bounceback last year. It allows you to take advantage of the scary point totals posted by the uber-backs while also benefiting as NFL coaches improve their creativity in the passing game.

With Kamara on the roster, Kittle was my Round 2 target unless Jones, Beckham, or Evans dropped. Then Diggs or Allen would ideally begin a long stretch of WR selections.6 Evans lasted until pick 21, but none of the elite TEs dropped to me in Round 3. Beers snagged the last of them, landing a tremendous value in Ertz at 3.02.

As the MFL10 of Death continues, we’ll dive deeper into the Roster Construction Explorer, building out a roster with flexibility and upside. We’ll look at the craziest picks and the most creative approaches. This is always one of the most fun leagues to follow as it moves into the middle rounds. We’ve already had two huge surprise picks at the beginning of the draft. Stay tuned for that and more in Part 2.

Catch up on the previous lessons and turn your best ball drafts into a money machine.

Lesson 1: Owners Are Taking the Wrong Lesson from 2018 Player Win Rates
Lesson 2: Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz Want You to Stop Giving Away This Big TE Advantage
Lesson 3: QB Is More Important Than You Realize and Easy to Exploit
Lesson 4: Best Ball Owners Are Abandoning the Dominant Defense Approach in Record Numbers
Lesson 5: You Really Can Ride These Simple ‘Onesie’ Tactics to a Best Ball Title
Lesson 6: Deploy These 8 Players to Execute Our Tactical Plan So Far
Lesson 7: Zero RB or RB-Heavy? Shocking Results from the Roster Construction Explorer
Lesson 8: RB-Heavy Will Kill Your Best Ball Results, But There Is an Early Round Perfect for RBs

Image Credit: Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Alvin Kamara.

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  1. We looked only at RBs and WRs, as QB and TE picks in the first two rounds have a very low win rate. This may change in 2019 with the rise of the elite TEs. Owners are drafting that way, with three TEs going in Round 2.  (back)
  2. It’s perhaps surprising that almost 1,000 owners waited until at least Round 6 to select their first RB last year. More than 3,000 waited out the first four rounds, and those owners won at a 13.1% rate.  (back)
  3. Gurley can be an uncomfortable selection with his injury concerns, and we’ll discuss George Kittle in a moment.  (back)
  4. Or for Zero RB owners who began with Hopkins or Davante Adams.  (back)
  5. I went RB-heavy in Year 1 before returning to my Zero RB roots for the last four, the results of which were 1st, 2nd, 1st, and 1st.  (back)
  6. Allen, Thielen, and Hilton sit at 24, 25, and 26 in my personal rankings. I eventually selected Hilton over the other two for this league.  (back)

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