How to Win the Flex in 2019: Zero RB Is Set Up to Dominate Fantasy Drafts Yet Again
Image Credit: Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sports. Pictured: DeAndre Hopkins.

The Flex position is arguably the most important position in fantasy because it’s one of the easiest positions to generate more value over average than your opponents. Whatever strategy fits your particular league format, that strategy should be based on putting an elite player in the Flex position.

That’s a quote from Shawn Siegele’s original article explaining why the Flex position wins championships. “Win the Flex” has since become a clarion call for RotoViz faithfuls, and one of the main reasons for this is that winning the Flex so often dovetails with one of our favorite draft strategies.1 Winning the Flex meshes so well with Zero RB because both ideas are focused on scoring a lot of points, which at the end of the day is what you really should be trying to do (at least if you want to win fantasy titles).

That sounds trivial and obvious, but it turns out that not all draft strategies are actually optimized for scoring fantasy points. Our new Win the Flex tool makes this clear.

The basic idea behind the tool is to get a sense of how many fantasy points we should expect a player to score based purely on positional ADP. How much does the first running back drafted typically score? How much does the 10th RB drafted typically score? By looking at historical fantasy points scored based on ADP we automatically account for projection error while also taking advantage of the wisdom of crowds. The projections aren’t what you’d expect to see for the top-ranked players at each position, but that’s because they’re aware of how often we get things wrong. These projections don’t assume ADP is a perfect predictor. Rather, they only assume that the future is going to look roughly like the past.

Zero RB has worked in the past in part because RBs have been consistently overvalued. And 2019 is shaping up to be no different. Based on current ADP and using the last two seasons to build the model, WRs should be expected to outscore RBs nearly across the board until after pick 100.

In fact, unless you have the first pick in the draft, the goal of maximizing total points would have you choosing a wide receiver at ADP with every pick until about Round 9.2 You can see this even more clearly by looking at the equity chart.

Equity is a concept FantasyDouche introduced that measures the differences between a player’s overall ADP rank and their rank in total points based on ADP projections.3

Whereas every RB in the first 100 picks, outside of the RB1 by ADP, is expected to underperform their ADP rank, Every WR in the first 100 picks is expected to outperform their ADP rank.

This gets flipped on its head after pick 100, where RBs begin to outperform WRs. The margin looks slim in the projection chart, but the equity chart shows just what a value RBs in Rounds 9-12 are. This is consistent with a lot of recent research we’ve done, both on rookie RBs in particular, and all RBs in general. And it fits with Shawn’s findings in his excellent Best Ball Workshop series that indicate a 1-Elite RB construction produces huge results even if you don’t take another RB at all until Round 9.

What About Value Based Drafting?

Strict value-based drafting doesn’t really work in the most common fantasy formats. The Win the Flex tool proves the point. Flip on the VBD baselines and you’ll be able to set your minimum starting lineup requirements to match your league, and then see what position you should really be starting in the Flex slot in your league. If we stick with the ubiquitous 1-QB, 2-RB, 3-WR, 1-TE construction, a curious thing happens — apart from the very first pick, RBs are never a value at any point in the draft and should never be considered for the Flex slot.

Some fantasy managers get to the end of a draft without a defense, or a kicker, or even a QB or TE. In shallow leagues it’s easy enough to find streaming options and waiver wire additions who can fill in or even become every-week starters. But if you go through your draft just picking the player with the most value above replacement, unless you have the first overall pick, you’d end up with a literal zero-RB squad. In fact, you’d likely draft multiple QBs and TEs, but no RBs.

Of course, nobody is following these value-based guidelines so strictly. But the takeaway remains the same: whether you look at it from a VBD standpoint or just a score-the-most-points standpoint, the RB position is massively overvalued again in 2019. Conditions are still ideal for Zero RB. If the goal is to put an elite player in the Flex position in order to generate more value over average than your opponents, then Zero RB is (almost) compulsory.

Image Credit: Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sports. Pictured: DeAndre Hopkins.
  1. You know the one.  (back)
  2. We’re ignoring quarterback and tight end for now, though including them in the chart does add some interesting wrinkles.  (back)
  3. FD originally called it VALUE, but as you’ll see below the idea of value has slightly different, though entirely consistent, implications.  (back)

Blair Andrews

Managing Editor, Author of The Wrong Read, Occasional Fantasy Football League Winner. All opinions are someone else's.
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