Fantasy Football Strategy: Using the Default Site Ranks to Your Advantage
Training camps are open, players are reporting (or in the cases of Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, and Michael Thomas – not reporting), other players are already catching the injury bug (I’m looking at you, Giants wide receiver room!), and fantasy drafts are right around the corner.
One sad aspect of today’s fantasy football world is that fewer and fewer drafts are being held in person. Live drafting is absolutely one of the most exciting aspects of this game that is lost when drafting via your mobile device. Drafting online is convenient, but there is an art to live, in-person drafting. In an online draft room, everyone is looking at the same default player list. There is no chance for your opponents to overlook a player that might be slipping down the draft list – their name will be front and center. Where owners for an in-person draft need to prepare a draft sheet, owners drafting online can still get a slight advantage by identifying the default sites rankings biases.
We’ve all been there. Your pick is on the clock and a name at the top of the “best available” players is staring you down, begging you to pick them. This is one of the most obvious, yet highly overlooked aspects of drafting online; the psychological effect of seeing a player’s name at the top of the site’s draft list. If you’re a subscriber to the Fantasy Footballers Ultimate Draft Kit (UDK), you’ll quickly recognize a few things. First and foremost is that you’re gaining access to a ranking list from three of the most consistently accurate rankers in the business. Andy (5th), Jason (9th), and Mike (19th) all finished inside the top-20 out of over 120 rankers according to FantasyPros.com in 2018. The guys had similar results back in 2017 as well.
When comparing player rankings from the UDK to the default rankings on the most common draft platforms, you’ll often find that the UDK, and more granularly, each of Andy, Mike, or Jason, will differ significantly from the draft platforms. So while your league mates may be cruising into the draft without a cheat sheet, intent on using only the site’s draft board, you can use that information against them to build out your team.
Below I will be highlighting a handful of players where the Ballers Consensus UDK ranking is the highest or lowest compared the following draft platforms: ESPN, Yahoo!, Sleeperbot, and NFL.com. Please keep in mind that these ranks were pulled a few days before the end of July and things change fast at this time of the year. This article is designed to highlight a few specific players along with a broader focus of using this concept while doing your pre-draft research. Additionally, I am not looking for a 1-2 spot variance of the top 10 talent, nor huge swings at the lowest rankings. The focus here is on players in the ever-important middle of the draft, Rounds 4-12.
Jared Goff – Through the first 11 Weeks of 2018, Jared Goff was the QB2 in Fantasy Football. The Rams have a plethora of weapons and minimal team turnover from 2018, an often overlooked aspect of Fantasy Football analysis. Existing rapport with Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods along with the return of Cooper Kupp make the passing game a triple-threat to any defense. Add in Todd Gurley and rookie Darrell Henderson providing a ground-game that must be respected and opposing teams will have to pick their poison against the Rams and Jared Goff in 2019. Ranking in at QB9 for the Ballers, you won’t see him pop-up on the draft lists of ESPN and Yahoo! Until QB13, which could be almost two rounds worth of QB’s being drafted.
Josh Allen – Just when Jared Goff fell out of the QB2 slot for 2018, another young-gun took it over. From Week 12 on, Josh Allen was the QB2 in Fantasy Football. The Bills passing game looks a little better in 2019 and another year under Allen’s belt is sure to provide some more confidence in the pocket. Allen is the Ballers QB10 for 2019, while only NFL.com has him inside the top 20 (17th). On ESPN, Yahoo! And Sleeper, you won’t see his name hit the top of the list until 20-23 other QBs have come off the board.
Sam Darnold – On the flipside of Jared Goff and Josh Allen, the Ballers are much lower on second-year signal caller Sam Darnold. His 2018 fantasy production was not quite as good as his “real NFL” production for a rookie, but the draft platforms are presenting him to drafters as early as QB21, where the Ballers have him all the way down at QB26.
Kerryon Johnson – The 2018 rookie had some nice games and accumulated a very respectable 5.4 yards per carry. The Lions replaced LeGarrette Blount with the 2018 playoff darling, C.J. Anderson, but make no mistake this is Johnson’s backfield. The Ballers’ have high expectations as a high-end RB2, ranking him as RB15. NFL.com seems to think he’s closer to a flex play, ranking him down at RB22.
Kenyan Drake – This is one of those times where rankings may change significantly over the pre-season. The Ballers’ are highest on Drake, dropping him at RB19 on their UDK Rankings, whereas Yahoo! Is the next highest at RB23. NFL.com has him all the way down at RB27. Where the Dolphins offense is projecting to be one of the lower scoring teams in 2019, Drake’s off-season expectations were for him to lead the way. That was until Kalen Balage opened training camp taking first-team reps over Drake. I expect Drakes rankings to be all over the place, but for now, he won’t be showing up on default draft lists until most owners are drafting their RB3s.
Derrick Henry/Dion Lewis – This is a case of teammates having very different projections across the various draft platforms and the UDK. Without looking at the exact projections, the UDK rankings indicate a closer touch distribution than some other sites. The Ballers rank Derrick Henry down at RB20, where Yahoo! Has him all the way up at RB13! On the flip side of that touch distribution, the Ballers’ are the highest on Henry’s running mate, Dion Lewis, ranking him as RB38. Considering how high Yahoo! was on Henry, I expected them to be down on Lewis, but they are second highest on Lewis at RB44. Sleeperbot apparently has zero interest in Lewis, ranking him at RB54. NFL.com is not much more confident, ranking him RB52. If you believe in Lewis, you can really exploit the fact that his name won’t be showing up at the top of any draft lists until the very end of your draft.
Peyton Barber / Ronald Jones – Much like the Titans backfield, there is a lot of uncertainty in Tampa Bay. After an absolutely disastrous rookie campaign, reports out of camp have been glowing for the second-year back, Ronald Jones. At the same time, beat-writers are stating that they expect Peyton Barber to play a “near every-down role”. The Buccaneers duo is one of the biggest disparities between the major draft platforms and the Ballers UDK. The Ballers are ranking Peyton Barber as the primary RB to target, coming in at RB31. Conversely, they have little faith in Jones’ making a second-year leap, ranking him RB65. ESPN and NFL.com rank Barber and Jones side-by-side (40/41 and 37/38 respectively), indicating they have no idea what to do with this duo. Both Yahoo! and Sleeperbot believe that Jones is the better draft selection. If you’re following the UDK and believe in Peyton Barber, you won’t see him show up on those platforms until the RB50’s!
Tyler Boyd – After a mini-breakout in his third year in the NFL, Tyler Boyd got paid to the tune of 4 years and $43M, which is a solid paycheck for a WR that is not the primary target on his team. Or is he? Running mate AJ Green had another injury-plagued season, and the Ballers’ UDK has Boyd just two slots behind Green, at WR19. On all the major platforms, you won’t see Boyd’s name hit the top of the list until 25 WRs have been drafted, and in Yahoo!’s eyes, WR31.
Dante Pettis – Second-year WR Dante Pettis has plenty of upside in the San Francisco offense, as he is likely to lead the WR room in targets from high-profile QB Jimmy Garoppolo in the infamous Shanahan offense. The Ballers’ UDK ranking of WR28 is only two spots better than Sleeperbot, but a solid 10+ slots above ESPN and Yahoo!
Albert Wilson – Much like the notes on Kenyan Drake, there is minimal excitement about the Miami offense. While no one really knows how everything will shake out until we hit Week 1, the Ballers’ are the highest on Wilson at WR44, projecting him as the leading Dolphin WR. Only ESPN ranks Wilson inside the top 65, coming in at WR62. In most 10-12 teams leagues, that means Wilson is one of the last players drafted, if at all. Yahoo! and Sleeperbot have him all the way down at WR75. Even if the Dolphins offense is a dumpster fire, taking a Round 14 swing at the projected target leader is worth it.
Corey Davis – The 5th overall pick of the 2017 draft, Davis has not lived up to his hype. Injuries to both him and QB Marcus Mariota on top of a run-heavy approach limited Davis’ upside. Now the Titans’ added many draft analyst’s top WR prospect in AJ Brown. It’s easy to understand the Ballers’ UDK ranking of WR46. However, the rest of the draft platforms are ranking him in the 30s, with Yahoo! the most aggressive at WR30. You can feel confident that your leaguemates will be getting psyched into over drafting him when he’s on the top of the list for a couple of rounds.
N’Keal Harry – The prospect of the exciting rookie catching passes from Tom Brady has some of the draft sites excited, with NFL.com ranking him all the way up at WR37. Rookie pass catchers are often highly volatile week-to-week and even more so in New England’s offense. The Ballers’ are not over-drafting the rookie, ranking him at WR61
Vance McDonald – What happens when you ship Antonio Brown and his 160+ targets out of town and only add Donte Moncrief? The Ballers’ are projecting at least some of those targets to go to the TE and Vance McDonald, ranking him in at TE6. All the other sites have him 3 slots lower at TE9, except Yahoo!, who really doesn’t see McDonald as a weekly starter, ranking him TE14.
Tyler Eifert – It’s easy to understand why most drafters and draft platforms will shy away from Tyler Eifert, who has played just 14 games in the past three seasons, and just six games in the past two years. But Eifert has a ton of upside and the Ballers’ are willing to take some risk in the TE2 ranks, dropping Eifert in at TE19. Both Yahoo! and NFL.com have him all the way down at TE28. If you’re drafting on those platforms and believe in not using early draft capital on a TE, you can easily wait until the last few rounds to draft Eifert for his upside and feel confident his name won’t even appear on anyone’s draft list before TE23.
Noah Fant – Repeat after me: “Rookie TEs’ don’t produce fantasy stats.” It’s super rare. The narrative around Broncos’ rookie TE Noah Fant is that Joe Flacco loves TEs, yada, yada, yada. Regardless, there are better options than Sleeperbots’ TE19. The Ballers’ UDK is more realistic at TE24.
While many of these rankings will change over the next few weeks, there will always be big variations between draft platform rankings. Whenever possible, use these default rankings to your advantage and let your leaguemates get suckered into drafting someone simply because they were at the top of the default list.