The Thinking Behind Tier-Based Rankings & Drafting (Fantasy Football)

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Come draft day every year my dining room table looks like a scene out of “Minority Report.” You know the one – where Tom Cruise is swiping screens at a frantic rate, zooming in and out. I have all my electronic devices up and open with relevant pages bookmarked, printed off graphs and charts, and some barely legible scrawls on the backs of receipts. And once the draft starts, cue the frantic crossing off of players and their equivalent ADPs in the hopes of not missing out on that specific running back when the draft falls to me late in the evening.

Who can relate? There has got to be a better way.

Enter the tier system.

 I first really integrated the tier system into my drafts last year, and what a difference it made. The Footballers are huge fans of tier-based rankings, and utilizing them in your draft process; it is the cornerstone of the Ultimate Draft Kit. Not only does tier-based drafting give you a much better overview of your targeted team and the draft in general, but it also works for every scoring format.

Our editor-in-chief Kyle gave a quick rundown in his review of the UDK, so let’s first revisit exactly what tier-based rankings entail. Instead of simply listing players in a draft order from 1-to-50, players with similarly anticipated season results are grouped together in tiers. This helps you visualize the draft board and understand where the breaks in value among clusters of players occur.

The Name of the Game is Value

Let’s say you are eyeing your RB depth in the middle rounds, but the best player available via traditional ADP rankings is a WR when the draft falls to you. What do you do? With tiers, you can look at WRs and see that after this player goes off the board, the receivers available drop down to a group where you do not really love anyone available. Conversely, with the RBs you are eyeing, you see that there are at least three other backs in that specific tier that would pay dividends in the same way, and you would have the same level of comfort drafting. At that point, even though you feel like you “need” to take an RB there, the tiers tell you your best chance at getting value for your pick is to select a WR.

We have all been a part of that position run. Where two or three people in a row draft an RB, and everyone starts to panic. With owners drafting the same position out of fear, the trend continues out of fear that there will be no one left at that position. Then you are up to draft, and the clock starts ticking. Instead of panicking, utilize your tiers and select the best value players to you, understanding where that gap in value lies. This allows you to keep yourself in control of your draft and not let the draft control you, diminishing the chance of you chasing a position. Use the poor timing of other panic-prone owners to steer yourself to better value. Let’s look at this illustrated below. We are mid-draft and in the tier 5 range with RBs. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Najee Harris, D’Andre Swift, and David Montgomery get taken – a classic run on a position.

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Meanwhile, as owners are grabbing RBs, Justin Jefferson is sitting there on the draft board, all alone in his own tier. You personally do not love the tier 4 WRs, but you are fine with drafting any of those tier 5 RBs. Take advantage of that run, draft Justin Jefferson, and bask in the afterglow, knowing you got the best value at that specific moment in the draft.

This technique is especially valuable in the later rounds of drafts when looking at players that you hope to have an upside that you will get lucky enough to capitalize on during the season. We have all had that moment in the later rounds when another owner swoops in and takes someone you had been eyeing to hopefully hit that breakout year, and you had forgotten to draft him. You will not feel like you lost out on one specific player by using tiers, as you will be targeting similar groups of players with comparable upsides.

Bullet Point It For Me

 So, you are convinced and ready to draft using tiers this season. What are some keys to this draft philosophy to remember when you are on the clock?

  • Decide which tier you are comfortable at for each position, at least for your starters. This can be different for every position. Remember, you might be at ease with a tier 5 QB, but only a tier 3 WR.
  • After you know which tiers you are targeting, make sure to hold back when there is a position run on the board. You will be able to take a higher-tiered player in the WR position amidst a panicked run on RBs, for example.
  • When looking at QBs and TEs, tiers can be even more helpful. Consider your short wait between two rounds, and assume you need a QB. If only three QBs are left in your targeted tier, and you are pondering whether one of the said QBs will come back around to you, you simply need to look at the owner’s rosters that have picks between yours. Check and see if more than three of them need a QB. If all of those owners have already drafted a QB, you have a much higher probability of a QB in your tier still being available. Not foolproof, obviously because owners can be unpredictable, but it leads to a much better probability for success.
  • Execute and don’t be swayed by position runs as the draft proceeds.

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