Fantasy Football: Understanding Tier-Based Drafting

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“I purchased the #UDK and the tiers helped me kill all three of my drafts!”
“Just had my first draft using the #UDK Tiers. LOVE my team!”

One of the highlights of last year’s Ultimate Draft Kit was the Ballers’ Tiered Rankings. Comments like those above were all over the reviews and the @TheFFBallers Twitter timeline. On the recent Frequently Asked Questions episode, a listener inquired about sticking with specific draft strategies. The Ballers all agreed that their draft strategies center more around tier-based drafting as opposed to a position-specific plan. If you’re new to Fantasy Football or have typically used plain rankings in the past, tier-based drafting can significantly improve your final roster by helping you identify which player to choose when comparing players across positions.

The 2017 edition of the Ultimate Draft Kit again includes the Ballers’ tiered rankings and will have them incorporated into the awesome new cheat sheets. Once you have the rankings, how do you use them?

Explaining the Tier System

The top of the 2017 RB rankings is a great example of a tier. The consensus across the board is David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott or Le’Veon Bell are in consideration for the #1 spot. The order varies for everyone, but the same three RBs are always in the top three spots. This is our first tier! There is currently a clear divide between RB3 and RB4. The top 3 RBs all fall into tier 1 and RB4 starts Tier 2. As you move down the rankings, gaps in player value will appear.  A clear difference between two players ranked next to each other is often the dividing line between two tiers.

*This is an example and does not reflect the Ballers’ current rankings. Sign-up for the Ultimate Draft Kit for the most up-to-date rankings and tiers!

The image above shows the Ballers RB rankings. Without tiers, we simply see a list of the top 14 consensus RBs. Using a straight list of players like this does not help you decide which player (or position) to select. It only shows you who is next on the list. It does not quickly show you how they compare to the other closely ranked players.

*Using the image from above, I’ve placed sample tier lines to show how a tiered ranking list will look.

In this image, we now have a clear picture of the perceived value changes. Tier 1 is the “big three” RBs. Tier 2 is a grouping of five RBs who each fall in the 4-9 range, the variances being personal preferences for team, scheme, projected usage, etc. Tier 3 consists of just three RBs, but each similarly ranked in the same range.

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*This image is simply being used as an example and does not reflect the Ballers’ current tiered rankings. Get the Ultimate Draft Kit for the most up-to-date rankings and tiers!

In the WR tiered rankings, there is again a consensus top three, making a very clear Tier 1. Tier 2 groups six WRs the Ballers all consider worthy of a top 10 ranking. Clear gaps typically indicate a tier delineation and that is evident with the consensus #9 and #10 WRs, T.Y. Hilton and Amari Cooper. Hilton’s lowest ranking is 9, while Cooper is WR12 for everyone. Straight consensus rankings show the two WRs closely ranked, but the gap between them is at least three spots across the board. This is a pretty obvious tier line.

“Couldn’t be happier with the #UDK. Never drafted by tiers before and it set me up for my best finishes in fantasy ever!”

*Comparing RB/WR

Tiers are great for identifying gaps in value at one position, but the tier-based drafting strategy shines when used to compare different positions. Let’s assume you have the 11th pick in the draft. The top 7 RBs have been drafted, along with to top 3 WRs. Using the tiers, you can quickly recognize that Jordan Howard is the last tier 2 RB available, while there are six Tier 2 WRs. Who should you pick?

If you select Jordan Howard, you’ve landed a Tier 2 RB, while still being able to draft a Tier 2 WR with your next selection. Players in a tier are all considered similar with similar projected outcomes. Even if the drafter with picks 12/1 selects WRs, you will still have at least 4 Tier 2 WRs available with the 2nd Round selection. If you select Jordan Howard, your team would have rostered a Tier 2 RB and a Tier 2 WR, whereas drafting Tier 2 WR A.J. Green in the 1st Round and a Tier 3 RB in the 2nd Round, the team with two Tier 2 players may have more value. However…

Not All Tiers are Created Equal

In the example above, we assume Tier 2 RBs and WRs have the same value, but that is not always the case. While top Tier RBs and WRs may carry similar values, some drafters may consider a Tier 2 WRs superior to the Tier 2 RBs. Once you add in the QB’s and TEs, a Tier 1 Player, such as the #1 QB, Aaron “I have my own tier” Rodgers, does not carry the same value as a Tier 1 RB or WR. He is the 24th player off the board in current ADP, right between the 12th RB and 12th WR.

*This image was taken pre-NFL draft. The image is simply being used as an example and does not reflect the Ballers’ current tiered rankings. Get the Ultimate Draft Kit for the most up-to-date rankings and tiers!

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The #1 QB has his own tier yet he is only equivalent in drafts to a Tier 4 RB or a Tier 3 WR. This is exactly how we can start to recognize “reaches” and “steals” as the draft progresses. The first few rounds are important, but the mid and late rounds are where championships are won.

Tiered Rankings: A Whole New Perspective to your Draft Board

Scenario: The end of Round 5 and early part of Round 6 have seen a run on RBs, with 9 drafted in 11 picks. Looking at the tiered rankings, you see there are two RBs left in the current tier, but due to the RB run, there is one last WR left from a much higher tier. You can also recognize that the RB run in Rounds 5 and 6 may result in a WR run when it gets back to those drafters in Rounds 7 and 8.

One of the biggest mistakes drafters make is panicking during a position run and falling into the trend. Tiered rankings will clearly show you that you should break the run and select the value WR, who fell down the board due to the RB run. This may also trigger a small WR run between your next pick, allowing you to land the RB from the previous round. Fantasy drafts are inherently unpredictable, but using tier-based drafting can put you in control of the flow of a draft. Instead of chasing runs, you’ll be leading them. This subtle shift into a leading role can subconsciously force your opponents into reaching for players as they chase positions.

“Waiting on a QB and using tiers really paid off. I had the best draft in my league!”

The Ballers are all big proponents of the “wait on QB” strategy and highly recommended using it. One of the biggest questions about the waiting on QB strategy is when to finally pull the trigger and draft your QB. The answer is far more clear when using tiered rankings. For a simple example, we saw that Aaron Rodgers, the lone Tier 1 QB is only of equal value to roughly RB12 or WR12. If Aaron Rodgers was somehow still available in the 4th or 5th Round, where Tier 4 and 5 players are being drafted, the Tier 1 QB is now a value and should possibly be drafted. But what if you are waiting even longer to draft your QB?

As the draft enters Round 10, you recognize there are two QBs left in the current tier that you consider the last of the quality starters. If you are tracking the teams choosing between this pick and your next pick, you might see that they each have a QB rostered, but have not drafted TEs. With that info, you should look at the tiered rankings to compare the value of the available TEs vs the QBs. Knowing that your opponents are probably not drafting a second QB and are quite possibly targeting TEs, you can instead draft your preferred TE, taking them away from your opponents and still landing that QB in the next round.

You will often hear people say “draft the best player available”. The semantics of that statement initially leads you to think in terms of NFL talent or fantasy potential. However, it should be interpreted as the best player for you to draft, considering your roster construction and the needs of your opponents. In the scenario above, it was highly likely that your opponents might be drafting TEs but were unlikely to draft a QB. By drafting your preferred TE first, you are not only improving your team but also negatively impacting your opponents team. This is an important and often overlooked part of dominating your draft; the “cost” of a player on your roster vs an opponent’s roster. One of the greatest feelings in a draft is when your league mates say “Man, I really wanted (insert player/position) with this pick. I can’t believe you took him!

The tiers available in the Ultimate Draft Kit are your secret weapon for dominating drafts and withstanding victories in 2017!

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