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Fantasy theory: Adding a layer to the ADP conversation

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In the fantasy community, we spend all summer debating, discussing and dissecting ADP (Average Draft Position) data. "I'd like to take (insert player) but not until the (insert round)." Of course, every fantasy football proposition must first start with the reality of what you'll have to invest in order to acquire a particular player. So, the intentions lying at the root of these hypothetical ADP conversations are well-placed.

That's just it, however. These decisions to pass on or take a player based purely off ADP data in the summer are mere hypotheticals. The discussions are released into the ether without the concrete framework of an actual draft. When the clock actually starts ticking, our views can change. Or, at least they should.

As much as we cling to ADP data and values throughout the process of forming our stances on players, we fantasy owners must also recognize the merits of being open to our stance on values changing as drafts evolve. One of the biggest occurrence that can change a player's fantasy draft value is the influence of your previous selections. You may find yourself halfway through a draft faced with a decision on a player who's ADP you were scared off by. Yet, in light of your selections prior to this pick, suddenly you find yourself more inclined to take the plunge. Conversely, maybe there was a receiver who you felt had a capped ceiling without much upside, and you felt certain his ADP was too rich. However, it has been five rounds and you still have not filled your WR1 spot. Suddenly, the boring but safely guaranteed production of this player does not seem like such a burden to take on. Knowing you'll need the sure points he brings, you draft him at a cost you formerly felt he was unworthy of.

For the sake of being concrete here, let's take a look at a specific example about a player whose value there's some debate about. I've written that I feel just fine with Martavis Bryant's fifth-round asking price. And before you ask, no Ben Roethlisberger's comments on Markus Wheaton's impending breakout has not changed that stance, yet. Of course, not everyone agrees, and many fantasy analysts have been out on Bryant's ADP from the beginning. Even as a supporter I'll admit that given his variance, taking Bryant in the fourth or fifth round could be a risky proposition. Acknowledging that is the first step in beginning to form a true evaluation of where a player fits on your fantasy team, beyond "he belongs in ___ round."

Let's draw some actionable theories by sticking with this "to take or not to take" Martavis Bryant debate. I took to the mock draft world, going through many before I was able to create a scenario where, faced with the choice, I wouldn't want to take Bryant at his ADP, and one where I would.

Did not take: A running back heavy start

 

Through the majority of early drafts I've participated in over the offseason, I'd rather be early than late with the running back position. There's nothing quite as frustrating as chasing the position, while having to eschew value at other spots. Unless, of course, that was your plan all along.

In this particular draft, I sold out to secure the running back position. Landing a pick in the top-two, my first move was to lockup Adrian Peterson as my no-brainer RB1. At the two/three turn, there was no passing on the value of C.J. Anderson and Justin Forsett, especially in a PPR league. With these three in tow, I'll go through the 2015 season with little worry about my fantasy backfield, health provided. However, here we sit at the onset of the fourth round, and I've made no moves at wide receiver.

At the round four/five turn, I'm faced with two opportunities to take Martavis Bryant. Passing on him at 4.11 is an easy choice. Despite an affinity for Bryant's potential and season outlook, in no way do I want him as my WR1. It's never a wise bet to rely on an NFL team's No. 2 target to be your top fantasy wide receiver. And Bryant is not even a fully-fledged starter in Pittsburgh, as of today. A fantasy WR1 should be a target hog in their real team's passing attack. Bryant is a big play threat, and a target-efficiency maven, but he's unlikely to command intense volume.

Eschewing the variance play of Bryant, I select Julian Edelman as my WR1. It's far from exciting, but makes complete sense after an early emphasis on the running back position. Edelman received 134 targets last year, and converted 92 into receptions. With the volume he receives, there's no reason to believe he cannot be a stabilizing force on this particular fantasy team. Of course, Edelman does not have the ceiling of a Martavis Bryant, but I'm looking for a safe floor with my WR1 pick here. No question who gets the nod in that department. A few picks later, I'm back on the clock at 5.02 and Bryant is still sitting there. His upside is a little more tempting as my WR2 in this scenario, but I pass once again. In search for another take-it-to-the-bank target player, I select Andre Johnson. The broken combination of Reggie Wayne and Hakeem Nicks saw 184 targets with the Colts last year. Johnson did not go to his old division rival to do anything but absorb most of those. In the Indianapolis offense, Johnson can have a weekly ceiling that is at least comparable to Bryant. Yet, the veteran feels much safer as the WR2 on a team stacked with running backs.

As expected, Bryant goes off the board two picks after I select Johnson. I like Bryant, and I felt the price at either my fourth of fifth round pick was right. But structurally, it just did not make sense. This team needed something closer to surefire weekly fantasy production from the receiver position in the middle rounds. I still pursued a variance player, and eventually plucked another breakout sophomore in the speedy John Brown. You always want high-weekly ceiling receivers on your fantasy team, but you can't sink early-round picks into them when your primary investments were in other positions.

Did take: a wide receiver heavy start

 

In the previous draft, the value on the board led me to take running backs with my first three picks. However, drafts are not static, and this one led me to employ a different approach. In this mock, I drew the 11th pick in the first round. Dez Bryant is my second ranked wide receiver this year. If you're aggressively pursuing that position early in drafts, he's a first-round pick to endorse.

With a quick turnaround to my second pick, there's another talented pass catcher staring at me in Round 2. Julio Jones is far and away the most talented player on the Atlanta Falcons right now. He'll play for a coordinator this year, in Kyle Shanahan, who makes it a top-of-the-line priority to get the ball in the hands of his best playmakers. Jones could easily lead the league in targets, receptions and yards this season. He was an easy choice at the top of the second round.

Now behind the eight-ball at running back, I shift my gaze to the ball-carriers. Frank Gore has consistently broken every running back decline rule, and is now in a perfect situation. Every backfield player in Indianapolis not named Trent Richardson has posted good fantasy numbers. I'll welcome the dissenter who wishes to assert Gore is all of the sudden a 2013-2014 Richardson quality player. There's some debate around Joseph Randle's worth in fantasy leagues this year, but backs went off the board with haste in this draft. He was one of the last potential featured backs in a good situation left, and begrudgingly became my fourth-round pick.

As my fifth pick rolls around, I see Martavis Bryant is still available. In the previous draft example, I passed on him in this round. However, this time I have two top-five caliber receivers as my WR1 and WR2 on my team. Taking on the high variance proposition of Martavis Bryant feels much better as a WR3. This team will not have to count on regular or consistent contributions from this fifth round pick. I've also taken steps to insulate the Bryant selection with value picks of LaFell in the 8th, Brown in the 11th and Stills in the 13th.

Actionable conclusions

 

What we've found here is the layer of the ADP conversation that often goes undiscussed leading up to draft season. When you open up any cheat sheet, you'll certainly see more than a few players ranked or slotted in draft positions you won't like. However, it's important not to shut the door on taking those players under some certain circumstances.

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Drafts are a fluid entity; changing with each one that passes and morphed by those who participate in them. Saying no or yes to an ADP in a vacuum is only part of the equation, but doesn't net you the sum answer of whether the pick was a wise or foolish one. The value of a player lies in what round-cost you're willing to sink into him, relative to where he's going. However, the value he has to your particular team can be increased or decreased based on the other players in your lineup. A variance asset might scare you, but if he's insulated by rather secure players at his position, the higher ADP is not such a hard pill to swallow.

Martavis Bryant is a good example of a player this season in which your stance on their ADP should be influenced by how your draft kicks off. As a high-upside WR3 on a team that prioritized pass catchers, he can be a week-winning tilter. As a WR1 on a running back heavy team, his ups and downs could prove too rocking of a ship to manage.

It's time to further the ADP and rankings conversation beyond "I like him in this round" or "no thanks until my next few picks." There's a layer of relativity that is vital for fantasy owners to consider when actually on the clock in their drafts.


Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB. Let him know if you enjoyed this fantasy theoretical piece, and whether you'd like to see more like it.

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