2022 Snake Draft Strategy Review
Welcome back everyone. There is a sweet sweaty smell of football in the air and you know what that means?
Football is almost back!
As preparations start for the fantasy football season, it's time for me to get back into some fantasy football analysis. This offseason has been especially hectic for me as I finished up my Ph.D. and am preparing to begin life as a professor. As such, I did not get around to finishing a couple of my normal 2022 season in review posts, so those will be coming out now.
We are starting with the snake draft strategy review. As with years past (see 2020-, 2021-, or 3-year avg) I will be looking at general drafting strategies, how well they worked, and what they may mean for the future. Unlike years past, I now have a 3-year baseline to compare it to, so below you will see not only how different snake draft strategies fared in 2022, but also how their success or failure differed from the 3-year average (2019-2021).
Without further ado, let's get into it.
As with previous years, I am going to be using data scraped from public leagues. As a bonus, I am adding in sleeper leagues this year. In total, I have ~1600 espn leagues and ~2600 sleeper leagues in this years dataset. All leagues included are between 8 and 12 teams. I also took steps to remove leagues with extreme point totals (removing the top and bottom 10% of leagues in terms of points scored) in an effort to keep scoring settings similar, make the data most generalizable, and remove leagues where managers stopped paying attention.
We will look at 4 different draft strategies:
What pick slot to target
When to draft a QB
When to draft a TE
What positions to target with the top 2 picks
For each, we will examine how following the different options increased or decreased a teams odds of winning the championship. Each graph will include 3 lines (ESPN 2022, Sleeper 2022, and 3 year average of 2019-2021). For more information about how I calculate these factors, please check out my posts from previous years.
Which Draft Slot to Target
Line plots of how pick slot affected championship odds. We see that 2022 largely followed historical trends, though ESPN leagues had larger swings that sleeper and history. In general, you want a pick between slots 2 and 6.
When looking at the draft slot odds, we largely see historical trends continue. The curse of the first pick is real, with Jonathan Taylor disappointing last year after being the consensus top pick last year. Meanwhile picks 2-6 largely delivered (Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, Derrick Henry, Justin Jefferson, Cooper Kupp) before hitting another common bust in Najee Harris at 7. Now, this data includes the entire draft which helps soften some of the blow when your top pick busts, but it still highlights the importance of hitting on your top pick. So once again, if you can choose your draft slot, choose between slots 2 and 6.
When to Draft a QB
Line plots of how the round of your first QB affected championship odds. We see that in 2022, ESPN leagues bucked historical trends while sleeper largely followed them. Not sure what to make of that difference, but early QB worked in ESPN while late QB still won out on sleeper.
This is the graph I was most looking forward to. A common refrain this offseason has been that the value of late round QB is disappearing and that you should be drafting QBs early. However, when we look at the data, we see a mixed story. Sleeper leagues largely followed historical trends, rewarding late round QBs. ESPN leagues tell a different story. Unlike historical trends, early (ish) QBs really dominated championships. While Josh Allen's ADP was earlier than the plus odds, any of Herbert, Mahomes, Burrow, Lamar, or Hurts all helped their teams win championships. I am not sure what to make of the difference between the platforms, maybe something to do with starting lineups (as superflex is much more common in sleeper leagues)? This year, we are seeing QBs being drafted earlier, with both Allen and Mahomes as common 2nd round picks this year and the rest of the group shifting up to match. My read is that it is something you should be open to, but I am not sure if last year was a historical outlier or the start of a new trend, especially with the disagreement between ESPN and Sleeper leagues.
When to Draft a TE
Line plots of how the round of your first TE affected championship odds.
Man, what a mess.
I don't know what to tell you about TE. The main point that I see is that Travis Kelce was worth it again. He was the TE that got taken in the first round (plus returns for ESPN) or 2nd round (plus returns for both ESPN and Sleeper). After Kelcey, this feels like a mess. There was a run of positive value in rounds 5-8 for ESPN (Dalton Shultz, Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert), and a spike in positive value for round 9 or end of the draft on Sleeper (Tj Hockinson maybe?). To be honest, it just feels like last year was Kelce or Bust and the data reflects that. Now that he is a common 1st round pick, we will see whether he is able to continue his run of dominance.
What Positions to Draft in first 2 rounds
Bar plots of how the top 2 pick positions affected championship odds for 2022 ESPN (green) and sleeper (navy) leagues compared to historical averages (gray).
When we look at top 2 position pairs we see some historical trends continue while others changed. First, as noted above, Travis Kelce was the single best pick, returning plus odds whether you drafted him in the first or second pick and paired him with a RB or WR. This was true in 2019, in 2020, in 2021 and it was true again in 2022. Beyond that, we see a resurgence in value to grabbing a first round RB, returning even or improved odds last year. Surprisingly, we do not see an advantage of a first round WR last year in either ESPN or Sleeper. I think the consistency of most 1st round RB's is to blame here as while the top WRs didn't really bust, there may not have been the same opportunities to find late round RB gems as in years past. With WRs dominating the top of the draft board this year, we will have to see whether these trends continue.
As always I am limited by not controlling for managerial skill or for any beyond the most basic league settings. I am working on a system to control for managerial skill so stay tuned for that in future posts as well as building up a larger database of leagues which will allow me to control for more complex league settings. If you have been following these posts for years, you may have noticed that I did not include a section on Zero-RB this year. While in the past I have largely said its not worth it (and I will say that trend continued in 2022) I have been rightfully challenged on my definition of zero-RB and am working on a dedicated post for it so stay tuned.
To sum up
Try to draft between picks 2 and 6.
Think about drafting a QB early, but know you are bucking historical trends.
Travis Kelce or bust at TE.
Don't be afraid to stay with the tried and true of a first round RB.
Each of these decisions has a small impact on your odds (~2%). but when the base odds is around 10% (12.5% for 8 team, 10% for 10 team, 8.3% for 12 team league), hitting a couple of these correctly will significantly improve your chances to hoist the trophy this season. Happy Drafting All!
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