Championship Players 2021: What players won your league?
Before I get into today's post, I want to shout out my web app: Fantasy League Report. FLR tracks your ESPN Fantasy Football League's history, so you can look back at past champions, see the total performance of individual managers across the years, and compare how you stack up to your rival league mate head to head. Check it out if interested and feel free to reach out with any feature requests, I hope to expand it this offseason with more features and to support other platforms. Now onto the post.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this post had an incorrect filter for the final roster odds, this has been updated below
This will be the second year we are going to explore which players mattered in the fantasy season. Who were the best or worst draft picks? who were the most common players on championship rosters? By looking at these trends we can get a sense of which players mattered and how we may want to build out teams going forward
As with many posts, I will be pulling from public ESPN leagues. To help control for the nature of public leagues I have removed any team that left a bye or injured player in their starting lineup on more than 2 occasions (allowing people to stop caring during the playoff weeks if they did not make it). This left us with 2814 leagues and 19,637 teams. I then collected the drafts and final rosters of all these leagues and determined how often a player was drafted/rostered. To keep the dataset focused on relevant players, I only included players that were either drafted or rostered in at least 30% of leagues. This gives us 178 players that are of interest.
Finally, we can look at the odds of making the playoffs (defined as finishing in the top 4 teams) and of winning the championship based on if a team drafted that player or if they finished the season with that player. These will be similar, but as we see there are slight differences, particularly with some common waiver wire targets. Across our leagues, we have an average league size of 10.5, so our base playoff odds are 38.1% and our base championship odds are 9.5%.
I have also included a widget at the end to allow you to look up any player in the dataset.
Odds at the start (Championship odds if you drafted a player)
Odds of Making the Playoffs: Raw (change from base odds)
Odds of winning the Championship: Raw (change from base odds)
To start we can look at this year's 1st round draft picks. Before diving in, I should add that I am not accounting for when these players were picked. Just the odds if you managed to draft this player. This likely means that some people likely did worse if they reached, or better if they got this player later, but these base rates are informative. First, after all the injuries this year, it's not surprising to see some rough outcomes among these picks (looking at you Saquon, and Dalvin). Unsurprisingly, Jonathan Taylor was a great pick with 70% of teams who drafted him making the playoffs. I am a little surprised by Davante Adams though, who both gave you a good shot at the playoffs and an excellent chance at winning the championship. Travis Kelce also is interesting. One of the big learnings out of last year was that we should be willing to take Kelce earlier which led to Kelce being the first TE being ranked as a first-round pick in as long as I have been playing. Despite this, he seems to have paid off, outperforming the 5 RBs taken in front of him by ADP. I expect he and maybe even Kittle will make their way into the 1st round again next year.
The other takeaway here is that even if you screwed up your 1st pick, it doesn't have THAT big of an effect on your championship odds, with the worst pick this year only dropping your odds by 0.8%.
5 Best Draft Picks
Average Draft Position
Now that we've reviewed the top picks, what about the rest of the draft? Above we can see the top 5 picks based on championship odds. Cooper Kupp dominates this list, with a near 80% chance at making the playoffs and a 29% chance at winning the championship. Deebo haunts me as I traded him away after week 3 and have regretted it ever since. Mark Andrews is what happens when you hit on your TE pick without spending a top 2 pick. I am not sure what to glean from this but I am excited to dive into the general snake and auction draft strategies worked this year in future posts.
5 Worst Draft Picks
Average Draft Position
Let's now look at the other side, I see kinda 2 versions of a bad draft pick here. First, missing on your first-round pick is always going to be a problem. Dalvin and Saquon being the worst 2 picks really show that. The second is the player that is not really good but just good enough to keep playing. Marquise Brown certainly falls into this category and Big Ben may as well (though I expect that's more nostalgia driving decisions over actual logic), not sure if Randall Cobb does but I'll include him with this group. The main learning here is to not get too attached to a player, you have to be willing to try different players if you are going win it all. Additionally, as stated above, one bad pick is not going to sink your team.
Odds at the end (Championship Odds if you finish with a player)
Top 10 players
Amon-Ra St. Brown
Looking at the most common players on Championship Rosters, we see many familiar names, with Kupp, Andrews, Deebo, Adams, Ekeler coming up before. We see Amon-Ra at the top, riding the fire he caught, along with a number of back ups who were able to snag a starting (or handcuff) slot at the end of the season (Justin Jackson, Rashaad Penny, Dare, and Tyler Huntly all fall into this category. As with years past, we see a mix of good draft picks and important waiver wire snags.
The main limitation comes from the dataset. I am ignoring managers who stopped playing, but I am keeping other managers in that league. This effectively biases my dataset to fantasy managers that did better on the season. I have looked at excluding entire leagues if 1 manager quit on the season, but I feel that drops my sample size too much (down to ~160 leagues). I did look at these 160 leagues and the overall conclusions are the same, though all of the odds are shifted down (Cooper Kupp gives you a 24% chance at the championship instead of 29%, Dalvin Cooks championship odds drop from 8.7% to 8.1%). While the story here stays the same, it should be noted that the precise odds are likely off a little. Related to this limitation is that I am only looking at the start and the end, and therefore have no control over how the team was managed throughout the season. Did the manager make good start sit decisions? Did they make any dumb trades (like I did trading away Deebo)? I do not know. That being said, these base rates are still really valuable.
The biggest takeaway is twofold, though not that surprising. First, hitting big on your mid-round pick can provide an enormous advantage (such as Kupp, Deebo, or Andrews). The other main takeaway is that missing on 1 pick does not matter too much. It certainly hurts, but no one pick will really break your team, though it can make it.