With the fantasy playoffs upon us, now is a time to reflect on the carnage that has been this year’s running back draft class. Ray Rice, Trent Richardson, C.J. Spiller, Arian Foster, the list goes on. Chances are if you drafted a running back this year, you have been let down. But who has let us down the most? And are running backs actually way more disappointing than other positions?
It’s time to re-evaluate our preseason expectations and proclaim the ¾ season draft studs and duds. To do so, we borrow a bit from Chris Harris and Footballguys.com and their work on value based drafting (VBD). VBD is a way of planning for a draft, or re-ordering a draft, based on the production of a player over a replacement player at the same position. However, when making statements about the relative stud-iness or dud-iness of a particular draft pick, you need to consider the draft position of that player as well.
A quick look at the ESPN draft summaries shows a nice relationship between average draft position and average auction value. Higher picks are worth more, and the rate of decrease slows as you move to later and later picks. From this, we can see that the average auction value is a good estimator of the value of a particular draft pick.
!!Math is happening! If you want to know how we evaluate the draft picks, head to the footnotes . If you are averse to too much math, just know that PAR is points above a replacement player. More per dollar is good, less is bad. There, you are set!!
Let’s go through by position.
Average Replacement Points: 183.6
P. Rivers (216), A. Smith (191), A. Dalton (178), R. Tannehill (168), N. Foles (165)
Stat Padford lives up to his name, providing over 1.5 more PAR per dollar than the next draft dud, Peyton Manning. Despite their high average value and draft position, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees still provide good value. In fact, only 5 of the top 15 QBs are producing below replacement level, of which 2 (Rodgers and Vick) have missed significant time with injuries. With the way Tom Brady is playing, don’t be surprised to see him move to the positive side of the ledger by the end of the season.
Average Replacement Points: 124.6
K. Moreno (179), F. Jackson (130), J. Bell (106), Z. Stacy (105), D. Woodhead (103)
The numbers back up what we all knew: the running back position has been mostly duds this year. Of the top 40 running backs drafted, only 11 are producing above the average replacement level. Even relative studs like Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte and LeSean McCoy are producing just over 1 PAR per dollar, while 6 QBs are over 2. As well, the likes of Rice, Richardson, Spiller and Doug Martin are far from the biggest RB duds if you consider their draft value vs. production: that honour goes to later picks like Isaiah Pead, Bryce Brown, and Isaac Redman whose low auction value ($2.3, $1.7, and $2, respectively) can’t offset the huge disparity in production between them and a replacement level player.
Average Replacement Points: 122.8
J. Gordon (166), A. Jeffery (146), M. Floyd (105), R. Cooper (101), K. Allen (96)
DeSean Jackson and Antonio Brown are clearly the studs among the wide receivers, but even high picks like Calvin Johnston, Brandon Marshall and A.J. Green are proving valuable. Much like the running back class, there are far more duds and studs at the wide receiver position, with only 10 of the top 40 picks producing above replacement value. It should be noted that the replacement players include two of the most productive receivers this year: Josh Gordon and Alshon Jeffery. Roddy White and Danny Amendola stand out as players with high expectations who just haven’t produced, though in both cases significant time has been lost due to injury.
Average Replacement Points: 82.6
J. Cameron (101), C. Clay (85), M. Bennett (78), C. Fleener (76), J. Cook (73)
Who would have thought the tight end position would give the biggest draft day stud? Julius Thomas has benefitted tremendously from playing with Peyton Manning, producing an astounding 9.26 PAR per dollar, more than double the next closest player at any other position. In general, the top TEs have produced above replacement level, especially considering Rob Gronkowski will likely produce above replacement level by the end of the season.
So what should we make of this? First, that fantasy football sucks. Second, drafting is a crap shoot. Third, running backs are crucially important to success in fantasy football and there just aren’t enough good ones to go around. Finally, if you have more than a few of the fantasy studs on your team you are probably in pretty good shape right now. Check back at the end of the season when we re-evaluate the drafts again based on the full year point production.
 Based on the recommendations of the VBD experts, we take a look at the top 15 QBs, 40 RBs, 40 WRs and 10 TEs by draft position. The production of a replacement player is the average point production (using ESPN standard scoring) for the 5 next best players at each position (who would presumably be available on the waiver wire or very late in a draft). We subtract the points production of the replacement player from each of the top drafted players to get a points above replacement value (PAR). Then, we divide each player’s PAR by their average auction value to get a PAR per dollar figure. Players that produce the highest number of points above replacement per dollar spent in the auction are considered to be “studs”, while those with the least points above replacement per dollar spent are “duds”.