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Drafting for the Fantasy Playoffs
Kevin Ratterree
August 15, 2008
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How much we should factor in a players playoff schedule when we draft a team? That has been a point of debate for years in fantasy football. Some people draft players that seem to have easier schedules during weeks 14-16, in an attempt to assure success in the playoffs. But when we do that, we are dealing with too many variables. The teams we think are going to be easy marks for our fantasy players don’t always turn out as bad as we envisioned before the season actually started.

So rather than delving into those specific draft day decisions, this article is going to take a broader view of what it takes to succeed in the critical playoff weeks.

I have written a few articles concerning the decreasing relevance of running backs. Due to the proliferation of RBBCs it just seems to be harder and harder to justify taking a running back with your first two picks, especially in PPR leagues.

Last year may have been an aberration. Or it could have been the signal of a new trend. Many of the first round running backs drafted were busts, and there were only 6 running backs in the top 30 in overall scoring at season’s end. But does that mean he who has the best wide receivers and quarterbacks will take home the hardware in your league?

As we all know, getting to the fantasy playoffs is goal number one. But the end-game is actually winning those playoffs. Are fantasy teams anchored with stud receivers at a disadvantage come playoff time? The weather is often nasty during our playoff weeks, and conventional wisdom is that running the ball is more important at that critical time of the season. I thought it was worth looking into, and what follows is what I found.

I looked at PPR leagues from 2006 and 2007. In each case I looked at the top 20 receivers and top 20 running backs in points at season’s end. We will assume most playoff teams have many of those players on their rosters.

Let’s start with 2007. For the season the top 10 WRs outscored the top 10 RBs, 3049 to 2754.

The top 10 WRs as a group averaged 17.9 points per week, outscoring the top 10 RB group at 16.2.

But sure enough, during weeks 14-16 the tables were turned. For those 3 fantasy football playoff weeks the RBs outscored the WRs 547-433. RBs averaged 19.2 points per week while the WRs came in at a pedestrian 14.4.

Let’s take a look at the #11-20 top receivers from 2007.

Once again the receivers in that next tier outscored their RB counterparts for the season 2321-1980.

During the playoff weeks the tier 2 WRs still outscored the tier 2 RBs, but the gap was narrow: 412-380.

Now a look at 2006, a year more typical in that it was ruled by running backs. In that season there were 7 RBs in the top 10 overall scoring.

The top RBs crushed the top WRs in scoring for the season, and continued to do so in the playoff weeks 630-499.

Comparing the 11-20 ranked RBs and WRs for the playoff weeks, as was the case in ‘07 the WRs held a slight edge 350-331.

I guess we should not be surprised. The upper echelon running backs are considerably better than their wide receiver counterparts during weeks 14-16. And aside from the “average” point disparity there is much higher risk of a “crash and burn” with the elite receivers when it matters most. During the fantasy playoffs in ‘07 the top 10 WRs for the season combined for 12 games with 10 or less fantasy points. Running backs combined for only 7 such games.

In addition the running backs combined for 8 games of 25 points or more while the wide receivers could only muster 5 such performances.

So what does all of this prove? Pretty much what we have always held to be true. Stud running backs are the best bets for carrying your fantasy team through the playoffs. Keep in mind that this disparity only holds true for the top 10 RB’s as opposed to the top 10 WRs.

But what about quarterbacks? Are they affected during weeks 14-16 similar to the top receivers? The drop-off was not quite as dramatic for quarterbacks. Last season the top 10 QBs averaged 18.9 points per week. During the playoffs that same group averaged 17.0 points per week.

One top quarterback did not decline at all during the playoff weeks of the last two seasons. Peyton Manning actually outscored his season average in weeks 14-16 last year, and the year before he matched his season average.

Conclusions

* It is still important (if not critical) to have at least one stud running back on your roster. During the critical playoff weeks, the best RBs outscore the best WRs by an average of 5-6 points per week. Stud receivers may pave your way into the playoffs, but are unlikely to trump stud RBs when it counts the most.

* The quarterback position drop-off is less dramatic than that of the receivers during fantasy playoffs, and is not a serious consideration to take into account.

* Other than the top tier of players at all positions, there is virtually no change from regular season to playoff performance.

I have been advocating a change in the mindset of fantasy players, from drafting RB/RB to drafting RB/WR or WR/RB. And this short-term recent analysis seems to justify that kind of draft day planning. You are probably going to need a stud WR to get to the playoffs, and you will need a stud RB to get through them.

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