Online Draft Strategy and the Curious Case of Quarterback Matt Ryan

All team owners want to dominate their fantasy football online draft. In order to achieve this, team owners must find and exploit competitive advantages. For those team owners whose league uses a Yahoo! online draft,  this article will provide the information to reach that goal. (If you use another service, this article may still be quite helpful as most online draft services are somewhat similar.)

The “Autodraft” Feature of an Online Draft

Yahoo! Fantasy Football, is a very popular online service. One of its features is called “autodraft.” If a team owner does not show up at the designated time for the online draft, Yahoo! will draft the players for that team automatically – hence the term “autodraft.” This feature is great in that it ensures all teams in the league will be drafted whether or not all the owners show up.

Some owners, for whatever reason, whether it be for lack of preparation time, doubt in their drafting skills, or just plain laziness, choose to let the “autodraft” feature pick their players as a strategy. However, one should understand how the “autodraft” feature works before allowing a computer to draft your fantasy football team.  For those who draft their own team and are looking to find a competitive advantage in an online draft, understanding how the “autodraft” feature works is an absolute necessity. Read on.

The Ranked Default Player List

In order for the “autodraft” feature to draft players, it must have a list of players from which to choose. Yahoo! has its own ranked default player list just for that purpose. It shows up on the screen for every player to see and can also be accessed prior to the draft. The players are ranked based on Yahoo! projections and can be viewed by position or with all positions combined in one list. It is a very handy tool which can be exploited, too! More on that in a bit. But first a couple more things you need to know about the list.

A big disadvantage of the “autodraft” feature is that the Yahoo! ranked default player list is not updated with great frequency. It is entirely possible for a team owner, who uses the “autodraft” feature, to discover after the online draft, that a high draft pick has been used to acquire a player who has been recently injured or has been downgraded on his NFL team’s depth chart. Building a roster with these types of players is no way to dominate a draft! The exact opposite is also true and a great example of this – the Curious Case of Matt Ryan –  will be discussed later in this article.

Draft a Kicker and Team Defense Before a Back-up Running Back?

Another disadvantage of the “autodraft” feature is that Yahoo! fills all starting line-up positions before any bench or reserve positions.  Yahoo! will start at the top of its ranked default player list and will select the first player it finds that fills a need in the team’s starting line-up. Although most team owners prefer, with very few exceptions, to draft a kicker and/or a team defense near the end of the draft, the “autodraft” feature drafts both a kicker and a team defense by the end of the 9th round. Why the 9th round? Because there are nine starting positions on a Yahoo! public league team as listed below:

  • One Quarterback
  • Two Running backs
  • Three Wide Receivers
  • One Tight End
  • One Kicker
  • One Team Defense / Special Team

Team owners can exert a little more control of their “autodraft” by prioritizing or re-ranking the players on the Yahoo! default list prior to the online draft. This can eliminate the problem of having an injured player being drafted onto your team. It does not solve the problem, however, of Yahoo! drafting a complete starting line-up by the end of the 9th round including a team defense and a kicker.

The Curious Case of Matt Ryan

Armed with all this information, we can now discuss how to exploit the ranked default player list for a competitive advantage. First, you must have studied the ranked default player list prior to the online draft. When you do, you will be able to identify players who, based on your analysis, are undervalued and overvalued. Or put another way – players who are lower on the list than they should be and players who are higher on the list than they should be.

As a case in point, let’s discuss Matt Ryan, quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons. Through most of August, 2012, Matt Ryan was ranked very low on the Yahoo! ranked default player list (read undervalued). This ranking combined with the fact that a surprisingly high number of team owners tend to use the list as their only guide for drafting their team, resulted in Matt Ryan being consistently drafted mainly in the 8th – 12th round range. Instead of wasting a high draft pick to acquire him, shrewd team owners were waiting until later in the draft when Ryan’s name neared the top of the ranked default player list to select him. (Knowing that team owners use the list as a guide as to when to draft a player is a great advantage! Astute team owners knew there was little chance of Matt Ryan going earlier than where he was positioned on the list.)

Later in August, Yahoo! published a feature article on their fantasy football home page bemoaning the lack of fantasy love Matt Ryan was receiving in Yahoo! drafts. They couldn’t understand why Matt Ryan was not being drafted any higher than he was – especially considering the weapons he had at his disposal, e.g. Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. Based on the all the information we have discussed on the “autodraft” process and the ranked default player list, it seems odd that Yahoo! would lament the low average draft position of Matt Ryan that they themselves created by their low placement of him on their ranked default player list.

Shortly after the article was posted, Yahoo! upgraded their ranking of Matt Ryan in their default player list. The result was predictable. Matt Ryan was immediately being selected mainly in the 3rd – 5th round range, thus proving that the ranking on the Yahoo! default player list influences when a player is selected in an online draft. If you get nothing else out of this article, remember that last phrase – the ranking on the Yahoo! default player list influences when a player is selected in an online draft.

I truly enjoyed drafting Matt Ryan in the 10th – 12th round range as he ended up being the 7th best fantasy quarterback in 2012 averaging 19.9 points per game compared with Drew Brees (22.8 points per game), Aaron Rodgers (22.0 points per game) and Tom Brady (21.8 points per game), all who required a 1st round draft pick to acquire. I was not so happy later on, however, as I watched Matt Ryan fly off the draft board in the 3rd round of my drafts after he was moved up on the ranked default player list.

Fantasy football team owners who 1) know how the “autodraft” function works (and know not to use it), 2) understand that other owners use the ranked default player list as their draft guide, and 3) invest the time needed to identify undervalued players, can create a competitive advantage for themselves and easily dominate their online draft. I hope you will be one of those owners who can find fantasy football gold like those who found Matt Ryan in 2012!

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Online Draft Strategy and the Curious Case of Quarterback Matt Ryan

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