2023 Fantasy Football Strategy Using WAR


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2023 Fantasy Football Strategy Using WAR

Fall is coming. That means one thing. Time to go to WAR.

Fantasy football WAR (wins above replacement) is all about exploitation. The best way to prepare for your 2023 fantasy football draft is to see where market inefficiencies exist and plot your draft moves and counters. That means comparing current ADP vs last year’s ranking of player value by WAR.

WAR is a metric I developed that not only ranks which players were most productive across all positions, but how many more wins you could expect in your fantasy season because you had them on your team. Definitely read up on the nerdy details here if you haven’t already. It’s my Mona Lisa contribution to the fantasy community. I’ve never done anything smarter in my entire life. Ask any of my teachers.

OK. You’re up on WAR. Let’s use it now to identify those market inefficiencies. There’s no more important place to look than the start of the draft. Finding a potential draft pick with marginal EV in the middle to later rounds isn’t nearly as important as the first couple rounds. If you’ve read Scott Barrett’s section on the Power Law, you understand why. Big guns start early to win the WAR.

There’s still plenty of time for ADP to shake out during preseason, but most of the top-billed names are unlikely to move too far, barring injury… unless Saquon Barkley holds out or Stefon Diggs keeps acting super emo. That makes now a great time to get the lay of the land. Let’s start with last year. Below is a graph with the top-50 2022 WAR results for Weeks 1-17.

2022 Fantasy Football Wins Above Replacement

One of the biggest takeaways is how much impact top quarterbacks provided fantasy teams. If you followed my work last preseason, you know I was all in on taking Josh Allen in Round 2 because top-ranked quarterbacks have shown year-over-year consistency in earning Round 1 WAR valuations.

Humble brag… I was right again! Allen was #10 overall, as shown on the graph above. But he’s not the only quarterback who breaks the mold. Jalen Hurts has arrived, and Patrick Mahomes has always been here. These guys are no longer the “casuals’” second-round pick. They’re the sharps’.

Let’s move on to 2023.

I merged 2022 WAR results with the current PPR ADP to get a first look at players to circle on your big board. We’ll start with the most important two rounds - Rounds 1-2. FYI — Bijan Robinson is off since we have nothing to compare him to.

The “Blunt Value” column on the right is what we’re interested in here. This is simply the difference in last year’s WAR from this year’s ADP. Greener (usually) means better.

A quick word of caution: WAR is not a predictive stat. At least not any more than simple points scored.

The way I approach identifying value is by keying in on players who are likely to be in similar situations as last year. So, despite the green figure for players like Davante Adams, this doesn’t consider the quarterback downgrade from Derek Carr to Jimmy Garoppolo. But that’s kind of the fun of the exercise. We’re not studying basic strategy in blackjack here — this isn’t some perfect algorithm. Just use it as a starting point to which you apply your individual takes.

Speaking of personal takes, I have some goals around which you should consider planning your draft. They are all independent of one another, and I’m sure you can apply the graph above to come up with some of your own. But this is my article, so here are mine.

Goal #1: Draft Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, or Jalen Hurts in Round 2

If you can get a top-tier quarterback in Round 2, you should absolutely go against the grain and take one of these guys. Let your leaguemates call you a n00b.

I even cheated and added Jalen Hurts, whose ADP is 26 with a Blunt Value of 20. If Mahomes and Allen are taken early – don’t let him slip by. Top-name quarterbacks have proven year-over-year consistency in the past several years, and the gap between these three and the rest of the pack is enough that you should make acquiring one of these guys a point.

Goal #2: Draft Austin Ekeler if he’s on the board at any point in time

Last year’s #1 overall has no competition for touches, and no reason he won’t get the NFL version of load-management treatment. The dude is gonna hog rushes and checkdowns once again for Justin Herbert. He’s my #1 overall pick for this reason, despite my absolute affection for Christian McCaffrey. I’m actually a little surprised it’s up for discussion.

Let’s move on to the next couple of rounds.

Goal #3: Grab the value on Tee Higgins or DeVonta Smith before stealing Joe Mixon in Round 4

OK, I can’t imagine Mixon staying here if he remains on the Bengals’ roster, so it’s entirely likely this will be obsolete, but he’s definitely a guy to plan around if he sticks anywhere near this ADP.

Goal #4: Steal Amari Cooper

Let’s assume Mixon’s ADP cruises up. Amari Cooper is perhaps the biggest value not named Jalen Hurts on this list. He’s cheap because Deshaun Watson struggled in the limited time he had as the starter last season, but if you think Watson is going to come into 2023 using his $230 million arm to hand off to Nick Chubb more than 50% of the time, you’re going to be sorry for passing on Cooper. He has top-five overall wide receiver upside if you ask me.

Let’s check out Rounds 5-6 while we’re at it.

Goal #5: Pour one out for Chris Godwin and Mike Evans

OK, this one isn’t really a goal — more of a roadblock to avoid. The great Buccaneer battle between Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask takes the high seas this summer to earn the rights to win the starting job in Tampa. This is not great news for any pass catcher. Let someone else walk the plank with these guys.

Goal #6: Justin Fields is this year’s Jalen Hurts and is my hot-take favorite QB OVERALL

Full disclosure — I’m a Bears fan. But everything is set for Fields to take off: a true #1 wide receiver. A coach who is still going to allow him to run. And most importantly: a world-class shitty defense. Maybe their free-agent additions at linebacker help, but let’s not get crazy here. I actually like the idea of passing on the top quarterbacks I recommended taking in Round 2 and sniping Fields a round above his ADP. It’s just risky because he’s the last of the litter before you get to the point where may as well just wait.

Goal #7: Target George Kittle

This is a Purdy good price for a guy who created great chemistry with his starting quarterback. Getting a premier tight end a round ahead of what he earned last year looks like a no-brainer.

Overall Draft Plan

That’s about as far down the board as you need to go to get your draft planning started. Lots of things will change as things come up, but as you can see, there’s a lot of value to be taken from these market inefficiencies. Just remember the most vital ones will come in the earlier rounds. That’s the power law.

To wrap this up – let’s tie some of these goals together and develop a “utopia” plan for the draft. I say utopia because getting every player you want from a draft – even within reason – will never fully transpire. But you gotta aim for something! Here are a few ideas for three different draft selection ranges.

Top of the draft (Picks 1-4)

Team A

Round 1: Austin Ekeler or Christian McCaffrey

Round 2: Josh Allen

Round 3: Tee Higgins

Round 4: Joe Mixon

Round 5: George Kittle

Round 6: Tyler Lockett

Team B

Round 1: Justin Jefferson

Round 2: Tony Pollard

Round 3: Jalen Hurts

Round 4: DeAndre Hopkins

Round 5: George Kittle

Round 6: Tyler Lockett

Middle of the draft (Picks 5-8)

Team A

Round 1: Travis Kelce

Round 2: Derrick Henry

Round 3: DeVonta Smith

Round 4: Joe Mixon

Round 5: Justin Fields

Round 6: James Conner

Team B

Round 1: Cooper Kupp

Round 2: Patrick Mahomes

Round 3: Tee Higgins

Round 4: Joe Mixon

Round 5: Dameon Pierce

Round 6: Dallas Goedert

Bottom of the draft (Picks 9-12)

Team A

Round 1: Saquon Barkley

Round 2: Josh Jacobs

Round 3: Amari Cooper

Round 4: Lamar Jackson

Round 5: Mike Williams

Round 6: Kyle Pitts

Team B

Round 1: CeeDee Lamb

Round 2: AJ Brown

Round 3: Kenneth Walker

Round 4: Lamar Jackson

Round 5: D’Andre Swift

Round 6: Kyle Pitts

You’ll notice all my utopian team assemblies are at least fairly realistic and include drafting a top quarterback no later than Round 5. There are still many things to get sorted throughout the summer, but this is how I’m getting the game plan started heading into my seasonal drafts.

Creator of fantasy football Wins Above Replacement. Jeff enjoys fantasy football analytics and sports analytics in general and writes comedic sports analytics columns on the side at statholesports.com.