Most dynasty fantasy football players are deeply invested in getting the little things right.
How does this NFL prospect look on film? Does he separate well? Why’s his share of his team’s receiving yards so low?
Will that running back fit this new team? Is he better for a gap scheme or zone? What if they keep leaning on their satellite back for third downs?
Consequently, lots of dynasty content is focused on these isolated evaluations. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation — hard to nail down what’s ultimately driving what. But at the end of the day, most dynasty players and dynasty analysts spend the majority of their time thinking about specific players in specific situations.
This is a worthwhile pursuit! I sold Cooper Kupp for a late 1st right before his blow-up in 2021, because I didn’t project that sort of upside for him. I bought Brandon Aiyuk in bulk before his 2021 clunker because I underestimated Deebo Samuel’s target earning prowess. Nailing those calls would have made a major difference in the fortunes of those dynasty rosters.
The downside of a microfocus is that it’s extremely time-consuming. Dynasty projections — done well — require an enormous amount of work to properly factor in what matters and discount what doesn’t. And even then, good median projections may not strongly drive winning in a game where the difference between 4th place and 12th place ultimately doesn’t matter (or, even better, a game where 12th place is preferable to 4th place because of rookie picks!). Even limited analysis of individual players risks putting weight on metrics that don’t actually matter (come on though, just think about Mecole Hardman’s potential on more targets with his yards per target profile) at the expense of metrics that do (this Hardman guy can’t really earn targets, huh?).
None of this is to say it can’t be done well — it can and is. But to be done well requires significant work, which for most dynasty players means handing the agency to someone else doing that work and hoping they’re doing it well.
What I’m going to focus on in this Introduction to Dynasty series are macro concepts and philosophical approaches to dynasty. These articles won’t help you pinpoint the correct veteran WR to draft in the 4th round of startups or show you the right 2nd-round rookie RB to throw a dart at. But they’ll increase your margin for failure in all of those micro situations by making you one, two, even three percent better than your leaguemates in most situations. Over many leagues and many seasons, continually stacking that kind of advantage will make your teams tough to beat.
Understanding Value in Dynasty
To successfully move from the world of seasonal fantasy football to the world of dynasty, we need to understand which components of our concept of player value we can take with us, and which require a new approach. The good news is that it really isn’t that complicated.
I think of player value as breaking down into two pieces — intrinsic vs. extrinsic. A player’s intrinsic value is something most managers are familiar with: it’s what they can contribute to a roster right now. Their extrinsic value is the range of things they could be in the future. The combination of these types of value makes up 95% of a player’s overall dynasty value (I’m not sure what the remaining 5% is, but I won’t claim knowledge of the full 100%, as it seems presumptuous).
Let’s take a look at a couple of NFL examples:
DeAndre Hopkins is a 30-year-old WR who averaged 17.3 expected fantasy points per game last season. Very simple breakdown: 17.3 XFP/G equates to high intrinsic value, age-30 WR with recent injury history equates to low extrinsic value.
Drake London is a 21-year-old WR who averaged 12.7 expected fantasy points per game last season. Very simple breakdown: 12.7 XFP/G equates to low intrinsic value, age-21 WR with high draft capital equates to high extrinsic value.
We can do this calculus across positions, too, by introducing the concepts of value above replacement (VAR) or wins above replacement (WAR) to our comparison.
Travis Kelce is a 33-year-old TE who produced 3.03 outright WAR and 3.22 game-adjusted WAR last season.
Derrick Henry is a 29-year-old RB who produced 2.6 outright WAR and 2.95 game-adjusted WAR last season.
Though Kelce and Henry can be viewed similarly in terms of nominal intrinsic and extrinsic value, looking from the perspective of WAR shows us that the lean should be given to Kelce.
Of course, rookie picks, before actually using them on players, also fit in here; their value is 99% extrinsic (the 1% intrinsic is the fact that they can sit on your roster without taking up a roster spot).
Now here comes the bait and switch — there’s a lot more we can do to nail down our evaluations of intrinsic and extrinsic value, but I’m going to wait to cover it until a future article. For now, we’re just focusing on the “what” and “why” — the “how” is still to come.
Understanding Asset Types in Dynasty
Since we have a framework for valuing assets in dynasty, we can now start to split them up into archetypes. These archetypes won’t perfectly describe everyone we bucket in them, but at the macro level, they’ll give us a good way of thinking about players.
Superstars: High intrinsic value, high extrinsic value. Think Patrick Mahomes.
Productive Vets: High intrinsic value, low extrinsic value. Think Austin Ekeler.
Promising Youngins: Low intrinsic value, high extrinsic value. Think Kyle Pitts (pain).
Arb-Your-Way-To-The-Cheapest: Low intrinsic value, low extrinsic value. Think JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Picks: Low intrinsic value (though actually higher than our Promising Youngins because they don’t take a roster spot), high extrinsic value. Think, well, picks.
We can stretch this a little bit further into unexpected places. Who else is the type of player that has low intrinsic value but could suddenly have high intrinsic value if things broke the right way? How about James Cook? Tyler Huntley?
By breaking players into these component parts, we can start to understand the logic behind stacking our bench with plug-and-play backup running backs, or avoiding third-string WRs who we won’t ever actually be able to start with confidence.
We can also start thinking through trades. Trading away CeeDee Lamb is pretty roundly frowned upon. But what if I could Moneyball my way into replacing his high intrinsic value with someone like Stefon Diggs, and Lamb’s high extrinsic value with a future 1st? By understanding the fundamental pieces of what we’re giving up and what we’re getting back, we can work our way into trades that feel uncomfortable but allow us to be fluid with how we manage and develop our teams.
Applying Value and Asset Types to Time
Now that we understand what it is about players that make them appealing and unappealing to other managers, we can also develop an idea of when certain types of players become good buys and when they become good sells.
For a player with appeal tied up in intrinsic value, that appeal naturally wanes in the offseason when that intrinsic value isn’t actually accomplishing anything. Similarly, a roster that has thrown in the towel on the season is totally focused on extrinsic value. When a team is trying to push for a championship, extrinsic value has less importance to them than it does in the offseason.
Even better, just by looking at other managers' rosters, we can quickly get a grasp on how they approach value. We all have that manager in our league with a starting lineup filled entirely with promising second and third-year players — guess who you should target when you want to pivot off a young WR whose value you think has gotten over its skis?
By understanding these ebbs and flows in component value importance, we can pinpoint the right managers to make trades with, and the right times to do it. In the off-season, we trade for players with intrinsic-heavy value. In season, we trade for players with extrinsic-heavy value. When a contender loses a player to injury, we approach them with an extrinsic value player to replace him. When a team decides it wants to rebuild, we can offer up extrinsic value players for their intrinsic value players at a discount.
The benefit of this approach is not just that it helps you understand dynasty better, but it also helps you to provide solutions to the problems your co-managers believe their rosters have. Instead of pulling teeth trying to trade for the player everyone wants, or sell the player no one does, you’re taking advantage of their underlying preferences to help them make the mistakes they want to make.
You Don’t Have to Keep Relearning These Lessons
Notice that none of this involves getting player evaluations right. It doesn’t require pinpointing breakout offenses during the offseason. You don’t have to have the right read on how free agent John Doe is going to fit in his new coordinator’s offense. All you need is a basic outline of how to think about your teams to consistently win a little bit with every transaction you make.
As years go by, the exact way you find these edges will change — maybe we start to value elite QBs properly, and young WRs become a cheat code (I mean, anything can happen). But by knowing how to think about the game, you’ll be ready to adapt to those in real time without having to drastically rewire your thinking.
Of course, if you can get the micro and the macro right, you’re set to dominate just about any league you join. But we’re going to start with the low-hanging fruit. After all, the key to a good life isn’t all that complicated — 30 minutes of exercise three days a week, eating a healthy diet, spending time with loved ones, and offering a promising young WR up for whichever elite QB had a down year in every league you can.