Nerd Alert: 2021 Underdog Best Ball Rankings

July 13, 2021

Hi everyone, my name is Nick. I’m a nerd and did all the hard work for you this year. Let’s win some money.

I will cut to the chase here by linking to an explanation as to how I think about fantasy football if you’re interested in the method behind the madness.

If you just want to look at the ranks, you can find them here. Soon, they will be posted on the site as part of our 2021 draft guide and include every common format (standard, 1/2 PPR, PPR), league size, and platform (NFL, Yahoo, etc.).

For a more in-depth explanation on how I made these specific ranks and how you can use them to take down leagues on Underdog, buckle up, and keep reading.

How These Ranks Were Created

There are a few columns of interest here, and I will do my best to explain how they were created without boring you too much. This took me a while.

  • HALF – This is the average of approximately 50 or so experts and a machine learning algorithm’s estimate for exactly how many fantasy points a particular player will score. Experts start with the team and work their way down to the player level. In contrast, the machine learning algorithm uses data and past performance to predict future performance at solely the player level. The algorithm is based on historical data that goes back to 2012. Averaging the different approaches to projections should help to reduce the overall shortcomings of each process.
  • Value – This is an important one because it helps us compare the value of different positions objectively. We use the projection from the “Half” column to create a “Value Over Replacement” number (then we do some math and squeeze it all in-between 1 and 0. The closer to 1, the better. This tells us how many more points the player will score than the last starter at the position in a given week. The usual cutoffs are RB24, WR36, QB12, and TE12. These cutoffs are determined by ADP and will vary from site to site based on the format.
  • ADP Rank – This is the average draft position of the player on the site in question. Here it is using Underdog ADP.
  • Average – I didn’t use this in the vorp calculation, but this is the average draft position of the player across the big sites. I think it is interesting to compare specific site ADP to the broader “wisdom of the crowd.”
  • Diff in ADP and Value – This tells us how high or low the experts are compared to the consensus. Positive numbers mean the experts like the player more than the crowd. Negative numbers mean that people are paying above the experts’ recommendation for a particular player at their ADP. Currently, the most overvalued player is Mac Jones, which is interesting. Also, the experts are really behind ADP on the Colts’ receivers. I will have more of these observations in a future article.

Note: These are median projections and do not take “upside” into account. I think the concept of upside, or at least our ability as human beings to predict upside, is overblown, and you are better off drafting players at their median projection. Upside is somewhat baked into the median numbers anyway. This is where I differ from most “experts.” Many experts will take projections and move them around to form their “ranks” for the year. I feel this causes more harm than good. Again, we suck at predicting this stuff – acknowledging that gives us an edge over the field.

How To Use These Ranks

The ranks are ready to be uploaded into Underdog so that you can use them through the app. Here is a video that shows you how to do it. If you don’t want to go to the trouble, you can make a copy of the Google sheet and use that as a cheat sheet as the draft progresses.

Aside from that, I recommend using the ranks as is. If it says to take a specific position, you probably should. If you stray from it, you should have an intentional plan in mind. Here are a few plans I go into drafts with.

  • Fill out your starting lineup before filling out depth. I stray from this from time to time, but the value that you get from your 5th WR, 2nd QB, 2nd TE, and 4th RB isn’t as high when you still need a starter in another position.
  • Race to fill the flex with an RB or WR. You can’t fill the flex with a QB so wait on them. Unfortunately, this probably means you’ll miss out on some of the elite guys, but there is PLENTY of value in the late rounds at QB. Similarly, the elite tight ends are great, but they go at a premium right now. I find myself looking at a tight-end around the Dallas Goedert tier. Note: This strategy is where I stray from the ranks the most.
  • Rookies are undervalued in these ranks because experts assume they won’t start producing until later in the season. In some cases, a rookie quarterback won’t start until halfway through the season, so their overall points take a hit, but they can come on strong when you need them in the playoffs. As it stands, the exciting rushing quarterbacks are a little overvalued, but it makes sense to wait on them as your first QB and pair them with a non-mobile veteran for a nice little pairing that should compliment each other. This is a great example of “buying high” with intention while not giving up too much opportunity cost.
  • Rookie RBs are also overvalued because, similarly, their roles aren’t fully defined yet. This is an example of predictable upside as rookies tend to finish the year strong once they earn the coaches’ trust. See Johnathan Taylor, Cam Akers, etc I like going with a rookie RB as my first back (It brings me no great joy to report that yes, Zero RB is probably the best draft strategy this year) and support him with 3-4 veterans with defined roles. There is a lot of value in these players, especially if they catch passes.
  • The “optimal” roster construction varies based on your draft, but you should aim for 2-3 QBs, 4-5 RBs, 8-10 WRs, and 2-3 TEs. If you take a QB or TE in the first five rounds, definitely stick with 2 of them. Also, keep an eye on bye weeks if you are only rolling with two guys at a position.

Welp, that’s it for now. I’ll be back soon with more specific player takes! Good luck.