How to Tier Your Player Rankings for a Fantasy Football Draft Day Cheatsheet

Tiering your cheatsheet is, in my opinion, the most critical of all draft day preparations you can make before your fantasy football season.

Sure, you can read injury reports all day long. That helps. No one wants to draft a guy on IR. But the real edge to draft a better team than the other obsessive football fans in the room is your ability to identify — quickly and quietly — the most valuable pick left on the board.

In the heat of the moment, we often lose sight of where players have been missed. You’re looking ahead to decide when you can draft a quarterback…or maybe you’re focused on following your RB-RB-RB strategy for the first three rounds. That’ll keep you from noticing a WR1-level fantasy wide receiver falling into the third round, ripe for your picking.

Worst of all, if you don’t have a consolidated rankings sheet, you might miss out on a top-tier wide receiver simply because your wide receiver rankings were underneath your quarterback and running back rankings when it was your pick.

Regardless of the reason, you can only blame yourself for not tiering your cheatsheet if you miss out on draft day bargains.

It’s been a few years since I visited the topic, and in prepping for 2011, I thought it’d be worthwhile to revisit the best way to tier your player rankings  for your fantasy football draft.

Step 1, Start with rankings you like.

I don’t care if you prefer the rankings or projections from ESPN, NFL.com, Fleaflicker, or Yahoo!. What matters is that you’re comfortable with the rankings you choose.

I often prefer to start with aggregate or consensus fantasy football draft rankings from sites like FantasyPros or Fantasy Football Nerd. These give you a good starting point since the outliers are reigned in a bit when averaged together.

But if you prefer to go with the player rankings or projections of just one man and one man only…that’s your call. More power to you. Go you — and him, whoever that analyst or blogger may be.

One note: It will be a huge help if you choose a set of rankings or projections that includes an average points per week or total points for each player, either based on last year’s fantasy football scoring, several years of scoring, or projected points for the current season. If you don’t, you’ll have to do a little more legwork in Step 2.

Step 2, Add an average point per game projection or total points projection to each player in your rankings.

Foreshadowing. See, if you read my note on Step 1, you already know what you’ll need to do for this step.

If you don’t have any kind of average projected points per week or total points projection listed for each player on your current cheatsheet, it’s time to go get that info. You can pull these total or per week averages from sites like FF Today, CBSSports, or ESPN.

If they don’t provide a per game average, you don’t have to drill down to it. But you can just divide the total projected points for the 2011 season by 16. There are, after all, 16 games in an NFL season.

Step 3, Separate your rankings by position, if they aren’t already separated.

Pulling out just the running backs and just the quarterbacks into one ranking column will help you when you start locking in your tiers.

Step 4,  Adjust your rankings to your liking.

Now that you have your list, it’s time to make it your own.

With a points total or average attached to each player, start modifying those points as you see fit. Here’s where your research comes into play.

Upgrade the players who will excel, and downgrade the players that won’t meet expectations.

If your points total or average is based on a player’s performance in previous seasons and especially if it’s based off just the last season, be sure to update it based upon offseason moves and team system adjustments. If you like Matt Hasselbeck more as a Titan than a Seahawk, for example, make sure you adjust his point total accordingly.

Furthermore, if you’re player points are based off projections for the current season, feel free to bump them higher or lower depending on how you feel about players. Just be realistic. Micheal Vick will NOT score 500 points in a single season.

Look at a player’s schedule for the upcoming season, estimate the number of points they could realistically score, total those estimations up, and divide by 16 to get your average. You, of course, don’t have to adjust this for every player, but feel free to do so for the ones you feel are under  or over-projected.

Once you have your average points per game or total points has been adjusted for each player, sort by your projections and then adjust your rankings some more based on rankings alone.

You don’t have to be as rigid with the stat adjustments here. Spot a player a point or so to their per game average or 4-5 total points for a full season projection when you feel like they should move up a couple of spots in the rankings.

But like I explained when talking about adjusting projections, be realistic. Crazy cheatsheets make for a crazy draft.

Step 5, Tier it up!

It’s time to start assigning players to tiers. Look at your average points per game projections and start dividing whenever there’s a significant difference.

For example, you’ll probably section off all the quarterbacks averaging more than 17 points per game in your projections into your first tier. Then you might make those quarterbacks scoring between 17 and 15 points per game your second tier.

Just look for the significant breaks and run down your list. You want to have a few tiers of top players at each position, but leave everyone averaging 5 points or less in the final tier.

Step 6, Align your tiers

So you’ve got your players segmented by position, but how do you know when to take a quarterback in your second quarterback tier over a receiver in your top, or first, wide receiver tier?

Look at the tiers you’ve created and make the tier scoring universal across all positions. So, all of your players projected for 17 points per game or more would make up your top tier.

It’s okay to have one or no players from a particular position in a tier. For example, you might slot Aaron Rodgers as the only player in your top tier if you project him higher than anyone else at more than 19 points per game. That’s fine. Just make the tiers align as best you can.

(Bonus) Step 7, Tag your sleepers

You’re more of less done creating your cheatsheet at this point, but I do like to throw in this tip just for the more savvy drafters out there. Once you’ve got your tiered cheatsheet created, I usually go back and mark the players I feel are “sleepers” or undervalued at their current position.

I know we adjusted our projections and rankings in the previous steps to our liking, but if I feel one player in the third or fourth tier has the potential to be a top-tier player if circumstances break his way — Jonathan Stewart, for example, or Ben Tate — I’ll be sure to mark him as the one I want to look to draft in that tier.

If I like a guy more than a lot of experts, but I can’t reasonably increase his projected points enough to make him a second tier player, I’ll mark him as a priority for the third tier.

As long as you don’t go homer-happy, you can also take a second to tag your favorite players in each tier at this point since part of the fun of fantasy football is drafting the guys you REALLY wanted to draft.

Just make sure you use a different mark for favorite players than your sleepers. You’ll need to know the difference quickly when you’re making your picks.

Time to draft

When you’re finished creating this tiered cheatsheet, you’ll be able to see, in one quick glance, that four players projected to score 15 points per game or better are still available as your pick approaches in the middle of the third round.

And you’ll be able to use your tiers to determine position scarcity. For example, when it’s your pick and you see one second tier wide receiver and six second tier running backs remaining on your cheatsheet, you will be able to jump on that last second tier wide receiver knowing that one of the second tier running backs will make his way back to you.

Rather than panic during a run on tight ends and start looking only at your rankings for that position, you’ll continue to collect value and steal picks at higher tiers for other positions.

The value picks are the entire reason you tier your player rankings, and the tiers work wonders. Just give it a try.

Best Player Available Strategy

As far as your draft strategy goes, tiers work best when you go into your draft targeting the best player available in each round.

Let your need at QB, RB, or WR steer you when there are several players available at the same tier, but when there’s only one or two top-tier running backs left on the board, it’s time to draft them. Don’t let someone else capitalize on those value picks that fall to you.

Of course, you don’t want to draft five quarterbacks just because no one else was jumping on the second tier signal callers, but I might consider taking four receivers in my first six picks if they were the only players remaining in my first or second tier. Assuming your rankings system and projections are solid, you’ll be able to make deals to improve your running back or quarterback struggles once the season begins.

If you want to get tricky, you can also try tiers with the draft strategy I have used since 2009, my “cutting out the middle men from best player available” strategy.

As a final note, I always feel like I don’t have to say this, but just in case there are any first-timers out there, you should always know the scoring and roster rules of your league!

Some leagues restrict the number of quarterbacks you can keep on your roster or the number of running backs you can draft. You’ll need to know this to take full advantage of the best player available strategy without botching your draft.

When you’re ranking players and preparing your cheatsheet, keep in mind your league’s scoring rules and the value placed on each position.

So that’s how you tier your fantasy football draft cheatsheets. Any questions?

Leave ‘em in the comments, and if you’re lucky, someone amazingly intelligent will answer you. Otherwise, you’ll just get me.

The Difference Between a QB1 and a QB2

To continue the fantasy definition series, we’ll take a look at the divisions between fantasy quarterbacks.

After nailing down the difference between running backs, understanding the definition of a QB1 versus a QB2 could make or break your fantasy team.

Every winning fantasy team has at least one QB1 on the roster — sometimes two. That’s pretty much a given. We’ll break down the quarterback position into QB1s and QB2s, but sadly, QB3s don’t really exist except maybe in Canada or the arena league.

QUARTERBACK 1 (QB1)

Tom Brady. Period. That’s what you’re thinking, right?

Tom Brady put up some freakish stats in 2007, far beyond what to expect from a QB1 — call it QB0 with a little Gilbert Arenas influence. Several factors indicate that he should return to earth in 2008 but still produce high-end QB1 numbers.

Instead of focusing on Brady though, let’s talk about the definition of a QB1, Peyton Manning.

Manning is the primary weapon on offense for the Colts, a team built to throw the ball. His fantasy value is up there with the majority of the RB1s every year, and having Manning on your fantasy team guarantees you multiple touchdowns and plenty of yardage each week.

Not every QB1 is Peyton Manning, but a decent QB1 should look the part and produce multiple touchdowns each game — especially if they get to play Miami or Atlanta this year.

A QB1 should consistently put up around 20 fantasy points in standard scoring leagues each week. To put that more concretely, a QB1 should be good for 2 touchdowns and 250+ yards or 1 touchdown with a freakish amount of yardage every game.

Several QBs besides Manning and Brady could be strong starters for your fantasy team in 2008. A select few were highlighted in our recent quarterback rankings.

Good examples: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Drew Brees
Weekly expectations: 2   TDs and 200+ yards give or take a TD or some more yardage

QUARTERBACK 2 (QB2)

QB2s are usually a slightly less effective than QB1s. While they are still starters, they are either younger, developing quarterbacks that still lack the scoring power of a QB1 or more risky quarterbacks who may have explosive games followed by two or three game touchdown droughts.

It’s always better to have a second QB1 as your backup quarterback, but if you don’t want to draft two QBs that high or you land a top commodity like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo or Drew Brees, QB2s can be enough as a decent bye week filler.

With lesser QB1s, a QB2 may even be worth starting when they have a fantastic match up. If you’re lucky in drafting, you can sometimes even get your hands on a guy that develops into a strong QB1 and replaces your starting quarterback. Derek Anderson jumped into the QB1 rankings in 2007 after being completely off the map as a long shot to be even a QB2.

The main difference between a QB1 and a QB2 in consistency. A QB2 might have the skills to be a QB1 given the right circumstances, but they just don’t produce at a high level enough for you to count on them to lead your fantasy team.

Good examples: Trent Edwards, Vince Young, Jason Campbell, Matt Leinart
Weekly expectations: 1 TD and 150 yards…and surprises

PARTING NOTE

Generally, no one drafts QBs without a starting job at all in fantasy drafts, so there really isn’t anywhere to go after QB2s, but backups with a decent chance of starting like Kurt Warner wouldn’t be a bad way to pad your last couple of draft picks — especially if you are taking a guy like Matt Leinart. As of now, it’s not clear whether Leinart will win back his job or not for 2008.

A high-scoring, stud quarterback was critical for fantasy teams in 2007, and many analysts suggest picking up as many solid ones as you can this year as long as you have the bench room. You don’t have to go crazy, but two QB1s could save the day for your fantasy team, and having three QB1s or two QB1s and a star QB2 could give you some valuable trade bait a few weeks into the season.

I tier my QBs several times over going into a draft. Right now, I have four to five tiers within just my QB1s. When it comes to QB, there are so many types of talent and roles within the team that it is critical to have visual splits when you are drafting.

Questions about a specific QB? Drop them in the comments.

The Difference Between a RB1 and RB2

When we talk about players as being RB1 or RB2 caliber, we are not trying to confuse you.

Okay. Okay. Well, maybe we are just a tiny bit, but that’s a small satisfaction of mine. I have to compensate for all the spammy emails I get from Russia that make me feel “small,” okay?

There exists in the fantasy football lexicon a set of definitions that helps in classifying your expectation for players. These definitions break down the projected performance of a player over the course of a season. “RB2″ is just one of many.

Associating these tags with players on your cheat sheet — maybe by tiering them off into RB1 and RB2 categories — you can better prepare for the kind of team you want to build and better evaluate potential trades.

Yes, you could always jump into a draft expecting to take the next stud available, but there comes a time in every fantasy football players life when they realize that they can’t just fill an entire team with studs of unending potential. You’ll run out. Some of us have more than 6 teams in our league.

You have to decide whether you want to go after a RB1 or take a stud at another position and take two RB2s when you get the chance. Now, that’s getting crazy, but sometimes crazy works. Just try it in a bar fight. No one messes with the crazy guy…

Notch this one on your fantasy football reference manual and clear a spot for your merit badge. These definitions are talking standard scoring (6 point TDs, 1 point for every 10 yards).

RUNNING BACK 1 (RB1)

The king of the “1” positions. RB1 is your workhorse and one of the most dependable (hopefully) players on your roster. Expectations can vary greatly, depending upon whether you have LaDainian Tomlinson or not, but you always want your RB1 to be a touchdown machine or a dependable yardage beast.

At the top, you can usually pray for 10+ touchdowns in a season and 1500-2000 yards. Not too many full-load running backs out there nowadays who can put that up though.

Usually, there are only about 10-12 true RB1s to even draft, and the number of stud RBs has been dropping ever since the dreaded running-back-by-committee system (RBBC) came into place — another dastardly effect of global warming…

Good examples: LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Westbrook, Joseph Addai
Weekly expectations: 100+ yards and at least 1 TD with occasional bonus TDs

RUNNING BACK 2 (RB2)

In contrast, your RB2 is a complimentary back — and the “all you got left” for picks near the end of a big league — here’s to you, picks 11 and 12.

These days, any running back scoring around 8+ touchdowns with around 500 yards or reaching 1000 yards with fewer TDs is pretty exceptional as a RB2. Many of the top RB2s are of the TD-vulture variety.

Any running back that finishes in the top 30 is obviously a pretty decent RB2. You want to collect a couple of these guys if you can to sub in and out on a weekly basis and play those match ups.

Good examples: Brandon Jacobs, Deuce McAllister, Chester Taylor, DeAngelo Williams
Weekly expectations: 100+ yard and, frequently but not always, a TD

RUNNING BACK 3 (RB3)

As a BONUS — aren’t you lucky? — let’s talk RB3s. If you are in a league that plays three, you are probably looking to snag quite a few running backs and get two RB2-caliber guys. Technically, RB2 guys are the last ones you want to start on a regular basis.

A RB3 would be someone you expect to keep on the bench for a stretch — a new rookie perhaps. If they end up making waves and parting seas to the endzone, you could move them into your starting lineup. Otherwise, they are there if you get in a bind and for potential big games a few times in the season.

Good examples: Jerious Norwood, Tatum Bell, Leon Washington
Weekly expectations: 50 yards and occasional TD unless “special sleeper powers” activated by alien meteor or starting running back injury

PARTING NOTE

There is always some room to play here with these projections. If the league suddenly gets flooded with Adrian Petersons — or more likely, nine or ten Travis Henry types with all the kids he is producing — the RB2 position expectations will fluctuate.

Having trouble classifying a running back for this upcoming season? Post the players in the comments if you want a foolish expert opinion.

Look forward to  more foolish differences explored for the QB and WR position as the offseason’s “Are we there yet?” period continues.

Fantasy Draft Strategy: Tiering Your Player Rankings and Cheat Sheets

Now that the players have settled into their teams for 2008, and overlooking the few free agents still bouncing from workout to workout, it’s time to start preparing your draft cheat sheets and practicing your draft strategy with a few mock drafts.

Tiering your draft cheat sheet is one very effective method of drafting a batch of strong contenders that I swear by — profusely. By tiering, you get a leg up on your fellow drafters because you can see the value when others cannot.

Some fantasy football sites and sources will tier their cheat sheets for you. Whether you trust one source’s rankings or want to combine several intel sources into one power sheet or big board (like I do), it’s always best to look over your draft notes and adjust the tiers based on updated info and/or any personal, gut feelings.

Tiering provides you with a visual reference on draft day of where value is being overlooked, but the greatest benefit is that you separate players by value regardless of position and see when a top-tier player has been skipped over.

Why Bad Drafts Happen to Good People

Too often, bad drafts happen because friends let friends draft drunk. On that note, let’s go to a short public service announcement:

*Ahem* That’s not right, kids. Always take the draft boards away and make your drunk friends spend the night before someone gets behind a draft list and makes a bad decision. You only get to draft once every season, and you don’t want to end up picking the ugly one because they start looking good to you after beer five…

But that’s enough about LenDale White. PSA complete.

When alcohol isn’t involved, sometimes we focus too much on a specific position we are targeting rather than taking the best player on the board. Don’t get caught thinking about running backs into the third round when drafting a wide receiver would give you the stronger team.

The Benefits of Tiering Your Cheat Sheet

Without tiers, you might be looking at a quarterback in the second round when the market is richer for taking another running back since the top two or three quarterbacks are off the board.

Likewise, you might find yourself in the fourth round looking at running backs when grabbing the last of the top wide receivers would make your team a powerhouse or provide trade bait for the player who just spent a high pick on a quarterback and neglected to get a receiver early.

With a tiered cheat sheet, you can easily make the snap judgments and see when a first tier running back is still on the board in the third round or catch when the last top quarterback is about to go off the board in the fourth round.

These small details can keep you from missing a run on an important position in your draft or overlooking opportunity at another position.

Best Way to Tier It Up in Your Fantasy League

  • Tier your draft cheat sheet based upon how many points that player generated on average last season or how many points they are projected to generate this season.

I prefer to mix it up a bit here. I start with the top-ranked players from various fantasy football resources and then move players up or down based upon this season’s projections and last season’s performance — always being careful to notch down players who have inflated values because they outperformed their draft stock last season.

  • Once you have the rankings, place breaks where significant point differences occur, and if you can stand the level of detail, make these point breaks universal across the board for each position.

Depending upon your point system, you might have the top scorers — say 30+ points per week — in tier 1 while players that averaged or will average 25+ in tier 2. Tier 4 might be made up of players that only generate 10-15 points per week.

One easy way to start finding your tier divisions is by separating the RB1s from the RB2s and the QB1s from the QB2s. Once those lines are set, you can divide the QB1s into high-end and low-end options and so forth until you’ve created several tiers. The more tiers, the better.

At this point, you probably get the idea. (If not, just give up now and go with drafting drunk.)

It’s okay if Randy Moss, Tom Brady and L.T. are you’re only first-tier players. Just make sure you establish when the players projected to generate the most points are going off the board.

  • With this sheet, the fantasy football draft strategy is to snag as many top players as you can regardless of position. In other words, draft the best player available.

I don’t worry if I don’t have a quarterback before the fourth or fifth round as long as I have a stable of strong fantasy point generators. You can always snag a backup-quality quarterback later in the draft and put a trade together with some of your stronger talent at other positions for a starting-quality stud.

This “best player available” strategy tends to be the most successful in getting a team that will dominate throughout the regular season and into the playoffs. Even if you miss with a few top draft picks, you should have enough quality players spread out across every position to compensate.

By having tiers on your draft cheat sheet, you shouldn’t be distracted by need at a specific position until the final rounds of the draft, and the majority of the time, you get a balanced team covering every position without even trying.

Ever tried a tiered draft strategy and failed? Do you feel bad putting L.T. and A.P. in their own tier? Having a hard time drawing a line after Brady, Manning and Romo in the QB tiers? Talk back in the comments and you might get a response or discussion from me or, if you are lucky, a Shakespeare-typing monkey.