When you listen to fantasy podcasts and read fantasy articles, you will often hear about value. Experts will talk about being happy to get a lesser player in a later round--sometimes they'll even say something about how they wouldn't take a player at one spot, but they would take him at a (sometimes slightly) lower spot because then he becomes a good value.
I understand value: you look for cheaper but productive players so you can use your bigger draft resources on better players. But I also find the focus on draft value a little perplexing. If I'm drafting, say, my team's second best player, I don't care whether he's a reach in the early second round but a value in the later second round. This is going to be one of my team's most important players--I want a player I want, regardless of where I take him. When the season starts, there are no reaches or steals, just players on your roster. There is no good value for a bad player: you need producers. I'm not rejecting the idea of value in a draft--I'm just saying that it shouldn't be a primary principle of drafting. If it is, you might end up with a roster of value-based mediocrities.
And this is where we come to one of my most important fantasy principles. "Value" of course must be considered, but you don't win championships with value--you win championships with elite producers. And that is why in the draft you should chase elite producers, not "value." "Value" can't be your primary concern: value must be used as a means toward acquiring as many elite producers as possible.
How do you get elite producers? For one thing, you pay for them. If you're drafting in an auction, you will have to pay for some elite producers. Don't be afraid to spend big on a couple of players. It won't always work (last year in my auction one guy spent 2/3 of his money on Doug Martin and C.J. Spiller) but it definitely can (last year I spent 2/3 of my auction money on Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy). If you're going to try avoid paying for the most expensive players, then you'd better be drafting players you believe can be elite producers.
And if you're looking to find elite producers at a reduced price, there are a few ways to do it.
1. Ignore injuries.
Injury history (recent or chronic) will lower a player's value in the eyes of many members of your league--and sometimes rightly so. If you draft a player with an injury issue, you might get burned. But I think most readers of this blog remember Adrian Peterson's 2012 season: sometimes injury concerns are a way to get an elite producer at a reduced cost. Former elite producers dealing with a recent injury can return to being elite producers. Who are some candidates this year?
This is a simple list of players (in alphabetical order) who have shown themselves capable of elite production in the past, but whose injury concerns may scare other drafters away. Some of these guys will not pay off--but I'd stake some draft resources on some of them paying off big-time. I'm leaving off guys that I don't actually think can be elite producers at this point, but could be quality starters (Reggie Wayne and C.J. Spiller, for example).
2. Build a trade-friendly roster
During a draft, all members of a league have the same number of draft resources. As the season moves along, however, this is not so: surprise players win starting jobs, surprise stars emerge, players disappoint, players get injured. If you draft a trade-friendly roster, you have an opportunity to acquire more elite producers.
Knowing how to build a trade-friendly roster means knowing your league. For example, in my auction league, nobody trades anything of value for quarterbacks anymore: especially early in the season, if your QB is struggling, there's usually a waiver wire guy that seems productive enough--and a better option than trading quality starters for a QB. So in this league, there's no reason to spend draft resources on a backup QB unless you think you might need that QB.
Building a trade-friendly roster also involves building a balanced roster--and this is where "value" comes in, yes. It's hard to trade from a "stars and scrubs" roster unless you're willing to move stars. If you have a more balanced roster, and also saved some draft resources for quality backups (that could be your quality starters if you're willing to trade your intended starters), you can end up acquiring elite producers.
And there's another way to build a trade-friendly roster...
3. Acquire your league's undervalued draft assets.
If you're a person who cares about value and you're now saying "Wait a minute, PV, you dumb idiot, when we talk about value this is what we're talking about!" you may be right. But what I mean here is to specifically consider the scoring rules as well as the history and tendencies of your league.
First, look at how your league translates NFL statistics into fantasy points to find advantages to exploit. For example, in my auction league, points for passing numbers are relatively low, but points for rushing numbers are relatively standard. This gives quarterbacks who rush for yards and touchdowns a huge advantage. At this point, everybody in the league has figured that out, and QBs that can run come at a premium cost. But kudos to the first guy that figured out the advantages of rushing QBs before anybody else did: he won a championship with Daunte Culpepper. If you're joining a new league, look for glitches in the scoring rules that might give some positions or some types of players an advantage that might not show up in their draft costs.
For a league that has been together for several seasons, you should be able to identify behaviors and attitudes of the league. For example, some leagues might undervalue tight ends. In my auction league, the top one or two tight ends are often expensive, but the rest go for under 3% of the auction budget each. Furthermore, we have a WR/TE flex position, making tight ends more useful. I don't suggest drafting a bunch of tight ends because they are undervalued--tight ends are rarely elite producers. However, everybody needs to start one, and if you have a mid-tier TE (think Jason Witten), throwing that quality starter into a trade can sometimes be what it takes to get an elite producer in return. Once the season starts, people no longer think "Eh, I'm not paying that for a tight end. Look at all these other guys that are still available!" Once the season starts, they might start thinking "Eh, I'm getting hammered at the tight end position. I keep getting nothing from my tight end--I need to get a decent one." You have to start one, after all, and the "value" TE you picked up late might not be getting any points. Those tight ends that had little appeal on draft day become more appealing once the season starts and they're starters.
4. Use your fliers on upside, not reliability.
Last week I suggested drafting Greg Jennings over Cordarrelle Patterson. But if I'm at the end of my draft and I'm drafting cheap players that I'll be cutting by Week 3 if they're not producing, I might as well chase the unproven potential than reliable mediocrity. If I need a starter, sure, I'd rather have Jennings. But after you draft your starters, every single position player on your roster should be somebody you think could, if circumstances break right, be a top-10 or even top-5 producer. I could see getting one reliable, steady backup RB and one reliable, steady backup WR. Still, I think every single late-round pick should be a potential monster season--you can pick up steady boring backups as the season goes along.
This week's fantasy principle
You should chase elite producers, not "value."