Data from Disagreement
This article compares the draft rankings between the two most popular fantasy football sites, Yahoo and ESPN (as of 8/9/2015).
Why is this helpful?
We can use this comparison to find discrepancies that will help us determine which players are of good value and which are of poor value relative to their ranking. For example, drafting Frank Gore in the late second round or early third round is a reach according to the ESPN rankers but not according to the Yahoo rankers. Based on this information, you might be more encouraged to draft Frank Gore ahead of his ranking in ESPN and not feel like you reached.
Even if do not respect the opinions of the fantasy football "experts" at ESPN and Yahoo, it's still important to look at the rankings. Though you may not follow their rankings, most, if not all, of your opponents will. In order to outsmart them, you need to know how they think. Additionally, knowing how your opponents will draft will allow you to maximize value from your own draft.
For example, let's say that somehow at the beginning of last season you were able to look into the future and knew 100% that Lamar Miller was going to end the 2014 season as a top 10 running back in fantasy (which he did). However, even with this foresight, drafting MIller in the 1st or 2nd round (like you should for a top 10 running back) would be misguided and wasteful. Here's why. ESPN had him ranked 89th overall and Yahoo had him ranked 69th. Because of this, Miller's ADP (average draft position) was 80 according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com, which is in the late 7th round in a 12 team league. Knowing that your opponents wont take Lamar Miller until the 7th or 8th means you absolutely should not take him as early as the 1st or 2nd. Instead, you could have taken someone like Le'Veon Bell or Demaryius Thomas and then waited until the 7th round to take Moreno, or even as early as the 5th round if you were feeling worried that someone else might snag him.
Whether accurate or not, expert rankings from sites like ESPN and Yahoo largely dictate how the draft goes. Even if you have a group of fantasy know-it-alls, it's rare for players to get picked more than 1 or 2 rounds earlier than where they are ranked, especially in the early rounds.
I chose to compare the ESPN and Yahoo rankings because those are the two most widely used fantasy football sites. I also compared the rankings for ESPN and Yahoo to the Expert Consensus Rankings provided by fanatsypros.com. The Expert Consensus Rankings, or ECR, are an aggregation of the rankings of 41 fantasy football writers and experts. More on how ECR is calculated.
ECR provides a good baseline and may help us choose which of rankings between the two sites is more accurate.
Players are listed in order of their ESPN ranking. The players whose rankings differ significantly are highlighted in red.
The image below contains only the players with large ranking disparities.
ESPN’s rankings are heavily influenced by strategy.
The rankings are based on a 10-team league that drafts 16 rounds. You know this because 10 defenses and 10 kickers are ranked within the top 160.
Additionally, the 10th ranked QB, Tom Brady, is ranked 116th overall while the 11th QB, Ryan Tannehill, is ranked 148th overall. This large gap is tied to the idea that there is no need to draft a backup QB. I
In general, QBs and TEs are ranked much lower compared to Yahoo because ESPN considers these positions (outside of the elite tier) to be considerably deep. For example, ESPN’s 6th ranked QB, Ben Roethlisberger, is ranked 70th overall while Yahoo’s 6th ranked QB, Peyton Manning, is ranked 48th overall. Similarly, after Jimmy Graham, each tight end is ranked lower in ESPN compared to his Yahoo counterpart.
Meanwhile, ESPN recognizes that running backs, particularly reliable ones, are especially scarce and therefore value them even more than Yahoo does. This is evident as, out of ESPN’s top 12 ranked players, 11 are running backs while Yahoo includes just 6 in it’s top 12.
I wont talk about all the disparities since you can see the chart and decide for yourself how to use the data. Here are 20 controversial players from the list that caught my eye. The number in parenthesis is the difference between the ESPN rank and the Yahoo rank.
Matt Forte (8)
ESPN Rank: 8
Yahoo Rank: 16
The discrepancy in Forte’s ranking comes mostly from ESPN’s preference toward drafting a running back in the first round whereas Yahoo seems more open to taking a receiver at this position. The ECR rank is right in between. Personally, I lean towards ESPN’s line of thinking of prioritizing running backs. However, it is true that Forte is a tier below the running backs that precede him so I can understand the desire to take a wide receiver here. The problem is that I don’t think there is that much difference between the top 7 wide receivers and at least a few of them will be available in the second round (unless it is a very deep league).
Alfred Morris (14)
ESPN Rank: 28
Yahoo Rank: 42
Morris has often been described as an “unsexy” running back. But, while he’s not especially quick or powerful, he always produces. In his 3 year career, he’s never had less than 1000 yards or 7 touchdowns. Morris is rock solid but his “unsexiness” is causing him to be greatly underrated in the Yahoo rankings.
Carlos Hyde (13)
ESPN Rank: 33
Yahoo Rank: 46
I’m definitely with Yahoo on this one. Hyde’s value is based on hype and speculation. As a backup to Frank Gore, Hyde had just 333 yards last year averaging 4 yards per carry. That’s not spectacular. Even more damning is that his offensive line has been devastated this off-season, losing LG Mike Iupati, one of the best run-blocking guards in the league, as well as RT Anthony Davis and RT Jonathan Martin. The new RT is Eric Pears who played RG in 2014 for Buffalo and graded in the bottom 5 (out of 78) at the position. Center is another area of concern as starting center Daniel Kilgore is still quite a ways away from being healthy and backup center Marcus Martin graded in the bottom 5 at his position as well.
Justin Forsett (12)
ESPN Rank: 34
Yahoo Rank: 22
Based on last year’s performance, the high Yahoo ranking and ECR make sense. Forsett was a fantasy stud last year, finishing 8th among running backs despite not being drafted in all but a handful of leagues. If we had good reason to believe that he would produce at a similar level in 2015, then 22 overall is a bargain. At first glance, there is much cause for such optimism. The Baltimore Ravens’ offensive line is still an elite run-blocking unit and the Ravens did not acquire any other running backs in the off-season that might supersede Forsett on the depth chart. The change of offensive coordinator from Kubiak to Trestman seems like it might benefit Forsett since, last year, Matt Forte caught a whopping 102 receptions in Trestman’s offense. However, Forsett’s 2014 schedule was a cake walk, with just one unfavorable matchup all year. While 2015’s strength of schedule is not too tough overall, it is somewhat more unfavorable than last year’s. In addition, the 29 year-old career backup, while decent, has never been considered exceptionally talented. A mediocre player like Forsett is liable to cede more and more playing time to someone like backup RB Lorenzo Taliaferro as the season progresses, especially at the goal line. I’m not saying that it will happen, but it could. What if 2014 Forsett is just a one-year wonder? For that reason, I’m more inclined to agree with ESPN’s more cautious ranking.
Melvin Gordon (11)
ESPN Rank: 37
Yahoo Rank: 26
There’s a lot to like about Gordon. The San Diego offensive line is one of the most improved going into the 2015 season and he has the benefit of having a great quarterback in Philip Rivers to keep defenses honest. While Danny Woodhead might take some 3rd down work, Gordon’s role in the offense is secure, more so than that of fellow rookie running backs Gurley, Yeldon, and Coleman. However, drafting rookies is always inherently risky. For that reason, I think the Yahoo ranking is much too high. For that price, much more proven commodities with similar upside (such as Alfred Morris) can be had.
Peyton Manning (10)
ESPN Rank: 38
Yahoo Rank: 48
I’ll admit, I’m a little apprehensive about drafting Manning this year. He’s another year older and his performance dropped towards the end of the season. I think injury concerns are legitimate and even more so behind an offensive line that has been torn to shreds in the off-season. Still, he’s Peyton Manning. He loses Julius Thomas but still has Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to work with and his schedule is greatly improved from last year. I’d consider him at the Yahoo ranking.
Julian Edelman (22)
ESPN Rank: 41
Yahoo Rank: 63
I’m way more on the side of the Yahoo ranking here. In fact, even that might be too high. I just can’t understand the love for a receiver who’s upside is a low end WR2, who’s QB is suspended for the first 4 games, who has one of the worst schedules for the 2015 season, and who has had a history of concussions.
Frank Gore (15)
ESPN Rank: 42
Yahoo Rank: 27
I think Gore is a great value in ESPN leagues. Sure, Gore is getting up there in age but the “Inconvenient Truth” has only twice failed to exceed 1000 yards in his 10 year career (his rookie season and 2010, when he was injured). Gore has outstanding vision and is an accomplished pass blocker, making it likely that he will stay on the field. A 3-down back in a highly efficient offense led by Andrew Luck is going to see plenty of scoring opportunities and I could easily see Gore approach double-digit touchdowns.
Sammy Watkins (21)
ESPN Rank: 44
Yahoo Rank: 65
Lots of love for Watkins in ESPN. I’d be more inclined to agree with Yahoo’s rank considering Watkins’ QB situation is among the worst in the league and his schedule is just as tough as last year. However, looking down the list of wide receivers at this point, there’s not that many that I’d put ahead of him. Watkins is an exceptional talent, a guy who can make plays for himself and elevates the play of his QB rather than the other way around. His situation was no better last year and yet he still managed to come away with 124 fantasy points, good for 27th best in the league. History shows that wide receivers that “break out” in year 1 tend to improve in year 2. With a ~120 point floor, I’d snap up Watkins at his Yahoo ranking. In an ESPN league, I might opt to go for a mid-round running back at that draft position.
Joique Bell (33)
ESPN Rank: 46
Yahoo Rank: 79
ESPN loves Bell, while the Yahoo Rank and ECR seem to suggest an expectation that rookie Ameer Abdullah will eat into Bell’s workload. I’m firmly with Yahoo on this one. Bell is thoroughly unspectacular. Despite having one of the most favorable schedules in 2014, Bell ran for just 3.9 yards per carry, which was 27th among qualifying running backs. 46th overall is just too high for a player whose role in the offense is at risk to be significantly reduced this year. On top of that, Bell has been banged up the last couple of years making it even more likely that his workload will be limited.
Keenan Allen (14)
ESPN Rank: 47
Yahoo Rank: 61
The ECR actually agrees with ESPN on this one but I think the Yahoo ranking is more appropriate. Allen was a bust in 2014, being outperformed by his own teammate, Malcolm Floyd. I’m not sold on his talent as a WR1 and it will be hard for him to bounce back when he has to face some of the toughest corners in the league in 2015. And don’t sleep on WR Stevie Johnson, acquired by the Chargers this off-season. Philip Rivers is the best QB Johnson has ever had and I really could see him outperforming Allen this season.
Latavius Murray (19)
ESPN Rank: 48
Yahoo Rank: 29
Wow. When I saw that ESPN rank, I thought it was ridiculously high. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the Yahoo Rank and ECR were even higher. Such a lofty rank for a former 6th round draft pick with 82 career carries, just one career game of over 100 yards, and a pretty significant injury history (he had two surgeries on his ankle after 2013 and suffered a concussion last season). Murray has proved nothing and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see RB Roy Helu (or even Trent Richardson) take significant work and vulture more than his fair share touchdowns as he did in Washington. And Murray has a tough schedule to boot. Of all the players, Murray’s rank is the most baffling to me.
Joseph Randle (13)
ESPN Rank: 51
Yahoo Rank: 38
Everybody knows that whichever running back wins the starting job in Dallas is going to be very valuable in fantasy. Yahoo seems a bit more sure that it will be Randle rather than McFadden (whom they ranked 128th) while ESPN seems to be a bit more cautious (ranking McFadden 78th overall). I think Yahoo’s 38th overall is a bit steep but possibly worth it. I’d be far more comfortable with the value at ESPN’s ranking.
Tevin Coleman (29)
ESPN Rank: 52
Yahoo Rank: 81
I’m actually with ESPN on this one. I’m pretty high on Coleman and I would certainly rather have him than the other rookie running backs Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon who Yahoo ranked significantly higher (40th for Gurley and 52nd for Yeldon).
Andre Johnson (18)
ESPN Rank: 59
Yahoo Rank: 41
Johnson is a great deal in ESPN leagues. Like teammate Frank Gore, he’s getting up there in years but he is migrating to an offense that is far more efficient than the one he left and which is led by the best quarterback he’s ever played with in his career. 1,000 yards and catch 7 or 8 touchdowns is definitely doable.
Kevin White (9)
ESPN Rank: 61
Yahoo Rank: 70
The ESPN and Yahoo ranks are quite similar but the ECR says that both sites are way off. While I think White might be ranked too high in ESPN, I think the ECR is much too low. In the later rounds, you need to be drafting for upside. So while the rookie wide receiver could easily do nothing from a fantasy perspective, his upside is that of last year’s Alshon Jeffery now that Brandon Marshall is with the Jets.
Isaiah Crowell (26)
ESPN Rank: 66
Yahoo Rank: 92
Crowell is a risky pick because he’s not a lock to be the main ball carrier for the Browns, though he’s currently the favorite the lead the backfield which also includes rookie RB Duke Johnson and RB Terrance West whom Crowell split carries with last year. Still, the upside is definitely there. The Browns seem inclined to lean heavily on the run game and the offensive line is in contention with Dallas and Baltimore to be the best in the league.
Martavis Bryant (35)
ESPN Rank: 85
Yahoo Rank: 50
Bryant caught 8 touchdowns last year on just 26 receptions. That touchdown to reception ratio is ridiculous and unrepeatable. I don’t really mind taking a late round flier on him but you still need reliable players in the 5th round and Bryant seems liable to bust especially because I expect Roethlisberger to regress to the norm statistically (2014 was the best statistical season in his career).
Ryan Tannehill (71)
ESPN Rank: 148
Yahoo Rank: 77
Tannehill is ESPN’s 11th ranked QB. Part of Tannehill’s low ESPN ranking is that he is the 11th QB and the ranking are tailored to a standard 10 team league. ESPN advises against drafting backup QBs. The other reason is that ESPN just doesn’t value the QBs outside of the elite tier (Rodgers, Luck, Wilson, Manning, and Brees) because of how deep the draft is at that position. Yahoo doesn’t seem to consider this and ranks 14 QBs in the top 100 while ESPN ranks just 8 in the top 100. I agree with ESPN. There’s just not that much difference between the 6th ranked Roethlisberger and the 14th ranked Matthew Stafford. So why take Roethlisberger in the 5th round when I can have Ryan Tannehill, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, or Matthew Stafford after the 10th round?
Eli Manning (86)
ESPN Rank: 150
Yahoo Rank: 64
Like Tannehill, Eli’s low ranking in ESPN is due to ESPN’s draft strategy. But I also want to note that I’d rather have Eli than Tannehill or Brady who ESPN have ranked ahead of him. Both Tannehill and Brady have rather grueling schedules in 2015. Manning is far more proven than Tannehill and now has extra weapons to work with: Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, James Jones, and Shane Vereen. Meanwhile, Brady has the 4-game suspension to deal with.