Meta-Trends for One-Quarterback Drafts

by Joel Ybarra · Best Ball Plays & Strategy

Zooming Out and Becoming Meta

Fantasy analysis most often takes on a micro-perspective. We focus on which wide receiver or running back will finish number one overall at their position or which player will outdo another in a given positional tier. These ranking and tier discussions are helpful starting points, but to develop a robust draft plan we need to zoom out and take on a meta-perspective. Meta-trends are broad patterns that emerge when we examine how positional groups cluster in different parts of drafts and how players drafted in those ranges perform. Think “running back dead zone” and “late-round quarterback.” Combining the most compelling of these meta-trends, we can form a comprehensive draft plan that allows us to outdo our league-mates who are focused in on micro-analysis (i.e. player takes).

Let’s look at some familiar meta-trends that emerge in one-quarterback drafts. Picks one through 24 typically contain “anchor running backs,” “alpha wide receivers,” and “bully tight ends.” Picks 25 through 100 contain ambiguous groups of running backs and wide receivers as well as the dreaded running back dead zone. In this study, we examine top-6, top-12, and top-24 hit-rates in half-PPR scoring of the various positional groups in these zones from 2016 to 2021. We divided drafts into three sections: 1) top-24 picks 2) picks 25 through 100, and 3) picks after 100. Dividing up drafts this way gives us a simple and easy-to-remember way to assess which positional groups to target as a draft progresses.

Dividing Up A Draft: Three Zones

  • The Promised Land: Picks 1 to 24 – Rounds one and two are home of elite fantasy options with the highest hit rates. Here we can secure some foundational pieces with high upside.
  • No Man’s Land: Picks 25-100 – These middle rounds are the realm of ambiguity. This is where we must determine which players will emerge from uncertain team situations and offer the most value.
  • The Wasteland: Picks 101-216 – After pick 100, hit rates drop off significantly. Still, we can find some dynamic pieces in this range to complement the strong core of players established in early rounds.

Meta-Trends in Picks 1-24 – The Promised Land

Draft A Wide Receiver in Round One

Comparing hit rates for round-one running backs and wide receivers, we find they hit at very similar rates except in the top-6.

Meta-trends WR-RB Round One

Wide receivers hit in the top-six nearly twice as often as running backs do (60.0-percent vs. 33.3-percent), probably due to running back injury rates. It is true that it is impossible to replace the high-end production of an elite running back like 2019 Christian McCaffrey, but the likelihood of choosing the one or two players that will reach those heights is even lower than the 33.3-percent hit rate above. Taking an elite receiver is more of a sure bet especially when we think about how running backs and wide receivers from round two perform, as below.

Draft A Running Back in Round Two

Believe it or not, round-two running backs actually had nearly identical hit rates as round-one running backs over the last six seasons:

meta-trends RBs round one

And round two running backs performed significantly better than second round wide receivers:

Meta-trends Round 2 RB WR Table

Round two is where you can solidify the foundation of your team by drafting a running back. Running backs from picks thirteen to 24 have a better than fifty-percent chance to return value as top-12 backs.

If fantasy gamers go WR-RB in the first two rounds of their draft, they will have combined these meta-trends in a way that helps them gain significant leverage over opponents who don’t take such a meta-perspective. Even if they draft a wide receiver early in round one, they are grabbing one of the few round-one wide receivers, making it more likely their league-mates will draft a running back in round one and a wide receiver in round two – just what they would want them to do. It’s a game theory win which compounds itself in their favor.

Don’t Draft Tight End or Quarterback in the First Two Rounds

As you will see below, it is nearly as effective to draft a tight end in picks 25 to sixty as it is to draft one in picks one to 24. And late round (but not too late) quarterbacks are still the way to go.

Meta-Trends in Picks 25 to 100 – No Man’s Land

Draft A Tight End in Picks 25 to 60

We are looking for elite production at the tight end position, so we want to focus on drafting in areas where we can land a top-6 tight end. From 2016 to 2021, tight ends in ADP 25 to 60 have a 52.2-percent top-6 hit rate versus 55.6-percent for tight ends in ADP one through 24. Not only that, but tight ends from picks 25 to 60 recorded just as many number one finishes (three) and more number two finishes (three vs. two) compared with tight ends drafted in the top-24. It’s a small sample, but worth waiting on tight end so we can spend premium round-one and round-two picks at wide receiver and running back. These findings fly in the face of the “draft an elite tight end or wait” strategy. You want a tight end in rounds three through five.

Draft Wide Receivers and Running Backs from Picks 25 to 100

Running backs and wide receivers hit at similar rates in picks 25 to 100 from 2016 to 2021.

Meta-trends RB-WR 25 to 60

Utilizing this ambiguous wide receiver study, we can up our hit rate for receivers we select in picks 25 to 100. We will do further research into which running backs we should target in picks 25 to 100. For now, see this dead zone article, and J.J. Zachariason’s research on which dead zone RBs to draft.

Draft A Quarterback in picks 25 to 100

Speaking of late round quarterback, let’s look at where to draft high-performing quarterbacks. See below the top-6 and top-12 hit rates for quarterbacks in each range over the last six seasons.

Meta-trends quarterback

We want a quarterback that hits in the top-12 but not just the top-24 picks. Using the hit rates above, we see we can wait to draft a quarterback in picks 25 to 100 but do not want to wait until after pick 100. Draft a late-but-not-too-late-QB.

Let’s Take Stock of Our Meta-Trend Draft at Pick 100

If you follow this draft plan formulated with these meta-trends, you will have drafted the following through pick 100:

  • One WR selected in picks 1-12 (60.0% chance of hitting as a top-6 WR)
  • One RB selected in picks 13-24 (57.1% chance of hitting as a top-12 RB)
  • One TE, 2 WRs, 2 RBs and 1QB in picks 25-100

Roster make-up so far:

  • 1 QB
  • 3 RBs
  • 3 WRs
  • 1 TE

Meta-Trends in Picks 101 through 216 – The Wasteland

Draft RBs and WRs in Picks 101 to 216

With our roster core solidified with high-potential players, it is time to fill out our rosters with some supplementary running backs and wide receivers. RBs and WRs drafted in that range hit at the following rates:

Meta-trends RBs WRs 101-216

RBs and WRs in this range hit at similar rates, so you can take some flyers on both in this range. We will do further research into the profiles of the players that hit from this zone.

Putting These Meta-Trends Together for a Full Draft Framework

These meta-trends are not intended to form a perfect draft blueprint. They merely provide a framework for understanding ADP ranges and, generally, which position groups to target in each. Some of these findings go against popular understandings (or maybe misunderstandings) of draft trends. In this way, meta-trends help us gain an edge over league mates who are not working from a meta-perspective. For example, drafting a round-one wide receiver is the right play even if you have an early first-round pick. Also, the “go big or go home” mentality for drafting tight ends is misguided. According to the patterns from the last six seasons, we should draft tight ends in round three through five. We obviously have to make our “micro” player takes within rounds and choose the players we believe hold the most value, but understanding meta-trends is a way to take a commanding position going into your drafts in 2022 and beyond.