The Value of Replacement Level
“I’ve said this a dozen times or so over the last few weeks, but 12 games with [Rob] Gronkowski coupled with four from a replacement-level tight end still leaves you with elite production at that spot.”
I said that way back in June of 2013 and boy has the concept paid dividends. Gronkowski missed the first six (and final three) games of that season, but still finished 16th among tight ends in fantasy points. The year prior, Gronkowski missed five games (and a majority of a sixth), but still led the position with 11 touchdowns and finished only seven fantasy points behind Jimmy Graham for the top spot.
Despite appearing in 18 of a possible 32 games during the span, a case could easily be made that Gronkowski was the second-most-valuable fantasy tight end during the span. He wasn’t first in fantasy points. He wasn’t available every week. He gave you a headache. But that didn’t mean you were forced to take a zero at the tight end spot each week.
This is where the value of a replacement-level player comes in.
When one of your starters is out of the lineup (bye week, injury, suspension, etc.), you’ll be able to fill that spot with a replacement player. Generally, this will be a player who is on your bench or near the top of the waiver wire. The value of that level of player depends on several factors, including your league’s scoring, how deep your league is in terms of the number of teams, the number of starting lineup positions, and bench size, as well as, your ability to stash strong players on your bench. The deeper the league, the harder it will be to find a competent replacement on waivers.
Although a specific replacement level value can be as unique as a fingerprint, there are guidelines we can follow when putting together our draft boards.
At PFF, our content generally assumes a 12-team, non-PPR league with 16-man rosters and a starting lineup that includes 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 Flex, 1 K, 1 DEF.
Some common sense can allow us to determine a baseline for replacement level. Regardless of whether you took Aaron Rodgers in Round 2 or Phillip Rivers in Round 10, an absence of either player is likely to leave you starting a mid-pack QB2. For that reason, I use QB18 as a baseline for the quarterback position. A similar application of this concept to RB, WR, and TE leaves us with baselines of RB30, WR42, and TE18.
By analyzing historical and projected production at each position, we can determine expected weekly point totals from our replacement level performer. They are as follows: QB (16.0 pts), RB (8.5), WR (7.0), and TE (5.5). Remember, these baselines are only for the “standard” league noted above. Fortunately, if you head over to our Custom Rankings Tool and punch in your league bylaws/scoring, our tool will automatically determine your replacement values.
One final disclaimer here – If you’re reading closely and understanding the logic, you might be thinking “But hey, what if I end up with both Rodgers and another decent QB1 like Ben Roethlisberger. That changes everything!” You’re correct to wonder this, which is why I mentioned that replacement level is unique to each team and situation. In this case, your drop-off to a replacement-level player would be low, but that also means a rival team’s may be higher. The baselines are meant to be a ballpark estimate of what you can expect from a replacement-level player at that position.
Now that we’re better aware of what Replacement level entails, we need to put it work.
Referring back to our Gronkowski example, the below graphic compares his actual output and what his perceived value should be once replacement level is factored in:
|FF Pts + RL||170.5||132.7||303.2|
|Adj. FF Rk||1||6||2|
Gronkowski was the most-valuable fantasy tight end in 2012 (by 18 points over second-place Graham) and sixth in 2013 (one point out of fourth). If we combine the two seasons together, Gronkowski (226.2 points) sits sixth in fantasy points at the position. If we add in replacement value points, he jumps to second (303.2 points).
If you entered your 2014 drafts with this concept in mind, Gronkowski was a no-brainer in the second round. Those who took a shot were rewarded with zero missed games due to injury (he was rested Week 17) and a league-high 184.4 fantasy points. He was 30.3 points ahead of second-place Antonio Gates, which suggests he could’ve missed several games and still would’ve been the top fantasy tight end of 2014.
Of course, after holding up for the entire 2014 season, Gronkowski is no longer a value in fantasy drafts. In most leagues, he’ll be off the board before you pick in Round 2.
Listed below are several players guaranteed or widely expected to miss time this year. A replacement level examination of each player will allow us to best place each on our draft board.
|Player||G||FF Pts||Rk||G||FF Pts||G||FF Pts||Rk|
RB Le’Veon Bell – Suspended three games
If not for the three-game suspension, Bell would undoubtedly be the top overall pick this year. Instead, he’ll be sitting out nearly 20 percent of the regular season. Even with the three missed games, Bell’s massive usage as both a rusher and receiver in a good offense should allow him a RB1 campaign. Toss in a trio of replacement level games and he’s sixth (albeit just over one point per game out of first). A case could easily be made that Bell should still be the top overall pick, especially in PPR formats.
QB Tom Brady – Suspended four games
Because we generally expect most quarterbacks to handle a majority of their team’s starts, Brady’s four-game absence is a killer in terms of where he figures to finish at year’s end. Of course, that’s without considering the points you’ll generate from his replacement. Brady had the early looks of a top-five fantasy quarterback and, although he takes a hit as a result of the suspension, quarterback replacement level suggests he remains a borderline top-five option. With his ADP currently plummeting, he has the looks of a value pick in 2015.
RB Arian Foster – Durability concerns
Foster has missed 11 games over the past two seasons and at least three games during three of the past four seasons. Obviously durability is a concern for the soon-to-be 29 year old, but his fantasy upside cannot be ignored. Despite missing nearly four games last year, Foster scored 13 touchdowns and finished fifth at the position in fantasy points. He outscored Eddie Lacy and Jamaal Charles. An absolutely workhorse in a run-heavy offense, Foster is undervalued and a strong first-round target.
RB Todd Gurley – ACL Recovery
The No. 10 pick in April’s draft, the sky is the limit for Gurley, but it appears unlikely that he’ll make an immediate impact. St. Louis is on a bye Week 6, so we’re making an educated guess that Gurley hits the ground running in Week 7. Assuming borderline RB1 production the rest of the way – not a stretch considering his talent and Jeff Fisher’s run-heavy philosophy – Gurley valuates as a decent RB2 option. Take him ahead of the likes of Jonathan Stewart, Latavius Murray and Joique Bell.
WR Victor Cruz – Pateller Tendon Recovery
Cruz appears on schedule to play Week 1, but it’d be silly to not expect him to miss (or be severely limited) for a game or three this year. Add a few replacement-level games and the emergence of Odell Beckham Jr. to the mix and Cruz has the looks of a borderline WR3 when active and thus a WR4 target on draft day. Of course, it remains possible Cruz simply will never be as effective as he was in the past, which makes him a risky flier.
TE Dennis Pitta – Hip Recovery
Similar to Cruz, we don’t know if Pitta will ever return to the player he was prior to a pair of hip injuries. Since finishing as fantasy’s No. 7 tight end in 2012, Pitta has appeared in seven games over the past two seasons and turns 30 in June. If Pitta returns at the midway point this season (as projected), he won’t even be a lock for every-down snaps after the team traded up for Maxx Williams back in May. Keep Pitta on your TE2 radar, but he’s not worth a draft pick except in very deep leagues.
Remember, you can generate replacement values custom to your league settings for each player by utilizing our Custom Rankings Tool.
Follow Mike Clay on Twitter: @MikeClayNFL