Utilizing the Universal Draft Coefficient

Adam Eastman discusses how to personalize a draft strategy with an intuitive method utilizing the Universal Draft Coefficient.

| 1 year ago

Utilizing the Universal Draft Coefficient

Rob GronkowskiValue Based Drafting (VBD) has been vital in furthering an understanding of how to plan and execute an efficient draft strategy. Reminiscent to the wins above replacement metric (WAR) heavily used in baseball, VBD values players that outscore their positional peers at the highest rate on a weekly basis. Although it is a superior strategic approach, generating the necessary data to compute each player’s relative value is far too cumbersome for modest fantasy players.

A pillar of VBD is projecting statistics for each player for the upcoming season. But few have the time, attention span, and research capabilities to perform the task and keep it up to date before draft time.

The Universal Draft Coefficient (UDC) synthesizes the core values of VBD with an intuitive method for determining draft value heavily based on the previous season’s final statistics. The coefficient utilizes three distinct variables:

Positional Starting Slots (PSS) League roster structure is key in determining a player’s UDC. The roster structure employed to explain UDC has 12 teams that start one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight ends, and one flex (kickers and team defenses are covered later). The flex slot allows for three potential starting slots for either running back or wide receiver.* The top 36 running backs, 36 wide receivers, 12 quarterbacks, and 12 tight ends roughly represent – week in and week out – the pool of starters in a league.

*Note: The flex spot recently has evolved in some leagues to include the tight end, so it can be argued that the top 24 tight ends should be utilized in the pool of starters. But Rob Gronkowski was the only tight end in 2014 that had a rPPG (11.87) greater than the average flex starter (10.44, top 36 running backs and 36 wide receivers). This suggests Gronkowski is the only tight end that affords any value as a weekly flex play.

Real points per game (rPPG) – It is an average that includes games that best reflect a player’s expected 2015 usage. C.J. Anderson best illustrates this concept. Anderson was active in 15 of Denver’s 16 games, but only took on a significant role after Week 9. It would not best reflect his 2015 potential to include those games in his cumulative average in which he was third on the depth chart.

The real average subtracts the points he earned from Weeks 1-9 from the numerator, while also reducing the denominator by those games in which Anderson was a non-factor. Anderson’s rPPG for 2014 was 19.75, which represents his production as Denver’s main running back (Weeks 10-17), which can be argued is a rational projection for 2015.

It should be understood that rPPG generally takes an optimistic approach when determining what games to include or discard. Also, rPPG does not include post-season games due to their unique dynamic. The circumstances (late season fatigue, higher stakes, opponent quality) are unlike the regular season games that are the basis of the fantasy season, so they are excluded to avoid contaminating the results.

Positional Starter Average (PSA) – It is the average rPPG of each position’s starter’s. (The top 36 running backs, 36 wide receivers, 12 quarterbacks, and 12 tight ends) In order to qualify as a starter, a player must have a minimum of eight games included in their rPPG.*

*Example: Though active in eight games of 2014, Jonas Gray only had five in which he tallied more than three touches. His resulting rPPG for those five games was a solid 13.4, but is not included in the PSA for running backs.           

The first step in calculating UDC is to take the difference between a player’s rPPG and his PSA (rPPG – PSA). This represents the pace on a per-game basis that a player out-produced or under-produced the average starter at his position.

The second step is to multiply (rPPG – PSA) by the number of positional starter slots. The number of starting slots drastically affects a player’s UDC, as to represent the rate the position becomes saturated due to universal demand.

 UDC = (rPPG – PSA) * PSS

The left sample below displays the 42 players that registered a positive UDC in 2014. The right sample displays the 34 players that registered a positive UDC in 2013.

(Results for league with 12 Teams, 1QB 2RB 2WR 1RB/WR/TE. Standard Scoring non-PPR)

 Rk Player  UDC 2014  Rk Player  UDC 2013
1 Anderson, CJ DEN 27.39 RB1 1 Charles, J KC 25.92 RB1
2 Murray, D DAL 21.01 RB2 2 Gordon, J CLE 17.15 WR1
3 Foster, A HOU 19.6 RB3 3 McCoy, L PHI 16.04 RB2
4 Bell, L PIT 19.14 RB4 4 Johnson, C DET 15.22 WR2
5 Beckham Jr., O NYG 18.49 WR1 5 Forte, M CHI 13.98 RB3
6 Brown, A PIT 16.3 WR2 6 Peterson, A MIN 11.46 RB4
7 Lynch, M SEA 15.58 RB5 7 Thomas, D DEN 11.05 WR3
8 Peterson, A* (2013) 12.69* RB6 8 Murray, D DAL 9.61 RB5
9 Forte, M CHI 11.45 RB7 9 Lacy, E GB 9.13 RB6
10 Thomas, D DEN 11.05 WR3 10 Lynch, M SEA 8.92 RB7
11 Bryant, D DAL 10.68 WR4 11 Jones, J ATL* 8.8 WR4
12 Nelson, J GB 10.68 WR5 12 Moreno, K DEN 8.17 RB8
13 Lacy, E GB 8.64 RB8 13 Green, A CIN 7.86 WR5
14 Charles, J KC 7.54 RB9 14 Gronkowski, R NE^ 7.51 TE1
15 Johnson, C DET 6.5 WR6 15 Graham, J NO^ 7.22 TE2
16 Hilton, T IND 6.1 WR7 16 Foster, A HOU 6.92 RB9
17 Jones, J ATL 5.84 WR8 17 Marshall, B CHI 6.92 WR6
18 Sanders, E DEN 5.24 WR9 18 Brown, A PIT 6.73 WR7
19 Green, A CIN 5.24 WR10 19 Manning, P DEN 6.59 QB1
20 Gronkowski, R NE^ 5.17^ TE1 20 Bryant, D DAL 6.17 WR8
21 Cobb, R GB 5.05 WR11 21 Cobb, R GB 5.3 WR9
22 Ingram, M NO 3.68 RB10 22 Decker, E DEN 4.86 WR10
23 Forsett, J BAL 3.58 RB11 23 Jeffery, A CHI 4.67 WR11
24 Maclin, J PHI 3.36 WR12 24 Stacy, Z STL 4.42 RB10
25 Graham, J NO 3.32 TE2 25 Bush, R DET 4.2 RB11
26 Rodgers, A GB 3.11 QB1 26 Jackson, D PHI 3.92 WR12
27 Thomas, J DEN 3.09 TE3 27 Bell, L PIT 3.84 RB12
28 Evans, M TB 2.84 WR13 28 Foles, N PHI 3.58 QB2
29 Luck, A IND 2.74 QB2 29 Brees, D NO 2.96 QB3
30 Gates, A SD 2.25 TE4 30 Johnson, C TEN 2.36 RB13
31 Hill, J CIN 2.13 RB12 31 Nelson, J GB 2.23 WR13
32 Asiata, M MIN 2.13 RB13 32 Davis, V SF 1.79 TE3
33 Wilson, R SEA 1.24 QB3 33 Thomas, J DEN 1.68 TE4
34 Ellington, A ARI 1.14 RB14 34 Rodgers, A GB 1.34 QB4
35 Jennings, R NYG 1.14 RB15
36 Manning, P DEN 0.92 QB4
37 Jeffery, A CHI 0.55 WR14
38 Bradshaw, A IND 0.54 RB16
39 Miller, L MIA 0.2 RB17
40 Roethlisberger, B PIT 0.17 QB5
41 Allen, D IND 0.15 TE5
42 Olsen, G CAR 0.13 TE6

^Rob Gronkowski’s UDC value is greater than his tight end specific UDC. In order to rectify this anomaly, Gronkowski is assigned two separate UDC values, his normal tight end UDC (3.74) and his flex UDC (1.43). The flex UDC uses the average of the flex pool (starting 36 running backs and 36 wide receivers). The sum of his tight end specific UDC and his flex specific UDC includes the added luxury of playing him as a flex.

3.74 + 1.43= 5.17 

* Adrian Peterson’s 2013 rPPG was used to calculate his 2014 UDC. His rPPG was not used in the 2014 Running backs PSA.

Utilizing UDC while preparing for, and during, the draft.

UDC quantifies the advantage that an owner gains by starting the player in any given week. With the hindsight of knowing the 2014 results, it is the blueprint of how the early section of a draft should look. After catering the UDC formula to your league’s format, the question you need to concern yourself with is:

Do you believe the player will improve or regress from their 2014 season?

What kind of season will C.J. Anderson have as Denver’s starting running back? Perhaps similar to the season Justin Forsett had in Baltimore last year under Denver’s new head coach Gary Kubiak. Forsett’s 2014 has his value pinned as the 23rd overall pick.

Are you even higher on Anderson, and believe he will have a season akin to Eddie Lacy’s 2014? UDC would then have Anderson’s 2015 value around the end of the first round. And finally, an owner that is confident that Anderson will continue scoring at his blistering 2014 pace would have ample evidence to support drafting him with the No. 1 overall pick.

This method of valuation can be done on the fly in order to adjust for changing trends, breaking news, or injuries, without the need of regenerating specific projections.

Another useful exercise is comparing average draft position and UDC to identify players that are getting over-drafted and under-drafted. LeSean McCoy will certainly be a candidate for a 2015 first round pick, but his UDC (-2.24, late fourth) suggests such an investment could be risky. If you disregard his 2014 and think he will return to his 2013 form, where he had a UDC of 16.04, he is valued at No. 7 overall after Antonio Brown. Rex Ryan’s ground-and-pound mentality requires high touch counts for the backfield, but will McCoy be a fit?

He’s coming off consecutive 300-plus carry seasons and saw his yards per carry regress by almost one full yard (2013 – 5.1; 2014 – 4.2). Arian Foster put together a stellar 2014, outpacing Le’Veon Bell and Marshawn Lynch on a rPPG basis and comes in at No. 3 overall with a UDC of 19.6. But Foster is slipping in early mock drafts, occasionally dropping out of the first round. UDC suggests Foster offers tremendous value at his current ADP.

Rookies do not have a UDC value, but owners can gauge their value by comparing them to another player’s UDC from a previous season they believe emulates the rookie’s 2015 prospects. Odell Beckham Jr. was surely an anomaly in 2014, but then again, the same was said about Josh Gordon in 2013. Mike Evans is the more realistic model for a stud rookie wide receiver and his UDC of 2.84 places him in the mid third round.

The method assumes that once a team fulfills the starting quarterback lineup requirement, it will not draft another quarterback, rendering the UDC values of remaining quarterbacks invalid.

Theoretically, UDC can apply to team defense and special teams. But the DST position is subject to volatile annual swings. This is likely an effect of the measurement being of many players rather than one. Last season, three teams (Detroit, Houston, and Philadelphia) of the top five scoring DST ranked outside the top 20 from the preceding season. It is best to ignore DST UDC values and draft one very late.

UDC is not a useful tool for kickers. Draft a kicker last.

Observations for the 2015 season

A glaring characteristic from the UDC map is the absence of a quarterback in the first two rounds. That is especially confounding when you consider the years of Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, and Russell Wilson.

It is an annual occurrence that the top quarterback is drafted between the end of the first round and the middle of the second. But notice the difference in scoring between the top wide receivers available around that time (Demaryius Thomas 11.05, Dez Bryant 10.68, Jordy Nelson 10.68) and the top quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers 3.11, Andrew Luck 2.74, Russell Wilson 1.24). Even Peyton Manning’s record-setting 2013 only earned him a 6.59 UDC, valuing him as the seventh pick of the second round.

The opportunity cost of selecting Luck or Rodgers over an elite wide receiver of that caliber would be roughly -8 points on a weekly basis. The goal should be to maximize the total UDC in your lineup, so it would be best to avoid a quarterback with your first two selections.

Thus, a sound strategy is either going running back-wide receiver or wide receiver-running back with your first two picks. But if we examine that spot near the end of the first round, with owners allotted consecutive or semi-consecutive picks, one could maximize UDC by instead going wide receiver-wide receiver. The same cannot be said for going running back-running back.

UDC is not the end all-be all anymore than your favorite fantasy expert’s ranking cheat sheet. But what it does is present a tangible method to use your unique opinions and outlook to properly assign players a personalized draft value.


Follow Adam @rainesEastman on Twitter.

  • Lloyd Ribner III

    Engaging read, nice to see a WAR type look at fantasy sports. Would be interested to see how a season or two of using the metric as one’s pure guidance would result. Can’t wait to read more!

  • Michael Girod

    can you do this for PPR 3 wide

    awesome stats