The Best and Worst Fantasy Football Draft Picks of 2015

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Antonio Brown was not the best draft pick in fantasy football last year.

He scored the most fantasy points by a wide receiver in 2015, and was the best overall player in fantasy football in terms of value. Everyone would have loved him on their roster.

But when it comes to evaluating draft picks in fantasy football, you have to consider when each player was drafted, and Antonio Brown’s pre-season average draft position was #2 overall in PPR leagues.

So if you drafted him, congratulations. You had a solid first round draft pick that you could build the rest of your team around. However, you received about as much value out of your first round pick as you should have.

To truly evaluate draft picks, we should compare the actual value received as compared to the player’s projected value before the season started.

We’ll use the archived pre-season average draft position data here at Fantasy Football Calculator as the source of pre-season rankings. That data was generated from 844 fantasy football mock drafts from the three days before the NFL season started.

By making that comparison, we’ll be able to answer these questions:

  • Who was the best draft pick?
  • Who was the worst draft pick?
  • Did anyone exactly match their projected VBD?
  • What general trends can we apply to 2016?

Defining Value: Value Based Drafting

The general objective in a fantasy football draft is to accumulate as much value as possible at each draft position.

Value can be calculated with a Value Based Drafting (VBD) approach, which says:

“How many more fantasy points did this player score than a baseline player at his position?”

The definition of what to use for the baseline is open for interpretation. In this article, we will use a traditional method of defining the baseline as the worst starting player at that position.

For example, if you start 3 wide receivers in a 12-team league, the question becomes:

“How many more fantasy points did Antonio Brown score than the 36th best wide receiver?”

In points-per-reception (PPR) leagues, Antonio Brown’s total fantasy points was 386.2. If we take that and subtract the 36th best wide receiver’s (Marvin Jones) total fantasy points (173.9), we get 212.3 points of value.

Brown’s 212.3 value was the highest in the league this year.

As the #2 overall player drafted in leagues last August, he was projected to generate 197.2 points of value based on his draft position. If you drafted him at #2 overall, you were expecting him to provide that much value to your team.

When his league-best 212 value is compared to his expectation of 197, he actually only outperformed his projected value by by about 15 points.

Now that we have a method of calculating the difference between pre-season expected value and actual value, let’s apply it to every player (ignoring kickers and defense).


Pre-season Average Draft Position Data

For reference, below is a draftboard-view of the archive of 12-team PPR average draft position data from the day before the NFL season kicked off:

Average Draft Position Data - 12-team PPR leagues; 2015 archived data. From Fantasy Football Calculator

You can surely find some overachievers and duds yourself just by scanning the table. We’ll continue below with the cold-hard numbers to help identify objectively who the best and worst draft picks were.


Actual Fantasy Points and Value

To review the top performers of 2015 regardless of draft position, below is a table of the top 30 players who generated the most value:

Scroll left-to-right on mobile for full table.

# Name Pos Team Draft Position Proj. Value Actual Value
1 Antonio Brown WR PIT 2.5 197.2 212.3
2 Julio Jones WR ATL 6.2 145.4 197.2
3 Brandon Marshall WR NYJ 50.5 35.1 169.3
4 DeAndre Hopkins WR HOU 28.7 58.8 157.2
5 Devonta Freeman RB ATL 96.3 -18.5 156.1
6 Odell Beckham Jr WR NYG 11.4 102.4 145.4
7 Allen Robinson WR JAC 53.5 25.5 130.1
8 Larry Fitzgerald WR ARI 84.1 -0.9 110.6
9 Rob Gronkowski TE NE 10.3 110.6 106.6
10 Adrian Peterson RB MIN 1.8 212.3 102.4
11 Cam Newton QB CAR 119.1 -48.0 102.1
12 A.J. Green WR CIN 16.7 95.0 101.8
13 Jordan Reed TE WAS 156.0 -110.0 99.2
14 Demaryius Thomas WR DEN 9.1 123.9 97.5
15 Jarvis Landry WR MIA 36.6 47.2 96.5
16 Delanie Walker TE TEN 98 -19.7 95.4
17 Doug Baldwin WR SEA 148.4 -87.5 95.0
18 Calvin Johnson WR DET 13.1 102.1 89.5
19 Gary Barnidge TE CLE 156.0 -110.0 88.3
20 Eric Decker WR NYJ 105.3 -26.5 80.8
21 Greg Olsen TE CAR 45.1 37.5 80.4
22 Danny Woodhead RB SD 69 8.8 79.8
23 Brandin Cooks WR NO 20.6 79.7 79.7
24 Doug Martin RB TB 38 45.1 78.0
25 Jeremy Maclin WR KC 38.8 44.9 71.3
26 DeAngelo Williams RB PIT 129.1 -61.0 71.1
27 Lamar Miller RB MIA 22.3 78.0 69.6
28 Tom Brady QB NE 67 11.5 60.1
29 Jordan Matthews WR PHI 24.4 71.3 58.8
30 Michael Crabtree WR OAK 135.6 -74.3 57.3

Table of players sorted by total value generated for 12-team PPR leagues in 2015. Assumes starting rosters of 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE and uses the worst starting player at each position for the baseline.

Before we move on, there are some interesting facts here.

In the top 30 value generating players last year, there were:

  • 2 Quarterbacks
  • 6 Running Backs
  • 17 Wide Receivers
  • 5 Tight Ends

By round, there were:

  • 18 players drafted in the first 5 rounds
  • 10 players drafted in rounds 6 through 13
  • 2 players undrafted in the first 13 rounds (Jordan Reed, Gary Barnidge)

Side Note: Undrafted Players

For undrafted players, they were given a rank of 156 (13 rounds * 12 teams) and the projected value 3 points lower than the last drafted player of that position. That was used as a general estimate of the free-agent’s pre-draft value.


Who Was The Best Draft Pick?

Now for the question of the day, who was the best draft pick of 2015?

To answer that, we’ll simply subtract the projected value for each player from their actual value. That will tell us who outperformed their draft position the most.

# Name Pos Team Overall Proj. Value Actual Points Actual Value Value Diff
1 Jordan Reed TE WAS 156.0 -110.0 248.2 99.2 209.2
2 Gary Barnidge TE CLE 156.0 -110.0 237.3 88.3 198.3
3 Doug Baldwin WR SEA 148.4 -87.5 268.9 95.0 182.5
4 Devonta Freeman RB ATL 96.3 -18.5 320.4 156.1 174.6
5 Allen Hurns WR JAC 153.9 -110.8 227.1 53.2 164.0
6 Benjamin Watson TE NO 156.0 -110.0 192.5 43.5 153.5
7 Cam Newton QB CAR 119.1 -48.0 445.5 102.1 150.1
8 Kamar Aiken WR BAL 156.0 -119.6 199.4 25.5 145.1
9 Tavon Austin WR STL 156.0 -119.6 196.7 22.8 142.4
10 Travis Benjamin WR CLE 156.0 -119.6 195.8 21.9 141.5
11 Brandon Marshall WR NYJ 50.5 35.1 343.2 169.3 134.2
12 Blake Bortles QB JAC 156.0 -88.3 388.4 45.1 133.4
13 James Jones WR GB 153.9 -115.7 191.0 17.1 132.8
14 DeAngelo Williams RB PIT 129.1 -61.0 235.4 71.1 132.1
15 Michael Crabtree WR OAK 135.6 -74.3 231.2 57.3 131.6
16 Willie Snead WR NO 156.0 -119.6 185.4 11.5 131.1
17 Ted Ginn Jr WR CAR 156.0 -119.6 183.9 10 129.6
18 Theo Riddick RB DET 156.0 -108.1 181.0 16.7 124.8
19 Donte Moncrief WR IND 156.0 -119.6 173.3 -0.6 119.0
20 Richard Rodgers TE GB 151.6 -107.2 160.1 11.1 118.3
21 James Starks RB GB 156.0 -108.1 172.3 8.0 116.1
22 Delanie Walker TE TEN 98.0 -19.7 244.4 95.4 115.1
23 Larry Fitzgerald WR ARI 84.1 -0.9 284.5 110.6 111.5
24 Charles Sims RB TB 150.3 -91.3 184.0 19.7 111.0
25 Eric Decker WR NYJ 105.3 -26.5 254.7 80.8 107.3
26 Allen Robinson WR JAC 53.5 25.5 304.0 130.1 104.6
27 DeAndre Hopkins WR HOU 28.7 58.8 331.1 157.2 98.4
28 Rueben Randle WR NYG 147.7 -86.5 184.7 10.8 97.3
29 Kirk Cousins QB WAS 156.0 -88.3 352.1 8.75 97.1
30 Buck Allen RB BAL 156.0 -108.1 149.7 -14.6 93.5

Jordan Reed and Gary Barnidge scored the highest on this list of players who outperformed their pre-season projected value. However, technically, they were undrafted.

Therefore, the “Best Draft Pick of 2015” distinction goes to Doug Baldwin, while Jordan Reed receives the “Best Waiver Wire Pick Up of 2015” award.

Congratulations!


Who Was The Worst Draft Pick?

Now we’ll take that same data and sort it by the worst difference between actual and expected value.

This table also includes a new column, “G”, which is the number of games played this year. We’ll dig into that more soon, since injuries impact these results.

# Name Pos Team G Overall Proj. Value Total Points Actual Value Value Diff
1 Tony Romo QB DAL 4 80.8 0.0 58.5 -284.9 -284.9
2 Andrew Luck QB IND 7 16.9 89.5 163.6 -179.8 -269.3
3 Peyton Manning QB DEN 10 54.9 24.6 130.9 -212.5 -237.1
4 Le'Veon Bell RB PIT 6 3.1 169.3 111.2 -53.1 -222.4
5 Dez Bryant WR DAL 9 7.6 135.1 89.1 -84.8 -219.9
6 Jamaal Charles RB KC 5 4.5 156.1 105.1 -59.2 -215.3
7 Marshawn Lynch RB SEA 7 8.6 130.1 82.7 -81.6 -211.7
8 Eddie Lacy RB GB 15 4.0 157.2 144.6 -19.7 -176.9
9 Charles Johnson WR MIN 11 61.6 16.9 21.7 -152.2 -169.1
10 Victor Cruz WR NYG 0 91.3 -10.4 0.0 -173.9 -163.5
11 Nelson Agholor WR PHI 13 56.6 22.8 57.3 -116.6 -139.4
12 Arian Foster RB HOU 4 37.5 46.1 79.0 -85.3 -131.4
13 CJ Anderson RB DEN 15 10.7 108.9 145.3 -19.0 -127.9
14 Andre Ellington RB ARI 10 43.7 39.6 76.7 -87.6 -127.2
15 Colin Kaepernick QB SF 9 147.5 -85.3 133.4 -210.0 -124.7
16 Brian Quick WR STL 13 106.8 -29.5 20.2 -153.7 -124.2
17 Carlos Hyde RB SF 7 44.7 38.7 81.3 -83.0 -121.7
18 Justin Forsett RB BAL 10 19.3 79.8 122.4 -41.9 -121.7
19 Davante Adams WR GB 13 34.6 47.5 106.3 -67.6 -115.1
20 Joseph Randle RB DAL 6 56.6 24.1 74.0 -90.3 -114.4
21 Tevin Coleman RB ATL 12 88.9 -5.6 48.6 -115.7 -110.1
22 Adrian Peterson RB MIN 16 1.8 212.3 266.7 102.4 -109.9
23 Eddie Royal WR CHI 9 84.6 -1.7 66.7 -107.2 -105.5
24 Alfred Morris RB WAS 16 48.2 37.4 96.6 -67.7 -105.1
25 Andre Johnson WR IND 16 37.7 45.8 115.3 -58.6 -104.4
26 C.J. Spiller RB NO 13 57.9 19.7 81.1 -83.2 -102.9
27 Knile Davis RB KC 15 121.2 -50.6 17.6 -146.7 -96.1
28 Sam Bradford QB PHI 14 82.1 -0.1 252.1 -91.3 -91.2
29 Breshad Perriman WR BAL 0 145.4 -83.2 0.0 -173.9 -90.7
30 Reggie Bush RB SF 5 129.5 -65.6 8.7 -155.6 -90.0

This list is clearly dominated by injured players. So we should first break up the “Worst Draft Pick” distinction into two categories: “Worst Draft Pick Due To Injury” and “Worst Draft Pick Due To Performance.”

By total value, Tony Romo wins the “Worst Draft Pick Due to Injury” award.


Injuries are a way of life in the NFL, and the 2015 season was no exception.

Since the table of worst draft picks was dominated by injured players, let’s look at that data on a per-game basis instead. That will remove from the equation how many games the player didn’t play due to injury.

You’ll see guys like Le’Veon Bell and Jamaal Charles don’t appear on this list since they performed well before they were injured.

# Name Pos Team G Overall Proj. VBD Per Game Actual PPG Actual VBD Per Game VBD Diff Per Game
1 Eddie Lacy RB GB 15 4.0 9.8 9.6 -0.7 -10.5
2 Peyton Manning QB DEN 10 54.9 1.5 13.1 -8.9 -10.5
3 Victor Cruz WR NYG 0 91.3 -0.7 0.0 -10.9 -10.2
4 Charles Johnson WR MIN 11 61.6 1.1 2.0 -8.9 -10.0
5 Dez Bryant WR DAL 9 7.6 8.4 9.9 -1.0 -9.4
6 Nelson Agholor WR PHI 13 56.6 1.4 4.4 -6.5 -7.9
7 Brian Quick WR STL 13 106.8 -1.8 1.6 -9.3 -7.5
8 Tony Romo QB DAL 4 80.8 0.0 14.6 -7.4 -7.4
9 CJ Anderson RB DEN 15 10.7 6.8 9.7 -0.6 -7.4
10 Adrian Peterson RB MIN 16 1.8 13.3 16.7 6.4 -6.8
11 Alfred Morris RB WAS 16 48.2 2.3 6.0 -4.3 -6.6
12 Marshawn Lynch RB SEA 7 8.6 8.1 11.8 1.5 -6.6
13 Andre Johnson WR IND 16 37.7 2.9 7.2 -3.7 -6.5
14 Tevin Coleman RB ATL 12 88.9 -0.4 4.0 -6.3 -5.9
15 Knile Davis RB KC 15 121.2 -3.2 1.2 -9.1 -5.9
16 Breshad Perriman WR BAL 0 145.4 -5.2 0.0 -10.9 -5.7
17 Davante Adams WR GB 13 34.6 3.0 8.2 -2.7 -5.7
18 Jeremy Hill RB CIN 16 14.4 6.1 11.0 0.7 -5.4
19 Ameer Abdullah RB DET 16 41.5 2.7 7.6 -2.7 -5.4
20 C.J. Spiller RB NO 13 57.9 1.2 6.2 -4.1 -5.3
21 Andre Ellington RB ARI 10 43.7 2.5 7.7 -2.6 -5.1
22 Bishop Sankey RB TEN 13 100.2 -1.2 4.6 -5.7 -4.5
23 Reggie Bush RB SF 5 129.5 -4.1 1.7 -8.6 -4.5
24 Randall Cobb WR GB 16 15.9 6.0 12.7 1.8 -4.2
25 Andrew Luck QB IND 7 16.9 5.6 23.4 1.4 -4.2
26 Aaron Rodgers QB GB 16 27.1 4.4 22.2 0.2 -4.1
27 Mike Wallace WR MIN 16 89.9 -0.6 6.2 -4.7 -4.1
28 Tre Mason RB STL 13 109.0 -2.1 4.1 -6.2 -4.0
29 Sam Bradford QB PHI 14 82.1 0.0 18.0 -4.0 -4.0
30 Jordan Cameron TE MIA 16 76.9 0.3 5.7 -3.6 -3.9

The table shows that Eddie Lacy and Peyton Manning tied for the worst per-game performance. They each receive the distinction of “Worst Draft Pick of 2015.”


Did Anyone Match Their Projected VBD exactly?

Yes. Brandin Cooks. He was projected to generate 79.7 points of value, and he finished the year with exactly that much value.


Conclusion

In addition to highlighting the best and worst players, there are some general trends in the data.

First, a lot has been written about the running back and quarterback busts this past year. The data here supports both the Zero-RB and Late-Round QB strategies. A lot of running backs and quarterbacks disappointed this year. And besides Dez Bryant, there weren’t any highly drafted wide receivers that greatly underperformed.

The story is a bit more complex though. There were quite a few late-round or undrafted wide receivers who greatly outperformed their expectations. So while the top tier WRs were worth their price, you could have also found solid wide receiver production from the extremely late rounds if you were lucky.


That closes the book on 2015. Hopefully you can use these results to improve your draft strategies for next season.

Speaking of next season, it’s never too early to get started. There are mock drafts for 2016 running already and average draft position data for 2016 as well.

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Categories: ADP, mock drafts, rankings, advice