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According to the Data: A Look at Position Scarcity Through Week 6

Jonathan Bales

Jonathan Bales

Jonathan Bales is the author of the Fantasy Football for Smart People book series. In addition to RotoWire, Jonathan also provides content to the New York Times, Dallas Morning News, DallasCowboys.com, and NBC.

A Look at Position Scarcity Through Week 6

Regardless of how it's defined, the majority of expert fantasy owners utilize some scarcity metric in their drafting. Most call it 'VBD' (Value Based Drafting) or 'VORP' (Value Over Replacement Player). Either way, the goal is to maximize the difference between the points for a potential pick and the points of a player you could obtain later at the same position - a measurement of each potential pick's scarcity.

Some have spoken out against the usefulness or predictive capabilities of such scarcity metrics, and there are a lot of well-argued points against VBD. But no matter how you slice it, VBD is a strong way to measure and analyze past findings. Predictive ability aside, VBD provides a clear indication as to which players and positions have been the most valuable in the past.

So I wanted to create a visualization to show just how scarce each position has been through Week 6. Here's the points per game for the top 20 players at each position in PPR leagues.



The initial drop at quarterback is overwhelming due solely to Peyton Manning's outlying season. Manning has 41 points more than second-place quarterback Drew Brees - more than 30 percent of Brees' total. Note that the quarterback position is relatively flat after that initial Manning-to-Brees drop.

Jamaal Charles is another outlier at the running back position with 24.5 PPG - 4.1 more than second-place Adrian Peterson. However, there's a steady decline at the running back position - a decline we don't see for quarterbacks. The drop from Brees to the 10th-ranked passer is nothing compared to the difference between Peterson and the 20th-ranked running back.

It's also interesting to see that, in terms of the percentage of peak production, the quarterback and running back positions once again decline at very similar rates. If you recall from the preseason, I believe quarterbacks have right around the same value as running backs in two-quarterback leagues, i.e. the top quarterback is as valuable as the top running back, the No. 5 quarterback as the No. 5 running back, and so on. The early-season PPG distribution supports that idea. In one-quarterback leagues, though, it's no contest.

The wide receiver position has been remarkably flat so far in 2013, with the top performer at the position (Julio Jones) producing fewer PPG than the top player at any other position. Nonetheless, the 20th-ranked wide receiver is producing way more points than the 20th-ranked running back, checking in just a hair lower than the 20th-ranked quarterback. There's just not much scarcity of which to speak.

Finally, the drop at the tight end position is unique. Typically, we've seen a steep initial drop after the game's elite tight ends, then a relatively flat distribution afterwards. Not in 2013, with the drop from the second tier of tight ends to the third tier being as steep as that from the top tier to the second echelon.

Another Look at Scarcity

Another way to look at scarcity is to calculate the VBD (or VORP) of a few different players at each position. That way, we won't be thrown off by the outliers at the top. Below, I charted it, using the No. 10 quarterback and tight end and the No. 20 running back and wide receiver as my 'replacement players.' This would represent a 10-team 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE PPR league.



The running back position owns the greatest scarcity at all three spots - the top-ranked, No. 3-ranked, and No.5-ranked players. Manning has the second-greatest amount of scarcity for any top player, but the other quarterbacks just aren't scarce at all. This suggests that, while it was obviously extremely valuable to draft Manning, it still wasn't a poor idea to wait on quarterbacks this year.

Predictability

There's another piece to the puzzle that I haven't touched on: predictability. Scarcity is extremely important, but it's only valuable insofar as you can predict future performance. Although the quarterback position hasn't been super-scarce after Manning, for example, it's the most predictable position these days. Manning, Brees and Aaron Rodgers lead the quarterback position, with Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler being the only real surprises in the top 10.
Despite the early rise of some surprise runners, the running back position has become pretty consistent, too. Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte and LeSean McCoy lead the pack. The top 10 surprises are Knowshon Moreno and Fred Jackson.

Wide receiver production hasn't been nearly as consistent with preseason ADP, with Antonio Brown, DeSean Jackson, Wes Welker and Jordy Nelson all ranking in the top five. Those are all quality players, but you didn't need to spend anything more than a fourth-round pick on any of them in most drafts.

And finally, the tight end position has been filled with surprises. Jimmy Graham leading the league in points is hardly a shocker, but the presence of Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas in the top three and Charles Clay in the top 10 is a bonus for those who missed on Graham and waited to select a tight end. That eliminates some of the value of their current scarcity - the exact opposite of position consistency's effect on the scarcity of quarterbacks and running backs.

Jonathan Bales is the author of the Fantasy Football for Smart People book series. He also runs the "Running the Numbers" blog at DallasCowboys.com and writes for the New York Times.