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10 Steps to Creating Accurate Fantasy Football Rankings

Posted by Brad Perniciaro

Creating accurate fantasy football player rankings is an art which requires diligence, practice, and ultimately a bit of luck. This article presents 10 important factors you should consider when adjusting your NFL player rankings in the days leading up to your draft. Those owners with the best rankings will likely start the fantasy season with a considerable advantage over the competition. Use these tips to ensure you're one of those owners.

1.  Statistical Analysis

Statistical numbers in fantasy football

The first ranking factor is the most obvious: statistics. Stats are the lifeblood of fantasy football and a good place to start when initially ranking your players. For the vast majority of players, the most important statistics will be those from the previous season. In other cases, such as when a player was injured for much of the previous season, it may make sense to go back another year or two.

But as most successful fantasy football owners know, statistics are only part of the story. This is why they are primarily used as a jumping-off point when first creating your rankings. From there you'll adjust your rankings based on any number of factors, stats being only one possibility.

2.  Fantasy Points Scored

Calculate fantasy point output

It's not enough to know how many rushing yards and touchdowns a specific running back compiled during the previous season. To truly determine a player's worth to you, you need to calculate each player's fantasy point output based on your league's specific scoring configuration.

A player's fantasy value can rise or fall dramatically based on the chosen scoring system. A player like Darren Sproles of the New Orleans Saints may be a top 25 running back in standard scoring leagues, but would have much more value (and thus may be ranked as high as the top 10) in a PPR-based scoring configuration.

There are numerous tools on the web which help you calculate fantasy point output using your league's scoring settings. For instance, each of our free customizable fantasy football cheat sheets incorporates fantasy point output (for both standard scoring and PPR) to help you easily compare players while you adjust your rankings.

Fantasy point output summarized for easily comparisons.

3.  Games Played

The number of games in which a player actually played during the previous season is a frequently overlooked statistic. Most commonly, monitor games played to see if a player was injured for a significant amount of time.  But games played can also tie back to fantasy point output.

Relation to Fantasy Points

In addition to analyzing the total fantasy points produced by a player, you could also divide their total fantasy points by games played, thereby creating a better indication of fantasy value: fantasy points per game.

(Total Fantasy Points / Games Played) = Fantasy Points Per Game

Would you rather draft a player that put up 80 fantasy points in 16 games, or a player who put up 60 fantasy points in 8 games? This is why FPPG is a key statistic to consider when reviewing your rankings.

Case Study: LeSean McCoy

LeSean McCoy running with football

In 2012 LeSean McCoy scored 145 total fantasy points under the standard scoring system, finishing 21st among running backs.  On the surface that isn’t overly impressive.  But if you consider the fact that McCoy only played in 12 games 2012, you will find that he also finished 11th among running backs based on fantasy points per game.   This new perspective results in a ranking difference of almost 100% and ultimately provides a more-useful indication of fantasy value.   

FPPG is most useful when positioning players picked in the later rounds.  This is because most owners wont go through the trouble of digging this deep for players outside the top 10 or 20 picks. For the best players in the game (like McCoy), most owners are aware of his potential and thus can eye his ranking without going through this exercise. But I believe knowing exactly where a player is ranked according to FPPG always comes in handy when comparing players.

4.  Fantasy Expert Player Rankings

Parody of a fantasy football expert
Credit jonaycp

As you evaluate player talent it is good idea to regularly perform sanity checks of your own rankings. One simple method for accomplishing this is to compare your rankings against those of established fantasy football experts. If you notice that there is a significant difference between your rankings and those of known experts, it should be an indication that you need to dig deeper to determine why.

For instance, if your ranking for a particular player is much higher than a chosen expert, maybe that player sustained an injury since your last evaluation? If your ranking is considerably lower than an expert, maybe that player jumped up the depth chart for their team? Performing a ranking sanity check is a great exercise for double-checking your rankings, increasing accuracy, and avoiding costly errors.

FantasyPros.com provides consensus draft rankings which you can use to double-check your rankings. They combine rankings from numerous fantasy experts and integrate them into an intuitive tool for easy reference. 

At Cheat Sheet War Room, we list expert rankings inside our cheat sheets, making it simple to compare your rankings.

Expert rankings integrated into our cheat sheet interface.

5.  Character Issues & Concerns

Character conerns will likely end up in jail.

While it isn't exactly useful to know if a player helps old ladies across the street, character can nonetheless influence a player's projected risk and/or availability each year.

Is a particular player already suspended for the upcoming season? Were they arrested at some point in the offseason, or do they have a history of run-ins with the law? These questions must be answered so that you can evaluate and demote character concerns accordingly.

And don't make this mistake of thinking that character is a minor ranking factor. In the five months following Super Bowl XLVII a whopping 29 NFL players were arrested. At the time of this writing, 16 NFL players are already known to be suspended for at least one game. With so many arrests this offseason, you have to think that the number of suspensions will rise.

When configuring your fantasy rankings, take note of players with character concerns and make an informed decision on what kind of demotion their actions warrant. At your fantasy draft, it's also a good idea to perform a quick Google News Search on each player you intend to draft to ensure he didn't have a recent run-in with the law.  Better safe than sorry.

6.  Players & Coaches who Switch Teams

Players Who Switch Teams

A player's team should always factor into their fantasy ranking. Players on high-powered offenses which put up lots of points obviously have more fantasy potential than those on teams which struggle on offense. So it makes sense that you should pay special attention to players who have switched teams, as the switch will likely have a direct impact on their statistical output.

Case Study: Greg Jennings

Greg Jennings switched teams in 2013.

Consider Greg Jennings who left Green Bay to sign with Minnesota this offseason. When catching balls from Aaron Rodgers, Jennings was routinely projected as one of the top 10 wide receivers in fantasy football. Now that he is catching balls from Christian Ponder, his ADP has plummeted to WR33.

A quick comparison of quarterbacks shows us why Jennings' value has decreased. While Aaron Rodgers threw for 4,295 yards in 2012, Ponder through for a pedestrian 1,853. That's 57% fewer reception yards to be distributed among Jennings and other Viking targets.

Also, since Ponder joined the Vikings only one wide receiver has come close to 1000 yards receiving; that was Percy Harvin who had 967 yards back in 2011. In 2012 the best wide receiver for the Vikings was also Harvin, but he only accounted for 677 yards receiving.

Coaching Changes

In addition to players who have switched teams, pay attention to head coaches and coordinators who found new homes. Although coaching changes may not have the same fantasy impact as players who switch teams, being knowledgeable of these changes can provide an edge when constructing your rankings.

New coordinators almost always have drastically different philosophies than their predecessors.  This almost always affects the DST fantasy position in some way. For instance, the New Orleans Saints had an atrocious defense in 2012, but they added defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to the mix in 2013. This coaching change almost guarantees that their takeaway margin will increase, a factor which could affect their DST ranking by a few spots.

The NFL has an extraordinary amount of player and coaching turnover each year.  This makes monitoring personnel changes very time-consuming. Luckily, there are websites which track and provide this information for free. TheHuddle.com has a useful player movement tracker which you can utilize to monitor players who have switched teams. Their coaching change tracker will get you up to speed on coaching changes as well.

7.  NFL Experience

Randy Moss, old in wide receiver years

The factor that experience plays in your player rankings is heavily dependent on the position being analyzed. Each offensive position will peak at different ages. In much the same way, each position begins it's inevitable decline at different times. Knowing when these trends occur becomes particularly useful when comparing player of similar value.

The Inevitable Decline, by Position

With the exception of Eric Dickerson, running backs begin losing productivity age 25 with a steady (and almost linear) descent until retirement. Running backs' accelerated loss of value is obviously due to the pounding that they take as ball-carriers. Quarterbacks continue to perform well into their 30's and don't start seeing a decline until age 36. Wide receivers begin a slow decline at age 28 with an even steeper descent starting at around age 34.

Graph of NFL player performance by age

You should note those players on the downside of the career and adjust their ranking accordingly. If you're comparing an older player to a younger player, both with similar fantasy output, age could be a legitimate factor in determining who gets the higher rank.

Here are a few high-profile running backs who are well into the danger zone this year:

  • Age 32
    • Fred Jackson
  • Age 31
    • Michael Turner
    • Brandon Jacobs
    • Ronnie Brown
  • Age 30
    • Joseph Addai
    • Frank Gore
    • Ryan Grant
    • Steven Jackson
    • Leon Washington

Peak Age by Position

While the age range where statistical decline begins for each player may be somewhat intuitive, the peak ages for each position are not quite as obvious. Running backs experience peak productivity between the ages of 24 through 26. For wide receivers, the magic age range is between 26 and 27. Quarterbacks strangely experience a very long age of productivity where they may peak anywhere between 25 and 36 years of age.

8.  Depth Chart Position

It is important to remain knowledgeable of depth chart battles to ensure you draft players in the correct order.  But knowing the state of each depth chart isn't always sufficient. Sometimes a coach may demote a player on the depth chart just to motivate them, so remember to keep things in perspective.  For instance, Le'Veon Bell is currently below the 3rd-stringers on the Steelers' depth chart, although most analysts expect him to be the starter on Week 1.

As camp battles progress a definitive picture of each team's depth chart should start emerge. It sometimes helps to check the pulse of local fans by visiting team-specific message boards as they can give you a more-realistic impression of who may win positional battles.  Knowing the players who have cemented the starting job and which players are still battling to move up the depth chart is powerful information as you adjust your rankings.

Depth charts are also important for determining running back handcuffs and for predicting what kind of touch distribution you expect between the various players of a specific position.  OurLads.com has a nice depth chart page which will keep you abreast of positional battles throughout training camp and the preseason.

9.  NFL Injury Reports

New England Patriots player injured on the field.
Credit awinnre

Football players are always battling injuries; it's just part of the game. But when injuries affect on-field performance fantasy owners start to take notice. Monitoring injuries throughout the preseason is vital to avoid making a costly (and embarrassing) mistake on draft day.

While it's important to be cognizant of recent injuries, it's just as important to be aware of those players with a history of injuries. Whether by chance or not, some players just cannot avoid the injury bug and deserve to be downgraded a notch or two in your rankings.

The easiest way to identify those players who miss significant time is to check how many games they've missed during previous seasons. This type of data isn't easy to assimilate, so here are a few high-profile players who have a history of injuries and deserve some extra scrutiny:

Quarterback Injury Risks

  • Michael Vick
  • Robert Griffin III

Running Back Injury Risks

  • Ryan Williams
  • Maurice Jones-Drew
  • Ryan Mathews
  • Darren McFadden
  • DeMarco Murray
  • Reggie Bush

Wide Receiver Injury Risks

  • Danny Amendola
  • Hakeem Nicks

Tight End Injury Risks

  • Rob Gronkowski

RotoWorld tracks NFL injuries and provides projections of when each player is expected to return.

10.  Players in the News

In the age of social media it's easier than ever to keep tabs on players. When developing my player rankings I find it's essential to research players through various sources. Between NFL beat writers, fantasy football blogs, and Twitter you're almost guaranteed to find a useful nugget of information about any NFL player.

Let's say I were taking a closer look at Shane Vereen of the New England Patriots. Some sources you may want to consider when performing your research may be:

Things are so dynamic during training camps and the preseason that if you're not current, you're way behind. I research players through various sources every time I update my rankings.

Our cheat sheet interface provides a simple way to perform a Google News Search on players while you rank.  Search results are presented in a new window and you can simply return to your sheet once you've done the necessary research.

Conclusion

There are many factors that go into creating fantasy football player rankings. To develop the best rankings possible, it's critical to research those topics which directly influence on-field performance. The tips contained in this article should provide a solid foundation for configuring your rankings and put you on the road to fantasy domination.

Are there additional factors that you consider when creating your fantasy rankings?  Tell me about it in the comments below.

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