How to Dominate Your Fantasy Football Draft with Stats and Analysis

Aug 19, 2011

Note: Rob Shaw will host another fantasy football chat on Friday, Aug. 26 at 11 a.m. Check it out here.

Preparing for your fantasy football draft? Fantasy analyst Rob Shaw of Bloomberg Sports is here to help -- with a scientific approach. Shaw will point out potential busts and sleepers, advise you on your picks and help you build a cheat sheet based on his in-depth research and analysis.

Ask Shaw questions about tough choices, draft strategies and player projections now!

Shaw hosts the nationally-syndicated Fourth and Fantasy show for Bloomberg Sports, which applies data and analytic technology developed by Bloomberg to the vast data analysis opportunities in sports. is the creator of Decision Maker, a paid service that uses advanced analytics developed to help you pick your starting lineup each week.

Shaw on Twitter: @RobShawSports

Ranking the top QBs, RBs and WRs

Now that the majority of the the signings have gone down, it's a great time to prepare for your fantasy draft.  Hopefully, I'll be able to shed some insight on some of your top questions and concerns.  Just shoot them my way and we can talk some fantasy football.  Appreciate the time and best of luck this season! 

Any chance of Bears QB Jay Cutler bouncing back from his  horrendous game in the NFC Championship?

The answer is a definite yes!  I actually covered Cutler several years ago at Vanderbilt University.  I never saw someone get hit harder by SEC stars due to a lack of an offensive line.  The only common theme with those hits was that Cutler always came right back up.  A lot has changed since those days, but one thing that has not in my opinion is Cutler's toughness.  You may notice that all of his teammates stuck with him after the loss.  So any concern of a decline due to the game should be put to rest.  On the other hand, Cutler cut down on his interceptions last season, rushed for a career-high in yards, and now adds Roy Williams to the receiving corps.  I love Cutler as a low end first quarterback or a stellar backup option behind an injury-prone quarterback such as Michael Vick.

I have the first pick in a 16 team fantasy football league (Yahoo). The draft is snaked, so it will be 32 picks before I pick again. Who would you recommend for the first pick?

Wow, that's a lot of teams and there is no question that you better nab a running back because by pick 33 all of the elite running backs will be off the board.  I would go with Adrian Peterson, since in my book he is the safest bet.  Arian Foster put up better numbers last season, but he is ailing early in camp. Chris Johnson's yet to play on the field as well.  That leaves Peterson as the top pick in my book.  

Are there people who try to draft the worst team? I should think drafting all kickers would make an interesting team, although the real challenge would be to try and draft the person at every position who is going to play the worst. That might even be a more difficult challenge than standard fantasy football.

Producer's note: Football Outsiders has run a "Loser's League" for several years, and this is exactly the point -- drafting players who play every week, but get really bad fantasy stats. Not sure they  are running it in 2011. I'll let Rob predict who might be a good top pick in this sort of league.

An interesting take on fantasy football, and yes I have seen this done in a few leagues that reward the worst teams.  My personal feeling is that you should only join a league where you know that every manager is putting forth the best effort.  Otherwise, you'll be dealing with controversial trades and a lot of headaches.  On the other hand, if everyone is trying to lose... the playing field will be balanced!

Who, in your opinion, is the number 1 pick for fantasy? Vick?

Definitely not Vick, though I am sure that there will be some fantasy managers who go with the Eagles quarterback.  The Bloomberg Sports Decision Maker explains that Vick may have the most upside of any quarterback in the NFL because of the stacked receiving corps and his rushing prowess, but he is also the riskiest option because of his health woes.  He takes a lot of hits and that could shorten his season, as it did last year.  If I have the number one pick I am looking for a sure thing.  The closest thing in my book is Adrian Peterson.

I am in a 16-team PPR dynasty league. The core of my team: Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Peyton Hillis, Greg Jennings and Marquis Colston. My QBs are (were) Carson Palmer and Kerry Collins. Should I make a move and try to trade a RB for a QB, or sit tight and try to muddle along with whatever rookie/free agent QB I can get? If I should try to trade, which RB makes the most sense to try to move?

If I had to deal a running back it would be Peyton Hillis.  Check out his numbers in the later part of the season... he simply fell apart.  This year he'll have Montario Hardesty sharing the workload, which should take away some of his fantasy value.  

Some good news is that there are a lot of solid quarterbacks available.  Matt Stafford, Sam Bradford, Matt Cassel, maybe even Josh Freeman and Jay Cutler could be available for you in the draft.  If you have enough confidence that you can grab Cassel, Freeman, or Cutler I would wait for one of those guys to become available and keep your backfield in tact.

Hi Rob, thanks for your time.

I have been playing FF for 13 yrs (since '98, when  I won my 1st fantasy SB title) and use a combination of factors to evaluate players:  How many points the player put up last year, how the offense is geared respective to the player's position, how good the players' team is overall, and whether offseason coaching/player personnel changes could affect the upside of that player.

My question: What other criteria do you think I should look at to gauge potential player value this year?

Thanks Rob!

That's a great question and lucky for you I work for a company that has set it's mission to find the answer.  Among the factors that the Bloomberg Sports Decision Maker includes are the health of the player, the health of the teammates, the health of the opposition, the offensive and defensive lines, the risk/reward of an individual player's performance, and even the weather!  


Hope that helps... Sometimes science can go a long way's in fantasy football.

Two questions: Our league had just changed over to a keeper league, where we can keep two players from our final 2010 roster. Which two should I keep: Michael   Vick, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, or LeGarrette Blount?

(Any player I keep can stay on my roster for as many years as I want.)

Also, could you please analyze the pros/cons of having a waiver priority system for adding free agents? Thanks so much!

Here's how I would rank who to keep:

1) Ray Rice- He's young and does everything on the field, and McGahee will no longer eat in his touches

2) Michael Vick- He has more potential than any other player in the NFL

3) LeSean McCoy- He's a great receiving threat, but can he be an every down back? A question we have yet to answer.

4) Blount was sensational last season, but teams also did not know how to prepare for the late-flourishing running back.  Let's see him for a full season before we hand out any awards.


The pro of having a waiver system in place is to offer democracy.  Some fantasy managers may be too busy to get up bright and early to make their waiver picks each week, so this protects them and levels the playing field.

The con of having a waiver system is that this is America!  The early bird gets the worm, so why should you take away a strategic advantage from someone who is willing to put forth the effort to win in fantasy sports.

- Not sure if it is obvious enough, but I prefer no waiver systems :)

How should I budget my $200 for an auction draft? It's a 14-team league, PPR, 1 QB, 2 WR, 2 RB, TE, D/ST, K plus 5 bench spots.

It's tough to budget money to specific positions... the best way to handle an auction is to make a list of safe and inexpensive picks.  For instance, everyone is going to overpay to get their hands on Vick this season... you can save money for other positions by going after Jay Cutler or Kevin Kolb and then spending more at running running back. 

My other piece of advice is not to spend all of your money on one player.  The reason is simple... this is football, players are bound to get hurt.  So instead of having the best running back and the 20th best running back, I would invest in the 10th and 11th best running backs.


Finally, save your money for the late picks.  Get the sleepers that are capable of big numbers this season such as Steve Breaston, Jerome Simpson, and Jared Cook, while everyone else has run out of money.


Good luck!

I've been in a 16-team keeper league for 20 years. With how deep we have to go for talent, knowing who has the possibility to shine over the course of a season is crucial. As an example, I was fortunate enough to pick up Fred Taylor late in the draft his rookie year, he went on to being one of my stable backs for years. Any help you can give in identifying similar sleepers this year would be great.

Absolutely, these are the players I have on my sleeper list:

Michael Bush (he will share carries with McFadden, particularly the ones that result in 6 points!)

Jered Cook (Check out his last 3 games of last season)

James Starks (how do we know that Ryan Grant will recover 100%)

Jerome Simpson (check out his last two games)

And this is a very deep pick... but what happens if a franchise quarterback gets hurt... it's possible a team may make an offer the Bengals can't refuse for Carson Palmer.

Any sleeper TE that I can look for if I'm not able to grab one of the few elite? I'm hearing promising things about Jimmy Graham in New Orleans.

Graham should be a safe pick now that Jeremy Shockey is out of the way.  I also love Jered Cook this season as a sleeper with the Titans.  Just outside of the elite ranks Brandon Pettigrew... I think he becomes an elite this season.  Jermaine Gresham and Brent Celek are also sleepers.

Are any Buffalo Bills worth taking before the fifth round? How do you think the Lee Evans trade impacts Stevie Johnson's numbers?

It definitely hurts!  I can understand why Bills fans are disappointed.  The passing game has been hurting in recent years because it had only one above average wide out until finally Johnson broke through last season.  Now the team trades Evans putting them in a familar predicament.  This is also a tough blow for Ryan Fitzpatrick.

I would keep Fred Jackson in mind for the first five rounds... He proved himself again last season and I see Spiller as a backup for another season.

As a result of winning my league last year, I get to choose my draft slot. After winning by drafting Aaron Rodgers in the first round last year at No. 5 (with Arian Foster falling to me in the third round), I'm wondering whether the uptick in running-back-by-committee is starting to take conventional wisdom away from needing to take the best running back available early in the draft.

Would I be foolish to consider taking Rodgers at No. 1 overall and forgoing having a stud RB? I doubt that I'll be able to find a Foster-type back in the third round again!

Ha, good point, you hit the jackpot last season and it will be tough to do again this year.  

I don't think you need to pick Rodgers number one overall to get him.  I would take the fourth pick of the draft leaving you with either Peterson, Johnson, Foster, or Rodgers... plus you won't have to wait until very very late in the second round to make your next pick.  Speaking of that second round pick I'd go with Steven Jackson or LeGarrette Blount if either are available... good luck!

This year, instead of spending 20+ on a top-7 QB, my plan is to use that to get Bradford, Stafford and Tebow, and use the money I saved on RBs. What do you think?

Sounds smart to me, I think the league has turned back to passing-dominated, which means there is great parity at quarterback and the greater advantages exist by drafting solid running backs and wide outs.

Is Browns WR Greg Little this year's Mike Williams?

The problem for Little is that he still has some other fine young players ahead of him such as Mohamed Massaqoi, but more importantly, quarterback Colt McCoy is no Josh Freeman.

So while I like Little's talent, he doesn't have as good a surrounding as Williams.


I am in a 12-team PPR league and pick 6th. What do you think of my options for two keepers?

Assuming most of the good players are gone, I am sold on Aaron Rodgers as one keeper. Second is down to Peyton Hillis and Maurice Jones-Drew. I think MJD will have injury issues, and am leaning towards Hillis. Would you keep Hillis, MJD or throw them both back and see what happens with pick #19?

This is very tough... clearly you know what to do with Rodgers, but I am not sold enough on Hillis.  In the first half of the season he averaged 4.8 yards per carry.  In the second half it was down to 3.9.  While everyone is scared about MoJo, he claims to be in great shape and has had back-to-back 1300-plus rushing yards seasons.  I would stick with MoJo.  

Matt Ryan's numbers, apart from rushing tuchdowns, were very close to Aaron Rodgers. Is this an anomaly, or is there hidden value for Ryan?

There is definite value in Matt Ryan, and now that you add Julio Jones to the mix, we're talking about having equal talent in the receiving corps to the Packers.  Plus, Ryan is now in his fourth season, so look for the Falcons passing game to be more aggressive.  

Austin Collie had three concussions last year, and the Colts have a crowded recieving corps. Why all the love? He looks like a bust to me.

The love is there because he is the little engine that could, but you make a fine point and we all know that Pierre Garcon has more talent.  The question is whether Reggie Wayne's role will become smaller, which opens the door for Collie.  

With the head injuries, I am staying away from Collie this season.

Who will do better, Braylon Edwards or Mike Crabtree? Is either worth starting as a low end WR 2?

The common problem for both wide outs is their quarterback play.  Between the two, I like Edwards better because he has managed to stay healthy, while Crabtree has a long history of injuries since leaving Texas Tech.  But, the quarterback play has me looking at them both as WR3 options.

Hey Rob, first time, long time. In auctions, do you generally prefer a stars-and-scrubs approach or an even allotment of money? Anything particular about this year's projections that push you in one direction or the other?

I am a believer in a greater parity of players this season, which has me spreading the money out more.  I believe you can save money at quarterback and invest a bit more in second tier running backs because usually one of these guys breaks out to be an elite: Steven Jackson, Blount, Moreno, and even Marshawn Lynch.  

Do you think there will be any value in Washington's backfield? Namely, Tim Hightower? What about Ryan Torain? Or will the Shanahans be too unpredictable once again?

Mike Shanahan loves Ryan Torain and that would probably be the choice as the lead back.  However, the usual story for Torain are injury woes, which can open the door for Hightower.  Put it this way... you shouldn't draft one without drafting the other.

In my keeper league, I can keep between 2 and 4 of: Maurice Jones-Drew, Roddy White, Andre Johnson and Aaron Rodgers. They will cost 128 total out of 200 in an auction league -- all about the same cost. Do I keep all four?

I would say that there is an obvious three with MoJo the big question mark.  However, the problem is that if you don't keep MoJo you won't have any running backs.  The answer depends entirely on whether you will be able to upgrade at running back while getting rid of Jones-Drew... if yes, then do so, otherwise, he's a keeper.

What happened to Kevin Smith? Did he die? With rookie Mikel Leshoure hurt, and Jerome Harrison not exactally a change of pace to Jahvid Best, why isn't Smith mentioned as the Lions backup RB?

Smith is not mentioned as much because of concerns that he has slowed down since suffering serious injuries in the NFL.  His yards per carry the last two seasons has been a disappointing 3.4 and 3.9.  On that note, they look at him as more of a third-down back than an everydown back. 

Are there any rookies worth looking at this year in later rounds, or does the lockout reduce their value too much? In particular, it seems like Mark Ingram has a lot of potential upside this year.

Sure, rookies always have potential, but as we learned last year, they are also high risk propositions (think Ryan Mathews and CJ Spiller).  I never invest in a rookie quarterback, but would consider going after Julion Jones and AJ Green at wide out. 


The rookies who have the best shot at running back this season would be Daniel Thomas followed by Ingram, but rookies are dangerous. 

I'm in a keeper league (starting third season) and Adrian Peterson is on the trading block. The owner wants Drew Brees and a first-round pick for AP. Is that reasonable?

Depends on where the pick is in the first round.  I would counter with Brees and a third round pick and try to negotiate from there.  I love Peterson, and again because of the parity at quarterback, you can get rid of Brees... but losing a first round pick could be costly.

My draft is next Sunday. With all the free-agent moves, it seems any magazine I pick up is outdated. What resources do you recommend to help me prepare?

I would read your local papers to keep up with the news (ahem... Washpost), and I would look at tools like the Bloomberg Sports Decision Maker that take a more scientific approach to the newcomers by considering offensive lines, schedules, etc. 

Other than that ESPN, Yahoo, CBS, and all the other big fantasy sites will provide you with the usual lists and cheat sheets

LeGarrette Blount came out of nowhere and was a force during the second half of last season. Now that the full-time role is indisputably his, do you think he repeats? Or will there be a letdown?

For what it's worth, Blount had four carries for 1 yard (one!) last night vs. the Patriots.

I think he has the ability to rack up 1200-plus yards and is a great pick in the late first or second round.  The Bucs are legit and seem to have all the pieces in places for a dynamic offense this season.  That means more goal line carries for Blount. 

Is Arian Foster more likely to be the best fantasy running back again, or the 10th-best?

I think he's top-5.  He proved what he can do last season, only fear is an injury, which is common for a player the year after they endure a huge increase in workload... there is some cause for concern.

Are the Shanahans just pulling our leg with John Beck at QB? Are they serious, or is this just another way to put the heat on Rex Grossman? And if Beck does start, is he worth a fantasy roster spot?

Grossman seems to have done everything right... including his play at the end of last season... so this is a bit surprising.  This tells me that the 'Skins may be looking long-term with Beck.  I avoid both quarterbacks for now, but Grossman would bring more value to the pasisng game if he starts. 

Hey Rob,

I am drafting out of the 12-hole in a 12-team ppr league where passing TDs are worth 6 points. I am leaning towards going WR/WR but wonder how important it is to land an elite QB. RBs like Jahvid Best and Felix Jones can typically be had in the third/fourth rounds, but not sure how comfortable I would be with them. Thoughts?

Your thinking is a bit unconventional... but I like it.  No problem with grabbing WRs early, then maybe a QB, then spend the next four rounds on running backs who can be great such as Best, Jones, Michael Bush, Jonathan Stwart, and others. 

Running backs are like closers in fantasy baseball... there will always be injuries and running backs you never heard of will have fantasy value (John Kuhn anyone?)

What production do you think we'll see from RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in Carolina? Can either or both hit 1,000+ yards & 10 TDs?

Williams is now getting starter money, so he should be your main man.  Stewart is a solid handcuff if you're afraid of an injury to Williams. 

I have two teams, both in 12-team leagues.

1) I have to pick two keepers out of Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster and Aaron Rodgers.

2) I need to keep two out of Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, Chris Johnson and Phillip Rivers. Should note that almost all elite QBs are kept -- and no one has won a title without an elite QB.

Wow, some tough decsions coming your way.  I'd stick with the QBs.. Rodgers and Rivers are certainly elite and they are still improving!

At running back, I would go with Charles in the first league then flip a coin between Charles and Johnson in the other league. 

I like Johnson more than Charles, but the hold-out is making matters murky.

Do you think Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have about the same value as last year, or better/worse?

I see Rodgers only getting better still.  Brees, on the other hand, hit a bit of a plateau.  He lacks the potential of Rodgers, but it still very good.

Hi all, just wanted to thank you all for the questions... Looks like we needed an extra 15 minutes to get through all of them. 

Two takeaways from the live chat. 

To be on top of the player news hit up your local newspapers.  It's the beat reporters.. not the fantasy experts who will be able to break news on injuries and depth chart movement. 

Next, when it comes to preparing for your weekly decisions all of the main fantasy sites are helpful, but pretty much offer the same conversation.  For a more scientific approach that includes everything from the health of the offensive line to the weather as a factor visit for access to the Decision Maker.


Thanks again and best of luck!


Rob Shaw

(Twitter: @RobShawSports)

In This Chat
Rob Shaw
Award-winning sports anchor and reporter Rob Shaw has been a fantasy sports analyst for more than a decade. He researches and analyzes professional sports statistics in order to determine the value of individual players and to offer recommendations on how to maximize the value of players while minimizing the risk of a poor performance. Shaw's strategy has resulted in dozens of fantasy sports championships and thousands of dollars worth of winnings.

A member of the Fantasy Sports Writer's Association, Shaw is the executive producer and co-host of the nationally syndicated Bloomberg Sports Ballpark Figures and Fourth and Fantasy, and writes fantasy sports columns for

Shaw has broadcast experience at NBC and CBS television affiliates in Florida. In Tallahassee, Shaw was honored with six AP Awards for his coverage of the Braves, Jaguars, and of course, the Florida State Seminoles.

Shaw is a native New Yorker who graduated from Vanderbilt University with an MBA from NYU Stern.
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