How to Dominate Your Fantasy Football Draft with Stats and Analysis

Aug 26, 2011

Preparing for your fantasy football draft? Fantasy analyst Rob Shaw of Bloomberg Sports is here again 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!

For even more advice, check out last week's fantasy football chat transcript, as well.

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

Hello there, and thanks again for talking some fantasy football.  This is definitely a prime time for fantasy football drafts, so get your rankings in order, print your cheat sheet, and consider a strategy as you compete against your friends.  Good luck and fire any questions that you may have!

We all know of Shanahan's ability to produce top flight RBs in his system. With that said, I think Tim Hightower has to be considered the one to draft? I am not sure Ryan Torain deserves a roster spot, and I think Roy Helu is a nice change of pace/third-down RB. If he can catch the ball, he might be of some value in a PPR league. I really like Hightower this year though. Your thoughts?

There is no question about it, Shanahan has a great appreciation for Ryan Torain.  That explains why he signed him in Denver and brought him to Washington.  The only problem for Torain has been the injuries. 

Once again injuries have creeped up on the young back and as a result, Tim Hightower will have the first crack at starting.  On that note, Hightower is an excellent sleeper pick.  He has posted great numbers during his limited play in Arizona, but if you give him a full season's worth of carries you'll get 1200-plus yards. 

Hightower is the top pick and Torain is the insurance policy for fantasy managers.

Who would you be targeting if you had the No. 5 overall pick?

I would say Ray Rice is the best pick at five assuming Jamaal Charles is off the board.  If your fantasy league is slightly QB favored, Aaron Rodgers is not a bad pick.  The riskier option is LeSean McCoy.

The Colts seems to be telling us something by signing Kerry Collins. So where do you rank Peyton Manning now -- among QBs and overall? 

His stock has certainly taken a bit of a hit, I still think he plays at least 12 games at an elite level, but he may miss the first week or two. 

Considering the parity at the position this is not a huge deal for fantasy managers since there are other options.  I would push Manning below Matt Schaub and Tony Romo and maybe even Matt Ryan, so around the 10th QB and in fantasy drafts we're talking around the 5th to 7th round. 

Just make sure you draft a solid backup option!

If Chris Johnson is still sitting there at the sixth pick in the first round, do I grab him? It looks like he could miss regular season game(s)--is his productivity worth the risk of missing a couple games?

You may recall that when Vincent Jackson sat out games and then returned last seaosn after a holdout and a suspension he was not in optimal shape and ended up missing time with injuries in a horrible season.  So I would not take this very lightly. 

You certainly can grab Johnson with the 6th overall pick, but you may want to side with caution.  I would pick Ray Rice over him and consider LeSean McCoy and maybe even Michael Turner and Steven Jackson.  You can also draft Aaron Rodgers or Andre Johnson with the 6th pick overall. 

Good luck!

Does Michael Vick's preseason performance have you concerned? How early is too early to draft him now? 

It is very rare that I take much from the preseason, so no, Michael Vick's preseason performance does not concern me. 

I am more concerned with the regular season when he will start to take some serious hits.  On that note, I would draft Rodgers, Brady, Rivers, and Brees over Vick.  That makes him a late second round or third round option.  I want consistency and durability from my fantasy quarterback.

Rob, who are your sleeper QBs right now, and what round do you think  I should try to get them?

One of my favorite sleepers this season is Jay Cutler.  He is a solid quarterback who has a bad rep right now because of his postseason injury. You can draft him anywhere from rounds 6 to 9.

Matt Stafford is also a big time sleeper.  He is very injury-prone, but seems to be in great shape, and has some elite talent in the receiving corps.  He could be available from rounds 7 to 11.

Finally, Kevin Kolb and Kyle Orton are two other solid quarterbacks who can post big passing numbers.  They can be had in the middle rounds of your drafts. 

As you can see, there should be no panic in drafting a quarterback for your fantasy teams.  There are quite a few to pick from.

Rob, Thanks for taking my question.

My draft was scheduled for Sunday; however with Irene on the horizon my league decided to have our draft tonight.

But anyway: My question is I have the sixth overall pick in my draft (12 team, standard league), I've been racking my brain deciding on what my best draft strategy would be. Is there really a solid No. 1 running back you could see at the sixth pick? Most experts this year are saying take a top QB early,then build your team from there. However I was always under the impression I should take a RB first. How would you build your team round by round? When one owner in my league takes a certain postion, the other owners always take a run on that postion, I dont want to get caught by missing on a pick midway through a round, Any suggestions?

I disagree with the experts and will tell you to avoid drafting a quarterback too early.  The NFL has turned pass-happy, so you'll have plenty of field generals to choose from (look at the previous question I answered).

With the 6th overall pick you can still draft Ray Rice, Aaron Rodgers, or LeSean McCoy.  If you take Rodgers, I would take a running back in the second round, maybe Steven Jackson, Darren McFadden, or Frank Gore.  If you take a running back in the first round consider Roddy White, Larry Fitzgerald, or Calvin Johnson in the second round. 

Draft your quarterback by round seven, and nab as many running backs as you can between rounds 3-6 (this is where you can draft Bradshaw, Felix Jones, Knowshon Moreno, Tim Hightower, and other sleeper running backs.

Take your sleeper wide outs in the middle and later rounds, as well as a tight end.

Save your final two picks for your kicker and defense.  While other fantasy managers waste picks in the earlier rounds on those two positions you can draft sleepers like Little, Breaston, and others.

Good luck!

In standard scoring, non-keeper leagues, is Cam Newton worth it as a QB2 behind Ben Rothlisberger?

The only chance that Newton has for a solid fantasy season is if he becomes a rush-happy quarterback, which can lead to an injury.  There are too many better options instead of him such as Bradford, Stafford, Cutler, and others available to waste a pick on Newton. 

I'm in a 12-team standard league, and we get to choose our own draft position. I have the second choice. Thoughts on which spot I should take?

Hmm, tough one, but probably take pick number two or four.  If you pick second you get Foster or Peterson, if you pick fourth you can draft Rice or Rodgers.  These picks are better than one because of the long wait before you get your next pick.

I am in a keeper league and I can only keep two players. I have Jamaal Charles, Michael Vick and Andre Johnson. It is a 1 QB/ PPR league. Thoughts?

I would keep Charles and Johnson.  My fear with Vick are the injuries and there are a lot of good quarterbacks out there this season. 

Who are the under-the-radar RBs this year?

Felix Jones, Beanie Wells, Jahvid Best, and Marshawn Lynch should have the backfields to themselves.  The same could be said for Tim Hightower. 

James Starks may surpass Ryan Grant, and yet Grant is getting drafted ahead of him. 

Reggie Bush has a lot to prove in Miami and should get the bulk of the carries. 

Very deep you can find Michael Bush and Mike Tolbert as goal line options for their offenses.  Rashad Jennings is a great insurance policy for Maurice Jones-Drew, just as Jason Snelling is the same for Michael Turner.

This may be a tough one -- in a standard scoring league, what's your top 12 in order? 

1) Peterson

2) Foster

3) Charles

4) Rice

5) Rodgers

6) McCoy

7) Brady

8) Chris Johnson (fell due to holdout)

9) Andre Johnson

10) Roddy White

11) Steven Jackson

12) Michael Turner

Rob, how many leagues do you play in? What formats are they?

I am in four leagues: One with friends, two with colleagues, and one with fantasy sports experts. 

They are mostly standard head to head with a few including points per receptions. 

Last year we tried starting two quarterbacks, but the problem was that people simply stockpiled on the QBs forcing other teams to lose handedly. 

Hi Rob! Among these WRs, who do you think has the biggest potential to vault into the top 15 this season -- Jordy Nelson, Plaxico Burress, Steve Breaston, Nate Burleson?

The only one with a chance is Burress. 

Nelson is good, but he has to contend with James Jones, Jermichael Finley, and of course Greg Jennings. 

Breaston joins a Chiefs offense that already has Bowe and Moeaki, plus they keep the ball on the ground.

Burleson is injury-prone and will contend with Calvin Johnson and Pettigrew for looks. 

That leaves Burress who will play opposite Santonio Holmes.  The only shot Burress has of cracking the top-15, would be a result of his touchdowns. 

Would you trade a high-upside WR2 like Dwayne Bowe for an upper tier TE like Dallas Clark or Jermichael Finley? WR2 spot would become a week-to-week guessing game.

I would consider it for Clark, but Finley has a bit more to prove.  You also can still find decent tight end options who can come for the cheap such as Zach Miller, either of the Patriots tight ends, and Dustin Keller.  Even Brent Celek is a sleeper this season. 

Bowe has a lot of upside, so losing him even for Clark is a pretty hefty gamble.  I would keep Bowe.

Do you think the lockout has affected the value of some players for fantasy? Which ones/types? Rookies?

I would think there would be a transition period for some wide outs who have to learn their quarterbacks and vice versa.  So maybe guys like Braylon Edwards, Steve Breaston, and Larry Fitzgerald take a little while to mesh with their QBs.

Look for the players who have played with each other for a while to thrive early (Manning to Manningham, Brady to Welker), while young defenses are still trying to understand their schemes. 

Rookies are always a gamble, heck, we learned that last seaosn with the strugles of Ryan Mathews and CJ Spiller. 

How do you rate Chris Cooley and Santana Moss? Besides them and the Redskins running backs, as there any other Washington players worth drafting in a typical league?


I like Anthony Armstrong!  He could eventually be the top wide out, though I am scared bit of the unproven John Beck.

Cooley should have another fine season, but his lack of touchdowns are what keep him from ranking amongst the elite. 

Crazy stat, Santana Moss has four years of 1000-plus yards under his belt, but he has never enjoyed 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.  That does not bode well since he racked up 1,115 yards last season. 

Hey Rob -- Who are your top 5 picks in a PPR format?

1) Foster

2) Peterson

3) Rice

4) Charles

5) Roddy White- He gains the most!

Where do Rashard Mendenhall and LeSean McCoyfit into your rankings? 

I rank McCoy a bit higher because he should be less of an injury risk since he takes less pounding due to the greater receptions compared to rushes. 

I see McCoy as a mid-first round option, while Mendenhall is late first round early second round.

Rob, would you rather have Mike Wallace, Santonio Holmes or Mike Williams of Tampa Bay?

Mike Wallace has to be the top pick after his breakout 2010 season.  Wallace is just entering his third season and has plenty of room for growth. 

Santonio Holmes should improve as well since Braylon Edwards moves to the west coast, but my money would be on Big Ben delivering big numbers before Mark Sanchez.

Mike Williams was amazing last season, but I also think Arrelious Benn will have a greater impact this season helping spread the ball around a bit. 

I'd rank: 1) Wallace, 2) Williams 3) Holmes

Standard scoring, 12-team league. I am drafting last in a snake draft. Who to keep (does not affect draft picks): Aaron Rodgers, Andre Johnson or Steven Jackson?

Yikes, how do you not keep Rodgers or Johnson???

This is a really tough call, and while I would draft Rodgers ahead of him in a draft, I just don't think Andre Johnson is as replaceable as Rodgers.  There just are not that many wide outs posting big numbers this season compared to the many QBs out there. 

I'd keep Johnson, then Rodgers, then Jackson.

Do you have advice for someone who has the bookend 12th and 13th picks in a PPR league? 

Congrats, this is one of the better positions to be in.  Keep your eyes open for LeSean McCoy, Roddy White,  Tom Brady, Steven Jackson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Maurice Jones-Drew (in that order).

I would lower Michael Turner and Mendenhall on my rankings in a PPR league.

If you can draft a stellar running back and a stellar wide out, you have accomplished your goal with those picks.   

Who is a better pick at WR -- Percy Harvin or Pierre Garcon?

I think Harvin is the safer pick, but that Garcon has the greater upside.  In other words, I look at Harvin in a similar light as a Santana Moss.  His speed will provide him with some big numbers and if he can stay healthy, a fine NFL career.

The question with Garcon is whether he will replace Reggie Wayne as Peyton Manning's top target.  Garcon certainly has greater ability than Wayne, but there are some questions as to whether Garcon can improve his catching ability.

I'd take Harvin over Garcon.

How would you rank these WRs: Jeremy Maclin, Chad Ochocinco, Santonio Holmes, Mario Manningham, Julio Jones and AJ Green? 

A lot of very good players there of all different ages and skillset.

1) Santonio Holmes- He's formed a rapport with Mark Sanchez and no longer has Braylon Edwards competing for looks. 

2) Mario Manningham- He is a bit of a sleeper, but check those numbers from last season, now consider that Kevin Boss and Steve Smith are gone.

3) Chad Ochocinco- We won't thought that Randy Moss was on the decline until he hooked up with Brady after a failed stint in Oakland.  I expect big things from Ochocinco.

4) Maclin- The only concern here is health, and he has gone on record saying that he will not miss a single game this season.  I'm still cocerned with his mystery ailment. 

5) Julio Jones- This rookie has Roddy White attracting the attention of the top defensive backs, plus a stellar quarterback in Matt Ryan throwing the passes.

6) AJ Green- He's a major talent, but who is his quarterback?

Could you please rank these RBs: Cedric Benson, Reggie Bush and Jahvid Best ... 

1) Best- Great offense and he's the lone ball carrier for now

2) Benson- Boring as he may be, the guy does get the ball 15-25 times a game

3) Bush- I actually like him this season, but there is also a lot of risk involved because of his injury-prone ways. 

Is there any chance one Patriots TE will emerge ahead of the other? Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez? 

It certainly does not appear that way and the Patriots would prefer that they remain neck-to-neck.  Remember, both talents were drafted in the same season.  They both played large roles last season and really help spread the field for Brady.  Plus, it's a tough dynamic for the opposition to have to contend with two talented big men in the receiving corps.  I think they're both here to stay unless if there's an injury.

Hi all, really enjoyed the questions again.  The Washington Post does a great job at giving their readers what they want in very innovative ways.  To stay in the know when it comes to fantasy football throughout the regular season you can check back with the WashPost for all of your news and notes, and check out for an analytical approach to who to sit and who to start.


Thanks again and best of luck!

Rob Shaw


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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