Roster Dynamics

Updated: July 3rd 2019

Dynamics sounds like a very technical term that might intimidate some people.  It really should not.  Definitions of dynamics may include something as simple as a process of change or the properties which affect change.  With regards to roster value in the fantasy football realm, this article focuses on how selected properties change our roster value over time and how these forces are affected by different league settings.  In particular, we look at the following primary sources of roster value change in this article: rookie draft picks, free agent auction acquisitions, waiver wire additions, trades, and changes in player values.

Why do we care about how our roster value changes?  The aforementioned properties can have big implications for how we approach initial fantasy start-ups and our off-season team building.  How do we maintain a competitive roster year to year for example?  The following gives the basics for thinking about how your team changes in value and the consequences of such changes.

Rookie Draft Picks

Rookie picks effectively make up a roster’s “income stream” from year to year in dynasty leagues and they are a primary source of added value each year to rosters in RSO leagues.  Each team reliably obtains a number of these picks each year, the number associated with how many rounds are included in a league’s draft.  There is a random component to how valuable these picks are due to uncertainty of each team’s relative finish before the season ends, quality of incoming rookie class, and other factors.  Rookie picks also tend to be relatively more easily transferrable when compared to specific players.

Key Considerations:  While the number of picks each team gets is typically the same for every team, the expected value of those picks can be vastly different.  The value of rookie picks from bad or rebuilding teams will typically far exceed that of competitive teams because rookie pick value is typically weighted so heavily toward the top picks.

League size also has a big impact on rookie pick values.  Two competing factors influence the impact of league size.  Bigger leagues with more teams lead to more starting players needed in the league making each startable player and consequently each draft pick more valuable (Note this analysis also applies to leagues with deeper starting requirements which make draft picks more valuable than in shallower leagues).   On the other hand, bigger leagues mean the average draft position of rookie picks decreases.  For example, the average rookie pick spot in the first and second rounds would be 5.5 and 15.5 in 10-team leagues where they would be 10.5 and 30.5 in 20-team leagues.  That is a huge discrepancy in values for random picks.  This latter effect dominates the earlier because the value of later draft picks drops so dramatically when compared to the relatively small increase in value due to increased starting requirements.

Free Agent Auction Acquisitions

This is the staple of roster change in RSO leagues.   Salary cap not spent on current contracts and rookies are available for the free agent auction.  The available free agents, current team rosters, available salary cap dollars, and other factors may vary dramatically from team to team and year to year.  This means applying a unique strategy to your free agent auction each year.

Key Considerations:  The number and length of available contracts in league settings has a big impact on the available player pool as the league moves forward each season.  A higher number of contracts available each year naturally leads to less players available for future free agent auctions as your league progresses.  This decrease in the supply of talent may eventually increase the prices of players during the free agent auction and trades.

In-season Free Agent and Waiver Wire Additions

Typical dynasty leagues setup a blind bidding pool for unrostered players with bidding periods taking place during the off-season and in-season.  For RSO leagues, whatever salary cap dollars not spent in the free agent auction are now available during the season for players not on contract and the waiver wire for claiming dropped player contracts.  The key implication of this is that a team’s yearly auction strategy directly impacts in-season additions.  Spending more cap dollars in the free agent auction reduces the cap available for in-season additions.

Key Considerations:  Many view roster size as the key component in waiver wire strategy.  The available player pool decreases as roster sizes grow larger.  Teams are more able to hold speculative players such as running back handcuffs and development rookies.  This provides less incentive to not utilize your salary cap dollars in the free agent auction.

There are a couple of arguments for holding more of your cap dollars to address in-season additions in certain situations.  First, many RSO startups and free agent auctions occur prior to NFL rosters and depth charts being set which means RSO teams speculate on which players win NFL battles for the last starting wide receiver or backup running back.  An RSO owner who spends more of their cap during the season may have an information advantage in many instances as NFL depth charts are mainly set at this point.  Second, more available in-season cap dollars gives an RSO team more flexibility in trade negotiations.  Teams up against the salary cap may be forced into including assets they do not want to give up as a way to make the trade work for cap purposes.

Trades

If rookie picks are the building blocks of fantasy teams, trades represent the transformation process for fantasy rosters in which we make our roster into the type we want.  We may divide trades into a few broad categories or combination of them.  Inter-positional trades involve exchanging players from one position group to another, such as trading a running back for a wide receiver.  Inter-temporal trades concern moving value in one time frame to another, for example a team trading cheaper rookie picks or a longer-term player in exchange for a more expensive shorter-term player.  A less common scenario, intra-positional trades, sees teams trading players from the same position group.  RSO leagues offer another alternative.  Salary cap space itself is an asset in RSO leagues.  We may therefore see trades in which one team gives up assets in order to gain salary cap space such as giving rookie draft picks in exchange for that team taking on a bad contract.

One thing we should note is that trades are not a zero sum game.  Both teams in a trade may increase their short-term winning chances by upgrading one position group at the expense of another position of strength.  A rebuilding team may sacrifice short-term production, which has zero or negative value to that particular team, in exchange for longer-term assets such as rookie picks.

Key Considerations:  View the league positional starting requirements.  One of the reasons I prefer leagues with increased quarterback and tight end values is that it opens up another world for trading.  Many basic fantasy leagues have so little separation between the values of most tight ends and quarterbacks that they are rarely more than simple “add-ons” for trades between other positions.  There exists no real motivation to make trades centered on wide receivers or running backs in exchange for tight ends or quarterbacks given the supply differences between the positions.  Adding value to quarterbacks and tight ends (by adding more starting spots to those positions for example) greatly increases the potential trade activity in many leagues.

Changes in Player Values

A funny thing happens in fantasy football when looking at player values.  Players are continuously depreciating assets meaning they are always losing production value.  Each year or game played is one more taken off the lifetime value of that player.  We just do not necessarily know ahead of time what that future production value will look like.  The market or trade value of a player, however, may see drastic ups and downs on a weekly basis.  New information such as injuries, suspensions, coaching, and surrounding depth charts makes a big impact on how the fantasy community views a player’s future production.

Key Considerations:  Maximize the difference between production value and trade value by acquiring players at valleys or trading away players at peaks in market value.  This requires anticipation of changes to a player’s situation such as moving up a depth chart or potentially moving teams to one with better surrounding talent.  We also must consider the sustainability of recent production factoring in the natural ups and downs of statistical production which happens to all players.

Main Takeaway

It is never easy maintaining a consistent winner year to year in fantasy football.  That task becomes even more difficult in deeper competitive leagues as the number of teams gets larger and larger.  This is particularly true in startups.  The primary avenues of adding roster value no longer produce enough talent to continuously improve your team as leagues get deeper with more teams. Rookie picks become less and less valuable.  The free agent pool eventually shrinks to players with little value.  The waiver wire becomes practically barren.   The focus of teams must move more toward trading for value and acquiring players which can reasonably see upticks in market value to trade later or accumulating those with market values below anticipated production levels.    


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

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