Many people will reference KTC or other trade calculators to determine if a trade is worth pursuing. However, it’s important to remember that this data is based on the “average” scoring settings of the “average” league’s depth. For example, you may be in a start-7 league and a start-9 league (2 additional RB/WR or flex spots). But, the average league for which the trade calculator is based is a start-8. You will, by definition, be underpricing top players in your start-7 and overpricing players in your start-9 league. Additionally, you will be underpricing QB/TE in your start-7 and overpricing QB/TE in your start-9.
To illustrate this concept a bit, let’s assume two separate people make their keep/trade/cut selections. One plays in a start-7 league, and the other plays in a start-9 league. Upon launching the site, they are posed with a keep, trade, cut decision for Mahomes, Ekeler, and Kelce. Ignore the element of age as it affects dynasty for this illustration. The start-7 owner will correctly Keep Mahomes, Trade Ekeler, and Cut Kelce. The start-9 owner will correctly Keep Ekeler, Trade Mahomes, and Cut Kelce. AND BOTH WOULD BE CORRECT IN DOING SO! To further explain how that’s possible, let’s dive into the details.
Value Above Replacement
A value-above-replacement (VAR) system derives player value. You can see my previous article on how to value players to understand this system further. Based on this concept, we can value players based on actual 2022 performances in both a start-7 vs start-9 league to illustrate this point. Again, we are using a redraft focus here, but the logic will also apply to dynasty values. We will exclude bench players’ value for ease and just value players based on their starting value alone.
Based on a 12-team league, we will have 12 quarterbacks, 12 tight ends, and 60 running backs/wide receivers starting in the start-7 league. In a start-9 league, we will have two additional flex spots and thus 12 quarterbacks, 12 tight ends, and 84 RB/WR. Therefore, the replacement level value will be based on the 13th quarterback, 13th tight end, and 61st RB/WR in start-7 or 85th RB/WR in start-9. I combine the RB/WR spots for ease as the flex spots will usually not create a premium to one position or the other. Additionally, tight ends historically won’t score enough to be considered in the flex.
Using 2022 Data as an Example
Using pro-football-reference.com 2022 NFL Fantasy Players Stats and their default scoring for fantasy points, we can ascertain the points above replacement value of each player. I am leveraging the PPR field and reducing the reception value to get to ½ PPR for this illustration.
Based on this data, we see the following…
Interpreting the Data
Looking at quarterback, Mahomes scored 416.9 points which was tops at the position. This is 177.7 points more than Rodgers, who was the 13th highest at the position. As a point of reference, the 6th/7th spot of Fields/Lawrence came in, averaging 295.8 points and 56.6 points above Rodgers.
Looking at tight end, Kelce scored 261.3 points which was tops at the position. This is 148.3 points more than Njoku, who was the 13th highest at the position. As a point of reference, the 6th/7th spot of Engram/Kmet came in, averaging 131.4 points and 18.4 points above Njoku.
Looking at RB/WR for a start-9 league, Ekeler scored 319.2 points which was tops at the position. This is 201.6 points more than Campbell who was the 85th highest at the position. As a point of reference, the 42nd/43rd spot of McKinnon/(DJ)Moore came in, averaging 168 points and 50.4 points above Campbell.
So what does all this mean?
Depth Skews Position Value
In a start-7 league, Mahomes was the most valuable player. With 177.7 points above replacement, he just outpaced Ekeler at 174.4. However, in a start-9 league that will, by its nature, value WR/RB more heavily compared to other positions, Ekeler smokes Mahomes with a 201.6 VAR.
We see this trend continue at the median. The VAR of a median RB/WR in the start-9 league is higher at 50.4 than the start-7 VAR of 44.1. In either case, the median QB remains higher. Remember that we are comparing the 6th/7th QB to the 30th/31st RB/WR in start-7 or 42nd/43rd RB/WR in start-9 as that median player.
Depth Skews Ratio of High-Tier vs Low-Tier Player Value
We can infer that the total value above replacement in a start-7 league is lower than in a start-9. Thus each unit of VAR is more valuable in a start-7 than a start-9 league.
To help illustrate this, we can use an extreme. Think about a 6-team league with only two quarterback spots and nothing else. The first team would receive picks 1 and 12, while the sixth would receive picks 6 and 7.
If you look at the VAR for quarterback, team 1 would receive Mahomes at 177.7 and something slightly above 0 (Brady at 32.5, not shown) for a total of 210.2. The sixth team would receive the two median picks of Fields and Lawrence that total 113.2 (56.6 * 2). The value of the best and worst players is far greater than the two median players. However, their draft slots would be considered “fair” based on the concept of a snake draft. We all know that one team shouldn’t be nearly double the value of another after a draft, assuming everyone took the best player available. However, that would be the case in such a short draft. The VAR of the later picks has less variance, thus diluting the impact created by the early rounds.
This idea can be expanded out to the start-7 vs. start-9 example. We should realize that as roster size grows, the value of top-tier players diminishes comparatively.
Notes related to 2022 exclusively
As alluded to earlier, the 13th tight end scored 113 points. This does not crack the minimum to be flex-worthy in either format, as even in the start-9, the 117.6 from Campbell still beats Njoku’s 113-point effort.
Notice that the median VAR at tight end is very low compared to other positions. This alludes to the few standout players compared to the cluster of low-end talent at the position in 2022. Even the premium on the high-end players is a great deal off from the other positions. But, as you move down the tight end position, other positions are far superior in the middle of the player pool. The takeaway is that getting a tight end early will make sense if the value is there. Once past the top tier, it would be wise to wait until the end of the position, as the drop from 7 to 12 is nowhere near as bad as the drop from 7 to 12 at quarterback.
Whether these trends continue in the future is up in the air. These seem to reoccur historically, so it’s likely a good bet that they will.
The positional setup can significantly influence the positional value given the same scoring settings in two separate 1QB leagues. Thus one needs to contemplate this concept when using trade calculators blindly. This is obvious to those comparing Superflex and 1QB leagues but is often overlooked when comparing 1QB leagues amongst themselves. Try to determine whether your league is deeper or more shallow at RB/WR than others. You can exploit this difference by buying and drafting more WR/RB in those deeper leagues. For shallower leagues, think about paying up more for QB/TE.
Additionally, the positional setup can significantly influence the value of higher-end and lower-end players and thus must be contemplated. Try to determine whether your league is deeper or more shallow and exploit that difference. For deeper leagues, consider selling overpriced higher-tier players and buying underpriced lower-tier players that trade calculators are basing off a league with less depth. For shallower leagues, consider buying underpriced higher-tier players and selling overpriced lower-tier players that trade calculators are basing off a league with more depth.