High Ground Draft Approach

The fantasy football world has been inundated over the past several years with competing draft strategies that emphasize the extreme. Zero Running Back. Zero Wide Receiver. Late-Round Quarterback. Quarterback Extreme. Elite Tight End. Late-Round Tight End. I’m sure the list is incomplete, but these seem to epitomize the major archetypes. We could settle in and do an exhaustive comparison, finding what makes them different and what makes one better than the others, but I’d rather ask the question: “What do they have in common?” When I looked into that question I arrived at some fascinating answers and some principles that I think can be applied to any draft, any league format, and allow you to draft any style.

Just like the strategies they adhere to, most proponents of these strategies are just as extreme in their belief that theirs is superior to the others. It is not enough just to draft a team ZeroRB, you must accept ZeroRB into your heart. In such a competitive and polarizing environment it can be difficult to find a middle ground. I’ve found when I try to find the middle of the road I often just get run over by both lanes. But if we hold our ground and look closer we can find the shared principles and strategies.

ZeroRB – Strengthen WR and/or one other position while ignoring RB. Recouping that weakness with late RBs that takes advantage of the realities of RB fragility.

ZeroWR – Strengthen RB while ignoring WR. Drafting large middle class of WRs, recouping the weakness by taking advantage of the WR depth.

Late-Round QB– Strengthen Starting positions while ignoring QB. Recoup that weakness by drafting high upside late QBs or streaming the position.

Early/Elite-TE – Strengthen TE, taking top TE options away from opponents and not needing to invest resources into chasing streaming TEs.

HeroRB – Grab one early RB, Strengthen other positions. Mitigate the weakness with the hero and other late 0RB targets.

In every case the point is to build a strength, create scarcity for opponents and recoup the losses due to the weakness by other means (waivers, trade).

It turns out, when you draft ZeroRB, you are using the High Ground draft approach.


Welcome to Rock Wars! Picture four hills positioned roughly in a square. You’re going into a competition where you win by getting the most of four types of resources combined. Each hill has only one of the four types of resources, red rocks, blue rocks, green rocks, and yellow rocks, and you and your 11 other competitors are about to be released to gather all you can in a set time. You must have all four colors, but it doesn’t matter how much as long as you have some of each. In fact, you don’t even need all four within the gathering period, you will have a chance to pick through the remains or trade before the final count. Once released, the competitors will be rushing to hills and grabbing the biggest chunks of each resource they can find. The best and most visible pieces will disappear quickly and you’ll have to really search and dig to find larger pieces before long. Did I mention you can only gather a certain number of pieces? That’s right, you can’t just gather volume in small chunks you can only weigh in with twenty rocks. So get the twenty biggest ones you can. Good luck! Ready or not, GO!

The analogy is forced and, I’m sure, obvious. But when we frame things differently suddenly it can be easier to see some game theory elements more clearly. In this scenario, it wouldn’t make much sense to immediately try to get one large rock from each hill. No matter what hill you pick first, by the time you get to the fourth one, it will have been picked clean by as many as 11 other people. Even worse, after getting your one large rock of one color, you would have had to walk past many other large chunks on that hill, leaving them behind for someone else to pick up just because you needed to get to another hill quickly. This strategy makes no sense!

Let’s craft a better strategy. Where do we go first? If we know we can be ahead of the pack, that’s fine, we will pick the hill we want to start on and we can get there early. If there’s a lot of people in front of us, we will watch and see which hill has fewer people. But wait, let’s back up. Maybe we all had the chance to look at the hills before the start and we noticed one hill was covered in a lot of pieces but they were smaller chunks while another hill had fewer yet larger pieces. Now we just have to balance this information with where the competition is and pick a hill. 

And stay there.


Opportunity Cost is the idea that when you pick one thing you are giving up the opportunity to select something else. Fantasy Football players are generally familiar with this idea, even if the term is unfamiliar. When you draft Dalvin Cook, you are likely giving up the opportunity to draft Alvin Kamara if he is also still there. What isn’t often incorporated into people’s opportunity cost formula is the negative opportunity cost to your opponents when you take a player. Yes, when you draft Cook they now cannot draft Cook. That’s understood. But it’s also one less top running back for them to pick from. In a classic 1QB league these days your first round may be mostly top running backs. Drafting one early ensures they aren’t all taken before your next pick but it also deprives your opponents of that choice later.

Meanwhile, Zero Running Back proponents focus on Antifragility for running backs, as was the origin of the strategy. They advise getting as many top wide receivers as possible early in the draft while most others are taking running back, depriving the others of those top wide receiver choices. This application is arrived at as the conclusion of the principle of Antifragility. But what if this is the principle, not the conclusion? The strategy was developed at a time when first rounds were filled with running backs. However, does it work as well when half of your competition is also drafting Zero Running Back? You may be denying half the league the top wide receiver options, but the other half is now denying you choices as well! Do we stick by our ZeroRB doctrine? Do we continue to walk in faith, not by sight?

If your rules aren’t based on principle, your rules will eventually run against a situation where they make no sense. Many of these extreme draft approaches have rules based on conclusions instead. This means when the situation changes the rules make no sense because the conclusions no longer apply. The High Ground approach is built upon the principles that other extreme draft strategies have been utilizing, but they largely have not been specifically and intentionally basing rules on these principles.


The High Ground Draft Approach is based on the principle of reinforcing your strengths while creating scarcity to the detriment of your opponents instead of paying the opportunity cost of filling your weakness to the benefit of your opponents by letting them fill their weaknesses at less cost. 

Flexible Rules for High Ground:

Scout the Territory, Pick the Right Hill

  • Using tools like the Format Beater and ADP Beater, identify the more valuable hills in your format.
    • Which position has the most value in taking first, or in accumulating many top players?
  • Identify the hill you don’t want. 
    • Which position will you gain the least chasing early compared to what you can get in the middle to end?

One Eye on the Goal, One Eye on the Competition

  • Be decisive.
    • Pick your hill and stick with it. Maybe you swing by a hill that’s on the way for one big piece, but once you arrive don’t flounder or second guess.
  • Watch what hills your opponents are on, not what they are picking up.
    • Don’t focus on what you’re missing out on. Make them miss out on what you’re drafting. 
    • Watch for the hills that are being abandoned. Can you move to another hill and have a top group for that position too? You can pivot to whichever position was your second or third choice that is being left available.

Don’t Reach But Don’t Pass Either

  • Never reach to fill a weakness, if it’s not there but more of your strengths are, reinforce your strengths instead. There is no upside to reaching to fill a weakness.
  • Take discounts when they are given (back to watching for abandoned hills), you aren’t betraying the High Ground strategy or breaking a rule if you flip your High Ground to a different position after a couple rounds. It happens.

Make Them Pay

  • Even if your opponent is using High Ground or something such as ZeroRB, you can still make them pay. Console yourself when you see what you’re missing by remembering just how tilted you are making your opponents. You profit when they break and chase their weakness.

Leave the Draft Best at a Position

  • You should have the best position group in the draft at one position.
  • You should have be top half, if not better, in a second position group.
  • You should have the worst position group at your weakness.

This is a Draft Strategy, But There’s More Work To Do

  • While High Ground can still be used for redraft BestBall leagues, it really shines in leagues with trades and waivers.
  • You know your weakness and strengths. You have certainty in which FAAB bids, which position, you should overpay on. You can trade excess talent to fill holes.

Conclusion

The High Ground approach doesn’t care what the scoring or format is. You need to pick your hill according to the scoring and format, and you need to hold it.  This is not a cookie cutter, paint by numbers strategy. You will need to use your brain.

High Ground helps set your team up to win for a variety of reasons. You aren’t reaching, for one. You are gaining leverage over your league for another. You are also taking advantage of trade and waiver mechanics to mitigate your weakness so it really isn’t as bad as it looks after the draft, meanwhile you have your top players at other positions.

I realize the High Ground approach is more of a philosophy than a rigid tactic, but approaching your draft with the intention of using High Ground will bring you a confidence, clarity and decisiveness that you may not have otherwise, even if its just in knowing who you need to use all your FAAB on.

Feel free to ask questions, make critiques and share stories. Email FusionFFB@gmail.com and Twitter @FusionFFB

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