Using Our Draft Kit to Win Your ESPN Fantasy Football League

As is the case with all site rankings, there are some guys who are underpriced and overpriced in ESPN's rankings versus our own. See who they are.

You may have read my rundown about how to exploit Yahoo's fantasy ranks based on our projections, but if you don't play in Yahoo leagues, then I'll have to reiterate some important points.

Studying ranks, reading recommendations, and doing mock drafts are always great ways to get a running start into fantasy football season, but if you get to the draft and face drastically different rankings than you're used to, you may not be able to wait for your favorite picks, and you may be seeing names you didn't consider drafting who are being suggested as early picks. I've been there before, and I've felt compelled to reach for a player just because he was listed higher on the site than on my personal ranks.

So what I'm here to do is examine ESPN's composite rankings and uncover the market inefficiencies between their ranks and numberFire's cheat sheet rankings while being set to ESPN's standard scoring and lineup settings.

There are some ideological discrepancies between ESPN's ranks and ours. These overarching themes should help guide you in your draft, but I'll also discuss specific players that are significantly overvalued and undervalued in ESPN's ranks.

Fundamental Differences

1. ESPN's ranks love tight ends far more than ours do. This will be a common theme in all of the articles because our FireFactor ranking system finds significantly less value in tight ends than in other positions. ESPN recommends investing a few early picks on this position, and that's something you should avoid if you want to find great value.

2. There are some young receivers that ESPN likes far more than our algorithms do. There aren't many players that ESPN is significantly overvaluing other than tight ends when compared to our projections, but the ones that they do are mostly unproven receivers.

3. Value is the name of the game when it comes to running back if you're drafting on ESPN. Just like with Yahoo's rankings, there are plenty of undervalued running backs that can be had for a pretty nice discount. Furthermore, they aren't long-shot backs, but rather players who should be drafted within the first four rounds. That's good news because early-round running backs are most likely to be fantasy-friendly, and being able to have top running backs provides the biggest advantage of any position in fantasy football.

4. Waiting on quarterback is a fantastic idea in ESPN leagues because so many are being drafted as afterthoughts. ESPN lists 9 quarterbacks inside the top 71 overall, but the 10th is suggested to go off the board 28 picks later at 99 overall. Use this to your advantage and feel free to wait on drafting your quarterback.

Overvalued ESPN Players According to Our Projections

I hate to repeat myself too much, but the asking price for tight ends according to ESPN's standard ranks is highway robbery when you compare it to our numbers. Here are the five most overpriced tight ends you'll see on draft day, sorted by ESPN's ranking.

Tight EndESPN RanknumberFire RankDifferential
Jimmy Graham1035-25
Julius Thomas2773-46
Rob Gronkowski3591-56
Vernon Davis5095-45
Dennis Pitta110145-35

These tight ends are overvalued by two rounds or more when compared to our metrics, and while you might be willing to settle on their ostensible safety, you'd be doing yourself a disservice to pay the asking price for a position that's highly replaceable.

There are only three running backs who are significantly overvalued in ESPN's ranks: Zac Stacy (ESPN's 13th overall, numberFire's 23rd), Ben Tate (32nd, 56th), and Bishop Sankey (72nd, 89th).

I really do like Stacy, but I'm more comfortable with him as a third-round selection rather than as a guy at the end of the first round, something that would have caught me off guard if I didn't know ESPN's rankingss before my draft. Tate is facing serious competition in Cleveland, and Tennessee's crowded backfield isn't ideal for Sankey, either.

Overall, ESPN doesn't overvalue too many players compared to our rankings, but the worldwide leader is putting more stock into four youngish receivers than we are.

Wide ReceiverESPN RanknumberFire RankDifferential
Torrey Smith5680-24
Emmanuel Sanders7398-25
Sammy Watkins76105-29
DeAndre Hopkins90118-28

These four players are ranked roughly two rounds higher than where we have them pegged. The upside is real, but getting caught up in the hype for these guys could cost you a lot of draft-day value. DeAndre Hopkins doesn't have a defined role in Houston this year, and while I think Smith can make a leap this year, a mid-fourth round pick is too pricey for my tastes.

Knowing I need to temper my expectations of snatching Stacy and Smith will change my outlook for the better when I draft in ESPN leagues.

Undervalued ESPN Players According to Our Projections

While I shouldn't expect to find myself with Stacy in many ESPN leagues, there are two guys our algorithms like much better than ESPN's ranks: Montee Ball and Le'Veon Bell.

Bell is a good value for early-round picks. ESPN has him ranked 19th overall. We have him eighth. An even bigger value for running backs is Ball. He's ranked right behind Bell in our rankings (9th), but comes in at just 25th overall in ESPN's ranks. Ball's recent appendectomy could further reduce his draft-day cost and could prove to be a stellar value in your draft.

ESPN is also low on other running backs, just like Yahoo. Here are some of the best values to be had in ESPN leagues.

Running BackESPN RanknumberFire RankDifferential
Ryan Mathews3724+13
Frank Gore4128+13
Andre Ellington4625+21
Toby Gerhart5237+15
Rashad Jennings5536+19
Chris Johnson5740+17
Maurice Jones-Drew8069+11
Fred Jackson8550+35
DeAngelo Williams8953+36
Darren McFadden10779+28

That means that six top-20 running backs (including Bell and Ball) can be had at a discount of at least a round or so if your league mates like ESPN's rankings. Taking advantage of the value inherent in ESPN's market could help you make the core for a championship season.

Just as important, there is an enormous inefficiency in quarterback ranks and quarterback value available in ESPN's ranks. There are eight startable quarterbacks who can be had for next-to-nothing per ESPN's ranks.

QuarterbackESPN RanknumberFire RankDifferential
Russell Wilson9963+36
Matt Ryan10060+40
Tom Brady11162+49
Tony Romo11577+38
Philip Rivers11868+50
Jay Cutler11975+44
Ben Roethlisberger12388+35
Alex Smith182131+51

Quarterback is as deep as ever, so waiting on them is entirely viable so long as you take advantage of the extra draft picks by securing studly receivers and running backs. With ESPN relatively down on some legitimate signal-callers, waiting (and waiting) on quarterback is going to be a recipe for fantasy success in ESPN leagues this year.

If you want to reach for a top-tier signal caller or take a chance on Rob Gronkowski, all the power to you. But knowing how to take advantage of the market created by ESPN will help you have the best draft in your league and put you on the right path to fantasy glory.