Investment

Drafting for the floor: Using Warren Buffett’s investment strategy to win at fantasy football

Fantasy managers are always looking for the most profitable draft-day strategies. Since profit is on their minds, it might be a good idea to take some advice from a duo who knows a thing or two about getting a strong return on investment.

Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger are two of the greatest investors in the history of the world, as their decades of directing Berkshire Hathaway has resulted in a company with close to $700 billion in market capitalization.

One of the ways they achieved this remarkable success is by pursuing what Munger calls the lollapalooza effect, which is when two or three or more forces are operating in the same direction and cause a cascade of effects.

It’s not easy to find lollapalooza effects, but a key factor in doing so is avoiding negative elements. Munger and Buffett know that any notable downside factor in a company, be it in management, product quality, or a change in customer wants, will almost immediately preclude that company from being able to benefit from a positive lollapalooza effect. If there are enough downside factors in a business, it can actually cause a negative lollapalooza effect that can be disastrous to its employees and stockholders.

So, how does all of this apply to fantasy football? It’s pretty simple, as fantasy managers should apply Buffett and Munger’s lollapalooza philosophy on draft day by taking a draft-to-the-floor approach.

Drafting to the floor means that a fantasy manager should always find a reasonable floor value for a player and almost never draft that player any higher than that. For example, if a fantasy manager determines that a running back has an RB2 floor and RB1 ceiling, that player should only be drafted as an RB2 and not as an RB1.

To illustrate why drafting that player as an RB1 is a bad idea, look at this chart that shows the 2021 PPR point difference between players in the middle of each scoring tier for running backs and wide receivers.

Position tiers Tier pt. spread
RB1 to RB2 48.8
RB2 to RB3 35.3
RB3 to RB4 35.4
RB4 to RB5 21
WR1 to WR2 62.2
WR2 to WR3 28.9
WR3 to WR4 43.2
WR4 to WR5 22.5

To clarify, this chart shows that the difference between a mid-tier RB1 and a mid-tier RB2 last season was 48.8 points. That is a nearly three-point-per-week difference over the course of a fantasy season, which is a huge downside element. The downside point totals for the other tiers at RB and WR aren’t as impactful outside of the 62.2-point decline from a mid-tier WR1 to a mid-tier WR2, but even the lower point levels here indicate that it doesn’t take many draft mistakes of this nature to crush that roster’s chances of competing for a title.

The preferred option would be to find an RB2 candidate with RB1 upside and draft him at the RB2 level. The initial benefit of this might seem obvious but consider what happened to fantasy managers who did this when drafting Najee Harris last season.

Harris had an average PPR ADP of 18 for much of the 2021 fantasy draft season. That means he could have been selected in the third round in an eight-team league, near the end of the second round in a 10-team league, and midway through the second round of a 12-team league. In other words, nearly every fantasy manager had this option available to them at one time or another.

It was clear that Harris was likely to have RB2 floor value as the lead back in the Steelers offense, but there were also numerous signs that he had RB1 upside. Harris set Alabama career records in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns and set the all-time single-season record for receiving touchdowns by a Crimson Tide running back. He was also going to a Pittsburgh team whose head coach had a track record of leaning on a bell-cow approach to carries whenever possible.

That confluence of events resulted in Harris ranking third in RB PPR points, so he did provide the RB1 return, but the real value in selecting him at the RB2 level is how that single successful pick impacts the rest of the fantasy roster by doing the following:

  • It gave the team RB1 depth if the drafted RB1 got hurt.
  • The team could produce RB1-caliber points during the drafted RB1’s bye week.
  • Any running back slotted as an RB3 or lower could now be fully dedicated toward filling a flex roster spot rather than having to occasionally fill in as a matchup RB2.
  • If the RB3-or-lower running backs end up being capable flex candidates, the entire WR corps could be focused on generating value at that position rather than dividing starts between the WR and flex positions.
  • The handcuff player to a bell-cow back costs very little in terms of draft or free-agent capital.

That is the definition of a lollapalooza effect for a draft pick, as it increased the potential value of players across the roster. This level of cascading impacts doesn’t just work with RB1 candidates, as a cross-roster production spike can occur when selecting players for any roster slot.

In addition to the upside benefits of the draft-to-the-floor strategy, there is built-in downside insurance if the player doesn’t hit his ceiling. Using the Harris scenario as an example, had he ended up producing RB2-caliber points as an RB2 draft pick, it would mean that his draft pick returned expected value. That wouldn’t produce a lollapalooza effect, but it also means that it wouldn’t prevent one, which can be just as important.

In the end, fantasy managers should take heed of the advice Munger gave when he said if you eliminate every negative element, all you will have left are the positive ones. That’s what the draft-to-the-floor concept helps fantasy managers do.

(Photo of Najee Harris: Scott Galvin / USA Today)

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