Fantasy Football and the Prisoner’s Dilemma: The Quarterback Position

In my initial Fantasy Football Strategy and the Prisoner’s Dilemma article, I discussed how game theory can apply to fantasy football drafts.

As I stated in the original article, I searched the Internet for any sort of mention of the Prisoner’s Dilemma or Professor David McAdam’s book being connected to fantasy football, but I was unable to find any mention of the concept, McAdams or concepts from the book being used in fantasy football. Essentially, McAdams discusses in the book the conditions for a Prisoner’s Dilemma to exist, and one of those conditions is that every player in a game is worse off when everyone tries to execute on their own dominant strategy. Some people were confused by this and thought that it meant when everyone tried the exact same strategy (drafting running backs in Rounds 1-2, drafting wide receivers in Rounds 1-3, etc.) that we were all worse off, but a dominant strategy does not have to be the same strategy for every player. It really boils down to what you perceive as a dominant strategy.

So if player A thinks that drafting Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck in Round 2 gives them a clear advantage, that is their dominant strategy. If Player B thinks that drafting running backs in Rounds 1-2 is the best plan, then that is their dominant strategy. The strategies don’t have to be the same for everyone to be worse off. You can read my original article to learn how this concept works in fantasy football, but I wanted to focus this piece on the quarterback position.

The Wait and See Approach

One of the biggest problems with the quarterback this season is that players are afraid to pull the trigger on aging veterans. This pushes players like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees back further and further in drafts. There are a variety of reasons why Manning and Brees could disappoint in 2015, but the longer you leave them on the board, the more you allow your opponents to gain an advantage.

Most will agree that the days are probably over where Brees or Manning will finish as a top quarterback in fantasy leagues. The jury is still out, however, on whether or not these veterans can finish in the top 5. If they can, what exactly is the problem if your opponents draft them so late?

The Problem With Waiting on Quarterbacks Too Long

Last season, Aaron Rodgers scored 342 points in standard scoring leagues and was the highest-scoring quarterback in most fantasy football formats. Ben Roethlisburger scored the fifth-most points with 295. In a 16-game season, the difference between the point totals of Roethlisberger and Rodgers per game was 3.10 points. As you already know, you could draft one of those quarterbacks much later than the other in 2014 drafts. If your dominant strategy is to select a quarterback early like Luck or Rodgers, you are worse off because someone who wants to wait may be able to acquire value that is similar or not too far off from those quarterbacks.

On the flip side, if you wait for your quarterback too long, you could end up with a lower-tier option if you find yourself on the backside of a quarterback run. How exactly can you protect yourself if you want to draft an elite quarterback early? How can you make sure you add quarterbacks you want to your roster in the later rounds?

Don’t Reward Late Drafters

I think fantasy players can often overlook the aspect of playing defense in fantasy football. I try to cause disruption for those who think they can wait late to draft tight ends or quarterbacks, and depending on the situation, I may draft a certain player at a position I don’t need because I feel my opponents will benefit too much from owning him. I also have been able to create runs on the position because of this viewpoint. Recently, I was in a draft where Russell Wilson and Manning were still on the board heading into the end of Round 6. I could tell that this was a league where everyone waited for their quarterback, so I decided to not let me opponents get too comfortable. I drafted Wilson near the end of Round 6, and when it was my turn at the early stages of Round 7, I drafted Manning. I would never recommend this in a pricey league, but since this

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draft was $35, I didn’t mind making my opponents pay for waiting on a quarterback.  Later in the draft, several of the players commented that they were shocked at how early quarterbacks were drafted. When I saw one of my opponents said he felt forced to draft a quarterback way earlier than he normally would have, I knew I made the right move. While everyone was dealing with shock and quickly trying to acquire a quarterback, I had value at the receiver and running back position available.

You can counter the Prisoner’s Dilemma by using a strategy that is not your dominate strategy. In normal circumstances, I would have drafted Wilson in Round 6 or passed on him and drafted Manning in Round 7 but not both. Again, I wouldn’t recommend this in an expensive league and only in very specific circumstances, but you also can’t let your opponents get away with acquiring Manning in Round 7. When you can only start one quarterback, who would ever draft Manning and Wilson? This guy. 

If you draft Luck or Rodgers and everyone else is waiting on a quarterback, you can counter your opponent’s perceived dominant strategy of waiting on a quarterback by drafting another quarterback yourself. Don’t let your opponent benefit by investing in the upside of Ryan Tannehill and backing him up with Carson Palmer for pennies on the dollar. Grab Tannehill, and make your opponents scramble by you ruining their plans.

Don’t Follow the Herd 

People are afraid of being made fun of in the draft chatroom, but you go ahead and draft Manning earlier than your opponents would. Let them take Matt Ryan.

To get the quarterback you want in the later rounds, take a look at your opponents draft board before each round and review who they need. If you and five of your opponents still need a quarterback and you have the first pick in Round 9, it doesn’t pay to wait to see what will happen. As soon as the first quarterback is drafted in that round, the chances are slim that the quarterback you wanted is still hanging around in Round 10.

The moral of the story? Don’t let other player’s plans dictate what you do. If you think you have to wait for a quarterback because everyone else will, cause a little disruption.

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Categories: 2015 Fantasy Football

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