Fantasy Football Lineup – The FLEX Position
The Flex position may be the most challenging part of drafting and starting a fantasy football lineup. While a tight end is an option, the major debate in the fantasy football world is whether to fill that position with a receiver or a running back. The choice can vary from week to week based on individual players, matchups, and even weather (cold weather, rain, and snow makes passing difficult). However, overall, the statistics tell us that one group has an edge.
I have compiled all NFL running backs and Wide Receiver performances over the past 5 seasons under Fanpicks scoring structure (it is pretty standard scoring and thus can be adapted to other systems). After removing inactive players, the 75th percentile of performances (top 25% of performances) are approximately 12 points for both groups. I used this threshold as the data tells us that any skilled fantasy player or rankings system can accurately predict the 75th percentile of players, beyond that predictions lose accuracy due to randomness.
Beyond that 75 percentile is where the groups begin to show different things. The top 5 performances by Running Backs over the past 5 seasons are 62.5, 58.4, 58.2, 53.2, and 52.8 points while the top 5 performances for Wide Receivers are 56, 54.6, 53.9, 52.9, and 52.4 points. This data alone tells you that although Wide Receivers are comparable to Running Backs at the threshold, Running Backs have a higher upside value and thus are the better choice.
However, these extremely rare performances are not the best basis to formulate your draft pick strategy. Instead let’s look at the 90th, 97.5th and 99.5th percentile levels for points scored at each position. Running Backs historically scored 28.9, 36.7, and 45.9 points at these three levels. Wide Receivers scored 29.8, 38.8, and 46.5 points at these three levels. This leads to a contradicting verdict, and that receivers actually have a higher upside.
What it comes down to is your goals in a lineup. If you are entering in a high volume, high stakes NFL Daily Cash Draft Tournament, then you will need the perfect lineup to make your millions. In that case, you will probably go running back as you need to count on that huge performance. If you are in a less risky contest type or are simply drafting for a season long fantasy football league, then receiver is a better option.
What was not considered above is how gameplay is beginning to change from season to season. The argument there is that wide receivers are now become more used than in previous seasons and the NFL is becoming a passers game. Let’s see what the stats have to say about that.
If you look at the progression of averages from the past 5 seasons, for the top 25% category as before, Running Back averages have been 19.98, 19.63, 18.96, 19.30, and 19.30 points for 2010 to 2014 respectively. This tells us running back averages have gone down, meaning overall, running backs are less utilized or less effective as they have been in the past. For fantasy football, that means running backs values have gone down.
Receivers however, for the same target group, have seen averages of 19.53, 19.10, 19.97, 19.96, and 19.94 points for those same years. This shows an appreciation in receiver values and that they have actually surpassed running backs on the average over those seasons.
This confirms the theory that the NFL is becoming a pass dominant league. While there are still circumstances where filling that Flex spot with a running back is practical, it seems using a receiver gives you the best chance to maximize your lineups performance.