Free agent acquisition budget (FAAB) is one of the growing methods of picking up free agents in fantasy football. It certainly brings more strategy than some other methods like a waiver wire priority list where the worst records get the most in-demand picks each week.
If you are not familiar or are moving to FAAB this year, every owner is given a free agent budget for their in-season transactions. Owners then “blind bid” on free agents each week, and the players are assigned to the team with the highest bid. But successful bids reduce the remaining budget, so owners have to plan out and allocate and have some understanding of value.
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So I thought I would talk about some of the strategies and give an estimate of actual values so you have some sense on what to do. To do this, I looked back at the 2017 season and tried to come up with some estimates for which players might be available as free agents at various parts of the season. Every league is different so your league may have had someone get dropped who was really good and shouldn’t have been dropped. You may be in a shallow league where only 40 running backs were kept.
For my purposes, though, in this exercise, I used the preseason 2017 ADP and excluded the top 48 RB, top 22 QB, top 54 WR, and top 18 TEs. I then went through the game logs of others and found cases where players at each position started scoring points over baseline at their position, as my estimate for when they would become an attractive free agent pickup. I then calculated their points over baseline at the position (for example, 10 points per week in PPR for RB/WR). If a projected free agent went three straight weeks under baseline, I considered that the end of their time period on a roster.
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I then took those various points over baseline and made starting % estimates based on their overall points scored and average points scored over baseline. This is because not all points get in your starting lineup, and again it can vary depending on the team. I would estimate that Alvin Kamara was pretty much always started after week 4. I would estimate that Alex Smith was started more like 50% last year after his breakout week 1, because while he had a good year, it was highly variable and his actual value depends on whether the team that picked him up desperately needed a QB or had an established guy. As a further check on my method, I looked back at the actual transactions in my 12-team league and the number of transactions roughly matched up. In my league that uses FAAB, there were 119 transactions (aside from kicker and defense pickups) at the QB/RB/WR/TE positions, an average of 10 per team over the course of the season.
Here are my estimates of the actual FAAB value of every free agent who met my criteria in 2017:
Yes, Alvin Kamara was so valuable he well exceeded a full free agent budget. If you had a crystal ball and could get a top 5 running back early in the year with a free agent bid, that back is worth well more than 100% of the budget.
This is based on adding up the total points over baseline for all potential free agents, and dividing it by the number of potential teams in the league (these numbers are based on PPR and a 12-team league).
Of course, we don’t have that crystal ball, so we don’t know with certainty how situations will work out, and whether that young running back getting an opportunity will take advantage and hold it. The season is littered with free agent pickups that provide a 0% return on investment. Alvin Kamara also doesn’t come along very often. Here are the highest PPR points for a back who was outside the Top 48 in RB ADP in the last five years: Kamara (314), Knowshon Moreno 2013 (297), Justin Forsett 2014 (247), DeAngelo Williams 2015 (231), Jordan Howard 2016 (230), Joique Bell 2013 (217), CJ Anderson 2014 (211).
Here is my estimate of the FAAB average value by position pickup from 2017, accounting for the booms and the zero value pickups at the position:
So yes, the data backs up that running backs are more valuable in FAAB bids. This is largely because their roles can be planned better. If a player starts to exceed baseline, he probably got a new opportunity due to promotion or injury. Receivers and quarterbacks are more variable and unpredictable, which impacts the likelihood of getting the points in your lineup.
In addition, when the transaction occurs matters on value. Here are the average values by when they occurred:
Weeks 1-4: 16%
Weeks 5-8: 10%
Weeks 9-12: 8%
Weeks 13-16: 6%
This shouldn’t be a surprise, but the average worth of the transaction decreases over time. This is because you have longer to reap the benefits if the player pans out. There’s a good argument that surplus points in fantasy playoff weeks at season’s end are more valuable. But many of the players providing those points were acquired earlier in the season.
The key to setting your own FAAB budget is working within your league rules and specific budget, and also knowing how many transactions you are likely to make. If your league requires a minimum bid, for example, and doesn’t allow $0 bids, you have to budget those minimums to stream kickers and defenses and have some reserve so you can pick up emergency players other positions late in the year. For example, I’m estimating 10 must-save transactions for my team, so my surplus that I’ll figure out my discretionary budget for bidding is the amount above the minimum for those 10.
But we can see from both the running back increased value and the early season increased value that the average early season running back bid should be closer to 25%. This will fluctuate greatly based on opportunity. Take, for example, the recent injury to Jerick McKinnon. He is out for the year, so the opportunity for Matt Breida and Alfred Morris is there for the entire season (I’d put Breida as worth about 40% in a PPR and Morris at about 50%). That would increase their chances of value all year. In contrast, if James Conner is starting while Le’Veon Bell holds out, he has surplus value early in the year if you need a starter, but he’ll be more limited and worth less than the average bid.
I hope that seeing the “best case” values that played out in 2017 helps you set your budget and expectations on what to bid. Of course, that brings us to an equally important strategy with FAAB: getting upside players before they hit full value, and mining for players at the minimum. You’ll want to be on top of the waiver wire trends and be on them early to save money, and active owners have a huge advantage. Several of the players on the above best values list were on my weekly waiver recommendations for weeks before they were commonly owned. Getting the 40-50% values for the minimum price can be a big factor in making a playoff run.