There are many ways to define value.
So when I tell you that my fantasy MVP for 2013 is Jamaal Charles, I'd like you to keep reading.
Some folks like to think of "value" in terms of Average Draft Position. Because Charles' ADP was 6, I know that some of you are apt to tweet me the 140-character equivalent of: "How can you say Charles was more valuable than Josh Gordon! Gordon was the No. 1 WR in fantasy this year, and got drafted at 117th overall!"
Some folks like to think of "value" in terms of how much better a player was than everyone else at his position. "Peyton Manning scored 58 more fantasy points than the next-best QB! Jimmy Graham scored 55 more fantasy points than the next-best TE! Charles was only 33 points better than the next-best RB!"
Some folks like to include notions of week-to-week consistency and/or fantasy playoff performance into their internal calculations. It's hard to give Charles the nod if your playoffs went into Week 17, considering J-Mail sat. And some simply go by what they feel.
I'm sticking by Value-Based Drafting.
I go into a longer explanation of VBD here, but in brief: We need a way to compare apples and oranges, i.e., different players playing different positions of differing scarcity. Anyone familiar with baseball sabermetrics has long since digested Value Over Replacement Player, and that's all VBD is: How much better is a player than the replacement player at his position. Defining what "replacement player" means for fantasy is a bit of a hornet's nest, but not really. Running backs are somewhat scarcer than wide receivers, and both are significantly scarcer than quarterbacks, tight ends, D/STs and kickers. I prefer to think of the replacement player as anyone available after the retrospective equivalent of the first 10 rounds of your draft (see the above link for more detail).
Using this VBD model, here's how 2013 turned out:
As you can see, even missing Week 17, Charles was pretty much a runaway winner. But Manning's record-setting season is a remarkable achievement; he's clearly the NFL's real-world MVP. The top VBD tier also included Matt Forte and LeSean McCoy, with a big gap after the top four.
Let's put this in historical context. Clearly, the VBD deck is stacked in favor of running backs, but that's the very nature of fantasy football. In most leagues, you only start one quarterback and one tight end, so scarcity isn't an issue, and NFL teams employ multiple wide receivers who can rack up big points. The main scarce item in pro football continues to be the workload-dominant running back, which is why we place so much value on them. In VBD terms, running backs dominate the top 10 like no other position:
Of course, this season saw a nearly unprecedented rash of injuries and/or downfalls of running backs taken in the first round, which is why 2013 feels like it was a crummy year for rushers. But as I wrote in more detail a couple weeks ago, this season was an aberration. For five years running heading into this season, of running backs taken in the ADP top 10, no more than one had wound up flopping (i.e., finishing outside the VBD top 50). This year an incredible five first-round backs flopped that hard. Based on historical data, I contend that's not likely to recur in '14. The RB position still offers the most VORP, and I think its predictability remains solid despite a shaky '13.
I don't want to take away from the incredible seasons that Manning and Graham just submitted. Finishing where they finished in VBD terms (second for Manning, 11th for Graham) is amazing, given how much the fantasy deck is stacked against their respective positions. Manning is the second quarterback to post a No. 2 VBD season in the past six years (Aaron Rodgers did it in '11), and you have to go back to Tom Brady in '07 to find the only time in 10 seasons that a signal-caller was VBD's MVP. Graham finished in the same VBD spot as Rob Gronkowski did during his record-setting '11 campaign; those are the only two tight-end seasons to rate higher than 32nd in VBD terms over the past five years. Are these men going to be worthy of first-round picks in '14? That's a debate for another time, though as I always seem to say, it's worth noting that in order to justify being drafted that high, a tight end in particular needs to submit a truly historic performance; anything shy of that, and he doesn't live up to his draft position. (And, I should add, in the 10 years for which I have data, no TE has ever finished in the VBD top 10.)
Again, you can inject elements of consistency, ADP and "feeling" into the value equation if you want, and they all have varying merits. But they also bring fluctuating amounts of non-mathematical gooeyness into the picture, and I prefer my pronouncements to have foundation in fact. That's why, at least by my definition of value, Jamaal Charles reigns supreme in 2013.