At this point, the fantasy football masses are ready for year-round play. And best ball fantasy football, most notably MyFantasyLeague's MFL10 phenomenon, is simply exploding in popularity. Once a fun but underutilized contest offering that drew a few hundred drafters each offseason, MFL10s took the 2015 offseason by storm, with hundreds of drafts starting each week and Twitter feed abuzz with MFL10 draft questions, comments, and bewilderments.
If you're ready to take on mid-stakes, high-reward fantasy football that focuses solely on your ability to draft, I'm sure you'll find your way into one or more of these leagues. (Last year's leader participated in 580 drafts, to be sure, and he was one of 20 players to pop up in 100 or more of them.) But what are they? And how do we take them down?
As you can probably guess, best ball fantasy takes its name and format from the golf style we’ve all played at some point. A golfer will play two or more balls simultaneously in a round, but only take the score from the better ball for each hole. As a result, he’s counting only his best ball of the round.
That’s exactly how an MFL10 league operates: you’ll be given your best scores at each position in each week. Let’s say the quarterbacks you’ve drafted are Cam Newton, Marcus Mariota, and Jay Cutler. Each week, the highest scorer among them is the quarterback MFL uses to fill your lineup. Whether Newton is off, Mariota is injured, or Cutler is benched, they’re your guys for the year, so each week’s starting QB will be the one who manages the highest score.
That’s right: they’re yours for the year. A best ball league features no in-season management – free agency, waivers, and trades are disallowed, so your drafted roster is your yearlong roster and that’s that.
The breakdown of an MFL10 is straightforward, even if it’s unfamiliar to you:
20 players per roster, and you determine how to stock your depth chart
A standard weekly lineup of QB / RB / RB / WR / WR / WR / TE / Flex / D/ST)
Each week’s lineup is determined automatically by your top scorers
Standard full-PPR scoring setup (4 points per pass TD, 1 point per 20 pass yards)
League winner is determined by cumulative score after Week 16
Winner-take-all - first place takes home the entire prize pool, while second place receives a credit for a league next year
Off the bat, the best ball format strikes us with a massive disadvantage: there’s no team management! Your drafted team is left alone in the desert with no waiver wire, FAAB dollars, or trading ability with which to tweak and supplement it. You’re completely at the mercy of the upcoming season, and injuries, suspensions, and benchings can (and will) take some toll on your roster.
It sounds daunting, sure. But take heart in a few facts that even the playing field and, to me and many others, give the best ball format some fun and practical advantages.
Yours isn’t the only roster in the desert, after all. The other 11 owners in your league will be sprawled across the same stretch of sand as you, and they’ll also be picked apart by injuries and other unforeseen phenomena. By season’s end, you’ll find that even the strongest, most experienced, and most invested MFL10 drafters – including every single league winner – will wind up boasting a roster laced with out-for-season guys and flat-out non-contributors. MFL10s begin drafting a week after the Super Bowl, after all, prior to free agency, the draft, or training camp. Of course there will be missed calls and incorrect assumptions. But MFL10 rosters are large (20 players), and using an optimal draft strategy leaves you with gobs of opportunity to stockpile mid- and late-round depth.
Let’s put it this way: in 2015, I drafted 31 MFL10 teams and wound up faring quite well in terms of return on investment. I did so despite drafting many of my teams very early (February through April, before the draft). Ultimately, I wound up with more shares of Colin Kaepernick than of Russell Wilson and Cam Newton combined. The six players I drafted with the most regularity included Andre Williams, Ladarius Green, and Joique Bell. In fact, the highest-scoring team in my entire portfolio burned a third-round pick on Aaron Rodgers, lost four players to injured reserve, and “boasted” Coby Fleener as its highest-scoring tight end. But this roster won it all, thanks to less heralded picks like Larry Fitzgerald (8th), Danny Woodhead (15th), Ryan Fitzpatrick (17th), and the Broncos defense (18th). Woodhead and Fitzpatrick popped up on a lot of my rosters as low-cost, moderate-upside guys who often slipped to the ends of drafts. In other words, the margin for draft error is wide and forgiving. Best ball drafting rewards owners who structure their drafts thoughtfully over those who merely snatch at talent.
We’ll go (very) deeply into this principle over the coming weeks, but you’ve probably guessed by the very name of the best ball format that upside is what we’re seeking here. Each week you’re credited with the best possible score from your roster, so a player’s rock-bottom floor is less important than in a typical league – while his ceiling could pull you to a league title. Best ball leagues are won by owners who properly prioritize upside and are willing to take multiple stabs at securing as much as possible.
Yes, trading is fun, and yes, trade talk contributes to the excitement of fantasy football in a way that hardly anything else ever could. But do they truly belong in a serious fantasy league? I doubt it; in fact, it’s more likely that a lopsided trade or two shifts the league’s balance, making some teams disproportionately stronger than the field. I’d argue that the truly beneficial in-season trades, the ones that upgrade both teams proportionately in just the right places, are relatively few and far between. By disallowing trades, you level the playing field and reduce the role that owners, whose skill levels are likely to vary, play in the league’s unfolding. Here, your work buddy – the one who spends a yearly pick on Tim Tebow and still feels Trent Richardson is on the verge of hitting his stride – can’t shift the entire league’s season with his horrendous deals. Best ball owners will win or lose on their own degree of skill, or at least to more of a degree than a trade-happy league would allow.
Who’s to say managing your roster all season even helps?
Sure, there are scenarios in which in-season management is essential. When Le’Veon Bell is lost for the year, one can benefit mightily by scooping up his backup. But then you’ve got one team getting a huge boost, while every other team whiffs and at least theoretically falls behind – and why? Because the former had the “foresight” to scoop up the next man on the depth chart? You can try to make things fair and even with a waiver system based on a rotation or on current records or a free agency budget, but even those will ultimately reward a near-random or otherwise undeserving owner with a huge windfall.
Best ball fantasy does away with that imbalanced logic. By and large, the crapshoots you take in filling out your best ball roster are similarly strong plays to the ones you’d snatch from the wire during the season. Shrewd fantasy owners are more likely than casual ones to spot Thomas Rawls or Jeremy Langford during the offseason – and they’re utilizing every roster spot to load up heavily on guys of that type. Think of your best ball draft as a waiver wire that runs before the regular season even begins. Rather than drafting 12-15 players and rotating sleepers and replacements on and off your roster all year, you’ll instead draft 20+ and treat the later rounds as your free agency. Except you’re not at the mercy of some random waiver system to land the top sleepers AFTER they've broken out. In other words, best ball is a way of identifying the true value of an asset and buying low during a time when a large chunk of the fantasy football world is less invested and less knowledgeable than you are.
Over the coming months, your favorite Footballguys will be exploring MFL10s from all angles – the strategies and playing systems, the and of course regular analysis of the ever-shifting offseason and its best ball implications. Our overall goal is to leave you knowledgeable and prepared to work best ball to your advantage, all while enjoying a new and dynamic way of playing fantasy football.