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Campfire Chat: Best-ball Strategies

Footballguys staff members discuss strategy in best-ball leagues

Best-ball leagues are gaining in popularity, largely because they are draft-only (and who doesn't love to draft). In a best-ball league, you don't have to make any starting lineup decisions - your best lineup is automatically started for you. Without discussing specific players, what is your general approach in this format? What is your target roster construction for an FFPC DE (with 28 rounds)? For an MFL10 (with 20 rounds and no kicker)? For a league on DRAFT (with 18 rounds and no kicker and no defense)?

Adam Harstad: There's a lot of debate in season-long about whether to stack byes or stagger them. In best ball leagues, (and their cousins, total points leagues), there is no debate. Stacking or staggering byes across positions makes literally zero difference. Your QB1, RB1, WR1, TE1, and top kicker and defense can all be off on the same week and it literally doesn't matter, because there's no head-to-head to punish a bad week.

Stacking byes *within* a position, however, is sacrificing points. Maybe the guy you take as your WR2 is such a good bargain that you don't care that the fact he shares a bye with your WR1 means you're sacrificing points. That's fine. Just be aware that it's happening, and try to diversify byes within a position as much as you can without sacrificing value.

Will Grant: The obvious answer here is you want players who have high upside, regardless of their low side. Wide receivers who have big play potential, but might also serve up a 1-catch, 9-yard performance, tend to drop a bit in 'traditional' leagues, but the big play potential in a Best Ball format makes them a great roster choice. Running backs and Tight Ends who vulture a touchdown now and then are also good candidates because you don't have to 'guess' when to start them.

Like most drafts, you are always looking for value, but the quarterback position becomes an interesting position based on how the draft goes. If you can land a super-stud who has the potential for a 4,000-yard, 35-touchdown season, you can handcuff that player with their backup and target a weaker QB2 knowing you'll only need a 1-week filler for when your stud is on a bye. If the top studs go early though, consider taking a QBBC approach and draft 2-3 second tier quarterbacks who will ultimately produce more points for the quarterback position based on the sum of their starts.

If a defense is required and the league rosters are deep enough, I personally like to draft a 3rd defense using exactly the same approach as QBBC. Since a random defensive touchdown or a bad-weather game against a weak opponent can spark a big point week, I like to carry three defenses just to take advantage of these type of situations. But only if the roster is deep enough to allow it. Anything less than 20 slots, and I'm probably not taking three defenses.

Adam Harstad: I'd actually disagree with the conventional wisdom that volatile assets become more valuable in best ball. Without the ability to drop and replace players who play their way out of a job, you can easily be stuck with a lot of dead weight. By the second half of the season, there's a big advantage to be gained by being the team with the most players still producing points, and boring "low-upside" vets with a clearly defined role can go a long way towards getting you there, especially at quarterback and tight end.

Chad Parsons: In best-ball (draft-only) formats, bye week management is critical as well as insulating your roster at every position. One mistake I made early on in my best ball 'career' is viewing kickers and defenses the same. My mistake was defenses cannot get hurt and their bye week is the lone time they cannot accrue points for your optimized lineup. However, kickers can lose their job and get injured. If the depth is on the smaller side, for example, I would have more rostered kickers (and prioritize job security) compared to defenses.

I tend to stream wide receivers (and tight ends) more with a committee approach in best ball formats. Also, further down my depth chart, I side with more big-play threats at receiver with speed. They can break a long gain or touchdown a few times per year. Which is another point to consider. A good chunk of a best-ball roster will include players who will be in your lineup a handful of times or less. The key is maximizing the upside of when they are viable.

At quarterback, I do not alter my strategy much as a committee approach is in play for my head-to-head leagues and I will get a top option if the value strikes. Same with running back, where we are seeking starting options around the NFL (securing a higher weekly floor of usage) or the top committee options to pop for occasional big weeks.

Alex Miglio: Adam, it depends on what kind of best-ball league you are playing in, right? If you are in a winner-take-all league, you want to maximize your potential, even if it means more risk. If you are in a more forgiving league like the new MFL2X, you want a higher floor while minimizing risk. Exposure is obviously another factor -- you don't want to have 90 percent of a guy who could easily get suspended for 10 games.

Take Martavis Bryant, for example. Is he a huge risk? Absolutely. Can he explode for top-10 WR numbers any given week for multiple weeks a year? Of course. That's more what Will was getting at, I think.

Adam Harstad: But that's not a comment on Best Ball so much as it's a comment on the winner-take-all nature of fantasy football, where if you're not first you might as well be last. But, for a given level of "winner-take-all"ness, if you will, "maximize upside regardless of downside" is less true in a league where you cannot manage your team in-season than it is in a league where you *can* manage your team in-season.

So "shoot for upside over downside" might be a good fantasy strategy in general, but I find that it's probably less good in best ball than it is in a more typical redraft league where you can cut underperformers once they become dead weight and replace them with another lottery ticket.

Jason Wood: I've had the good fortune of participating in quite a few best ball leagues and winning my fair share of them -- particularly MFL10s. Here are the key differences between best-ball drafts and traditional setups:

  1. Embrace variance -- Rather than avoiding a vertical receiver who may have a 3-catch, 100-yard, 2 touchdown game followed by three goose eggs, target those players. If you fill your receiving corps with high variance receivers on potent passing offenses, there's a good chance you'll hit more weeks than not.
  2. Embrace running back committees -- I argued against handcuffing in another chat, but in best ball, I'm all for stacking running back committees provided the aggregate output is going to be massive. The Patriots always run for 2,000+ yards but it's anyone's guess how each game script plays out. In best ball, if you have a group of Patriots running backs, you don't need to worry about guessing right in advance. The same holds true for the Titans tandem of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Or the Saints trio. 
  3. Embrace quarterback competition -- We don't know whether Paxton Lynch or Trevor Siemien are going to start Week One. We do have a reasonably good idea the two quarterbacks will comprise most (if not all) of the Broncos season-long passing statistics. Use that to your advantage. 
  4. Embrace depth at all positions -- Most experts will tell you to draft one defense, one kicker and one or two tight ends on draft day in redraft leagues. The idea being you can always pick up a viable replacement on the waiver wire. In best ball, you don't have that luxury and so you need to make sure you have at least two of every position.

I ascribe the vast majority of my success in best-ball formats to proper roster construction. Honestly, the "who" matters less making sure you have the right "what."

My recommended lineups for each best-ball structure:

FFPC DE (with 28 rounds):

  • 3 (Min) / 4 (Max) Quarterbacks
  • 6 (Min) / 8 (Max) Running Backs
  • 6 (Min) / 9 (Max) Wide Receivers
  • 3 (Min) / 4 (Max) Tight Ends [I strongly lean toward three]
  • 2 (Min) / 3 (Max) Kickers
  • 2 (Min) / 4 (Max) Defenses [I strongly lean toward three]

For an MFL10 (with 20 rounds and no kicker):

  • 2 (Min) / 3 (Max) Quarterbacks [I lean toward two in most cases]
  • 5 (Min) / 8 (Max) Running Backs [For me it's six about 2/3rds of the time and seven the other 1/3rd]
  • 6 (Min) / 8 (Max) Wide Receivers [For me it's seven 1/3rd of the time and eight 2/3rds of the time]
  • 2 (Min) / 3 (Max) Tight Ends
  • 2 (Min) / 3 (Max) Defenses

For a league on DRAFT (with 18 rounds and no kicker and no defense):

  • 2 (Min) / 4 (Max) Quarterbacks [I lean toward three]
  • 5 (Min) / 8 (Max) Running Backs [I usually grab five or six]
  • 5 (Min) / 8 (Max) Wide Receivers [I usually grab six or seven]
  • 2 (Min) / 4 (Max) Tight Ends [I lean toward three]

Justin Bonnema: One of the most important factors in strategy, at least where MFL10s are concerned, is diversity. DFS players know this well: in order to be successful, you have to diversify. The randomized draft order of each league will automatically create some diversity for you, but it still takes an effort to target players you might not be comfortable with and hedge your own analysis, especially if you're a high-volume player.

Roster construction is another key. Do you draft three quarterbacks or two? Can you get away with only two defenses? You get 20 nonrefundable players and a starting roster that features two running backs, three wide receivers, and one flex. It's important to consider how many of each position you should roster and not let the presumed studs at each position dictate depth. Thankfully, kickers are no longer part of the equation in MFLs.

Maurile Tremblay: There's a bigger difference between best-ball leagues and traditional leagues in an auction format than in a snake draft.

In a traditional auction league, I spend most or all of my discretionary dollars on projected starters. In a best-ball league, I'm much more willing to spend less money on starters and more on backups.

That's because, in a league that starts three running backs, a fantasy team's fourth- or fifth-selected running backs will end up starting more games, on average, in a best-ball format than in a traditional format. (In a traditional format, a team's fifth RB will start over its third RB only when the fifth RB is expected to score more points. In a best-ball format, a team's fifth RB will start over its third RB whenever the fifth RB actually scores more points. The latter will be a more frequent occurrence.) That makes quality backups matter more in best-ball leagues.

If I roster six running backs in an auction league that starts three of them, in a traditional format I might spend $41, $28, $16, $2, $1, and $1 on them from top to bottom. In a best-ball format, it might be more like $19, $17, $15, $14, $12, and $11.

In snake drafts, you don't have as much control over the extent to which you can take a studs-and-duds approach. But to the extent that you do have some control by trading up or down during the draft, the same principle would apply: a studs-and-duds approach makes less sense in a best-ball league than in a traditional league.

Andy Hicks: With best ball, you should have a few groupings to target in advance eg the Washington receivers, the Seattle running backs, the Buccaneers tight ends etc. These options should generally be outside the first five rounds, so as with a standard redraft league you draft the best players available early and then adapt to the format. Once you have your first five picks you should know where you are weak and strong, manage bye weeks and how to maximize the total points your roster will score.

Jason nailed the lineup structures for each of the leagues, but you should always be flexible if eg you haven't drafted a receiver or quarterback after 7 or 8 rounds to maybe go a little deeper to cover a lack of quality. A lack of quality at a particular position isn't a hindrance in Best Ball, as long as you have bodies on the field. Injuries, particularly early season ones are worse in this format because you can't cover them inseason.

James Brimacombe: It comes down to lineup construction like Jason hit on earlier. I play a lot on DRAFT right now and you need to roster 18 players, but they exclude kickers and team defenses, which is nice.

I like going with two options:

2 QB, 6 RB, 8 WR, 2 TE -- and watch the bye weeks for QB and TE and pick fairly safe players at those two positions.
3 QB, 5 RB, 7 WR, 3 TE -- is the safest option for me and one that I use about 75% of the time. The goal always is to cash in these leagues and I feel going all in on QB and TE positions I am going to hit a better high score at those positions.

The nice thing about the play DRAFT app/website is that you can update your rankings very easily. I would advice following the news in NFL and as you do these Best Balls daily you will get a sense for the players you like, which ones will fall, which ones you want to avoid and can adjust your rankings accordingly.

Dan Hindery: Like James, I've been playing a lot of best ball on Draft. I take a slightly different approach however from James on roster construction.

In general, I will take either a tight end or quarterback relatively early. But not both. Once I land a top-6 player at one of these positions, I know I want to go light and just roster two at the position and I'll probably have to wait at the other position (but use three picks to address it). That means I'm going to target a total of five QB/TE.

Either 2 QB/3TE with an elite QB or 3QB/2TE with an elite TE.

That leaves me with 13 roster spots to address RB and WR. Ideally, I will land exactly 5 RBs and 8 WRs.

My approach is exactly the same on MFL10s, but generally with two defenses (three defenses is also doable and I can go with one less somewhere else).

Chris Feery: I’ll echo the thoughts on roster construction. Balance and depth are the most important factors for me on that, while obviously always being mindful of targeting players with the most weekly upside. Using MFLs as an example, I enter those drafts with a clear plan in mind for rounds 1 through 12. Once round 8 is in the books, I want a stable of 4 RBs and 4 WRs. For rounds 9 through 12, I’m nabbing two QBs and two TEs.

The natural fear with that strategy is that you’ll end up picking from scraps at QB and TE, but it’s actually not the case. In most drafts, you can still snag signal callers of the caliber of Derek Carr and Philip Rivers - not quite Top 5, but certainly capable of hitting the Top 10 and producing some monster weeks. The same applies at TE. The top tier will be off the board by this point, but you can easily snag two TEs with tremendous upside for the year ahead.

For the remainder of the draft, I’m simply focusing on best available players with the knowledge that I’m pretty stacked at the key spots. The strategy can be adjusted for any potential position runs - i.e. grabbing a QB and TE in rounds 6 and 7 - but I tend to stick to my guns and allow others to overpay for certain positions while I’m building depth.