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FBG Staff Roundtable: Best Ball Strategy

A questionnaire asking five Footballguys about their general strategies in the best ball format

Give us your overarching best ball golden rule. What’s the principle or concept you utilize in every pick, every draft, every year?


Clayton Gray: Diversification. Everywhere and all the time.

Diversify the positions you take in the early rounds. That will allow more flexibility throughout the draft. If you start your squad with WR/WR/WR, you've hurt yourself in two ways.

First, you lock yourself in needing to hit other positions over the next few rounds. You never want to be required to draft certain positions. You want to be able to get value. Second, and more important, you won't be able to freely scoop wide receiver value throughout the draft. You never want to have to avoid a position. Again, getting value is a priority at every point in the draft.

Diversify the type of players you select. Building a roster full of high-floor, low-ceiling guys will create a very good 3rd- or 4th- or 5th-place team. Building a squad of all upside players could net the win when they hit. Or 11th place when they don't. Or 5th place when a few of them do.

You absolutely want some high-ceiling players at each position. But let's not kid ourselves here – we miss on a lot of these guys. A preseason roster littered with upside turns into a mid-season roster with a lot of holes. Those holes lead to zeroes in your starting lineup, which is the worst thing that could happen in a best ball league.

Diversify your bye weeks as well. If possible, don't repeat a bye week at running back or at wide receiver or a tight end. Definitely, don't repeat a bye week at quarterback or at kicker or at defense. If possible, combine your kickers and defense and don't repeat a bye week among this larger group.

Stephen Holloway: Target the best RB, WR, or TE player available, particularly over the first four rounds; you should have at least one player for each position by the end of round four. Select your preferred player, disregarding position with both high floor and potential high ceiling. Disregard bye weeks during this phase. Achieving solid starters at each position allows a continuing focus on best player available and keeps your options wide.

James Brimacombe: I spend so much time fine-tuning my rankings and making sure I adjust them a couple of times a week. When drafting best ball teams early in the offseason, you need to follow trends and find out where you are different than others in ADP, and what types of players have potential to fall to you that you value over your opponents.

I also like to look at roster construction, and right now I am playing all my best ball leagues over at DRAFT, which allows 18 roster spots. I want to utilize those 18 roster spots to my advantage and leverage each position to the fullest. I tend to stick to 3 QB, 6 RB, 6 WR, 3 TE construction and sometimes mix it up to 3 QB, 5 RB, 7 WR, 3 TE. The reason for this is because we are early in the offseason and pre-NFL Draft, where so much can change with landing spots. It is better to play it safe early in the best ball year and play a more balanced approach.

Alessandro Miglio: Be flexible.

That's the golden rule for just about any draft given they are all so unique. Best ball drafts can give the best of us tunnel vision, though, and that could lead to some serious mistakes across rosters.

Jeff Haseley: I do pretty well in Best Ball leagues, and if there's one strategy that works for me, it's getting players on the same team at running back and/or tight end – though not your typical RB1s and RB2s or TE1s and TE2s. My philosophy is along the lines of your fourth and fifth running backs and/or your third and fourth tight ends. Case in point - the New England backs last year. I'm always high on backs from New England in best ball, because the offense is potent and there's bound to be at least one solid producer every week. The beauty of the best ball format is that you don't have to pick which one will perform each week. Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis were easily available as your 4th and 5th running backs in most leagues. I made an effort to target them in all leagues with this format and it paid off generously.

This year, the backs to target might be Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones in Green Bay. They may be a bit higher in rank than Burkhead and Lewis last year, but both have the ability to perform any given week. Target other backs as your RB1 and RB2 but the committee approach of RB4 and RB5 fits in nicely with this duo. The same can be done with tight ends. Teams like Philadelphia, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, the L.A. Chargers, Seattle, and Buffalo were all in the Top 12 in tight end receptions. Most have more than one receiving threat at tight end who can benefit from this strategy. I can see Seattle and Baltimore being this year's team to target for a tight end by committee approach for TE3 and TE4 in a best ball format. There's no big-name option on the surface, and you can still get the production from two players much later in the draft. All you need is one to produce on any given week. 

 

How do you leverage upside/downside in best ball drafts? There’s strong data on both sides of the question, so what’s your approach?


Gray: As mentioned in Question 1, I diversify. If my early picks are high-upside guys, I'll probably take a few safer players to back them up. If my early guys are relatively safe selections, I'd be more willing to take shots at some upside players later.

Holloway: Once you have established solid depth with high floors across those three positions, you can continue with BPA and include the quarterback position, while still giving those three positions preference. Later, with all starting slots filled, begin to mine best ball specialists, wide receivers with deep-route speed capable of providing occasional boom weeks with long touchdown passes and RBBC guys with skills to be three-down backs following an injury to their counterparts.

Brimacombe: You want to diversify your player and position selection. The goal is always to look at BPA, but often when doing so, you can land a very similar team over and over again. I like to typically spend the first eight rounds only drafting RBs and WRs (occasionally throwing in a TE if one falls a round or two from his usual ADP). Current best ball drafts are going very heavy on running backs early, so maybe look to draft a RB in the first round but go WR/WR/WR in the next few. You could also mix things up by looking at Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, or Zach Ertz in Round 3, which will help diversify your player selection throughout the draft. I have now done 125+ drafts this offseason, and the most important lesson has been to develop solid rankings and follow BPA. But also, have fun with it and try drafting either RB- or WR-heavy to mix up your player pool.

Miglio: One thing I have come to appreciate is weekly variance. Many players aren't projected to have top-flight fantasy seasons, but they do have potential to have some huge weeks. Think Martavis Bryant or DeSean Jackson of old. Their season-long totals tend to be disappointing from a macro perspective, but we have all witnessed their nuclear explosions on any given Sunday. Obviously, there is your bread and butter: those guys you target in the first couple of rounds who are going to produce every single week. But if you can build a roster that prioritizes upside over safety, your potential to score big increases each week.

Haseley: I would much rather have upside in this scenario, even though downside might be the safer route. The key is to have a good combination of explosive and consistent players so you can capitalize on surging weeks from the high-upside players, but also stay afloat with consistent production from your tried and true veterans. A player like Golden Tate fits this role for me: dependable, durable, and in a good offense. Upside players that interest me right now, for example, are Chris Godwin and Taylor Gabriel. Godwin has talent and has yet to hit his stride. Gabriel was signed to be a key piece to the Bears offense, and a lot of defensive attention will focus on Allen Robinson, making Gabriel a value player.

 

Quarterback strategy probably brings the most debate of any issue in best ball drafts. There are two camps: waiting at the position, which winds up pretty congested and well-stocked into the double-digit rounds, and the “fall where they may” approach that weighs quarterbacks in with the best-player-available candidates. How do you approach the position, and why?

 

Gray: While I generally prefer a BPA strategy, quarterbacks have to drop a long way before I'll consider one to be the best player available. So, it's a rare draft that sees one of the top quarterbacks find his way to my roster.

If you spend a high pick on a quarterback, you're going to have a hole at either running back or wide receiver. That will cause you to spend the rest of your draft chasing that position. That chase could then keep you from spending more than two roster spots on quarterbacks. Having only two signal callers mean your entire season could rest on your top quarterback. If he goes down, you could be sunk.

Usually, I like to be one of the last teams to take their first quarterback. When that happens, I'm usually among the first to take a second quarterback and also among the first to grab a third. Hopefully, these three guys - each with different bye weeks - will take turns being my weekly starter.

Holloway: It seems with each passing year, the mid-range quarterbacks (between QB8 and QB22) finish even closer together. With best-ball leagues that minimal difference is almost inconsequential. As long as there are 3 or more QBs that you strongly favor, you can wait until 12-16 are gone and continue your focus on the other 3 positions.

Brimacombe: I have a hard time wavering from the “wait on quarterback” approach. I like to draft three quarterbacks to begin with, so I don't necessarily need one of the top eight on the board. I often wait until after Round 10 to start drafting my quarterbacks and often draft them in a row to make sure I get a trio of solid starters. This strategy is simple to me, as you only have to count one of these three quarterbacks each week, and getting a one-in-three chance at a solid game makes more sense than spending a high draft pick on a big-namer that may or may not give you one.

Miglio: I generally fall into the "wait" camp when it comes to quarterbacks. Positional scarcity just makes it a good idea to fill up more valuable spots on your roster early in drafts. If the entire room is inclined to wait, however, this goes back to arbitrage. Does it make sense to forego drafting Drew Brees in the sixth round in lieu of taking your WR3? No. Please don't do that.

Haseley: Waiting on quarterback until the 10th, 11th, or 12th round is off the board, then selecting two in the next three rounds, is generally what I like to do in best ball drafts. I sometimes follow that up with a late-round pick that might be a rookie. DeShaun Watson was my late-round pick of choice last year, but it could've been Carson Wentz or Jared Goff. This strategy can land you Alex Smith, Matthew Stafford, and potentially a rookie QB or maybe even Patrick Mahomes, depending on how he progresses as drafts approach.

 

Tight end is a position that tends to run exceptionally top-heavy in terms of fantasy value. There are rarely more than 6-8 blue-chippers we can count on to produce week after week. Still, there’s always some to be mined in the later rounds. What’s your typical approach to the tight end spot?


Gray: In a TE-premium scoring system like the FFPC, I'm inclined to take a tight end early and actually consider a TE/WR/RB start to be optimal. In these leagues, there is a good amount of pressure on the position, so I like to add them to my roster regularly and don't mind slightly overpaying for them. The position can quickly dry up in just a couple of rounds, and I don't want to be stuck looking for sleepers while having only two – or if things are really bad, a single – tight end on the roster.

In normal scoring systems, I'm willing to take tight ends at value, but since there isn't much pressure on the position, I give more attention to running backs and wide receivers early. Much like quarterbacks, I'm perfectly content with being the last to take a starting tight end while grabbing reserves fairly early. I'm good with quantity over quality at tight end.

Holloway: In TE-premium leagues, it is preferable to get one of the top-tier TEs within the first four rounds, as Clayton stated. With scoring favoring TEs, and particularly when TEs can be flexed, taking 2 of those top-tier choices by Round 5 can provide you a lead at the more important scoring position.

Brimacombe: If a Gronkowski, Kelce, or Ertz falls to you in the early fourth round, I think you pull the trigger. If not, not I think you have options down the line. I like Evan Engram in the sixth round if he falls and Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Delanie Walker, and Hunter Henry in the eighth or ninth. Even if all of those players are taken before that, there are plenty of options later that you can piece together a very nice three-TE tandem at the end of your draft. The quarterback and tight end positions are very similar in these best ball formats, and that is why I tend to take three of each in my drafts. The one bonus for the TE spot is that you can also use one in your flex spot, which probably isn't ideal but does give you a slight value boost at the position.

Miglio: Unless the top tight ends – usually Gronkowski in a tier all by himself, though that is no longer the case – fall below a certain threshold, I tend to wait at the position because it can be covered well by committee if you do it right. Will you be able to replicate Kelce's numbers every single week? Perhaps not, but the likelihood that your squad is otherwise in far better shape makes up for the slightly lower weekly TE production.

Most best ball leagues have made tight ends slightly more valuable by including them in the flex spot, but usually that spot will be occupied by a receiver or running back. Unless you drafted Gronkowski and Kelce with your first two picks, that is, in which case you have much bigger problems.

I tend to draft three solid tight ends in best ball drafts. I typically drift toward having one weekly boom-or-bust guy and two relatively high-volume floor guys.

Haseley: I mentioned this in the first question. If I wait a bit at tight end, I'll select two fairly close together who offer the same projected value, followed later in the draft by a committee approach of TE3 and TE4 being on the same team. If I target a tight end in a higher round, I will generally look to draft three total, with the committee approach for my TE2 and TE3 with a slightly higher projected cast; perhaps a combo of Jason Witten and Rico Gathers. I also like Arizona's combination of Ricky Seals-Jones and whoever occupies the TE2 on the team (Jermaine Gresham or other).