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Best Ball Fantasy Football: A Primer - Footballguys

An intro tour through the exciting and wildly popular best ball format

At this point, the fantasy football masses are ready for year-round play. And best ball fantasy football, most notably the DRAFT phenomenon, is exploding in popularity. Once a fun but underutilized contest offering that drew a few hundred drafters each offseason, MyFantasyLeague’s MFL10s took the 2015 offseason by storm, with hundreds of drafts starting each week and Twitter feeds abuzz. Since then, DRAFT has launched headfirst into the groundswell, offering a fantastic variety of best ball contests. Players can join drafts tailored to their experience level, put several different entry fees into play, and control the stakes of their leagues as well.

(In fact, signing up for DRAFT carries big Footballguys advantages. Register on the site with a minimum deposit ($10), and you’ll be given a free year of full Footballguys Pro access. Play through that $10, and we’ll upgrade you to All-Pro status, giving you full DFS access as well.)

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 balls simultaneously in a round, but only take the score from the better ball from each hole. As a result, he’s counting only his best ball of the round.

That’s exactly how a best-ball league operates: you’ll be given your best scores at each position on each week. Let’s say the quarterbacks you’ve drafted were Russell Wilson, Marcus Mariota, and Tyrod Taylor. Each week, the highest scorer among them is the quarterback used to fill your lineup slot. Whether Wilson is off, Mariota is injured, or Taylor is benched, they’re your guys for the year, and 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 disabled, so your drafted roster is your yearlong roster and that’s that.

Looking specifically at the DRAFT format, here’s how things will break down:

ROSTER/LINEUP

18 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

SCORING/WINNING

Each week’s lineup is determined automatically by your top scorers

Half-PPR scoring setup (4 points per pass TD, 1 point per 25 pass yards)

League winner is determined by the cumulative score after Week 16

Various payout formats: play in conservative leagues that pay the top 1-4 finishers, or go winner-take-all to maximize your payoff

HOW DO WE APPROACH THIS?

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.

EVERYBODY HURTS...

Yours isn’t the only roster in the desert, after all. The other 11 drafters 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 best ball drafters – including every single league winner – will wind up boasting a roster laced with out-for-season guys and flat-out non-contributors. Some sites begin hosting drafts within weeks of 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 best ball rosters are large, and an optimal draft strategy gives you gobs of opportunity to stockpile mid- and late-round depth.

To illustrate: In 2016 I drafted 45 MFL10 teams and wound up faring quite well in terms of return on investment. (I was unable to enter best balls last year, due to the restrictions of my state.) I did so despite drafting many of my teams very early (February through April, before the draft). Ultimately, I wound up – strategically – with more shares of Colin Kaepernick (he finished the year as QB27) than of Aaron Rodgers (QB1) and Matt Ryan (QB3) combined. The list of players I drafted with the most regularity that year included names like Charcandrick West, James Starks, and Donte Moncrief. In fact, the highest-scoring team in my portfolio burned a third-round pick on Dion Lewis (325 yards on the year), as well as a sixth on Jeremy Langford (275 of his own), and boasted Eric Ebron as its highest-scoring tight end (he finished TE13). But this roster won it all, thanks to sound strategy – a handful of proven producers and a bevy of interchangeable weekly flex guys – and less heralded picks like Willie Snead IV and the Eagles defense.

In other words, the margin for draft error is wide and forgiving. Best ball drafting rewards players who structure their drafts thoughtfully over those who merely snatch at talent.

NO TRADING

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 the traders, 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 Doug Martin is on the verge of hitting his stride – can’t shift the entire league’s season with his horrendous deals. Best ball players 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 – all because the former had the “foresight” to scoop up the next man on the depth chart. Commissioners can try to make things fair and even with a waiver system based on a rotation or a free agency budget, but even those will ultimately reward a near-random or otherwise undeserving manager 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 players are more likely than casual ones to spot and properly value Alvin Kamara or Adam Thielen during the offseason – and they’re utilizing every roster spot to load up heavily on guys of that type. Think of the late rounds 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 18+ 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 keep exploring best ball from all angles – the strategies and playing systems, and of course regular analysis of the ever-shifting offseason and its best ball implications. Our goal is to leave you clued-in and prepared to work best ball to your advantage, all while enjoying a new and dynamic way of playing fantasy football.