Just as the 2016 fantasy football season ended, the 2017 fantasy football season began. No need to wait until August or September get things going, MFL10-type best-ball leagues have been rocking and rolling for months now. Many people view the fantasy draft as the best part of the fantasy season, well; you are in for a treat, as that's what best ball leagues are all about. Not only are MFL10s fun to play, but you also can get a great understanding of the fantasy layout months before your season long league drafts begin. Trust me, you will be able to draft with your eyes closed come August.
I think many of us in the fantasy community take it for granted that everyone knows what MFL10s are, but after talking to a few friends that play fantasy football as a hobby (as opposed to an obsession), they have no idea what I'm talking about. Others have heard of MFL10s but for various reasons, they have been too intimidated to play them for fear of going up against the "pros/sharks" or because they think they don't have the time. Well, it's time to assuage some of those concerns by giving you some background information on these very fun leagues and also a few tips and tricks to help you succeed.
MFL10s are draft only, best ball leagues. Entry fees range from $10 to $500, with payouts at the end of the season to the winner of the league ranging from $100 to $5,000. MFL stands for MyFantasyLeague.com, the site that runs these leagues, and most people play the $10 leagues … hence the nickname MFL10. In this article, I'm going to focus on MFL10s because they are the most popular site for playing these leagues, but the FFPC has best ball leagues starting at $35 and Play Draft (who have a great app) just launched their leagues this past month, and offer payouts to the top four finishers and also feature quick draft leagues with a 30-second clock between picks. Both of those leagues are similar in that they are best ball leagues, but have slightly different scoring systems, team sizes and payout structures. In fact, MFL just launched 2X leagues in June, where the first through sixth place teams win money. As you can tell it's a growing and varied landscape, and getting very popular.
Here are links to all three sites:
MFL10 leagues consist of 12 teams and involve snake drafts, where each team gets up to 8 hours to make their selections. Once the draft is complete, your involvement is essentially over and you simply just monitor how well your team performs against all the other teams in your league during the season.
Your best lineup will automatically be started every week and the team that scores the most points at the end of the season (Week 16), wins. New leagues are launched continuously, and to join a league all you need to do is go to their website, deposit at least $10 in the bank through your PayPal account and then join a league. They will then email you the details for your league, let you know your draft position and it's "let the games begin."
I can also assure you that fantasy players of all levels are playing these. How do I know this? Because I have done many MFL10 leagues so far and some of the picks that are made are definitely not being made by pros. I've also played against many pros in some of these leagues and I can assure you again, they don't always make the greatest picks. Trust me, no reason to fear. In fact, it's often times fun to play against analysts to see how they attack a draft.
Two years ago I entered 11 leagues. I ended up winning 3, came in 2nd in one of them, two 5th place finishes, three 7th place finishes, one 9th and one 11th. So for $110 in entry fees, I won $310. A 28% win rate is pretty good in my opinion. Last season, I entered 35 of them and ended up winning $580. Not as big a win rate (14%), due to a slew of bad luck injuries on guys I was heavy on (ie: Keenan Allen) but I still ended up winning money on the season.
I usually have two or three drafts running at a time and have been playing this April already. Each draft takes about a full week to complete, so I will have many more entries this year than in years past.
(A bit of a pro tip, go to the contact section of the league you are in and check off the notifications that lets you know every time a player is picked, the emails become too much. Instead just make sure that the box to notify you when you are on the clock is checked. When it's your turn they will email you and then you can easily check to see who everyone else has picked to that point. Online I also like to view the board in "grid" format, to get a full landscape view of the draft.)
MFL10s use a standard PPR type scoring system, with 1 point per reception (PPR) and 4 points for a passing touchdown. Your weekly automated best lineup will consist of 1 quarterback, 2 running backs, 3 wide receivers, 1 tight end, 1 flex play (RB/WR/TE) and 1 defense.
GENERAL GAME PLAN
Now for some details; each team drafts 20 players and I usually stick to this breakdown:
- 2 QBs
- 5 or 6 RBs
- 6 or 7 WRs
- 2 or 3 TEs
- 2 or 3 Defenses
Occasionally I will grab a third quarterback at the expense of a defense or tight end if I am really happy with my defenses and tight ends and if I waited too long on quarterback and feel like I need a little more juice at the position. Other times, if there is a great value pick in the 19th or 20th round, I will grab and extra wide receiver or running back. But for the most part, this is the lineup breakdown I try to stick to.
For reference, at the end of this article is a roster construction breakdown from the 2016 season and win rates using some of the various lineup constructions. Also at the bottom, is a chart put out by Rotogrinder's Mike Beers, which details the win rates from having the Top 50 players (by ADP) on your team. As you can see from that chart, hitting on the right running backs is key. 26% of the winng teams had David Johnson, while 20% had LeSean McCoy. Health was key too, A.J. Green and Keenan Allen owners got very unlucky due to their injuries, which makes having proper depth important.
In almost every single draft you will see David Johnson, Le'Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott come off the board in the first three picks. Occasionally, you will see someone grab Antonio Brown instead of Elliott, due to the Dallas offensive line losing two starters this year. After those three, the next four off the board are usually Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr Jr, Julio Jones and Mike Evans. You will find that viable running backs go early and it is possible to patch together a solid group of wide receivers in the middle and later rounds, so Devonta Freeman, LeSean McCoy, Jay Ajayi, Jordan Howard and Demarco Murray are usually snatched up by the end of the first round, or in the early second. Amongst receivers, A.J. Green is almost always a first round pick, and you are then looking at deciding between Jordy Nelson, T.Y. Hilton and Michael Thomas. You can read my thoughts on all of these players in my tier rankings recently posted on Footballguys. A bit more on that later.
What about Rob Gronkowski you ask? Last year I was mostly avoiding Gronk when he went at the end of the first round, and that ended up being a good call due to Brady's suspension and Gronk's injury. While his stand alone production is obviously far greater than any other tight end, since this is a best ball league, drafting three quality tight ends much later in the draft allows you to make up for his production while making sure you have impact players at running back and wide receiver, since those are the positions where your MFL10 season will be won and lost. Travis Kelce is also a viable alternative in the 3rd round if you want to be aggressive at tight end position, and you can get Jimmy Graham all the way in the 7th. That said, due to recency bias, Gronk often times falls to the end of the second round or even into the 3rd. He is a no brainer, must grab, in the 3rd, but while I would label you a fool for not taking him in the second round in season long leagues, it's still okay to pass on him in the 2nd round in these best ball leagues.
In general, I'm also less worried about filling out my roster in the early rounds than taking the best impact player left on the board, although running backs do tend to go early this year. In the mid-to-late rounds I'm balancing drafting players with weekly high ceilings with a few players with decent floors. Tyrell Williams should be a great high ceiling player this year on the Chargers, while guys like Jeremy Maclin and Adam Thielen should be a steady floor plays. All three of those players are currently coming off the board in the 9th round or later. Keep in mind, a wide receiver that scores around 9 fantasy points in a week has a 50% chance of being usable that week, while a wide receiver that scores just 12 fantasy points in a week has a 75% chance of being used.
At quarterback my general strategy is to wait until at least Round 8 or 9, where right now you can usually scoop up players such as Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Kirk Cousins, while players such as Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor and Dak Prescott are often going in the 11th round and later. With this in mind, grabbing QB's with back-to-back picks in the 11th and 12th should leave you in good shape if you don't reach for one earlier. If you really want to wait late, you can grab Ryan Tannehill in the 13th, Joe Flacco in the 14th and Sam Bradford in the 15th and probably be good to go.
For those wanting to be more aggressive at the position, you don't have to pay the iron price to get Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Marcus Mariota who are all going off the board in the 6th and 7th rounds. If Tom Brady falls into the 6th, he's a phenomenal get there with all his weapons this year.
The earliest I'm usually reaching for a tight end is in round 7 if Jimmy Graham is sitting there (assuming Travis Kelce, Greg Olsen, Jordan Reed and Gronkowski are already gone). Otherwise, I'm grabbing one in the 9th, with Kyle Rudolph and Eric Ebron being my targets. I'm very high on Ebron this year with Anquan Boldin out of the picture and entering his 4th and age 24 season, a year many tight ends finally break out. Rudolph, on the other hand, has serious mojo with Bradford and I think that continues this season. I love Hunter Henry, but in the 8th round, he's a little tough to get on board with especially with Antonio Gates still in the picture, with Keenan Allen back from injury and their first round draft pick, Mike Williams, now on the team. Other targets for tight ends in the 10th and 11th rounds are the Detective Jack Doyle and Zach Ertz. After that, you are looking at depth pieces such as Austin Hooper, Coby Fleener, Cameron Brate, Jason Witten and Antonio Gates who all go off the board in the 12th round and later.
For those tempted by the talent in this year's rookie class, I would only look to add them as my third tight ends, if at all. This may be the best tight end rookie class in history, but the tight end position is notoriously tough to adjust to coming from the college to pro game, never mind going up against massive defensive lineman and linebackers that are as fast as they are big. If you want to reach for them, I would draft them in this order: David Njoku, Evan Engram and then O.J. Howard. However, it is a sneaky, and perhaps even shrewd move, to pair Howard with Brate in the later rounds, counting on them to score 8 to 10 touchdowns between them.
On the defensive side, I've been often grabbing a top rated defense in round 13 or 14, and then pairing them with another solid defense later on. This early in the fantasy season I think taking a stab at one of the better defenses is a more reliable option than trying to guess on many of the skill position players available at that point in the draft, so I'm taking my shot, and then loading up on an extra skill players later by only taking two defenses. Most of the times, the guys I'm targeting late are going to still be there anyhow. If I do end up waiting on a defense, then I am usually grabbing three towards the end of the draft, although usually all before the last round when they are depleted. As pre-season games get under way and we gain a better picture of the team's starters and depth charts, the more likely I am to start drafting defenses late.
The few elite defenses are the Broncos, Chiefs, Texans and Seahawks. Other defenses I'm high on are the Vikings, Eagles, Chargers, Jaguars, Giants and Titans. Stringing together two and three of these is usually very doable.
Opinions vary greatly when it comes to rookies. Many veteran players espouse that we should avoid all rookies. While I am careful not to overload on rookies and buy into too much hype, I also think it's a mistake to not take advantage of rookies that are well priced with defined roles, in good offenses. Guys like Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas and Jordan Howard were fantasy gold for teams last year. That said, the hype train also killed people who spent early picks on guys such as Corey Coleman, Josh Doctson, Laquon Treadwell, Tajae Sharpe and C.J. Prosise.
Some rookies I like this year early are Leonard Fournette and Joe Mixon because I think they are both special players who will dominate touches in their respective backfields. I am however not touching guys like Dalvin Cook and Corey Davis because they are going in the 5th and 6th rounds respectively. Cook is playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league and is in a crowded backfield with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon. Other running backs I prefer in that range are Carlos Hyde, TY Montgomery, Ameer Abdullah, Spencer Ware and Mark Ingram II. As for Davis, with Eric Decker in town, it is a crowded receiving core with Rishad Mathews and Delanie Walker also in the fold, not to mention their run first attack. Other receivers I like better in that range are Brandon Marshall, Desean Jackson, Cameron Meredith, Eric Decker, Jeremy Maclin and Randall Cobb.
One last rookie I have almost no shares of this year is probably the most hyped of all of them, Christian McCaffrey. He plays bigger than his size, standing 5'11" 202lbs with 4.48 jets. He runs as tough up the middle as he does outside. He's also elusive in open field, has great patience and could easily play receiver in the league if he wanted to. As you can see, I love the talent, but he is being over drafted this year, with a current ADP of 3.10. Cam Newton is not great at checking down balls, loves to take it in himself near the end-zone and Jonathan Stewart is still a living human being. There is lots of talk that they want to turn Cam into more of a pocket passer and to check down the ball more. While I think that is the team's goal, Cam has been playing one way his whole life and coming off of shoulder surgery, he won't even be able to start throwing until mid-June. Oh, and per PFF, Cam had the worst passer rating in the league last year on passes going 5 yards or less. All of this means that the great Cam change will probably take 2 or 3 years, and not a few months. Once again, I love McCaffrey in dynasty leagues, but not this year in best ball leagues at his current asking price.
There is no waiver wire in these leagues and there is no glory coming in 2nd place, the goal is to win. In order to win, you need to score more points on the season than all the other teams. Playing it safe won't get it done. The key is to make sure you have some upside guys on your team, especially late in the draft, that can help you win weeks and put up big points. Target some high-end handcuffs even if you don't have the starter that could become RB1 or RB2's if they get the starting job due to injury. Some guys that fit this bill are the Bills Jonathan Williams, the Bucs Jacquizz Rodgers, the Seahawks C.J. Prosise, the Steelers James Connor and the 49ers Joe Williams. As for wide receivers, look for guys that can bank big weeks, players such as Torrey Smith, Ted Ginn Jr, Taylor Gabriel, Josh Gordon (I think he gets reinstated) and Zay Jones. While these players may be frustrating to own in season long leagues due to week-to-week consistency, they will undoubtedly all have some blow up weeks, which is huge in best ball, especially when drafted late.
ADP (average draft position) is key when drafting, so make sure to check out the MFL10 ADP list or the one put out by my boy Josh (@FantasyADHD), here. You want to get a sense of when different players are going off the board so you can better plan your picks. You don't want to reach for a guy 2 or 3 rounds early if you don't have to. In a future article I will give you players that I'm specifically targeting due to advantageous ADPs.
TIERS and DRaft Strategy
When I draft, I always have a tier sheet handy. I find that organizing players by tiers is far more beneficial than merely ranking players.
I could rank Odell Beckham Jr Jr. over Julio Jones, but it is impossible to truly predict who will finish better between the two of them. Maybe Jones has fifty more yards on the season then Beckham, or maybe Beckham has one more touchdown. Who knows; but I do know that both should finish better than a guy like Alshon Jeffery.
Organizing players by tiers also allows you to plan your picks by waiting on a particular position if many players in a current tier are still available, while grabbing a player at another position when there is a drop off if it comes back around to you later. You also want a healthy mix of players that have high floors and high ceilings on a week-to-week basis, so if you grab a posession guy like Brandon Marshall, pair him with a high ceiling guy like DeSean Jackson.
Lastly, I don't subscribe to any stringent strategy such as Zero RB, Zero WR, or Value Based Drafting (VBD). Instead, I think you should choose the best player available on your board, while keeping in mind ADP, overall roster construction and taking into account the flow of the draft and positional scarcity.