DRAFT Best Ball Round-by-Round Selection Strategy (Fantasy Football)
August is here and it has brought one of our best friends with it: draft season. Dynasty startup drafts have likely been completed by now. So too, have most dynasty rookie drafts. With the preseason having barely begun, most re-draft leagues are waiting to complete their drafts to avoid injured players burying owners before the real show even starts. The most popular draft taking place in early August is the best ball draft, and the No. 1 place to do it is at DRAFT. Best ball drafts allow you to enjoy the fun and skill involved with drafting without increasing your in-season roster management workload. I’ve entered a 10-team fast draft and will walk you through who I’ve selected in each round, and why I decided to go with that player. Come join me in the War Room.
I was randomly given the 5th pick of the draft. In recent best ball drafts that I have completed, there has been a lot more variation with picks four through six than I imagined. I was fortunate enough (at the time) to benefit from this variation. Ezekiel Elliott fell to me in the 5th spot. This draft was completed before the news of Elliott’s six-game suspension was released. For me, it was an easy pick at that point. The assumption was that Elliott might receive a two- or four-game suspension. With news breaking that his suspension i, in fact, six games, this pick is very clearly a reach. According to Elliott, however, he strongly disagrees with the ruling and intends to appeal the suspension. For now, we wait and see what will come of the situation.
Picking out of the five spot is difficult because you have 10 picks or 12 picks between each selection that you make. This means that if you’re torn on two guys, the one that you don’t select will more than likely be off the board by the time your next pick comes around. With the 2.6 pick I weighed Michael Thomas or Rob Gronkowski. I elected to go with Thomas. Brandin Cooks has left for New England and he’s left 117 targets on the table. The Saints added Ted Ginn Jr. in free agency, but Ginn’s route tree is limited by his below average route running ability, and he will certainly not see 117 targets. As long as Drew Brees is in New Orleans, the Saints will have a WR1 and possibly even two of them. Gronkowski has a much higher upside than Thomas, something that’s of great value in a best ball league. Of course, he also carries the risk of injury. Gronk has played a full 16 games just twice in his seven-year career and has missed four or more games in three of those seven seasons. I played it safe here in round two.
The third-round pick for me was a very tough one. I love drafting the elite tight ends in best ball formats (more on that later), so passing on Kelce was difficult. Marshawn Lynch is far too risky, as I believe his ADP is based on his ceiling and doesn’t align with reasonable expectations. I ultimately chose DeAndre Hopkins over Brandin Cooks due in large part to the fact that Hopkins is head and shoulders above the other Texan pass catchers. With Will Fuller out 2-to-3 months with a broken collarbone, Hopkins is essentially the only weapon in the Houston passing game, as opposed to Cooks’ situation where he will be competing for targets with Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and the bevy of running backs in New England.
As you can see, I almost got lucky and had Kelce fall to me a full round later than I considered drafting him. I was sniped by Mark_hill2596 with the last pick. That left me to choose from Marshawn Lynch, Tom Brady, Jordan Reed, Allen Robinson, and Joe Mixon. Already having two upper-tier wideouts, I chose to cut Allen Robinson from the list. Now that I’ve completed hundreds of mock drafts and DRAFT best ball drafts, my strategy going into every draft has been that if Rodgers or Brady are there in the 5th round, I will take them, but I’m not reaching any sooner than that. So as tempted as I was to take Touchdown Tom, I shied away. Marshawn Lynch has been out of football for a full year and is joining an offense that has a stable of running backs that see snaps. Last year, the highest opportunity share for an Oakland running back was Latavius Murray’s 52.8%. This means that Murray was the primary running back on barely over half the plays. In Lynch’s final two seasons with Seattle his opportunity shares were 71% and 71.3%. It is very likely that Lynch’s touches will go down, not to mention the uncertainty of the physical shape that he’s in after a year off.
I narrowed it down to Jordan Reed and Joe Mixon. In best ball drafts, I have approximately a 70% share of Joe Mixon. I think he’s a very talented player who has a chance to be one of the few running backs who plays all three downs. He’s absolutely being drafted too high for a rookie who hasn’t taken a snap, but I’m confident in my analytics. But I’m more confident in strategy. Especially strategy that forces opponents to change course. There are six game-changing tight ends that have huge upside: Gronk, Kelce, Reed, Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham and Tyler Eifert. After those six, there are a handful of tight ends with decent floors and then a ton of guys that you hope catch three passes a game, one of which happens to be a touchdown. In a Best Ball format, taking those high upside tight ends off the board puts your opponents in a major bind. They have to choose to get a mid-tier tight end now or risk having to draft three low-end tight ends late. It also gives you the freedom to select just two tight ends and use that roster spot elsewhere. Despite his injury risk, I went with Jordan Reed with the intention of grabbing another of the elite tight ends in an upcoming round.
At this point, I have 1 RB, 2 WR and 1 TE, leaving me the freedom to select the best available player. As you can see by the ADP numbers on the right side of the images, I’m using my own set of rankings and not drafting based on ADP. This pick was the hardest of the draft for me. Fantasy owners have a tendency to blow with the wind when it comes to preseason stories, overreacting majorly to some. Carlos Hyde’s free fall down draft boards has been very welcoming for me. I happen to like the bruiser out of Ohio State. Hyde finished 2016 as the RB15, despite missing three games and often fighting a negative game script. The 49ers lost seven games by 15 or more points. Hyde is not very strong in the passing game, so he was forced out of the gameplan in many of their 2016 contests. San Francisco is not going on a Super Bowl run, but with Kyle Shanahan at the helm and the best rookie draft of any franchise in the league, they are definitely going to improve.
Even though I’m a Danny Woodhead truther, it was still far too early to take him. Looking at the top WRs available, Stefon Diggs has the highest ceiling. Having already drafted Michael Thomas of the Saints, I didn’t want to grab Willie Snead as well due to the negative correlation of owning two wide receivers in the same passing game. Golden Tate will have a great year and may even outperform Stefon Diggs, but in best ball formats, I like to avoid stacking bye weeks because you’re unable to manage your roster and varying your bye weeks gives you the freedom to construct your roster how you want. Already having Hopkins with a Week 7 bye, I was leary of Tate’s Week 7 bye. With two WRs this close in talent, I pared down my choices based on the bye week. With Diggs’ ADP at 57.7 I rolled the dice that he would still be there in the 6th round and went with Carlos Hyde.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Hindsight is 20/20 I guess. As badly as I wanted Diggs before I was sniped for a second time by Mark_hill2596, I was happy with the players who were left on the board. I avoided Snead again for the same reasons as above. Had he been there in the 7th round, I would have ignored the potential negative correlation and taken him, but I didn’t feel it was worth it in this round with other good options available. I drafted my two “starting” running backs, but still needed another wide receiver. I couldn’t pass up on Jarvis Landry in the 6th round. Landry has finished as the WR11 and the WR13 in the past two seasons and got a major upgrade at quarterback from Ryan Tannehill to Jay Cutler, yet somehow he fell to me as the 28th wide receiver taken. That’s what I call a bargain.
With my 7th round pick, I was apparently so excited about my choice that I failed to screenshot before making my selection of Bilal Powell. The Jets recently lost Quincy Enunwa for the season with a neck injury. Eric Decker left for the Titans in free agency and Brandon Marshall is a now a New York Giant. While they added ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen in the draft, neither are NFL-ready this year. Matt Forte is more than likely in his last season as a Jet before he becomes a cut candidate. The Jets are going to be really, really bad this year. Game scripts will turn into passing scripts. That will lead to Bilal Powell, the pass-catching specialist, getting the majority of the RB snaps. Powell was 4th last season in targets for a running back with 75. To close out 2016, Powell had an RB2, RB4 and RB9 finish in three of the final four weeks. He’s primed for a big season.
I was fortunate enough that my top three options behind Powell were still available on my next turn. I’m very high on Jamison Crowder going into 2017 with the absence of Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson from the Washington pass attack. Having already drafted Jordan Reed, however, I wanted to again avoid the negative correlation of drafting two pass-catchers for the same team, if at all possible. I was higher on Donte Moncrief a month ago when Andrew Luck’s status wasn’t so much in doubt. Moncrief having the same bye week as Jarvis Landry was also another factor in not taking him. That left me with Tyler Eifert. You know, the guy who has 18 touchdowns in his last 21 games. When healthy, Eifert is truly unstoppable and a favorite red-zone target of Andy Dalton. In 2016, Eifert had a Red Zone target share of 34.4%, second among all tight ends. This means that over a third of the Bengals’ passes thrown inside the 20 were to Eifert. Drafting both Eifert and Jordan Reed allowed me to leave that position alone, positive that I would get upside out of at least one of them and potentially a flex start out of the other if they both performed well. It also put some of my opponents into a pretty bad position as they scrounged for tight ends. Game theory can be huge when it comes to winning a draft. As the table shows below, only two other owners were confident enough in their tight ends to draft just two. The other seven owners used an extra roster spot to take a third tight end, leaving a potential seven running backs and wide receivers on the board.
The tight ends selected by each franchise:
Having passed up on Tom Brady earlier, the 9th round was time to start considering a quarterback. Russell Wilson has the ability to finish in the top 5 for quarterbacks. Wilson is an efficient passer but creates a higher ceiling when he scrambles. In 2016 he was very limited by his lower leg and ankle injuries, yet he still finished as the QB11. With news that Seattle will finally free Paul Richardson and bench Jermaine Kearse, the Seahawks will have an improved passing game in 2017. Wilson will also face the ninth-easiest schedule according to FantasyPros strength of schedule rankings. The stars are aligning for a huge season.
All of my starting positions had been filled by now so there was more freedom to select the best available players. With Russell Wilson on my team and a Bye 6 running back in Ezekiel Elliott, I chose to avoid Eddie Lacy. I own a lot of shares of Samaje Perine, but his ADP has climbed a lot lately and I don’t want to reach for a rookie who has yet to take a snap in the league. There are lots of late-round QBs that I’m targeting, so I didn’t feel the need to use a valuable pick on Marcus Mariota or Ben Roethlisberger. Tyrell Williams had a breakout season in 2016 and will see his fair share of success this year as well, but he’s still one of six quality pass-catching options in San Diego and we all know that opportunity is key. It came down to Theo Riddick and Adam Thielen. After selecting Elliott, Hyde and Powell, I was pretty confident I could get two good RBs per week out of those three, so I made the decision to go with Thielen. He is the third option in the passing game and finished last year strong, posting 13 points or more in five of the last seven contests. A secondary reason for choosing Thielen was that I had a lot of confidence that I would get Duke Johnson in round 11.
At the very minimum, Duke Johnson will be the third-down running back in Cleveland. Johnson could also see quality time as a slot receiver, though. The Browns’ wide receiver coach, Al Saunders, referred to Duke as the queen on a chessboard, highlighting his versatility in the offense. Talented and versatile players see snaps and snaps lead to touches. In 2016, Johnson finished fourth among running backs in targets.
There aren’t many wide receivers in this tier that I’m fond of, so I tend to take more running backs and quarterbacks at this point in the draft, saving my late-round picks for some pass-catchers that I’ve loaded up on in the majority of my best ball drafts. I really like Philip Rivers as my QB2, due mostly to the numerous pass-catching options he has at his disposal and his propensity to have boom/bust weeks, something to seek out in best ball formats. Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor, Dak Prescott, and Carson Palmer were all still undrafted, so I took a chance on Rivers falling and went with Terrance West. It’s not common to draft a starting running back in the 12th round of a fantasy draft, yet here we are. Kenneth Dixon is out for the season and Danny Woodhead is too light and fragile for the Ravens to use on all three downs. West will be the top option in the running game on Day 1 and only Buck Allen will compete for early-down carries. Despite Allen’s talent, Baltimore seemed to give up on him early in his talented career, so naturally I’m not too worried about him. After taking West, I felt that I was set at RB and could focus on getting a second quarterback and drafting depth at wide receiver.
My wish was granted in round 13, and I had options at quarterback. DRAFT has yet to update their roster to reflect Cutler being signed by the Dolphins, so my favorite late-round quarterback is still unavailable. Philip Rivers is my second favorite target, though, so I pulled the trigger.
With five picks left, I needed to draft 2-to-3 wide receivers but wasn’t tied down anywhere else, so I could draft the players I wanted to without feeling forced into a position. Of the top available players in my rankings, I wasn’t drawn to any of them for various reasons (bye week, already drafted a teammate, didn’t need the position, etc.). As you can see in my queue, I really wanted Cole Beasley and Devin Funchess. Out of the slot, Cole Beasley is a target machine. Last year he had 98 targets for a team that ranked 30th in pass attempts. The Cowboys didn’t need to pass often because they had the No. 2 ranked offensive line at run blocking in the league according to Player Profiler. Dallas’ game scripts also swayed to the running game most weeks. The Cowboys won six games by two touchdowns or more, pounding the rock with Ezekiel Elliott in the process. 2017 will be a different story. The Cowboys’ schedule is the 10th hardest in football a year after waltzing through the NFL’s easiest schedule. They will have closer games and will need to pass more often. Not only is their schedule hard, but the schedule is absolutely brutal for Dez Bryant. Just in the first three weeks, Dez will be locked down by Janoris Jenkins, Aqib Talib and Patrick Peterson. It doesn’t get a lot easier from there as Bryant will face Josh Norman twice, Jenkins again, Marcus Peters, Desmond Trufant, Jason Verrett and Richard Sherman as well. Yet the Cowboys strength of schedule for wide receivers is the 12th easiest. Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley benefit most from the schedule. I’ll gladly pounce on Beasley 50 picks earlier than ADP.
Even though I told myself I was done drafting running backs after taking Terrance West in the 12th round, I raced to draft Jamaal Charles when he slid down to the middle of the 15th round. This is a player who just last season was being selected in the second round. Thanks to major injuries, Charles has played just eight games in the past two seasons combined. But the prior three seasons he finished as RB7, RB1 and RB9. No one in their right mind would disagree that Jamaal Charles is one of the most talented backs to ever play the game. Despite turning 31 years old in December, Charles has taken limited hits in his career and doesn’t have as much tread on the tires as you would expect. Denver believes that C.J. Anderson will be the primary back, but Charles could supplant him if he stays healthy. At minimum, Charles will see third-down snaps while Devontae Booker recovers from his wrist injury. Upside is king in best ball drafts and Charles once scored 59.5 PPR Fantasy Points in a single game versus Oakland. He knows upside.
With the talent remaining, I had decided I was for sure going to use my final three picks to get wide receiver depth. Each player selected is 16 more chances at a high-scoring game from that position, so depth is essential at a position with a lot of weekly volatility. As inviting as it was to add Kenny Stills to my roster, I still wanted to avoid having both Jarvis Landry and Stills on the same team. One of my favorite targets in fantasy drafts this year is Devin Funchess. He is heading into his third NFL season with the Panthers and is primed for a breakout season. Ted Ginn and Philly Brown are no longer in Carolina, and Funchess is taking snaps with the first team in two wide receiver sets. Funchess is a huge, long-armed target for Cam Newton. In limited time last season he had just 58 targets, but 14 of them came in the red-zone, which was 19th amongst all wide receivers. Ginn and Brown combined for 1,275 snaps in 2016 and those opportunities will be up for grabs. If Funchess can get starter snap counts, he could see triple-digit targets and a double-digit touchdown season, after scoring just four times a year ago.
Another late-round talent I’m attempting to get in best ball drafts is Marqise Lee. He finished the season strong, posting three WR2 finishes in the final four games. Lee received a quiet 105 targets last year even though he played the third-most plays on the field for a Jaguar wide receiver. Lee has been more efficient than his teammate Allen Hurns by any metric you use. He will continue to see more and and more opportunities to make plays. I’ll take a flier on him.
My final pick was arguably my biggest reach, but I needed wide receivers and there wasn’t a lot of talent left. Quincy Enunwa being placed on season-ending IR with a neck injury leaves the Jets with very little to work with outside. New York added ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen in the NFL Draft, but rookie wide receivers rarely experience success in their opening season. The leading returners outside of Anderson are Jalin Marshall and Charone Peake, who combined for just 33 catches and 348 yards. Robby Anderson has been thrust into the lead receiver role. The Jets are a garbage football team. They have a potential to be the worst football team since the winless 2008 Detroit Lions. It’s no secret that bad football teams are behind big in a lot of games. The Jets will be airing it out week after week. Whether the Jets go with Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg, or Bryce Petty under center, the signal caller will be looking Anderson’s way often. Targets lead to catches. It’s as simple as that.
In the end, I was very happy with my team. The pieces are there for a big season. Hope to see you guys at the top! Feel free to send me your thoughts on Twitter.