Early Best Ball Strategy (2019 Fantasy Football)

by Sam Schlesinger | @avishai41 | Featured Writer
Apr 24, 2019

Spring is the best time to draft potential breakouts, like Chris Godwin, before everyone else catches on

To the fantasy players out there who can’t get enough drafting, best ball is the answer. To the fantasy players who have multiple draft strategies they want to experiment with and multiple players they want to own at least a couple shares of, but don’t want to be tied down to for a season-long commitment, best ball is the answer.

In best ball formats, fantasy players can afford more risk in their draft strategies than any other format for multiple reasons:

  1. The only commitment you’re making is $10, no effort needs to be made after the draft.
  2. You probably aren’t playing with a bunch of your friends who take the league very seriously and, therefore, have embarrassing punishments for whoever finishes in last place.
  3. If you draft poorly, there’s nothing you can do about it. You won’t have to spend the rest of the fantasy season trying to put your team back together. It is what it is.
  4. Risky “boom or bust” players are a lot less risky when you’re guaranteed the points they score in weeks that they boom.

The question is, how do you balance the risk? And what effect does drafting early (April – June) have on the risks you take as opposed to drafting closer to the NFL season?

Best Ball-Specific Rankings

The first thing I do to balance the risks I take is to make sure I have a separate set of rankings specific to best ball drafts. You don’t want to find yourself grasping at every risky option you see, but rather adjust certain players compared to where you have them ranked in other formats.

For example, DeSean Jackson is currently ranked as my WR54 in standard scoring. He’s almost guaranteed two or three 100+ yard games with a touchdown per season, but he’s impossible to trust week-to-week because he can just as easily finish the day with three catches for 28 yards. In my best ball rankings, I have him as my WR46. Not a huge bump, but we know he’s going to put up top-24 numbers in at least a few games, and in best ball, we automatically get those points.

Draft Early

The next key to balancing your risk is drafting early. In May, so much of the upcoming season is unknown, and the risks you take are going to be very cheap. The closer you draft to the previous season, the more your fellow drafters will be looking backward instead of looking forward.

By the time the season rolls around, we’ve seen how players performed in camp and in the preseason, and we’ve heard hundreds of times from every coach and beat writer about how “Player X” is going to be “more involved this year.” In late August, we’re all working off of the exact same information and the same compilation of expert rankings. Also, remember that sleeper you thought only you were high on in April? Turns out you’re going to have to pay a lot more than you wanted for him in late August.

Chris Godwin is an example of a player whose draft stock has skyrocketed over the past month. According to the Fantasy Football Calculator, Godwin’s ADP on March 13 was 7.03. On April 17, it’s 6.01, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Spring is the time to draft all the players you’re high on (that might be considered “risky”) before everyone else catches on.

Know the Risk of Rookies

Another risk element created by drafting early is drafting rookies. Rookies are risky picks even after all of their landing spots are known, but if you enter a best ball league before the NFL draft, you’re gambling on even more unknown information. However, you will be able to get the rookies you’re high on — because of their talent and the film you watched — for very cheap. This creates an advantage for those who do a lot of rookie research and study film, but there’s still an inherent risk in taking a player who doesn’t have a team.

In 2018, I was enthralled with potential rookie running back, John Kelly, out of Tennessee. I thought he would make an impact if only in the passing game, on almost any team he landed on and I drafted him in a couple dynasty startups that drafted before the NFL Draft. He wound up on the Rams behind Todd Gurley and all that potential value did not come into fruition. The tradeoff, though, is that while you’re drafting players who don’t yet have a team, you only (in most cases) have to spend your last couple of picks on these rookie lottery tickets.

In general, the earlier I draft, the more risks I’m going to take. The “Zero RB” strategy is a risky drafting technique, but it’s one that I tried out in multiple drafts early in 2018. I stocked up on elite receivers and drafted my first tight end and quarterback early, and I was able to string together four running back picks in a row after the sixth round. Most of the running backs I took weren’t being hyped up in April or May, and most of their ADPs began to rise as the season got closer.

The main reason it benefits you to take risks when you draft early is simply because your risks are cheaper. Many fantasy players don’t like drafting early because they want to know as much information as possible, specifically with regard to injuries. “What if my guy gets injured in a preseason game?” Listen, your guy could just as easily get injured on the first snap of the season, and mitigating injury risk is not enough of a reason to miss out on the early drafting “sales.”

After Baker Mayfield’s rookie season, I was all in on him for 2019. He broke Peyton Manning’s rookie passing touchdown record in two and a half fewer games and threw for the sixth-most passing yards by a rookie (also in two and a half fewer games). In early March, he had an early ninth-round ADP and I thought that would be a steal. Then BOOM! Odell Beckham Jr. gets traded to the Browns and a month later Mayfield is going in the fifth round!

The longer you wait, the higher price you pay. Don’t be that guy who sits there waiting to see if his analysis and gut feelings on a player will come true, only for them to actually come true, except now everyone else can see it as well. If you’ve done your research and have strong feelings about certain players you anticipate will break out, the best time to draft them is in April or May.

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Sam Schlesinger is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Sam, check out his archive and follow him @avishai41.

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