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10 Tips for Drafting a Winning Best Ball Roster

Mar 9, 2020

Don’t forget to grab handcuffs like Alexander Mattison late in your Best Ball drafts.

If you love fantasy football, it’s hard to pull yourself away from joining leagues. This time of the NFL offseason gets a little monotonous with free agency having yet to start and the draft not for another two months. But there is a solution for those who are bored but don’t want a long-term commitment.

Best Ball is a great way for the casual fantasy player to have some offseason fun without becoming fully dedicated to a new league. Best Ball leagues are just like regular fantasy leagues, except your involvement in fantasy decisions ends after the draft. 

With Best Ball, you draft normally, and the highest scorers that can fill each empty position in the starting lineup will auto-populate each week. There’s no trading, lineup decisions, or free agency pickups. No longer will you regret benching your highest scoring player in favor of a dud; Best Ball does all of the work for you.

However, since you can’t intervene after draft day, the strategy you take during Best Ball drafts changes a bit. So, let’s take a look at ten tips for winning your Best Ball Draft.

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Reliability in Round 1 

This tip is not unique to Best Ball leagues, but it is especially important. Given that no more transactions can take place after the draft, you need to ensure you grab a surefire prospect in Round 1. 

As a result, you should stay away from high-profile veterans who have switched teams, incoming rookies, or players coming off of injury in the early rounds. I would much rather reach for Julio Jones, who has been a WR1 in seven of his past nine seasons, than Derrick Henry or Amari Cooper, who could be on new teams come September.

This rule is not rocket science, but I feel the need to state it to reinforce the idea. Don’t get cute with your top pick and select a guy who has high risk. Safe and reliable over unknown and risky is a priority in the early rounds.

Do Not Buy the Injury Dip

Every year, there are multiple injured veterans who see their stock decline because of their availability issues. It’s easy to see a big-name fall down the draft board and be enticed to draft them at a discount. However, in Best Ball, it’s unwise to spend valuable capital on any player with an injury history.

Since you cannot add players in free agency or trade for more depth, you are stuck with what you draft. Spending a draft pick on a player with chronic injuries will hurt your overall depth, especially given you can’t replace them. You’ll be at a disadvantage versus your league-mates when you lose a valuable roster spot.

We saw last year how many people invested in A.J. Green in the middle rounds despite his health concerns; that pick ended up being a waste as he never played a down in 2019. Personally, I will opt out of drafting players with a significant injury history like James Conner, Evan Engram, and Will Fuller. Even at a discount, it’s a gamble to risk a roster spot on a player who has historically proven unreliable. 

Handcuffs, Handcuffs, Handcuffs!

The flip side to avoiding injured players is drafting handcuffs in the later rounds. Typically, in redraft, backup running backs will go undrafted because no one expects a starter to get injured early in the season, and fantasy managers will wait until the playoffs to insure their top assets.

However, in Best Ball, the lack of a waiver wire means you need to prioritize picking up handcuffs in the draft. Whether it’s for the players you drafted or high-value assets taken by your opponents, handcuffs can immediately become league-winners if the workhorse starter goes down.

This year, I am placing a premium on Alexander Mattison, Ryquell Armstead, and Tony Pollard. All three of these running backs are talented enough to put up RB1 performances in the event their respective starters go down, as each team relies on a workhorse running back in both the run and pass game. Keep an eye on backfields in flux like Tennessee and Baltimore, as the reserves on those teams could be high upside handcuffs.

Quarterback Depth is a Must

Typically, in redraft leagues, I would advise only drafting one quarterback. The amount of depth on the wire makes the position extremely streamable, as 40 quarterbacks had at least one top-twelve finish in 2019. Since you can easily pick up a starting quarterback on the wire, holding more than one quarterback is a waste of bench space.

However, in Best Ball, there are no streaming or free agency pickups. If your quarterback goes down, you need to utilize a replacement on your roster — and hope he’s viable. In 2019, only 14 starting quarterbacks played a full 16 games, meaning you’ll need to have sufficient depth in the event your starter goes down.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should draft quarterbacks any higher than normal. They are still an undervalued position, as many quarterbacks will provide serviceable weeks, so they’ll be available later on. You’ll want to be cautious and grab two back-to-back once you start to notice a run. I would say three quarterbacks is a solid number to grab in Best Ball, and if you pick up a few passers who have durability concerns like Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton, it may be wise to add a fourth as a contingency.

Free Agency and NFL Draft Risk Aversion

With many Best Ball drafts taking place before free agency and the NFL Draft, you will want to build in some risk aversion into your draft strategy for teams that will be largely affected by roster moves. Investing heavy capital this early into a player who’s role can be usurped by an incoming free agent or rookie can lose you a league before it has even begun.

This tip is meant for players joining new teams in free agency as well as those affected by incoming free agents. For example, you’ll want to think twice about drafting Damien Williams at his current ADP, as the Chiefs have little invested in him and are a prime candidate to draft a rookie runner. Also, you’ll want to hold off on drafting Julian Edelman in higher rounds, since his value will plummet if Tom Brady leaves in free agency.

While free agency and the draft will affect all teams, there are some prospects more secure in their role than others. You’ll want to spend a premium on players who you know will maintain their current role by September and avoid risky players who may take a backseat to incoming free agents. 

Add Big-Play, “Boom/Bust” Players in Later Rounds

Best Ball is all about the highest scorers on your team being inserted into your lineup. While these “boom-or-bust” players can hurt you in redraft, because you’re gambling on which week they will be viable, they will provide only upside in Best Ball.

While I strive for security at the top of the draft, the middle-to-late rounds provide an opportunity to grab high impact players that can be the highest scorers any given week. Players like Mecole Hardman, Marquise Brown, and DeSean Jackson are players who will often “bust” more times than they “boom,” but their “boom” performances will provide a significant advantage. They are risk-free options, as they’ll only be placed in your lineup if they perform well.

While I don’t recommend solely drafting high-risk, high-reward players, adding several to your roster can be a smart tactic to create a risk-free opportunity with huge return potential. Drafting four or five of these types of players in the middle-to-late rounds will be a savvy move in leagues that won’t penalize you for bad performances.

Avoid Players Without Upside

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you must avoid players who are consistent but provide minimal potential for “boom” weeks. While it is wise to keep players on your roster who will give you a baseline of 10-12 points per week in redraft, these players will be virtually useless in Best Ball, as they’ll likely never be inserted into your lineup.

Players like this include James White and John Brown; while they were remarkably consistent during the year, they never put up multiple top-scoring performances. White had 11 games in which he scored between 9.5 and 16.5 PPR points, but he only managed one performance over 16.5 points. Brown was a similar case, as he had 11 games in which he scored between 9.5 and 17 PPR points, but he had only three contests over that 17-point threshold.

If you drafted your team properly, then White and Brown would not appear in your starting lineup very often. While it is comforting to know that certain players will provide consistent points on any given week, that trait isn’t a valuable commodity in Best Ball. Safe, low upside players will cost you more draft capital than they will return in playable weeks.

Avoid High-Priced Rookies

While it is exciting to project how incoming rookies will perform next season, very few selected outside of Round 1 in the NFL Draft will develop a featured role early in the season. The media craze surrounding the 2020 class may make them seem like superstars, but few rookies will actually see sustained success over the course of the year.

We can look toward last season as an example. In the first eight weeks of the 2019 season, there were only seven rookie RB1 performances and five rookie WR1 performances. In the last eight weeks, those numbers jumped to 10 and 15, respectively. It takes time for rookies to adjust, and spending heavy draft capital on a player who won’t be viable until the end of the season will be more of a detriment than a benefit to your team.

While many love the 2020 draft class, they won’t provide early returns in your Best Ball leagues. I am not saying to avoid them entirely, as Miles Sanders and Deebo Samuel won many people the Championship this past season. However, you should avoid paying a premium for these rookies, as they won’t be worth their projected ADP. 

Scout the Schedule 

Typically, I don’t advise looking at a team’s schedule and drawing conclusions about their opponents. The strength of all teams is subject to change with free agency, the draft, and overall roster turmoil, predicting that a team will be just as good or bad as they were the prior year is foolish.

However, given the inability to stream away from tough matchups, I do advise that you avoid selecting multiple players from a team that faces a lot of stiff competition. For example, I feel compelled to avoid drafting multiple Cleveland Browns this coming season, given they face a top-10 2019 defense (in yards allowed) seven times in 2020. While Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, and Kareem Hunt all seem like enticing options, it’s doubtful that they will all have start-worthy weeks given their brutal schedule.

Again, don’t read too much into opposing matchups, as not all of those stellar defenses they face next year will repeat as top-10 units. However, it is smart to be precautious and not put all of your eggs in one basket when you know the competition seems tough from the outset.

Pay Attention to the Roster Size and Starting Lineup

Since the roster sizes of Best Ball teams vary, it’s essential to recognize the constitution of your league. You will want to ensure you have the most depth at the positions you need to play more, so be cognizant of how many running backs and wide receivers you draft in the early rounds.

For example, if your Best Ball roster size is 20 spots, and you need to start three wide receivers in comparison to only two running backs and one “FLEX,” then it would be wise to have a sizable ratio of wide receivers to running backs. While this is mostly true in redraft leagues, it becomes more important in Best Ball given you can’t acquire reinforcements at one position if necessary.

Don’t let this affect your draft strategy or the value you find down the board. If your first three draft picks are running backs because the board fell that way, that’s okay. Just keep a note to yourself to grab extra wide receivers with your last few picks. You don’t want to have great players sitting on your bench because you overdrafted one position. 

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Dan Ambrosino is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Dan, check out his archive and follow him @AmbrosinoNFL.

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