Absorbing Risk in Best Ball Leagues (Fantasy Football)
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Bruce Arians, and many others, live by the coaching philosophy that “you got to risk it to get the biscuit.” Every fantasy football player also has their own philosophy on managing risk in their draft strategy. But risk is a fickle beast to deal with in fantasy football, especially when it comes to Best Ball leagues.
Best Ball is unique in that the team you draft is the team you’re stuck with for the entire year. There are no waivers and no trades, so what is the proper amount and type of risk to take on? Risk must be considered at every pick, and this guide will walk through the key tenets as it relates to Best Ball leagues.
Types of Risk
Before we start thinking about how much risk you should add to your team, it’s important to understand the different types of risk. I have identified two major types of risk that Best Ball drafters need to be aware of.
The first, and most prevalent, type of risk in fantasy football is injury. Each year, dozens of players miss time due to injury, which often creates chaos in the fantasy football landscape. The best ability is availability, and that’s emphasized even more in fantasy football. One or two major injuries can totally derail your season.
There are also risks that need to be considered in overall roster construction and positional depth. Again, because there’s no flexibility throughout the regular season to change your roster, you must carefully evaluate which positions to load up on and where to sacrifice depth. Sometimes league settings will dictate which positions to emphasize, but other times it’s not as clear.
As we’ve seen, whether it’s bad luck or poor conditioning, there are players that tend to get injured more than others. While I’m less likely to slap someone with an “injury-prone” label, it’s clear that some players are more likely than others to suffer an injury.
Running backs have a much higher probability of getting injured than any of the other primary positions. So what does this mean? Should you take more running backs than any other position, knowing that a couple of them are likely to miss some time? Not necessarily.
Though running backs have a tougher time staying healthy, several elite players at the position have often shown great durability, even under a large workload. If you’re able to secure a running back that you’re confident can stay healthy, then it might be worth taking more fliers on high-upside wide receivers, since those running backs will cost early-round draft picks.
One myth regarding mobile quarterbacks is that they are more likely to suffer an injury, but studies have shown that’s not the case. Per Sports Info Solutions, the risk of a quarterback getting injured on a designed run is only one in every 236 plays. Furthermore, a quarterback that scrambles is almost equally as likely to get injured as one that is sacked. A scrambler gets injured once every 91.7 plays while a quarterback getting sacked gets injured once every 92.5 plays.
So, if you’re worried about a quarterback not surviving the entire year because he runs the ball, shove that bias to the side and remember that quarterback rushing is a cheat code in fantasy football.
Finally, players returning from preseason injuries can be even less predictable. Coaches may say a player is far ahead of schedule, but until he is cleared for contact there’s no real way of knowing how well he’s healing. To that end, there’s a clear difference between drafting someone who has been injured in the past versus someone who is actively recovering from an injury.
When drafting in August, I’d avoid buying the “injury dip” that you’ll see in a player’s ADP. Even though he could return sooner than expected, there’s an even greater chance he takes longer to heal and potentially misses the entire season if he suffers a major setback.
With the larger rosters that Best Ball leagues present, an opportunity exists to use roster construction and positional depth in your favor. The largest factor in determining how to construct your roster, though, depends on the time of year that you’re drafting. Your draft strategy in late-March will be drastically different than your draft strategy in early-August.
One specific example of this is your strategy in drafting quarterbacks. Picking at least two quarterbacks is a must in Best Ball, but should you add a third to your squad? If you’re closer to the start of the season, you have a better shot at getting away with drafting only two. However, if you like to participate in Best Ball drafts early, then the chances of your main quarterback suffering an injury in the offseason rise dramatically, so it may behoove you to take a third gunslinger.
The same logic applies to tight ends, so when it comes to adding a third tight end or a third quarterback to your team, each has its reasons. Scoring zero points from your quarterback will have a much bigger impact than receiving no points from your tight end. On the flip side, tight ends offer the ability to fill in for your flex spot throughout the season, while quarterbacks can only occupy the quarterback position.
However, the majority of your roster will be filled with running backs and wide receivers. Your confidence in scouting these players should also be taken into account. In redraft, one type of risk to consider might be whether a player is a boom-or-bust scorer or a consistent contributor at these positions. But that’s not as prevalent in Best Ball since you don’t need to decide who goes into your starting lineup — the system takes care of that for you! In fact, you might even want to target players with more boom potential than the consistent mid-range scorers.
Another part of positional depth and roster construction that should be factored in is bye weeks. Without the ability to manipulate rosters throughout the season, bye weeks present a complex puzzle for Best Ball players. For some strategies on how to navigate them, check out our guide on minimizing the impact of bye weeks in Best Ball drafts.
How Much Risk to Absorb?
Now that you fully understand where risk comes from in fantasy football Best Ball drafts, we can start to evaluate how much risk is worth loading onto your team. There’s no set-in-stone answer on how much risk is too much. As I mentioned, you might have your own philosophy. That said, there are a couple of key factors to keep in mind when evaluating your risk tolerance.
The first is the draft round. The first several rounds should be focused on building a safe, consistent foundation that will give your team a solid floor each and every week. There’s an age-old saying, “You can’t win your draft in the first round, but you can lose it in the first round.” Taking the wrong player with such a high value can ruin your season before it even starts. Risk is much easier to take on later in the draft because those players are much more replaceable.
The second factor is the stakes involved with your league. If it’s a fun league with friends that doesn’t have a big buy-in, then you can shoot for the fences with minimal downside. However, if you’re playing in a high-stakes tournament with knowledgeable competitors, you may want to err on the safer side and save your hot takes for another draft.
In closing, the level of risk you take in a Best Ball draft will be determined by multiple factors. If you want to practice different strategies with varying levels of risk involved, try doing some mock drafts using FantasyPros’ Mock Draft Simulator. This will help you gauge how much risk you’re comfortable with and which players you consider risky.