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Drafting Best Ball Teams Before and After the NFL Draft (Fantasy Football)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Jun 16, 2020

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Generally speaking, most traditional season-long fantasy drafts are held late in the summer. In Best Ball formats, though, drafts begin early into the new calendar year and continue up until the beginning of the NFL season. They’re a different beast.

When you draft Best Ball teams should influence your strategy. The earlier you draft, the more volatility and uncertainty come into play. Personally, I refrain from partaking in Best Ball drafts before NFL free agency begins. However, after the first wave of notable free agents find landing spots, it’s game on.

The next notable item on the NFL yearly calendar that impacts players’ fantasy value is the NFL Draft. Where rookies land has a sizable impact on multiple players, namely the prospects drafted as well as the incumbent starter at the prospect’s position. With this uncertainty in mind, gamers drafting at that time of year embrace a certain degree of volatility. Further, roster construction should be different before and after the NFL Draft.

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Bridge Quarterbacks

Bridge quarterbacks are a specific group of players whose value changes dramatically based on NFL Draft happenings. They make for a risky dice roll before the draft, and likely a poor Best Ball investment after if their team drafts a quarterback in the first round. Using the most recent five-year sample of NFL Drafts (2015-2019), 16 quarterbacks have been selected in the first round. In short, they’re rarely drafted to sit and watch.

The following table breaks down the average number of games played and starts by quarterbacks drafted in the first round in each of those draft classes, as well as the average for the whole group.

Year (Total QBs) Average Games Played Average Starts
2019 (3) 12.67 11.67
2018 (5) 13.8 11.4
2017 (3) 6.67 6.33
2016 (3) 8.67 8.33
2015 (2) 14 14
2015-2019 (16) 11.31 10.25

 
Lamar Jackson’s gadget usage while Joe Flacco was still the Ravens’ starting quarterback is largely the reason for the gap in average games played and average starts in 2018. Patrick Mahomes was the rare sit-and-learn option who started his only game played during his 2017 rookie season. Paxton Lynch is the only other quarterback selected in the first round in the last five years who played fewer than five games. Circling back to the 2018 group, the average games played and average starts would have almost certainly been higher if not for both Josh Allen and Sam Darnold missing some time due to injuries during their rookie campaigns.

Summing up bridge quarterbacks, they’re a risky investment prior to the NFL Draft if their team is rumored to select a quarterback in the first round, and a downright easy fade after the NFL Draft if their team does, in fact, pick a replacement.

Rookies

The uncertainty of where blue-chip prospects and other intriguing members of the draft class will land prior to the NFL Draft awards gamers the opportunity to embrace volatility. It’s no secret mock drafts are an imperfect science. Nevertheless, prospects who are consistently mocked in the first round will garner love from the Best Ball drafting community.

If those players are drafted into unfavorable situations (i.e. a bad offense or one that features an incumbent starter who could prevent them from getting a big workload in their rookie season), their average draft position (ADP) is likely to fall. Unless the situation is truly awful, it’s also possible their ADP won’t move much.

On the flip side, however, players who are drafted earlier than projected — especially those drafted into dreamy situations — will see their ADPs skyrocket. Nabbing a few of these fortunate rookies is a boon for Best Ball rosters. Below, I’ll discuss what that means for roster construction differences before and after the NFL Draft.

As for handling rookies after they’ve found NFL homes, they can still be valuable members of Best Ball rosters. Having said that, there’s a greater degree of clarity as to potential roles they’ll hold in their respective offenses. This clarity saps the potential of getting a massive steal like you could land prior to the NFL Draft.

Roster Construction

One way to maximize your odds of drafting rookies who land in dreamy situations is by casting a wide net. This isn’t to say you should draft a squad of only rookies, but being familiar with who evaluators grade as the top prospects can help you identify some of the best rookies to select. From there, you can draft a variety of players from that narrowed down rookie list. Further, if numerous prospect evaluators grade a rookie favorably and their ADP is notably later than similarly graded peers at their position, they make for especially desirable selections.

Adding to the idea of casting a wide net, you can also do so by cutting back on the number of quarterbacks, tight ends, and defenses you select in order to draft more running backs and receivers — namely rookie running backs and receivers. Best Ball rosters feature only one starting quarterback, tight end, and defense while having two starters at running back, three at receiver, and a flex that can be a running back, wideout, or tight end.

On 20-man rosters, if you draft two quarterbacks, two tight ends, and two defenses, you can select a total of 14 running backs and receivers combined. There are circumstances that can make drafting more than two quarterbacks or two tight ends an optimal decision en lieu of drafting just two of each and two defenses. For instance, if an early run on quarterbacks or tight ends makes them poor values and you end up waiting on those positions, taking three of either position can help offset missing on the top options. I don’t advocate selecting three defenses at the expense of an extra rookie running back or receiver prior to the NFL Draft, though.

Before the NFL Draft, I’m more inclined to take a pair of top-15 options at both quarterback and tight end in order to adequately cover those spots and select 14 combined running backs and wide receivers — liberally sprinkling in rookies at both positions. Things change a bit after the NFL Draft. With more projectable roles for the rookies and their teams no longer a mystery, there’s no longer a need to cast a wide net hoping to land a rookie drafted into a dream situation.

Now, instead of worrying about casting a wide net for rookies and following a self-enforced rule of doubling up on top-15 quarterbacks or tight ends, sometimes I’ll wait at quarterback and/or tight end and triple up on riskier mid-round and late-round options while investing heavily in running backs and receivers early. Additionally, I’m not entirely opposed to selecting three defenses after the NFL Draft. When doing that, though, waiting until the last few rounds to select all three is the ideal move since you’re banking on quantity making up for quality.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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