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An Early Look at Best Ball Leagues (2021 Fantasy Football)

Feb 9, 2021

Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa could be a sneaky, late-round option for fantasy players looking for an under-the-radar stacking option in early best ball drafts.

The Super Bowl is over, and the 2020 season is officially behind us. If you’re like me (since you’re reading a fantasy football article less than a week after the Super Bowl, you probably are), you’re already looking forward to the 2021 fantasy season. While the new season feels like an eternity away right now, you can start drafting for the 2021 season today in best ball leagues. Over the past several offseasons, I’ve been participating in more and more best ball drafts, and I can’t recommend them enough. They’re the best way I’ve found to stay plugged in all offseason. 

If you’re new to the format, let me offer a quick overview. (If you’re already familiar with it, you might want to skip this paragraph) Best ball leagues are 100 percent focused on the draft. After your roster is set, there’s no team management whatsoever. No start-sit dilemmas. No waiver wire adds. No trades. No agonizing decisions at all. Rosters are generally larger to account for the inevitable uncertainties built into the hands-off approach. Each week the optimal starters from your roster count towards your weekly score. Those scores are tabulated, and at the end of the year, the team with the most points wins. In this format, it’s advantageous to utilize some specific strategies.

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Stacking and Mega-Stacking

You’re probably already familiar with the concept of stacking, the strategy of starting a quarterback and pass-catcher on the same team to maximize fantasy points in your lineup. The advantages are clear; if a wide receiver or tight end has a great fantasy game, so will the quarterback throwing him the ball. However, there’s an inherent risk in season-long formats because if the stack busts, so does your fantasy team. This risk is mitigated in best ball because you have the safety net of your deep roster. If the stack misses, you likely have players on the roster that can make up at least some of the slack.

For this reason, it makes sense to target mega-stacks, rostering a quarterback and two or more other pieces of the same offense. The Packers were one of the best teams to mega-stack in 2020. Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams were obvious weekly starters in any format, but if your best ball roster also included Marques Valdez-Scantling, Allen Lazard, and/or Robert Tonyan, you put up some massive weekly best ball scores. The same can be said for the Bills with Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, John Brown, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, and Dawson Knox.   

Targeting the Unknowns

Part of the advantage of competing in best ball drafts this early in the offseason is targeting players whose 2021 destination is still unknown. Between free agency, the NFL draft, and what looks to be the most active quarterback carousel in recent memory, there are more players than ever that fit the description. Drawing examples from 2020 again, last year at this time, we didn’t know that Tom Brady would join Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay. We also didn’t know where Jonathan Taylor, Justin Jefferson, or any of the rookies would land. The upcoming rookie class is already available in best ball drafts, and you can get them at a major discount right now. (more on that in a subsequent article)  

Offseason Checkpoints

The beauty of best ball is that you can draft as often as you’re comfortable. The “set it and forget it” approach means you never have to worry about getting overwhelmed with too many teams to manage during the season. I typically do one or two drafts every week of the offseason but recommend completing at least one draft at each of the following major checkpoints along the NFL offseason journey. Doing so will really help you track your risers, fallers, targets, and fades throughout the offseason.

Rookie Scouting

Usually, the rookie scouting process peaks over a specific weekend at the NFL combine. Of course, things are a little different this year. There will be no mass gathering of prospects in Indianapolis this year. Instead, we’ll have to rely on college pro days throughout March and April. Paying attention to these will give you an idea of some incoming rookies to target in best ball drafts ahead of the actual NFL draft.

Free Agency

The 2021 free-agent class is full of fantasy studs, including the likes of Jameis Winston, Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, and Aaron Jones, among others. They can officially sign with new teams on March 17, but we’re sure to hear about ‘unofficial agreements” beforehand. These rumors and moves can be leveraged in best ball drafts immediately.

NFL Draft

This one should speak for itself. The NFL Draft is the highlight of the NFL offseason. This year it will take place from April 29 to May 1, and, as usual, it will redefine the landscape of fantasy drafts.

OTAs, Camps, and Preseason

As spring turns to summer, we stop focusing on where players will land and start trying to figure out how new faces will work in new places. The news cycle ramps up, and as we head towards the regular season, it’s up to us to decipher what is, and isn’t, significant news that should impact the way we navigate drafts.

As we progress through these offseason checkpoints, I’ll be putting out a series of articles highlighting new risers, fallers, targets, and fades from a best ball point of view. Until then, here are a few of my very early players to target at each position in best ball drafts for 2021.

Tua Tagovailoa (QB – MIA)
This spot was originally reserved for Jalen Hurts, but technically, as of this writing, Carson Wentz is still a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. By the time you read this, Wentz may be traded out of Philadelphia, and Hurts’ ADP will be skyrocketing. So let’s look at Tua. The Dolphins have the draft capital and salary cap room to load up the offense around the second-year quarterback. He should also benefit from a fully healthy offseason. You can draft a discount mega-stack of Tua, DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, and/or Mike Gesicki well after some more reliable options at each position. Maybe even take a shot at a rookie wideout that you think could land with the Dolphins. Your best ball roster will be at a huge advantage if Tua can take a leap forward in his sophomore season.  

AJ Dillon (RB – GB)
We saw flashes of Dillon in 2021, specifically in Week 16, when he rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. There’s a significant chance that Aaron Jones, and maybe even Jamaal Williams, move on to new teams in 2021. If that happens, Dillon would be drafted significantly higher than his current ECR of RB26

Henry Ruggs III (WR – LV)
Ruggs, the first receiver off the NFL draft board in 2020, had an extremely disappointing rookie season. He has an incredibly wide range of outcomes headed into 2021, but that range includes a huge breakout. There’s even an outside chance the Deshaun Watson ends up in Vegas, so drafting Ruggs in the late rounds now could pay off in spades.

Mike Gesicki (TE – MIA)
This plays directly off my Tagovailoa recommendation above. If Tua breaks out, he’s bringing Gesicki along for the ride. Gesicki has seen his receptions, receiving yards, yards/reception, and receiving touchdowns increase in each of his three NFL seasons. There’s a legitimate chance that he’s a top-five tight end in 2021, and you should be able to get him much later than that in the early offseason of 2021 best ball drafts.

Make sure to keep up to date by following along with FantasyPros Best Ball rankings all season long. 

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If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – which allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.

Aaron Larson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Aaron, check out his archive and follow him @aalarson.

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