Best Ball: An Introduction (2022 Fantasy Football)
Not too long ago, best ball was something a small corner of the Fantasy community took part in. Whilst it has been around for some time, its popularity wasn’t mainstream. When Underdog launched in 2020, coinciding with a global pandemic, it helped scratch the itch that many of us were feeling with more time on our hands. As Underdog exploded in popularity, other sites such as Fanduel, Draftkings, and FFPC widened their offerings in this niche section of fantasy. Then in 2021, Sleeper added best ball as a setting for their popular fantasy football platform. Friendly platforms with easy-to-navigate interfaces were attracting more and more people to best ball, which will only increase going forward.
So what is best ball?
Simply put, best ball is “draft-and-forget” fantasy football. No worrying about waivers on a Tuesday night and then frantically clicking through twelve different leagues scouring the wire for which flavor of the week is available. With best ball, the draft is the be-all and end-all. No waivers, no trades, and most importantly, no lineup decisions.
Each week the platform will automatically set your starting lineup for the highest possible score within the parameters of a correct lineup. Since we’re only focused on the draft, that gives us more time to enter more contests and focus on the best possible draft strategies that will help us win. In redraft or dynasty, fantasy managers can repair a bad draft with roster maneuvers; in best ball, we want to crush every draft we join.
What type of best ball is there?
With best ball exploding in popularity, more and more formats are available to users. Traditional season-long best ball involves competing against the other users in your draft, and depending on the platform, and you can choose to compete in 3, 6, or 12-person drafts. Dynasty best ball is becoming more popular, particularly for those sickos who have reached the limit of leagues that they can manage to set lineups for every week. Instead, dynasty best ball involves all the fun and strategy of trades and roster-building and relies on best ball scoring to save users start/sit headaches.
Tournament best ball is by far the most popular of the best ball sub-strands and is generally what most content is tailored towards. Typically best ball tournaments involve a standard 12-person draft. Late in the season, the top one or two teams progress into the next stages of the tournament, where they compete against other teams that finished highly in their leagues.
In Underdog’s “2021 Best Ball Mania II,” there were 12960 teams in total, with users being allowed a maximum of 150 teams per person and the top two of each twelve-team league advancing. The differences between a standard season-long league and winning these large-scale tournaments are huge, and the strategy can get deeper and deeper, all whilst relying on a little dose of good luck and fortune.
Importantly, it would be best to choose the contest you feel best suits your price range. Draftkings have drafts from $1 (although they’ve yet to launch their 2022 products), Underdog hosts private leagues from as little as $3, and FFPC starts at $5. After these budget options, the sky is really the limit with entry fee options.
Fast Draft or Slow?
Once you have decided on the type of best-ball contest you’d like to enter, your next choice comes down to the type of draft you’d like to enter. Many users will be familiar with slow drafts from dynasty startup leagues or similar, but nothing quite prepares you for how slow a slow draft can move on a best-ball platform. You wait eagerly for the draft room to fill, and then all of a sudden, you’re assigned pick 10, and you might not make a pick until tomorrow. A twenty-round best ball draft can take several weeks to complete, and many users opt to have several on the go at once.
On the other hand, fast drafts are a lot of fun and tend to involve slightly more mistakes. As such, the sharper drafters tend to prefer these. Typically, most platforms allocate 30 seconds per pick, and a 20-round draft will take approximately 30-40 minutes to complete. Your first fast draft of the season will no doubt be a feverous experience as you try to remember all your favorite sleepers, keep an eye on your roster construction and pray that nobody snipes your perfect stack you’re setting up.
As best ball season kicks into gear, I like to take a gentle swim in a few low-budget fast drafts before dipping my toes into the higher budget drafts. Much like a rookie QB, you’ll find that the game slows down a lot after gaining some reps, and you can read the room much easier.
Balancing using ADP against Rankings
Most best ball platforms allow users to create their own rankings or upload ones they trust to their site. You can find my rankings, along with other FantasyPros rankings here.
Whilst drafting based on rankings is my preferred method, there’s an edge to be created by balancing using rankings against ADP (average draft position). Sometimes a site’s ADP can be slow to catch up to a player’s change of circumstances. For instance, if a player is without a team, their ADP might drop near to the undrafted range, depending on the caliber of the player. When that player signs with a new team, it can take some time for ADP to settle where the player is now being consistently drafted. In that period, if our rankings are up to date, then we should always be presented with an opportunity to draft a player before we reach their ADP, and most platforms display both ADP and your ranking in the draft rooms.
Using rankings combined with ADP can also allow us to draft players we’re not high on who fall to a perceived value pick. In 2021 I wasn’t high on Josh Jacobs (RB – LV), but when he fell past where I ranked him and his ADP, the choice to draft him became more tantalizing the further he fell. Taking players who fall below their ADP helps us have more unique rosters for tournament contests. If 80% of the people who drafted Josh Jacobs took him in the fourth round and 20% took him in the fifth, the people who took Jacobs in the fifth have the potential to have a very different team to the consensus whilst pairing Jacobs with another fourth-round talent.
I’ve drafted. What now?
Firstly, you know that you need to tweet that draft board out because if somebody does a best-ball draft and doesn’t tweet the draft board, did it even happen? You can also jump into the FantasyPros Discord for feedback or gentle flexing. Next, you’ve probably already figured it out, but it’s time for another draft. Keep your budget in mind, and consider how many drafts you’ll want to do between now and when the season starts. Some platforms offer tools for tracking your player exposures, or you can download a free copy of my best ball tracking template here.
Remember the bye weeks – Your team may look awesome on paper, but if all your running backs and quarterbacks have the same bye week, you’ll create a big hole to climb out.
Stacking is beneficial but not always essential – Stacking helps us to have correlated lineups where we need fewer things to go right. Still, it provides more of an edge in tournaments than in a typical season-long best ball. If we reach heavily to complete a stack, we’re often better off not having the stack at all.
Select the right balance of players – There’s no sense in choosing seven running backs who all profile as third-down running backs who will have no chance to see an expanded workload. We need to balance clear workloads, upside, and paths to big workloads.
Spread Exposure to early and late-round targets – It can be tough to be highly exposed to players in the first round due to the randomness of our pick assignments, but in the late rounds, we should be mindful of not getting too attached to one player. Even if you’re convinced that Amari Rodgers (WR – GB) is going to have the greatest sophomore season of all time, if you draft him in 80% of your leagues and then he sustains a season-ending injury in training camp, you’re going to be spending a lot of time regretting wasting roster spots in your teams. Players in this range are often dart throw types, and it makes sense to want to take as many shots as possible.
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