Most fantasy football players are familiar with the importance of late-round draft picks, whether that’s Zay Jones or Geno Smith in 2022 or Cordarelle Patterson in 2021, James Robinson in 2020, or any of the long line of difference-makers many drafters blindly ignored. There are no waivers in best ball, and if you’re drafting in the spring, you have to be mindful of the difference these late-round players could make to your rosters.
- Introduction to Best Ball Leagues
- Erickson’s Best Ball Positional Primers
- Best Ball Roster Construction Strategy
Best Ball Strategy: Spreading Out Exposure in Late Picks
The players in the late rounds also have the most potential to significantly improve their ADP between now and the start of the season. If Christian McCaffrey were to suffer a season-ending injury at OTA’s, it would result in Elijah Mithchell’s ADP jumping from round 10 to at least round three. But, the knock-on effect would likely see Jordan Mason or Tyrion Davis-Price see a significant rise in their ADP also. After J.K Dobbins and Gus Edwards got injured in 2021’s off-season, Ty’Son Williams jumped to the fifth round at one point, despite a lack of evidence that he could handle being a lead back. This quickly turned out to be a poor choice by drafters.
If you’re drafting more than a handful of teams, individual player exposure becomes a vital metric to track, particularly when entering a large field tournament with thousands of other teams. Even-weight is 8.3 percent. We get this by dividing 100 percent by the number of teams in our draft, 12. As fantasy managers, it’s unusual for us not to take strong stances on players. While we want to take stands for the right reasons, it’s important not to be too heavy on one player unless you’re comfortable taking a high-risk approach to your best ball strategies. This approach has worked for some best ball winners in the past, but many other high-volume best ball players prefer a more spread and balanced portfolio.
Early vs. Late Advance Rates
In the early rounds, it’s very easy to stay roughly around the market on players. For example, in 2022, if you were overweight on Jonathan Taylor, it meant you had been gifted a surprising amount of the 1.01 with your randomly assigned draft picks, or you happened to draft in many rooms with Jonathan Taylor faders. Spreading exposure here makes sense, and as long as the players stay healthy, it’s unlikely that any overly separate themselves from others anyway. In 2022 with several players missing games, the first round was a largely easy round to deal with, and seven of the twelve players had a positive advance rate.
In the late rounds, it can become relatively easy to become overweight on players, and the importance of tracking this matters. Most fantasy managers find their way to having a larger than-average amount of their own team’s players in this range. It’s a widely accepted part of fantasy drafts that reaching on players matters far less in later rounds than in those early rounds. Hence, people have a habit of getting their guys when the players immediately facing them are not appealing. These stances have the potential to pay off largely, but the chances of a player in the late rounds having a sustained breakout year are also somewhat slim. Zay Jones was fantastic in spells for 2022 best ball, but if you took him with every pick in the 16th round, you missed out on Jared Goff, who had a surprisingly good season, outperforming many of the other late-round quarterbacks.
Looking back to the 2022 ADP, 141 players consistently had an ADP of 150 or higher on Underdog, equivalent to a mid-twelfth-round pick onwards. Of course, many players will find their way into and out of this range between April and September, but these 141 provide us with the necessary perspective.
Twelve quarterbacks were drafted in this range, and four finished inside the top 24 at the position. Still, only three averaged above 15 points per game, but eight of them had eight or more usable weeks, where they finished inside the top 24 at the position.
Thirty-six running backs were drafted in this range, with four finishing as an RB3 or better, but only one of those made it into the top 24. 92% percent of those running backs failed to average 10 PPR points per game, and only ten put up more than five top 36 weeks.
Sixty receivers were a part of this sample, and only one (Zay Jones) was able to play their way into the top 36 and finish as a WR3. Five receivers averaged over 10 PPR points per game, and a total of nine had at least five usable weeks as a top 36 option, with Donovan Peoples-Jones managing 10 such finishes.
Late-round tight end was relatively productive if you hit on the right mix of players, with 27 of the 33 players putting up at least one top-12 performance and 19 having at least five top-24 performances. Three tight ends from this range finished in the top 12, Evan Engram (8th), David Njoku (10th) and Taysom Hill (12th). Only Evan Engram averaged 10 or more PPR points though.
These stats help to tell part of the story, we want usable weeks from our players in best ball and preferably lots of them. This table shows us how many weeks a quarterback or tight end averaged a finish inside the top 24 at the position and how many weeks a running back or wide receiver averaged a finish inside the top 36. I increased the depth for receiver and running backs due to the depth at the position and increased the numbers of these players per NFL roster compared to a quarterback or tight end.
|Amount Drafted in range||Avg. Games Played||Usable Weeks||Range of usable weeks|
|Late Round QB||12||11.58||8.3||16-3|
|Late Round WR||60||10.7||1.9||10-0|
|Late Round RB||36||10.6||3.1||11-0|
|Late Round TE||33||13.2||5.3||13-0|
While many within the fantasy community will point to the depth at wide receiver in the late rounds, this table shows how wide a range the outcomes are for those wide receivers. We still need to take shots in this area rather than fade it entirely, but we have to be realistic about these players and what they will contribute to our rosters. This table looks at the hit rate of players for finishing as a QB2, RB3, WR3, or TE2 in total season points.
|Amount Drafted in range||Hit Rate|
|Late Round QB||12||33%|
|Late Round WR||60||1.60%|
|Late Round RB||36||8.30%|
|Late Round TE||33||27%|
Advance rate, much like useable weeks, can help see things from a purely best ball perspective. In Best Ball Mania III, two teams per draft advanced, which means a player’s breakeven advance rate is 16.67 percent. The chart below shows how many players per round had a healthy advance rate. Only round 15 offered a 50% chance of a good advance rate.
From looking at these numbers, it becomes clear how difficult it is to extract value from round 12 onward picks. While several players will outplay their position each year, many will flounder on your best ball bench spots, hardly ever cracking the starting lineup. Taking an overview of all this data gives us a convincing argument for why we should spread exposure later in drafts. Very few players are able to consistently put up usable weeks, and hitting on the right combination to keep your rosters alive takes a balance of knowledge, skill, and a dose of luck.
The most sensible approach is to spread your exposure depending on the rounds you’re in. The earlier the pick, the more potential it has to ruin a team if you’re hit by injuries, suspension, or poor performances. Depending on the number of drafts you do, these numbers can look quite different, but if you’re doing over 100 drafts, I like to stick roughly to this approach.
- Round 1-3 – 15% max
- Round 4-6 – 20% max
- Round 7-10 – 25% max
- Round 11-14 – 30% max
- Round 15-20 – 35% max
When players get to these levels, it doesn’t always mean it’s time to stop drafting them, but these levels act as a trigger for me to look at that player’s situation again. Am I comfortable taking an aggressive stand on them? Have I been over-drafting them? If another player was added to that skill group, how badly could that affect this player’s performance? Even when we’re entirely positive that James Proche is cheap in the 20th round and that this is finally his year, there are so many unknowns at this point of the draft. So, taking as many shots as possible at different players will be a more sensible choice. It can become easy to miss out on players like Zay Jones and Jamaal Williams by being too focused on certain other late fliers, but we can avoid this by aiming to spread your exposure a little thinner.
As your rosters with those players progress, it becomes easy to regret not taking slightly more of them at such a low price. We can let our roster dictate late-round picks and choose players who will stack well with your quarterbacks. If you are in on Trevor Lawrence, it makes sense to draft a very cheap Zay Jones, or if you’re certain Amon-Ra St. Brown smashes, then Jared Goff as your QB3 feels fine. It’s worth periodically examining who you have very little exposure to, assessing the situation, and deciding whether or not to pursue those players you’re underexposed to more aggressively in the future.
I highly recommend tracking your exposure throughout the off-season, and you can download a copy of my google sheets template for free.