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Best Ball Draft Strategy: Late Pick Exposure Guide (2024 Fantasy Football)

Best Ball Draft Strategy: Late Pick Exposure Guide (2024 Fantasy Football)

2023 was the poster child for spreading exposure in late-round draft picks with Kyren Williams, Jordan Love, Puka Nacua, Brock Purdy, Trey McBride, CJ Stroud and Jerome Ford, among others, turning into league-winning players. Back in 2022, names such as Zay Jones or Geno Smith did the same, and in 2021, Cordarrelle Patterson was fantasy dynamite, a year after James Robinson was a league-winner in 2020.

In best ball, where we have no chances to make changes to our rosters and drafts happening as early as January, spreading out exposure to these late-round dart throws can pay off handsomely.

Best Ball Strategy: Spreading Out Exposure in Late Picks

While some players in the later rounds will straight-up outperform their average draft position (ADP), it’s also an area of the draft where we see the most volatility. Gerald Everett is currently being drafted at 220.8 in Underdog’s early best ball offerings, but if he were to sign with the Bengals, for instance, he could rocket up by 80-100 spots. 

Bryce Young is being drafted at 197.8. If the Panthers were to sign Mike Evans and trade for Tee Higgins, how far could he jump? Elijah Mitchell is being drafted at 167.5; if Christian McCaffrey were to suffer an unfortunate off-season injury, we could see Mitchell jump as high as the first five rounds, and his backups go from being undrafted to late-round dart throws.

In 2021, After J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards got injured in the 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, but further evidence that it’s better to be early than late on players who could rise in value.

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%. We get this by dividing 100% 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. How much risk tolerance you have is entirely up to you.

Early vs. Late Advance Rates

The early rounds aren’t necessarily a place where we need to make aggressive stances, as year-to-year, we see fluctuations in performances from the top-tier talent. Last year, it was very difficult to have above 8.3% of Justin Jefferson, with him being the consensus 1.01. While we might have wanted a lot of exposure to him, his injury showed how costly the early picks can be with his advance rate being 5.77% (compared to the base rate of 16.7%), by far the worst of the first round.

Spreading exposure here makes sense, and as long as the players stay healthy, it’s not often that any overly separate themselves from others anyway. Christian McCaffrey’s 36.2% advance rate was impressive but not all that common for a first-round player.

In the late rounds, it can become relatively easy to become overweight on players, and the importance of tracking this matters. 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, but by spreading the net further, we increase our chances of hitting on the right combinations to win big.

Looking back to the 2023 ADP, 92 players consistently had an ADP of between 150 and 220 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 92 provide us with some perspective.

Quarterback

Thirteen quarterbacks were drafted in this range, and three finished inside the top 10 at the position, with a further three finishing as top 15 players. Whereas in 2022, only three in this range scored above 15 points per game, seven did in 2023. Six of the 13 had 12 or more usable weeks, where they finished inside the top 24 at the position, and four more had at least six usable weeks.

Running Back

Twenty-seven running backs were drafted in this range, with Kyren Williams the standout, finishing as RB2 overall. In 2022, four running backs in this range finished as an RB3 (top-36) or better, but in 2023, that number jumped slightly to five. In this range, 78% of the running backs averaged less than 10 PPR points per game, but 29% of these players had nine or more usable weeks as a top 36 running back. Only seven backs failed to have a single top-36 week.

2024 Dynasty Fantasy Football Guide

Wide Receiver

29 WRs were part of this sample, with four finishing inside the top 30 at the position, a big jump from 2022 when only Zay Jones accomplished the same feat. That year, five receivers averaged over 10 PPR points, and nine had at least five usable weeks as a top 36 option; in 2023, seven receivers averaged over 10 points, and the same number had at least five usable weeks.

Tight End

Late-round tight end was relatively productive for the second year running, with Evan Engram (8th), David Njoku (10th) and Taysom Hill (12th) all finishing inside the top twelve in 2022 before Cole Kmet (8th), Trey McBride (9th) and Jake Ferguson (11th) repeated that in 2023. Outside of those three, no tight end out of the 21 in the sample had more than five top-twelve weekly finishes, but six had 10 or more top-24 performances.

These stats help to tell part of the story. We want usable weeks from our players in best ball, 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 13 13.1 9.0 16-6
Late Round WR 29 13.7 3.0 12-0
Late Round RB 27 11.7 5.0 13-0
Late Round TE 21 13.3 6.0 12-0

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 2023

Hit Rate

Late Round QB 13 53%
Late Round WR 29 10%
Late Round RB 27 18%
Late Round TE 21 14%

When we see the numbers laid out like this, it becomes obvious how tricky it can be to hit on players in this range. While each year there will be players like Brock Purdy, Jerome Ford or Zack Moss, occasionally even the likes of Kyren Williams and Puka Nacua, there will also be the likes of Clyde-Edwards Helaire, Jalin Hyatt and Chase Claypool, who sit as deadweights on your bench for much of the season. Taking a methodical approach to this area of the draft might lead to some busts, but it can also help us land on the dynamite selections, too.

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 Chase Claypool 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 Kyren Williams, Puka Nacua and CJ Stroud 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 were in on CJ Stroud, it made sense to draft a very cheap Tank Dell, or if you’re certain Chris Olave smashes, then Derek Carr 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.

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