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Best Ball Strategy: How to Approach the Middle Rounds (2024 Fantasy Football)

Best Ball Strategy: How to Approach the Middle Rounds (2024 Fantasy Football)

In the mid-rounds of best ball drafts, entering with a strategic and adaptable plan is paramount. Building on a solid foundation established in the early rounds is essential for your overall success. Although the available player pool may not be as robust as in the initial rounds, selecting the right players during this phase can significantly impact the strength of your best ball team.

Players who have emerged as league-winners, such as Travis Etienne Jr., D.J. Moore, Joe Mixon, Brandon Aiyuk, Mike Evans, Rachaad White and James Cook, previously offered exceptional value and advanced their teams considerably from their positions in the middle rounds.

Let’s explore further and look at how you should approach the middle rounds of your best ball drafts.

Middle Round Best Ball Strategies

The “Anything But Middling” Approach

At this point in the draft, you have already selected a good chunk of your team. So your strategy may differ slightly depending on the foundation you built during the early portion of your draft. Ergo, if you already roster three strong running backs (or at least ones you spent high draft capital on) there’s no need to address the position. Although, as I alluded to in my early advice approach for best ball leagues, I like going after at least six RBs in pre-draft best ball formats.

However, the overarching approach to the middle rounds is going to remain static for the most part, regardless of what you have already done. The focus is still on drafting the “best player available” or BPA. Too many times drafters make the mistake of drafting for need in the middle-rounds — when the priority should be filling your roster with as many potential level jumpers or league-winners as humanly possible. Especially at the wide receiver position.

Because the name of the game at WR is still all about value. You want to scoop up value in the middle-to-later portions of drafts, with the position counting for the biggest part of your best ball roster. Take advantage of WRs that fall in average draft position (ADP), while other teams “reach” on running backs they think they need.

You will be shocked how quickly the WR position dries up despite the false narrative that the position is deep every year. It’s not deep. If anything, it’s extremely diluted, which makes it much more essential you draft the remaining wideouts toward the start of the middle rounds. You’ll feel (and perform) much better knowing you aren’t trudging out WRs ranked outside the top 40 as your weekly WR3.

Wide receivers in the middle rounds are often the ones that tend to take massive leaps and vastly outperform their ADP. And when in doubt, just keep drafting WRs that have breakout potential. Chances are they all won’t hit… but all you need is one to hit big to reap the benefits. You’ll want at least eight or nine WRs overall with a minimum of three and up to four cracking your starting weekly lineup. Gravitate toward the pass-catchers in a high-powered offense with some target ambiguity versus the guy who has a more obvious high-end target floor in a bad offense.

Other things to keep in mind:

Some of the best return on investment (ROI) picks you can make are drafting real-life No. 2s discounted solely because they are viewed as No.2s by the market. It’s not because they aren’t talented or are in bad situations. It’s the opposite usually, which is why they are the perfect targets in drafts. And their prices will almost always be kept in check to some extent due to the presence of the No. 1 wide receiver on their team. Call it the “WR1 firewall.”

But be wary that you need to be price-sensitive to these WR2s. For example, last season, the most expensive WR2s — Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith and Tee Higgins — failed to live up to expectations.

But the majority of cheaper real-life WR2s by ADP… Aiyuk, Mike Evans, Christian Kirk, Jordan Addison, Courtland Sutton, Puka Nacua, Brandin Cooks, Romeo Doubs/Jayden Reed were excellent value selections who drastically beat their ADPs.

Make sure you are getting the real-life WR2 discount. Because you should be, or else it’s just a bad deal.

In 2024 early best ball drafts, some of the cheaper real-life WRs include Tank Dell, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, Cooper Kupp, Keenan Allen, Tee Higgins, Jordan Addison, Marquise Brown, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Chris Godwin, DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Watson, Jameson Williams, Jakobi Meyers, Josh Downs, Mike Williams, Jahan Dotson, Marvin Mims Jr. and Joshua Palmer.

To really hammer your edge at wide receiver, you need to hit on these discounted No. 2 WRs in the middle-to-late rounds as the actual difference-makers/level-jumpers. The RB Dead Zone and the WR Shred Zone are the same from Rounds 3-6.

Be aggressive drafting WRs in this range and load up on the position with so many roster spots to fill. Eight to nine receivers should suffice. And stack WRs not just with their QBs but with their WR/TE teammates as well. An underrated aspect of this is that if one of them goes down or misses time, the other likely benefits from a higher target share, especially in the case of No. 2s.

Another thing to consider when it comes to WRs is that scoring tends to be flatter. Again, you have the elite guys at the top. Last season, the top five scorers were at 17+ PPG (ADPs top-seven picks overall).

If you can draft a truly elite fantasy WR in Round 1 or 2, it’s worth it. But after the elite guys, we see things stagnant and scoring flatten. Wideouts ranked sixth to 20th fluctuate between 15 and 12.5 PPG. Receivers from 21st to 46th score between 12 and 9.5 PPG.

The significant point drop after the elite tier (top five) does indicate a flatter scoring curve for the wide receivers ranked sixth and beyond, up to WR46. This flatter scoring curve implies that the difference in fantasy output among the WRs in these lower tiers is less pronounced than the gap between the top five WRs and the rest.

Given this distribution, the data suggest it’s a viable strategy to wait on drafting WRs after the elite options are off the board, particularly in drafts where the value of securing top performers at other positions (such as running backs or quarterbacks who may have a steeper drop-off in scoring) could outweigh the benefits of selecting a WR outside the top five. The reasoning here is that you might still be able to draft WRs with relatively similar scoring expectations later on, allowing you to maximize value at other positions in the earlier rounds.

The standard deviation from WR6 to WR20 (0.84 points per game) is almost identical to WR21 to WR46 (0.92 points per game). The scoring is more clustered around their group’s average and less spread out.

Ergo, non-elite fantasy WRs are basically all just fantasy WR2s. And low-end fantasy WR2s are just a massive tier that leaks into the WR4 range.

This supports the strategy of potentially waiting to draft WRs after the top performers are off the board, as the variance in performance increases, but doesn’t drastically change once you move past the top 20 WRs.

If a WR in the middle rounds looks and smells cheap, they probably are. And the same goes for if you feel they are overvalued. They most likely are.

Because inherently the way WR scoring is, the guys with higher ADPs are more difficult bets to return on their ADP. They are “preferred for a reason” upside arguments, etc., but there’s no denying you can always grab another WR a round later that will probably meet or potentially exceed a player before them in scoring.

However, you must acknowledge that you can’t keep punting off the WR position because there is a cliff after the WR4 range. Eventually, you need to compile points at the position, even if it’s neutral or -EV selection at the time of drafting.

At least this is how the points were distributed last season.

Be firm in creating three tiers for WRs, with an elite tier (potential for top-five scoring), a top-20 tier and then a 21-48 range tier where you can pick your flavor.

For me, the top five WRs are clear as day. It’s not until we get to Mike Evans that things start to taper off in the back-end WR2 range. And after we hit Christian Watson as my WR43, there’s a clear drop-off in the WR rankings.

2024 NFL Draft Guide

The Follow-Up and Stacking

We want to go beyond “just draft WRs” in the middle rounds to build the best squad. And that brings us to stacking.

Stack offenses when possible but please don’t overreach — throwing ADP out the window to draft a guy a few rounds ahead for stacking purposes won’t help you in the long run. Other teams in some tournament settings will have the same stack but have a more well-rounded roster because they didn’t reach a half-round or full-round versus ADP

Who you select in the early rounds will set the foundation for stacking in the middle rounds as you put offensive pieces from the same teams together. Draft Ja’Marr Chase in round one? Then you better add Tee Higgins into the queue for selection in round four.

But again, don’t overextend yourself. Chances are that if many of the drafters are stacking, the right pieces will fall back to you at value or even at a suppressed ADP. Practice discipline stacking.

2024 Dynasty Fantasy Football Guide

Back to Running Backs

Once you’ve got some solid stacking forming and a plethora of breakout WRs to work from, dive back into the running back pool. Because after WRs, breakout RBs are the next target in the middle rounds. Specifically, once the drafts enter the late RB2 early RB3 range (RB20-RB38) or RBs with a top-40 ADP.

That group presented the greatest hit rate for fantasy running backs.

Running backs that hit in this general range last season included: James Conner, James Cook, D’Andre Swift, Alvin Kamara, Rachaad White, David Montgomery, Isiah Pacheco, Brian Robinson Jr., Raheem Mostert and Kyren Williams.

Here’s some additional information to keep in mind for RBs in the middle rounds:

  • Identify running backs with the potential to see/possess goal-line roles in high-scoring offenses. Pinpointing a team’s primary red zone back is an easy way to hit on a fantasy running back.
    • Last year’s examples? Kyren Williams, Raheem Mostert, Isiah Pacheco, Javonte Willaims, Gus Edwards
  • If you are low on the “starter” you should naturally be higher on the No.2 RB in the same backfield.
  • Target impending free agent running backs. The biggest hits from 2023 include Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley, Tony Pollard, Miles Sanders and Jamaal Williams. Last year it wasn’t as successful but I’d trust the process. Especially with almost the same crop of RBs likely playing on one-year deals again.
  • Notable free agents at the end of the 2024 season include: Nick Chubb, Aaron Jones, James Conner, Samaje Perine, Najee Harris (fifth-year option), Travis Etienne Jr. (fifth-year option), Jeff Wilson, Raheem Mostert, Javonte Williams, Justice Hill, Rhamondre Stevenson, Chuba Hubbard, Kenneth Gainwell, Elijah Mitchell, Khalil Herbert and  A.J. Dillon
  • Target running backs on quality offenses (cumulative offensive ADP deemed above average).
  • Aim for running backs on teams with no clear-cut starter ie. ambiguous backfields. This is where breakout running backs are often found.
  • Other major hitters were running backs that boasted pass-catching chops.
  • Volume is and remains king.
  • When in doubt, draft the guy who has a proven track record.
  • Do not prioritize running backs on offenses that have not yet proven to be above average while treading lightly on running backs that don’t have a lot of job security. With running backs, ask yourself: What would it take for RB “X” to lose the starting job?
  • Fade early-season opportunities in favor of late-season production when the weeks and points become more critical in specific best ball formats.
  • Hitting on the right running back late can be the true difference-maker.

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The Onesie Positions

I discussed ad nauseam the advantage you can acquire by drafting an elite tight end or quarterback in the early portions of your draft. But chances are you aren’t doing both. Savvy drafters won’t let the elite onesie positions go by too frequently. There’s a chance you might need to address the position as the middle-rounds kick off.

At quarterback, this is more than acceptable. As previously reviewed, some of the best fantasy quarterback hits came from the QB15-QB21 range (Picks 115-165).

Last season this was the likes of Tua Tagovailoa, Dak Prescott, Jared Goff and C.J. Stroud.

I’d prefer these quarterbacks to be my fantasy QB2 but it’s still okay to select your QB1 in this range and draft two later. Especially if for some reason one of the elite QBs falls.

The last thing you want to do is punt the quarterback position entirely until the late rounds. That’s a no-go. After all, they score the most points, so you will want to have at least one elite option and one that has a high chance of being a back-end QB1 or top-15 option. Relying too heavily on late-round QBs that turned into duds kills advance rates. Remember, best ball isn’t the same as redraft. Therefore, no waiver wire makes the late-round QB approach completely different. Get those two QBs drafted as early as Rounds 4-6 and no later than Rounds 11 or 12.

Other things to look for when scoping out the QB position:

Among the top-10 quarterbacks last season in total points scored in 2022, eight rushed for at least 250 yards. In 2023, six of the top eight QBs rushed for at least 240 yards.

Call it the 55-25 rule. Can quarterback “X” throw 550+ times and/or rush for 250 yards? Those are your top targets.

The QBs that accomplished this feat in 2023: Josh Allen (BUF), Patrick Mahomes II (KC), Trevor Lawrence (JAC), Sam Howell (WAS), Jordan Love (GB) and Dak Prescott (DAL)

The tight end position is a different beast altogether despite being the other “onesie” position. I preached all last season that you want to stay out of the middle at tight end. The only two exceptions would be if a tight end I view in a higher tier falls into the middle rounds, or for stacking purposes. But even when it comes to stacking, I am not aggressively stacking middle-round tight ends and would hope they fall past their ADP before selecting them. Don’t feel bad if you miss out on them but be open to taking them if they become obvious value-stacking assets.

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