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Fantasy Football Best Ball Draft Strategy & Advice: Early Rounds (2024)

Fantasy Football Best Ball Draft Strategy & Advice: Early Rounds (2024)

As we edge closer to the 2024 NFL season, mastering the initial stages of best ball drafts is key. The emphasis lies not just on picking “good” or “bad” players — since those chosen early on are typically top-tier talents — but rather on crafting a robust foundation for your team’s success. The best ball format in my estimations, is a true point-and-click/choose-your-own adventure endeavor.

This involves a strategic approach right from the start, with a keen eye on potential picks in round two and beyond, even before finalizing your first selection.

The primary debate for the 2024 best ball season centers on the optimal first-round pick strategy: Whether to opt for a running back (RB) or wide receiver (WR), and whether to dive into either the quarterback (QB) or tight end (TE) position.

This choice significantly shapes your drafting strategy in the subsequent rounds. The draft position you’re randomly assigned, particularly those fortunate to land the 1.01, 1.02 or 1.03 spots, will somewhat simplify this decision, granting you a rare chance to secure players boasting the highest average draft position (ADP). Beyond these coveted spots, expect a wide array of strategies and picks throughout the first round, reflecting drafters’ diverse approaches to building their championship-winning roster.

Early Round Best Ball Strategies

Let the Draft Begin

Looking back at the results of 2023 best ball drafts, per Tom Strachan in his best ball advance rates article from 2023, we can find that the optimal starts for winning best ball teams started with CeeDee Lamb, Tyreek Hill and Christian McCaffrey.

Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts paid off as second-round QBs, while DeVonta Smith (strong real-life WR2) and Derrick Henry (stayed healthy the entire season) also offered optimal starts. Round three saw big returns on “older” WRs like Keenan Allen and Deebo Samuel, alongside rookie Jahmyr Gibbs and QB Lamar Jackson.

Not too many surprises from the top performers at the start of 2023 best ball drafts.

Most notably, avoiding players who got hurt was a key indicator of victory. Easier said than done, though, to identify the guys getting hurt. More on this “injury prediction analysis” to come.

Essentially, if you drafted a guy who missed games early, it sunk you. Case in point, in some of my early pre-draft best ball teams, my worst team was “led” by Nick Chubb. Even though my other picks around him were pretty strong, that massive hole at RB1 killed my team, especially given I didn’t have the RB depth to make up for the Chubb injury.

Again, you can’t draft scared. Don’t take Chubb in round two with the idea you need to load up on RBs because he will get hurt. I drafted five RBs overall and that was not enough. I selected one rookie RB (Roschon Johnson).

My second-best team was middle-of-the-pack and balanced across the board. If anything, I was light at running back again — five RBs again with two rookie RBs. Not enough to overcome even with some great values via rookies (Jayden Reed and Sam LaPorta) I selected.

My best 2023 pre-draft team overall had six RBs. And one was a total dud (Chris Evans). All the teams that “won” my pools drafted at least six RBs. With several being taken early (Rounds 1-4).

Given the injuries that ravage teams throughout the NFL season, it makes sense to prioritize depth more in early best-ball drafts at RB, TE and QB over the “least” injured position at WR. Especially given the supreme value you can get from certain rookie WRs late — before their ADPs rise post-draft.

Entering last season, I was a very strong proponent of the Hero RB approach in some capacity. This was a common theme for the majority of top-scoring teams in the best ball leagues I played in. It was not only Hero RB, but even Superhero RB; where you draft two RBs to start.

Given the lack of knowledge about specific backfields this far removed from the season, there’s more credibility to being more aggressive on the information we do know, especially at the tops of the draft boards.

With WRs constantly being pushed up higher and higher on boards, there’s no value in chasing the steam. Be an RB guy. Draft RBs. They matter in fantasy football.

The top dogs at running back still tend to be drafted very early (inside the top 10). There’s credence to taking a stud early to lock in the production. Then you punt the position — the Hero RB approach — with WR now at the forefront.

I said this last season regarding RBs in the early rounds:

Wide receivers stay kings in best ball, but there are a lot of them you can draft at value. Whereas at running back, the position is more scarce, and you “should” draft a top-end running back within the first three rounds as your cleverly coined “hero-RB.” Usually, I’d say you are playing with fire drafting running backs starting in Round 3 (the most common start of the RB Dead Zone). But with WRs all the rage in best ball, I figure some RBs that would be locked in as Round 1 or 2 picks in years past will fall in ADP.”

I made the caveat that you shouldn’t fear the WR-WR start if RBs are flying off the board but that never tends to be the case in this modern age of fantasy drafts.

A final note on WRs… you still want to get one of the “elite” guys. For me, it’s over that 15-points-per-game threshold in half-PPR. And that’s the top five WRs in current ADP and my own WR rankings.

Tight Ends

As for drafting a tight end in the first three rounds, it’s a slippery slope to manage. Travis Kelce was the perfect example of this last season. When Kelce is on — or any tight end — they are a cheat code. But it comes with massive risk given the injury-ridden nature of the position. It can hurt your team’s advance rate. Therefore, you are better off waiting and drafting more tight ends later. Not to say that drafting an early tight end doesn’t work but hitting on a tight end who plays like a top-10 guy gives you a better advantage (bang for your buck) than taking on the risk of an early one that needs to perform just to hit ADP expectations.

Every year we get tight ends that vastly out-perform their ADPs. Focus your strategy on finding these players to build a super team spearheaded by top-tier RBs/WRs in the early rounds.

Note that this does not exclude targeting mid-round tight ends, as some value pockets with certain tight ends have gone much earlier in recent years. Because at the end of the day, you want tight ends that finish with the most points. Often, these are the guys being drafted as such based on their high ADP.

There’s a valid rationale for targeting a tight end with high draft capital. However, if you swing and miss for one early, it’s an easy way to nuke your team entirely. There’s also no denying that these top scorers can be found much later.

These findings compound the idea of avoiding the middle tier at the tight end while also supporting the idea of going quantity over quality in the later rounds. But the backend of the “elite” tight end tier can still be exposed for massive edge and value in the middle rounds.

Quarterbacks

Round three is where we have typically seen the elite quarterbacks come off the board. Last year it jumped to round two with mixed results, as alluded to at the jump. But being the first to draft a quarterback doesn’t always grant you the best advance rate.

Value is still the name of QB, which is why I stress a pseudo-late-round “elite” quarterback strategy. Essentially, getting the last or second-to-last quarterback with top-tier upside to capitalize on value. This will change based on where QBs fall in ADP but I’d say rounds 4-6 is the appropriate range.

However, when it comes to these very early pre-draft best ball drafts, there is a certain amount of security you are getting with early QBs.

But as Tom Strachan pointed out in his Best Ball Roster Construction Strategies & Advice (2024 Fantasy Football): “There are more ways than one to find quarterback points and it can pay off to take a mixed approach across your portfolio of drafts.”

The middle tier tends to be where I like to gravitate toward the most when it comes to my first QB, with guys going outside the top 100 rounding out my second/third QBs. Look for value while also pursuing top-10 fantasy quarterback production in some form on your roster.

It’s probably better described as a middle-round approach considering the best hits from this past season came from the QB15-QB21 range (Picks 115-165). But here you are looking for a steady body that can stay healthy/active for a full 18-game season. You also want to target pocket passers with high projected passing volume (perfect for stacking).  Mobility QBs are the ideal targets.

But when it comes back to the super-early QBs, it’s just not necessary given the depth at the position. When I looked back at the top performing best ball teams from my leagues, it was a majority of three-QB builds with a quantity over quality approach.

My only reservation toward leaning more toward an early-round QB in the pre-draft format is there’s no ambiguity surrounding a player’s role and it’s not accompanied by nearly as much injury risk this far removed from the season. Therefore, their value should stay static leading up to the season. They are a safer investment that won’t bottom out before the season kicks off.

Injuries

As I teased earlier in the piece, injuries play a massive role in best ball, more so than in traditional formats where managers have access to the waiver wire. Just drafting a team that stays healthy throughout the year gives you a major edge against the field. And I believe there is a way to gain an edge over the market in this capacity that isn’t being taken advantage of enough. So much discourse is made about specific player injuries but the best ball format is much more about being on the right team. After all, if you were high on the Houston Texans last season, it worked out — regardless of your player takes. And one of the easiest correlations in the real-life NFL and fantasy football production is health. It was one reason why I was on the Detroit Lions so much — I believed they would be a much healthier unit in 2023 versus 2022 because of injury regression. And it should have been an obvious reason to back the Rams (still kicking myself) after the 2022 season left them for dead because it was mostly injury-related.

When a team is decimated by injuries one year or in back-to-back seasons (especially on the offensive side of the ball), eventually regression to the mean is going to take place. And vice-versa. Teams that stay super healthy one year, likely won’t be as lucky the following season. I plan on doing more of a deep dive on this topic but it is just something to keep in mind with these early best ball drafts. You need to draft a team that will still have guys kicking by the time the dust settles. Avoiding the early-round landmine injury risks will go a long way to ensuring your profitability in 2024.

An early look at some teams/players to be mindful especially with players at the top of the best ball draftboards. Note that I am referring to adjusted games lost (AGL), a metric similar to DVOA by FTN’s Aaron Schatz.

  • Christian McCaffrey – The 49ers were the fourth-healthiest team in 2023 — second overall on offense behind only Atlanta. For the first time in 10 seasons, they ranked above 20th in AGL. McCaffrey is coming off leading the NFL in touches. This can’t end well.
  • Kyren Williams – The Rams were the fourth-healthiest offense in 2023. No. 1 overall in total team health; fourth-healthiest offensive line.
  • Bijan Robinson – The Falcons were the healthiest offense last season. Neither of their RBs missed time with injuries.
  • CeeDee Lamb – The Dallas Cowboys were the fifth-healthiest offense. Zero missed games from their RBs (same as Buffalo). Bills and Cowboys had the fewest injuries across the RB/WR positions in 2023.
  • Breece Hall – The Jets were the 31st-most injured offense last season. Second-most injuries across the offensive line.

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