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

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

When it comes to best ball, the draft is the most important moment for your team up until the season ends and we find out just how well, or how poorly, it’s performed. With no trades, waivers or roster moves of any kind, nailing the draft is essential. Success can be built in many ways, but it can be hard to overcome a bad start, so nailing the early rounds is essential.

This article is the first of a three-part series looking at how to approach each third of the draft, whether it’s an 18-round or 20-round draft, the theory should carry over to both. You’ll find strategy advice, results from the last few years, positional allocation nuggets, and potential builds for different roster slots.

Best Ball Draft Strategy: Early Rounds

Let’s take a look at how to approach the early rounds of best ball fantasy football drafts.

Best Ball Draft Strategy: The Start

Because of the way our draft slots are randomized in best ball, many people advocate taking a balanced approach to the first round. For instance, in theory, we stand an 8.3% or one in twelve chance of being allocated each draft slot, no matter how much you’re convinced you always get pick nine.

In years where there is a consensus 1.01 pick, such as Justin Jefferson in 2023 and Jonathan Taylor in 2022, it can be hard to be overweight on them if you’re intending on doing a lot of drafts, simply because the 1.01 doesn’t fall to us that often. Meanwhile, a player like Puka Nacua or A.J. Brown who goes closer to the back end of Round 1 is in a position where we might see people reach a few spots or the player might even fall into Round 2. That type of player becomes a lot easier to take an overweight stand on.

Some years the first round becomes very heavily running back orientated, which pushes up second round running backs as people start to feel the fear of missing out and start reaching. This year, however, with Zero RB and Hero RB builds having huge success in the last two years, it’s not unusual to see eight receivers go in the first round and up to 16 by the end of Round 2, three more than in 2023. If your plan is to draft just a handful of teams then sticking close to FantasyPros Best Ball Rankings, or trying not to reach far from ADP while getting the player you like best in that range is a sensible approach to the first round.

If you’re planning on drafting a portfolio of best ball teams, then tracking your player exposures and balancing out your first-round exposure will help mitigate against injuries. Typically I don’t like to fade more than one or two players in these first rounds as all it takes is one big season from a running back and your foundations are looking a little shaky. Christian McCaffrey dominated in the regular season in 2023, while Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase and Stefon Diggs all disappointed relative to cost. It can be sensible to aim to keep your exposure at or below 15% for these players and try to keep any players you’ve decided not to fade above 5% when possible.

Following your Round 1 pick, we reach an inflection point of our draft. Following up a wide receiver pick with another, or doing the same with the running back position, will start to force our rosters into certain roster constructions that we must remain cognizant of. The table below shows us 2021-2023 data for how teams faired after the first two rounds, based on the most common builds using these strategies.

On Underdog, 2023 saw a second straight year where RB-TE worked very well, while RB-QB also crushed in thanks to Christian McCaffrey and Josh Allen, who massively inflated these numbers. WR-WR was a massive success and the same start the winner of Best Ball Mania opted to use in a full Zero RB build. These numbers are always going to fluctuate year to year based on the players within them, but the wider trends are worth being mindful of.

Underdog Advance Rate (16.7%) 2021 Underdog Advance Rate (16.7%) 2022 Underdog Advance Rate (16.7%) 2023 Average Underdog Rate FFPC Win Rate (8.3% avg) 2021 FFPC Win Rate (8.3% avg) 2022 FFPC Win Rate (8.3% avg) 2023 Average FFPC Rate
WR-WR 11.80% 21.10% 18.80% 17.23% 6.50% 9.60% 10.60% 8.90%
RB-RB 20.80% 10.60% 15.60% 15.67% 9.70% 6.70% 8.10% 8.17%
WR-RB 23.50% 16.50% 16.40% 18.80% 13.10% 7.40% 7.30% 9.27%
RB-WR 14.20% 16.20% 15.80% 15.40% 6.00% 9.50% 8.80% 8.10%
WR-TE 9.20% 26.60% 14.30% 16.70% 10.30% 4.80% 6.70% 7.27%
RB-TE 12.40% 18.00% 24.30% 18.23% 7.10% 4.20% 9.10% 6.80%
TE-RB 16.00% 23.70% 11.70% 17.13% 8.60% 13.10% 5.70% 9.13%
TE-WR 9.10% 29.10% 12.30% 16.83% 9.20% 15.40% 3.60% 9.40%
RB-QB 11.20% 12.40% 23.30% 15.63% 2.90% 8.10% 11.30% 7.43%
WR-QB 13.10% 20.40% 16.30% 16.60% 4.20% 2.10% 5.70% 4.00%
TE-QB 9.60% 15.90% 9.20% 11.57% 5.00% 6.70% 4.80% 5.50%

Best Ball Draft Strategy: What next?

Now that we’re two picks in we’ve laid the first bricks and while being aware of what others are doing and if any players are slipping, it’s time to think of the strategies that can help us have the best chances of success. For example, if we started RB-TE on Underdog it might be easy to think we were onto a winner, but in 2023 despite teams who started RB-TE having a 24.3% advance rate, that number cratered if the drafter selected another two running backs before round 7, seeing the advance rate drop to 11.7%, well below the average advance rate.

Regardless of whether you’ve started running back heavy or not, we’re now edging toward the Running Back Dead Zone, and while every year’s crop of Dead Zone running backs is different, what’s reliable is the fact that wide receivers normally outscore running backs in this area of the draft. Also, because of the success of receivers in recent years, it’s pushing more receivers up early and seeing running backs pushed lower in ADP to out of the Dead Zone.

In 2023, there were 15 running backs in the dead zone, but that number has fallen to only 12 in 2024 with more backs going later than ever before. As we can see in the table below, there were some moderate successes in this range last year but also some massive failures.

Name ADP Positional ADP Half PPG Half Rank Half PPG Rank Difference PPG Vs ADP
Jahmyr Gibbs 29 RB9 14.8 9 7 2
Rhamondre Stevenson 33.9 RB10 10.6 33 29 -19
Travis Etienne 36.8 RB11 15.1 3 5 6
Joe Mixon 37.4 RB12 13.6 7 13 -1
Breece Hall 44.2 RB13 14.0 6 10 3
Najee Harris 44.4 RB14 10.0 26 33 -19
Aaron Jones 49.2 RB15 10.3 40 31 -16
Kenneth Walker 49.9 RB16 12.6 20 18 2
Dameon Pierce 54.7 RB17 5.9 50 54 -37
Jonathan Taylor 57.7 RB18 13.4 35 14 4
Alexander Mattison 58.7 RB19 7.7 36 44 25
JK Dobbins 62.3 RB20 10.7 103 28 -8
James Cook 65.2 RB21 12.8 10 17 4
Miles Sanders 70.9 RB22 4.8 53 61 -39
Javonte Williams 73.1 RB23 9.2 31 37 -14

If we can accept that the dead zone is a risky area of drafts that may reward us, but also may let us down quite badly, then we can build around this for running backs we deem worthy of drafting there. Rounds three and four have historically been more successful for running backs in this range than the fifth and sixth. Lean into players you believe are mispriced in the early stages of the Dead Zone instead of the higher-risk ones later on.

Best Ball Draft Strategy: Elite Quarterbacks

The biggest change since 2022 in ADP versus previous years is the number of quarterbacks being drafted highly. In 2022, no quarterbacks were drafted on Underdog before the 29th overall pick, with six then drafted between 29 and 60. In 2023, eight quarterbacks are drafted before pick 62 with Patrick Mahomes drafted in the mid-second round and Trevor Lawrence rounding out the eight quarterbacks at pick 61.

This is in part due to the success of the 2022 elite quarterbacks with three of them averaging 25 points per game and finishing as top three options at the position. The gulf between them and other options is enough to make it worth having access to their sky-high ceilings. In 2022 there were 63 instances of a quarterback scoring 25 or more points and 26 (41%) came from quarterbacks drafted inside the top 60 picks. Six more came from Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence, who were both elevated into this early quarterback tier.

In 2023, Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen all finished as top-three options at the position, after being drafted in this range, and while Mahomes (QB14 PPG), Fields (QB9), Burrow (QB25), Herbert (QB13) and Lawrence (QB19) all disappointed relative to cost, we have to be willing to embrace this risk to catch the top end scenarios. It is notable, however, that the three at the top each averaged six or more rushing attempts per game, with only Justin Fields coming close to that from the rest of this tier. This could act as a reminder not to overinflate quarterbacks simply because of their skill in the passing game.

This year, only six quarterbacks are being drafted within the top 72 picks, all going before pick 56. Pocket passers Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence are out after struggling to pay off, but C.J. Stroud has been elevated after an incredible rookie year, and he has the biggest potential to fail in this range. Stroud has fewer top-12 weekly finishes than Russell Wilson in 2023 and was responsible for only two of the top-100 QB performances in fantasy points. He’s a fun player, with elite weapons but 2.6 rush attempts per game makes it very hard to compete with guys putting up a safe floor in that category.

Player Team ADP ECR
Josh Allen BUF 32.3 27.4
Jalen Hurts PHI 37 34.4
Lamar Jackson BAL 42.4 34.7
Patrick Mahomes KC 45.4 38.9
C.J. Stroud HOU 49 46.7
Anthony Richardson IND 56.6 56.4

When the name of the game is spike weeks and big performances, it’s clear that having some exposure to these top quarterbacks is going to be worthwhile, but Stroud isn’t one to get too carried away with.

Best Ball Draft Strategy: Early-Round Approach

My ideal approach for the first six rounds of drafts is to work from the outlines below, while always remembering to treat each draft differently depending on how things fall. If a first-round running back fell to the back end of the second, or into the third, I’d be happy to stray away from my preferred method. With running backs like Isiah Pacheco and Josh Jacobs falling to the fourth round, don’t be afraid to start WR-WR and then add a third-round QB/TE, then in the fourth add an RB as your ‘Hero RB’ – a late-hero if you will, and then stick to the rest of that micro-strategy from there out.

Underdog FFPC
Round 1 WR/RB TE/WR/RB
Round 2 WR/RB TE/RB/WR
Round 5 WR/TE WR/QB
Round 6 WR/RB WR/RB

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