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

After building the foundations of a team in the early rounds and making choices around structure, then following that with refinements and building out stacks in the middle rounds, the final third of the draft is where we add the finishing touches to a great roster.

By the final third of the draft, our priorities are adding to our stacks, gaining more playoff week correlation and trying to hit on late-round gems like Kyren Williams and Puka Nacua. Let’s dive into best ball draft strategy for the late rounds.

Best Ball Draft Strategy: Late Rounds

In the early rounds, it can be easier to naturally be more spread out on players as average draft position (ADP) is a little more rigid. It’s more important not to reach too heavily but the further we get down the board the easier it can be to trust our stances and player takes. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Hitting on late-round studs Kyren Williams and Puka Nacua in a big way last year likely meant you had a very profitable season, but if you’d gone Tutu Atwell or Zach Evans then you’re probably very familiar with the other side of that coin. This is why it can pay to be aware of our player exposures in the later rounds. Getting heavily exposed to one player might feel like a low-risk move that might not damage your points total for that roster but you’re giving yourself far fewer opportunities to hit on a late-round league-winner. For more on managing your late-round exposure check out this article.

In the second installment of this series, we talked about the importance of stacking and how the middle rounds are perfect for setting them up, we also covered how reaching substantially in those rounds can be costly. In the late rounds, there are fewer stacks still available, but if you’re looking at your roster and feel you’d like to leave the draft with at least one the table below shows nine teams that offer late-round stacking opportunities, where the quarterback and at least two other players are available after pick 140.

Best Ball Draft Strategy: Late-Round Stacking Options

After Pick 140

Name Team ADP Name Team ADP
Matthew Stafford LAR 142.9 Adam Thielen CAR 166
Demarcus Robinson LAR 193.1 Chuba Hubbard CAR 167.3
Colby Parkinson LAR 215 Bryce Young CAR 199
Davis Allen LAR 215.6 Ja’Tavion Sanders CAR 207.5
Baker Mayfield TB 157.7 Miles Sanders CAR 215.5
Cade Otton TB 169.8 Jonathan Mingo CAR 215.6
Bucky Irving TB 172.4 Kendre Miller NO 153.5
Jalen McMillan TB 210.1 Juwan Johnson NO 174.1
Trey Palmer TB 215.7 Derek Carr NO 199.3
Aaron Rodgers NYJ 148.4 A.T. Perry NO 213.2
Malachi Corley NYJ 168.9 Troy Franklin DEN 155.1
Tyler Conklin NYJ 178.7 Marvin Mims Jr. DEN 171.7
Braelon Allen NYJ 213.9 Jaleel McLaughlin DEN 179.1
Will Levis TEN 178.5 Bo Nix DEN 199.4
Chigoziem Okonkwo TEN 198.3 Audric Estime DEN 209.4
Treylon Burks TEN 215.4 Greg Dulcich DEN 214
Ja’Lynn Polk NE 156 Josh Reynolds DEN 215.1
Hunter Henry NE 162.4 Wan’Dale Robinson NYG 186.3
Antonio Gibson NE 170 Daniel Jones NYG 205.1
Javon Baker NE 184.9 Jalin Hyatt NYG 211.6
DeMario Douglas NE 191.9 Darius Slayton NYG 213.5
Drake Maye NE 197 Darren Waller NYG 213.8
Kendrick Bourne NE 214.8 Theo Johnson NYG 215.4
K.J. Osborn NE 215.6

If you find yourself with only one quarterback through 12 rounds, targeting one of these stacks is a great way to improve the look and feel of your roster. Whilst some of these can be added to players you might already have drafted from these teams, the Panthers, Giants, Broncos and Patriots all offer large percentages of an offense. These players belong in this section of the draft for good reasons, but as a secondary or tertiary stack, they’re interesting. Last year’s article talked about the Texans having potential in this range, only for it to come true to the most powerful degree.

Whilst stacking isn’t worth passing up good players for, it’s been proven to increase win rates. As Mike Leone wrote three years ago, teams with stacks featured in the top percentile of all teams 1.01% of the time, compared to 0.92% for teams who avoided stacking. It’s not that stacking always gives us an advantage, it’s more that choosing not to stack causes our rosters to be at a disadvantage.

The late rounds also provide opportunities for adding upside to the quarterbacks we’ve already selected. While wide receivers and tight ends tend not to have the intrinsic value of running back handcuffs if a player ahead of them gets injured, they still have a chance to outplay their ADP. For instance, Jalen McMillan is currently the WR89 on Underdog with an ADP of 210.1. The Bucs don’t possess a deep wide receiver room. Occasionally with fantasy sports and best ball, in particular, we have to take an approach of “What would things look like if this happens?’ The question with McMillan would be, “What happens if Chris Godwin picks up an injury?” All of a sudden McMillan, a player who thrived in the slot in college, would now be an integral part of this offense. In the late rounds, asking yourself that question on occasion can lead to upside. If you find yourself stuck between two players allowing the stack to become the tie-breaker is a good habit to get into.

Best Ball Draft Strategy: Late-Round Best Ball Gems

You’ve probably heard the phrase “I prefer him in best ball” before. Normally, it’s coming from somebody who has trouble ranking or valuing a player with a high upside and a low floor. In redraft or dynasty formats where you’re making start and sit decisions week in and week out, these are the types of players who will scorn you when left on your bench, and quite possibly burn you when they are in your starting lineups. While many fantasy managers play the game thinking about a safe floor in best ball, particularly in these late rounds, we should be thinking about ceiling outcomes.

When thinking about late-round players who can maximize their ceiling it’s important to think about the story that leads that player towards outscoring their normal output. With running backs, it’s nearly always down to a player ahead of them suddenly being out of the picture. For instance, when Jonathan Taylor missed time in 2023 it was Zack Moss who benefited massively and rejuvenated his career. At wide receiver, though, it tends to be a little less clear as typically when a WR1 is out of the picture the work doesn’t always go to the next man up. For receivers, we should consider the different factors that can help them find a way into our starting lineups. Like with McMillan above, sometimes that means taking shots on players who fit the role of a player we have reason to believe could miss time, but expecting Greg Dortch to become a WR1 if Marvin Harrison Jr. got injured would be a step too far.

Ability

In this area of the draft, taking shots on players we’ve seen flash ability can be a sensible move. Zay Jones is going at pick 180 after a largely irrelevant year in 2023, but in 2022, after being drafted at an almost identical spot, Jones delivered four 21+ point PPR performances with three coming from Week 12 onwards. Jones isn’t a flawless player, but with an exciting offense like the Cardinals, it’s worth considering whether that ability can shine through again. Likewise for Antonio Gibson, who will likely play with the best quarterback he has in recent years and has very few barriers to a dominant workload if anything happened to Rhamondre Stevenson.

Rookies

Puka Nacua will forever be the golden boy of late-round rookies after breaking records in 2023, and he’s exactly the reason why late-round picks should be diversified and used on rookies a good portion of the time. Nacua was behind Tutu Atwell, who had displayed very little in the NFL after being considered a reach when the Rams drafted him in the second round of the 2021 draft, but many people considered Atwell the clear wide receiver to target while Nacua went undrafted. Most drafters would have killed to split their Atwell exposure 50/50 with some Nacua shares come December.

Typically, as the season goes on, rookies also integrate more into the offense and can offer league-winning upside down the stretch. Taking multiple starters earlier on in the draft gives you the freedom to target rookies in the later rounds who can find their role as the best ball playoffs approach. Try not to get too attached to one player and spread your exposure across a range of rookies.

Players on a Good Team or a Team With a Bad Defense

Players who are part of a good team often find their way into useful weeks for best ball, but we also see similar from players who are part of a team with a poor defense. As these poor defenses give up points the offense is forced into a pass-heavy approach as they try to reclaim a winning position. The table below shows the top 20 weekly PPR scores from players drafted in the later portions of Underdog drafts. Many of these players played on teams with below-average defenses. While trying to project defensive play at the top end can be tricky, we usually have a fair idea of which teams will be straight-up bad.

2023 Top 20 Weekly Finishes (Late-Round Picks)

Player Team PPR Score PPR Rank That Week ADP
CJ Stroud HOU 40.8 1 207.2
Kyren Williams LAR 38.4 1 210.7
Zack Moss IND 33.5 2 202
Puka Nacua LAR 33 3 196
D’Onta Foreman CHI 33 1 206.3
Puka Nacua LAR 31.3 4 196
Sam Howell WAS 31 1 159.2
CJ Stroud HOU 30.9 4 207.2
Puka Nacua LAR 30.1 2 196
Kyren Williams LAR 30.1 1 210.7
Nathaniel Dell HOU 29.6 1 177.5
Brock Purdy SF 29.5 2 156.1
Gus Edwards BAL 29.4 3 192
Baker Mayfield TB 29 2 211.6
Nathaniel Dell HOU 28.9 3 177.5
Jordan Love GB 28.4 2 152.5
Kyren Williams LAR 28 2 210.7
DJ Chark CAR 27.8 5 175.2
Kyren Williams LAR 27.7 4 210.7
Cole Kmet CHI 27.6 1 151.9

While in best ball we crave consistent high points scoring, having spike weeks like this can help open up gaps over our competition. In particular, 2023 was a year where these late-round players shined when it counted the most, with many of the above performances coming in the latter stages of the season.

Best Ball Draft Strategy: Key Takeaways

  • Be mindful of how we start drafts and the corners a bad start can force us into.
  • Stacking opportunities are available throughout the draft and shouldn’t be reached for.
  • Forgoing common strategies can be a fine approach as long as we balance our roster.
  • Spread out late-round exposure and aim for certain styles of players late in drafts.

Best Ball Draft Targets

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