Best Ball Academy: Part 2

In Best Ball Academy Part 1, I provided foundational material intended to guide new or inexperienced players toward solid principles in league selection, drafting, and research. You learned about different league host sites, their formats, and cost of entry. You also familiarized yourself with the concept of ADP, draft distributions, and time effects on each.

Our foundation is set. Now, let’s build upon it!

Payout Type

In Part 1, we covered general best practices for roster construction. These practices will help 80% of players draft teams that improve their probability of finishing “in the money” considerably.

This lesson (and the next) will dive further down that rabbit hole, discussing the nuances created by payout structure, draft size, and draft speed. We will look at ways to modify lineup builds based on how many teams finish in the money, and also how to plan ahead based on league settings, such as:

  • Payout Type – Winner Take All, Win Place Show, Double Up, etc.
  • Draft Size – 12-player, 6-player, etc.
  • Draft Speed – Slow Timer vs Fast Timer

Please bear in mind that the data below represents PPR scoring, and should be adjusted somewhat to account for different scoring formats.

Winner Take All

Up until 2017, best ball players didn’t have much choice regarding league payouts. If you drafted a MyFantasyLeague MFL10, you knew that it was a Winner Take All payout with second place receiving a home version of the game in the form of a ticket to a league the next year.

Last year, however, MyFantasyLeague introduced the “X2” league (effectively, a Double Up) that offered payouts to the top five finishers, and a next-year voucher to sixth place.

This year? Fanball offers multiple structures for the newly-acquired MFL10s. Winner Take All, Win Place Show, and Double Up are their initial offerings. DRAFT produces payouts ranging from Winner Take All to Top Four, depending on league size. As other sites enter the best ball business, expect payout structures to vary even more.

Game selection is just as critical for best ball as it is for daily games. Knowing how many teams will be paid at the end of the season should affect how you draft. Before entering leagues, we need to understand the point production required to produce the desired finish position. In a Winner Take All format, it’s simple: finish first. How many points should my team score to accomplish this? Let’s do a little napkin math!

Above, you see MyFantasyLeague MFL10s fantasy point data from every second place team 2015-2017. Why did I choose second place teams for this visualization? That’s the team we need to outscore in a Winner Take All format. In the distributions above, I’ve highlighted the two-sigma point production in each year. In other words, the point totals above would outscore 93% of second place teams in the respective year. Where does that place us with respect to teams that finish in first place? The plot below provides some perspective.

On the whole, if you can achieve a 93rd percentile finish within the second place regime, it will place you in roughly the 55th percentile of first place teams. This is the production we need to aim for in our drafts.

How do we produce this many points over the course of sixteen weeks? There are multiple paths, but these are my guiding principles:

  • Draft high-floor, high-upside players in rounds 1-6. These players must produce a starting score in at least 12 weeks of the season. Your highest-upside players will typically be found at WR and RB. These players should project to meet or well exceed their ADP.
  • Draft high-upside WR, RB, and TE in round seven and later. At the WR, RB, and TE positions, these players should produce a starting score in at least 10 weeks of the season for the middle-round picks, and six weeks of the season for late rounders. These players should be considered “ADP Crushers” that either the market has misread, or can earn a high-volume role with little resistance.
  • Draft a stable, high-upside QB in round 10 or later. If you choose to draft a quarterback late (QB18+), I strongly urge you to draft three QBs.
  • Draft a stable kicker and Defense/Special Teams in round 15 or later. Scoring at both of these positions is incredibly volatile, but pinpointing kickers with steady roles and D/ST with reasonable stopping ability are a must.
  • Get lucky. Avoiding major injury is the most critical part of winning best ball leagues. While there is nothing we can do to affect this, it’s required to finish in first place.

Win Place Show (Top 3/Top 4)

We can perform a similar analysis to judge the point production required for this format. If we want to virtually ensure a payout, we need to estimate how many points will outscore the vast majority (93%) of fourth place teams.

We see above that a 93rd percentile score within the fourth place regime will equate to roughly 80th percentile finish among third place teams. With this strategy directing us, we should feel very comfortable in our probability of paying out if we achieve the point threshold above.

How do we produce this many points over the course of 16 weeks? We should adhere to the process above, but with minor modifications to soften:

  • Draft high-floor, high-upside players in rounds 1-6. These players must produce a starting score in at least 12 weeks of the season. Your highest-upside players will typically be found at WR and RB. These players should project to meet or well exceed their ADP.
  • Draft high-upside WR, RB, and TE in round seven and later. At the WR, RB, and TE positions, these players should produce a starting score in at least eight weeks of the season for the middle-round picks, and four weeks of the season for late rounders. These players should be considered “ADP Crushers” that either the market has misread, or can earn a high-volume role with little resistance.
  • Draft a stable, high-upside QB in round 10 or later. If you choose to draft a quarterback late (QB18+), I strongly urge you to draft three QBs.
  • Draft a stable kicker and Defense/Special Teams in round 15 or later. Scoring at both of these positions is incredibly volatile, but pinpointing kickers with steady roles and D/ST with reasonable stopping ability are a must.
  • Get lucky (again).

Double Up

As we did for the other two payout structures, we need to estimate how many points will outscore the vast majority (93%) of sixth place teams.

We see above that a 93rd percentile score within the sixth place regime will equate to roughly 80th percentile finish among fifth place teams. With this strategy directing us, we should feel very comfortable in our probability of paying out if we achieve the point threshold above.

How do we produce this many points over the course of sixteen weeks? We should adhere to the process above, but with minor modifications to soften:

  • Draft high-floor, high-upside players in rounds 1-6. These players must produce a starting score in at least 12 weeks of the season. Your highest-upside players will typically be found at WR and RB. These players should project to meet or well exceed their ADP.
  • Draft high-upside WR, RB, and TE in round seven and later. At the WR, RB, and TE positions, these players should produce a starting score in at least six weeks of the season for the middle-round picks, and three weeks of the season for late rounders. These players should be considered “ADP Crushers” that either the market has misread, or can earn a high-volume role with little resistance.
  • Draft a stable, high-upside QB in round 6 or later. If you choose to draft a quarterback late (QB18+), I strongly urge you to draft three QBs.
  • Draft a stable kicker and Defense/Special Teams in round 15 or later. Scoring at both of these positions is incredibly volatile, but pinpointing kickers with steady roles and D/ST with reasonable stopping ability are a must.
  • Get lucky (once again).

Draft Size and Speed

Draft size

Size matters.

Until DRAFT introduced their best ball product in the summer of 2017, only 12-team leagues were available. While that’s still the standard, league size variants have started to proliferate, with host sites adding options for 10-team, 6-team, and even 3-team leagues.

How does this affect your draft strategy? Generally, it shouldn’t. You should still employ the best practices laid out so far in prior lessons. You must also consider that, as league size shrinks, the margin for error theoretically decreases accordingly.

Why is this? In short, the player pool effectively shrinks to fit the maximum players required to fill a league. In a 10-team, 20-spot draft, only 200 players are selected. In a 6-team draft, 120 players, and so on. Because of this shrinking player pool, your teams will have less and less room for dead weight (poor performance/injury) as fewer teams means that rosters should be stronger across the board.

The upside of smaller leagues is they don’t require incredibly deep knowledge about the player pool. Consequently, they accommodate new and/or casual players who may not know as much about the NFL as hardcore, year-round fans.

This can lead to a broad spectrum of outcomes. Intuitively, we think that overall team strength should increase in smaller leagues. It makes sense, considering teams aren’t required to go as deep into the player pool and hope to land on a somewhat-productive player. Conversely, two or three drastically underperforming picks effectively eliminate your opportunity to win.

Here are some rules of thumb I follow in smaller leagues:

8-Team and 10-Team Leagues

  • Wait as late as possible to acquire a quarterback. Unless circumstances warrant, I recommend waiting until the back half of the Tier 2 QBs * (QB16+) to begin drafting that position.
  • Wait as late as possible to acquire a tight end unless you are grabbing one of the three elites at the position. I recommend waiting until TE8+.
  • Draft running backs earlier than normal, especially if you are confident in Top 24 RB production.
  • Draft wide receivers later than normal. The depth at this position, spread across only eight or 10 rosters, means you can still select highly-productive WRs in the 14th round and beyond.

6-Team Leagues

  • Draft tight ends and quarterbacks with your last five or six picks. In many cases, a third QB creates diminishing returns on point totals. In half-sized leagues, however, a 5-8% improvement may provide enough boost to win.
  • Unless you get a stud tight end, draft three TEs per the rule above.
  • Draft running backs with your first three to four selections. The key to winning a half-sized league lies in reliable volume. With only 10-15 RBs in the league seeing reliable, double-digit touch volume on a weekly basis, it is critical to hoard those players early.
  • Draft wide receivers later than normal. If your opponents select nothing but WRs for the first three rounds, and you select nothing but RBs, that will leave you WR16 (at worst) in the fourth round. Selecting seven to eight WRs in the WR16 to WR48 range will provide plenty of scoring on a weekly basis to win.

3-Team Leagues

  • Draft tight ends and quarterbacks with your last five or six picks. In many cases, a third QB creates diminishing returns on point totals. In tiny leagues, however, a 5-8% improvement may provide enough boost to win.
  • Unless you get a stud tight end, draft three TEs per the rule above.
  • Draft running backs with your first four to six selections. The key to winning a small league lies in reliable volume. With only 10-15 RBs in the league seeing reliable, double-digit touch volume on a weekly basis, it is critical to hoard those players early.
  • Draft wide receivers later than normal. If your two opponents select nothing but WRs for the first six rounds, and you select nothing but RBs, that will leave you WR15 (at worst) in the seventh round. Selecting seven to eight WRs in the WR15 to WR36 range will provide plenty of scoring on a weekly basis to win.

Draft speed

While the timer speed in our drafts may not seem all that important, we can leverage it as a tool against our opponents. Below, I highlight benefits and drawbacks for each timer speed.

Slow Drafts (4-hour or 8-hour Timer)

While many grow frustrated waiting hours on a drafter to make a selection, there are benefits to using the allotted time to its fullest:

  • Measure twice, draft once. Several hours can allow us the opportunity to perform extra research into a position situation, study an offense’s tendencies, or judge the upcoming schedule strength.
  • Wait for news in active periods. This particularly applies during free agency, the draft, and preseason. When news affects ADPs rapidly, it makes sense to use the clock to your advantage if deciding between several players whose prospects can immediately change with a single news update.
  • Prepare for long stretches away from draft access. Create pre-draft lists of players that you prefer in the event you can’t make a pick within your allotted time.
  • Force errors. Since timers don’t go dormant overnight or on weekends, it’s possible to force drafters in your league into auto-selected players if you time your own picks to correspond with periods away from internet access. Is this underhanded? You be the judge.

Fast Drafts (30-second or 90-second Timer)

  • Panic. Fast drafts can certainly induce panic if we’re sniped on desired players just ahead of our turn. Preparing for and embracing panic is key to succeeding here.
  • Create pre-draft rankings. Pre-draft rankings are an excellent way of packaging our thoughts into a summarized list. Loading these lists into the league site provides comfort as desired players begin to vaporize in rapid succession.
  • Plan multiple what-if scenarios ahead of time. Enter your Fast Drafts with three or four different build scenarios planned out. Invariably, if you focus on a single plan, the acts of your fellow leaguemates will disrupt it, leading to panic. With multiple routes in mind at each round, you’ve planned for success.
  • Force errors. Through ranking and planning, you can induce your leaguemates into errors. In Fast Drafts, I typically make selections as quickly as possible in an attempt to further reduce the time other drafters have to consider their next move. Make the draft as chaotic as possible for others.

Zero Drafting, Heavy Drafting, and Hyperfragile Drafting

Zero RB

Zero RB is simple – don’t draft running backs in high-leverage rounds. For 12-team best ball leagues, we will consider the first five rounds as the “high leverage” rounds in our drafts.

The original theory proposes two strategies when applying Zero RB principles:

  • Draft one high-upside running back in Round 4 or 5
  • Draft zero running backs in Rounds 1-5

Invoking either of these two strategies means you should spend the high-leverage rounds of your draft selecting wide receivers and elite tight ends. Going into round six, your team should have four or five wide receivers, zero or one tight end, and zero or one running back. The roster permutations might look like this:

Should we drop these principles directly into a best ball draft and believe it will succeed? Absolutely not. Our inability to hit the waiver wire for suitable replacements dictates that we must modify the original strategy to suit our goal.

Best ball Zero RB

For best ball leagues, where reinforcements aren’t available, we need to adjust our strategy a bit.

I propose that you should draft one or two consensus “elite” RBs in the first two rounds. Then, in rounds 5-9, draft two to three “Tier 3” running backs with elite production in their range of outcomes. This group of running backs are being drafted at a lower ADP than their production suggests they should be. Finally, in rounds 11-14, draft another two to three running backs with a clear path to heavy workload, or a defined role as a passing back.

In total, you should have chosen five to six running backs in the first 12 rounds. In the remaining six rounds, you might draft one to two high-ceiling running backs that could seize a dominant role in the event of injury or ineffectiveness.

Please note that you should limit yourself to seven running backs. Going beyond this limit can restrict your depth at other positions (wide receiver in particular) and leave your roster in a difficult position to withstand the variance of a 16-week league.
Some possible roster constructions (18-player DRAFT rosters) using a Bestball Modified Zero RB strategy may include:

Zero WR

The Zero WR technique is very similar in principle to Zero RB. You wait on wide receiver until after the third or fourth round, and then begin drafting in bulk. This will create a roster very top-heavy at RB and TE, and in some cases, QB. The thinking behind waiting on wide receiver is there are so many that produce on a weekly basis, and very few WRs with elite every-week production, that teams can afford to load up at other positions and attack wide receiver in large volume in the middle rounds.

Some possible roster constructions (18-player DRAFT rosters) using a Zero WR strategy may include:

Zero QB/Zero TE

Zero QB and Zero TE strategies are a fancy way of saying “Late-Round QB.” The idea behind these two concepts is to forego the positions as long as possible, then attack with volume by drafting three of each after round 12. Two possible permutations are shown below.

Heavy drafting

You may not have heard of “Heavy Drafting” in that particular phrasing, but you’re likely familiar with the principle already.

In this case, you would intend to draft two elite tight ends (Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz, for instance) in the first five rounds using the logic that one of them will score as the FLEX on a weekly basis. This is particularly beneficial in best ball leagues offering TE Premium scoring (1.5 PPR) such as FFPC Draft Experts. The other idea behind this strategy is that you somewhat corner the market on a shallow position, and make up ground elsewhere with smart, high-upside picks in the middle rounds.

Hyperfragile drafting

Mike Beers posited a strategy in 2016 created by the market conditions that existed at that time involving drafting three top-15 RBs in the first 3-4 rounds and go overweight at the TE/WR positions.

While this sounds a great deal like Zero WR strategy, there is a critical difference. Once you’ve drafted the third running back (assuming they are all top-15 quality), you stop drafting the position altogether and focus on wide receiver. In all, his strategy prescribes drafting nine WRs in Rounds 4-17.

League and Market Trends

Scouting Combine

The NFL Scouting Combine is held in late February or early March each year, approximately four weeks after the Super Bowl. While the actual workout results for players don’t correlate to career productivity, the testing numbers will drive market reaction as best ball drafters quickly shift perception on players based on measurables from the 40-Yard Dash, 3-Cone Drill, Bench Press, and Standing Broad Jump.

Typically, best ball drafts aren’t active at the time the combine takes place. You should still monitor sentiment going into and coming out of this event as it pertains to incoming rookies and incumbents they’re rumored to replace These situations present ideal buying opportunities as a contrarian mechanism against rumors becoming reality.

Free agency

The free agency period, beginning in mid-March, also stimulates the market and drives prices sharply up or down on various players within the span of hours. If you intend to play in early best ball leagues, you should pay close attention to player news and attempt to strike at the ideal time.

Shown below is one such opportunity. Mike Davis, an unrestricted free agent, had long been rumored as moving on from Seattle to another team in the 2019 offseason. While this information moved his price slowly upward (near an ADP of 190), news of his agreement with Chicago (March 11th) spiked his ADP near 96 over the course of the next month.

That ADP held relatively steady for nearly a month, until Chicago drafted Iowa State running back David Montgomery in the third round. This created another rapid perception change of the Bears backfield, reflected almost immediately in both Davis’ and Montgomery’s ADPs, which you can see below.

If you were a fan of Davis, and felt he would sign a deal that offered him excellent fantasy opportunity, you would immediately draft him ahead of his current ADP wherever you wanted to roster him. While you might not go as high as some drafters, it’s important to know your price on certain players with respect to new environments. The same goes for Montgomery in a similar situation.

The Draft

The NFL Draft, beginning at the end of April, often wreaks havoc on ADP within hours. Similar to free agency, you must keep an eye on draft news to stay on top of potential depth charts and navigate a very volatile marketplace.

Let’s reflect on the situation above with Davis and Montgomery. The free agency period presented a huge ADP spike for Davis after he signed in Chicago. Six weeks later, Chicago drafts Montgomery, and their respective ADPs go in opposite directions. Their ADPs reflected as much entering late April, see above.

Do not be afraid to draft rookies in best ball leagues, but do be mindful of college production and potential landing spots when assessing the correct round to select them. Avoid rookie tight ends where possible, as they historically produce well below ADP in their first seasons.

Training camp and preseason

The six-week period from mid July through late August is home to the most rapid changes in ADP, thanks to quickly-clarifying offensive roles. This new information comes in the form of actual gameplay, where teams begin to reveal their true intentions, or injury, where starters are suddenly displaced by backups in high-volume roles.

Once Philadelphia selected running back Miles Sanders in the second round of the 2019 draft, his ADP quickly spiked from 125 to roughly 84. “(player-popup #jordan-howard)Jordan Howard”:/players/jordan-howard-35446’s, on the other hand, fell off nearly two rounds from 70 to 96. These values remained relatively steady until June mini-camp, when Sanders injured his hamstring and sat out almost the entirety of the period.

Entering training camp, many believed that Howard would lead the backfield in work, followed by Sanders, and their ADPs were relatively reflective of this thinking. However, once preseason games opened, it started to become clear that Sanders was taking over the lead role quickly. Savvy drafters seized upon this news and began to move on Sanders in their drafts, pushing his ADP up into the sixth round. Howard’s ADP, in turn, leaked back into the ninth round.

Positive acquisition situations

What can we learn from each of these sudden ADP shifts discussed above? Primarily, we should identify ripe opportunities and pursue them somewhat ahead of schedule – either ahead of the news cycle, or ahead of current ADP. These may include:

  • Touch vacuum within an offense. This occurs when offensive touches are abandoned by incumbents leaving an organization via retirement, release, trade, or free agency.
  • Positive change in offensive philosophy. Did a team hire a new offensive coordinator with a history of improving passing offenses? Did a team show willingness to successfully modify their scheme throughout the prior season?
  • Positive change in supporting cast. Did a team improve talent at a critical position? This will, in most cases, concern only quarterbacks. In some cases, the defense improves from a terrible unit into an average unit, which creates more positive game scripts for the offense.
  • Injury discounts. Has a talented player been unfairly punished (via depressed ADP) for injuries or conditions outside his control?

Negative acquisition situations

Likewise, we must also understand and avoid “trap” situations, where players may see less opportunity than ADP suggests. These may include:

  • Touch dilution within an offense. This occurs when an offense adds additional talent that muddies the water as it relates to who gets the ball, and how frequently. Drafting players that stand to lose touch volume against the prior year should be handled with caution.
  • Negative change in offensive philosophy. Has a team retained a poor coach, or hired an offensive coordinator known to run antiquated schemes? Does a team show resistance to change, and continue playing in suboptimal fashion?
  • Negative change in supporting cast. Did a team experience a significant downgrade at the quarterback position? Has a team failed to address key personnel, such as the offensive line, that effectively wrecked the offense the prior season?
  • False positive. Is a middling player in a situation where he can be eminently replaced by newly-acquired competition? Do we ever consider a player “Just a Guy?” Outside of injury, is it possible a player gives you fewer scoring weeks than required at his ADP?

I encourage you to perform your own assessments of each team, then compare them against folks you trust within the industry. Do your own work first to avoid influence by the crowd.

I appreciate your time and effort in these courses. Let’s go play best ball!

About the Author

  • Josh Hornsby (joshadhd)

  • Josh ADHD is the proprietor of FantasyADHD.com. His background in new product engineering & development, combined with nearly 20 years of data-driven fantasy experience, compels him to think outside the box. Josh loves to challenge popular thinking and typically does so with numbers and visualizations in hand. You can find him on Twitter @Josh_ADHD.

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