NFL Best Ball: When to Draft

Best ball leagues automatically start the team’s optimal lineup, creating an incentive to target players with a legitimate chance to enter the starting lineup on a weekly basis. Here are a few basic principles to consider during best ball drafts regarding when to select each position.

Quarterback – Wait, and target rushing upside

Similar to seasonal leagues, taking a quarterback in later rounds has shown profitability. Quarterback scoring remains relatively flat across the position and quarterbacks get injured at a lower rate than other skill positions. This gives little incentive to target an elite quarterback. Instead, targeting two to three passers in the mid-to-late rounds can provide similar scoring output, while covering for bye weeks.

Looking at quarterbacks with rushing upside provides both a floor and ceiling for best ball teams. While undrafted in most best ball leagues last season, both Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen finished top 12 in fantasy scoring from Week 10 onward, largely due to their rushing prowess. Mitchell Trubisky finished with the sixth-highest win rate (10.5%) in 2018 buoyed in part by his rushing ability.

Rosters with 2-3 quarterbacks have delivered the highest win rates in the past. However, drafting two quarterbacks has provided a slightly higher win rate (8.7%) and allows additional roster flexibility. Each roster only allows one quarterback to start per week, so drafting three quarterbacks automatically ensures two players will sit on your bench. Instead, more upside can be captured by selecting an additional player who can potentially start as a flex each week.

Running Back – Grab at least one early

The viability of the Zero Running Back strategy reemerges every offseason, with analysts debating whether it makes sense to ignore the position in drafts given its volatility. However, this anti-fragile approach works best with access to the waiver wire. Best ball leagues rely solely on players drafted, meaning a Zero-RB team may be stuck with timeshare or handcuff running backs selected in the later rounds, with no way to capitalize on changes at the position during the season.

Targeting one or two bellcows early has provided true week-winning potential. Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley both finished in the top five-win rates in 2018, to name a few viable examples of selecting the position early.

Looking at roster construction overall, teams with five or six running backs have delivered the highest win rates in recent years. With the DRAFT platform including two running back slots and three receiver slots, rosters can get by with fewer players at the running back position.

Make sure to avoid handcuffing your own players. Unlike seasonal leagues, handcuffing in best ball leagues severely diminishes a team’s upside. Outside of special circumstances like Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram), having two running backs on the same team almost guarantees one ends up on your bench each week. Instead, draft handcuffs or satellite backs from different teams than your studs. This gives you the chance to both keep your stud and have your handcuff develop into an every week starter in the case of injury.

Wide Receiver – Secure studs early, choose upside late

Mentioned above, best ball leagues start three wide receivers and have an additional flex, giving the opportunity to start four each week. With more starting players than any other position, leaving drafts with 6-8 wide receivers has shown to have the highest win rates.

In the first five rounds of drafts, securing two to three safe wide receivers remains imperative. Instead of taking running backs with ambiguous workloads (Kerryon Johnson / Aaron Jones) hitting wide receivers like Brandin Cooks provides a safe floor for best ball teams. Both the highest and lowest win rates occur in the first rounds of drafts, making the first five picks crucial to a team’s success.

In the mid-to-late rounds, shifting focus toward upside receivers provides best ball teams with the necessary ceiling to actually win drafts. With the draft master format automatically placing the top scorers at each position into your lineup, predicting weeks a receiver might explode is irrelevant. Rosters can feature a few of these players and benefit from the scoring spikes, instead of battling the headaches of guessing when the big weeks will happen as in the season-long format.

Tight End – Grab a stud plus an upside play, or three solid options

Unlike other positions, many strategies can work at tight end with a wide gap in scoring between the top of position and the rest. Drafting Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz provides a distinct edge due to their volume. However, drafting three tight ends can also capture some of this upside and has actually provided a slightly higher win rate (8.5%).

While drafting an elite tight end requires premium draft capital, it means only two roster spots need to be dedicated to the position. With the studs scoring on par with the best wide receivers, a second tight only needs to be drafted to cover bye weeks.

Once the elite tight ends come off the board, targeting several tight ends with clear volume has delivered the best results. Players like O.J. Howard and Vance McDonald, who could see increased roles in their respective offenses, provide a clear avenue to best ball success. Fitting this mold last season, Kittle finished with a win rate of 17%.

Selecting three tight ends instead of three quarterbacks may provide additional value. Unlike quarterback, two tight ends could theoretically enter your lineup each week through the flex position. While this doesn’t happen often, grabbing three tight ends not only gives more scoring opportunities, but protects against injury at a more fragile position.

About the Author

  • Matthew Gajewski (mgajewski)

  • Matt Gajewski graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in Economics. Matt has been playing fantasy football, DFS, and in best ball leagues for over four years. In season, he enjoys the pain that comes from following Chicago Bears and Notre Dame football.

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