Maybe you’ve only heard of best ball leagues in passing or maybe you’ve done 50 drafts by now, but one thing is for sure — it’s quickly becoming the hottest trend in fantasy football. That’s especially true early in draft season when dynasty drafts are done but it’s too soon to do full redraft leagues/auctions with waivers, trades, etc. Now is as good of a time as ever to deliver a draft cheat sheet full of all the tips and strategy advice you need to dominate your best ball leagues in 2021.
First of all, just what is “best ball”? The name comes from the idea that you don’t actually set your lineup each week. Rather, your highest-scoring players are automatically slotted into your lineup after the fact. The differences from redraft don’t end there. Not every league is set up exactly the same, but below are the typical rules for most best ball leagues.
Basic Best Ball Rules
- Your best players at each position automatically slot into your starting lineup after the week is finished
- No waivers, pickups, or drops
- No trades
- Large rosters. Because you are just doing the draft with no waivers or trades, typical drafts are 20-30 rounds to make sure you have a sufficient number of players to last the season
- “Roto” scoring. Always check your league settings, but on most sites the scoring is cumulative for the year. This means you don’t have head-to-head matchups; rather, the points the person with the most points at the end wins.
The beauty of this format is that it’s super low maintenance. You basically do your draft and that’s your team. Check back every Tuesday to see where you finished for the week and where you’re at in the season standings. If you are someone like me that is in “too many leagues” but you still want to in July and early August, it’s a great way to get involved with current friends, make new ones, or just give yourself a shot at some prize money.
Now, let’s get into some strategy. We’ll do a couple of general tips before breaking down how to handle each position.
Fantasy Football Best Ball Tips, Draft Strategy, How to Play
Basic Best Ball Tips:
ABC (Always Be Counting).By the nature of this format, most viable players are going to be drafted. Since there are no waivers to bail you out, you need to have enough players on your team at the end of the draft to fill the positions. For instance, you need to be counting how many viable QBs are remaining to make sure that you get at least two decent ones (preferably three) before they are gone. You also want to count how many owners around you have drafted a position. If you are picking at eight and the guys at nine and 10 each have three QBs already, there is a good chance they aren’t taking another one and a QB might come back to you.
Track Bye Weeks. You don’t need to pay super-close attention to this at RB or WR, but if your plan is to draft just two quarterbacks and/or two tight ends, it’s imperative. Again, there are no waivers, so if you draft just two QBs and they have the same bye, that’s a guaranteed zero for that week — a big no-no.
Take Some Chances. One thing I use best ball drafts for at this time of the year is to “place some bets.” Think Deshaun Watson gets off with a slap on the wrist? Bet on it by taking him at value in a best ball league! Think a certain player is definitely going to get injured? Grab his backup without worrying that you’re “wasting” a pick. Just remember that best ball ADP isn’t necessarily going to be the same as redraft ADP for your hometown league. We’ll get into that more below.
2021 STANDARD FANTASY RANKINGS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker | Top 200
Fantasy Football Best Ball Draft Tips: Quarterback
Quarterback needs to be treated differently in this format because you can’t just draft one QB or play matchups during the year. Because of the large roster sizes for best ball leagues, every viable quarterback — including several Week 1 backups — will likely be drafted.
At quarterback, I have a fairly simple strategy. If I take one of the better QBs that I’m highly confident in, I’m more likely to draft only one other quarterback. For instance, if I take Patrick Mahomes in the third round, I might wait a little and take a guy who I’m confident won’t lose his job but also isn’t super flashy — think Ben Roethlisberger or Derek Carr. Unless it’s a superflex league, only one quarterback can slot into your lineup each week, so you’ll be wasting a lot of good weeks and high-end draft capital by taking two high-end quarterbacks. If you go this route, also be wary of bye weeks. If you take Mahomes and Kyler Murray, not only are you wasting the capital, but they have the same bye week.
If I don’t take a high-end QB, I try to get three viable options. One of my favorite moves is to wait a bit on quarterback, then take two I trust, such as Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan. Then, I’ll look for one with a low floor but high ceiling, like a Trey Lance or Justin Fields. Even if the rookies start the year on the bench (or don’t play at all), you are covered for those weeks with your top two. This is a method to limit your risk exposure while simultaneously having a shot at this year’s Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray if the rookies blow up.
Current Best Values at ADP based on Best Ball 10 data: Dak Prescott (49), Russell Wilson (65), Aaron Rodgers (98), Matthew Stafford (137), Ben Roethlisberger (194), Zach Wilson (216), Cam Newton (230).
2021 PPR FANTASY RANKINGS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker | Top 200
Fantasy Football Best Ball Draft Advice: Running back
In the early part of your best ball draft, running back is actually going to be treated as it is in any other fantasy draft — the bell cows that are locked in for a major workload go first. Guys like Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Ezekiel Elliott, etc, come off the board just like they would in any redraft league, and it’s smart to get your hands on as many of those type guys as you can. After that is where the strategy diverges from redraft.
Home Run Hitters
In a typical redraft league, you are looking for the “safe” guys that you can feel comfortable slotting into your lineup that won’t get you a zero. In best ball, you don’t need to make those start-sit decisions. You don’t need to fear the zero. With that being said, you want to look for guys who can potentially hit home runs, even if they have down weeks. One of my favorite metrics is speed. Look at guys like Raheem Mostert and Kenyan Drake who recorded the three fastest plays in the NFL last year per NFL Next Gen Stats. Those plays are often recorded on 50-plus-yard runs. Even if that player puts up a zero the following week, a 70-yard touchdown alone is worth 13 points. In that case, they are almost certainly going to crack your lineup that week and you likely won’t get burned by the zero-point week because you’ll have five-to-seven RBs on your roster.
A player like JK Dobbins in a timeshare offense like the Ravens could be frustrating for redraft leagues, but in best ball, his speed and ability to score from 20-plus yards out is coveted. Some of these guys will have reduced ADPs because of opinions carried over from redraft leagues, and that’s exactly where you can find value.
2021 FANTASY TIERS & DRAFT STRATEGY:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST
Handcuffs and Vultures
At the very end of drafts when the pickings are slim, I like to target two types of guys. I call one a “handcuff plus.” This is a player with some standalone value in his current role but destined to see a huge increase in production if the starter were to get hurt (e.g. Tony Pollard, Alexander Mattison, Jamaal Williams). Guys like Pollard will break off random touchdown runs from time to time while giving the starter a breather, but in redraft, you would never start them because you have no idea when it’s coming. However, in best ball, you get those points if that scenario plays out.
I also like to target a player who is so hit or miss, he can’t be trusted in regular leagues — the touchdown vulture. When we are talking about the very last round of a 20-30 round draft, all you are looking for is a guy who can score a touchdown every once in a while and sneak into your lineup (especially during the byes). Big plodders fall in these drafts because of our preconceived notions from redraft, but guys like Gus Edwards, Rhamondre Stevenson, and AJ Dillon could find themselves in best ball lineups a lot of weeks simply by being the biggest body in the running back group. The big boys are back in best ball!
Current Best Values at ADP based on Best Ball 10 data: Ezekiel Elliott (9), Joe Mixon (24), JK Dobbins (58), Chris Carson (105), Raheem Moster (139), Kenyan Drake (162), Gus Edwards (167), Alexander Mattison (186), Todd Gurley (236), Sony Michel (238), Le’Veon Bell (240)
2021 FANTASY AUCTION VALUES (Standard & PPR):
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker | Overall
Fantasy Football Best Ball Draft Strategy: Wide receiver
If there is one position you can wait on in best ball, it’s wide receiver. That’s because of how deep the position is based on the format. Unlike running back or quarterback, where there is typically one guy on the field at a time, most teams use at least two WRs on most plays. Some teams — Cardinals, Bengals, Cowboys, Bills, etc. — are using three or even four on most snaps. By the nature of that, there are simply going to be more viable wide receivers available in rounds 20-30 of your best ball drafts.
Just like running back, I’ve done a full write-up on specific types of guys to target at wide receiver in best ball over at Fantasy Alarm. Far and away, the biggest values are going to be the boom-or-bust wide receivers. Look at this chart from the previous article showing last season’s weekly performance for Cooper Kupp and Amari Cooper.
|PPR Points||Cooper Kupp||Amari Cooper|
Kupp was very “safe,” scoring at least six points in every game. Cooper had some absolute duds, scoring 1.5, 2.5, and 4.1 points in some weeks, which likely killed you in redraft. Here’s the thing — those weeks don’t matter much, if at all, in best ball. Someone else will be in your lineup. Conversely, six-to-12 points from Kupp might not be enough to crack your best ball lineup in any given week. In reality, Cooper was the far better best ball player, slotting into your lineup a minimum of 10 times.
There is incredible value to be found with field-stretcher, big-play WRs who might considered too risky to start every week in redraft leagues. You don’t need to “start” anyone in best ball. If you owned Marquise Brown, you got all those weeks he scored a touchdown with none of the bad weeks.
When people hear stacking, they often think of stacking a wide receiver with a quarterback, a common DFS strategy. In best ball, we are talking about a different kind of stacking that is usually a headache in redraft: Stacking two WRs from the same team.
In the early part of the fantasy draft, uncertainty is bad. You want to use your high-end capital on guys you can trust because a miss hurts you badly. In the late parts of drafts, uncertainty is actually your friend. Last year, the Panthers had a new coach and new QB. D.J. Moore was going WR14 since everybody thought he was a safe play while guys like Robby Anderson and Curtis Samuel were going in the WR60-65 range. We didn’t know who the second WR was going to be in Carolina, so you could easily take both Anderson and Samuel late, assuming at least one of them should be decent. And what happened? It was a brand new offense and the ball was spread around pretty evenly. Moore wasn’t necessarily any better than the other two, and you got a bunch of viable weeks from both Samuel and Anderson.
This year, there are a number of teams in a similar boat with a new coach and new QB from which you can stack multiple of the WRs at the end of drafts (JAX, DET, NYJ, HOU). How do we even know that Urban Meyer and Trevor Lawrence are going to like DJ Chark best? With picks in the 10-15th-round range, you could easily stack both Laviska Shenault and Marvin Jones Jr., and at least get one guy who should be second on the team in targets. A lot of guys in that range are just going to outright stink. Hedging your bets and locking in one player isn’t a bad move.
Current Best Values at ADP based on Best Ball 10 data: Davante Adams (13), Keenan Allen (30), Amari Cooper (36), Adam Thielen (58), Tyler Lockett (65), Kenny Golladay (118), Will Fuller (131), Marquise Brown (146), Mike Williams (168), Darnell Mooney (174), Marvin Jones (176), TY Hilton (180), Nelson Agholor (195), Emmanuel Sanders (213), Allen Lazard (225), Tyrell Williams (234), DeSean Jackson (236), Nico Collins (240), Josh Palmer (240)
2021 FANTASY SLEEPERS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Each team
Fantasy Football Best Ball Draft Strategy: Tight end
Tight end is my specialty, so a lot of people think I love high-end tight ends like Travis Kelce, but that’s not the case. I like finding the tight ends who could become upper-tier guys by season’s end. Spending all this time researching tight ends just to draft the chalk play is a waste of time, so I don’t often do it. If you have found success with a particular position in the past, you should apply this same logic. Excel in finding solid late-round running backs? Don’t load up on them with your first picks; you are doing yourself a disservice! That said, there are two strategies that I like to deploy with TE, and one does revolve around upper-tier tight ends.
If you go with an elite tight end, you should treat it the same way we talked about quarterback earlier. Even if you draft Travis Kelce or Darren Waller, you shouldn’t neglect the position moving forward. What you should really do to maximize your value is take the high-end tight end, then take a second highly trustworthy tight end. This not only covers you for the bye weeks and down weeks (yes, even the greats have down weeks), but it lets you maximize your roster allocation. If you take a high-end tight end like George Kittle, then a “safe” tight end like Noah Fant, you can now essentially be done drafting tight end. If you take Kittle then wait until the very end, now you feel uncomfortable with just one guy and end up piecing together multiple scrappy tight ends. Those roster spots are better spent on WRs with higher upside. Rather than having just one really good tight end and three useless ones, the ideal configuration is one high-end tight end, a solid one, and then two more roster spots for other positions.
Yin & Yang
Every year I write an article on this strategy for redraft, but the concept is simple really. If you wait on tight end, draft multiple. Draft at least one safe tight end who might have a medium ceiling but a decent floor so you aren’t getting a zero. An example of this is a guy like Irv Smith Jr. who isn’t a top-two target on his team but should catch a couple passes a week to at least keep you afloat. This is your “yin.” Then, you pair him with a low-floor, high-upside tight end who could be complete trash but also has something that gives them a path to high upside (like speed or a chance to be the second target on his team). Someone like Evan Engram fits this mold. This is your “yang.” If your lineup is all yins, they are all going to score around five or six points each week, and you’ll have one guy in your lineup scoring six points and three on your bench scoring five. If your lineup is all yangs, you might have two guys put up 20 points in Week 1, then put up duds in Week 2 and 3, resulting in you ending up with a two and zero in your lineup for those weeks. It’s all about balance.
If I wait on tight end, I like to take multiple of each. That’s what bench spots are for — upside. I might wait until every team drafts a tight end to take Irv Smith and Engram back-to-back, then later take Adam Trautman and Austin Hooper. This leaves me with two yins (Irv and Hooper), two yangs (Engram, Trautman). I don’t need to use a pick in the top-12 rounds to do it. Last year, I won a league with Engram, Smith, Graham, and Jordan Akins, which fits that configuration. People will scoff at all those tight ends, but they put together enough good weeks for me and I was able to invest my early capital elsewhere, which clearly paid off.
Current Best Values at ADP based on Best Ball 10 data: TJ Hockenson (52), Dallas Goedert (96), Evan Engram (166), Hunter Henry (170), Jonnu Smith (179), Cole Kmet (197), Adam Trautman (198), Zach Ertz (200), Gerald Everett (207), Chris Herndon (231), Dawson Knox (235), Jacob Harris (240), Kylen Granson (240)