Fantasy Best Ball: Five in-depth tips for drafting winning teams

Matt Harmon

Best ball has arrived here at Yahoo Fantasy. I couldn’t be more thrilled. Here are the details. Read them and I’m confident you’ll be just as pumped as I am.

I’ve spent the last few years doing hundreds of best ball drafts across the industry. My favorite part of the format is that it tests you, the drafter, perhaps more than any other type of fantasy. It tests your philosophies, it makes you think, and you truly learn about your approach to this game called fantasy football.

With every best ball draft that comes and goes, I feel I learn something about myself. Now, with my employer dipping into the best ball waters, I want to share some of what I’ve gathered over the years playing this particular brand of fantasy football.

This is not a strategy article, although strategy will come up. We’ll have tons of written, video, and audio content on how to tackle the specifics of best ball. For now, take this as an account of a journey, one that is meant to help you on yours, which is soon to begin.

[Join a Yahoo Best Ball league now]

The five tips I have for you here are five things I think about before each best ball draft kicks off. And it’s these five things I reflect upon when each one’s final pick has come and gone.

There are a few paths up the mountain

It’s important to start here before we even start climbing. Just as it is in traditional, season-long fantasy football ... the reality remains that there are no skeleton keys in best ball. No one strategy, building approach or concept is foolproof.

We’re all trying to get to the mountaintop and be the one to plant the “First-place flag” at the end of the season after scoring the most total points. The reality is that there are multiple ways to ascend to the peak.

The fantasy community has spent the last several years debating and theorizing on the optimal roster construction for best ball leagues. Writers like Mike Beers and Josh Hornsby have published tools and articles that have helped revolutionize the way we conceptualize team-building for this format. At different times since the rise of best ball, it appeared that some hard and fast roster construction rules were developing within position groups. It was common-place for drafters to go into the selection process believing they had to leave with a fixed amount of one position. As the years went on, as all things do, those rules became more flexible.

The truth of the matter is that best ball roster construction hinges on the capital you invest at each position.

You might feel more at ease with three tight ends on your roster if you typically platoon with late-round draftees. That may even be how you function within 90 percent of your drafts. However, if a draft falls the right way and you take a Zach Ertz-type player early, it’s unlikely you’ll feel the need to burn a pick on a third late-round tight end after already selecting a player likely to score within the top-10 every week.

That’s just one small example. Best ball requires us to be more flexible than perhaps any other fantasy format since the entirety of success is based on just one exercise. Have some guidelines in mind for how you’d like to allocate resources at each position — just don’t be married to them.

Make your picks complement each other

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson
DeSean Jackson might be the perfect best ball player, but not all your picks can be this type of scorer (Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

Due to the no-roster-management factor, drafters are often much more inclined to accept volatile players on their teams. No longer do you need to worry about a DeSean Jackson-type going wild on your bench. You get credit for those big weeks and you don’t have to worry about picking them. We’ve all longed for that freedom.

We must resist the temptation to exclusively collect those types. The volatility is necessary to access a ceiling that puts you out of reach among the weekly scorers. But you still need to mix in some players with a more bankable floor than the classic deep threat receiver, like a Jackson.

If you’re considering taking some late-round swings at volatile receivers who have big swings in their production, plan ahead in the mid-rounds. Maybe consider collecting receivers like Julian Edelman, who have a high weekly target projection and can boost your lineup’s floor with five to six catches per week. Balance out your roster with those high-reception, classic PPR receivers alongside the boom-or-bust big-play receivers.

You can also apply this concept across positions. If you’re spending heavy on wide receiver early, you want to make your later running back picks reflect that approach. You can find discount passing-down backs later in drafts. Those players might not offer a ceiling comparable to some of the late-round handcuffs available in the same range but they will help balance out your team.

In best ball, you certainly want to have access to the needed ceiling volatile players bring. However, if you make sure your picks complement each other, you won’t leave yourself as exposed to the damage their floors can do. Players score points in different ways. Remember that “how” when it’s time to make sure your picks make sense together.

Reflect on your player exposure

Everyone hates the experience in a fantasy mock draft when things go off the rails to the point it no longer reflects reality. Some jackass logs off after drafting Tim Tebow in Round 1. The three “teams” ahead of you are on autodraft so you can’t test out particular strategies.

You don’t have to live that life with best ball.

These leagues actually count for something. Certain ones will even come with money on the line. You’re less likely to be drafting with folks just goofing off while killing one more wasted second of life as they hurl aimlessly around the sun. You’re also less likely to mess around yourself. As each of these teams will play out of the course of the season and, if you wish, put some of your money on the line, you should be invested in their success.

Fantasy Football Draft Kit
Fantasy Football Draft Kit

With that in mind, every pick you make matters. It says something about where you truly stand. You might be willing to toy with the idea of taking an unproven receiver in the mid-rounds while other established names fly off the board in a simple mock draft. You might find yourself more squeamish when the team you’re adding him to will actually play out.

Pay attention to your player exposure. Because in these leagues, if you find yourself drafting an unexpected player often, chances are you might have stumbled onto one of “your guys” even if you didn’t know it. You might think you’re high on this sleeper wide receiver for the coming season but if you only find him on five percent of your best ball teams, perhaps you don’t like him as much as you think ... or at least, not more than everyone else.

It pays to lock-in workhorse RBs

We touched on accepting volatility, and the chaos it brings, earlier. It’s one of the inevitable outcomes in our little fake game. No strategy asks you to accept and attempt to benefit from chaos than those that fall under the Zero-RB or upside down drafting umbrella.

In season-long fantasy football, some of the tenants of those theories are perfectly optimal approaches. I am not in the slightest afraid to employ them. With best ball and the lack of in-season roster management, waivers, and trades, it becomes much harder.

You can’t scour the waiver wire in Week 1 for that future league-winner at running back that no one saw coming. If the backups with upside you drafted just play behind a healthy starter all year, they’re just sitting on your roster taking up space.

As such, even an ardent Zero-RB drafter must consider locking in at least one workhorse running back in the early rounds to complement high-end receiver picks. A modified Zero-RB strategy is one that Rumford Johnny has discussed in past years. This asks you to mix in just one early stud running back with four or five straight receiver picks.

Chaos is coming this and every NFL season to follow. You can’t benefit from it as much in best ball. Remember that and adjust within the draft.

Please, just wait on QB

A moment will come in your draft when you consider a quarterback with an early to mid-round selection. “This guy is still available at this pick,” you’ll wonder aloud. Keep on scrolling.

The opportunity cost of taking an early round quarterback becomes all too real in the best ball format. As discussed in the previous section, you cannot just replace a broken asset with a waiver wire pickup in this version of fantasy. The extremely low hit rates of late round picks become all too real when you’re now counting on those players to become players integral to your lineup’s score every week.

Drafting an early quarterback means you’re passing up a shot to take a somewhat bankable running back or wide receiver. Therefore, you’re pushing back the round in which you’ll take a possible starter. Best ball’s lack of in-season management makes that problematic.

All the principles you use to find streaming or late-round quarterback gems in a traditional lineup-setting league can be deployed in best ball. It’s without question reasonable to cobble together a platoon of three NFL starters in Round 10 and beyond. You’re just looking for a handful of high-scoring weeks from each of them.

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