It’s best-ball season. If you aren’t drafting best-ball teams right here on Yahoo, honestly I question whether you even like fantasy football.
I’m being 100 percent serious.
Best-ball allows you to compete for real money, sharpen your craft against serious competition and enjoy the best part about fantasy football (drafting) over and over again all summer long.
Despite all the work done on cracking the best-ball code, there are still so many ways to create a roster. Many present truly viable paths to winning. One of my favorite strategies I try to employ in every single best-ball draft comes with a daily fantasy football influence.
I’m all about stacking offenses I expect to be good units, especially at a value.
How to go about Stacking
The premise for best ball is simple. You want to increase your weekly and season-long upside by stacking a quarterback and some of his skill-position talents set to put up big numbers. When a pass-catcher goes off and helps you win weeks, you can assume his quarterback produced a big stat line to help facilitate that. Wracking up those types of weeks goes a long way to fielding the highest-scoring team by year’s end.
The upside brought on here matters because we are trying to win and get in first place in those best-ball leagues. No one cares about your fourth-place finish. It’s all about the accumulation of points, unlike typical head-to-head weekly fantasy games where you just need to make it to the postseason and then get some breaks.
The real edge in trying to stack for your best-ball team lies in identifying the right offenses.
We’re obviously looking for units that are going to put up yards and points, but there’s more to it. You want a team that has a reasonably concentrated usage tree, is going to play in some negative game scripts and perhaps most importantly, has players going in different ranges of drafts to make constructing the stack possible.
I divide best ball stacks into three tiers:
-HIGH-VALUE STACK: You'll have to pay a draft premium to get these players.
-DISCOUNT STACK: A few high picks, but won't break the bank.
-CLEARANCE-AISLE STACK: Mid-to-late-round fliers who could pay off in a big way.
To get this offseason series kicked off, I figured we’d look at perhaps the best/easiest-to-stack team in the NFL (you didn’t need me to write about the Chiefs or Packers with Rodgers). It’s the Dallas Cowboys, who are looking to pick up right where they left off on the fateful afternoon that saw Dak Prescott get injured.
The Case For Stacking the Cowboys
We were all excited for the Dallas Cowboys offense last year and we were almost instantly proven right. There’s almost no reason to temper running that same optimism back.
The Cowboys’ passing game during Dak Prescott’s five starts looked like a unit ready to tilt the fate of fantasy football leagues. Prescott was on pace to not just break but completely obliterate the passing yardage record with 1,856 in less than 20 full quarters of football.
Now, let’s be clear: It would be foolish to project Prescott to maintain that type of production in 2021, even without any questions about his injury. The defense might not turn into a strength but it might be better than the league basement-level unit that took the field last year. That will keep Dallas out of playing in constant negative game scripts or shootout mode, as they did in the majority of Prescott’s five starts.
That said, the small and prolific 2020 window with Prescott still demonstrates the very real and utterly enticing ceiling this offense has with its skill-position cupboard fully loaded.
In addition to the upside of the unit, there’s another benefit to stacking Cowboys players. From a pure draft strategy standpoint, this pass offense is pretty easy to pile up.
Dak Prescott qualifies as an early-round quarterback. He typically flies off the board in the QB5 to 7 range and within the top-60 overall picks. It’s a higher price to pay but given the onslaught of receivers he has and his own individual rushing upside, he does have league-winning upside on his own.
Before you even take the plunge on Prescott, you’ll have to grab one of his receivers. Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb are both coming off the board as top-14 wide receivers this year and with overall ADPs (33.9 and 36.8) right in the same neighborhood. I’ll probably have Lamb slightly higher just because of his ceiling as a player but their close-call outlooks are well reflected in ADP. Either way, you can’t realistically get both unless you pick on a perfectly-timed round turn.
It’s all good; you can get Michael Gallup much later. Whereas the two aforementioned guys are right next to each other in drafts, there’s at least a 50-pick gap between Gallup and Lamb. That doesn’t make much sense.
Gallup led the team in routes run last year and finished with a nearly identical target share as Lamb. He just plays the most difficult role among the three guys. Gallup led the team in snaps lined up out wide, air yards per target, and contested targets (per PFF). If he comes down with a few more deep targets in those first few games, we’re having a different conversation about this player. Gallup is still a very good starting NFL receiver and you can live with some of the variances his role brings to the table in best-ball formats.
After you’ve stacked up Prescott, Cooper/Lamb, and Gallup, you could even run things back with a late-round dart throw at Blake Jarwin as your TE2 or 3. The fact that Dalton Schultz stepped right into Jarwin’s spot post-injury and collected 18 catches for 214 yards and two touchdowns from Weeks 2 to 5 shows the role was indeed there for Jarwin, as the superior athlete, to put up big fantasy numbers.
The last benefit to the stack is it allows you to get super creative with what I call a “touchdown-hoarding” approach by drafting both the team’s RB1 and QB1.
There’s already been some in the fantasy space rushing to get shovels and dig Ezekiel Elliott’s grave. And I’ll admit I expected to be one of them. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I think it wiser to divorce my feelings about the player’s remaining juice from the spot he finds himself in.
Eschewing a soon-to-be 26-year-old lead back with access to receiving and goal-line work on an offense that’s set to pile up points is not something I want to be in the business of doing in fantasy football.
When Prescott was on the field, Elliott was awesome in fantasy. Most importantly, he maintained a 102-target pace in those five games. Those catches and the locked-in goal-line work are going to make Elliott a good bet at his RB7 ADP.
Remember, this is Dallas — the Dallas Cowboys. Zeke is going to get that ball. You might think Tony Pollard has more juice. I might think Tony Pollard has more juice; it doesn’t matter. Nothing in Dallas’ actions have ever indicated they’ll change their running back deployment to reflect that.
The Case Against Stacking Cowboys
The only real case against stacking the Cowboys’ offense is that you’re worried about the ghosts of the past coming to haunt them. Those phantoms being a falloff in play following Dak Prescott’s injury and lingering issues with what was a broken offensive line.
Starting with the latter, while this pass protection group was problematic in 2020, we can have hope it will be better this year. La’el Collins and Tyron Smith are back to resume their duties as the starting tackles. Smith is still on the wrong side of his excellent career but the Cowboys actually have solid depth in case he gets hurt again. Signing Ty Nsheke to be their swing tackle was a strong move.
As for Prescott, sure, his status is an unknown variable at this point. Taking the plunge in a summer best ball draft is a bit more aggressive than waiting until training camp reports, but that might be the only real risk with this stack. Otherwise, it’s all systems go.
Verdict: HIGH-VALUE STACK
Would I prioritize this stack? No question — I’m all the way back in on Dallas’ offense.
The two inflection points in the draft for making the decision to pursue this stack will come when/if Ezekiel Elliott ends up as my late Round 1 pick and, more importantly, if I select a Cowboys receiver in the early rounds.
At that point, with one or both of those players in the fold, it’s time to get aggressive with pursuing Prescott. Honestly, Gallup's presence as an extremely affordable but proven player with a locked-in role on this high-powered offense really makes this stack so appealing. That feels strange to say but his week-winning usage is already so perfect for best-ball and his draft range and stack-able potential just take it to the next level.
The Cowboys looked like they were going to win fantasy leagues early in 2020. Almost one year later, I’m expecting them to stay right on that track.