Fantasy football mock drafts: The strategies for a best-ball
Everyone is talking about mock drafts — but is it too early to do a real draft?
Not if you are playing in a best-ball league.
The best-ball format, which has gained popularity in recent years thanks to its draft-and-then-forget approach to playing fantasy, is really more of an exercise in how good you are at drafting and capitalizing on potential scenarios that could play out during the season.
A quick primer for the uninitiated: You draft a team, and then do nothing else. You don’t set lineups, or make trades, or play the waiver wire. You’re stuck with who you drafted. Your score is based on your top-scoring players on any given week. So if you have Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer on your team, and Hoyer somehow outscores Brady, Hoyer will be counted as your starting quarterback. Make sense?
This setup lends itself to the creative thinkers. By and large, the first several rounds of best-ball drafts play out like any other “normal” season-long draft would. But once you get toward the end of the draft, things start to get weird.
The PFF Fantasy crew got together for a 20-round best-ball mock draft. In this piece, we’ll go over some of the different strategies that emerged while explaining the pros and cons of each strategy.
The quarterback-heavy approach … without taking any good quarterbacks
Curtis Patrick dedicated four roster spots to quarterbacks, which was the most in our league. Nine people took just two quarterbacks, while two people took three. Here’s how his draft unfolded:
|18.12||San Francisco 49ers||Def|
Despite drafting four quarterbacks, none of them is all that good. His fourth quarterback, Baker Mayfield, probably won’t even be the starter to open the year.
I was actually one of the people who took three quarterbacks, and like Curtis, I didn’t draft my first until late (Round 11). I also ended up with three ho-hum quarterbacks (Jared Goff, Derek Carr, Eli Manning — although Goff was solid last year.
But ho-hum quarterbacks can still get the job done in best-ball formats. We’ll use my trio as an example, since all three played last season. Counting only the best performer out of Goff, Carr, and Manning on every week, the average finish for my trio last season was QB9. At least one member of this trio performed as a top-12 quarterback in 11 of 16 weeks.
What does this prove? It shows that you can get (collective) top-10 quarterback production in best-ball leagues even if you really wait on a quarterback and load up on the skill positions first.
That’s the pro of this strategy — but it does come with a notable con (as does every strategy).
The biggest con of this strategy is that you will still have some bad weeks from the quarterback position. My trio’s average last season was QB9, but missing out on the top 12 in 5-of-16 games is a pretty big deal. The other con of this strategy is that you have to dedicate extra roster spot(s) to mediocre players.
Since there are no waivers or trades in best-ball leagues, you have to think of each roster spot as its own commodity even more so than usual. In other words, by increasing your chance of having a good quarterback week, you’re decreasing the chance of having a good week at every other position.
All-in on running backs —but only at the start of the draft
Pat Thorman and Tyler Buecher went “Zero WR” in this best-ball mock — at least to start the draft. Both Thorman and Buecher selected running backs with their first three selections. Everyone else in the draft took at least one wide receiver within their first three picks.
Here’s how Thorman drafted:
|18.01||New England Patriots||Def|
Obviously, Thorman didn’t truly go “Zero WR,” since he drafted four straight in Rounds 4-7. But, like Buecher, he did spend his most valuable draft capital (the first three rounds) entirely on running backs, while everyone else in the league selected at least one — and in many cases, two — wideouts.
Interestingly, despite being the only teams to spend their first three picks on running backs, both Buecher and Thorman ended up with the fewest number of total running backs on their final roster (five; league average was six).
If you really want to lock down the hardest position to lock down (running backs), this is the way to do it. The main reason the “Zero RB” approach gained popularity a few years ago is because running backs are notoriously hard to predict, outside of the top handful of options. Going heavy on big-named running backs to start the draft virtually ensures productive scoring from the running back position; you don’t have to rely on your shots in the dark.
That’s the pro of this strategy. The con is that because you spent so much valuable capital on running backs to start the draft, you’re less inclined to take fliers later in the draft. (Hence why both Thorman and Buecher ended up with a league-low five running backs on their rosters.)
But taking fliers on running backs can be extremely profitable — especially in best-ball formats. You don’t want to have to rely on your fliers, but you do want those fliers. Starting with three straight running backs leaves you very top-heavy at the position and leaves you with little depth.
The ‘Zero RB’ approach
Scott Spratt was our only drafter who embraced the “Zero RB” approach in this best-ball mock. Here are his draft results:
Spratt spent his first three picks on non-running backs. He was the only player in the league to not draft a running back in the first three rounds.
Spratt did snag three straight running backs in Rounds 4-6, but none of those names are sure things. He ended with a league-low five running backs on his team.
This “Zero RB” approach means Spratt is absolutely loaded at the wideout and tight end spots. With Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski on his team, he has all but guaranteed — health permitting — the most No. 1 overall weekly finishes from both the wideout and tight end positions. And with a true boom-or-bust player like T.Y. Hilton as his No. 2 wideout, Spratt’s pass-catchers will outright win him some weeks.
The con is this strategy is the con of any “Zero RB” strategy: You don’t end up with high-end running backs, which can be backbreaking if your later-round picks don’t hit, since running backs typically score more raw points than wide receivers.
No matter which strategy you go with, make sure you draft with ceilings in mind
We could spend all day analyzing each players’ strategy in this mock draft, but one thing is clear: There are numerous viable ways to attack a best-ball league/draft.
One thing should be consistent across all draft strategies, though: Draft with ceilings in mind. If a player does not have reasonable access to a high ceiling, they can be ignored, even if they are a player you might roster in a season-long league.
For example, Terrance Williams, who is currently the No. 1 wide receiver on the Dallas Cowboys, went undrafted in this mock. However, his teammates Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup both came off the board.
Williams — who has averaged a respectable-but-not-great line of 46-672-4 in his five-year career — will see volume every single week, but he lacks a legitimate ceiling. The odds of Williams outscoring multiple other wideouts (and running backs and tight ends, depending on league settings) on an individual week are so slim that it’s not even worth drafting him, because the “slow and steady” type of player doesn’t work for best-ball formats.