BestBall Strategy & Pivots for 2020 (Fantasy Football)
It’s 2020… so we all need to take whatever expectations we have and just throw them out the window. And then burn the bridge behind us. I get it… it’s hectic but whether you are pessimistic about the NFL season starting or not, there is a format just for you while you sit in the waiting room: BestBall.
If you’re new to the concept, I wrote a BestBall Strategies for Beginners article that lays out some simple strategy and a 10,000-foot overview of how to attack. Whether it be Yahoo or MFL10s, there is a site for you. If you haven’t checked out the newly minted Underdog Fantasy yet, I highly recommend for anyone getting into BestBall action.
In this article, let’s discuss a few “2020 approved” strategies and pivots for the ever-changing season for a format that doesn’t change after the draft.
Beyond the unpredictable nature of this year, the most important endeavor for any BestBall-er is figuring out how many roster spots you need to allocate for each position. As BestBall guru Mike Beers explains, “you should not go in with ‘a’ plan… you should go in with 20+ plans“. In Fantasy Footballers’ terms, it is stay water. Being pliable as the draft unfolds is ultimately what separates casual players willing to light $10 on fire and those that actually receive a return on their BestBall investment. Think about this as a “Chose Your Own Adventure Book” that shifts your final destination depending on who and when you draft certain positions.
For example, if you select an elite QB early in the draft such as Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson, how many other QBs should you pair with him? For the other “onesie” position, if you went Travis Kelce or George Kittle, is it necessary to carry three TEs? If you went RB heavy early in the first three rounds, how many total RBs should you end with?[lptw_table id=”164351″ style=”default”]
Depending on the format, be willing to change on the fly as your favorite targeted players are sniped before you’re ready. No roster is immune from having a weak spot. But it’s the strength in numbers that can make up for a lack of high-end draft capital. What is clear is that your team should be heavy on running backs and wide receivers while skewing towards upside at the latter position…
It has wide-ly been discussed in fantasy circles that wide receivers are the deepest position in fantasy. Once you move past the elite tier of Michael Thomas and company, there is a group of about 15 guys that honestly have an argument of finishing as a WR1 as detailed in our Path to WR1 articles. For BestBall formats, the up-and-down nature of wide receivers needs to be taken into account.
WRs are the bedrock of PPR scoring and yet one of the most volatile week-to-week positions to start. Take, for example, Tyreek Hill, the #1 fantasy WR in 2018. While the finish was incredible, according to our metrics found in the Ultimate Draft Kit, he was the 15th most consistent WR on the season. Yes, he exploded for five weeks as a top-3 WR. He also had weeks finishing as the WR54, WR44, and WR49 which absolutely killed your lineup. This isn’t to disparage drafting players with elite upside like Hill but simply highlighting the fact your team must be prepared to withstand victories, as Jason would say.
Finding value amongst the wide receivers drafted outside the top-30 is where BestBall mavens truly make their mark. If you locked in on late-round WRs John Brown, Deebo Samuel, DeVante Parker, and D.J. Chark last year, you likely bested the rest of your league. Because every roster needs 6+ wideouts, your likely reaching deeper to guys with ADPs in the WR60s. But hitting on your wide receivers especially in formats where you’re starting at least three every week is a must. For some extra reading, I recently profiled seven candidates who could be 2020’s DeVante Parker.
As Ben Cummins recently discussed in Finding Value in ADP: Teammate Arbitrage, you can look for affordable players whose production will match, or at least come close to matching, their more expensive counterparts. Take for example the Detroit WRs. Here are their weekly finishes through Week 14 last year.
Kenny Golladay was a monster finishing as the WR6 despite three weeks outside the top-60(!) at the position. His teammate Marvin Jones Jr. had some rough patches but also four top-10 performances that gave you the kind of ‘umph’ you were looking for from a WR drafted in the eighth round. Jones Jr. paced as the WR15 through Week 14 before going down to an injury. What’s incredible is he finished the year tying for the league lead in red-zone TDs despite missing those final three weeks as mentioned in a recent article showcasing Jones Jr.’s 2020 ceiling. Right now there is a 6+ round difference between these two wide receivers. If Jones Jr. can provide 75 percent of the production of Golladay at a fraction of the cost, you’ve made a wise investment.
Shoot for Mars… But the Moon Will Do
Upside, upside, upside. Yea we get it… The type of players usually championed as “BestBall guys” are the boom-bust players that usually redraft players have nightmares about starting. Whether that be DeSean Jackson, Will Fuller, or Derrius Guice, it’s apparent that BestBall players are sifting through their rankings hoping to pair their solid early-round picks with a week-winning prototype. “Upside” isn’t really a secret word these days and you can see the public responds as major ADP movers year-to-year also bring added expectation to return value. See Chris Godwin 2019.
We have to realize while everyone is trying to swing for the fences for upside in their drafts the majority of drafters whiff. According to a study done by Ben Brown of PFF, the “majority of quick [ADP] risers failed to live up to their lofty ADP expectations by the time the season was done….they failed to perform up to their ADP expectation over 50% of the time” In other words, not everyone can find players that finish in top-12 at the position… only 12 make it there.
Yes, you’re looking for the most points in your league but sometimes you actually get there with players who are consistent with their floor and their opportunity with a situation not quite as fluid as others. For instance, no-one is imagining that Patriots RB James White is a league winner. Last year, he was being taken in BestBall leagues in the late sixth/early seventh rounds as the RB25. Not exactly inspiring. You could’ve swung for the fences with guys like Damien Williams (RB12) or his teammate Sony Michel (RB20) hoping that they came through as a top-12 finisher. You could’ve waited and taken a shot on one of the later rookies that had supposed upside: Justice Hill, Darwin Thompson, Damien Harris, Ryquell Armstead. Not exactly inspiring names… All White did was finish almost exactly where he was drafted as the RB23 in 0.5-point leagues and provided the floor teams might’ve needed in the middle to late rounds. Those points still add up and often players like White are overlooked. Throw in wideouts like Jamison Crowder, Sterling Shepard, and Hunter Renfrow as safe WR5/6s in BestBall.
Regardless of the size of your BestBall drafts, take advantage of stacking as an avenue to outpace your opponents especially near the end of the season. It is no secret to pair a QB with a WR because we know in order for a wide receiver to have a good fantasy outlook, he is inevitably tied to the person throwing him the ball. We want points and stacking allows us access to them in bunches.
For standard ten or 12-person drafts, I recommend finding at least one pair of elite QB/WR or QB/TE combo that fits your budget. For example, if you want Patrick Mahomes & Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce or Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews, you are spending two of your first three picks on one team. Find a combination that is cheaper especially if the QB can be grabbed in the double-digit rounds. Teddy Bridgewater is one of my favorite QB2s to pair with Christian McCaffrey or D.J. Moore. Also, I’m doubling down on Jimmy Garoppolo with George Kittle and Ben Roethlisberger with either James Conner or Juju Smith-Schuster.
For three or six-person drafts, this is almost a must. Differentiate yourself from your opponent and maximize your upside by grabbing Mahomes or Jackson early and pairing with their TEs.
Take Out an RB Insurance Policy
Stacking as a strategy doesn’t just have to be reserved for QB/WRs only. In redraft leagues, often players take out insurance policies by adding backup RBs to ensure their studs RBs. Unfortunately, this can be lost in BestBall formats as the lack of in-season management and pivoting deters many from drafting these later rounds RBs. According to a DraftSharks article researching over 21,000 best ball teams, the top 10% of teams in BestBall who stacked RBs on the same team saw at least a 57.9-point improvement over the alternative replacement player.
Enter a strategy: draft the backfield! I don’t recommend drafting multiple backfields but if there is a team that exudes ambiguity in the number of touches and distribution, plant a flag and be willing to draft two guys. For instance, did you want Sony Michel or James White last year? You’re probably throwing your hands up in disgust but those Patriots had 3rd most combined PPR points from the RB position in 2019. If you had both of these guys on your roster, your RB2/FLEX spot was fairly consistent all year long.
Drafting RBs with no stand-alone value is not ideal. But sticking middling RBs together can form a dynamic pair. Michel and White together combined for 1,914 total yards and 13 TDs. Here is a list of five RB teammates in backfields that still have some ambiguity and their corresponding BestBall ADP:
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB12/2.10) & Damien Williams (RB32/5.09)
- Jonathan Taylor (RB20/3.12) & Marlon Mack (RB38/7.06)
- Raheem Mostert (RB25/5.01) & Tevin Coleman (RB40/8.10)
- Devin Singletary (RB24/3.07) & Zack Moss (RB46/9.09)
- Ronald Jones II (RB30/6.01) & Ke’Shawn Vaughn (RB36/7.12)
Austin Ekeler was a perfect example of this strategy coming to fruition as owners were unsure of Melvin Gordon and his holdout situation. After Gordon returned in Week 5, he was the RB13 and Ekeler was the RB8 after a blistering first month when he was the RB2, less than four points behind Christian McCaffrey. While stacking a backfield doesn’t always work, it is a way to differentiate yourself from your opponents.
Say Good-bye to Bye Weeks
For most beginners in BestBall, obsessing over bye weeks is common. I get it, you don’t want to take a zero from a group of your most valuable players in a week. If you are taking only two QBs or TEs, paying attention to bye weeks is essential. But don’t start adding bye weeks as a differentiator until after the sixth or seventh rounds. In redraft leagues, the Footballers usually downplay the importance of bye weeks because of trading, the waiver wire, and the number of changes you make after the draft. For a BestBall draft, this is it. There is no maintenance so getting your bye weeks correct matters.
But in 2020… be ready to see bye weeks pale in comparison to 3-week long zeroes. The initial report declared players who test positive will be placed on the injured reserve for three weeks. However, recent clarification reveals that an unlimited number of players can be placed on IR but they won’t be required to miss three weeks. There is some flexibility. With the recent COVID procedures in place, I would prepare for a worst-case scenario of missing three weeks. There is literally no way around this and there is no strategy or statistical measure to prepare for this type of event. Even the best players in the game are susceptible so just be prepared that it will happen.
The only actionable item for BestBall players is to limit your exposure to no more than three players per team. Anything more and you are not only paying for it in a bye week but if one player tests positive, it will likely spread to the whole team. Adjust your expectations for BestBall zeroes and please… for the sake of our loved ones, those who are immunocompromised, and for football in the fall… wear a mask!