Best Ball Strategy: Early Targets on Underdog Fantasy for Closing Line Value (Fantasy Football)
Average Draft Position (ADP) is essentially a fantasy football market. It tells fantasy football drafters where players are valued and gives us a frame work from which to draft best ball teams. Every year, there are a number of different players who are over-valued (i.e. going higher than they should be) in the market while there’s always guys who go later than they should (i.e. they’re under-valued). Trying to identify those type of players is a difficult process but one that can be extremely profitable for fantasy players who are drafting best ball teams all summer long.
Trying to find players who are likely to go higher in drafts come July and August can be a profitable strategy in best ball formats – it’s part of the reason many analysts, including Kyle and I, advocate for drafting at different times of the off-season. Players who are a perceived value in May, might not be the same value come July or August. For tournament style best ball players (Underdog’s Best Ball Mania or DraftKings Milly Maker, for example), getting players at a better ADP than our opponents has a meaningful impact on advance rate. This concept is one that I refer to as ‘closing line value.’
For those betting lines and totals in the NFL, this term is one that is often associated with getting the best number, and while it doesn’t guarantee you’ll win the bet, it does improve your chances of being a more profitable long-term bettor. Here’s an example – If you bet Bengals -3.5 on Monday and the line closes Bengals -7 on Sunday at kickoff, you got the best possible number, and you “beat” the market. Being able to do this on a consistent basis demonstrates good process. Below are seven players who are likely to go higher in August than they are right now.
Editor’s Note – Best Ball Rankings and the Best Ball Primer will be available in the 2023 Ultimate Draft Kit+ on June 1.
1. Alexander Mattison, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Overall ADP: 104.4
Positional ADP: RB32
There’s no secret that when Dalvin Cook misses time, Alexander Mattison smashes. In six games where Cook has missed, Mattison has averaged 23.3 touches per game and 18.5 half-PPR points per game. If Cook remained on the roster, you could justify this Mattison ADP based on the contingent upside alone, but the real argument for taking some shots here is the possibility that Dalvin is not on the roster come June 1. Coming off shoulder surgery, Cook is set to make more than $14M in 2023. If the Vikings cut him after June 1, they’ll save $9M, and if they trade him after June 1, they’d save $11M. As a result, he’s been in the headlines all off-season as a potential trade option or a guy who could be cut this summer. It remains to be seen if that actually happens, but if Cook is not on this roster, Mattison will skyrocket in ADP to a top-15 RB.
Note – I do think Cook at RB24 (61.7 overall0 is a potential value for the same reasons. Not much has changed in this offense from a workload standpoint. If Minnesota decides to keep Cook, this RB24 cost will look silly in hindsight as he’s historically been a Round 1/Round 2 pick. Should Minnesota keep Cook, I do expect his ADP to climb as well, likely into the Round three range. With the market clearly unsure what to do about the Vikings RBs, now is the time to get exposure to both backs at ADP.
2. Samaje Perine, RB, Denver Broncos
Overall ADP: 116.6
Positional ADP: RB32
As of May, the market is definitely a bit unsure on the Broncos’ RB situation, specifically the health of Javonte Williams, who’s coming off the board as the RB28. Williams suffered a significant knee injury early in the year last season, tearing his ACL while also injuring his LCL, posterolateral corner, and meniscus. I won’t bore you with the details here (I wrote more about it in the Injury Report section of the Ultimate Draft Kit), but this is a big-time injury. We generally get positive news on players coming off ACL injuries as the summer goes on, but this is one where I think we could see the opposite effect given the severity of the injury. As a result, I like the idea of targeting Perine now before we see his ADP rise. I actually think there’s a somewhat decent chance we see Williams start the season on PUP, and if we start to get those reports throughout the summer, Williams’ ADP will fall while Perine’s will rise. If you’re still wanting to buy the dip on Javonte and fade the injury narrative, I do think we’ll likely get a better price in August.
3. Chig Okonkwo, TE, Tennessee Titans
Overall ADP: 132.4
Positional ADP: TE14
I discussed Okonkwo on last week’s DFS and Betting Podcast as a guy we’re targeting at his current ADP. Okonkwo flashed in a major way as a rookie, leading the position in yards per route run, yards after the catch per reception, and yards per reception. Granted, it was a small sample size as Chig was used as a part-time player as a rookie, logging a 37% snap rate in 2022. If he remains a part-time player, Chig is truthfully probably a horrible pick at ADP, but logic would suggest we see that number skyrocket in year two. Austin Hooper is now in Las Vegas, and most casual fantasy players can’t even name a WR on the depth chart besides Treylon Burks. Chig’s efficiency numbers and athletic profile (92nd percentile speed score) are the exact type of metrics we look at when trying to identify breakout TEs. Look for Okonkwo to gain steam throughout the summer and potentially settle in as a top 12 option at the position.
Among TEs who saw 30+ targets last year, Chig Okonkwo ranked:
– 1st in Yards per Route Run (2.61)
– 1st in Yards per Reception (14.0)
– T1st in Yards after the Catch/Reception (7.8)
We discussed more AFC Winners & Losers on Thursday's show! pic.twitter.com/NyebAtmzXZ
— Fantasy Footballers (@TheFFBallers) May 6, 2023
4. Juwan Johnson, TE, New Orleans Saints
Overall ADP: 148.9
Positional ADP: TE16
I don’t necessarily view Johnson as a difference-maker at the position, but could he end up coming off the board as a top 12 TE in a couple of months? I think there’s a good chance that happens once the market catches up to the opportunity post-NFL Draft. The Saints traded away Adam Trautman during the NFL Draft, opening up a clear opportunity for Johnson as the TE1 in this offense. Sure Taysom Hill is technically still available as a TE, but he wasn’t really used in that role a year ago (just 51 total snaps inline per PFF). Johnson only played 65% of the snaps a year ago, but he cleared 500 yards and found the end zone seven times. If he can get up to that 80+% snap range, there’s room for more production in 2023.
5. Wan’Dale Robinson, WR, New York Giants
Overall ADP: 166.8
Positional ADP: WR71
In his first season under Brian Daboll, Daniel Jones posted career highs in yards per attempt and completion rate throwing the ball while he smashed his previous career high in rushing, running for over 700 yards on the ground. Danny Dimes finished as fantasy’s QB9 after coming off the board later in drafts last year. This season, early drafters are definitely in on Dimes as he’s currently going in Round 8. Darren Waller (75.4 overall) is getting some love as a stacking partner, but outside of the TE, it seems as though the general public isn’t sure what to do about this pass-catching core. Jalin Hyatt (134.6) was taken in the third round of the NFL Draft and is currently the highest-drafted WR. I suspect a lot of that is due to ambiguity in the WR room, but the field seems a bit overconfident in the third-round rookie. If I’m making a bet right now, I’d be placing my chips in Wan’Dale Robinson‘s camp at his current WR71 price tag. Robinson is recovering from a torn ACL in Week 11 adding some uncertainty to his early season outlook. However, in these big tournaments where all of the money is late in the year, that isn’t quite as big of a concern for best ball formats (especially at cost). Robinson was selected in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft by this staff and was starting to break out when he was injured. On the year, he posted a 23.2% targets per route run rate and 1.76 yards per route run, two respectable numbers for a rookie. I suspect we’ll start to get some positive reports on Robinson’s recovery in the very near future, and when we do, his ADP could start to climb a round or two. Last summer I wrote more about which WRs have generally done well in year one after ACL surgery, and Robinson certainly fits the mold.
6. Jayden Reed, WR, Green Bay Packers
Overall ADP: 184.4
Positional ADP: WR79
Reed was selected 50th overall in the 2023 NFL Draft by the Packers, giving him Round 2 draft capital. It’s certainly a lot earlier than most expected, but when NFL teams make moves like this, we need to pay attention. Reed’s draft capital made him the sixth WR off the board, yet on Underdog, he’s currently going after fellow rookies Josh Downs, Rashee Rice, Jalin Hyatt and Marvin Mims despite going earlier than all of those guys in the actual NFL Draft. In other words, there’s still a bit of a lag in terms of how fantasy players value the Packers’ rookie. Reed lands on a depth chart that’s wide open after the departure of Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb in free agency, and Green Bay vacates 184 WR targets from a year ago, the second most in the NFL. I suspect this lag is likely due to the uncertainty around Jordan Love. If Rodgers was still there, I’d think Reed would be flying up draft boards. Sure the QB play is a question mark, but this is a Round 16 player where the opportunity cost mitigates those potential concerns. If we get beat reporters signaling that Reed is likely to play 3WR sets (and I do think we’ll go those), Reed’s ADP will likely climb into the Round 12-14 range.
7. Chuba Hubbard, RB, Carolina Panthers
Overall ADP: 191.9
Positional ADP: RB58
Drafting late-round RBs this time of year is a scary investment given that we don’t have a great idea as to what RB depth charts might look like come August. One team where it seems pretty clear (famous last words) is Carolina. Miles Sanders was signed to a multi-year deal in free agency and is sure to enter camp as the RB1, but behind him, the depth chart currently reads: Chuba Hubbard, Raheem Blackshear, Spencer Brown, and Cam Peoples, who was signed as a UDFA after the NFL Draft. Blackshear and Brown combined for 22 carries in 2022. Should Sanders go down, Hubbard is extremely likely to step into the starting role. Carolina returns 5/5 starters on the offensive line, a unit that ranked ninth in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards. Hubbard isn’t an elite RB by any means, but from a contingent upside/usable weeks perspective, Hubbard is likely undervalued at this current price.