How to Play NFL Best Ball: Expert Advice, Strategy Tips & Analysis

As we enter the fifth five of modern NFL best ball, many theories about the optimal way to play have emerged. In general, best ball refers to season-long NFL fantasy leagues that require no in-season management. After the initial draft, sites optimize lineups for the highest scorers on each position every week. Each provider has its own nuances, but most sites have 18-20 roster slots and the same starting roster positions (QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, WR, TE, FLEX). Scoring may also vary slightly by site as well. Let’s dive into how to play NFL best ball (profitably, of course) as I dish out my expert best ball advice, strategy tips and analysis.

How to Play NFL Best Ball: Expert Advice, Strategy Tips & Analysis

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Understand the Wisdom of the Crowd | NFL Best Ball Strategy

Having opinions on players remains important for a winning NFL best ball strategy. However, it can also come with severe costs if incorrectly applied. Reaching for players will also have different consequences at different points in the draft. In general, following the wisdom of the crowd and not shifting too far from players’ average draft position (ADP) provides the best results.

Why shouldn’t you move much relative to ADP? First, advance rates (the percentage of playoff teams with a certain player) for the first few rounds depend heavily on injury, so a diverse profile of early-round picks is best. For example, Justin Jefferson (1.13% advance rate), Ja’Marr Chase (0.45%), and Nick Chubb (1.59%) had some of the lower advance rates in the field.

The Injury doesn’t even need to occur to the specific player drafted. In the cases of Chase and Garrett Wilson (6.12%), quarterback injuries played roles in the low advance rates. Conversely, healthy players brought the best advance rates. Christian McCaffrey (41.95%), Amon-Ra St. Brown (35.15%) and CeeDee Lamb (33.33%) provide excellent examples of this.

With that said, someone drafting at number one overall should not reach for a player with an ADP of ten. All the players coming off the board in the first two rounds provide elite profiles. With health being a primary driver in advance rate, trying to spread ownership to these players across drafts makes the most sense to minimize your overexposure in case of injury.

In the mid-to-later rounds, it may also be tempting to reach for players based on an opinion. Again, this has merit to some extent, but ADP has proven to be sharp over time. In general, it doesn’t make sense to reach more than 5-6 slots of ADP for a player in the middle rounds. Any further and a drafter risks that player potentially being available in the subsequent round. This kind of reaching weakens the overall projection of the team. For those doing multiple drafts, desirable players will inevitably fall.

Lastly, reaching for players based on individual player takes can come with catastrophic consequences in the event of injury. For example, say a drafter loves Keenan Allen and repeatedly reaches for him. Even if Allen plays above expectation the first four weeks, an injury to himself, his quarterback or even someone like a key offensive lineman could hurt his overall output. If a drafter selects Allen in even 35-40% of their drafts, any of those situations could destroy a large portion of a portfolio of drafts.

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Roster Construction

It’s widely considered optimal for best ball teams to come away with 2-3 quarterbacks, 5-7 running backs, 7-10 wide receivers, and 2-3 tight ends. Within these parameters, drafters should consider early draft capital when making subsequent selections. For example, if a drafter starts WR, WR, WR, it may be wise to end up with seven receivers total, instead of ten. That way, the drafter can focus on weaker positions later and address their lower projection at those positions through volume.

There are also diminishing returns to consider. Rosters only allow a maximum of four wide receivers, three running backs, two tight ends, and one quarterback to be played each week. Hypothetically, if a drafter selected five wide receivers with their first five picks, one would automatically hit the bench. At the same time, every other position would get weaker with lower projected players from later rounds filling starting roster slots. This is why strategies implementing two early tight ends or two early quarterbacks often provide lower advance rates.  With that said, each position requires its own breakdown as well.

Underdog Fantasy’s Hayden Winks offers some insight into optimal NFL best ball roster construction strategy. While his information pertains to Underdog’s contests specifically, it can be applied across providers. His general findings state that over the last four years, teams with the highest advance rates drafted the following number of players at each position by round:

Quarterback: QB1 before Round 14, QB2 after Round 8, QB3 (if any) after Round 16
Running Back: RB1 through Round 4, RB3-4 through Round 10, RB5-6 through Round 18
Wide Receiver: WR4-5 through Round 7, WR4-6 through Round 10, WR7-8 through Round 18
Tight End: TE0-1 through Round 9; TE2-3 through Round 18

Ownership

Often referred to as “scrolling down,” many advocate scrolling down to differentiate and obtain leverage in best ball drafts. Leverage is an important part of NFL best ball strategy because of field size. If you are one of a few teams that selected a certain player, that can provide an advantage in the playoffs when teams are likely to overlap more than the regular season.

Noted above, this approach generally works better in the later rounds. Players with an ADP in the 200-215 range often score similarly to players in the 180-199 ADP range. However, players drafted in the 200’s sometimes fail to crack the 100% ownership threshold.

Once drafters start scrolling beyond an ADP of 215, it becomes harder to find contributors. Yes, players like Zack Moss and Puka Nacua emerge every season, but predicting who that will be remains challenging. Overall, scrolling down to obtain leverage can be a reasonable strategy, if done in the later few rounds without scrolling too far.

Correlation

The primary form of correlation to consider when playing NFL best ball is stacking. Stacking can take the form of quarterback and wide receiver from the same team. Team stacking can involve a running back in that equation (a bet on an entire offense). Finally, game stacking for the playoffs also deserves consideration.

At the most basic level, drafting a pass-catcher on the same team as your quarterbacks helps advance rates out of the regular season. In general, the more quarterbacks stacked, the better.

This means that teams drafting three quarterbacks should try to add a pass catcher from all three teams, if possible. The same goes for teams selecting two quarterbacks. In general, stacking quarterbacks with 1-3 players from the same team has been shown to add value to teams. The logic here is that if a quarterback excels in the regular season, pass catchers and even the offense can benefit as a whole.

With the prize pools growing year over year, Week 17 stacking (championship week) has grown in importance. Week 17 stacking refers to stacking individual games in the championship week. Specifically, this means stacking one quarterback with at least one pass catcher and an opponent from their Week 17 foe.

Like stacking in general, this has been shown to increase the likelihood of taking down one of the major prizes offered across the various providers. However, this requires nuance. Logical game stacks will not always appear with the appropriate ADP ranges in a given draft but should be considered nonetheless.

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When to Draft

Deciding when to draft is important for two reasons. It influences the number of available players for the playoff rounds and ADPs change throughout the summer. With the changing of ADPs throughout the year, it is easier to obtain “super teams” in May and June before rosters and roles have settled.

This means players who may rise in ADP can be obtained in later rounds. However, it is just as likely for a drafter to select players who suffer a summer injury or lose their role. Teams drafted early may also have fewer available players for the playoffs or struggle to reach that point entirely. With all of that said, it is almost impossible to draft 150 teams in the final weeks when drafters work with the most up-to-date information.

Author
Matt Gajewski graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in Economics. Matt has worked in the fantasy industry for the past four years, focusing on DFS and Sports Betting. Matt specializes in NFL, College Football, College Basketball, XFL, and MMA. With GPP victories across the major sports, Matt also qualified for the DraftKings 2020 Sports Betting Championship and won a seat to the College Basketball Tourney Mania final.

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