Fantasy Football Draft Strategy: 7 tips for best ball drafts
No setting lineups. No free agents. No trades.
Just drafting. The team you draft is the team you have all season long.
These "draft masters" or "best ball" leagues are all about the draft, as your best possible lineup is automatically selected for you once the week is completed.
With that in mind, you have to approach these leagues a little differently than you would a standard league. With all of the work being done on draft night, you have to be prepared.
Here are seven tips to help you dominate where it matters most.
1. Bump up WR, move down RB
In these leagues that don’t allow for any weekly management, you have to consider injury risk on draft day much more than you typically would.
On average, top running backs tend to miss much more time than top receivers. It’s just a position that invites much more injury.
So what’s that mean for you?
Since it’s impossible for you to scoop up your star running back’s replacement in free agency, you are almost forced into a situation where you have to handcuff. That’s often a mid-round pick you have to burn on a player who is unlikely to tally major points on a week-to-week basis and make it into your automatically selected lineup.
Let’s use an example. You take DeMarco Murray in the early second round. Great. Nice pick.
But in order to get his handcuff, Ryan Mathews, it will likely cost you an 8th round pick. While Mathews could have some flex appeal, it probably won’t be on par with Roddy White, Steve Smith or Larry Fitzgerald, who all have ADP’s right around Mathews, according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t draft running backs early, but on the whole, receivers should be bumped up your draft board and running backs should be moved down, save for the very top tier.
2. Don’t get caught up in position runs
You’ll see this is in every kind of draft: a tight end goes off the board. Then another one. Then another! Suddenly, everyone is freaking out about getting a starting tight end since there are only a few left.
Relax. Breathe. Take it as an opportunity to get great value at another position, instead of reaching desperately. Best player available is the mantra you should live by, no matter what kind of draft we’re talking about.
This comes with an important caveat, though. In draft masters, remember there are only 32 starting quarterbacks, kickers and defenses. Don’t completely ignore position runs late in draft, or you’ll do something stupid like end up with one defense or one kicker with no options left and no ability to pick one up in the non-existent free agency.
In short, ignore position runs until much later in your draft.
3. Your late round fliers should be running backs
Speaking of late round strategy, it’s wise to take fliers on running backs with your late picks. With timeshares and injuries, that running back that’s currently listed as a third stringer to start the season can end up becoming a stud given the right opportunity. Here’s looking at you, C.J. Anderson.
While there are receivers that come out of nowhere as well, you’re playing the injury odds with your late fliers. We care more about opportunity than talent.
Treat it like you might a real draft: get your steady producers early, and take your gambles later on.
4. Bump up your rushing quarterbacks
It’s pretty difficult to predict when a quarterback is going to get his rushing stats in, right? That can be very frustrating in standard leagues, especially when you have that guy on your bench.
Best ball removes a lot of that frustration, but it also increases the value of a QB who can have a big day on the ground.
A QB2 like Colin Kaepernick, for example, might not be as steady on a week-to-week basis as Joe Flacco. But chances are, your QB1 is going to end up being the starter most days, right? So we’re looking for guys with upside to have huge scoring days, and rushing quarterbacks have the better chance of doing that with touchdowns and yards on the ground. The ceiling is higher, which is what we want in best ball.
5. Focus on playoff schedules for defenses
In standard leagues, I always draft defenses based on their schedule in the first few weeks. After that, I’m streaming for matchups. It’s much easier to predict bad offense than it is good defense, basically.
You can’t use that approach in draft masters leagues with no weekly management, however. Instead of looking at the first few weeks, you should focus on the playoff schedule, which should be weeks 14-16, depending on your league.
Those weeks simply mean more than the others, so long as you can get there. If you’re drafting multiple defenses, which you absolutely should do in non-free agent leagues, cross-reference their schedules to see how they matchup.
For example, if your first defense plays the Packers twice in weeks 5 and 9, find a second defense with good matchups in those weeks, as you know you’ll probably need them then.
Just prioritize playoff schedules first and foremost, though. We’re playing for first place, and optimizing your chances in the playoff weeks is the way to do that.
6. Backup quarterbacks mean much more
In a recent 28-round Draft Masters draft, I selected both Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.
That sounds crazy, I know. And it might be. But Wilson fell all the way to 6.9, which I felt was a steal, and now I’m confident that I’m getting 25+ points every single week from my quarterback position while not being out of luck if injury strikes. Russell also fits the rushing quarterback bill.
Obviously, you can take two mid-range quarterbacks and another starting quarterback later and be just fine. There are lots of different ways to do this, but just realize that your backup quarterback in best ball leagues are going to end up playing quite a bit more than they would in a standard league. I wouldn’t ever bench Rodgers in a standard league, but there will almost certainly be multiple weeks where Wilson outscores him.
Don’t be afraid to double up at QB and guarantee yourself high quality production from an important position.
7. Take your time
The clock is in your favor. These slow drafts, with 8 hours per pick, often go for weeks. Don’t be afraid to use the clock to your advantage, no matter what that jerk in the chat says to you.
Look, if you know your pick? Go ahead and make a choice. But if you’re torn, take your time. Research. Look up ADP, schedules, rankings, everything you can to make a more informed decision.
Also remember that during training camp and preseason, things will change on a dime. Arian Foster was injured towards the back-end of a draft I was recently in. After a few picks, I was suddenly on the clock. Why guess about his recovery time, or the projected starter in his absence, when I have 8 hours to let the situation play out and gain more information? During that time Pierre Thomas went from likely to sign with the Texans to not signed at all. Waiting was the right play.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that this is it. The championship is being won in the draft room. Give yourself every advantage you possibly can, even if it means milking the clock to do it.