Best Ball For Beginners: A Guide To Your First Best Ball Draft (2021 Fantasy Football)

Draft it and Forget it.

But also check to see how it’s doing every week.

Best Ball format has been increasing in popularity and I am all about it. If you are not already aware, the best ball format includes drafting a team, and…that’s about it. Best ball automatically sets your best lineup week to week, so it eliminates those moments where you missed the big boom from a normally unproductive WR3 and left him on your bench. You totally should have seen that coming. Also, no waivers and no trading. Live and die by the draft. Don’t mess this up.

Believe it or not, there are some strategies that are more effective than others to this “simple” format. Thanks to our nerdy, data-driven world of fantasy football, some brave pioneers have selflessly provided analytics on past successful best ball teams and discussed probable strategies for constructing those teams. I will reference some analytics, discuss my personal tactics and share my recent draft picks from Best Ball Mania II on Underdog and some insight from my best ball draft in 2020. It’s going to be wild.

It is important to consider roster construction and the scoring format when drafting players. Specifically, on Underdog, here are the roster spots that will be filled during your draft:

  • QB -- 1

  • RB -- 2

  • WR -- 3

  • TE -- 1

  • Flex -- 1

  • Bench -- 10

You draft 18 players, but only eight of them score points that are applied to your team’s total each week. Even though you only record scores from one QB and TE each week, that doesn’t mean you should only draft one player at those positions (bye weeks, injury, etc.). Do not only consider the number of starters at each position, but also the volatility of that position (and of individual players) when deciding how many players to draft. Lastly, the scoring format. Underdog uses ½ PPR, giving a slight advantage to the pass-catching RBs and high-volume WRs and TEs.

TJ Hernandez at 4For4 wrote a great article discussing the statistics of league-winning teams, based on roster construction (positional allocation), from Underdog’s Best Ball Mania contest last year (2020). In his article, Underdog Best Ball Mania II Roster Construction Strategy, Hernandez shares a list of the top winning roster constructions. Here are the top ten:

(Data Found At: )

This list makes up 86.9% of the league-winning roster constructions from Best Ball Mania in 2020. A focal point here is that all ten of the roster constructions consisted of either two or three players at the QB and TE positions. You do not want too many squatters on your bench. Meaning, you should try to eliminate irrelevant players by limiting the amount you draft for specific positions. It is a task of balancing quality and quantity in a world of vast variables and an unexpected future. You got this.

Keep in mind, just because you follow one of these roster constructions, it does not guarantee a league title, but it could certainly help. For example, I followed the most successful roster construction (2 QB, 6 RB, 8 WR, 2 TE) in a draft last season and still finished 8/12. I thought I nailed the draft, but the unknown of fantasy football proved me very wrong. I even had the Josh Allen/Stefon Diggs stack, before we knew how valuable that was going to be. To give a quick glimpse at the dysfunction of my 2020 best ball roster, let me share my first four draft picks:

  1. Michael Thomas

  2. Austin Ekeler

  3. Leonard Fournette

  4. Le’Veon Bell

I have to say, it is difficult to look at. However, at this time last year, those were great(ish) choices. If it wasn’t for injuries and team changes, things could have gone way better, but that is the world we play in. Now that we know the successful allocation of positions. Let’s discuss ways to successfully fill those positional roles:



(Photo by: Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports)

As previously discussed, you should end your best ball drafts with 2-3 quarterbacks. In my recently completed Best Ball Mania II draft, half of the users drafted two QBs while the other half drafted three. In the event that you draft a QB early (within the first five rounds), you should end the draft with only two QBs. The theory is that a higher-value QB will have his fantasy points recorded the majority of the season, so having additional QBs on your roster could go down as wasted picks. Remember, only one QB on your team will have his fantasy score recorded each week. If you miss out on or choose to avoid the early QBs, you may want to draft three QBs (especially if you get out of the QB1 territory). This way, you’ll have three shots at getting a solid QB score each week. In my Best Ball Mania II draft, I didn’t even follow my own advice, but I’ll explain:

(Upload from Underdog Fantasy)

I literally just said, “In the event that you draft a QB early (within the first 5 rounds), you should end the draft with only two QBs.” Well, I didn’t. Jared Goff was my 18th and final pick of the draft, so that’s when I added my third QB. I was completely fine with Dak Prescott and Baker Mayfield, especially because of the value I got in the Mayfield pick (ADP 145 vs. Pick 154). However, I was missing a stacked WR. As it came to my turn in the 18th round, I saw Goff still on the board with an opportunity to stack with a previously drafted WR. Stacking can be quite helpful in best ball, so long as you don’t reach too far to do it. My whole point being, be prepared to be flexible. The plan is that Dak will light things up as he did before his injury last season, and Mayfield and Goff will be there to fill in during Prescott’s down weeks.


Running Backs

(Photo by: Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

Get them early, but not too many too early. You get it.

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Drafting at the ten spot leads me to far more stress than I should have. You feel like you might be drafting someone that is over-valued, or that you have to reach into the second round with your first pick. In hindsight, I wish I would have drafted Austin Ekeler with my first pick, but I’m still excited to ride it out with Cam Akers. As you can see, I drafted three RBs in the first four rounds. That is why I then waited until the 12th round to draft another RB, and ultimately why I only drafted five RBs total. If you make the early investment, which I recommend with RBs in best ball, don’t pile on too many late-round guys. My idea here is that I have three starting running backs, which is where the majority of the RB points will come from. Kenyan Drake will contribute to the weekly total infrequently, and then Darrynton Evans is a big dart thrown. The early investment in Akers, Joe Mixon, and David Montgomery provides a nice floor


Wide Receivers

(Photo by: Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

I feel like I definitely called some shots here (especially some Year 2 Breakouts), but that’s OK. In a big tournament like Best Ball Mani II, being contrarian or nailing a few sleepers/breakouts is a necessary part of churning out a successful roster. Going chalk can be safe, but can still lead to disappointment. I believe that the WR position is where best ball can really be won. Not only does your roster require more WRs (3) than the other positions, but WR is also the most volatile. Because of that, I recommend leaving the draft with at least seven wideouts. Let’s take a look at the crew I drafted this year:

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As I talked about before, stacking can be a very helpful tactic in best ball. I mentioned I ended up drafting Goff at QB in the 18th round in order to complete a stack. Detroit does not have a very attractive offense this year, but I do really enjoy wondering which WR will emerge as the alpha (if any). In this draft, I was more willing to take a shot on Tyrell Williams, largely based on where he fell in the draft compared to his WR teammates. Terry McLaurin may be on the fringe of being a top-12 WR in 2021, but he should receive a consistent workload. Brandon Aiyuk, Jerry Jeudy, Michael Pittman, and Henry Ruggs all enter their second year in the NFL. Of the year two WRs this year, these guys are at the top of my breakout list. DeVonta Smith is a rookie WR that found one of the more favorable landing spots among his class. Quality QB play in Philadelphia is in question, but I suspect Smith will receive the bulk of the targets. Don’t be afraid to make some speculative picks here. You should absolutely still draft some already-known studs, but they may not always turn out as you expect.

To help explain, let’s also take a look at my WR corps from my 2020 best ball league:

(Upload from Underdog Fantasy)

I want to point out that the shown points scored for each player are the total amount recorded for each player throughout the season, but only when their weekly score placed them as a top-three WR or into the flex position on the roster. So, the shown score is how much they contributed to the total team score. Stefon Diggs scored 265.1 ½ PPR fantasy points in 2020. However, in weeks 12 (7.4 points) and 17 (11.1 points), those scores were lower than three other WRs and whichever player was used for the flex position on my roster, so 246.6 points were his total recorded score.

What did we learn here? Injuries hurt and ADP can be way off the actual results. Michael Thomas was my first overall pick, which was a no-brainer last year. It is crazy to think that I drafted Stefon Diggs in the 6th round in 2020. In my draft this year, Diggs was drafted at 1.11 and the second WR selected. Robby Anderson (12th round in 2020) turned out to be an excellent value, as well. Now, to my final two picks - Corey Davis and Tee Higgins. I picked Davis in the 17th and Higgins in the 18th. They proved to be quite useful, especially with Thomas being absent for a large portion of the season. A tip to remember is that all your picks are important, you just may not know it yet.


Tight Ends

(Photo By: Bruce Kluckhohn/AP Photo)

Similar to QBs, you should only draft 2-3 TEs. If you are able to come away with an early TE, or one of the “big three” (Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, George Kittle), it may be in your best interest to only draft two TEs. If you have Kelce, Waller, or Kittle, you can expect their score to be used just about every week. Your second TE to supplement one of the big three can come in a late-round. Guys with a top-ten TE ceiling may still be available at rounds 10-12. Or, as a user in my recent best ball draft did, you could draft Kelce (1.7) and Waller (2.6). Problem solved. Otherwise, if you miss out on one of the top dogs, I recommend getting 3 TEs within rounds 10-18, and don’t shy away from using some speculation in drafting your third one. Guys like Mark Andrews, TJ Hockenson, and Kyle Pitts are available in rounds 5-6. That’s not a bad place for them, but also consider which players at other positions you have to give up in order to draft a TE in those rounds. Remember, coming out on the positive side of the unknown is what will help you win in big tournaments. Here’s where I ended up:

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I believe that Irv Smith has a great chance at being a top-ten TE this year. He doesn’t have the high-caliber production that comes with Kelce, Waller, and Kittle, but I expect he will at least produce some consistent fantasy points. Lastly, I really like the upside that Cole Kmet and Pat Freiermuth may have this season. I assume that Kmet will emerge as TE1 in Chicago, but Freiermuth may be competing for reps all season.

If you’re keeping track, and I know you were, you noticed that this year I followed roster construction #4 (3 QB, 5 RB, 7 WR, 3 TE). Not the highest rate of success among roster constructions, but still a place I feel pretty good. Following a successful roster construction is just the beginning. Don’t over-invest in too many players from the same team (especially RBs), and keep an eye on bye weeks. Use the first five rounds to set a solid foundation for the season and don’t be afraid to call a few shots. If you don’t like big tournaments like Best Ball Mania, you can always join a regular 12/6/3 team best ball league on Underdog. They also have varying entry fees, so you don’t have to spend a lot of your own money to play. Also, Sleeper now offers a best ball format and you could find a free league there. Keep doing research, do some mock drafts, win some money and have fun.

- Jerred Tarrell / @JTspreads

Speaking of doing things for fun, here is the draft board from my Best Ball Mania II draft. I was the tenth pick. Let me know what you think!

(Upload from Underdog Fantasy)

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