Best Ball Fantasy Football Primer: How To Construct a Roster

For those looking to scratch that early draft itch, here is a primer on how to construct a fantasy football Best Ball roster.

It’s incredible how fantasy football went from a game no one really thought about until at least July to a year-round activity.

In the 2000s, I wouldn’t even think about fantasy until at least July. As I got more into it, I started preparing sooner. But preparing was all we could do. If we wanted to draft, we’d have to wait until redraft mock season began to heat up around mid-June.

Now, we have other formats to occupy our team throughout the year. One such format is Best Ball.

For those new to the format, here is a basic primer on how to construct a fantasy football Best Ball roster.

What Is Fantasy Football Best Ball?

As you may have gathered, this article is very much going to be geared toward newer players. There will be articles on more complex strategies where assumptions are made about the reader’s base knowledge. This one is for the more novice folks who are just starting to crank up their fantasy football interest.

With that in mind, here’s a basic breakdown of what Best Ball is and how it differs from your more traditional seasonal league.

On a basic level, Best Ball isn’t much different than your typical redraft league that you draft in late August/early September. Fantasy football leagues come in all different shapes and sizes. But generally, every league is going to start two to three running backs, two to three wide receivers, and have one to three Flex spots. The biggest difference from a lineup perspective is the absence of kickers and defenses.

If you play Best Ball on Underdog, rosters consist of 18 players. Discounting two spots for the removal of kickers and defenses, you would expect a normal league to have 13-14 roster spots. So, in Best Ball, we’re drafting about four to five more players.

The one major distinction between Best Ball leagues and traditional seasonal leagues also explains the increase in roster sizes. From here on out, Best Ball will be referred to by its name, and the more traditional season-long leagues will be called “managed leagues.”

That is what separates Best Ball. There is no in-season management. No waivers. No trades. No setting lineups. You draft your team and then quite literally do nothing.

Have you ever checked on that “optimal lineup” tab in Yahoo’s stat tracker? It’s the tab that shows you how many points your team would’ve scored had you gotten every lineup decision correct.

In Best Ball, that’s your lineup every week. The platform will automatically optimize your lineup with your highest-scoring players at each position.

The upside is you can never get a lineup decision wrong because there aren’t any. The downside is if you didn’t draft well or your team sustains injuries, there’s nothing you can do about it.

If you draft a player who tears his ACL in Week 3, your roster has shrunk by one player. You don’t get to replace him.

The entirety of your responsibility as a fantasy manager is to draft your team. Other than sheer curiosity at how things are going, there is no reason to ever look at a Best Ball roster again after the draft.

The season is the same length as regular fantasy football leagues (17 weeks). The highest-scoring teams win. If you’re in a self-contained league, typically the top three will get paid. If you’re in a large-scale tournament, well … that’s a whole different challenge with much larger prizes for more managers, but it requires a much different and more aggressive roster approach.

How Do You Construct a Fantasy Football Best Ball Roster?

At its core, Best Ball is still fantasy football. You can implement the same draft strategies you use in managed leagues as a means of building your roster.

When it comes to Hero RB, Zero RB, Robust RB, etc., all of these roster construction strategies are viable in the right circumstances. They function the same way as managed leagues.

The key difference is in-season management cannot be factored into your draft day decisions. You must have enough players at each position to put yourself in a favorable spot. Strategies predicated upon streaming positions or figuring it out as the season progresses are not possible.

The basic tenet of the late-round quarterback strategy is to take two low-QB1s/high-QB2s late and play matchups. If neither pans out, you stream until you hopefully find a guy you can start every week.

You can’t do that in Best Ball. You can still wait on the quarterback position, but you need to make sure you have guys who will start and be productive for the entire season.

On Underdog, a starting roster consists of one QB, two RBs, three WRs, one TE, one Flex, and eight bench spots.

Since fantasy managers need to maximize their weekly points, you can’t only draft one quarterback or one tight end. In managed leagues, you can leave your draft with just one player at each of these positions and plan to pick up a replacement during their bye weeks.

With no roster management in Best Ball, you need to draft more than one quarterback and tight end or else you are guaranteeing yourself a zero for at least one week.

In addition to byes, we know injuries will happen. We also know players will bust to the point where they have no fantasy value. You need enough depth at each position to account for all of this.

Every fantasy manager should draft their Best Ball roster with the same basic starting point. You will take at least two quarterbacks, four running backs, five wide receivers, and two tight ends. Those are the minimums you should have at each position.

That leaves you with five roster spots to play with, which is where the bulk of the strategy comes into play.

Never Draft More Than 3 Quarterbacks in Best Ball

Out of the four positions you must draft, QB is the only position where a player can only enter your lineup at one spot. RBs, WRs, and TEs are all Flex-eligible. QBs are not.

You are putting yourself at quite the disadvantage if you draft more than three QBs. The opportunity cost is too high. Even in a scenario where you really waited and didn’t even draft a single quarterback in the first 18 picks, you still can’t justify taking more than three. Giving up that additional wide receiver or running back for a lowly QB3 is too damaging to your chances of winning.

Of course, you don’t want to end up in a situation where you only have one weak QB, but you can only account for injuries so much. Most quarterbacks start every game. Some managers will definitely be a bit jaded from the disastrous 2023 season that saw a 1/3 of the league lose a starting QB, but they still get injured at a much lower rate than the other positions.

You aren’t going to win a Best Ball league by playing it super safe. You can’t account for every contingency. You need to just accept that if things go wrong, you will lose. And in a large-scale tournament, you can completely forget about competing if you’re opting for safety over upside.

It goes without saying that the 99th percentile outcome is unlikely to hit for any one roster. But we know it’s going to hit for someone. If you don’t try and make it you, then you don’t even have a chance. That other someone who gets everything right is going to beat you every time.

You have to fight fire with fire by maximizing your ability to roster running backs and wide receivers. You do that by not overdrafting quarterbacks.

Where the variance comes into play is whether you draft two quarterbacks or three. There is no objectively correct answer here. It all depends on who the quarterbacks are.

In recent years, the elite quarterback has become more of an advantage. It’s not just that the top QBs are scoring more than they used to — they’re doing it more consistently and with more predictability. It’s no longer easy to get 80% of early-round QB production from a late-round option.

In Best Ball, where streaming is not on the table and every single quarterback is on a roster, you can definitely win by spending a second- or third-round pick on a QB.

If you draft a QB who averages 20 points per game, you’re expecting him to start for you every week. The sole purpose of your second QB would be to cover his bye week and the occasional blow-up spot. If your QB1 gets hurt or flops, then you lose. Sacrificing strength at other positions “just in case” your QB lets you down is not the optimal way to construct a roster.

If your first quarterback is a low-end QB1 or worse — perhaps one with the potential to get benched — then you probably need three. None of your three quarterbacks will feel trustworthy, but each will likely put up enough usable weeks throughout the season.

This strategy should be viable because, in theory, if you didn’t take your first QB until later in the draft, you have one extra strong WR or RB.

Try and Draft 4-6 Running Backs

I say “try” because there are scenarios where it’s OK to draft seven running backs. But you should limit it to five or six if you can. In certain specific situations, particularly if you go heavy on the position early, you can get away with drafting as few as four.

One of the benefits of Best Ball is being able to draft those less-volatile RB2s and RB3s. In managed leagues, the problem with those players is we never know which weeks they will spike. We start them, they flop. We bench them, they smash. It’s a vicious cycle.

In Best Ball, merely knowing there will be a handful of very productive weeks is good enough. The automated system takes care of making sure you don’t miss them.

Similar to QB, the number of RBs you select depends on how early you start taking them and how many you take. If you draft multiple running backs in the first four to five rounds, you probably only need four or five.

If you go with a Hero RB or Zero RB approach, your goal is for the RB2 that enters your lineup each week to be whichever one of your later-round running backs happens to have a usable week. As the overall quality of your running backs decreases, you try and leverage it with quantity.

By drafting more running backs, you increase your chances of someone popping each week.

Draft 6-9 Wide Receivers in Fantasy Best Ball

For this one, we can quote Master Yoda: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

If you do enough Best Ball drafts, you will inevitably encounter teams that are horribly constructed. If you ever see a team with four QBs, seven RBs, five WRs, and two TEs, just laugh. That team is not going to win.

Let’s say you take four wide receivers in the first five rounds. Consider how that would look if you were setting your lineup each week. In theory, your first six RBs/WRs drafted should start for you.

If four of your first five picks are WRs, then those four receivers should all start for you. That would leave you with one bench receiver. Would you ever draft a managed league team with just one bench receiver?

With the possibility of four wide receivers entering your lineup every week, between byes, injuries, and inevitable busts, you need more than five.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may see some fantasy managers go extremely shallow everywhere else and take 10 wide receivers. You can experiment with that in very specific scenarios. It’s certainly more viable than only taking five. But the sweet spot to optimize your chances of success is 6-9.

On Underdog, you need a minimum of three wide receivers in your lineup every week. That means you want at least three WRs you can really trust to produce most weeks.

It’s fine if your last receiver or two are rotational WR3s at the NFL level who only provide a handful of productive weeks during the season. But if you’re relying on those guys weekly, that’s a problem.

The good news is there are plenty of real-life WR3s you’d never reliably start in seasonal leagues that are useful in Best Ball. These are typically players on teams that don’t run many three-receiver sets, or they’re the situational deep threats who are going to catch two passes a game and either total 30 yards or 80 and a touchdown.

If your later-round wide receivers give you a handful of useful weeks, that’s all you need to potentially gain an edge on your competition.

Never Draft More Than 3 Tight Ends

Much like the QB position, this is also a mandate. The “onesie” positions (positions where you only start one player) are not where you should load up on depth.

There’s a little bit more flexibility at tight end because if you have a solid TE2, he could find his way into your lineup via the Flex spot. But that’s not something you should plan for.

If you draft an elite tight end that you are confident is an every-week must-start, you should try and get away with only drafting two. This is certainly riskier than taking three.

However, I don’t like to ever take three players at both TE and QB. In theory, you should have a strong top option at one of these positions. Whichever one that is, that’s the position you only take two.

Taking only two tight ends allows you to tack on another upside player at either RB or WR. If you wait and take more of a back-end TE1, you’re probably better off taking three. But there are even scenarios where this isn’t worth it.

If you’ve already put yourself in a spot where TE is going to be weak, taking a third option that may give you only a handful of usable weeks isn’t worth it. You’re better off taking a shot on another WR or RB.

With that said, while tight ends aren’t super important, you still don’t want to find yourself in a position where your TE1 is a guy you wouldn’t even bother rostering in a managed league.

By no means do you need 12+ points per game at the position each week, but if you’re only getting three to five points per week, that’s going to be a problem over the course of the season.

Have Fun With Your Fantasy Football Best Ball Drafts

The great part about fantasy football Best Ball drafts is the bang for your buck and your time.

Drafting is fun! I like to draft as much as possible. But there are only so many managed leagues I have time for, and mock drafts have no actual stakes.

Best Ball enables you to enjoy drafting in situations that actually matter without risking overwhelming yourself with teams to manage during the season.

And you can do it at a very cheap price. On Underdog, the most inexpensive drafts are $3. On other platforms, you can find drafts for as little as $1.

I love drafting and will jump at any opportunity to do a real draft with actual stakes. That could be drafting for a friend or just helping someone out during a draft. But what I can’t do is commit to more managed leagues. I just don’t have the time.

Best Ball provides a means for doing real drafts for real stakes with 11 other managers who are also trying.

Where I find Best Ball most useful is in preparing for my managed leagues.

While there are differences in strategy and player valuation, Best Ball drafts often resemble managed league drafts better than mock drafts.

In mock drafts, everyone knows they’re not making decisions with any actual ramifications. There’s something different about deciding to draft a player when you know he’s going to be on your team in a real league as opposed to a practice session where nothing matters.

While there are ADP differences between Best Ball and managed formats, Best Ball often provides a more educational mocking experience than a pure mock draft because of the actual stakes.

Then, once your Best Ball draft is over, you don’t need to worry about your team. Of course, you probably care about the result if money is on the line. You can check up on it sporadically or even every week. But if you just want to ignore every team you draft for 17 weeks and check the results at the end, you can do that, too.

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