The term “best-ball draft” may not be the most familiar for casual gamers, but it represents a growing segment of fantasy football leagues. It is extremely simple — perhaps too easy for some owners.
Players draft a team around a specific lineup requirement and that is it. You’re done. The system takes the highest-scoring players at each position to create an optimal lineup and pits it against the rest of the league.
What fun is that? Well, it can be rewarding, particularly if money is on the line, to see how your draft preparation pans out. Draft in May, June, July, August and September. Compare the results.
Services, like our friends at MyFantasyLeague.com and RTSports.com, offer these maintenance-free leagues for a cost with a reward at the end of the season. Participants each pitch in, say, $10, $25, $50, $100, whatever, and the service takes a small cut. The rest is prize money typically paid exclusively to first place. Using a $10 league for example: $120 is taken in with $100 paid out for first place. Not a bad return for just drafting.
So, now that you are up to speed, how does strategy in one of these drafts change? Largely, it doesn’t. Where it matters the most is when you fill out your roster with depth players. It makes building a conservative team an easy path to mediocrity. Owners must search the bowels of rosters to unearth potential playmakers who are often irrelevant in the summer months on the verge of a favorable situation, which is precisely what we’ll do in this space. Some of these players will be draftable in traditional leagues, though most are guys you think about and it ends there.
A winning formula after securing core starters is to have vision for the “what could be” situations and never hesitate to overlook current issues for the long-term outcome. There will be a lot of swinging and often whiffing, but the point is to tear the cover off it when you make solid contact.
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles: Wentz has sleeper appeal but is buried under a heap of more worthy fantasy starters. The weapons and system are in place for a major step forward in Year 2.
DeShone Kizer, Cleveland Browns: It’s only a matter of time, regardless of where he starts the season on the depth chart. Kizer is athletic and has a live arm.
Sean Mannion, Los Angeles Rams: Wild gamble as a QB3. LA’s new coaching staff may not hesitate to make the switch away from the last regime’s No. 1 overall pick if Jared Goff looks lost once again.
Chad Henne, Jacksonville Jaguars: The veteran could be thrown into the starting lineup if Blake Bortles cannot keep his turnovers in check.
Javorius Allen, Baltimore Ravens: Kenneth Dixon is done for the year, and Lorenzo Taliaferro was moved to fullback. A Terrance West injury would thrust Allen into the spotlight.
Jonathan Williams, Buffalo Bills: LeSean McCoy is 29 years old and has a fairly high odometer. All it takes is one hit or wrong twist and owners have a top-20 replacement.
Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins: Primarily a return man, Drake is electric and could sneak into a larger role if Damien Williams or Jay Ajayi miss significant time.
Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots: Now a full year removed from a torn ACL, Lewis could return to fantasy utility if James White falls to injury. Burkhead should tally a few touchdowns either way, but knowing when to play him in conventional leagues is tough. This format lends to his upside.
Branden Oliver, Los Angeles Chargers: Melvin Gordon is no stranger to injury, and Oliver is finally healthy. At a minimum, he’s a change-of-pace back.
Donnel Pumphrey, Philadelphia Eagles: Darren Sproles is ancient. LeGarrette Blount does one thing and one thing only. Pumphrey could be a fine PPR pick by midseason.
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts: This format is made for Mack’s situation. A productive rookie entering a moderately crowded backfield with a 34-year-old future Hall of Famer ahead of him … all upside.
DeAndre Washington, Oakland Raiders: While Jalen Richard is a better PPR sleeper, Washington might have more impact in best-ball if Marshawn Lynch goes down with an injury.
Wayne Gallman, New York Giants: Total flier for the final few rounds. The reality is no Giants back will be a star, but Gallman is versatile enough to matter if given the chance.
T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette is a rookie with some injury history of note. Nevertheless, Yeldon should see the bulk of the receiving work.
Devante Mays, Green Bay Packers: Who? Exactly. Forget Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. Mays, 5-10, 224 pounds, is turning heads and could be the rookie to own in Green Bay’s backfield.
Chris Johnson, Arizona Cardinals: David Johnson’s 2016 workload was insane. Despite being a burly guy, injuries could be a problem in 2017. Chris Johnson gets more work if that is the case.
Joe Williams, San Francisco 49ers: A darling in conventional sleeper circles, Williams is better suited for best-ball setups. He needs a little luck to have a measurable role.
Alfred Morris, Dallas Cowboys: Speculation is the key in successful best-ball drafts. Morris is proven and an Ezekiel Elliott injury/suspension away from sharing work with Darren McFadden in a prolific running attack.
Jeremy McNichols, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Doug Martin is suspended and injury-prone. Charles Sims offers little between the tackles. Jacquizz Rodgers is McNichols’ biggest competition for touches.
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears: It will be the Jordan Howard Show in Chicago, but this dynamic rookie could see time in designed packages. He’s legit.
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints: Gamers have to like the upside behind two backs with extensive injury history.
Adam Humphries, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Late-round addition who would greatly benefit from a DeSean Jackson injury … because that hasn’t happened before </sarcasm>.
Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions: The rookie brings much-needed size to the receiving corps and could do a fine job in the red zone trying to replace Anquan Boldin.
Sterling Shepard, New York Giants: Assuming his low-ankle sprain doesn’t create a chronic problem, he is going to score touchdowns while everyone is focused on OBJ and Brandon Marshall. Volume won’t be Shepard’s friend, yet he’s a fine bet for a half-dozen TD grabs.
Andre Holmes, Buffalo Bills: Sammy Watkins’ lack of durability is no secret, and Holmes would be the next man up in the event of another costly injury.
Chad Williams, Arizona Cardinals: His lack of conditioning has been called out by the coaching staff, but Williams may not be a total loss just yet. Take a chance in the final round or two of drafts as necessity could force him onto the field.
Leonte Carroo, Miami Dolphins: DeVante Parker is currently healthy and poised for a big year. Carroo could see an increase in targets should Parker once again suffer a serious injury.
Kendall Wright, Chicago Bears: You never know how it will shake out when a former first-rounder has fallen on hard times. Chemistry with a new quarterback in a new city can do wonders.
Trent Taylor, San Francisco 49ers: Pint-sized and spunky, Taylor could be the next Wes Welker in a receiving corps begging for someone to stand out.
Torrey Smith, Philadelphia Eagles: Downfield threat with a few big games in him … made for this lineup format.
Paul Richardson, Seattle Seahawks: This offense desperately needs someone else to step up after Doug Baldwin, and Tyler Lockett has problems staying on the field.
Braxton Miller, Houston Texans: Pure athleticism and another year of growth as a converted wide receiver will lead to several huge plays, regardless of the QB situation. Will Fuller slated to miss potentially the first half of the season drastically improves Miller’s odds.
Malcolm Mitchell, New England Patriots: Mitchell showed a nose for the end zone. An injury to any of the top three would make him immediately valuable, but he could have a big game or two in his current situation.
Jeff Janis, Green Bay Packers: His potential is starting to become mythical in fantasy football. Janis only has value if someone ahead of him is lost for extended action.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Oakland Raiders: Looking for a wildcard? Patterson is lightning in a bottle but hasn’t fully harnessed his voltage to date. Admittedly, Seth Roberts is the smarter buy in best-ball.
John Ross, Cincinnati Bengals: Best-ball drafting is the only format in which we can strongly recommend the rookie burner.
Ryan Grant, Washington Redskins: Josh Doctson cannot be trusted with any degree of certainty, so Grant may find playing time.
Chris Conley, Kansas City Chiefs: A starting receiver with respectable size (6-2, 213) who could emerge as a fantasy flex play.
Ricardo Louis, Cleveland Browns: Flashed briefly as a rook in ’16 and could emerge if the QB play is even acceptable.
Laquon Treadwell, Minnesota Vikings: The second-year receiver has immense talent but is untested in a system not exactly tailored for producing fantasy success at his position. Take a chance late.
Brice Butler, Dallas Cowboys: Dez Bryant is injury-prone and tends to miss a game or two. Butler is his direct replacement and has a knack for success in the red zone.
Chester Rogers, Indianapolis Colts: The Phillip Dorsett experiment appears to be an abject failure, while Kamar Aiken has not stood out in the offseason. Rogers is a sneaky pick as Indy’s unknown WR3.
Taylor Gabriel, Atlanta Falcons: The home run threat is a fine pick in this format and could pace your team several times in between offering nearly nothing.
Travis Benjamin, Los Angeles Chargers: One-trick ponies like the other TB12 can return nicely with mitigated risk in best-ball formats.
Russell Shepard, Carolina Panthers: The former Tampa Bay wideout flashed at times but has dealt with injuries. Carolina may have room for him if Devin Funchess continues his career path. Bonus: Rookie Curtis Samuel also is designed for this format.
Dwayne Allen, New England Patriots: This is exactly where Allen should be selected — in a league that doesn’t require you to play him or trust that he can stay healthy, yet giving owners the upside of his occasional outburst. Plus, if Gronk goes down, Allen becomes an instant starter.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, New York Jets: Quarterback woes could work in his favor. The former Buccaneer could receive a high volume of targets because of a dearth of obvious talent at wideout.
A.J. Derby, Denver Broncos: Jake Butt has a hint of intrigue, but Derby’s upside is greater in 2017. Total flier.
Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: While everyone is gaga over O.J. Howard, it is actually Brate who presents more value in fantasy drafts.
Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams: A sleeper tight end ideally suited for leagues like this, Higbee is athletic and could be the main safety blanket for Jared Goff.