While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across America and the globe, almost all of our preferred pastimes have been put on hold, at least when it comes to team sports. There are plans in place for all four major American team sports to resume fairly soon, although much uncertainty remains.
During this time, fantasy sports and betting enthusiasts are either looking to satisfy their hunger by playing daily fantasy golf or even dipping into the NASCAR pond, but we still can get our kicks by drafting season-long fantasy football teams in the form of best-ball competitions.
How it works
No roster adjustments are needed after the team is assembled, and gamers can draft either the old-fashioned way or with a slow-draft format that notifies them when it’s their turn to pick within an allotted time (usually around four hours).
Many services offer these contests, and I recently drafted my first 2020 best-ball roster. I’ve done hundreds of these drafts throughout the years, but the cloudy outlook of whether we even will have an NFL season had me pumping the brakes this offseason. Rather than going all in, my current intentions are to draft a team or two per week until we have rock-solid confirmation the NFL season will go on as scheduled.
Benefits of drafting a best-ball team include practice in dozens of ways, scratching that sports itch, experiencing a number of draft placements, trying out new strategies, and — everyone’s favorite — winning money. There are so many advantages to practicing, and I’m a firm believer that gamers of all skill levels need to stay fresh. It’s rewarding to track your teams based on when you drafted them, which is why I name all of my teams by date. It is easy to then look back at how one’s drafting skills evolved over the offseason.
Usually, I’ve drafted dozens of teams by now, so this year’s test result won’t have quite as long of a runway for evaluation purposes. Even still, it is, in a sense, gambling on your own abilities to draft the winning roster. For anyone missing fantasy football and betting, combine them with a best-ball draft. Essentially, it is like placing the bet on yourself! Sure, it’s not the nearly instant gratification of DFS or actual betting, but there’s a risk-reward component that comes with a tangible prize for being right.
Unlike traditional leagues with inseason roster adjustments, gamers in best-ball setups are putting all of their eggs in one’s ability to draft. And make no mistake about it, drafting is vastly different from the spring to the middle of the summer and into the waning weeks before the season kicks off.
Each decision is a mini gamble
In the Tuesday, July 14, draft, I picked seventh in a 12-team, PPR format that requires 1-2-3-1 for skill positions, plus a flex, and no kicker. Each team drafts at least one defense. Being that it is best-ball, it’s wise to take two defensive units, but since they don’t get injured like an individual player, I’m not keen on taking more than two. Quarterback and tight end, however, are positions in which I enter the draft with three-deep in mind at each position. It doesn’t take much to be left without a QB or TE if bye weeks and injuries/demotions conspire against your draft plans. But there’s another gamble to be had in skimping on depth to build elsewhere.
Running backs and receivers, of course, require owners to draft for depth. And, since there isn’t any management beyond the selection of these players, it’s even more important to blend upside with proven playmakers than in conventional leagues.
Since running back is especially thin this year, I made sure to grab one elite player at No. 7 (Derrick Henry) and then entered Round 2 with an open mind. This live draft had two absent owners, so autopicks were in play, and the AI did a good job of balancing both teams. I’m actually a little ticked that it sniped me on a few players. Anyway, you have to roll with the punches, just like in a regular draft. I then found myself looking at either Austin Ekeler or several other running backs with major questions (Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Leonard Fournette, Clyde Edwards-Helaire), so I pivoted to a position I almost never consider early and chose Travis Kelce.
In Round 3, my Henry-Kelce combination allowed for some flexibility. Since WR is so deep, I went back to entertaining the idea of a running back here. I tabbed Gurley or Edwards-Helaire. Of course, both went with two of the three picks before me. It then left me thinking it was time to snag the best receiver available, whom I valued as being Mike Evans, so that’s the route I chose. In the fourth round, running back was now a must, right? Usually, I’d have taken one, but now this team was unconventional for me, and I wanted to keep that ball rolling, so I turned to another receiver in Cooper Kupp.
Knowing that I was now thin at the thinnest position possible, my focus went to building running back depth over the next four rounds. Raheem Mostert‘s contract squabble doesn’t scare me, mainly because he lacks serious leverage. On to my roster he went in Round 5. The sixth round presented options to consider for positional versatility, which led to a “go big” mentality with the selection of Kyler Murray. He has a serious weapons cache and a coach who wants to prove his genius. Back to running back: I added James White and Ronald Jones in Rounds 7 and 8, respectively. Not great, but intriguing blends of reliability and potential.
The structure of the team after eight of the 20 rounds was 1 QB, 4 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE … back to looking at receiver. I snagged Emmanuel Sanders and Hunter Renfrow (a personal sleeper fave) in the next two rounds before taking a chance on Daniel Jones as my backup. Drew Brees was my hope here, if he had not gone four picks prior. The Murray-Jones combo gives me upside galore but questionable stability from a weekly perspective, so, in hindsight, maybe taking a passer one round earlier and waiting on Renfrow was the wiser decision. Those are examples of where gambling on my ability to draft the best players for the situation will either pay off or break my chances of winning the league.
To round out the rest of the draft, the aforementioned blending of safety and high-reward upside picks was the focus. Adding guys like QB Drew Lock, TE Jace Sternberger, WR Josh Reynolds and RB Reggie Bonnafon isn’t for everyone, but in the event my prognostication is right on even one of them panning out, I can live with it. Lock has top-10 potential. Sternberger is this year’s Mark Andrews in my eyes. Reynolds plays in an offense that may be forced to chuck it nearly 700 times, and Bonnafon is the primary backup to Christian McCaffrey and his league-high workload over the last two years. In all likelihood, Bonnafon never cracks my starting lineup in this format. But if CMC gets hurt, I have a possible RB2 as my sixth back coming out of the draft.
The same conceptual argument could be applied to choosing rookie RB Darrynton Evans as a handcuff to Henry in Tennessee. Instead, categorize it as a mixture of safety and upside. There’s risk, since he’s a rookie during a pandemic-shortened offseason and comes from a small school, but it’s also the easiest position to learn and in an offense dedicated to pounding the ball.
Adding veterans Kenny Stills and Kyle Rudolph to round out depth isn’t sexy. Consider their situations. Houston is counting on a mixture of underwhelming and injury-prone veterans to learn the offense on the fly and build chemistry with Deshaun Watson. Stills has both of those elements already down. And it’s tough to see the NFL disciplining him for being arrested while protesting a social cause. Rudolph gets a boost after the offensive coordinator change and loss of Stefon Diggs in the offseason. Sure, second-year tight end Irv Smith will cut into his time here and there, but in best-ball, behind Kelce, I’m only hoping for the occasional two-TD outburst or unlikely 10-catch game from a 16th-round choice.
I’ll be back next week to examine another draft and see which gambles will likely pay off once the real thing is back on the field. There’s definitely a correlation to sports betting, albeit less than in DFS, due to the timeliness of the pay-off. I’m confident anyone who hasn’t tried best-ball will enjoy it.
Get in on the action and draft your own! My preferred league platforms for these drafts are RTSports.com and SportsHub’s “Best-Ball 10s” services. Neither company sponsored this article … I just like what they do in the space. Check ’em out, or look around the web to find competitors.