Note: Each week I’ll be diving into a new best-ball fantasy football draft to showcase what gamers can expect, and hopefully encourage some betting enthusiasts to test their skills in a different way. As explained below, in best-ball drafting, there are ample similarities to sports betting.
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 fantasy football best-ball 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 results won’t offer 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 21, 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. It figures to be even worse in the season of COVID-19. 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.
My latest team
In last week’s draft, two owners didn’t show and were replaced by AI. This time, only one team was commanded by a fake drafter, and it did remarkably well — quick selections, smart picks. Kind of a strong team, really.
Drafting out of the ninth spot this time, running back was my focus. It came down to the decision between the Cleveland Browns’ Nick Chubb and … Nick Chubb. I really didn’t see another player that did it for me without reaching. Going wideout this early isn’t my thing, either, unless Michael Thomas somehow falls.
The second pick had me focused on Las Vegas Raiders back Josh Jacobs. I’m convinced he’ll break out in 2020 and enter the ranks of elite fantasy performers after an awfully strong rookie season. Alas, he went one spot before me, leading to a fine consolation prize in Miles Sanders — another one of my favorite breakout candidates.
The next two picks were wide receivers — two of the top youngsters at the position in Cooper Kupp and A.J. Brown. I’m more than comfortable with both of them leading the offense. Brief contemplation went into Adam Thielen, and not taking Calvin Ridley here may come back to haunt me, but I’m 100 percent in on Brown ascending to borderline WR1 status in his second year. Many of the hallmarks of being an elite receiving option are present in Brown’s situation, including limited competition among his positional mates, a quarterback with a preference for him, a system that fits his style of play, and passing the eye test.
Here’s the thing — this is where the gambling on yourself ultimately is on full display — sometimes a player jumps off of the screen at you, but putting a finger on exactly why is tough. Brown is one of those guys for me. Maybe it’s that he reminds me of several fantasy studs from years gone by, but there’s an “it factor” that stands out. Some players have a visible swagger, and others do it in more of a blue-collar fashion. He’s the latter for me, and strides are in his 2020 future. This is an example of putting your money where your mouth is, in terms of player evaluation.
Another gamble was made in drafting Raheem Mostert. His game is ideal for the one-cut-and-go zone-blocking system. He’s tough and has a chip on his shoulder. The contractual stuff appears to be working itself out, and none of the other backs that were still available offered the same risk-reward ratio in my favor. Again, smart bets on your ability to judge a situation are were the gambles should be made in best-ball.
Michael Gallup, in a best-ball format, is the ideal WR3. In the event Amari Cooper gets hurt, Dallas has a legit No. 1 opportunity for Gallup, and the blossoming wideout proved more than capable of shining for fantasy owners when Coop was healthy.
The next pick, Round 7, left me bitter and jaded. Everything was falling into place, the draft humming along nicely, and then my internet decided to die … mere seconds before my pick was about to go on the clock. The autopick kicked in before I was able to get back online with my phone to make a selection. Diontae Johnson is my favorite sleeper receiver in 2020, and he was available, much to my delight. Of course, the system didn’t give me Johnson but instead Tyler Boyd was added to my team. Not a fan. And, of course, Johnson went four picks later. There’s nothing to be done but live with the selection. It always could have been worse than Boyd, and I’m sure some people will feel he’s a better choice than Johnson, which doesn’t make me any less frustrated.
The addition of Tony Pollard could be worthwhile gamble; he showed his chops last year and is a stud fantasy back if Ezekiel Elliott goes down. Drew Brees was my 11th-round pick, and his age makes the future Hall of Famer risky — so I immediately backed him up with Matthew Stafford. And that’s what has to be done when you’re chancing a starting spot on an old-timer. The rest of the draft was littered with gambles: WR Hunter Renfrow, TE Jace Sternberger, QB Gardner Minshew, WR Parris Campbell, RB Damien Harris … all of these guys aren’t exactly what you’d call safe depth. To reiterate, these are the types of gambles that pay off or break your team. Sure, they’re all depth, but in the year of COVID-19, who knows how many of these guys could be counted on as lineup fixtures. That said, all of them have clear paths to meaningful playing time.
I’ll be back next week to examine another draft to examine 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.