Last week we gave an overview of the makeup of typical winning Best Ball lineups in terms of numbers at each position.  This week, we’ll break down what types of players were part of league winning teams. Best Ball Badger will also highlight players from this year’s draft that fit the mold.

We looked at the same 348 teams as last week (again with the caveat of this being a relatively small data set) and this time sorted by points to see if there was a natural threshold to aim for in order to cash.

  • Out of the 95 teams that scored 1950 or more points, there were 91 teams that cashed –  29 first place finishes, 29 second place finishes, 24 thirds place finishes, 9 fourth place finishes.
  • Out of the 51 teams that scored 2000 or more points, all teams cashed –  27 first place finishes, 14 second place finishes, 8 thirds place finishes, 2 fourth place finishes

We decided on making 2000 the magic number.  2000 is a nice round number and a good threshold to target for a high probability of finishing first in a 12-team best ball league.

The next question is, what made those 51 teams special?  We took a look at each team’s roster and determined how frequent certain players showed up in lineups.  Before you take a peek below, who do you think made the list?

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Pat Mahomes?

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Tyreek the Freak and Nuk?

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Gurley, Saquads, McCaffrey?

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Zeus (Kelce), Ertz, Kittle?

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All correct.  Not surprisingly, having the top scorers at each position helped a lot in getting those high final point totals.

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How about Tarik Cohen, DeSean Jackson, Rob Gronkowski and Drew Brees?

Let’s take a look at what names popped up with higher frequency:

Player% OwnershipPositionPointsRound
Aaron Jones14%RB158.48
James Conner14%RB252.517
Brandin Cooks14%WR203.25
Todd Gurley14%RB342.61
Mark Ingram14%RB132.04
Travis Kelce14%TE243.13
Michael Thomas14%WR253.02
Robby Anderson14%WR131.48
Matt Ryan14%QB361.4611
Mohamed Sanu14%WR149.414
Juju Smith-Schuster14%WR241.44
Chris Carson16%RB191.49
Derrick Henry16%RB193.864
Deshaun Watson16%QB340.76
Alvin Kamara16%RB313.71
George Kittle16%TE214.79
Mike Williams16%WR158.710
Robert Woods16%WR222.67
TJ Yeldon16%RB145.616
Tarik Cohen18%RB198.446
Desean Jackson18%WR130.813
Duke Johnson18%RB108.58
Zach Ertz18%TE222.33
Tyreek Hill18%WR290.53
Eric Ebron20%TE189.213
Christian McCaffrey20%RB3322
Saquon Barkley22%RB340.31
Drew Brees22%QB309.488
Patrick Mahomes22%QB429.0811
Russell Wilson22%QB305.926

Quarterbacks

There was Mahomes (drafted around the 11th round) who won leagues by himself and a few mid-late round QBs that boomed.  Wilson (6th), Brees (8th), Watson (6th), and Ryan (11th) were all fantasy studs at their position – no role players here.  The lesson here is it might be worth paying up (6th-8th rounder) for a solid QB with high upside – contrary to traditional leagues where streaming QBs is possible.  There is also so much depth at the position that owners should not reach and should wait for value relative to ADP.

Potential targets (ADP as of 7/7):

Aaron Rodgers (ADP 72.5 – Round 7 Pick 0.5) – Rodgers played the majority of last season with an injured knee suffered in Week 1 and a receiving core of Adams + rookie WRs (Allison hurt in week 5, Cobb various injuries throughout the season).  He’s primed for a bounce back year with health back on his side, more experience from his rookies (Marquest-Valdez Scantling et al), a healthy Geronimo Allison, and the removal of a stale Mike McCarthy offense.

Matt Ryan (ADP 88.2 – Round 8 Pick 4.2) – Matt Ryan returned to MVP form last year with almost 5000 yards passing (4924) to go with 35 TDs and just 7 INTs.  The question with Matt Ryan has always been if he’s going to get his touchdowns or not. He has had some down years when new offensive schemes were first put into place but we expect that his reunion with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to be a smooth one.

Drew Brees (ADP 103.1 – Round 9 Pick 7.1) – Can the fantasy GMs quit disrespecting Drew Brees already?  He represents one of the safest picks in the draft and as the projected 9th QB off the board, he is going to return on his value.  Aside from last season’s 3992 yard effort, in each of his 12 other seasons as a Saint, he’s gone over 4000 yards every year (averaging 4841 yards and 34 TDs).  Beginning of the end? We don’t think so. His main offensive weapons are still there and still unfair (Thomas + Kamara), he’s gotten an upgrade at TE (Cook), and one year of seasoning for sophomore Tre’Quan Smith.

Other recommendations – Luck (ADP 65.10 – Round 6 Pick 5.1), Watson (ADP 65.60 – Round 6 Pick 5.6), Goff (ADP 116.3 – Round 10 Pick 8.3)

Running Backs

There are three categories that show up with prevalence and we categorize them how a normal fantasy league would: Early round stud, mid round value, and late round sleeper.

Early Round Stud –

A lot of drafts last year started with some mix of Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Alvin Kamara, and Saquon Barkley.  There was a token Antonio Brown in there followed by more running backs.

We know losing your first rounder means almost certain failure in fantasy football.  In traditional leagues, this loss can be made up through savvy waiver wire additions or trades.  In best ball this is a certain death sentence. None of the 51 teams that scored 2000+ drafted Lev Bell last year.  The key in the early rounds is to minimize risk and try to find a high end RB.

What backs carry more risk this year?

One RB that is on everyone’s mind is Todd Gurley.  He finished 4th in scoring (behind Mahomes, Matt Ryan, and Roethlisberger) and did so in only 14 games.  But then it was mainly downhill from there. Gurley did not play in the final two regular season games due to a knee injury.  He had a good showing in the Divisional Round game, but was barely present for the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl, where the Rams really needed him.  Since then, the team traded up to draft a running back in the 3rd round (Darrell Henderson) and talk from his trainer is they’ll be managing the arthritis in his knee.  That sounds like an RBBC situation with injury risk.

Another RB carrying a lot of unknowns is Le’Veon Bell.  He’s had a full year off from on field activities, which could mean he’s rusty, but it also means one year away from the normal football wear and tear.  By far the bigger question marks revolve around moving from one of the best offenses in the league to one that optimistically projects to be average. Worse offense means lower touchdown opportunity.  Pro Football Focus rated the Steelers Offensive Line as #1 in 2018. Meanwhile Bell’s new team, the Jets, were rated #25. The Steelers have also been a team that has allowed just one RB to dominate the ball.  The Jets paid Bell a lot of money to be in the game, but they might spell him more often than Coach Tomlin did in Pittsburgh. We believe that he has a fairly safe floor due to the volume, but his ceiling is limited.

Mid Round Value –

Early-mid players like Tarik Cohen (Round 5-6), Derrick Henry (3-4), Mark Ingram (4), and late-mid players like Aaron Jones (8) and Chris Carson (9) were great in both traditional football leagues and Best Ball.

Some potential value targets can be placed in one category – forgotten veterans that should have the lion’s share of the backfield like Kenyan Drake (ADP 42.2 – Round 4, Pick 6.2) and Mark Ingram (ADP 48.9 – Round 5, Pick 0.9).  The other bucket would be running backs that many thought would win the starting job last year but didn’t – Rashaad Penny (ADP 69.7 – Round 6, Pick 9.7), Royce Freeman (ADP 88.6 – Round 8, Pick 4.6), and D’Onta Foreman (ADP 116.1 – Round 10, Pick 8.1).

Some players in the late-mid rounds have ADPs that fluctuate dramatically as the preseason develops and the starters become more apparent.  Now (July) is the time to take some shots and hopefully land some starting RBs on your team at lower draft cost.

Late Round Sleeper –

If you drafted early last year, you could have snagged a Top 10 RB in the last round with James Conner.  Even through the preseason, most thought Lev Bell would sit out at most 2 games, meaning Conner was going to be a handcuff.

In Best Ball, there are two types of late round flyers (handcuffs and pass catchers) and how you draft them will partially be dependent on the makeup of your team.  One example would be if we started Round 1 with Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley slipped to us in the middle of the second. There’s a ton of upside with these running backs, but we would also project them to be missing a few games this season.  Some pass catchers with low ceilings will serve as warm bodies when our main guys are not on the field. Guys like Nyheim Hines, Dion Lewis, and Gio Bernard go late to very late in drafts. Duke Johnson would normally slot in here except he’s demanding a trade out of Cleveland.

Handcuffs are great for every team as they act like lottery tickets to give a turbo-boost for your team.  Your team should have at least 4 decent options on the roster before loading up on handcuffs. High end handcuffs like Miles Sanders and Jaylen Samuels might be rockstars if there is an injury, but counting on that to happen early enough in the season to matter would be risky.

There are also some situations where your star running backs are out with minor injuries/suspensions and you have some rookies or other young players that may take time to develop.  In these cases, presumptive starters like Peyton Barber and LeSean McCoy can hold the fort for a little bit until your team gets rolling.

Wide Receivers

Aside from receivers that outperformed their draft value (Tyreek Hill in the 3rd, Robert Woods in the 7th, Cooks in the 5th, Sanu in the 14th), the other receivers in this data set that helped boost their best ball team’s point total were Mike Williams and DeSean Jackson.  Both were solid performers overall and had some huge games (multiple touchdown or large yardage). We’d expect that Calvin Ridley also showed up on a lot of winning teams last year.

Potential targets as big play threats (ADP as of 7/7):

DeSean Jackson (ADP 106.6 – Round 9, Pick 10.6) – What’s not to love about DeSean Jackson?  He is the prototypical boom-bust player that helps crack starting lineups in Best Ball with a 70 yard TD.  As long as he has been around a QB willing and able to throw a deep ball, he has been successful. Carson Wentz goes deep often and can hit the receiver (7th in deep ball accuracy last year), which will be a recipe for success.

Albert Wilson (ADP 179.8 – Round 15, Pick 11.8) – Albert Wilson represents a late round swing for the fences.  He still has not recovered from his hip injury, but in limited playing time last year, he showed speed and open field elusiveness to get those coveted long scores.  Wilson is an injury risk and being drafted right after his teammates Parker and Stills, however, Stills is dealing with injuries of his own and we’re choosing to ignore the 5th straight year of hype for Parker.

Other targets – Robby Anderson (ADP 62.9 – Round 6, Pick 2.9)

Potential targets for high TDs (ADP as of 7/7):

Mike Williams (ADP 52.2 – Round 5, Pick 4.2) – Mike Williams has done it already with 10 touchdowns last season.  Now, we expect him to take that 3rd year WR leap and live up to his draft pedigree (7th overall in 2017). The departure of Tyrell Williams and Antonio Gates should offset Hunter Henry coming back.

Donte Moncrief (ADP 120.9 – Round 11, Pick 0.9) – Moncrief had a nose for the endzone in Indy before injuries forced him off of the field and eventually off the team.  He had a fairly pedestrian season with Blake Bortles last year, but so did everyone else who played in Jacksonville. Now there is some news from camp that he could be the #2 WR in Pittsburgh which has been great for fantasy production in the Big Ben era.

Other targets – Alshon Jeffrey (ADP 73.4 – Round 7, Pick 1.4)

Potential targets for good return on value (ADP as of 7/7):

Larry Fitzgerald (ADP 103.8 – Round 9, Pick 7.8) – Perennially disrespected future first ballot Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald should be able to return value at this ADP.  He can still get it done. We expect him to rise in ADP as we get reports of or see firsthand how the new Kliff Kingsbury offense compares against last year’s unimaginative Mike McCoy offense.

Mohamed Sanu (ADP 177.1 – Round 15, Pick 9.1) – We expect an uptick in the offense as a whole with the main beneficiaries being Ridley and a healthy Freeman.  However, Sanu is basically free, and his slot role isn’t going anywhere in this Atlanta offense.

Tight Ends

The story line for tight ends is if you draft and play a tight end for the entire year, most of them are terrible. 59% of the 2000+ point total teams had at least one player out of Kelce (3rd), Ertz (3rd), Kittle (9th), and Ebron (13th).  That matches the percentage (59%) of teams that had either Gurley, Saquon, McCaffrey, or Kamara. The difference is that everyone will get a stab at a tight end and not everyone gets a chance at grabbing one of the cream of the crop running backs.

The question this year is whether or not the draft price is worth the investment.  Kelce is going at ADP 9.2 and could be the right price. That means he’s not helping or hurting the team based on where he’s being drafted.  Drafting Kelce at 9 means we’re forgoing high volume backs like Bell, Mixon, and Conner. After the turn, we’re most likely facing down a wall of high level WRs like Michael Thomas, Julio, and OBJ.  At the end of the 3rd, we could be choosing between Kerryon Johnson or Josh Jacobs, both decent options but both with risks as our first RB.

Gronk from last year is the closest analog for this year’s Kelce.  Gronk just missed the list at 12% ownership. Even though he was disappointing to owners in typical fantasy football leagues (and was a shell of his former self in the playoffs), his early season success was good enough to return on his 2nd round value.  Part of the reason is that half the teams in Best Ball leagues will have mediocre to awful tight ends.

Potential targets (ADP as of 7/7):

George Kittle (ADP 24.0 – Round 2, Pick 12) and Zach Ertz (ADP 25.0 – Round 3, Pick 1) – These players are currently being drafted a little earlier than where they would have made impacts last year (Round 3).  Ertz would be the preferred TE as we’ve had more history on him and he has a good connection with Wentz. Kittle has done it for one season and we didn’t get to see much time with Garopollo at QB.

OJ Howard (ADP 51.4 – Round 5, Pick 3.4) – OJ Howard is one of only a few TEs in history that can catch a pass and then run 75 yards for a score.  There is a ton of reasons to like Howard this year (poised for 3rd year breakout, explosive, high draft pick, Jameis Winston loves throwing to TEs) and only one not to (can he play a full season healthy)?

Trey Burton  (ADP 125.9 – Round 11, Pick 5.9) – A post-hype sleeper, Burton was expected to do great things as the Zach Ertz role in Matt Nagy’s offense.  He is physically gifted, but underwhelmed when given the TE reins last year. With another year of growth and building a connection with Trubisky, Burton is one of the few late round TEs with an outside chance of making a big impact on your Best Ball roster.

Good luck in your drafts this year!  If you have any questions, do not hesitate and e-mail us.

Written on 7/7/19 by Winston Lee (updated 7/10/19)