This article is part of our Best Ball Journal series.
DraftKings, Underdog and FFPC all structure their best ball tournaments in a way that deemphasizes the regular season and places an outsize importance on the playoffs. It's the same general idea on each site, starting with two of 12 teams advancing from each league based on cumulative scoring Weeks 1-14 (the regular season).
For Weeks 15-16, we'll need to win newly created "leagues" of 10-16 teams, and if we can pull off the back-to-back victories we'll then land in a DFS-style contest Week 17 against hundreds of other finalists. In order to win, we need our team to be 'good' over the course of the first 14 weeks, then 'great' for both of the next two, and finally 'incredible' in Week 17.
Each site has a fairly top-heavy payout structure, albeit with some differences worth considering. The big tournament on FFPC, for example, is extremely top-heavy for Week 17 prizes (1st - $200k, 2nd - $50k, 3rd - $20k) but also fairly generous to those who bow out Week 15 ($125 entry turns into $300, 2.4x) or Week 16 ($125 to $900, 7.2x).
Underdog's best ball mania has smaller gaps between Week 17 prizes at the top, percentage-wise, with the trade-off being minimal reward for teams that advance past Week 14 and then lose in Week 15 ($25 entry turns to either $35 or $40, not even close to doubling). On the other hand, there is a noteworthy difference between teams narrowly eliminated in Week 16 compared to those who miss the final by a lot, with prizes ranging from $505 for 471-940th place all the way down to $75 for 5,641-7,520th place (470 teams make the final).
If this all seems a bit chaotic, and perhaps unnecessarily confusing... I agree. But all the weirdness does create a lot of different strategy considerations, and there also are other options (like Drafters.com and BB10s.com) for those who prefer best ball tournaments that simply reward the highest-scoring teams over the course of Weeks 1-17.
It's a good idea to read the detailed rules and make note of the prize structures, even though DK, UD and FFPC have pretty similar formats. (Links to the rules on UD and FFPC are posted above; here's the big contest on DK.)
Now let's look at some of the strategy considerations specific to this style of best ball tournament.
Week 17 Stacks/Correlations
Stacks for Week 17 have been the most heavily discussed aspect of best ball tournament strategy on fantasy sites and twitter, perhaps sparked by the video Peter Overzet posted June 2 (see below). I don't quite agree with all of it, but I do agree with some, and he's always entertaining and gives us a bunch of different stuff to think about, particularly for Underdog's Best Ball Mania.
The focus on Week 17 game stacks has gotten borderline silly, considering team stacking was already standard practice for best ball tournaments of any format. It's only the bring-back stack (pass catcher on opposing team) that's a new consideration for these playoff-emphasizing contests, and the correlation there isn't nearly as significant as matching a QB with his own pass catchers. Plus, bring backs often will happen organically even if you pay no mind to the strategy (drafts are 18 or 20 rounds, after all).
All of which is to say that it isn't worth reaching for a player a round early (or even a few picks early) to fill out the opponent side of a Week 17 stack. If you check out the tweet thread right below, you'll see that the winning team from the largest best-ball tournament ever (last year's big contest on Underdog) wasn't overloaded with stacks or strong Week 17 correlations.
As Overzet points out above, there's some value in having a unique roster if we make it to the big tourney in Week 17. And all the discussion about game stacks means we could see a lot of similar teams targeting the projected Week 17 shoutouts (e.g. Broncos-Chiefs, Bills-Bengals, Chargers-Rams). Some have even suggested that the focus on stacks is already having an impact on ADP...
Even if the ADP shifts can't solely be attributed to frenzied stacking, it's fair to say there will be plenty of teams taking Kelce-Mahomes-Jeudy or Kupp-Stafford-Williams. A lot of those teams reached on Mahomes/Stafford/Jeudy/Williams to complete their stacks, and a lot of them will fall into similar picks elsewhere.
My preferred approach is to focus on value early and stacking later on. I still want to pair each of my QBs with at least one of his pass catchers, but it doesn't need to be the No. 1 guy, and I'm only doing a Week 17 bring-back if it's someone I actually want to pick at that spot. Here are some examples of Week 17 stacks I can land reasonably often without reaching on any individual players or replicating the most popular lineup builds:
QB Matt Ryan + WR Michael Pittman + WR Kenny Golladay (or Kadarius Toney or Sterling Shepard)
QB Kyler Murray + WR DeAndre Hopkins + WR Drake London (this one's my favorite)
QB Tom Brady + WR Chris Godwin + WR DJ Moore (or Robby Anderson)
QB Justin Fields + WR Darnell Mooney + WR Jameson Williams
QB Trey Lance + WR Brandon Aiyuk + TE Darren Waller
QB Trevor Lawrence + WR Christian Kirk + TE Brevin Jordan (or WR Nico Collins)
Other Week 17 Considerations
I worry most about games in Buffalo and Cleveland, where there's extra risk of strong winds and blizzards right next to the Great Lakes. But both teams are on the road Week 17 this year, traveling south to Cincinnati and Washington, respectively. That leaves Dolphins-Patriots and Vikings-Packers as the games with the most potential for inclement weather, though cold alone is probably only a factor at the extreme (admittedly a possibility for a Jan. 1 in Green Bay).
Wind or heavy snow are the concerns, and there's no shortage of games where that'll be possible, though not likely. For those keeping track, we'll have two Week 17 games in domes (ARZ-ATL, CHI-DET), one in Florida (CAR-TB), one in L.A. (LAC-LAR) and one in Texas (JAX-HOU). The others will be played outdoors in cities where it sometimes snows or is often windy (Bay Area).
Bengals-Bills might sound like a shootout given all the talent on offense, but both teams also look respectable on defense, especially Buffalo. On the other hand, the Cardinals get to face the flightless Falcons (in a dome), the Jaguars play the still-rebuilding Texans, and the Seahawks host the Jets.
It isn't easy to identify the best defenses ahead of time — year-to-year correlation for defensive performance is quite low compared to most team offense metrics — but we can at least make a strong guess that the likes of Atlanta, Houston and New York won't be good. Just don't get too carried away with the matchups, as injuries play an increasingly large role as the season moves along, and it's hard to pick any one or two defenses that are clearly better than the others entering this year.
Targeting Injured Players
The formats on Underdog, DraftKings and FFPC encourage us to be less worried about making the playoffs and more worried about drafting the type of team that's likely to do well once it gets there. And if we're looking for players who figure to score more points later in the season, the easiest place to start is guys who might not be available at all initially.
Chris Godwin, J.K. Dobbins, Michael Thomas, Michael Gallup, James Robinson, Jameson Williams and Sterling Shepard all have the possibility of early season absences (or struggles) priced into their ADPs. They also have increased risk of dealing with injuries if/when they return, but again, that's largely priced in already, especially when a lot of the ADP results are based on standard 12-man leagues (where first, second and third place get prizes) rather than the playoff-centric tournaments we're discussing right now.
Gallup is usually a fade for me in 12-mans given the late-season timing of his ACL injury, but I'll consider him in a tournament where I can overcome a bunch of missed time or bad weeks early on. Then there's DeAndre Hopkins, whose six-game suspension doesn't quite have all the concerns that come with an ACL/Achilles rehab. He might be the most obvious guy to push up draft boards for these best ball tourneys, but there are still opportunities to draft him in the seventh or eighth round... reasonable, right?
Injured Players I'm Drafting in Best Ball Tourneys
WR Chris Godwin
WR Michael Thomas
RB J.K. Dobbins
WR Robert Woods
WR Michael Gallup
WR Jameson Williams
RB James Robinson
WR KJ Hamler
Rookies tend to score more points in the second half of the season, if only because many open the year in limited roles even when they're already better than one or two of the veterans they're sharing snaps with. A lot of those first-year players will improve as the year moves along, and while opponents may pick up on tendencies, there are also cases where the rookie's own coaches get a better feel for his talents throughout the year (e.g. Jaylen Waddle).
In just the past two years, we've seen numerous fantasy-relevant WRs who scored more than 55 percent of their points in the second half of the season: Waddle (58%), Amon-Ra St. Brown (72%), Rashod Bateman (66%), Justin Jefferson (57%), Michael Pittman (74%) and Gabriel Davis (66%). Plus, there were some lower-profile guys last year who also qualified thanks to a few useful weeks late in the season — Nico Collins and Josh Palmer.
Then there was Elijah Moore, who missed the final five games last year, but only after scoring 74 percent of his fantasy points during a five-week stretch from early November to early December. The year before, Brandon Aiyuk was somewhat similar, enjoying better health early in the year but better production per-game later on.
In terms of the reverse — rookies who scored way more points early in the season — it's hard to find a prominent example from the past two years apart from Jerry Jeudy (and even he had his best game Week 17). Some guys did slightly better in the first half of the year, like Ja'Marr Chase, but not to the extreme extent we see above with rookies turning it up in November and December after slow starts. Even Jefferson, seemingly an instantaneous superstar, didn't start or draw more than three targets until Week 3 of 2020.
Among this year's rookies, No. 8 overall pick Drake London is the safest bet to see targets early on, while the next two drafted — Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson — face tougher competition for snaps. I have London ahead of the OSU guys in all formats, but the gap narrows a bit in tournaments where December is far more important than September. We don't care all that much if Wilson and Olave are eased into roles, so long as they're starting and seeing targets later in the year.
London also gets a boost in these tourneys, just not as much as Wilson/Olave, as even rookies with locked-in roles are slightly more likely to do their best work later in the year. Jameson Williams, the fourth wide receiver drafted this April, is another guy I'm avoiding in 12-man leagues but drafting in the big tournaments. He's coming back from an ACL tear in January, and likely will miss at least the first couple games of the regular season. Here are some of my other rookie targets:
WR Drake London
WR George Pickens
WR Chris Olave
WR Skyy Moore
RB Kenneth Walker
RB Breece Hall
WR Garrett Wilson
WR Jalen Tolbert
WR Jameson Williams
WR Alec Pierce
WR David Bell
WR Romeo Doubs
Targeting Backups (Especially RBs)
Each passing week of action during the NFL season comes with more bumps and bruises plus a few more players knocked out for the rest of the season. Injury reports tend to be longer later in the year, creating more opportunities for backups to get on the field. This is especially true at the game's most injury-prone position, running back, though last year was perhaps an exaggerated version with seemingly half of the league's starting RBs out for part or all of the fantasy playoffs.
One of the guy to benefit was Rashaad Penny, who I expect to keep the starting job heading into Week 1 after his monstrous finish to last season. Staying in that role will be a tougher task, given his injury history, and that makes Kenneth Walker a worthy target in best ball tourneys, likely checking two of our boxes (rookie, backup RB) for the type of player that should be moved up. I'm otherwise Team Penny over Team Walker, but in this format I might be wrong even if I'm right.
Backups I'm Drafting
RB Alexander Mattison
RB Ronald Jones
RB Khalil Herbert
RB Jamaal Williams
RB Mark Ingram
RB D'Onta Foreman
RB Zamir White
RB Samaje Perine
I drafted two teams at the same time in DraftKings' $3 million best-ball contest ($5 entry). The squads I ended up with have a bunch of commonalities, but in the first draft I didn't have any stacks fall to me (and chose not to reach), while in the second draft it worked out almost too perfectly.
Here's the first team:
You'll note that I only drafted two QBs (ideal) and didn't acquire any of their pass catchers (not ideal). At least both score a lot of points on the ground (ideal) and were acquired later than ADP (ideal, again). In no way do I feel like I'm drawing dead because I don't have a QB/WR stack. That said, I'd rather have one, and would've if I hadn't been sniped on DeAndre Hopkins, Zach Ertz and Rondale Moore.
Still, I'm glad I didn't reach for any of those guys a round and a half earlier than they normally go, and also glad I took Lockett with Lance at the 7-8 turn instead of pairing the young QB with Brandon Aiyuk.
Now here's the second draft:
Hard to believe that the guy who drafted this team is the same one telling you that stacking might be overrated, right? But I did it without taking any of my Cardinals or Falcons significantly ahead of ADP, notably landing Hopkins at No. 82 and London at No. 87. Not that I was worried about stacking London when I already had Murray, Pitts and Hopkins, but it just so happens that the rookie was my favorite player available anyway (in fact, I'd have taken him over Hopkins with the previous pick if I hadn't already drafted Kyler).
Note that I took Rondale Moore at 130th overall, Deshaun Watson at 159th and Bell at 202nd. Watson was a reach relative to ADP on DraftKings, though not compared to where he's going on other sites. I'll have to remember to wait a little longer on him on DK.
Also, I'll have to be more careful when drafting multiple teams at the same time. David Montgomery in Round 4 was an autodraft in a spot where I wanted Diontae Johnson and had Jaylen Waddle as a backup plan. But I didn't queue them up, and got stuck with Monty while focused on my other draft.