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In Best Ball, simply picking the right players is not a realistic strategy. We also need to consider the implications of the no-transaction format.

A big part of that is roster construction. In other words, how many players at each position should we draft? It’s a simple question with a complicated answer for a couple reasons.

First, our decisions should be dynamic to our positional strength — which is a function of draft capital. If our QB1 is Patrick Mahomes, he’s very likely to be the quarterback who counts in our lineup an overwhelming majority of weeks. In that scenario, selecting just two QBs (with different bye weeks of course) is correct. But if the first QB we draft is Carson Wentz, then taking a three is correct.

Second, we need to account for positional volatility. The weekly range of outcomes at wide receiver is wider than at running back, tight end, and quarterback. As you’ll see below, wide receivers will be our most-rostered position.

In order to solve the question of positional allocation, we took a data-driven approach. First, we looked at results from 2017-2019, simulating roughly 26,000 teams based on average draft position (ADP) in search of winning roster constructions. Then, we dissected all of the rosters in the Underdog Best Ball Mania tournament. The results:

 

UNDERDOG FORMAT
* 12-team leagues, 18-player rosters
* Half-PPR, otherwise standard scoring. No D or K
* Starting lineup: QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, WR, TE, FLEX

 

NOTE: The “Herzig’s Take” section refers to Justin Herzig’s thoughts as of May 9, 2021. Justin won last year’s Underdog Best Ball Mania tournament for $200K.

 

 

QUARTERBACKS
Recommendation: Take 2-3

Analysis: The data shows that ideally we take a high-upside QB in Rounds 6 through 10 and only end up with two total QBs. As the QB position evolves with more true dual-threats, we are seeing higher ceiling players with more ability to separate from their peers than in the past. So it’s very viable to take both of our QBs in that Round 6-10 range. If we wait longer than Round 6-10 range and/or don’t think our first QB has serious upside to be a top-4 QB on the season, then we can take three total QBs. Taking four QBs was detrimental and is not recommended. 

When deciding whether to take two or three QBs, keep draft capital and weekly ceiling in mind. If you do invest in QB in the first six rounds, we recommend skewing toward 2-QB builds. A 2-QB roster of Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow is correct since Lamar is an early-round QB. But a 2-QB roster of Ben Roethlisberger and Baker Mayfield is not recommended as they are both late-round QBs with limited rushing upside.

Herzig’s Take: I am looking to only draft 2 QBs, ideally both with rushing upside. If I get a top 5 QB, I love waiting and taking a chance on one of the Trevor Lawrence/Trey Lance/Justin Fields rookie tier. As things stand now, I don’t love waiting to grab 3 late QBs as you limit your weekly upside while taking up a valuable roster spot.

 

RUNNING BACKS
Recommendation: Take 4-6

Analysis: The data shows that the market is over-investing in the RB position. Winning roster trends included taking RBs in the early rounds, but not taking a lot of them. Mike Leone investigated that here. Of course that strategy opens ourselves up to downside at the most injury-prone (and worst job security) position, but we are not overly concerned with floor in this format. Only the top-4 spots of 12 get paid in regular leagues. And in tournaments, we need top-10% rosters just to have a chance to advance.

Note that the usability rate drops off far steeper at RB vs. WR. Generally speaking, we do not want our double-digit round flier selections to be at RB. That changes if you fully understand the Zero RB strategy and can implement it in this format. We saw remarkable win rates from teams that did not draft a RB early but drafted 6, even 7 total. In general, you can draft RBs early. You can draft RBs often. You CANNOT draft RBs early AND often.

One interesting nugget we found in the data from our simulations was a very good cash rate and the highest win rate for 3-RB constructions. The sample size here is very small (621 teams out of 26,208), so it’s not a strategy we can be confident in. But at a minimum, we can say that drafting just three RBs is viable as long as all three are early-round selections. For example, Alvina Kamara-Aaron Jones-Jonathan Taylor type builds provided a ton of upside last season.

Herzig’s Take: As you likely know, I primarily aim for a hyper-fragile build with 4 RBs. I’ve been leaving most of my drafts with 2 RBs in the first two rounds, setting me up to aim for value in grabbing my two other RBs. Often by the end of the 9th round, I have all 4 of my RBs.

 

WIDE RECEIVERS
Recommendation: Take 7-10

Analysis: The data shows that taking anywhere from seven to 10 WRs is reasonable. Anything less than seven WRs shows a significant detriment to both cash rate and win rate.

The big-play nature of the WR position breeds volatility. Whereas RBs rely on volume to create usable scores, WRs can get it done on just a handful of targets. And since the Best Ball format doesn’t force us to identify exactly when those big plays will happen, we can gain more value from piling on later-round options.

Still, similar to other positions, how you spend early draft capital will dictate how many WRs you take. Teams that took 7-8 WRs total were most successful when taking 3-4 WRs early. Conversely, teams that took 9-10 WRs total were most successful when taking just 1-3 WRs early.

Herzig’s Take: This position for me is all about quantity, value, stacking, and upside – in that order. I’ll almost always have between 8-10 WRs. I’m looking for value when WRs are substantially dropping. I’m focusing on building stacks without overly reaching. And given I’ll have a large amount of WRs, I want ones that either have weekly upside with big play ability or a high-scoring offense or season upside if they can find themselves into a larger role.

 

TIGHT ENDS
Recommendation: Take 2-3

Analysis: The data shows that there’s not much difference in cash rate or win rate between taking two vs. three TEs. Taking just one TE shows a major detriment to rates. In other words, the tight end position strategy is similar to quarterback. If we invest in a Travis Kelce, George Kittle, or Darren Waller, optimal construction skews heavily toward drafting just two total TEs.

Ideally, you take 1 TE early and 2 TEs total, or you take 0 TEs early and 3 TEs total. If you stray from that construction, it’s better to have a riskier strategy (0 TEs early, 2 TEs total) than it is to have an overly cautious one (1 TE Early, 3 TEs total).

Herzig’s Take: This is the position I have the least conviction about and is mostly about value and stacking. If I grab one of Travis Kelce/George Kittle/Darren Waller, I’m complementing them with a late TE. If I don’t get one of those three, I’ll try to grab two in the top 10. And If I can’t do either of those two things, I’m looking for three value guys that hopefully complete a stack or two.