How Draft Date Impacts Best Ball Leagues
Patience is bitter, but it does bear sweet fruit.
As we gather more knowledge of projected usage, rookie landing spots, and scheme changes throughout the preseason, our patience is rewarded with sharper draft picks and higher team point totals. This is, of course, especially true in best ball drafts, where our fate is sealed the moment we click “Draft Player” in the final round. With no in-season moves, our knowledge of each player’s situation is constantly tested with each pick, which is one of many reasons why winning scores fluctuate widely depending on when your draft is taking place.
Below, I’m going to dig into exactly how much winning scores change from February through the end of August, and some of the factors we can attempt to avoid to circumvent the pitfalls.
2020 Winning Scores
The above graph represents the points scored by the QB, RB, WR, and TE by winning teams, with each point representing the average winning score of the last 50 drafts up to that point. This data is from FFPC best ball drafts in 2020, so you may be wondering; where are the points scored from kickers and D/ST? Well, since FFPC is the only site (to my knowledge) still offering a placekicker slot and it’s quite impossible to select a fantasy team defense that will score you zero points, I decided we would stick to the core of our teams, and discuss how draft date can affect them.
By the peaks and valleys of the winning scores, I’ve identified four separate buckets of draft dates we can dig deeper into; early offseason, pre-draft, post-draft, and preseason.
Average Winning Score: 4,138, 258.6 points per week
As we see in the data set, the lowest-scoring best ball teams are going to be the ones drafted immediately after the Super Bowl, during the “dead zone” between the Lombardi Trophy and the middle of March when teams are allowed to designate franchise players and begin talking to unrestricted free agents.
There are reasons to believe that player ADP is the softest in these months, but it’s hard to map a full picture of what teams are going to be doing for the upcoming season so early. The best way to attack these months is to play a little more conservatively than you otherwise would. To insulate yourself from risk, you may stick more vehemently to roster construction than you would when you need to zig while the field zags in July-August drafts.
According to Chris Allen’s study on 2020 FFPC roster construction, the two most popular winning roster constructions had the following builds; three QBs, four TEs, three D/STs, and three PKs. This ended up being the same results as the 2019 study, which makes one think that there is a pattern emerging. The third and fourth most popular builds were also the same, except with three TEs instead of four. (Keep in mind FFPC has 28 roster spots as opposed to the typical 20) The point being, if you can mirror those roster constructions and cushion yourself by going heavy on the “onesie” positions, you’re giving yourself a better chance to buoy the floor of your team.
Roster construction is important to all best ball drafts, but it could very well be the most important when there is the highest number of unknown variables.
Average Winning Score: 4,115, 257.2 points per week
At the time of writing, we are only a week or two away from this low-scoring reality. I blame it all on the incoming rookie class. Not necessarily the 2021 rookie class, just any rookie class. After a brief escalation in winning point totals through the late-winter/early-spring weeks, we see a sharp downturn immediately before the NFL Draft. It’s not the rookies’ fault per se. It’s our fault for getting so infatuated with players before they’re selected to an honest to goodness Professional Football Team.
To get a better understanding of what I’m talking about in regards to best-ball drafters getting more excited about incoming rookies the closer we get to the draft, I dug through FFPC’s average draft position data for this current year and presented rookies’ rising ADPs below.
|Player||Position||Mid-February ADP||Mid-March ADP||Pick Difference|
Almost across the board, rookies are steadily rising in ADP, you can already see the ADPs swell, and this is only from the middle of February through the middle of March. These select rookies —the ones currently most likely to make a fantasy difference right out of the gate— have risen an average of four and a half spots in drafts, and are almost a sure bet to continue climbing until the NFL Draft.
The reason these rising ADPs correlate to lower overall scores across leagues is quite simple; the odds that all of the players in that snapshot above are consistent fantasy contributors is very low. Any number of those rookies could fall in the draft, end up on a team that doesn’t use them correctly, or simply find themselves in a crowded backfield with limited fantasy opportunities.
If you’re going to fall into the trap of the shiny new toy, make sure you are pairing these rookies with veterans who will ease the pain of under-achieving first-year players through the first half of the season. Rookies tend to score anywhere between 11% - 31% more fantasy points in the second half of the season, so you need to have guaranteed points to lessen that blow. For a deeper dive on how to manage rookies in best ball drafts, give this a read.
Average Winning Score: 4,190, 261.9 points per week
Now we’re starting to cook with fire. Our upward ascent in winning scores waivers, but rarely falters from here on out. The only exception is in the days surrounding August first, and though I don’t have any hard evidence to back up the hypothesis, I believe that is simply the time of year when the more “casual” fans begin to dip their toes into the fantasy waters, briefly lowering the scoring threshold. Nonetheless, with initial 90-man rosters mostly set, rookie minicamps underway, and most major contracts decided, the fantasy community can begin making constellations out of the myriad of seemingly random data points.
This is the most important time to stay up to date on player news, and as you begin to ramp up your best ball portfolio, I would suggest keeping 4for4’s Player News tab open for easy access while making picks. Things change quickly with injuries, holdouts, and rookie inclusion (or omission) from first-team reps. While on the clock —especially in the early rounds— take your time and make sure nothing immediate is impacting the players upcoming in your queue.
As the average draft position begins to tighten up through the summer, it’s a good process to find guys who are falling well below their typical draft price, even if it’s not someone you've been attempting to get maximum exposure to. Value-based drafting becomes even more important as the winning score needed gradually increases.
Average Winning Score: 4,245, 265.3 points per week
Clocking in at over 4,200 points, the total team points needed to win a best-ball league has climbed over 100 points since February, and your team now needs to score an average of 265 points per week according to data from 2020.
With the most knowledge possible at our disposal, this is the time of year you want to be entering teams into large-field tournaments, like the Underdog Best Ball Mania in 2020, and any similar contests that arise in 2021. Being able to navigate the minefields of injuries and starting job forfeitures that come in the early summer months is a massive advantage that you will have over those who drafted these mega-entry leagues earlier in the year.
As we have seen in the “Early Offseason” section, loading up on onesie positions is a great way to protect ourselves through the injuries and uncertainty of summer, but now that we’re right up against the season, we are as well informed as we ever will be. This is the time to aim for the sky, and that might mean loosening our grip on conservatism to aim for more high-upside skill players.
Instead, two-QB/two-D/ST lineups sneak their way into consideration, as long as you are keeping a close eye on bye weeks. Taking two elite-level tight ends is viable in any league where you're looking to get a leg up, and even more so on FFPC, with its TE premium scoring.
The Bottom Line
While there may be no better advantage than being fastidious about player news, there are many ever-changing variables to being successful in best ball leagues, regardless of the calendar. Since it’s impossible to have a perfect record with a large portfolio —sometimes it’s difficult to consistently beat the eight percent expected win rate and rake— we need to be focused on different aspects of drafting as the year moves along:
- Early Offseason - Pay very close attention to roster construction to eliminate the inherent risk that the early months present.
- Pre-Draft - Don’t get completely washed up by rookie hype, and when you do take the bait on skill position players make sure you’re pairing them up with veterans at the position.
- Post-Draft - Be vigilant in checking for player news. Values can open up literally as you’re on the clock.
- Preseason - Don’t be afraid to take risks. The fantasy community as a whole is as in tune with the NFL as possible, and you need to find a way to differentiate from the pack, whether that means unbridled roster construction or taking stabs on players you believe can far outkick their ADP.