Underdog Best Ball Mania Bible: Anatomy of a Final-Round Roster
Underdog Fantasy has officially launched Best Ball Mania 3, a tournament with a $10 million prize pool and $2 million to first place. With two years of tournament data, the sample size for winning trends is relatively small which is why previous Best Ball Mania studies have focused on successful strategies on the largest scale possible, first-round advance rates.
Maximizing your chances to get out of the first round is essential to being successful in best ball tournaments, but digging deeper can increase the likelihood of taking down the whole thing. This analysis will dissect all rosters that made it to the final round of Best Ball Mania 1 and 2 in hopes of teasing out lineup-building strategies from the truly top-tier rosters.
Best Ball Mania leagues are half-PPR and start: QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, WR, TE, Flex (RB/WR/TE) with 18 total roster spots. There are no kickers or team defenses.
To kick off this series, positional allocation and roster construction techniques were outlined as the foundation to best ball success. Over the course of both Best Ball Mania tournaments, there have been six specific roster constructions that have advanced beyond the first round at or above the expected rate. In terms of teams that advanced to the final round, there are two builds that were represented at a disproportionally high rate.
|Roster Construction||Usage (% of Field) - 2020||% of Final Round 2020||Diff.||Usage (% of Field) - 2021||% of Final Round -2021||Diff.|
*Some fringe 4-QB and 1-TE advanced to the final round in 2021 but none were represented by more than a single lineup.
While 2-5-9-2 and 2-6-8-2 roster constructions have been some of the most popular builds within the entire field, they have represented an even larger number of teams once the final round is reached. This highlights the fact that while extreme builds usually get the most ink, they are strategies that should only make up a fraction of rosters.
What also jumps off the page is the overwhelming number of 2-QB builds that have been represented in the final rounds. In both tournaments, 2-QB constructions have made up at least 62% of the final-round field, with that number jumping to 72% in 2021. Let’s not forget, however, that 2020’s champion won the title with a 3-QB build.
Positional Draft Strategies
Studying various positional draft strategies from the entire field in both Best Ball Mania tournaments highlighted two draft approaches that stood out above the rest: two quarterbacks in Rounds 6–9 and aggressive Superhero-RB. While these draft strategies weren’t represented as aggressively in final rounds as they were with second-round advancers, some form of Hero-RB and Mid-Round QB showed up in the finals at a relatively high clip versus the field.
|Positional Draft Strategy||Usage (% of Field) - 2020||% of Final Round 2020||Diff.||Usage (% of Field) - 2021||% of Final Round -2021||Diff.|
|One Mid-Round TE||36.7%||38.0%||+1.3%||38.0%||61.9%||+23.9%|
|Two Mid-Round QBs||18.5%||32.0%||+13.5%||21.0%||34.4%||+13.3%|
|Two Mid-Round TEs||10.9%||20.0%||+9.1%||8.2%||18.1%||+9.9%|
|Two Top-12 QBs||5.7%||8.0%||+2.3%||5.8%||5.0%||-0.8%|
|Mid QB and Late QB||36.3%||56.0%||+19.7%||28.4%||25.6%||-2.8%|
*Parameters for each positional draft strategy are explained here.
The biggest surprise from final-round teams over the last two seasons has been the success of rosters with two tight ends taken in the middle rounds, a portion of the draft that has been perceived as a bit of a dead zone for the position in recent years.
From a draft strategy/team advance rate perspective, data supports the idea of targeting positions other than tight end in the middle rounds. On the player level, though, some of the best upside plays over the last two years have come from the middle rounds, namely Mark Andrews in 2021 and Darren Waller and Rob Gronkowski in 2020. While there is a high miss rate at tight end in the middle rounds, it may be worth allocating a handful of drafts to two mid-round tight ends in order to maximize your league-winning opportunities there.
Of all positional strategies, late-round QB has been the only technique to be represented less than the field in the final round of both Best Ball Mania tournaments.
In large-field best ball tournaments, stacking—drafting multiple players from the same team—is a well-known way to build upside into a single roster. Over the last two Best Ball Mania tournaments, just one of the 210 teams to make the finals didn’t have at least two players from the same team on their roster. Here are all stacks that appeared on final-round rosters along with how frequently they were used.
|Stack||Players in Stack||% of Final Round 2020||% of Final Round 2021|
|1 RB/1 WR||2||76.0%||78.8%|
|1 QB/1 WR||2||40.0%||50.6%|
|1 QB/2 WR||3||18.0%||30.0%|
|1 RB/1 TE||2||26.0%||26.9%|
|1 WR/1 TE||2||30.0%||25.0%|
|1 QB/1 RB/1 WR||3||14.0%||16.3%|
|1 QB/1 RB||2||20.0%||14.4%|
|1 QB/1 WR/1 TE||3||10.0%||11.3%|
|1 QB/1 RB/2 WR||4||6.0%||9.4%|
|1 RB/2 WR||3||8.0%||7.5%|
|1 RB/1 WR/1 TE||3||2.0%||6.9%|
|1 QB/2 WR/1 TE||4||0.0%||6.9%|
|1 QB/1 TE||2||10.0%||6.3%|
|2 RB/1 WR||3||8.0%||4.4%|
|1 QB/3 WR||4||0.0%||4.4%|
|2 WR/1 TE||3||4.0%||3.8%|
|1 QB/1 RB/1 WR/1 TE||4||4.0%||2.5%|
|1 QB/1 RB/3 WR||5||4.0%||2.5%|
|1 QB/1 RB/2 WR/1 TE||5||4.0%||1.9%|
|2 RB/1 TE||3||2.0%||1.3%|
|1 QB/1 RB/4 WR/1 TE||7||0.0%||1.3%|
|1 QB/2 RB/1 WR||4||2.0%||1.3%|
|1 RB/2 TE||3||0.0%||0.6%|
|1 RB/2 WR/1 TE||4||4.0%||0.6%|
|1 QB/3 WR/1 TE||5||0.0%||0.6%|
|1 QB/1 RB/1 TE||3||12.0%||0.6%|
|1 QB/2 RB||3||0.0%||0.6%|
|1 QB/2 RB/3 WR/1 TE||7||0.0%||0.6%|
|2 QB/1 WR||3||0.0%||0.6%|
On a more granular level, we can use combined advance rates from both tournaments to see which specific stacks have been most successful in reaching the final round of Best Ball Mania.
|Stack||Teams||Finals Adv. Rate|
|RB2 + WR2 + WR4||1041||0.48%|
|TE1 + WR3 + WR4||1456||0.41%|
|RB2 + WR1 + WR4||1069||0.37%|
|RB3 + WR1 + WR2||1090||0.37%|
|RB2 + TE1 + WR3||2681||0.34%|
|WR2 + WR3 + WR4||1502||0.33%|
|WR1 + WR3 + WR4||1549||0.32%|
|TE1 + WR2 + WR4||1916||0.31%|
|WR1 + WR2 + WR4||1691||0.30%|
|QB1 + RB2 + WR4||2097||0.29%|
*The number next to the position represents the ADP of the player relative to his teammates. For example, WR4 is the WR with the fourth-highest ADP on his team.
Arguably the biggest takeaway here is how many non-QB stacks appeared among those with the highest final-round advance rates. (Note, however, that the stack with the highest first-round advance rate has been QB1-RB2-WR4). The actionable conclusion is that while most fantasy managers go out of their way to force quarterback stacks, there may be added value in stacking an offense's ancillary pieces, such as their RB2 with complimentary pass-catchers.
Player Advance Rates
Having a sound roster construction and positional draft strategy will maximize the likelihood of advancing in Best Ball Mania, but the truth is that in order to best thousands of other rosters, you will usually need to have at least one or two “league-winners” on your roster.
Over the last two Best Ball Mania tournaments, the most valuable draft picks have had playoff advance rates roughly 15 percentage points over expectation* with the elite players turning in first-round advance rates more than 20 percentage points above average.
Here is a graphic showing how frequently those players showed up on final-round rosters.
|1+ Player w/ Adv Rate 15% over Expectation||1+ Player w/ Adv Rate 20% over Expectation|
|Best Ball Mania 1||100%||48%|
|Best Ball Mania 2||80%||66%|
Of the 22 teams in 2021 that didn’t roster a player with an advance rate at least 15 percentage points over expectation, 16 of them rostered Mark Andrews, one of two tight ends with a playoff advance rate 12 percentage points above average.
For a deeper understanding of this concept and how to maximize each position's advantage, read the 4for4 staff’s series on player advance rates.
How to Apply Final-Round Roster Trends to 2022 Drafts
Many lessons learned when examining first-round advance rates apply to rosters that made it to the final round.
- Extreme roster builds can be successful when applied correctly but the majority of drafts should result in constructions such as 2-5-9-2 or 2-6-8-2.
- 2-QB has been the dominant quarterback strategy no matter how success is measured.
- Whether maximizing for first-round advance rate or final-round upside, some form of two mid-round quarterbacks combined with Hero-RB or Superhero-RB is usually optimal.
- Drafting top-end players will ultimately decide which teams go furthest. This can be accomplished by mastering draft strategies centered around player advance rates.
Optimizing drafts for first-round advance rates or ignoring strategies that seem sub-optimal through a playoff advance rate lens could leave some championship upside on the table.
- While the majority of final-round teams used a 2-QB construction, the 2020 champion had a 3-QB roster. Mix up draft strategies even though it might sacrifice some first-round advance rate equity.
- One standout draft strategy from final-round teams that contradicts first-round advance rates is two middle-round tight ends. Many of the most valuable tight ends over the last two tournaments have come from the middle rounds—it may be beneficial to maximize the opportunity to roster those players.
- Most Best Ball Mania managers prioritize quarterback stacks, often reaching above ADP to pair a quarterback with one or more of his pass-catchers. There may be more value and upside in patiently waiting to roster ancillary players from the same offense such as a team’s RB2 and secondary pass-catchers.
* In 2020, the top two teams in each 12-person group advanced to the second round of Best Ball Mania with additional “wild card” teams advancing in order to meet the total team requirement for the second round, resulting in 20.8% of the field advancing to Round 2. In 2021, only the top two teams in each 12-person group advanced to the second round, resulting in 16.7% of the field advancing to Round 2. All references to advance rate over expectation are based on these numbers.