Best Ball Strategy: Chasing 2018 Breakout Players

by Matthew Gajewski ·

Fantasy football is an affliction, and beyond dynasty leagues, Fanball, Draft, and the FFPC now present offseason best ball leagues to fuel the fantasy addiction. These draft only leagues involve 18-28 roster positions depending on the platform. Instead of head-to-head matchups each week, the highest scoring players automatically fill each roster position on the team. These leagues do not involve trading or waiver wire add/drops and the team with the most points at the end of the year wins. The winning prizes generally skew toward the top overall finisher.

For the purposes of this article, I will be examining a Fanball draft, where users are allotted 1 QB, 2 RB, 3WR, 1 TE, 1 Flex, 1 TDSP, and 11 bench slots, over 20 rounds. According to Mike Beers, teams that won best ball drafts most often between 2015 and 2017, rostered 2-3 QBs, 5-7 RBs, 6-8 WRs, 2-3 TEs, and 2-3 TDSP. Drafting from the No. 9 spot, I placed a black box above my draft slot below.

Early Round Volume: Saquon Barkley & Michael Thomas

In fantasy football volume reigns king and best ball is no different. In fact, it matters more so, with a team’s optimal lineup automatically started each week. Theoretically, an owner can benefit from spiked weeks without reeling from weekly duds (injuries or games where players don’t play count as 0).

Projected to command significant volume in the NFL, I selected Saquon Barkley at 1.09. Electrifying the combine, Barkley posted 96th-percentile or better across his 40-Yard Dash, Speed Score, Burst Score, and Bench Press, making his closest comparison David Johnson. The Podfather discusses Barkley’s NFL potential below.

2018 Best Ball Draft Results

On the comeback, I selected Michael Thomas and locked up one of the safer wide receivers for 2018. Eclipsing 1,100 yards in each of his first two seasons, Thomas also recorded Production Premium of +28.5 (No. 5) in 2016 and +6.6 (No. 30) in 2017. Still only 25 years old, Thomas recorded 121 and 149 targets in his first two seasons. Not only that, but Thomas now holds the record for most receptions by any player (196) in the first two years of their career. With additional room for growth, Thomas provides safe value in a Drew Brees’ led offense. 

Mid-Round Floor Plays With Upside: Rex Burkhead & Aaron Jones

After selecting a clear path to targets in Allen Robinson and Alshon Jeffery at 3.09 and 4.04, I turned my attention to running back. By this time, all of the NFL’s feature backs were gone. However, Tevin Coleman and Rex Burkhead presented secure volume in the 5th and 6th round. At this point, drafting running backs with a definite role, but room for growth in the event of an injury or breakout, provides upside for best ball lineups. In 2017 Burkhead posted a massive +59.6 Production Premium (No. 3) along with 5.5 yards per touch (No. 7). With Dion Lewis on his way to Tennessee, Burkhead appears to be the primary beneficiary in the Patriots backfield.

After securing a safe number of carries, Aaron Jones presented a supreme value in the 8th round. At the very least, Jones projects to play an important role in a committee for Green Bay, but he also showed the ability to handle workhorse touches in 2017. Jones was an efficient runner in his rookie campaign, evidenced by a Production Premium of +6.9 (No. 25) and a Yards Created Per Carry of 1.42 (No. 19). This aligns with Jones’ athleticism as he recorded a Burst Score of 127.3 (88th-percentile) and an Agility Score of 11.02 (87th-percentile).

Late Round Quarterback: Dak Prescott & Jameis Winston

Employing the Late-Round Quarterback Strategy, I waited till most teams had drafted at least one quarterback and then selected Dak Prescott and Jameis Winston in the 10th and 11th rounds. Despite a down 2017, Winston excelled in a few key categories. Winston’s 34 pass attempts per game ranked No. 12 among quarterbacks who started at least five games. In addition Winston finished with 64 Deep Ball Attempts (No. 9), adding the upside best ball players should be targeting at the quarterback position. Winston’s Supporting Cast Efficiency of +6.26 (No. 8) provides yet another reason for optimism after the Buccaneers retained all of their starting pass catchers. Paired with a safe floor option in Prescott, Winston provides low risk and high upside option as a late round quarterback.

Tight End Fragility: Hunter Henry, Tyler Eifert & Jonnu Smith

As the 17th tight end off the board, Tyler Eifert provides exceptional value and upside in best ball drafts. Eifert’s talent is unquestioned, with his most comparable player being Travis Kelce. However, injuries the past two seasons have forced him to the back end of best ball drafts. In 2016 Eifert showed his elite play-making ability, recording a Target Premium of +27.7 (No. 8) and a fantasy points per target of 2.09 (No. 9). Going back further Eifert recorded a +35.0 (No. 6) Target Premium in 2015, and while Eifert’s injuries remain a concern, he plays the position carrying the highest injury risk for fantasy. For that reason it makes sense wait on tight end altogether and to select upwards of three. In this draft I nabbed Hunter Henry as a safe option, as well as Jonnu Smith, who quietly recorded a snap share of 52.2-percent last season for the Titans.

Late Round Flier: Tyler Lockett & Quincy Enunwa

In the later rounds of best ball leagues, targeting under the radar wide receivers and running backs with an immediate path to targets/carries creates a ceiling for your team if one of these players explodes on any given week. Fitting this profile, I selected Russell Wilson’s number two receiver, Tyler Lockett, and Quincy Enunwa 14.04 and 15.09.

Benefitting a weak wide receiver group in New York, Quincy Enunwa looks poised to return from his neck injury and should command significant targets. With Robby Anderson in trouble with the law, while Terrelle Pryor and Jermaine Kearse disappointed in 2017, Enunwa could step in as New York’s top receiver. The Jets tendered Enunwa at a second round value this offseason, showing they value his presence on the team. Looking at Enunwa’s profile, he compares closely to Josh Gordon.

Quincy Enunwa Advanced Stats &amp: Metrics Profile

To help matters, Quincy Enunwa played 53.4-percent of snaps from the slot in 2016. With Robby Anderson, Jermaine Kearse, and Terrelle Pryor primarily playing on the boundaries, Enunwa should step right back into a majority snap share for the Jets.

Punting the Defense

To round out this draft I selected the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers defense. The Buccaneers should bounce back with the additions of Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul, along with healthy seasons from Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David. The 49ers should also benefit from the addition of Richard Sherman and a defensive front containing DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas. While the NFL has not released the 2018 schedule, but it is important to draft defenses with different bye weeks to avoid taking zero points in that roster position. Otherwise, defenses should be saved for the final rounds of best ball drafts in order to maximize talent across all positions.

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