Fantasy football and best ball changes every year. We get updated data, new narratives, and new players. But if we only look at last year’s trends without looking at price tags, then we’re misapplying the research. So before I look into Best Ball Mania III pick-by-pick data to see where the community went right and wrong, let’s take a second to see how prices have changed. Ultimately, this game comes back to balancing price-adjusted value with roster construction and stacking.
I wrote about QBs being undervalued before last season. Right now, they’re appropriately priced. The top-8 QBs are going 22.0 spots earlier overall this year compared to in 2022. The top-3 QBs (Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Jalen Hurts) are going inside the top-20 overall. The consensus QB4 Joe Burrow isn’t far off either with multiple stacking partners ranked highly. All four of them have a pass catcher within the top-10 picks, and stacking will bring their teammates up a tiny bit because of how best ball tournaments work. All fair.
If we look at Better In Best Ball Points (aka weekly fantasy points over replacement), then this new price tag once again aligns with proper value. In half PPR, QBs are relatively more valuable, as RBs, WRs, and TEs all lose out on that half point per reception compared to full PPR. While simple, I do think that goes overlooked in the general discussion surrounding Underdog Fantasy.
QBs also have an advantage at this point in the year. We’re drafting before the NFL Draft, and it’s simply easier to project QB fantasy points compared to more complicated depth charts at RB and WR. As we get closer to the season, our confidence in projections at RB and WR get stronger, hurting the more stable quarterback position.
Zooming closer into the chart, it’s interesting that the QB9-QB15 range hasn’t been hit by inflation. The reason: those QBs aren’t sexy. Dak Prescott (without Kellen Moore), Deshaun Watson (after last year), Kirk Cousins (Kirk Cousins), Tua Tagovailoa (with concussion worries), Trey Lance (without starting assurance), Daniel Jones (without stacking partners), and Jared Goff (Jared Goff) aren't exactly curling fantasy football toes. For the spreadsheet grinders who don’t care about sex appeal, this is a potential area to double tap in with the rest of the position priced up. Having two QBs started being optimal after Round 12 last year, but this chart won't be as valuable as other positions because of the QB prices changing so much.
The current top-24 RBs are being drafted 10.5 spots later than they were last year! And last year’s RBs were going over a half round later than that previous year! Zero RB had a relatively strong season – it at least won the $1M Best Ball Mania III regular season prize -- so we’ll get more drafters buying into the strategy this year.
But there are two bigger reasons why RBs are cheaper...
First, there is a bias in the people currently drafting and setting these ADPs. They happen to never draft RBs, piss yellow on the draft board, and obsess over targets per route run per team pass attempt per sophomore breakout per route run. I generally think the RB price tags will stay far cheaper than last year, but once free agency and the NFL Draft come around, we should start seeing some RBs creep back up. Maybe a lot of that creeping up happens in the RB15-30 range instead of the true elites, but the August and September ADPs will be more RB heavy. That happens naturally every year.
Secondly, the best RBs for the last half decade are all old now. There were 13 RBs who were drafted inside the top-24 overall last year, and only four of them are still on their rookie contracts (Jonathan Taylor, Najee Harris, D’Andre Swift, and Javonte Williams). They happen to headline the biggest busts of 2022, too. The fantasy community is desperate for young RB talent with half of the projected starters potentially entering a cliff-falling season. The market is getting ahead of that right now. That's all fair!
But the falling ADPs can’t entirely be explained by aging players. Only the RB26, the RB29, and the RB30 are being drafted earlier in 2023 compared to last season. Everyone else, including the bench fillers, are being drafted nearly an entire round later. If this holds, I will be doing plenty of research on a new topic: “Always RB”. Because of the half PPR format and the lack of a waiver wire, RBs can be underrated on Underdog Fantasy. If they are all cheaper, then stressing the limits of diminishing returns with a 6th, 7th, or even 8th RB this year could be the pivot to adjust for QB and WR inflation. More on this topic later in the offseason.
The top-36 WRs are being drafted 3.5 spots earlier on average this year. If there wasn’t such a QB correction, then this could be even higher. It’s not a huge surprise for reasons inverse to what I laid out in the RBs blurb above.
And unlike RBs, we’ve had smashes in the most recent NFL Draft classes. Of the top-15 WRs this year, nine of them are still on their rookie contracts! And that doesn’t include the recently-signed DK Metcalf and A.J. Brown. This cohort of players are straight-forward, risk free picks as they head into the primes of their careers.
But it’s interesting that the price tags at the end of drafts aren’t also up. In fact, WR62 and on are very slightly cheaper this year. We’ll have a better idea after the 2023 NFL Draft, but I think this incoming draft class is below-average which pushes up the upper-end WRs even more and hurts the depth. There could be something to the NFL offensive landscape changing, too. Are there more rotations at No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4 WR, which then hurts the WR depth? Are two-high shells on defenses making offenses run slightly more, which particularly hurts the WR depth? Are there other little things that is causing a wider gap between fantasy WR1s and fantasy WR5s? Or is this narrative-based blurb not supported by facts and logic?
After mostly soiling themselves, the “elite” tight ends are cheaper aside from current top-five overall pick Travis Kelce. The TE2, TE3, TE4, and TE5 overall are 9.5 spots cheaper after Mark Andrews, Kyle Pitts, George Kittle, Darren Waller, and others hurt drafters last year. I don’t think we’ll have many arguing against this price adjustment.
At the same time, the TE6-TE20 range is 4.6 spots more expensive in 2023. I don’t have strong takes here. It was nice to see this range have a decent season last year, with David Njoku and Evan Engram leading the TE2 charge. Unlike WR, this 2023 NFL Draft class looks special at TE, with potentially four going Round 1. It’s hard for rookie TEs to truly break out in fantasy, but the narrative that drafters can ping-pong touchdowns using best ball scoring (true) will only get louder. This is a class that we should expect to heat up by the time fantasy playoffs roll around, and cecause this position is harder to project and scores far fewer points (10% of Best Ball Mania III points were from TEs), you can find me punting the position usually.
RBs continue to be cancelled, and we are paying the full price tag on QB-to-WR stacks in best ball now. That’s not a problem, but this could be the year of the pivot. The data pouring into the community will be better and more voluminous this offseason. That’s great! I will be a part of it of course. But we must remind ourselves that previous data only tells half the story. How do players project this year? And most importantly, what are their price tags?
Can’t wait to debate Round 2 QBs with you all. Welcome to 2023 Best Ball.