There are three years of Best Ball Mania drafts to comb through now, which is at least increasing the sample size of what things are generally optimal. While I agree that we're in very small sample territory, I do want to push back some on the "best ball season is just one slate" narrative, meaning the entire 2022 season was just one iteration of the simulation so we can throw out historical data.
In a lot of instances, yes. That narrative is 100% accurate. For example, using finals advanced rates from 2022 because George Kittle happened to score 2 TDs in Week 16, or drafting 2 QBs in Rounds 8-10 last year because Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford were good in 2021. Those historical-based strategies are too on the nose to pull from, especially when others are following these (somewhat fake) trends.
BUT I do think there is something about using the charts in this column (despite being one year at a time) because they're applying the diminishing returns concept. That is,,, if you drafted 2-3 stud RBs, then you only need around 5 RBs in total. But if you started Zero RB, then you likely need 6-7 RBs at the end of the draft. The first team won't use the projected points of a RB6 because that team will already be using the high projected points of his stud RBs. The latter team will.
As you'll see, when you should exactly draft your first RB will change year-to-year, but the ranges of how many RBs to have by Round 8 or Round 12 or Round 16 will generally stay the same. Each best ball team needs some points at each position and our projections for the RB10 or the RB32 in upcoming season rankings will be similar year-to-year, so there is a roller coaster to learn how to ride using these charts.
Let's get into the details...
By the way, these are charts made at the time of publish, so my takes are a time capsule of the general feelings at the time, not my takes with hindsight right now. Just a fun thing to track over time.
The Zero RB teams are the red dots and lines.
Because pre-draft RB1s (top-12 RBs) tend to have the largest share of spike weeks and are always drafted before Round 3 ends, let's take a look at how Zero RB teams through 3 rounds have faired:
2020: Zero RB starts were meh. They were slightly worse than 2- and 3-RB starts through 3 rounds, and especially bad compared to RB-RB starts. However, they were slightly better than teams who had 1-RB through Round 3. At this time, RBs were drafted earlier than they are now.
2021: Zero RB starts were rough. Teams with 2- and 3-RB starts through 3 rounds averaged way more points than Zero RB teams. These RBs were also going earlier than they are now.
2022: Zero RB smashed. In fact, this was an ass-kicking. On average, it was optimal to have a 0-RB start in Round 1 all the way through Round 6. It was also significantly better to have 1-RB starts in this range compared to 2- and 3-RB starts. This was because Josh Jacobs, Rhamondre Stevenson, Ken Walker, and Jamaal Williams finished as top-10 RBs despite being drafted well after this range, while a larger-than-normal chunk of the early RBs flopped for various reasons.
Overall, this 3-year sample is a great example of how sticking noses too close into what is "optimal" based on previous years early in drafts is dangerous. It's also a great example of why you should make your Zero RB, Hero RB, Superhero RB, or Robust RB decisions each year based on how the entire top-250 players project versus their price tags.
BUT there is a point when Zero RB teams will suffer no matter what because of these diminishing returns at other positions. Let's investigate which round Zero RB tanks:
2020: Zero RB tanked in Round 6. These Zero RB teams averaged about 20-30 fewer regular season points than 1-, 2-, and 3-RB teams through Round 6. The early RBs did well this year, and Zero RB drafters were still drafting James White types despite being half PPR this year. It was a bad recipe then. The RB prices were also more expensive here, meaning it was harder to find breakouts later.
2021: Zero RB tanked in Round 8-9. The gap between 2- and 3-RB teams versus Zero RB teams was about 20 points worse on average in this range, and then really tanked in Round 9. The early RBs smashed, the dead zone RBs dusted, and the RB3s in this Round 8-9 range were good in this season.
2022: Zero RB tanked in Round 8. This was the Josh Jacobs effect. The best possible regular season teams were Zero RB until they picked Jacobs, Stevenson, and Walker in this range. This was magnified by the early RBs having an outlier bad season up top.
Assuming RB prices don't get completely warped in future seasons, I think Zero RB teams will tank in this Round 6-9 range for the foreseeable future. Waiting until Round 10 for your RB1 likely means you've reached diminishing returns with early-WR, bully-TE, or bully-QB starts.
RB3s are the green dots and lines.
The RB3 is fascinating to me because it's when we're in the FLEX projection territory. RB-RB starts will always have upside because you can ride those points every week, but that 3rd RB plays into the diminishing returns concept. It's also a key position when trying to play catchup for Zero RB teams, so let's investigate when it's okay to select that potential RB-FLEX contributor.
2020: It was nearly optimal to have 3 RBs from Rounds 3-18. This wide range is insane. It's also partially explained by expensive RB prices and a larger chunk of users drafting 9- or 10-WR teams, with the (false) narrative that WRs are more volatile week-to-week than RBs.
2021: It was nearly optimal to have 3 RBs from Rounds 3-12.
2022: It was nearly optimal to have 3 RBs from Rounds 7-14. This was a Zero RB year, with lots of RB busts before Round 7. It became very clear that teams with 4-, 5-, or 6-RBs were better in Round 15.
While the exact range changes every year, it seems like having 3 RBs will be totally fine through Rounds 7-14 most seasons. In fact, in all 3 Best Ball Mania seasons so far, teams with 3-RBs were optimal or within 10 points of the optimal positional allotment in Rounds 8-10, compared to teams with 0-, 1-, 2-, 4-, or 5-RBs.
Most best ball points come from players drafted through Round 10. After that is when things really start to fall off, so I like to view roster construction as through Round 10, more than I do through Round 18. Let's investigate how many RBs we've needed through Round 10 so far:
2020: 2-RB teams averaged the most points through Round 10, but it 1-, 3-, and 4-RB teams were extremely close behind. 0- and 5-RB teams were way behind. As a reminder, this is when RB prices were highest.
2021: 3-RB teams averaged the most points through Round 10, with 2-RB teams right there. 0-, 1-, and 5-RB teams were well behind.
2022: 4- and 5-RB teams averaged the most points through Round 10, with 3-RB teams right there. 0-, 1-, and 2-RB teams were well behind once again.
Over the last 3 seasons, it's been more and more optimal to have more RBs through Round 10. I think RB prices declining over time is a primary reason for this. As WRs become more expensive, the available RBs in Rounds 6-10 now project better than the WRs do compared to what they did in previous years. This is important because RB prices are even cheaper in 2023 than they were in 2022.
If this trend continues, I like the strategy of getting 4 stud WRs relatively early and sprinkling in more RBs than usual in this Round 6-12 range. That was the premise in Radicalized Zero RB, too.
Once again, this is an overrated thing to analyze because of diminishing returns dictating how many RBs you'll need in your particular draft, but if it's what you guys like to reference, then I'll walk through this, too.
2020: 3- to 6-RB teams were optimal.
2021: 5- to 8-RB teams were optimal, with 6- and 7-RB teams in a slight tier of their own. 3- and 4-RB teams really struggled.
2022: 5- to 7-RB teams were optimal, 5- and 6-RB teams in a slight tier of their own.
In every year, it's been totally fine to draft 5- or 6-RB teams. In fact, 6-RB teams have done very well every year, and I expect that to continue as we continue settling into 2-3 QB, 5-7 RB, 6-9 WR, and 2-3 TE builds.
A season in best ball isn't necessarily a sample size of one because diminishing returns are a major factor in roster construction.
But extrapolating single season data to make decisions in early rounds or at onesie positions is extremely faulty.
RB prices falling will impact roster construction.
Zero RB tanks in Rounds 6-9.
Re-read Radicalized Zero RB.
Draft your RB3 in Rounds 6-14.
Have 3-5 RBs through Round 10.
Safe to have 5-6 RBs through Round 18.
Play Best Ball Mania IV.