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Contingent Based Drafting Is How You Win In Fantasy Football

May 21st 2022

Hayden Winks

Rankings are important. Drafting near ADPs is important. Knowing how many WRs to draft is important. Knowing how to draft a zero RB team is important. Knowing when to draft a QB2 on an elite QB1 team is important.

But successful teams within this Best Ball Mania III playoffs tournament structure have to do one thing extremely well: Contingent-Based Drafting.

Contingent Based Drafting

Our rankings and the players we’re targeting should change based on the players we selected earlier in the draft. In fact, we should be crossing off sections of the player pool after literally every single selection, and we should be highlighting players we may even be lower on in general, solely because their ceilings are correlated to players we’ve already drafted.

Before I get into examples of how to do this, let me explain why we need to have contingent-based correlation in best ball, particularly in huge best ball tournaments. In Best Ball Mania II last year, teams who advanced from the regular season averaged 123.5 points per week. This same average wasn’t even close to good enough to advance from Round 2 to Round 3, however. In Week 15, teams needed a whopping 143.9 points to advance to the semifinals. In Week 16 to advance to the finals, teams needed 155.9 points! And then in the finals, the top 25 teams averaged 168.2 points and the Best Ball Mania III winning team scored a ludicrous 201.8 points.

To clear these week-by-week playoff hurdles, teams must be correlated.

Stacking Fits

The easiest way to add correlation is to stack players from the same team, but this has been repeated only 14.4 million times on best ball podcasts and in best ball columns. The real question is how many players to stack on one team and if it’s okay to draft a bunch of players from the same team early in the draft.

After learning it took 143.9 and 155.9 points on average to advance in the first two rounds of BBMII playoffs last year, I looked at the playoff teams who scored 150 or more points in Round 2, the semifinals, or the finals to see how often these teams stacked players from the same NFL team. There were 1,025 of these spiked-week teams. Here is how often their contributing-points players were stacked from the same NFL team:

  • 0 NFL teammates: 285 times or 28% of teams

  • At least 1 set of 2 teammates: 636 times or 62% of teams

    • Exactly 1 set of 2 teammates: 491 times or 48% of teams

    • Exactly 2 sets of 2 teammates: 128 times or 12% of teams

    • Exactly 3 sets of 2 teammates: 7 times or 1% of teams

    • Exactly 4 sets of 2 teammates: 0 times or 0% of teams

  • At least 1 set of 3 teammates: 102 times or 10% of teams

    • Exactly 1 set of 3 teammates: 99 times or 10% of teams

    • Exactly 2 sets of 3 teammates: 3 times or 0% of teams

  • At least 1 set of 4 teammates: 11 times or 1% of teams

    • Week 15 BUF: Allen (21.8), Diggs (11.5), Singletary (16.1), Davis (23.0)

    • Week 15 GB: Rodgers (23.8), Adams (13.4), Jones (14.0), MVS (18.3)

    • Week 15 GB: Rodgers (23.8), Adams (13.4), Jones (14.0), MVS (18.3)

    • Week 15 LAC: Herbert (24.0), Allen (16.8), Ekeler (16.2), Guyton (8.0)

    • Week 15 PHI: Hurts (28.6), Goedert (17.0), Sanders (15.6), Reagor (7.2)

    • Week 16 GB: Rodgers (20.0), Adams (28.4), Dillon (7.1), Lazard (12.8)

    • Week 16 CIN: Burrow (38.1), Higgins (37.4), Mixon (28.5), Boyd (16.0)

    • Week 16 CIN: Burrow (38.1), Chase (16.0), Mixon (28.5), Boyd (16.0)

    • Week 16 CIN: Burrow (38.1), Chase (16.0), Mixon (28.5), Boyd (16.0)

    • Week 16 CIN: Burrow (38.1), Chase (16.0), Higgins (37.4), Boyd (16.0)

    • Week 17 CIN: Burrow (34.8), Chase (50.1), Mixon (12.1), Boyd (11.6)

  • At least 1 set of 5 teammates: 0 times or 0% of teams

In other words, most spiked-week teams consist of one mini stack and a bunch of one-offs, particularly 1 set of 2 teammates, 2 sets of 2 teammates, or 1 set of 3 teammates. Even with Joe Burrow posting the 4th-most passing yards in NFL history in Week 16 last year, only 1% of spiked-week teams started 4 players on the same team and all of the non-Week 16 CIN stacks included a stacked player that scored 13.4 or fewer points (which isn't good). I’ll have to write more on this exact topic later, but it’s a reasonable assumption that you’ll be starting only 2-3 players from the same team during the must-have spiked weeks during the best ball playoffs. Aiming for 2-3 player team stacks with a max of 4 players from the same team seems safe for now.

The other way to add some correlation is to game stack, meaning draft players from the opposing team for the Week 17 finals. Game stacking is far less important than team stacking, however. NumberFire’s Brandon Gdula wrote this banger of a column breaking down how positions are correlated with each other during ceiling outcomes. Here were the basic findings:

Team Stacks
Team Stacks
QB1
Major Positive Ceiling Correlation
WR1, TE1, WR2
Medium Positive Ceiling Correlation
WR3
Minor Positive Ceiling Correlation
Minor Negative Ceiling Correlation
Team Stacks
WR1
Major Positive Ceiling Correlation
Medium Positive Ceiling Correlation
QB1
Minor Positive Ceiling Correlation
RB1, TE1
Minor Negative Ceiling Correlation
Team Stacks
WR2
Major Positive Ceiling Correlation
QB1
Medium Positive Ceiling Correlation
Minor Positive Ceiling Correlation
WR1
Minor Negative Ceiling Correlation
RB1, TE1
Team Stacks
WR3
Major Positive Ceiling Correlation
QB1
Medium Positive Ceiling Correlation
Minor Positive Ceiling Correlation
TE1
Minor Negative Ceiling Correlation
RB1
Team Stacks
TE1
Major Positive Ceiling Correlation
QB1
Medium Positive Ceiling Correlation
Minor Positive Ceiling Correlation
WR1, WR3
Minor Negative Ceiling Correlation
RB1, WR2
Team Stacks
RB1
Major Positive Ceiling Correlation
Medium Positive Ceiling Correlation
Minor Positive Ceiling Correlation
WR1
Minor Negative Ceiling Correlation
TE1
Game Stacks
Game Stacks
QB1
Major Positive Ceiling Correlation
Medium Positive Ceiling Correlation
Opp QB1, Opp WR2
Minor Positive Ceiling Correlation
Opp WR3, Opp WR1, Opp TE1
Minor Negative Ceiling Correlation
Game Stacks
WR1
Major Positive Ceiling Correlation
Medium Positive Ceiling Correlation
Minor Positive Ceiling Correlation
Opp RB1
Minor Negative Ceiling Correlation
Game Stacks
WR2
Major Positive Ceiling Correlation
Medium Positive Ceiling Correlation
Opp QB1, Opp WR2
Minor Positive Ceiling Correlation
Opp WR3, Opp RB1
Minor Negative Ceiling Correlation
Game Stacks
WR3
Major Positive Ceiling Correlation
Medium Positive Ceiling Correlation
Opp QB1, Opp WR2
Minor Positive Ceiling Correlation
Opp TE1, Opp WR3, Opp WR1
Minor Negative Ceiling Correlation
Game Stacks
TE1
Major Positive Ceiling Correlation
Medium Positive Ceiling Correlation
Minor Positive Ceiling Correlation
Opp WR3, Opp QB1
Minor Negative Ceiling Correlation
Game Stacks
RB1
Major Positive Ceiling Correlation
Medium Positive Ceiling Correlation
Minor Positive Ceiling Correlation
Opp WR1
Minor Negative Ceiling Correlation
Opp RB1

With Best Ball Mania finals jumping from 160 to 470 finalists, we’ll want smaller and smaller team/game stacks as there are only so many fantasy points going around in one game. I’d much rather have three 2-2 Week 17 game stacks than two 4-3 Week 17 game stacks.

Injury-Based Fits

It’s obvious that a backup RB will be better when the starting RB goes down, but some other teammates’ ceilings will be correlated due to injuries. Most of the time, this is because a highly-used player is irreplaceable and changes the entire dynamic of the offense. This year’s clear example is Nyheim Hines with the Colts’ passing offense. If Jonathan Taylor misses time, the offense would project to pass more often as Taylor is the offense’s identity. If that happens, all of Matt Ryan, Michael Pittman, Alec Pierce, and Nyheim Hines have easier paths to ceilings.

The same can be true at WR. For example, if target-dominator Justin Jefferson misses time, then Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborn would project better, so if you have a team with a WR2 without the WR1, then add the WR3 or TE1 as their ceilings are unlocked if the WR1 misses time. Round 5 Allen Robinson and Round 13 Tyler Higbee on non-Cooper Kupp teams is another example. 

Archetype Fits

The last way to contingent-based draft is by looking at player archetypes depending on the roster construction deployed early in the draft. Each player is used differently, meaning their week-by-week distributions are different and will fit better/worse in particular builds.

For example, there are two very clear types of RBs in that Round 9 to Round 15 range: Devin Singletary’s vs. Alexander Mattison’s. The Singletary types have an easier path to contributing RB2/3 weeks throughout the year in their committee role, but their true ceiling outcomes are hard to imagine based on their size and offensive style. The Mattison types don’t offer many RB2/3 weeks throughout the year as pure insurance options, but they have obvious ceiling outcomes. In a Superhero RB or Robust RB start, the Mattison types make more sense because Singletary’s 8-12 points per game aren’t going to outscore the 14-22 point games we’re banking on with multiple early-round RBs. In a Zero RB start, however, Singletary’s 8-12 points per game will be needed, at least until the Mattison-type players start bringing in the contingent-based spiked weeks.

There are also veterans who will contribute more points early in the year versus rookies who will contribute more points later in the year following the Post-Bye Rookie Bump. For example, a team with injury-prone veteran WRs Keenan Allen, Brandin Cooks, and Adam Thielen would benefit more from late-breakout candidate rookie WRs Skyy Moore, Jameson Williams, and George Pickens compared to a team with younger early-round WRs like Mike Williams, DK Metcalf, and Terry McLaurin. 

Players To Target After Drafting...

All of this theory is nice, but we're here to actually draft teams and put this stuff into practice. Listed below are the top-60 players in Underdog Fantasy ADP along with the players I think are correlated with at ceiling outcomes when it matters most -- in the best ball playoffs and in Week 17. In general, it's more important to stack QBs/WRs/TEs than RBs.

  1. Jonathan Taylor (Kadarius Toney, Kenny Golladay, Alec Pierce)

  2. Cooper Kupp (Matthew Stafford, Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Van Jefferson)

  3. Christian McCaffrey (Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Robby Anderson)

  4. Justin Jefferson (Kirk Cousins, Aaron Jones, Allen Lazard, Alexander Mattison)

  5. Ja'Marr Chase (Joe Burrow, Gabe Davis, Dawson Knox, Tyler Boyd)

  6. Derrick Henry (CeeDee Lamb, Dalton Schultz, Michael Gallup, Austin Hooper)

  7. Austin Ekeler (Allen Robinson, Tyler Higbee, Josh Palmer, Gerald Everett)

  8. Najee Harris (Mark Andrews, Rashod Bateman, George Pickens)

  9. Stefon Diggs (Josh Allen, Dawson Knox, Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins)

  10. Dalvin Cook (Allen Lazard, Christian Watson, K.J. Osborn)

  11. Davante Adams (Derek Carr, Darren Waller, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk)

  12. Joe Mixon (Gabriel Davis, Dawson Knox, Tyler Boyd)

  13. Travis Kelce (Patrick Mahomes, MVS, Courtland Sutton, Tim Patrick)

  14. CeeDee Lamb (Dak, Dalton Schultz, Tony Pollard, Treylon Burks, Austin Hooper)

  15. Deebo Samuel (Trey Lance, Darren Waller, Hunter Renfrow)

  16. Mark Andrews (Lamar Jackson, Rashod Bateman, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool)

  17. D'Andre Swift (Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, Byron Pringle, Jared Goff)

  18. Alvin Kamara (A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert, Chris Olave)

  19. Mike Evans (Tom Brady, Russell Gage, Cameron Brate, Rachaad White, D.J. Moore)

  20. Tyreek Hill (Tua Tagovailoa, Hunter Henry, DeVante Parker, Sony Michel)

  21. Nick Chubb (Deshaun Watson, Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, J.D. McKissic)

  22. Javonte Williams (JuJu Smith-Schuster, MVS, Skyy Moore, Mecole Hardman)

  23. Aaron Jones (Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Irv Smith, Aaron Rodgers)

  24. Leonard Fournette (D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Russell Gage)

  25. A.J. Brown (Jalen Hurts, Michael Thomas, Chris Olave, Kenny Gainwell)

  26. Josh Allen (Gabe Davis, Dawson Knox, Jamison Crowder, Tee Higgins)

  27. Tee Higgins (Joe Burrow, Gabe Davis, Dawson Knox, Tyler Boyd)

  28. Saquon Barkley (Michael Pittman, Alec Pierce, Nyheim Hines, Kenny Golladay)

  29. Keenan Allen (Justin Herbert, Joshua Palmer, Isaiah Spiller, Allen Robinson)

  30. James Conner (Kyle Pitts, Drake London, A.J. Green)

  31. Kyle Pitts (Marcus Mariota, Marquise Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Drake London)

  32. Jaylen Waddle (Tua Tagovailoa, DeVante Parker, Hunter Henry)

  33. Michael Pittman (Matt Ryan, Nyheim Hines, Kadarius Toney, Kenny Golladay)

  34. Diontae Johnson (Kenny Pickett, Pat Freiermuth, Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay)

  35. Cam Akers (Allen Robinson, Mike Williams, Joshua Palmer, Van Jefferson)

  36. D.J. Moore (Sam Darnold, Chris Godwin, Russell Gage, Cameron Brate)

  37. Patrick Mahomes (JuJu Smith-Schuster, MVS, Skyy Moore, Courtland Sutton)

  38. Mike Williams (Justin Herbert, Josh Palmer, Isaiah Spiller, Allen Robinson)

  39. Marquise Brown (Kyler Murray, Zach Ertz, Drake London, Cordarrelle Patterson)

  40. Darren Waller (Derek Carr, Hunter Renfrow, Brandon Aiyuk)

  41. D.K. Metcalf (Whoever is SEA's QB, Elijah Moore, Breece Hall Garrett Wilson)

  42. Ezekiel Elliott (Michael Gallup, Treylon Burks, Austin Hooper)

  43. Amari Cooper (Deshaun Watson, David Njoku, Kareem Hunt, Terry McLaurin)

  44. George Kittle (Trey Lance, Brandon Aiyuk, Hunter Renfrow, Derek Carr)

  45. Lamar Jackson (Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, Chase Claypool, George Pickens)

  46. Chris Godwin (Tom Brady, Russell Gage, Cameron Brate, Robby Anderson)

  47. Terry McLaurin (Carson Wentz, Brian Robinson, Kareem Hunt, David Njoku)

  48. Justin Herbert (Josh Palmer, Gerald Everett, Allen Robinson, Tyler Higbee)

  49. David Montgomery (Jameson Williams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, D.J. Chark, Justin Fields)

  50. Breece Hall (Tyler Lockett, Noah Fant, Zach Wilson)

  51. J.K. Dobbins (Chase Claypool, Pat Freiermuth, George Pickens, Rashod Bateman)

  52. Jerry Jeudy (Russell Wilson, Tim Patrick, MVS, CEH, Skyy Moore)

  53. Courtland Sutton (Russell Wilson, K.J. Hamler, MVS, CEH, Skyy Moore)

  54. Allen Robinson (Matthew Stafford, Joshua Palmer, Gerald Everett, Tyler Higbee)

  55. Antonio Gibson (Deshaun Watson, David Njoku, Jahan Dotson)

  56. Gabriel Davis (Tyler Boyd, Dawson Knox, Hayden Hurst, Chris Evans)

  57. JuJu Smith-Schuster (Albert O, Tim Patrick, Melvin Gordon, MVS)

  58. Travis Etienne (Brandin Cooks, Christian Kirk, John Metchie, Nico Collins)

  59. Kyler Murray (DeAndre Hopkins, Zach Ertz, A.J. Green, Drake London)

  60. Michael Thomas (Jameis Winston, DeVonta Smith, Dallas Goedert, Mark Ingram)