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The Golden Rule of Best Ball

Jun 22nd 2021

Hayden Winks

Draft 4 WRs by the end of Round 7.

It’s really as simple as that. If we do it, our win rates will be above average. And the golden rule is just flexible enough to implement a plethora of back-tested strategies. But before we go into those strategies, we need to go over why “4 WRs by the end of Round 7” has proven to work.

From a big picture perspective, it’s necessary to know how the two primary fantasy positions perform (in relation to each other) based on where they’re drafted. The chart above clearly shows that the gap between WRs and RBs is widest in favor of WRs in this 30th to 80th overall range, also known as the “RB Dead Zone”. On the flip side, RBs look more appealing in the first 15 overall picks and towards the 100th overall pick.

The reason why RBs in Rounds 3–7 are risky is because the elite RBs get pushed into the first 15 overall picks, leaving only two types of RBs available in the next few rounds: 1) RBs who project decently well going into the year but are unproven talents, and 2) RBs who are the perceived 1a in a committee. Neither are strong profiles, especially when the upside WR2/3s are being drafted in the same range.

A classic example for 2021 is RB Myles Gaskin or WR Tee Higgins. I know who I’m taking…

This second chart is the one to really understand because it not only shows us when to draft our WR1, our WR2, our WR3, and our WR4 in best ball, but it also shows us the optimal starts through X rounds. Here’s what I mean…

If you follow the dots, the two most optimal starts through six rounds of a best ball draft are:

  • RB-WR-WR-WR-WR-RB (“Hero RB”)

  • RB-RB-WR-WR-WR-WR (“Bimodal RB”)

This makes perfect sense, especially after reading Jack Miller’s column. Both optimal starts take advantage of the historical scoring of a first-round RB, and more importantly, both optimal starts hammer WRs over RBs in the “RB Dead Zone”.

But it’s technically not just “RB” in the optimal starts listed above. All it says is that it’s a non-WR, meaning it’s likely a RB but could be an elite TE (or an elite QB in theory but not in practice).

In the “Hero RB” optimal start from above, it’s likely a RB in Round 1 but very well could be a TE or a stacked QB in the 6th round. In the “Bimodal RB” optimal start, either one of the first two picks could be spent on RBs or an elite TE like Travis Kelce.

Instead of getting stuck with a hard-fast rule within the first six rounds, I pivoted to 4 WRs through Round 7 so I can stay relatively flexible while also following historical win rates. I want to be able to take advantage of when a non-WR slides way beyond his ADP, and this allows me to do so.

Since I use this strategy almost every draft, I’ve learned which types of non-WRs I like in this pivotal range. Here are my preferences of non-WRs through Round 7:

  1. Elite RB1 in Round 1

  2. Elite TE1 in Rounds 2–3

  3. My RB2 in Rounds 2–3

  4. My TE1 in Rounds 5–7

  5. My RB3 in Rounds 5–7 only if I’m using a 3-RB build and getting a value

  6. My QB1 in Rounds 5–7 only if I’ve already drafted one of his WRs


Conclusion

I am very rarely drafting a QB or my RB3 by Round 7. Instead, I’m finding one or two anchor RBs at the top of drafts, getting a top-six TE, and hammering WRs all throughout the early-to-middle rounds. It’s a strategy that always passes the eye test at any point in the draft, and the raw win rates certainly back up the strategy. This from Jack Miller:

“Between 2015–20, best ball teams that took their second RB in Round 2 and their RB3 after Round 6 posted a 9.4% win rate (remember, average is 8.3%). Teams that took their RB2 in Round 3 and again waited at RB3 won at a 9.3% clip. … Fantasy players who took their RB1 in Round 1 and then waited until after Round 6 for their RB2 posted a ridiculous 11.0% win rate over the last six seasons.”

Before we go, I wanted to share an employees-only draft I’m currently in that is very close to the optimal start through seven rounds of a best ball draft (RB-RB-WR-WR-WR-RB-WR). The only difference between the true optimal and my start out of the 1.03 is that I flipped RB and WR in Rounds 5 and 6 because Mike Davis fell past ADP. Overall, I think this team is a good representation of the strategies we went over today: